Gatha Vahishtoist, 1385 Yz.
Tomorrow we mark the beginning of 1386 Yz, or the 1386th year since the last Zoroastrian King of Iran, Yazdegerd Shahryar ascended the throne. In that long period of time, the world has changed a lot. Empires have risen and fallen, countries have arisen and been destroyed, millions of people have lost their lives – all claiming to fight for God and His religion.
Zoroastrianism has reduced from being the state religion followed by nearly 30 million souls to a mere shadow of its past. And today, as we stand on the cusp of another new year, it is an apt time to reflect and ponder on the reasons for our migration to India.
There are many false notions regarding this migration. Some have termed us refugees, others keep on repeating the wrong sugar and milk story, and most persons think we came to India by accident. Had the winds blown another way, they feel, maybe we would have landed someplace else.
The true facts, as revealed by Ustad Saheb Behramshah N. Shroff, are very different. He explained that the migration to India was pre-planned. The members of the group were chosen willfully, the cream of Zoroastrian civilization, all headed by a most pious and spiritually advanced Adept – Dastur Nairyosangh Dhaval, himself of royal lineage. Dastur Nairyosangh was part of the Hidden Sages of Demavand and was given the responsibility of not only guiding the Zoroastrians to their chosen destination, but also the more important role of establishing the Spiritual Power House called Pav Mahel, built around the Iranshah Atash Behram.
At the landing in Sanjan, where the group of nearly 2000 men, women and children were met by King Jadi Rana’s representative carrying the pot full of milk, it was Dastur Nairyosangh Dhaval who took off a precious ring from his finger and carefully slipped it into the milk, thereby signifying the Parsis’ desire to settle down in India, maintain their distinct ethnic and religious identity and prove as precious as the gold ring. Why would the wise Dastur carry sugar in his pocket? Was he hypoglycaemic? As the courier returned to the King and explained the Dastur’s actions, the whole assembly erupted in praise at the gesture. Dastur Nairyosangh was invited to the court and there, in the presence of the King, displayed his spiritual caliber and prowess by composing the 15 Shlokas in Sanskrit that gave a bird’s eye view of the Zoroastrian religion (the 16th Shloka is in fact the reply of the King and was not composed by Dastur Nairyosangh).
The real reasons for the migration of our forefathers from Iran can be found in these 15 verses. Unlike the useless prattle of good thoughts, words and deeds that is trotted out at every religious meet today, Dastur Nairyosangh gave an outline of the Zoroastrian religion which put its practice in all aspects of daily life at the very centre. What were these practices that the wise Dastur enumerated for the King?
Reciting the 5 Nyaeshes every day; keeping the Baj during 7 activities like eating, bathing, praying, answering nature’s call; wearing the essential garments of Sudreh, Kusti and covering the head with a cap of two folds; doing charity to the poor of all faiths; maintaining a positive attitude in the most difficult of times; using Taro for spiritual purification; maintaining an Atash at home at all times and feeding it with good dry sandalwood; maintaining seclusion and rest during the menstrual period and after childbirth; remembering the Fravashis of our departed family members; respecting the cow and her produce; and last but not the least, not allowing any inter-community marriage. Due to these factors, the wise Dastur said, we Parsis are confident of walking on the path of salvation and attaining the Highest Heaven.
As the descendants of those 2000 brave men, women and children, as we sit down today and enjoy our New Year meal, it is our duty to stop for a moment and reflect on these practices that Dastur Nairyosangh Dhaval enumerated. How near or how far have we moved away from them? Many may justify their present state by saying, oh! the times were different then… True, the times were different. They were much worse than today. We were only 2000 then. We had no community assets, no privileged positions, no Baugs and no Punchayet, no vast lands and money. All our ancestors had was their fierce, burning desire to give up everything for their religion, to try the hardest to establish the faith in a new land and to give a better future for their children.
The leaders of that time did not panic and say, oh! there’s only 2000 of us, lets inter-marry and increase our numbers! They did not hold World Zoroastrian Congresses and cause more problems than solutions. No. They toiled in those early years under the leadership of Dastur Nairyosangh, with a single-minded focus – to establish the Iranshah and the Pav Mahel built around it. It was this great powerhouse which would sustain the community through those years of hardship and desolation.
Today, nearly 1300 years after its establishment, the Pav Mahel and Iranshah still guide, protect and sustain our community. Their existence is the only reason for our survival and our identity as the smallest community in this country with the largest contribution to nation building. In a nation of a billion people, a mere 70,000 still shine as lustrous pearls.
Many from our community have, over the years, left India and settled in many places around the world. ‘Zoroastrian’ communities are present in strength in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and many other places. But are they truly Zoroastrian? Do they still espouse the fundamental principles of the faith as enshrined by Dastur Nairyosangh in his 15 Shlokas? Have they bothered to stick to the difficult prescriptions or have they sacrificed them all on the altar of ‘inclusiveness’, ‘rational modern thinking’, ‘freedom of choice’ and of course, the elusive ‘good thoughts, words and deeds’, where the good is defined out of convenience, and not the good as defined in our scriptures. Are they truly Zoroastrian or only in name?
Today as we step into a new Zoroastrian year, it is time to ask these difficult questions. To those of us in India, it is a time to reflect deeply on where we are heading as a community. We have to get out of this perennial state of good food, good drinks and having a good time, and instead concentrate on the grave crisis of faith that stares us in the face. We have to remember our ancestors and the real reason for their coming to India. We have to make our religion the central focus of our lives.
The less we depend on our morally, ethically and religiously bankrupt ‘leadership’ the better it will be. Let them play their vile Game of Thrones, aligning with one today and sleeping with another the next. The common Parsi would do well to remember the famous words from the fictional Game of Thrones – ‘valar morghulis’ – all men must die; and ‘valar dohaeris’ – all men must serve. Only then can we really deserve to be called ‘gora, dhira, suvira, bahu-bala nilayaste vayam Parsika’ – ‘Fair, brave, heroic, holding great strength – those are we Parsis!
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram