PRINCE Philip was wrapped in a shawl – the highest honour for a guest – while celebrating 150 years of the South Harrow-based Zoroastrian association.
By Ian Proctor | Harrow Observer
The Duke of Edinburgh was treated to a traditional welcome at 11am at the Zoroastrian Centre in Alexandra Avenue when Parsi and Iranian women in brightly coloured dress traced seven circles in the air in front of him with auspicious objects of prosperity – an egg, a coconut and an almond wrapped in a paan leaf.
He was given a garland of flowers then met the ervas, or white-robed priests, before being led into the hall for a Thanksgiving ceremony to mark the founding a century and a half ago of what would become the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZTFE).
The Prince said: "I’m delighted to join you in this celebration of 150 years of this organisation. I have heard what a tremendous contribution the Zoroastrians have made to this country, even before 150 years ago. It’s a remarkable record."
He joked: "Nowadays, we are all for religious freedom but it helps a lot if they are peaceful as well!"
The royal, who arrived in a Landrover – a model now manufactured by the Indian firm Tata that was founded by believers of this ancient religion – continued: "The community has made a huge contribution to the British Isles and it is very much appreciated. It occured to me that I arrived in a Zoroastrian car.
"I do congratulate you on what you have achieved over the last 150 years. One hundred and fifty years is peanuts: I hope you’re still here in 2000 years’ time."
Zoroastrianism, whose founder Zoroaster was ancient Iranian poet, has 65,000 followers worldwide who worship a holy fire as a symbol of God.
ZTFE president Malcom Deboo said: "We can rightly claim to that we are the oldest religious voluntary organisation in the UK of South Asian origin.
"From humble beginnings, the ZTFE has grown as an organisation. It was not until 1923 that we acquired our first house, and then we nearly went bankrupt. But we’re still here today because Zoroastrians believe in self-help.
"Most Zoroastrians are Royalists and they have an affection for the Royal Family since the reign of Queen Victoria.
"Zoroastrians have a regard of the monarchy, the government and the judiciary because historically they have allowed Zoroastrians to practise their religion feely."
Mr Deboo explained that in the late 19th and early 20th Century Britain was a haven for Zoroastrians fleeing persecution in their native Iran and that the association had never forgotten the welcome this country had given them and had flourished during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.