Farhad Bhesania, 31, a Godrej Baug resident, has never regretted the decision he took nearly 17 years ago. Belonging to a family of Parsi priests, Bhesania chose a different path for himself.
“If I had stepped into my family’s footsteps, I would have lived in guilt,” said Bhesania who works as a chartered accountant. “My father is an ordained priest, but he does not practise. I would have to force myself to become a priest.”
The number of Parsi priests has been declining. From about 2,500 in the 1920s, it is now down to 600-700. Of these, only 200 are practising priests, while 100 work part-time.
“As a priest, even attending a wedding becomes a problem. I did not know if I was willing to take that. I like to travel and so I practise part-time,” said Bhesania.
For media professional Kaivan Makujina, 32, the lack of family life was the deciding factor. “My father is a practicing priest,” he said.
“As a child, I was sent to a boarding school while my parents lived in Udvada in Gujarat. I did not want my children to suffer too.” The youngest age of a practising priest performing higher rituals is 60 years.
Cyrus Darbari, 41, an electronics engineer, said, “When you are young, you do not want to restrict your life. As a priest, you cannot wear colourful clothes, or even attend parties.”
The priests have a very rigorous lifestyle. They pray for six hours. They have to bathe if someone touches them before their prayers. The water they use should come from a well. Besides, the emoluments given by trusts of fire temples aren’t very encouraging. Dasturjis, who are at the top of the hierarchy, have no fixed salary; the Mobeds (assistant priests) are paid about Rs20,000 per month, while the Ervads get about Rs15,000 per month.
Dr Ramiyar Karanjia, principal of Dadar Athornan Institute, a seminary for Parsi priests, said, “About two or three people pass out every year. Till 1980s, the figure was about six,” said Karanjia.