The Jury Is Still Out On Women as Parsi Priests

A much debated issue in the Parsi community — the status of women has been reinvigorated after an event in Iran. The Tehran Mobeds Anjuman (Anjoman-e-Mobedan), last month announced that for the first time in history of Iran and the Zoroastrian communities worldwide, eight women have joined the group of mobeds (priests) in Iran as mobedyars (lady priests).

By Ashutosh Shukla | DNA

The event has been welcomed by the liberals and they have been emailing Parsis across the city, arguing that the community should have a re-look at the traditions and status of the women.

These mobedyars (lady priests) are well educated and have passed all the religious tests set by the Mobeds Anjuman on religious matters.

They now hold a certificate and apart from the lower-rung religious functions, they can even initiate people into the religion.

“If Iran, despite being an Islamic republic, can have Zoroastrians being this liberal, why not in democratic India? It is the so-called orthodox who are of the view that only males can become priests,” said Vispy Wadia, member of liberal group Association of Revival of Zoroastrianism.

He added, “What they (Iraninan Zorastrians) have done adheres to the basic principles of gender equality in the religion. They are being progressive and not talibanising the religion.”

One member who did not wished to be named said, “The discrimination is when the woman is not accepted in the institutes. The main object is prayer.”

Noshir Dadrawala, one of the trustees of BPP said, “Nowhere is it mentioned that women cannot become priest but it is also true that traditionally there were no women priest amongst the Parsis. It is like any other religion where certain rituals like touching of the Holy books is not allowed during the monthly cycle of women.”

When contacted, Dr Ramiyar Karanjia, principal, Dadar Athornan Institute, a seminary for Parsi priests said, “India and Iran are two different places. They are confusing the issue. In India, only the ones from a family line can become priests.”

  • Homi Dalal

    Dear Dr.. Ramiyar Karanjia,

    You are right Iran & India are two different places. Everybody knows that.You are alleging that we are confusing the issue. On the contrary I would say with great respect to you that you are misguiding the community. Yes in India only the ones from a family line can become priest BUT from where & when this practice came from? When in Iran , the original place from where we migrated -no such MONOPOLY practice is being followed then how is that it is followed in India. Have you any scriptures to quote that it is mentioned as such. Your attention is also drawn where in Farzana news a woman was made priest in 2008. You being Phd , being a scholar & part of proposed Council of Priest replying in such a way is surprising. Today community is alert and does not accept any FATWAS so easily. See how Noshir Dadrawala has replied? He is honest enough to say that nothing is mentioned in scripture. Do you dispute his claim? There should be some logic or some evidence of scripture when one talks of religion. do you mean to say that community is to accept whatever is said. I was really disappointed by your misguiding answer. What community needs is HONEST guidances not misguiding opinions

  • Phiroze

    Why should the Parsis follow what happens in Iran. It should be the other way around. After all what we Parsis practice here is much more than what the Iranians even know about Zoroastrianism. All they have is the translations of some European scolars that they wave above their heads. They have turned their temples into tourists spot. What Mr. Dadrawala and Ervad Ramiyar Karanjia is true. All those who want to follow the Iranians are free to go there and do the needful. Any guesses for who the member of ARZ is, who did not want to be named?

  • Ratan Unwalla

    The first Gahambar ceremony with the participation of lady Mobedyars.

    Visit: http://www.berasad.com/fa/content/view/6956/43/

    The first Gahambar ceremony with the participitation of lady Mobedyar was performed in Nosratabad in Yazd, Iran.
    In this ceremony Ms. Mobedyar Fariba Malli and Mr. Mobedyar Mehrban Afarin perfomed the Gahanbar prayers.

  • Rumi Wadia

    It would also be a source of income to our parsi ladies who wish to continue the tradition of their priest husband or family line with all the purity which our religion is

  • Zerxes.Dordi

    What one Phiroze states makes sense. ‘Why should the Parsis follow what happens in Iran. It should be the other way around.”
    But this advise should be directed towards those who are conducting tours to Iran and call it a journey to’ MADARVATAN.’ which I assume, means motherland. In fact such tour conductors be told that they should bring Iranian Zoros to India and show them how the Religion is being practiced here. So instead of Demavand Tours, they should rename their venture as Udwada-Navsari -Surat Heritage Expereince. As a complimentary gift , the tourist may be gifted a ZYNG Calendar to be carried back.

  • Siloo Kapadia

    There is no reason that women cannot become Parsee priests. None. All these restrictions on women, the caste nonsense, the cow piss drinking, it is all taken from Hinduism.

    So, the question is, do we want to be Parsees/Zoroastrians, or do we want to be quasi-Hindus? The so-called “orthodox” Parsees want no changes to anything. In that sense they have already aba

    ndoned the religion to superstition and to Hindu influences. Toba! The same holds true for converts. This nonsense only holds true for the Parsees in South Asia. Once again, there is no reason that people cannot enter the religion.

    In the end common sense will prevail. For those that want no changes, they will die out. Their demise is beyong recall. We, the real Parsees will carry on the faith!

  • rustom

    The author should first study the term’Talibanistic’ and also the rule for mobeds in general before jumping to conlcusions.

    The term ‘talibanistic’ means to push ones religion onto other thus disrepcting the other faith. Herein the Author of the article disrespects the practises of the Saviours of Zoroastrianism and thus Zoroastrianism

    He also by misusing the term promotes total disfunctionality of any system, country, state or organisation as then anyone who does not want to follow certain regulations can term the organisation as talibanistic. Infact the Byzantines and Islamists who wanted to end Zoroastrianism also could use this , that the band of Zoroastrians do not want to give in to the pressures of converting or adapting another set of rules and are thus Talibanistic.

    An illegal immigrant can also now claim that the Govts are talibanistic as they have laws and rules!

    And the rule:-

    That any person or mobed shall protect the consecrated fire from being portrayed in front of any kind of bleeding, diffusing bodily fluids etc.

    I think the sender of this mail whilst blaming other’s of ‘Talibanistic views’, himself works on the lines of taliban. The working of the talian is to first close eyes to history, concot a story and lastly cry hoarse that everyone else is bad.
    I shall substantate what Im saying.

    Since the article is with regards to female mobeds and since that is unheard of in India over a millenia, he cries ‘talibanisation’ of the present community.

    Firstly the Saviours of Zoroastrianism have passed on the fact of Mobeds being male and from a priestly class.The present community is only following what the saviours of zoroastrianism passed on thru sacrifices ,sweat and holocausts.

    More so the proof of the pudding is in the FACT that Zoroastrianism survives ONLY DUE TO THE efforts and policy of those whom the author labels ‘gender Biased’

    Also the author is devoid of the history on another note.

    Many Zoroastrian ladies of India -Pak,overlooked the functioning of Agiaries in India and Abroad. Lady thooti is one of them, did she see as not being able to be a mobed as a rule of the gender biassed?”. The agiary at Iran and Ajerbaijan were also under the helm of ladies, especially funding of the same from ladies, again they never had he jaundiced vision of the author who protrays everything else as talibanisation.

    Also these ladies were not gulible enough to take at face value such anotganisation

    The author in his vindictive mode has also forgotten another part of history.

    That part wherein the Zoroastrians of India who set in place the rules he critisizes, undertook massive projects to protect Zoroastrians of Iran and also to study and to over see a dialoge between Zoroastrians of India and their Iranian counterpart. In this there were some very good findings and some differnces.Yet the generation that are responsible for Zoroastrianism surviving had the wisdom not to push in their own agenda and unlike the author’s thirst to malign, respected the other’s view as long as the fundamentals of Zoroastrianism, stood strong.

    Ironially the group that does not want to respect the wishes and will of the makers of agiary, want to end dokhmenishini, call the vendidad non zoroastrian, then the gatha alone cult etc etc call the ones who want to practise zoroasrianism as the way the saviours of zoroasrianism have passed it on as talibanistic.

    I guess the author should atleast study ‘taliban’ otherwise any rule, any regulation, any law of any institution or country will be thrown out by using this excuse.

    Lastly as the Zoroasrian philosophy talks of protecting the concecrated fire from pollutants from open wounds,and bleeding. It would rather feel awkward if a man would be in front of the holy fire or precincts of an agiary with a diaper on, relieving himself. We do sincerly hope that the lady mobeds would not feel inferior by having to avoid being in front of the holy fire during their menstrual cycle and do not get carried away by agendaist who try and instigate without insight of history or forsight for the future.

  • Piloo.

    Rustom:
    1) WHAT HAPPENED TO AVIARY PROJECT YOUR PET THEME SOME OVER A YEAR BACK.?
    2)WHO DO YOU BLAME NOW FOR NOT PURSUING THIS AGENDA ITEM?
    3) HAS DICLOFENAC BEEN BANNED FOR USE AS PAIN KILLER AMONG HUMANS?
    4) HAVE THE PROPNENTS OF AVIARY EVEN MADE APPLICATIONS WITH AUTHORITIES TO START AN AVIARY IN MUMBAI. IF NOW WHY.
    5) HOW IS DOKHMENASHNI GOING TO BE “STRENGHTENED”?
    6) WHAT EXACTLY CAN YOU FORETELL ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE COMMUNITY SINCE YOU HAVE SAID
    ” do not get carried away by agendaist who try and instigate without insight of history or forsight for the future”.

  • RATHESTAR.

    Many fire temples in Mumbai are actually managed by women viz wives of Priests. Only that they do not recite prayers.
    Rustom ought to know that Talibanisation is synonymous with oppression of feminine gender.
    As for Rustom’s comment about ‘want to end dokhmenishini,’ my simple question is, is this erstwhile system functional as it was, say two decades ago. To me there is nothing left to END as it ended the day birds of prey disappeared for good.

  • RATHESTAR.

    As for Rustom’s reference to pollutants, I ask all those who are frequent visitors to Fire Temples, if they would venture to drink the Water from the Wells in most Fire Temples.In fact the water placed in Karasias during prayers is itself carrying pollutants.

  • Ratan Unwalla

    It seems that Mr. Rustom has either missed the main issue and/or he has intently digressed from the main issue.

    The Talibanization of our community by the so-called orthodox (BPP & Wapiz) is for all to see & experience. These so-called orthodox in our community are busy trying to implement their version of Talibanization on the community by issuing senseless fatwas, banning priests, tearing Russian sudrahs, & subjecting the females of our community to all sorts of religious discrimination.

    Mr. Rustom, reading your post, it seems you either support & condone the utter disgustful behavior of BPP, Wapiz & the other so-called orthodox or you are blissfully ignorant of the happenings back in Mumbai.

    Where were you & why did you not protest when they physically assaulted & stripped a learned Russian Zoroastrian at Sanjan? Isnt this a Talibanic act? Should your silence be taken as your tacit support for the “Talibanic” act of theirs?

    Why did you not protest when BPP, Wapiz & the so-called orthodox threatened to repeat the Sanjan episode in Mumbai by trying to disrupt the Navjote of children of inter-married Parsi lady? Isnt that a Talibanic act? Should your silence be taken as your tacit support for the “Talibanic” act of theirs?

    Do you think that assaulting people, stripping them naked, banning the priests, threatening to disrupt a Navjote function, issuing fatwas, etc. are acts which merit a place in any civilized society? If this is not “Talibanization” of the community, then what is it?

    Where were you at that time Mr. Rustom? Why did you not oppose the way you do all the time? Are you trying to protect such dastardly acts?

    Sorry Rustomji you can be on their side. But we will keep on exposing them for all their deeds & misdeeds.

    You also queried about the “menstrual state”. The answer is simple. When any lady Mobedyar is in menstrual state, she does not take part in any religious ceremonies. She resumes her religious activities after her menstrual state is over. The same way a male is not ritually pure and not supposed to take part in any religious ceremonies after having a hair cut or a shave or after conjugation with his spouse.

    And by the way how did you like the attire of the lady Mobedyars? Aren’t they looking well dignified, totally covered & respectful (maan malajo sathe). Just compare the lady Modedyars dress code with the semi-nude Parsi girls in the ZYNG calendar recently published & sponsored by the BPP. What would you prefer?

  • Phiroze

    zerxes, Iran maybe your motherland but don’t forget that it is in western India that the parsis still practice all the rituals and customs of Zoroastrians. If you really have so much of love and regards for your motherland than get a oneway ticket there from these tour operators.

  • Rémi

    This might be of some use:

    Haftan Yasht Large, Karda 1, para 6:
    “Also if (any) man OR WOMAN [Capitals by me] really knows some good things, let him declare them, let him practise them, (and) inculcate them upon (those) others who wish to act properly in that manner (accordingly).”
    Translation from Ervad K.E.Kanga’s Khordeh Avesta on http://www.avesta.org

  • KEKI KAVARANA

    Type your comment here..
    WOMEN SHOULD NOT B ALLOWED TO BECOMEAS NATURE HAS INDUCED THEM TO MENSTRUATE. OUR
    RELIGION FORBIDS THEM TO PARTICIPATE IN RELIGIOUS
    CEREMONIES,THEREFORE EVEN IN ALL CLEAR STAGE
    THE SANCTITY OF SANCTUM IS DESECRATED.

  • Zerxes. Dordi.

    Mr. Phiroze,
    If you think that you are an expert in purposely confusing matters, you are badly mistaken. Iran is not and I repeat NOT my motherland. What I have quoted is about those who conduct Tours to Iran as a side business. Make an effort to read carefully before twisting and misinterpreting. Your advice to get one way ticket to Iran is applicable to such Tour Operators to Iran and not me. Believe me, your advice directed at such Tour operators will be of immense benefit to the entire community, more particularly in western part of India. Let us such Dhongees remain in Iran for good.

  • Phiroze

    Zerxes, my advice of buying a one way ticket is to all those who think we should follow what happens in Iran. If you are not one of them good for you. If you come across any let me know

  • Zerxes.

    Mr. Phiroze,
    On the one hand you claim to be a true Parsi and on the other hand you say you require from me the name of the person who conducts Iran Tours under the banner of Demavand Tours. If you do not know the name of this ‘celebrity’ you are insulting an Organiztion which pretends to “Preserve & Protect”. Very bad, very bad. Minus 10

  • Barak Aga

    .
    The Jury is still out?

    Too late for the Jury.

    The women are already initiated as Priests, and have already started performing priestly duties.

    Time and tide wait for no man, and certainly not for any jury.

  • Phiroze

    Zerxes, I meant let me know of those who want to follow what happens in Iran.

  • Zerxes.

    Mr. Phiroze.
    Correspondents of C.N.,N. BBC and other news agencies constantly ‘follow what happens in Iran”.WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT. ?

  • Phiroze

    Zerxes,
    Why? they have nothing better to report besides the mobedyars?

  • Zerxes.

    Phiroze your query was ” I meant let me know of those who want to follow what happens in Iran” Did you make any mention of Mobediyars?
    Be specific.

  • Siloo Kapadia

    Keki Kavarana, why is menstruation such a dirty thing? How is it dirtier than spitting, urinating, having a bowel movement, or ejaculation, all of which men do? I will tell you why, because ONLY WOMEN can do it. And THIS and THIS ONLY is the reason, or actually EXCUSE that is given to not allow women as priests. Once again, stupidity reigns!

  • Barak Aga

    Keki Kavarana 14 March 2011 at 11:17 am #

    “Women should not be allowed to become as nature has induced them to menstruate”.

    Perhaps Mr. Kavarana, has not heard about “nightfall”, which too is induced by nature, in men.

  • Shapur Kakroo

    Excellent Mr.Ratan Unwalla. Your obserations and arguments have hit the bull’s eye. Hope Rustom will now in all fairness realize what is “Talibanization”.

  • Behram

    Mobedi is a lifelong commitment, that begins from childhood.  When a boy from a priestly family sees his father and grandfather practice, he his mentally conditioned to take on those traits, he grows up in that environment. A male can start practicing as young as 10, and must always be ready to serve his community at any moment. Not so for females, because they get their periods. One would argue that after menopause it should be okay. Not really, because once your 50 it becomes kind of hard to memorize prayers, and adapt to the lifestyle and habits of a cleric. Nature has made the bodies of man and woman differently for various tasks the gender is made to carry out. Remember, that woman were never suppressed in ancient Iran: they were army generals, keepers of finance, architects, and even government officials.

  • Behram

    Mobedi is a lifelong commitment, that begins from childhood.  When a boy from a priestly family sees his father and grandfather practice, he his mentally conditioned to take on those traits, he grows up in that environment. A male can start practicing as young as 10, and must always be ready to serve his community at any moment. Not so for females, because they get their periods. One would argue that after menopause it should be okay. Not really, because once your 50 it becomes kind of hard to memorize prayers, and adapt to the lifestyle and habits of a cleric. Nature has made the bodies of man and woman differently for various tasks the gender is made to carry out. Remember, that woman were never suppressed in ancient Iran: they were army generals, keepers of finance, architects, and even government officials.

  • RATHESTAR.

    Behrambawa, In Christianity there are Nuns, In Jainism there are young Sadhvis. So too in Hinduism. Are you trying to imply that females in such communities who take such vows  do mot have their menstrual  cycles.????

  • RATHESTAR.

    Behrambawa, In Christianity there are Nuns, In Jainism there are young Sadhvis. So too in Hinduism. Are you trying to imply that females in such communities who take such vows  do mot have their menstrual  cycles.????

  • Behram

    According to their faiths the constant release of blood is not seen as impurity. In Zoroastrianism dead material such as the blood cells/eggs released from the body are “Nasa” and attract Ahereman. Now it is true that if  priest is wounded he may conduct ceremonies as long as the blood is contained, and platelets take care of that. This happens because blood from that region is not meant to be released. In the case of women the dead eggs must be released for new ones to form, and the flow is continual. Anything ded is against our religion, such as dead cells(hair and nails that have fallen off the body), dead bodies(yes meaning meat, something Parsis can not live without is completely un-Zoroastrian), dead sperm (that is why unnatural acts of sex which do not guarantee the survival of sperm is un-Zoroastrian.)   Oh, and please do not call me Behrambawa, that name is for a senior citizen not a teenager. God Bless & Fondest Love–Behram

  • Behram

    According to their faiths the constant release of blood is not seen as impurity. In Zoroastrianism dead material such as the blood cells/eggs released from the body are “Nasa” and attract Ahereman. Now it is true that if  priest is wounded he may conduct ceremonies as long as the blood is contained, and platelets take care of that. This happens because blood from that region is not meant to be released. In the case of women the dead eggs must be released for new ones to form, and the flow is continual. Anything ded is against our religion, such as dead cells(hair and nails that have fallen off the body), dead bodies(yes meaning meat, something Parsis can not live without is completely un-Zoroastrian), dead sperm (that is why unnatural acts of sex which do not guarantee the survival of sperm is un-Zoroastrian.)   Oh, and please do not call me Behrambawa, that name is for a senior citizen not a teenager. God Bless & Fondest Love–Behram

  • Behram

    Well you see that happens once in a while and is over within a few seconds. Menses is a continual bleeding process in which the flow of blood is uncontrollable. After a wet dream a man is to take a shower as soon as he realizes and pray a specific Pazand Nirang.    

  • Behram

    Well you see that happens once in a while and is over within a few seconds. Menses is a continual bleeding process in which the flow of blood is uncontrollable. After a wet dream a man is to take a shower as soon as he realizes and pray a specific Pazand Nirang.