Numbers down, but not their spirit


June 22, 2007

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Numbers down, but not their spirit

Family planning, migration, restrictions on conversion are reasons behind decline in Parsi population.

Kolkata, June 21: Some thirty years ago, they were 4,000. Now, the count has dropped to a measly 750. However, that does not discourage the spirited Parsi community in Kolkata.

The close-knit Zoroastrian community comprises people whose ancestors had migrated from Persia and settled in various parts of India. The decline in their numbers has become more pronounced in the past 20 years but the community, firmly rooted in its religious and cultural beliefs, feels there is nothing to lose.

The Parsi affinity for ‘good thought, good words and good deeds’ finds expression at the Fire Temple located at Metcalfe Street. According to the head priest, Shorab R Kotwal, “In recent years, the number of Parsis here have reduced as most of them have gone abroad in search of better job prospects.”

Women outnumber men in the community since most young men have settled abroad. In fact, people from the community say that most Parsi women in Kolkata are overqualified and find it difficult to find a suitable groom. Consequently, inter-community marriages have become inevitable. Kotwal said that inter-community marriages often find Parsis choosing other religions as their religion is extremely orthodox and does not allow conversions.

Another factor contributing to the decline in the population graph is that a lot of importance is given to family planning. Almost all families have a maximum of two children and hence the population does not increase, believe people from the old school.

“Although our religious beliefs are firm, most people are not able to visit the temple regularly and pray at home. Special occasions find them pouring into the temple though,” Kotwal said.

During the New Year, celebrated in August, Parsis flock to the Fire Temple, meet relatives and catch up with theatre. Also, on the birthday of Prophet Zarathustra (called Khorda Saal) everyone visits the Fire Temple to pay homage to the Prophet. On these occasions, the Fire Temple overflows with zealous people.

The Parsis observe various ceremonies like the purification ceremony, initiation ceremony, marriage ceremony, ceremony for the departed, ceremony for maintaining the Holy Fire and several inner rituals. During Ghambars, the rich feed the poor and the Jashan (thanksgiving ceremony) is performed by the priests. After the death ceremony, the corpse is usually taken to the Tower of Silence at Beliaghata to be consumed by the vultures in the city.

The Calcutta Parsi Club at the Guru Nanak Sarani is a recreational club where members of the Parsi community indulge themselves in games and other activities to unwind. The Sir Dinshaw Zoroastrian library houses important books on Parsis as well as other religious and historical books.

The Manackjee Rustomjee Dharamsalla located at Bow Street provides food and lodging to Parsi travellers coming from various states. A charity building in Lenin Sarani provides accommodation to needy Parsis. The Calcutta Zoroastrian Community’s Religious and Charity Fund in Chowringhee has a board of five trustees providing charity primarily to the Parsis.

In spite of their dwindling numbers, the Parsis still adhere to their values, traditions and beliefs. They are like one huge, happy and harmonious family extending a helping hand to each other whenever necessary. The Parsis are a peace-loving community and undoubtedly unique.

original article here