Zoroastrianism: The Way Forward by Darius J. Khambata


January 8, 2014

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Darius J.Khambata
Senior Advocate, LLM (Harvard)

[NOTE :     This is the written version of the speech that I made on 28th December 2013 as far as I can recall it.  It is not nor is it meant to be a verbatim transcript of what I said.  It does, I believe, contain everything I said and a little more.  I have retained in this version a few things that due to paucity of time I omitted on the 28th December 2013.

I was deeply touched by the genuine appreciation of the audience.  I sincerely cherish my religion and am proud of my ethnicity.  I want both to survive.  The object of saying what I did was to encourage a free, fair and dignified dialogue bereft of acrimony.  If this speech makes more Parsis read and think about our great religion and exercise “Urvan” I will have achieved my objective.  I have no other interest.

I welcome informed criticism and do not claim infallibility in my views.  I only hope that those who take a different line or are critical of what I have said, do so on the basis of disclosed historical, legal or religious sources.  Nothing that I have said is either new or radical. It is in fact a rational option that should not hurt any true Zoroastrian.  I have taken pains to disclose, in the form of footnotes, my sources, all of whom are recognized scholars and masters of their subject.]

Vada Dastur Khurshed Dastur, Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla, Chairman, World Zoroastrian Congress, Mr. Nadir Godrej, Vice-Chairman, WZC, my old friend Mr. Maneck Davar, Honorary Secretary, WZC, Mr. Dinshaw Mehta, President and other Trustees of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet and Trustees and office bearers of all the Panchayats and Associations of Parsis, Iranis and Zoroastrians from all over the world, my fellow Zoroastrians, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The fact that we are at all here today is a great tribute to Cyrus Poonawalla, Nadir Godrej, Maneck Davar and the other members of the WZC Committee.  They have displayed Zoroastrian qualities of fortitude, compromise and rationality.

What a gathering this is!  About 1% of the Zoroastrians diaspora are in this hall and this gathering is a grim reminder of our declining numbers.

The First Congress

But this is not a cause for dismay.  The numbers at this Congress are still much larger than at the first Congress of Zoroastrians.  I do not speak of the first Congress in modern times, that was in Tehran in 1960.  I imagine the very first Congress must have taken place in a small village in what is perhaps now Southern Uzbekistan or North-Eastern Afghanistan (ancient Bactria) over 3400 years ago in 1500-1700 BC or thereabouts.  Only two people attended.  Neither of them was a Parsi.  Neither had been born a Zoroastrian.  One was called Maidhyamaha Spitama.  The other was a man who had received a divine revelation from Ahura Mazda and had managed only one convert to his new religion until then, his cousin Maidhyamaha.   That man’s name was Zarathustra Spitama.

The rest of his tribe (who were not Parsis), had shown the skepticism, that some of our community shows even today, to Zarathustra’s divine epiphany of Heaven and Hell, the monotheism of God, the antithesis between right and wrong, the conflict between good and evil, the temptations placed by the evil one (Angro Mainyu) before Zarathustra, the day of general and individual, final judgment and the future resurrection of the body. [1]  This was a categorical departure from the polytheism that existed before Zarathustra.[2]

Today these are believed to be Judaic, Christian or Islamic concepts.[3]  History, as always, confounds popular perceptions and notions and history tells us it was Zarathustra who first propagated these fundamental concepts which were absorbed by religions that followed.  From dogma to practice, Zoroastrianism is a religion about sharing and propagation.

For lack of a following amongst his own, Zarathustra went forth to another land and another tribe, also not Parsis, and converted King Vishtaspa and his queen Hutaosa.[4]  Thus spake Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism took root amongst what historians called the Avestan people.

The Avestan peoples – the spread of Zoroastrianism

The Avestan peoples migrated from the Central Asian steppes around 1500 BC, another branch migrating into India through the Hindu Kush.[5]  Thus were separated the two great branches of the Aryan peoples to be reunited millennia later under extraordinary circumstances, when a small group of Parsis fleeing the shattered remnants of a great empire, sought asylum in India amongst their long parted brethren.

The then predominant tribes of western and southern Iran were, to use that celebrated expression from the Book of Daniel, “The Medes and the Persians”.   Neither the Medes nor the Persians were Zoroastrians to start with.

Parsis (the anglicized term being “Persians”) were those who settled in Pars in south western Iran.[6]  The capital of Pars was Anshan.  In the 6th Century BC the Medes and the Persians were not Zoroastrians and even when the Medes conquered eastern Iran, as that great scholar Mary Boyce tells us, they were slow to accept a religious revelation from the Iranian tribes in the east who they looked down upon as inferiors.[7]   It was only centuries after Zarathustra’s revelation, that in the latter part of the 6th Century BC, the tribes of Anshan or Pars in Southwest Iran, accepted Zoroastrianism as it spread throughout the Median world.[8]

Thus, whether we like it or not, historically and racially we are all descendants of converts to Zoroastrianism.  I do not believe for a moment that this, at all, dilutes our commitment to our faith.  To the contrary, it is he who has voluntarily accepted, rather than inherited, the divine revelation of Ahura Mazda, who is the zealot.

In those years of antiquity, the great flame of Humata (good thoughts), Hukhta (good words) and Huvarshta (good deeds) captivated hearts and minds of a multitude of tribes across Iran.  The Persians wholeheartedly embraced Zoroastrianism as their own and what a religion they were to make it.    As the Iranian peoples accepted Zoroastrianism they began to regard the religion as their racial heritage rather than as a universal message of salvation for all mankind.[9]

The Cyrus Cylinder and the Achaemenians

Khourosh the first of Anshan in Pars, was born of a Parsi father in the line of Achaemenes, King of Anshan and a Median mother (daughter of the reigning Median monarch Hystaspes).

Khourosh is known to the world as Cyrus the Great.  His “Cyrus Cylinder” is today displayed in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum.  It is but a clay cuneiform cylinder, discovered in 1879. It is one of the most important objects of history and has a fascinating tale to tell.

It is a proclamation (rather like the Facebook of today) made in 539 BC by Cyrus the Great as the conqueror of Babylon. [10]

It has been variously described as the first charter of human rights and part of it is inscribed on the walls of the United Nations.  Think of it.  It is an extraordinary statement of civil liberties, tolerance and magnanimity towards conquered peoples.

Cyrus granted his conquered subjects : freedom of religion, the prohibition of slavery, respect for all customs, traditions and religions, protection of properties and freedom from oppression.

Cyrus was gifted with the great quality of mercy.  He displayed this in his pardon of King Croesus of Lydia[11] whilst King Croesus was being burnt at the stake and when he released the Hebrew tribes from their captivity in Babylon and gave them the right to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple on the site of King Solomon’s temple.  He also promised them Persian funds.[12]  For that he is the only gentile to be referred to as “The Lord’s anointed” in the Old Testament of the Bible (Isaiah 45 : 1) almost a messianic reference.  After his death the Jews who had not yet taken their funding approached Darius the Great and reminded him of Cyrus’ promises.  Darius kept that promise and the second Temple was built.

Xerxes the King of Kings with his Persian Grand army marched 2000 miles to conquer Greece and laid waste to the Acropolis.  His navy made up of a coalition of ships including Phoenician, was defeated by the sharper Athenian ships in a naval battle at Salamis under the Athenian leader Themistocles, as Xerxes sat watching on his golden throne.[13]  Years later when Themistocles was ostracized and banished from Athens he threw himself at the mercy of Xerxes who gave him the Governorship of Magnesia on the Meander, a city in Lydia.[14]

These were qualities of libertarianism, mercy, tolerance, generosity and fidelity to one’s word.

The Parthian Empire

After the Achaemenian empire the second great Zoroastrian empire was the Parthian or Arsacid empire.

A Parthian King called Valaksh commanded the compilation of the Avestan holy scriptures and also possibly even the Vendidad.[15] The Vendidad is a Zoroastrian Leviticus, a code of legal and ritual prescriptions.  The Arsacids did not come from Pars.   I am puzzled and somewhat amused when the Vendidad is sometimes misquoted in support of theories of the sanctity of the racial purity of Parsis, because it was initially sponsored by one not from Pars but nevertheless a devout Zoroastrian.  It is a product of the times in which it was written.  Scholars agree that it forms no part of the original revelation of Ahura Mazda through Zarathustra and indeed some say it indicates a lowering of ideals.[16]   It cannot therefore be viewed as transcendental.

Practice should not make a religion.  One ancient practice was of “Khvaetvadatha” that is marriage between brother and sister.[17]  Cambyses the son of Cyrus the Great married two of his sisters, one of whom Atossa later married Darius.  Such next of kin marriages were quite common amongst the Persians of that time but all would agree that today such a practice would be completely unacceptable.  This practice, as far as I’m aware, is not a practice mentioned in the Vendidads but I refer to it as an example of the danger of elevating practice to the status of religion.  Indeed I do not condemn what is in the Vendidad; I only ask that the Vendidad be read and construed rationally and in the context of the age in which it was written.

The Sasanians

The third great Zoroastrian empire was the Sasanian empire.  During this time historians tell us that Zoroastrianism expanded to its peak and millions of new souls converted to Zoroastrianism.  The religion spread far and wide and well beyond the Avestan people. The fire spread by proselytization to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Syria, Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) and even Albania[18].  Holy fires were tended in all these places.  Some of these were called “soul” fires and were given names such as ‘Atash Bahram’[19].

That was the time of Shapour I who in 244 AD defeated and killed the Roman emperor Gordian on the banks of Euphrates, in 260 AD captured another Roman emperor Valerian and led him in chains, and who later subjugated a third Roman emperor, Phillip the Arab, who had to pay tribute to him (images captured in the stone reliefs of the Naqsh-e-Rustam).[20]   The magnificent reign of Khusrav I (Noshirwan the Just) (531-578 AD) marked the zenith of the Sasanian empire.[21]

Its end came amidst a great story of sacrifice which I now relate.

King Yasdegard III was defeated by the Arab barbarian hordes of Khalif Omar at the battles of Qadissiyah (636 AD) and Nahavand (642 AD).[22]  When the Arab armies had plundered and torn through the heart of the third great Zoroastrian empire, Khalif Omar gave an ultimatum to King Yazdegard either to convert and submit his kingdom to Islam or face annihilation.  Yazdegard’s defiant rejection of that ultimatum remains a masterpiece but for that he had to make the supreme sacrifice of his throne and his life.  That sacrifice ultimately led to us being here today.  He gave up his property and his material possessions for his religion.  Let us not forget that.

Flight with the flame : the landing at Sanjan

The story of Zoroastrianism in India starts with the flight of 2000 or 3000 refugees who ran away from intolerance and religious persecution in Iran.  They sought asylum in India first landing in Diu in 917 AD and then in Sanjan in 936 AD.

The name Sanjan itself was given by them to the place where they landed.   Sanjan is a small village in the province of Khorasan in Parthia (then north eastern Iran) from which they had come.[23]  Sanjan, Khorasan is a small town in modern day Turkmenistan.    Google it.  You’ll find it.

The legendary five conditions on which they were given refuge by Jadi Rana were :-

(i)            To adopt the local language;
(ii)          To adopt the local dress;
(iii)         To live at peace with the people of the land;
(iv)        To take up arms along with the Rana in time of war; and
(v)          To introduce changes to their marriage ceremonies.[24]

We have kept our word and the result has been :

(i)      the elevation of the Gujarati language to an unimaginably colourful use (all you have to do is visit the High Court Library or pick up your edition of “Parsi Bol” and you will know what I mean);
(ii)     the most elegant ladies in Gujarati sarees and garas;
(iii)    the trust that we have earned from others to the extent that “Parsi Owned” has become a USP;
(iv)    the great sacrifices that we have made for our nation in times of war, Field Marshal Manekshaw is but one of the so many valiant who have taken up arms and so many of whom have died for their country. We have kept our word; and
(v)     this must be mentioned, Tanaz Godiwalla’s magnificent dinners post our sunset weddings.

We have kept our word.  We must remember that there was and is no condition that we would not accept any non-Parsi into our religion or permit any non-Parsi to be enlightened by the message of Zarathustra.

Asha : the force of truth and Urvan : the freedom of choice

We have in India freely practiced Zoroastrianism.  The two great tenets of our religion are Urvan which signifies freedom of choice and Asha which means walk the path of righteousness.

‘Urvan’ literally means the chooser but refers to the soul.  For each individual has complete freedom to chose his path, only guided by Zarathustra.[25]  Linked to that is the idea of “Man”; a word that in the Gathas combines the concept of both mind and spirit.[26]

What was “Man”  if not what Zarathustra proclaimed in the 30th Yasna :

“Hear with your ears the Great Truths, consider them with clear thought, deciding between the two and choosing – man by man, each one for himself.”[27]

Yet today our community is being haunted by a spectre and that is the spectre of intolerance.  The democracy of thought and freedom of choice of our religion is being engulfed by the tyranny of reprisal and recrimination. The freedom, indeed the duty, to exercise choice is rapidly being stifled within our community.

The other great tenet is Asha and our basic prayer Ashem Vohu tells us that the path to happiness is by righteous living and by truth alone.[28]  In its secondary sense Asha is the path to Ahura Mazda and fire is the outward symbol of purity, being the purest of Ahura Mazda’s creations.[29]

Herodotus, a Greek historian (often inaccurate) said that between the ages of five and twenty, Persian boys were taught only three things : how to ride a horse , how to use the bow and to speak the truth.[30]

On a lighter note, Herodotus also records how the ancient Persians resolved disputes. When important decisions were to be made the question was discussed when they were drunk and the following day submitted for reconsideration when they were sober. If it was still approved it was adopted; if not, abandoned. The reverse order was also sometimes followed.[31]  If we continue on our current path this may soon be the only way we will be able to resolve anything!

The 1910 Parsi Panchayat judgment

The true test of our commitment to Asha came several centuries after our arrival in India, in 1910 in the case of Sir Dinshaw Manockji Petit v. Sir Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy[32] (“the Parsi Panchayat Case”).  The case concerned J.R.D.Tata’s mother Sooni who was French and had converted to Zoroastrianism after marrying R.D.Tata.  She was denied entry to an agiary.  The Bombay High Court (Justice Dinshaw Davar and Justice Beaman) came to several seminal findings after hearing extensive evidence (including of High Priests such as the great Dastur Jamasp Asa) :

(i)      Both Judges held that the Zoroastrian religion not only permitted but actually enjoined conversion of a person born in another religion and of non-Zoroastrian parents;

(ii)     However both the Judges also held that since the advent into India, there was not a single proven instance in India of conversion of a person born of both non-Zoroastrian parents to Zoroastrianism;

(iii)    Justice Davar held that there were certain elaborate ceremonies necessary and conditions to be fulfilled before accepting a person into Zoroastrian faith, and it was required that the desire to proselytize was actuated by pure intentions and convictions and not based on other considerations;

(iv)    Justice Davar also held that once such a conversion had taken place the persons were entitled to the full rights and privileges of a Zoroastrian;

(v)     Both Judges held that when the settlors made Trust Deeds (two or three hundred years ago), it would not have been within the contemplation of the settlors that an individual who was not a Parsi but converted to Zoroastrianism would be entitled to the benefits and use of the trust property.  They applied a doctrine of interpretation based on the contemporaneous usage and understanding of terms;

(vi)    Hence Justice Davar also held that the Parsi community entitled to trust properties fell in three classes :
(a) Parsi descendants from the original emigrants and who were born of both Zoroastrian parents and who professed the Zoroastrian religion;
(b) the Iranis from Persia who professed Zoroastrianism; and
(c) the children of Parsi fathers by “alien” mothers (as he put it) who had been duly and properly admitted into the religion;

The third category is odd.  It is not from the Trust Deeds.  It is not in our religion.  The rationale for the third comes in Justice Beaman’s judgment.

(vii)   Justice Beaman held that the Indian Zoroastrians had adopted the caste system from other Indians and that whilst theoretically they adhered to their religion, whose principal tenets included the merit of conversion as a theological dogma, they erected about themselves real caste barriers and therefore the term Parsi had acquired a caste connotation.  He attributed our refusal to allow non-Parsis into fire temples or to participate in death ceremonies, to caste and I quote him : “This is not religion, it has nothing to do with religion : it is essentially distinctly irreligious : but it is pure unadulterated oriental caste”.

I believe Justice Beaman’s Judgment to be a very awkward and uncomfortable wake up call.  A wake up call to which sadly, after a hundred years we have still not responded.  “Parsi” and “Zoroastrian” had become synonymous in India not because of religion but because of caste. That is why whilst caste made the Zoroastrian religion hereditary in India, the great Persian priests in the Rivayats or answers sent to theological queries from India maintained conversion of  non-Zoroastrian servants to Zoroastrianism was permissible albeit if ritual was strictly followed.[33]  It is a caste that is inherited through the father and that is why we bar worship in an agiary to children of non-Zoroastrian fathers.  This was the unspoken rationale underling Justice Davar’s inclusion of children of Parsi fathers from “alien” mothers.  It has nothing to do with our religion.  It is a manifestation of caste, pure and simple.

A hundred years have passed since then.

Citizens under a Constitution

We are now proud citizens of the world’s greatest democratic experiment and citizens under a visionary and great Constitution.  Part of a vision that our founding fathers including Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshsh Mehta, Sir Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy and Jamsetji Tata dreamt of.  For which nation in the world has a national motto which resonates with the message of Zarathustra. “Satyameva Jayate” or “Let Truth prevail” is nothing but an invocation to Asha.  The three lions that grace our national emblem are the great symbol of that philosopher King Ashoka the Great – but they have their origin in the pageantry of the Achaemanians and were first found at Persepolis.

The Constitution of India abolishes discrimination based on amongst other things caste.  An exclusion from a place of worship based on caste would be illegal and unconstitutional.  No doubt Article 25 protects the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion and Article 26 reserves the right of every religious denomination to establish religious and charitable institutions and to manage their own affairs in matters of religion.  But Articles 25 and 26 are “subject to public order, morality and health …”.  To my mind an exclusion based on caste would be immoral and un-Zoroastrian.

Mahatma Gandhi had famously said about Parsis : “In numbers beneath contempt but in contribution beyond compare”.  The question before us today and in this Congress is whether we allow those numbers to fall beneath the line of extinction and become fossilized as was predicted by that great historian Arnold Toynbee or we somehow save our religion for future generations.

I know that this is a controversial debate and it has genuine votaries on both sides.  I believe that the strong views expressed on either side are supported by genuine convictions and to say otherwise would be to devalue the debate.   The debate must be dignified and without rancour.

Consider the extreme nature of what is happening today, in the guise of subserving the assumed intention of the settlors of trust properties.  Freedom to worship is being actively denied to many true and good Zoroastrians who are not of Parsi origin or whose fathers are not Parsi Zoroastrian or indeed even to Parsi Zoroastrians married outside the community.

Do we let dogma and caste triumph over good thoughts, good words and good deeds.  One of the greatest Zoroastrian Parsis who strode this earth was Sir Jamshedji Kanga acknowledged by many to have been India’s greatest lawyer and a wonderful human being.  He was a Mobed and wore his Mobed’s cap to Court for every year of his almost seventy year practice.  Yet each evening on his return from Court he would light one cigarette, carefully removing his priests’ cap before he committed that one daily act of “heresy”!  Did that make him any the less a devout Zoroastrian and Parsi?  Not in the least.  He never allowed dogma to triumph over Asha and Urvan.

The descendants of those who sought refuge here from the scourge of religious intolerance and bigotry, cannot now appropriate the fire to themselves.  Was that the dream of the 2000 who fled Iran sacrificing their worldly possession?  The time has come to free Zoroastrianism from the shackles of property law.  To monopolise Zoroastrianism is to kill it.

We do not need to sacrifice our identity to reclaim our religion.  That is a myth that is being propagated.

It is a sobering thought that today a Zoroastrian from Uzbekistan (the birth place of Zarathustra) or a re-converted Zoroastrian descendant of any of those valiant kings Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, Shapour, Khushrav Noshirwan or Yazdegard, would not be able to assert a right to enter an agiary since he or she would not fit within the strict confines of the Parsi Panchayat judgment.

This is a matter of shame.  Nothing less than that.  It does not behove us as Zoroastrians or as Parsis.

Yesterday, walking in the leafy forests of Mahabaleshwar, I wondered whether Zarathustra himself – born of parents who were neither Parsi nor Zoroastrian – would be able to get admittance today to an agiary as a matter of right.  Perhaps not.  That is, at once, both farcical and tragic.

Does the future of Zoroastrianism lie with Mumbai Parsis or must we now pin our hopes and destiny on the Zoroastrian diaspora abroad?  I hope that we Mumbai Parsis rise to the challenge.  We are the descendants of those valiant 2000 and it is in that spirit that I salute those true and valiant Zoroastrians who wage a sometimes lonely battle for their right to worship.  To them I say do not despair for you partake of the struggle for asha or truth and Ahura Mazda walks beside you.

The Rangoon Case

Some years after the Parsi Panchayat Case, there arose an interesting matter in which to apply and perhaps extend the principles laid down by the Bombay High Court.  It came to the Privy Council from Burma, in Saklat v. Bella[34].   Bella was the fourteen year old daughter of a Goan Christian and a Parsi Zoroastrian mother.  She had had her Navjote and entered an agiary.  Some worthy members of the Parsi community objected and filed proceedings to bar her entry.

The Privy Council (in a judgment delivered by Lord Phillimore) followed the Parsi Panchayat case that required the dual qualification of being both a Zoroastrian and a racial Parsi before one could assert a right to enter an agiary.   It held that maternity was of no importance in matters of race.

The Privy Council however also evolved a doctrine which is very important and apposite:

(i)      It held that although when property was set apart for public or charitable uses it would be a malversation to apply the funds for persons who were not objects of the Trust, this principle did not prevent the rendering of some convenience or service of such a nature as would not hurt the lawful recipients;

(ii)     The Privy Council consequently held that the trustees were not bound to exclude others who were also Zoroastrians but who did not strictly meet such dual qualification (and hence had no title to share), provided their admission would not hurt the beneficiaries.  So it was only if the numbers admitted were too large or the persons were disorderly or unpleasant in their habits or they substantially interfered with the convenience or benefit of those for whom the endowment was created that the trustees would be required in law to exclude them.[35]

The Privy Council held that the suggestion that Bella’s conversion was impossible or had not been completed by due initiation, was not established.  It was also held there was nothing to show that allowing entry to a Zoroastrian (Bella) would cause desecration within the fire temple and that accordingly such entry would not be a case of substantial interference with the devotion of worshippers.[36]

In these years of controversy I have not seen anything that establishes that the presence of a Zoroastrian born of a non-Parsi father and Parsi mother, in an agiary desecrates our holy and powerful fires.  There is no basis for this in law or in religion.   Let no one tell you that permitting entry into an agiary, of a Zoroastrian who is not born of a Parsi father is either against the law or against our religion.

Possible solutions

I therefore offer two solutions :

Firstly if it causes such great anguish to Parsi Zoroastrians to have a true and pure Zoroastrian, who is not born of a Parsi father, stand next to them in an agiary to worship Ahura Mazda, then let new agiaries be consecrated.  Let our great soul fires seed the fire in such new agiaries.  For that there has to be a spirit of sharing and magnanimity.  There is clearly no breach of trust if Trustees of existing agiaries permit a flame to be lit from the fire burning within and hence permit a new agiary to be consecrated.  The rights of beneficiaries of the existing agiary are not thereby affected.  The trust deeds for the new agiaries may permit entry to all Zoroastrians including those with a non-Parsi father.

Alternatively our agiaries and Atash Behrams can and must throw open their doors to all Zoroastrians.  This is the preferred alternative.  This is the nobler alternative.  It will behove us as Zoroastrians and as Parsis.  This will be completely within the duties of Trustees and the bounds of the law of Trusts.  The rights of beneficiaries will not be diluted.  There is nothing in our religion that suggests that the presence of a Zoroastrian, whose father is non-Zoroastrian or is not a Parsi, in an agiary will desecrate or dilute the holy fire – no such evidence was led in the Parsi Panchayat case or in the Rangoon case and I believe that there is no theological basis for such apprehension.

I think that every true Zoroastrian will agree that the fire of Zarathustra and the right to worship is inexhaustible, so it can and must be shared.  It will be like the fish and loaves of bread that Christ shared amongst his congregation.  It is infinite.

As regards other rights such as housing, education and health, a more doctrinaire approach can be adopted based on a strict construction of the Trust Deed.  Until the Parsi Panchayat case is reconsidered by a higher Court, rights of enjoyment of other properties that are by their nature exhaustible, will have to be allowed only strictly in accordance with the inferred desire of the settlor, i.e. only for Zoroastrians born of a Parsi father.

Do not, I beg of you, make our soul fires and our great religion a hostage to fortune!  The choice is clear we must either allow the fire to spread or risk its extinction.  The keepers of the flame must not lock it in their embrace and extinguish it!

As Justice Davar held, conversion to Zoroastrianism is a matter of elaborate ritual and purity of conviction.  It is neither routine nor easy.  I do not advocate active proselytization; I advocate acceptance, humanity and tolerance.  I advocate inclusion not exclusion.

The expression “Parsi Zoroastrian” is completely alien to our religion.  It is a term from Trust deeds and we demean Zoroastrianism by introducing that term into religious discourse.

I appeal to our worthy and respected High priests, one of whom is here today, to eschew legal controversies and follow the example of the great priests that have preceded you : Dastur Naryosang Dhawal, Dastur Kirder the second great prelate of the Sasanians[37], Dastur Meherji Rana, Dastur Kukadaru, Dastur Dhalla, Dastur Jamasp Asa.  Propound and spread Zoroastrian philosophy.  I implore you to revitalize our religion and evangelize our youth.  You enjoy great respect but with that respect comes responsibility.  It is a far greater trust that you are charged with.

Today’s speech is not a legal opinion nor even a legal analysis.  It is but the suggestion of an approach for debate and consideration.  An approach of tolerance and magnanimity.  An approach that is within our religion and that will be within the Parsi Panchayat case and that will subserve the great constitutional values laid down in the Constitution of India.  It will reflect the tolerance and libertarianism of Cyrus, the generosity of Darius, the magnanimity of Xerxes, the sacrifice of Yazdegard, the magnificence of Khusrav Noshirwan the Just and the valour shown by Parsi Zoroastrians through the ages.  It would combine the concepts of Urvan and Asha.

Conclusion : the Chinvat Bridge

We must all cross the Chinvat bridge one day.  As a community and as a religion we stand today at the same crossroads that the Mughal empire stood at in the 17th century.  The warring sons of Shah Jahan battled for his succession.  Finally Aurangzeb triumphed sending the decapitated head of Dara Shukoh, the eldest son, to his ailing father.  Do we go the way of Dara Shukoh and look to a libertarian renaissance or do we go the way of Aurangzeb and fall into the abyss of bigotry and intolerance that marked the decline of the Mughal empire.  Let us not make the same mistake, for the price we will have to pay will be far too high.

Zarathustra himself exhorts us in these magnificent words of the 30th Yasna :
“May we be the ones who will make this world splendid,
Mindful One and Ye Lords, bringers of change, and Right,
as our minds come together where insight is fluctuating”.[38]

It will not be easy but we must remember those stirring words of Lord Wavell “Without courage there cannot be truth, and without truth there can be no other virtue.”[39]

“We desire your fire” was Zarathustra’s plea to Ahura Mazda in the 34th Yasna.[40]  It is also a clarion call to all to receive the truth of the divine revelation from Ahura Mazda.  It is an exhortation not to the physical element of fire, but to faith.

It is in the spirit therefore of tolerance, respect for Asha or truth, Urvan or freedom of choice and the great Zoroastrian dream, that I beseech every Zoroastrian to walk the path of the righteous, to reaffirm the timeless truth of our faith and to give his or her fire to Zarathustra.

Light that fire and it shall be everlasting, the cause is just and will endure, the flame shall never wane or flicker and the dream shall never die.

[1] Mary Boyce “Zoroastrians : Their Religious Beliefs and Practices” (2001), 1, 29, 77; R.C.Zaehner “The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism” (1961), 28-29
[2] Boyce (supra) 3-12, 29; A.T.Olmstead “History of the Persian Empire” (1948), 24-29; Zaehner (supra), 28-29, 53-54, 65-66
[3] Zaehner (supra) 57-58
[4] Boyce (supra) 30-31
[5] Boyce (supra) 2, 39
[6] Zaehner (supra), 20
[7] Boyce (supra), 48-49
[8] Boyce (supra), 49
[9] Boyce (supra) 47
[10] John Curtis, “Ancient Persia”, 40-41
[11] Tom Holland, “Persian Fire”, 14; Herodotus “The Histories”, 40-42
[12] Peter Clarke, “Zoroastrianism : An Introduction to an Ancient Faith”, 153; Olmstead (supra), 57-58; Bible, Book of Ezra 6 : 3-5
[13] Herodotus (supra), 445-46
[14] J.M.Cook, “The Persians” (1983), 186 – some scholars attribute the appointment to Artaxerxes I; Barry Strauss “Salamis”. The Greatest Naval Battle of the Ancient World”, 303-304; Tom Holland (supra) 364.
[15] Boyce (supra) 94-95
[16] Dr. I.J.S.Taraporewala “The Religion of Zarathustra” 70-71
[17] Boyce (supra) 97
[18] Boyce (supra) 85, 110
[19] Boyce (supra) 64, 87, 90, 122-123
[20] Touraj Daryaee “Sasanian Persia : The Rise and Fall of an Empire”, 7-8, 18; Gene R.Garthwaite “The Persians”, 90-91
[21] Taraporewala (supra) 69; Daryaee (supra) 28-31
[22] Taraporewala (supra) 72
[23] Boyce (supra)
[24] Taraporewala (supra), 75
[25] Taraporewala (supra) 29-30; Zaehner (supra) 41 – “Zoroastrianism is the religion of free will par excellence”.
[26] Clark (supra), 127
[27] Taraporewala (supra) 30; M.L.West “The Hymns of Zoroaster, A New Translation of the Most Ancient Sacred Texts of Iran, 51; Clark (supra) 126; Zaehner (supra) 42
[28] Taraporewala (supra) 90; Clark (supra) 122; Zaehner (supra) 60, 64
[29] Taraporewala (supra) 17-23, 41; Zaehner (supra), 61
[30] Herodotus (supra) 136
[31] Herodotus (supra) 133
[32] (1908) 11 Bombay Law Reporter 85 (DB)
[33] Boyce (supra) 174
[34] AIR 1925 PC 298
[35] Supra, 303
[36] Supra, 303
[37] Boyce (supra) 109-111
[38] M.L. West (supra), 55
[39] Lord Wavell, “A Viceroy’s Journal”
[40] Clark (supra) 127-128


  1. Soli Buhariwala

    Religious beliefs should be given greater importance than historical assumptions.

  2. Kaikhosrow Oshtori

    Wow! At the first instance, I doff my hat to you sir. I have no doubt that every word written here and said at the WZC, is the absolute truth. You are a true Zartoshty after my own heart Darius J Khambatta. I wish some of these dodos would awaken from their slumber and go back to their real roots. The community has been largely misled and misguided by a bunch of Kshnoomies with vested self-interests. I cannot accept cultism within our faith and those who subscribe to the ideologies of Ilm-e-Kshnoom, have no right to call themselves Zartoshties. I congratulate you once more for speaking out against all that which assails and maims our Daena Vanguhi. I pray that every Zartoshty reads this article and awakens his/her conscience after reading it. God bless you & yours. Ushta-Te (Kaikhosrow Oshtori)

  3. Dan

    How can a potted history of Zoroastrianism combined with a discussion of two judgements on who is legally a Zoroastrian, basically applicable for residents of India when the population shift is out of India and finally followed by a mere slogan for tolerance be considered “the way forward”.
    This is a classic example of the poor quality of the analysis and discussion of the farce that was the WZC in Mumbai.

  4. Teлeц

    This is what many of us – and Wikipedia – have been telling the others all along.
    Now just you wait Mr. Khambatta, just you wait.
    This is going to bring the Afghans and the Uzbeks at Panchayets gate.

    Since Mr. Khambatta is the former advocate general of Maharashtra, will he help assist Afghans and Uzbeks claim their rightful place in Parsi Colonies?
    First the WAPIZ trustees should be kicked out of their apartments, divested of trusteeship. Their apartments and the trusteeship should be handed over to the Afghans and the Uzbeks.
    Mullah Omar will be the new chairman of the BPP.
    The WAPIZ are the ones who had been harping incessantly on ‘purity’.

  5. Riyad M

    Because it serves no more than to serve as selected feel-good material to support the statement of the interpretation of a partly moral and partly socially inclusive position adopted by an accomplished professional advocate. If you hired him, undoubtedly only at the correctly worded terms and price, to present an alternative statement with an equally potted history of Zorastrianism (but more importantly of Parsis in Mumbai), you would likely receive another classic example of the poor quality of analysis and discussion you refer to here . That notwithstanding the position per se lends itself to being intrinsically defensible as a human(istic) value supported by most spirituality or by religious philosophy ; though perhaps not at the face value of the rah-rah historical or political material that backs it here and that is provided a pseudo-relevance through citations etc.