Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

“Zarathustra” the Sculpture

Post UPDATED since original posting. Read ahead.

Today morning I received a forwarded email from Adil Nariman, from Sydney Australia. It brought to my attention, the events that will lead to the unveiling of Australia’s most imposing bronze nude statue. While this would otherwise be very good news, it rankled me when I read about the subject of the sculpture. The sculpture is titled “Zarathustra”, after the prophet who started the religion of Zoroastrianism and of which I am a follower.

As the website announces

A magnificent 4 metre high bronze figure of Zarathustra will be unveiled by Dame Elisabeth Murdoch on 1st April at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park. The eminient Melbourne sculptor Peter Schipperheyn was selected to undertake the mammoth commission. The sculpure will sit in pride of place on an island in front of the McClelland gallery. [….link to McClelland Gallery ]

The sculpture titled “Zarathustra”

Looking at the sculpture, one but cannot understand why the sculptor Peter Schipperheyn would call it thus. Making religious subjects and leaders part of art has had a bloody past. Just last January, hundreds of thousands of muslims the world over went on a rampage, after a small Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammad in “bad light”. That to the muslims of the world was sacriligious. A couple of years ago, Mother Mary was depicted in “derogatory fashion” in an art installation at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. That led to a major fiasco, with the mayor of NYC having to make a stand and alienating a vast majority of the population.

The famous painter M F Hussain painted the Hindu goddess Saraswati in a painting and the right wing Hindu fundamentalist went berserk and did a lot of damage to property, and (I think) life.

This all bring me back to the contentious issue of protraying gods, goddesses and religious icons in context that one is not usually accustomed to.

Adil mentions in his letter to the powers that be…

However, the main reason I am writing is to express deep disappointment, sadness and astonishment that you would name this sculpture Zarathushtra, the name of a great Prophet.. The statue is neither a likeness (nor should it be) of the Great, all knowing Prophet but to depict Him nude is both disgusting to our sentiments and offensive. I’m sure you are aware that there are a number of followers and devotees of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism who live here in Australia and all over the world. This religion is the oldest monotheist religion that was founded by the Lord Zoroaster around 1200 C. I am a follower of this faith and am blessed to have been born into it.

Does this mean that the Zoroastrians and Parsis, the world over will go on a rampage? Will the Parsis in Bombay go and burn the Australian Consulate in Bombay and attack the Embassey in New Delhi? Will the 5000 strong Parsi community in Toronto, march onto Younge Street and make their protests be heard. ?

Zarathustra the Prophet, worshipped by zoroastrians the world over.

Should the police in India be put on high alert and all the Parsi leaders be arrested, lest they incite arson and terror.

No. This will never happen and I will elaborate why.

Personally I dont conform to the view above. As Zoroastrians and Parsis, we are a very tolerant religion and culture. How may times in history have you heard of Parsis taking arms against anyone. When our religion was under seige 1400+ years ago, we chose to set sail and live in another land and not take arms against the marauding Muslim Armies.

Right through British occupation, the Parsis tended towards non violence and other means to create the betterment of their own countrymen. The Tatas and their story comes to mind. Of course this can be a point of argument, and I will leave this for another day.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to Adil’s view. I don’t see anything wrong in what the piece of sculpture is named. It does not matter to me. Looking at it is not going to alter my vision and view of my prophet and the supreme being I worship.

This is a piece of art and it has to be seen in that context. Trying to waste our energies in fighting battles that don’t exist is foolish.

And if you were also wondering why the Parsis wont go on a rampage in Bombay, you gotta keep in mind that there are only 55,000 of us left in Bombay. Not even enough to fill half of Oval Maidan or a quarter of Azad Maidan.

Parsis are generally very forward thinking in their outlook to society, culture and the arts. For centuries we have been pioneers in breaking social taboos. The first women to study in India were Parsi women. Thats a fine case in point.

Then why in this day and age should we become conservative in our outlook ?? This aint done.

As much as I know that this sculpture ain’t Zarathustra, I am happy that the amount of publicity it will generate will be good for our religion. The world will know a bit more about the oldest monotheistic religion in the world, and about the tolerant forward thinking nature of its followers.


There seems to be some confusion in the way the sculpture is named. The news article calls it Zarathustra, whereas the sculptors website calls it “Thus Spake Zarathustra” [thanks Tamina for the tip]

“To the Zoroastrian Community I would like to state that this sculpture is not a dipiction of the Prophet Zarathustra. My inspiration came from reading “THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA” by Friedrich Nietzsche” [……..]