Thursday, May 10, 2012

Parsi Irani Zarathushtis ~ by Ervad Dr. Rooyintan Peshotan Peer - A MUST READ

Thu 10 May 2012

Ervad Dr. Rooyintan Peshotan Peer's excellent opinion to the Valsad Parsi Anjuman in the case of
Goolrukh M Gupta vs. Valsad Parsi Anjuman, Gujarat High Court,
encompassing the history of Parsi Irani Zarathushtis in India, the Doongarwadi issue,
entry into places of worship and marriage.
Ervad Dr Rooyintan Peshotan Peer is one of our 3 recognised and accepted Zarathushtrian scholar priests, along with Ervad Dr Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia and Ervad Parvez M Bajan.
It is essential basic reading for all young Parsi Irani Zarathushti girls and boys, men and women.
The basics and the conclusive facts have been stated and explained here, but it should be noted that the subject is in fact far more complex and deep.

25 August 2011

Sam Chothia


Valsad Parsi Anjuman,


Dear Sir, 
This is with reference to your request over the telephone asking for my opinion in the matter of the Parsi women married out of the community not being granted permission to enter our holy places of worship including the Bunglis at the Doongerwadi.

I have to draw your attention in the first place that the nature of the matter is such that it cannot be expressed in a few written words. It requires a thorough oral expression in considerable detail with proper background and context to the said matter. However I will try to express myself over the relevant points in brief as follows:-

The present Parsi Community (living in India, Iran and elsewhere) is one of the smallest communities of the world. It is a remnant of the ancient Iranian people professing the Zoroastrian Religion. In ancient times, the Iranian people had come in cultural, commercial and political contact with nearly all nations of the world: the ancient Hindus, the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Israelites, the Arabs, the Greeks, the Romans, and other peoples. The Parsis are the descendants of this Iranian people who flourished and played an important role in world history under the royal dynasties from the earliest times up to about the middle of the seventh century of the Christian era.

After the Arab conquest of Iran, and the downfall of the last Parsi Empire of the Sassanians (641 A.C.), the Zoroastrians of Iran were subjected to religious persecution, and consequently a great majority of them were gradually converted to Islam. But a handful of the Zoroastrians remained faithful and stuck to their ancestral religion in spite of hardship, violence, disabilities, persecutions and massacres for centuries. A faithful few of the Iranian Zoroastrians, who remained steadfast to their ancestral religion, left Iran after the downfall of their empire on account of the unbearable conditions prevailing there, and settled on the west coast of India in order to preserve their RELIGION. In later centuries, some more Zoroastrians migrated individually or in small groups from Iran to India for the same reason.

The present Parsi community, therefore, comprises of:

1. The Zoroastrian descendants of those inhabitants of Iran, still living in Iran, who remained faithful to their ancestral religion even after the downfall of the Sassanian empire.

2. The Zoroastrian descendants of those inhabitants of Iran, who remained faithful to their ancestral religion and who left Iran after the downfall of the Sassanian empire and settled in India, (between 8th and 10th c. A.C.) as also those Zoroastrians of Iran who migrated to India and elsewhere during the later centuries. (Those who came from Iran to India in the last couple of centuries, were additionally termed 'Irani Zoroastrians' by the Parsis of India, simply for the sake of identification).

The Zoroastrian Religion preaches secularism in its original form. It shows utmost tolerance towards other religions and towards mankind in general. It also believes in the Divine Rule of Nature in the manner that each individual's birth in a particular religion is according to the Divine Plan, just as each individual's birth in a particular family, and to 'particular set of parents' entail. For that reason, the Zoroastrian Religion does not encourage conversion from one religion to the other, as it amounts to a great disturbance in the Law of Nature. All these values were manifested as early as in the reigns of their illustrious emperors who ruled over ancient Iran, and nearly half of the world at certain periods of time. They had granted full freedom to their various subjects to follow their own religions.

It is for the same virtues and beliefs in the Zoroastrian Religion that throughout the long and illustrious reigns of the Zoroastrian empires in Iran, there is no example recorded of any forced conversions of their subject people, or for that matter, any form of religious persecution. This speaks volumes of their religious adherence and the values of benevolent kingship in those times, when only the concept of 'might is right' was accepted.

Just as the Zoroastrian Religion does not advocate proselytism, it also forbids inter-communal marriages, which it views as simply another form of conversion. Even after coming to India, the Parsis have adhered to these religious tenets. Throughout their history here, they have lived respectfully and in amity and in harmony with all other communities, and yet retaining their distinct unique identity by preserving and maintaining their spiritual and physical characteristics. Even in Iran, after the downfall of the Zoroastrian Empire, in spite of hardships, indignities, cruelties and persecution extending over about twelve centuries, the Parsis there have admirably preserved their Zoroastrian quality, virtue and character in public and private life. But elsewhere in other places to where they had migrated (like China, etc.), there is no trace of them as they did not adhere to their basic tenets, and were sucked into the vast local milieu respectively. Even a British Judge, Justice Lord Beamon, in his orbiter in a case in the year 1909, has observed that there is not a single example of any religious conversion by the Parsis recorded in its nearly 1200 years of history in India.

As stated above, Zoroastrianism forbids inter-communal marriages, and that too for either of the sexes, both males and females. There are ample scriptural references for the same, which I understand you might have gathered by now from various sources. The divinely revealed 'Pak' (sacred) Avesta condemns intermarriage as a "sin" against one's soul, lineage and religion! The Mazdayasni Zarathushti Religion also considers marriage to be a very sacred ritual, a sacrament; and it is religiously valid only if both the partners are Zarathushtis by birth. Therefore when the ritual of 'Ashirwad' takes place, the Mobed (priest), while reciting the Pazend Benediction under oath, declares that he is conducting the ritual of 'Ashirwad' according to the laws of the Mazdayasni Zarathushti Religion. Our time-tested traditions and customs state that for the marriage to be religiously valid, the ritual of 'Ashirwad' must be performed, and the said ritual must be peformed by duly initiated priests, and in the presence of at least two Parsi-Irani-Zarathushti witnesses.

In this matter of 'intermarriages', the unique concept of 'KHOREH' (loosely translated as 'aura') in the Zoroastrian Religion needs to be thoroughly understood. The 'Khoreh' of each community is unique, and is built over a period of many generations within the members of the said community itself, and by adhering to the given tenets and customs of the respective religions. The mixing of such 'Khorehs', either by intermarriage or by conversion, causes great spiritual disturbances in Nature.

There are specific rituals and religious observances (known as the 'Tariqats' in the Zoroastrian Religion) prescribed in each religion for the maintenance and enhancement of such 'Khorehs'. The rituals of 'saadu nahan' and 'bareshnum' are given to purify the 'khoreh' by purifying the elements of water and fire that are within each one of us. Both water and fire are made up of atoms containing electrons. These electrons inevitably produce an electronic 'field' which in turn produces a magnetic 'field'. The two 'fields' work together as 'electro-magnetic force fields'. This electro-magnetic force field depends upon the degree of purity of the inner water and fire which creates the 'khoreh' as either 'pure' or 'dark', meaning not so pure. Being magnetic, the 'khoreh' absorbs the influences of others' 'khorehs'. The 'Parsi-Irani-Zarathushti khoreh' is therefore, through the recitation of the distinct 'maaanthravaani', specific rituals and the subsequent 'Tariqats', sudreh-kushti' and the other spiritual disciplines, distinct from the 'Khoreh' of followers of other religions. When such 'khorehs' get 'mixed', they display many other 'colours' and influences; and consequently, the spiritual places of worship, which are consecrated elaborately with distinct ceremonies, get affected when such persons enter them. Many other religious communities in India as well as in the world do not allow such practices for the same reason. The famous case of Smt. Indira Gandhi not being allowed into the Jagannath Puri Temple is one such example.

In some of the religious communities, there is the practice of the non-member to necessarily get converted to that religion in the matter of marriage with a member of that community. In the case of those who claim, particularly the girls , that they have married under the Special Marriage Act, and that they have not abandoned their Religion, majority of them later on pass through the marriage ritual ceremonies of the religion of their respective spouses. This is also considered another form of conversion since the religious laws of those communities require that both the candidates ought to be following the same religion. In this way the majority of the Parsi Irani Zarathushti girls are deemed to have gone out of their Religion, and therefore a general law is applied to them in line with that applied to the non-Zoroastrians in matters religious. (Refer to the Resolution of 1918 with specific words mentioned to this effect, and which is drafted much before the Special Marriage Act came into effect.) In the struggle for survival, different communities may have different rules and methods according to their requirements. It is like the case of 'someone's food is another one's poison'.

In today's Parsi community in India, every one of the prospective marriage candidates is aware in some way or the other that marriage outside the community is 'something which is not proper'. In the Parsi community, girls are neither married off forcibly, nor without their consent, nor at a very early age, even as we find such practices common in several other communities. In short, they make an informed choice about their marriage after they attain the level of maturity. That is the precise time when they have ample opportunities to enquire and get themselves informed about the reasons and the socio-religious consequences if they were to consider marriage outside the community. Yet they plunge themselves headlong into the mess, and then try to get the religious laws veer around their personal suitabilities, likes and dislikes, in the name of individual freedom. At this point one has to realize that a community is like an Institution or an Association where certain rules and regulations are required to keep it going, otherwise there could be complete chaos and disorder with subsequent disintegration, if it were to follow each individual member's whims and fancies. It can be substantiated beyond any doubt that the Parsi-Irani Zarathushtis do NOT perpetrate any injustice to the intermarried 'Zarathushtis' in the name of 'religion', when the intermarried Zarathushtis, male or female, of their own accord, willingly disobey the religiously mandated laws which condemn intermarriage, and the age-old socio-religious customs against the concept of intermarriage (which is detrimental to the cause of the community), and thereby themselves abandon the 'right' to be the practitioners of the Zarathushti Religion.

Intermarriage is a spiritual sin because religion is the spiritual food of the soul without which the soul suffers. In an intermarriage, either one partner has to surrender completely (including one's children) to the dominant partner of the other religion (compulsorily in many cases); OR in order to keep peace at home, both the partners have to make compromises regarding their respective religions. Social surveys reveal that the children of such intermarried couples do not benefit spiritually from strong religious bonds, and in the course of time, move away from both the religions. One could therefore realize that in a small community like the Parsis, the practice of intermarriage does not in any way benefit the community or the religion. In fact it harms the survival of the religion and community, and that is why in the Zarathushti prayer of 'Patet Pashemani' (prayer of repentence), it is considered to be an "ako paye gunah", or a sin of the worst degree. The several "ako paye gunah" mentioned in the same paragraph are said to be of the category of "gunahio pulshavad", i.e. those that cause difficulty to the soul in crossing over the "Chinvat Bridge" (crossover from this world to the next).

In India, historically, some references are found since the last couple of centuries of some Parsi males either having non-Parsi spouses or having live-in relationships with such women. The earliest instance in this matter is recorded in the year 1830 when the Parsi Punchayet summoned the Samast Parsi Anjuman Meeting, and passed resolutions against such practices, against such persons, and also against the progenies of such persons; and certain rules and regulations were formulated Then in subsequent periods, such Samast Anjuman Meetings were called whenever such needs arose, and strictures were passed against such practices. In 1909, the historic Bombay Parsi Punchayet case caused much turmoil in the Parsi community at that time. Attempts were made to justify intermarriage and conversion in the Parsi community by a certain section of influential people. Thereafter, the Punchayet itself called several meetings, and many institutions, including the priestly ones, dealt with the matter very seriously, and thereby saved the Parsi community from disintegrating. It is again only since last 25 years or so that the matter is raised again, and has escalated into a serious problem, chiefly because of the sluggishness of the leaders concerned.

Around 100 years ago, some very stray incidents of Parsi girls marrying outside the community might have been recorded, which is echoed in one of the Resolutions passed in a Public Meeting convened in May 1918 (a copy of which is sent herewith). The Zarathushti Parsis are a patrilineal community in the sense that Zarathushti girls at birth take their father's name as their middle name as well as their father's surname till they marry, and thereafter take the husband's name and surname replacing the father's. Take the example of an 'osti' girl from a 'mobed' family marrying a 'behdin' and thereby she is considered no more an 'osti' but a 'behdin', and her name is recited accordingly together with her husband's in all 'naam-grahans' (roll-calls with religious titles) in the rituals where individual names are recited. This is not discrimination! It is a "ritual tradition" continued since countless millennia. The sacred names of Zarathushti females are always taken with the name of their Zarathushti father, if unmarried, or with the husband, if married. And There is no practice till date of taking non-Zarathushti names in our 'naam-grahans'!

All in all, this whole matter is about putting the interest of an individual's self below the larger interest of the community, just as putting the larger interest of the country in normal or difficult times above that of the freedom of an individual.

I hope this much material will suffice in your endeavor in the matter under review.

Yours sincerely, 
Ervad Dr. Rooyintan Peshotan Peer.