My response to the incident at Dungerwadi

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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



  1. Sarosh Aibara  April 22, 2010

    Thank you for your balanced and neutral view on this unfortunate incident, Ervad Marzban ! As also for your noble words at the end of your article.
    Kind regards,
    Sarosh (Aibara)

  2. meher  April 22, 2010

    Dear Ervad Hathiram,
    Your response is very well written, and apt. It is indeed heartening to note the sensitivity with which you have related to Ervad Jal Bulsara’s nature. It is true that someone who is cheated will tend to be brusque and appear hard hearted but people should empathise with those in similar position and see how they would react if they were dealt the same treatment.
    That apart, thanks for giving a very comprehensive and insightful view.


  3. Dhunjishaw Aderbehman  April 22, 2010

    Dear Ervad saheb,
    Thank you for the clarification regarding this ugly incident. However, as you know this priest so well, perhaps a quiet word in his ear to try and understand the feelings of grieving relatives would really help. In hind sight the situation could have been handled more tactfully all round. Trust the brother of the deceased also reads your explanation given.

    Best wishes to you and your loved ones.


  4. Jeannie Antia  April 22, 2010

    Maybe it would be better if the priest being now old and unable retires and takes nice walks down on marine drive and Juhu beach instead of disturbing other people’s lives.

    Best wishes for the old priest!

    Jeannie Antia
    born in Bombay based in Hamburg

  5. PERCY N. SIGANPORIA  April 22, 2010

    Dear Respected Ervad Murzban Hathiram Saheb,

    Your neutral opinion and observation is indeed very convincing pertaining such a unfortunate incident. This has not a natural result of vibrating feelings of grieving relatives .. but it is shock and blow to the highest respect and santity for religious faith and spirit of simple and honest worship. We can accept justification at dregree to some extent,for the circumstances time being, but criticts and low thinking obervers will never forgive Ervad Jal Balsara’s nature. Hope some remidial procedure should be constituted to avert such happening in future. All Mobed “Tola” must co-ordinate and constitute Uniform body and every 6 months they must have congressional meet at different places and at different cities for time to time. High level proper discussion, solution to major and minor problems, difficulties and hurdles to be sorted out.Why not to formulate standard rules, procedures and regulation ?

    Indeed your narrations and explanations were commendable but still there are “Ifs” and “Buts” remains at bottom line..!!

    Percy Noshirwan Siganporia

  6. Firoze Mistry  April 22, 2010

    Dear Ervad saheb

    Thank you very much for your clarification, I completely agree with your views.

    I am a regular visitor to the Wadiaji Atashbehram, and a authodox parsee by nature. During my visits I have seen several incidents where fellow zarthusties are reluctant to offer even Rs, 101 for performing the matchi prayers, however the same individual is willing to spend lakhs on a novjote or a wedding. I have also heard of cases where Mobeds have not been paid after performing the Have we ever a second thought about how the mobed would feel? Are we sure Ahuramazda would usher his blessings on such souls?

    I have also seen individuals who no matter what refuse to switch of there mobile sets, even when the mobed is performing a prayer ceremony. In such a case how is the mobed suppose to react?

  7. Firoze Mistry  April 22, 2010

    Dear Ervad saheb

    Thank you very much for your clarification, I completely agree with your views.

    I am a regular visitor to the Wadiaji Atash Behram, and a orthodox parsi by nature. During my visits I have seen several incidents where fellow zarthusties are reluctant to offer even Rs, 101 for performing the Machi prayers, however the same individual is willing to spend lakhs on a navjote or a wedding. I have also heard of cases where Mobeds have not been paid after performing the Navjote ceremony. Have we ever thought about how the mobed would feel? Are we sure Ahura Mazda would usher his blessings on such souls?

    I have also seen individuals where no matter what individuals refuse to switch of their mobile sets, even when the mobed is performing a prayer ceremony in the Atash Behram. In such a case how is the mobed suppose to react?

  8. Burjor Bharucha  April 23, 2010

    All said and done this whole episode could have been handled by Er. Balsara in a more discreet and humane manner without hurting the feelings of the bereaved family members. And what about the new mobed who is starting his career in a profession which most youngsters are unwilling to take. To what extent he must have been hurt and felt humiliated for no fault of his. This incident has put a blot on him for life. Firstly, if he was known to be not fully trained then he should not have been assigned such important prayers. Having been assigned Er. Balsara could have refused to commence the rites and demanded a more experienced mobed. And most certainly Er. Balsara cannot and should not have walked off in a huff without politely discussing and explanation the situation to the family and all others concerned. This would have difused the situation on the spot, enhanced the reputation of and respect for Er. Balsara in the eyes of the whole community.
    Its high time that the BPP who have always claimed to be the only controlling and managing body of the Dungerwadi sets up proper rules and systems so that anamolies like these and other wrong prevalent practices are not allowed to continue.

  9. Sheraz Bhesania  April 23, 2010

    Dear Ervad Saheb:
    It is the first time that I am reading this Blog and thank you for your wonderful explaination about this sad incident that took place during a very important ceremony of ours. Instead of giving solace to the grieving family,it made matters worse when Er.Balsara walked out in the middle in a huff. Could you please clarify for me what you mean when you say the “abilities” of Er. Karanjia in the Mobed circle are very well know. Is he a new young dasturji or an old gentleman who cannot recite his prayers as speedily as Er.Balsara. You are absolutely right in saying that if that was the case Er.Balsara should never have commenced the prayers with him. We left Bombay in 1967, but we did not leave our religion behind. My husband and I pray everyday and have our little prayer room with diva lit all day and night. I do believe that what we can pray personally at home for our dear departed ones, from our hearts and with true fervour far outweighs the hurried prayers recited at our Agiaries and Atashbehrams.
    I loved going to Agiary everyday and soon learnt that no dastoorjis prayed the full prayers from their hearts. Every time I went for my Grandma’s prayers I would be told “Oh just put the loband the dastoorji just finished your prayers”. And the most resonant sound would not be the dasturjis voice, but the Panthaky ringin his bell after 7 minutes of prayers. Complete or not the dasturji had to get up and move on to the next client. There must be very few honourable Dasturjis left now – but then it is their job & they have to listen to their bosses. I think if Er. Balsar wrote a few lines of apology and stopped being the Godfather of the Doongerwadi clan, it would help the family and many of us a lot. Unfortunately, we always don’t have Dasturjis when we need them the most and so now we have a DVD made of our Paidast, Jashan and a few other prayers which we keep in reserve if the need should arise. Two times I have prayed Patet Rawan-ni as we were only 5 families with no dasturji . One was for a dear old gentleman and one was for a 16th month old baby. Once I prayed “Tandoorsti” for a lovely girl’s wedding as she wanted Zoroastrian prayers and blessings. We have to adapt to change and move with the times. Ahuramazda is everywhere and listens to one and all who pray to him and talk with him.
    Thank you for a beautiful explaination. God Bless You.

  10. Minoo Vaghchhipawalla  April 24, 2010

    As suggested, I have gone through your article. I would request you to try and find answers to some of the below mentioned points :

    1. In what way we were involved that we should suffer this pain, as if the death of my brother was not enough ?

    2. What would be your reaction, if you were to be in my place ?

    3. To be honest, when I approached him in the office of the doongarwadi to enquire about this incident, his body lenguage gave a very distinct picture of a man full of arrogance, He showed no remose, did not feel sorry for his action. I asked him only one question as to why did he leave the geh sarna ceremony in the middle of prayers which was an insult to my dead brother. According to him, he preferred to leave geh sarna ceremony rather then continue with an incompetent colleague because if he has continued, (mare matha per pap na potla nathi laye jawa). He was talking as if the other priest was appoint by us.

    4. When Mr. Jal Balsara is aware of the caliber of his colleague why did he apgree in the first place ? That was my question to which he never answered. Why did he do such an act in the middle of geh sarna ceremoney?. What does it indicate?, Whom he was trying to express his displeasure?.

    5. Are not we all have emotion ? I am sure you too have emotion. What people seem to forget is that there is something called professional ethics, moral value. That day, I did not see these qualities in him.

    6. Was he the only person stressed out on that day at Doongarwadi ? Did we go to celebrate the death of my brother at Doongarwadi?

    7. We all work for living. There is nothing wrong in his earning by performaing priestly duties. If you have a desire to earn millions, then one has to work very hard, even 24 hours, which he seems to be doing, and I see nothing wrong in it. But in the process, if he gets stressed out, he should find other ways/place to vent his feelings why pick on helpless family members of the dead person ?

    8. My question to those who felt that Jal Balsara was justified leaving the ceremony half-way,please give me the reference of the zoroastrian religious text which suggests that one can leave prayers half-way through, absuing the fellow colleague (since we are on a public forum, I cannot repeat the abusive words he used for his fellow colleague) if he finds that things are not in order ?. If they do not find such things in our religion text, then stop misleading public in general with your biased opinions and atleast have the decency to say that Mr. Jal Balsara was wrong in leaving the prayers half-way through, abusing his fellow colleague, even though he had the valid grounds for being angry with fellow dastur.

    Some people have this unique ability of classifying the opinions of those affected by this incident as “Emotional” and viewing the opinions expressed by those not affected by this incident (directly) as “Balanced”, Let us not break our heads on this, ask ourselves a simple question. What can we do to stop such incident recurring again?

    Minoo K Vaghchhipawalla

    brother of the Late Mr. Phiroz K Vaghchhipawalla

  11. Roohinton Marolia Wi USA  April 25, 2010

    A good and diplomatic explantion by Ervad Hathiram to diffuse tensions. I’m sure Ervad Bulsara is a very knowledgable individual in matters of prayer and our religious rites. But whatever happened to the most basic yet powerful concepts that constitute the fabric of our religion — Good thoughts, Good words, Good deeds. One would think that the Ervad with his years of training and experience would have used these concepts to excercise some level of tolerance.

  12. Cavas Beramshaw Bacha  April 26, 2010

    Lets filter, cheating, stress, emotions etc. All these are diverting the main issue. In my opinion If Dadar Ahuramazda weighs this situation, between 1. A not so perfact Prayer & 2. Disrupting or breaking the Prayer, I am reasonably sure that Dadar Ahurmuzd will forgive the first i.e. not so perfect prayer & punish the second i.e. breaking the prayer. How many of us including learned Mobeds are perfect in Prayer? Frankly the Perfaction is dificult to measure or summerise, it can only be compared.
    Lets know from Dasturji Er. Jal Balsara, whether his every pronounciation, pause, or intensity of his prayer is honestly perfect according to his own opinion? If he genuinly wants to repent, he should take opon him to train such under devoloped Priest.

    Cavas Beramshaw Bacha April 26, 2010

  13. kfkeravala  April 27, 2010

    Hope our Dasturjis and community leaders can see where the real problem is.

    We need many more bold Panthaky’s and Mobed Sahebs like Ervad Jal Balsara, who can expose such frauds.

    No Mobeds No Parsis.

    Behest Behreh Firoz K Vaghchhipwalla, tamune Shreeji Paak Iranshah AtashBehram Saheb ni ane Sarosh Yazad ni Panah .

  14. khursheed b irani  April 28, 2010

    much as i agree with u marazban regarding the right way of praying etc. i beg to differ re er.jal balsara… i have observed every time that i have been to the doongerwadi that he is always arrogant and rude… no matter how stressed one is this sort of behaviour from a priest is most uncalled for…even on the farvandian parab day or during the irani new year where iranis go to do the prayers for their dead souls he is rude even when asked for an extra prayer book or diva… i personally think he should indeed apologise to the bereaved family and make sure that he is not rude to people who come to the doongerwadi under greater trauma and stress of having lost their beloved one…

  15. Jimmy Chinoy  April 30, 2010

    It is indeed very wrong of Jal Balsara to have insulted

    the deceased, relatives of the deceased , Ervad bhesania of jokhi agiary and community in general.

    Just because he has performed 25000 paidust does NOT give him authority to hurt all related to deceased. Besides he is notorious in demanding his remuneration

    even before paidust and other 4 days ceremonies are

    completed, also requests for “ashodad” to enable him

    undertake foreign jaunts every year. I sincerely feel

    & appeal to BPP to throw him out of doongerwadi to

    set a n example to other dastoorjis if they are so

    insolent and powerful to hurt grieving relatives

    of the deceased, despite the acute shortage of dastoors at doongarwadi, especially during muktad days.

    Throw him out, such heartless dastoors.

    Jimmy N Chinoy

  16. Mehernosh A. Patel  June 10, 2010

    Good Day Dastuji Saheb,

    Well, I for one will be waiting…………


  17. Maneck  October 31, 2012

    After reading so many comments on Er. Jal Bulsara, Should not the BPP Trustees open their eyes and set some sort of decorum at Doongerwadi ? Tomorrow if Jal Bulsara dies what then ????????? Why can’t they from now start scouting for other mobeds who will take up the job of a Liaison Priest in absence of Jal Bulsara. Why should only Jal have the monopoly. I am sure if BPP pays the Mobed extremely well, there will be many mobeds who will come forward to take up this job. At the moment, there are many mobeds who are scared of Jal Bulsara saying that “anee saath kyan mathu phoriye.” If even one BPP Trustee takes it upon himself to devote full time to the administration at Doongerwadi, the Parsis will definitely stand to gain. At present there is absolutely no control and things are taken each day at time. Hota Hai Chalta Hai attitude must go. If there is a regular check, no priest will dare to be so rough to the behdins. We respect our priests and also kudos to Jal Bulsara for putting in so many years of service at the Doongerwadi. Thank you Er.Jal but you must show some compassion to the relatives of the deceased who do not mind paying you your fees but would not tolerate your rudeness. Your heart may have hardened seeing one dead body after another for so many years but think of others’ feelings. It should not happen that the day you die, the community heaves a sigh of relief.

  18. P.D. Magol  January 4, 2014

    Well written! Interesting N informative!

  19. Tehemton  August 7, 2014

    Never knew that this is the custom, method and ways to deal with a departed person and soul after reading Jal Bulsara and Karanjia episode. What about prayers for a person who is abroad. All this , in this modern world should be divulged to lay people. To pray avesta is difficult , but recite the stanza(kardo) in one breath is unbelievable. LET bpp handle the matter for 70000 Parsees(who are indirectly owners ) of Doongerwadi.