Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Rebel Parsis ready with agiary plan

A group of reformists acquires land at Malad to build a fire temple that will be open to even spouses of community members married outside the fold

It could be an event quite unprecedented in the 3000-year-old history of the Zoroastrian religion. A group of reformists in the community, called the Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism (ARZ), are planning to set up an agiary or fire temple that will be open to spouses of community members married outside the fold.

The move is likely to create a storm in the community which bars entry at fire temples to non-Parsis, including non-Parsi women married to Parsis and children of Parsi women married outside the community.

In August 2005, the group had converted a Colaba apartment into a prayer hall more liberal in allowing people to attend religious ceremonies. The hall also offered navjote or initiation ceremonies for children of Parsi women married outside the community. Currently, navjote is allowed only if both parents are Parsis or if the father is from the community. Non-Parsi women married into the community, however, are not allowed to convert, though their children can be initiated into the faith.

The new fire temple will come up on the Malad-Goregaon stretch of the Western Express Highway near the Nirlon colony, one of the newest Parsi community housing estates. The donor of the land is a business family from the community. The final deeds for the property are in the process of being signed, an ARZ trustee said. The announcement about the construction of the fire temple will be made at a function on February 10 at Talyarkhan Hall where Zoroastrian scholar Dina McIntyre will deliver a lecture on ‘Zoroastrianism: A Universal Religion’. Construction is expected to start once the final deeds are completed.

Solicitor and columnist Berjis Desai, who advocates the reformist point of view, said that consecration of a fire temple was a long and elaborate process. “There is a difference between a prayer hall and an agiary, the consecration of which is difficult. However, an attempt will be made to go as close as we can to the setting up of a full-fledged agiary,” he said. Kerssie Wadia, a chartered accountant and ARZ trustee, said, “All
Zoroastrians, including converts, will be allowed into the fire temple. However, this should not give the signal that we are into
conversions,” said Wadia.

The group feels that admitting the spouses and children of Parsis who have married outside the community is the only way to save their faith and bolster their declining numbers. It is estimated that one in three Parsis now marry outside the community.

The announcement for the construction of the new agiary is expected to create another furore in the community after the controversy over photographs of decomposing bodies at the Towers of Silence that were circulated by Lamington Road resident Dhun Baria.

However, Desai said that he did not expect much opposition from orthodox members. “When we said earlier that fire temples should be opened to non-Parsi spouses, we were told that we could set up our own fire temple for that purpose,” Desai added. The Association of Inter-married Zoroastrians, a group largely comprising Parsi women married outside the community, is supporting the ARZ initiative.

Originally posted in Mumbai Mirror