India’s Parsis use technology to keep religion alive

Phil Hazlewood at AFP recently interviewed our own editor Arzan Sam Wadia for an article about Parsis’ use technology to keep religion alive

By Phil Hazlewood (AFP)

MUMBAI — India’s Parsis, the modern-day descendants of migrants who fled persecution in Iran more than 1,000 years ago, are turning to new technology to keep their ancient Zoroastrian religion alive.

Websites, blogs, on-line directories and matchmaking portals are being used by the close-knit but scattered and shrinking community to stay in touch and true to the 3,500-year-old faith.

“The Parsis are a community without borders. We’re almost all over the world,” said Yazdi Tantra, who runs a computer consultancy firm in Mumbai, where 70 percent of the world’s Parsis live.

“We have this technology so that we can keep in contact because our numbers are very small. If there was no technology, we wouldn’t communicate with one another… it keeps the community together,” he told AFP.

Tantra runs several websites, including the www.zoroastrians.net portal, which includes everything from suggestions for Parsi baby names to traditional Parsi food, adding to a global network of sites on the community and religion.

What started out as being “just for fun” and a way to catalogue Parsi contacts for his own use three years ago unearthed an enthusiastic online community in India and across the world, he said.

“Our website does a lot of connecting people,” he added.

Such connections are more important than ever as the largely prosperous, urbanised minority that produced the likes of Indian industrialist Ratan Tata, conductor Zubin Mehta and Queen singer Freddie Mercury gets smaller every year.

The editor of “Parsiana” magazine, Jehangir Patel, told AFP that there were now only about 90,000 Parsis around the world “at most”, as a low birth rate, marriage outside the community and emigration takes its toll.

In India, the last national census in 2001 recorded just under 70,000 Parsis — Zoroastrians who follow the prophet Zarathustra and worship one god, the creator of the universe, Ahura Mazda.

They believe that good thoughts, good words and good deeds will triumph over evil and chaos, and the ancient religion is said to have influenced Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

But demographers predict that there could be as few as 32,000 Parsis left by 2051, based on studies of fertility rates.

In Mumbai, the influential Bombay Parsi Punchayat governing council is looking to young people to save the community by launching what has been called a “Facebook for Parsis” website and a youth wing.

“Interaction among youngsters will be encouraged so that they find partners through the social events and networking sites, and eventually marry within the community,” trustee Khojestee Mistry told the Hindustan Times recently.

Zpeakerbox.com, an online youth magazine for the Zoroastrian community, and the social networking site www.ushtatebook.com already exist.

Elsewhere, Tantra’s theparsidirectory.com and the Parsi Yellow Pages on the “Parsiana” website aim to log as many Parsis as possible plus listings for everything from Parsi accountants to Parsi yoga institutes.

“As a minority, we tend to stick together,” said Patel. “Almost 33 percent marry out of the community, so we’re getting a situation about how long people will see themselves as Parsis and how long we exist as a community.”

A debate is raging about whether Parsi women who marry non-Parsis should still be considered part of the community. Traditionalists say they shouldn’t while reformists say they should if the community is to survive.

“We are always under a cloud. That reflects the need for organisations and associations in the community… It’s a way of sticking together,” Patel added.

Mumbai architect Arzan Sam Wadia runs Parsikhabar.net, one of a number of blogs on Parsi matters. Half of his readers are from outside India, he told AFP from his base in New York.

Online news portals give an immediacy to community news and allow for a range of views that cannot be duplicated by existing print publications, he added.

“Within Bombay (Mumbai) and outside, just the fact that people are spread out so far and wide geographically, there’s no mainstream publication in the traditional sense that can really do justice to it,” he said.

Journalist Shernaaz Engineer said her blog, parsi-link.blogspot.com, and others like it were the latest sign of how one of the world’s oldest living faiths was adapting, she told AFP.

It was also a way of avoiding the “factionalism” that has crept in to the Parsi media over issues like marriage outside the community, she said.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved

  • Hey…..I have also noticed this trend…..good for us…we’ll
    prove all the nay sayers wrong
    in the long run…and Ahura Mazda must be smiling in his heaven and
    thinking….you earthlings – I have the last word on my religion !!

  • Siloo Kapadia

    We will use technology to spread the religion! Onward we will go.

  • Farzana

    “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” -Charles Darwin

    Time will show if Parsis were able to change with time or perish …

  • Anti-Dhongidox.

    Farzana,
    You have spelt my thoughts. Quote of Darwin is so very true and relevant for our fast diminishing community which is getting increasingly choked by Fundamentalists who have neither scuples or ethics.

  • farzana

    Siloo, way to go woman, … like Roda said Ahura Mazda will look down from heavens and will be proud of you 😉

    Worry not Anti-Dhongidox buddy, lies will eventually die on their own without much help. This is the age of information and old age fallacies are crumbling one after the other. Knowledge is stronger than ignorance and truth is more powerful than lies. Hai na? 🙂

  • Firoze Hirjikaka

    Ant-Dhongidox
    The Fundamentalists have a right to their opinions, as do the Reformists. The real problem arises when they close their mind to suggestions and anything that contradicts their dogmatic mindsets. This is particularly true of the Traditionalists, who are so wrapped up in their “religious” zeal that anybody who does not agree with their often flawed interpretation of Zoroastrian texts is automatically labeled as a “heretic”.
    Yes, technology enables Zoroastians around the world to stay in touch, but when even a small group of Parsis can’t agree among themselves, one wonders whether it is a universally good thing.

  • Behram Dhabhar

    The so called “Fundamentalists” existed since ages. Still Parsis have survived and are prospering. Darwin is after all wrong.

  • Anti-Dhongidox.

    “DARWIN IS AFTER ALL WRONG” ????:-
    SUCH STATEMENTS CAN ONLY BE UTTERED BY A FUNDAMENTALIST. WHY THEN TAKE EXCEPTION TO THE LABEL OF FUNDAMENTALIST AND CALL “SO CALLED FUNDAMENTALISTS”?
    ARE WE STLL USING KEROSENE LAMP?
    IS OUR ATTIRE SAME AS THOSE APPEARING IN PORTRAITS OF BENEVOLENT GENTLEMEN SEEN IN FIRE TEMPLES?
    DO WE STILL MOVE IN BULLOCK CARTS?HORSE DRAWN CARRIAGES?
    BTW WHY USE INTERNET TO COMMUNICATE?

  • farzana

    Don’t be in a hurry to judge Darwin’s words, Behram, like i said, only time will show… and time is not too far away!!

  • True Orthodox Zoroastrian.

    A genuine Orthodox is not necessarily a fundamentalist. Adaptability is the essence of worldly living. Zoroastrianism does not approve of abstinence.All religious groups are witnessing emergence of fanaticism of fundamentalism e.g. Afghanistan.
    In our places of worship, we see that even the metal from whick “Afarganiyu” is made is of different material than used in 19th Century.
    To say that Darwin is wrong is perhaps a joke.
    Parsees have been known to be liberal in their outlook and will resist fanaticism.

  • FUNDAMENTALIST’S THEORY OF EVOLUTION.
    _____________________________________
    “Primates are direct descendants of
    Humans”
    Theory of Evolution or devaluation?

  • Phiroz.

    Parsees have survived and prospered by being broadminded and not because they were fundamentalists.
    Yes, fundamentalists may have existed at all times and in all ages but they were symbols of
    ANTI-PROGRESS.
    To question the validity of Darwin’s theory is a symbol of fundamentalism.

  • farzana

    Anti-Dhongi and True Ortho Zoro,
    I know Behram well. Beleive me it would be a waste of time and energy to debate with a misinformed person like him who has no elementary knowledge about the history of the Zoroastrian Fundamentalism he is trying to defend.

    Traditionally Zoroastrian Fundamentalists like chief priest Katir during Sassanid times used to forcibly convert nonzoros to Zoroastrianism…That is how Zoroastrians grew in number.
    Not only that, but kings like Xerxes too took pride in their policy of imposing worship of Ahura Mazda on new territories they occupied…The historical fact is -Zoroastrianism spread in Persian empire due to conversions…whether voluntary or forced…just like other religions. In Black and White no religion can survive without conversions.

    Zoroastrianism was conceptualized in present day areas surrounding Pamir mountain range in Central Asia which makes up Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and North West Frontier regions of Pakistan… From here it traveled to present day Iran via Conquests of Medians and central Asian tribes lead by Cyrus. Before the conquests, original Iranians were Elamites and Mithra worshippers…They were enticed to join Zoroastrianism by diluting it and incorporating Mithra divinities within the fold. This is how Zoroastrianism spread in Iran and to other lands which came into its influence.
    Yes, Zoroastrianism was redesigned each time with new things added according to the requirement… Darwin is right Behram, and by calling him wrong you have lived upto your above mentioned reptutation.

  • rustom jamasji

    Ok since the word change is supposed to be the Mantra’ what do these people want to change to?
    Whilst sails are set to achieve a goal, arbitary change makes one rudderless

    And how come Darwins philosophy of change going to help or related to preserving zoroastrianism….or in fact presering anything..So do we

    1)Break the pyramids and change or alter them as Darwin said Change

    2)Would all those who want follow Christ remove the part of ‘Trinity’ or Holy Spirit just beause Darwin said ‘change…

    3) Should world expertise, NGC, Discover channel that showcase preserving cultures including the ones in S.America, Andamans, North East India etc..all stop. Should Tibetans embrace change and give into to China since Darwins philosophy ca be used by the Chineese.
    Should and Do all small communities change since Darwins philosophy of change..or preserve and take the extra step if they want to survive as their root

    4) Will the Zoroastrian Philosophy or Zaratgushtra’s words change since Darwins pHilosophy preaches change…So Zarthshtra talks of death , sickness, pain etc arriseing from Anti Mazda…should we change or manuplate such philosophy just because someone Zoro wants to fuse Hindusim or Islam and thus say according to zoroastranism, death is part of Mazda’s work or any other part of Mazda philosophy..though it specifically talking against this

    5) Do hindus Muslims,sikhs., Jains, ladhaki’s, Gurkha’s or any faith/community be it small or big, change to suit personal agenda’s taking shelter in Darwin’s Phlosophy..

    6) Were the Zoros who fought the menace of converting Zoroastrians into Christians thru wars and later the Arabs fools as they did NOT CHANGE to a so called more modern or later faith..as Darwin propogated change…Infact Christ was promoted as the new shasyioshant and Muhmd was also promoted the same with an addition that he was the last prophet…and change is a must…

    8) Are the Govts of small comunties including Islamic countries and other Govts that place resitrictiosn on other populations so that a demography of a place does not change (In India–Andamans, H.P, Kashmir,etc)fools..Are all such wrong who preserve their own faith and do not turn to whatever else because Darwins preached change ..? Is preserving a demography / a culture etc wrong as Darwin said change?. Are Indias steps to maintain its secularism and demography wrong as with a change in the majority would likely topple this.

    9)Some zoros want to inculcate a snake godess into Zoroastrianism though being an anti zoroastrian element..just because they believe in a devi…some want to fuse namaaz with the geh’s and some the jasan with a yagna..depending on the spouce’s prefeence and faith…
    Some even have converted out of the zoroastrian faith, yet enjoy assets of claiming to be a zoroastrian and then feel morally right to convert other Parsis into their new fold…and yes Darwin’s change is also one of the things they take shelter in..

    10)Darwins change has not yet changed nor will change archimedes principle, or einsteins nor newtons nor the thumb rule of decomposition i.e oxidisations and quicker decompositions on surface. Decomposition in the AIR is TWICE as fast as when the body is UNDER WATER and 4 TIMES as fast as underground. Corpses are preserved longer when buried deeper. Is Darwins change going to make the speed of light slower than that of sound?

    11) Darwins change does not excuse less percentage of oxygen needed to breathe and Anoxia efects permenantly as the percentage falls below 16 nor can Darwins change be justified in breathing carbon dioxide

    12) Why dont we change to study the faith, its whys and hows,sit across the table and in fact truly brng about points , the Agenda being ‘Preserve as done by the saviours of Zoroastrianism instead change Zoroastrianism to suit personal tastes..like anti dakhmenishini,bring in snake godess’s or the various babas..Give up the Khordeh avesta(the gatha alone cult–whose promotions matches the end results of those who burnt our books, killed our priests and wanted to nullify our ancestors especially the Sasanian efforts to compile and our immediate forfathers who came to India and preserved zoroastrianism and even gave back systems and monies and assets which we all have enjoyed) . How about inculcating a responsibility towards giving back and taking the extra step in preserving instead of arbitary sheltering accomodations of a personal tastes by thinking change is always good and always necessary.

    13) Will the reformists keep changing their own goals since they champion Change..

    14) This below study is quite apt and relevant..do spend a couple of minutes on the link

    http://www.lilithgallery.com/articles/america/Will-Your-Grandchildren-be-Jewish.html

  • rustom jamasji

    Some studies and statistics undertaken ..again very apt to what the saviours of Zoroastrianism said and the demands made today.

    http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/will-your-grandchild-be-jewish-chart-graph.htm

  • True, all Orthodox are not necessarily fundamentalists but all fundamentalist believe in two things for sure.
    =that they alone are correct/upright followers of the faith; AND
    =that all moderate thinkers are
    pro conversion. However hard one tries to convince these fundamentalists, they will falsely brand rational minded as conversionists.
    For fundamentalist,TIME CAN BE HALTED BY STOPPING THE PENDULUM OF THE CLOCK. They are averse to the saying that time and tide wait for none.

  • Firoze Hirjikaka

    Behram,
    Maybe Darwin is indeed wrong :). Considering the quality and stature of some of today’s Parsis, compared to previous generations, we seem to be evolving in reverse 🙂

  • Phiroz.

    Firoze,
    You are right. AZA consists of DPC residents and even the “pillars of Orthodoxy” who are against activities of AZA are ironically from the same DPC.

  • Behram Dhabhar

    The Free Online Dictionary defines Orthodox as…”Adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith, especially in religion”.

    Isnt it therefore surprising that these same Orthodox people are labelled as “Fundamentalists”, “Fanatics”, “Lunatic fringe” and such other various terms by those who know nothing about the religion or its tenets, practices or doctrine.

    People like Farzana will use History to wriggle out of the ignorance in religious aspects knowing fully well that Historians are liars and as many historians, as many versions. One can literally choose a historian to suit one’s tastes or point of view!

    The orthodox folks dont interfere or try to teach the “liberal,intelligent, progressive minded, pragmatic” Parsis. They leave them alone in their own make believe ignorant world. Then why do these liberal reformists have to poke their dirty noses or point fingers at these traditional Parsis who are just following the faith as handed down to them by their forefathers is what I cannot understand.

    “Zoroastrianism was redesigned each time with new things added according to the requirement”. I agree with this statement but whom was it modified by ? Those disciples (Rainidars) of Asho Zarathushtra who by virtue of their lofty spiritual status had the authority to bring about a change to suit those classification of souls in that particular era. Not by people like you and me who can find faults with everything and consider them outdated and obsolete.

    Why do calamities befall us ? Why is our community dwindling ? Why are we spiritually bankrupt ? Why are there so many intermarriages nowadays ? Why are today’s priests turning traitors ? Why is there no Ashoi around us ? Why is our educated, intelligent community so ignorant about our own religion ? Why is our microscopic community of Parsis fighting with each other for trivial reasons ?

    Answer these questions yourself. There is only one answer to all these questions !

  • Thanks to all for the breadth of commenting on this post.

    I will close commenting on this post. If you have anything else to add that has not already been said, please send it to us via the “Contact” page and if appropriate, we shall add it as a comment.

    Thanks

    arZan