Roj Amardad Mah Adar, 1379 Yz.
Some readers of Frashogard have asked me to comment on an unfortunate incident which happened at Dungerwadi last week on 15th April. What really happened can be described very briefly as follows:
A Parsi gentleman residing at Godrej Baug passed away and the four days’ ceremonies were to be held at Dungerwadi. The family of the deceased entrusted the responsibility of the prayers to the Jokhi Agiary at Godrej Baug, currently managed by Mrs. Mahrukh P. Madan. As per normal practice, Mrs. Madan contacted her Dungerwadi liaison Mobed, Ervad Jal Balsara to make arrangements there and also deputed a Mobed from her Agiary, Ervad Dara Karanjia to stand for the Geh Sarna prayer.
The Geh Sarna prayers were started by Ervad Jal Balsara and Ervad Dara Karanjia but persons who had gathered for the Paidust realised that things were not going smoothly. Ervad Karanjia could not keep up with the pace set by Ervad Balsara and the smooth unison with which the Geh Sarna prayers are generally recited was missing. After a few minutes, Ervad Balsara, realising that Ervad Karanjia was not in any position to say the prayers with the required intensity, accuracy and speed, stopped the ceremony and walked off in a huff.
This naturally upset the relatives of the deceased and there was some commotion and arguments. Ervad Balsara refused to do the prayers with Ervad Karanjia, claiming that he did not want to be part of a sin, since Ervad Karanjia had no knowledge of the prayers. As the arguments continued and tempers rose, some calls were made to the Trustees of the BPP and two of them arrived shortly. The first task at hand was to complete the Geh Sarna prayer. Accordingly another Mobed, who prays regularly at the Dungerwadi was contacted and soon thereafter, the Geh Sarna prayer was completed to the satisfaction of all.
The brother of the deceased has issued an emotional letter on the net which has been circulated to many Parsis in which he has blamed Ervad Jal Balsara for conduct unbecoming of a Priest and has made other observations against him.
Firstly, I must clarify that I am related to the deceased, who was a cousin of my mother. My mother was present at the ceremony and in fact called me when the incident happened. Secondly, I must clarify that Ervad Jal Balsara is also the liaison Mobed for the Ustad Saheb Behramshah N. Shroff Daremeher of which I am the Panthaky. Having made this clear, the following are my observations on this incident.
It has been a long standing practice in Mumbai that Panthakys of various Agiaries have a liaison Mobed at Dungerwadi to take care of the needs of clients who stay there for the four days’ ceremonies. This arrangement greatly reduces the tension of the Panthaky in arranging for Mobeds, getting ready the various items required for the ceremonies there and letting him concentrate on the prayers which must be recited at the Agiary simultaneously with the prayers at Dungerwadi (specifically the Baj of Sarosh to be consecrated in every Gah and the Yasna and Vandidad ceremonies which are done during the first four days).
Ervad Jal Balsara is a pucca Yaozdathregar Mobed trained at the Dadar Madressa, who has been practicing Mobedi for the last 53 years at Dungerwadi. In addition he has performed all the major ceremonies of our religion including the Nirangdin. His stamina and energy levels are astounding for a man of his age. During this half century of service, Ervad Balsara has probably performed the Geh Sarna ceremony over 25,000 times (sometimes three in a day) and in one way or the other, served almost every Parsi family in Mumbai. He is available night or day, on every day – including Parsi festival holidays when most priests refuse to work. His dedication and steadfastness towards his job is commendable and sets an example to Mobeds half his age who get tired easily.
My readers have already read in an earlier post the significance of the Geh Sarna ceremony. But many would not know the amount of energy which is expended, standing at one place for 45 minutes, praying in a loud and sonorous voice, the very difficult Ahunavaiti Gatha. Moreover, every stanza of the Gatha (of four lines) must be recited in one breath, without stopping to catch breath. After this exertion, the Mobed Sahebs have to escort the body to the door of the Dokhma – which is a strenuous and steep climb. Only after the body is placed in the Dokhma do the Mobeds finish the Baj and end their effort. To do this day in and day out, mostly more than once a day takes not only strength and stamina but also a certain degree of spiritual power.
We all have our weaknesses, and Ervad Jal is no exception. His years of dealing with death have made him somewhat rough and curt and sometimes unable to comprehend the emotion which relatives feel when a loved one passes away. But I have seen Ervad Jal on several occasions very deeply affected by the death of someone he knew, although he makes no show of it. There are many Behdins who grudge a Mobed his hard earned fees and there are some who have cheated Mobeds in this regard. Aware of this and having been a victim of it on some occasions, Ervad Balsara sometimes displays haste in collecting his fees, which angers some Behdins. Many Behdins believe that priests should always remain in a state of near poverty and display traces of jealousy when they see a relatively prosperous priest. Ervad Balsara has earned a good amount through his great efforts and toil and has travelled the world on several occasions. He also likes to recount the tales of his travels, which sometimes arouses the envy of others. It is these facets of his personality which make Ervad Balsara a somewhat disliked man. As someone who has known and interacted with him for many years, I can vouch that Ervad Jal has always been there whenever I have required his help, and is also one of the few Mobeds who is ready to share his insight and advice on religious matters.
In the incident which happened recently, a lot of blame has been put on Ervad Jal Balsara, which is totally unfair. If there is anybody to blame it is the priest who did not know how to pray the Ahunavaiti Gatha, and more so the Panthaky who deputed this priest to Dungerwadi. Within Mobedi circles, the “abilities” of Ervad Karanjia are so well known that he has had to move from one Agiary to another. He should not have been deputed for this task in the first place by his Panthaky. Ervad Balsara also has to share some of the blame by agreeing to stand with him, since he knew that this Mobed was incapable of undertaking the rigour of the Geh Sarna ritual. Had he refused to stand with him from the beginning, this incident would not have occurred. But continuing with the ceremony was not correct and although the way it was handled was un-polite, Ervad Jal was justified in stopping the ceremony midway. But he should have immediately clarified his position to the family of the deceased in a polite manner and then immediately called for a replacement Mobed to re-start and complete the Geh Sarna.
Finally, the emotional brother has stated in his letter that he has decided not to go to the Dungerwadi when he passes away. That is a knee jerk reaction and totally uncalled for. If a finger has a wound, do we chop of the entire arm? Can one wrong be righted by doing another wrong? No. We must do our sacred duty as prescribed in the religion and leave the result to Nature. Whatever disturbances are caused by the improper recital of prayers or improper performance of ceremonies can be rectified by Nature to some extent. Put your trust in God and His Divine Mercy and do not let emotional outbursts guide you on to a dangerous and irreligious path.
Our religion encourages us all to always take a long term view of events and not get swayed by short term incidents. Even in this case, a great good has come about. How so? Ervad Balsara’s action has made sure that this Mobed never again dare stand for a Geh Sarna ceremony. If Ervad Balsara had not acted in this fashion the irreligious act of an unlearned and unskilled Mobed would have gone unnoticed and that Mobed would have been encouraged to do even more such irreligious acts in the future. He could have, with the lapses in his Manthravani, put the onward journey of many Zoroastrian souls in great danger. But with Ervad Balsara’s courageous action, we can be assured that the Geh Sarna prayers at Dungerwadi will be said only by priests who are competent, well trained and who understand what they are doing. As per the letter, the deceased was a frequent visitor to Pak Iranshah. It was these good deeds in his life which came to the rescue of the deceased’s soul and helped him get a complete, correct and proper Geh Sarna prayer and other prayers. Not even a single good thought ever goes to waste, dear readers! We must always strive to think good, speak truth and perform righteous action. For such a Zoroastrian, the end result will always be salvation.
This incident once again brings to the limelight a great deficiency in our Mobedi Tola today – the lack of internal audit and a central authority. In the days gone by, every Mobedi Tola was strictly governed by their respective Dasturs, who had the final say in whether a Mobed could perform a ceremony or not. In the Navsari Bhagarsath Tola, no ceremony could be undertaken without the grant of approval (“rajaa levaani”) of the Vada Dasturji. Those who did not maintain the strict standards of the Tola were “benched” – that is, they were put on compulsory “leave” for some duration of time, and could restart their prayers only after taking the Vada Dasturji’s permission. Sadly, over the years, this practice fell in to disuse and the Mobeds began to do as they pleased.
Even today, it is possible for the Panthaky of an Agiary to maintain a strict check on his Mobeds. But the acute shortage of priests and the heavy workload in some Agiaries makes the Panthaky loosen his strictness and from there it is a road downhill. The Panthaky should lead by example – set his own personal standards so high that the Mobeds of his Agiary look up to him and try and emulate him. Sadly, this is often not the case.
In conclusion, the state of our Priesthood also reflects the state of our community – we are like a herd of cattle without a master (“dhani vagar na dhor” ), everybody trying to do his own thing and therefore nobody goes anywhere. This is precisely the prediction which our Master, Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowroji Shroff had forecasted over 80 years ago. He had said that the practice of Yasna Daruji (illicit behaviour during and illegal shortening of ceremonies) would cause the downfall of the priesthood and also result in the closing down of some Agiaries. But in this sea of despondency, our Ustad Saheb left a great hope – in forecasting the arrival of some advanced souls, who would lead the Mobedi Tola out of this ignorance and once again uplift them to their high standards. Our Ustad Saheb said that the advent of these souls will happen before the advent of the Promised Saviour, Shah Behram Varzavand.
I request all the readers of this blog, that after your daily prayers, please pray to Dadar Ahura Mazda that the advent of these advanced souls happens early, so that we may once again walk on the path of righteousness and honesty, for which my brother Mobeds were once so well known and respected for. Ustad Saheb used to always refer to his great Master, the Sraoshavarez (co-worker of Sarosh Yazad) Marzbanji Saheb and say: wherever he put his foot on the earth, the very earth would cry out in ecstasy: “Blessed am I, that this great soul has put his foot here on me!” It is the sacred duty of every Mobed to try and strive to achieve that level of piety and purity. When we aim for the impossible, everything else becomes possible.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram