Zoroastrian Americans of New York Inaugurate their Newly Built Cultural Community Center

As the rising morning sun shone down to provide its soothing warmth, enlightening light and nurturing energy to the dedication of the newly built Arbab-Rustm Guiv Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple (DMZT) in Pomona New York, the procession of the whitely attired Zoroastrian cloaked Magi, the Mobads, congregated from temples all over the world, entered the prayer hall to install and lit the fire in the alter. There is the sacred fire that has remained alive, and as it has traveled from Yazd City of central Iran to Gujarat/Mumbai shores of India over a 1,000 years ago when the first group of Persians arrived in diaspora to escape religious persecutions. Spiritual hymns, homilies, and prayers, Jashan and Atash Niyayesh, verses song from Gatha and Avesta, vacillated the captive audience of nearly 700 to an intoxicating trance millennia back to antiquity era of Persia/Iran. The whole six hours of programming was streamlined live for the whole world to watch and still available on ZAGNY’s website to view.

Article by Davood N. Rahni

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Nestled in the heavily treed residential heart of suburban Suffern Palisades’ cascades, New York in the historical Lower Hudson Valley, the new Zoroastrian Temple that took a decade of planning and fund raising and the past two years to complete, replaced the dilapidated original building that had been purchased fifteen years ago.

Inspired architecturally by the main historical Zoroastrian temple in Yazd and the Royapuram Fire Temple in Chennai India, it is a most impressive colonial building with its front façade remnants of the monuments of Achaemenid Persepolis of Persia/Iran of a few millennia ago. The Faravahar, the guardian angel symbolizing forward assentation of one’s self-actualization, is eminently present on the front entrance arch guarding the temple. The Temple’s grand center hall, connected to the special prayer hall visible through all floor to ceiling glass partition, leads to grand ballroom, the 500 plus patron capacity and the adjacent spacious kitchen, takes one through the spiral staircase to a dozen classrooms and library on the second floor.

The invited guests comprising civic and political dignitaries, business and legal leaders and entrepreneurs, educators, artists and healthcare professionals, and above all a treasure trove of colorfully dressed children, were carefully selected to be pre-eminently present in this inauguration day of jubilation; some had arrived from across the three continents including Iran, India, the U.K., and Canada for cheerful support. It is as if the illumining solar rays, penetrating in through the wide eastern widows, had instilled in the sacred flickering fire, and the souls present a harmonious sense of introspections, only to be rivalled in unison with the dancing of the hyacinth, daffodils and crocuses, and accompanied by the chirping and singing of the birds outdoors. Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York (ZAGNY) and Iranian Zoroastrian Association (IZA) will jointly utilize the DMZT to provide myriad festivals, religious and special events such as Navjote as well as language and culture classes to their members and the broader community. The Center may lease its facilities to non-members as well.

Zoroastrianism, the first monotheistic religion nearly four millennia in the making, is based on its trinity tenets: Andisheh Nik, Goftar Nik and Kerdar Nik, aka Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta (in English Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds) coalescing around the universally accepted Golden Rule, in life.

The Magi, the three wise Persian men from the east who according to the Bible, arrived in Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth, were Zoroastrian priests/astronomers. In fact, a progressively large number of historians and scholars, attribute Zoroastrianism, currently at year 3754 Mazdayasni (7038 Mithraism,) to have provided much of the major pillars of Judaism and later Christianity and Islam. (You may read the dialogue between the Temple Shalom Sr. Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz and the IZA’s Board member and business man Darius Jamshidian in Greenwich Time of Connecticut.)

Early Zoroastrianism had a number of common themes with Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism. Two other short-lived sects, namely, Manichaeism and Mazdeism were in part derived from Zoroastrianism in the early third and the seventh centuries, respectively. In fact, Zoroastrian Mithraism was the prevalent belief by both the Asians and Europeans for millennia, before its ultimate demise which occurred through the advent of 5th century’s Christianity in Rome and the inception of Islam in Asia in the 7th century, respectively. It is not therefore, surprising when Friedrich Nietzsche wrote his philosophical novel, Thus Spoke Zarathustra that laid the foundation for humanity’s paradigm shifts in contemporary thinking.

Fire and light derived symbolically from the sun were the most scared to safeguard; the other three earthly pure elements, water in particular, but also air and earth/soil, were the four to be conserved as it was believed all others entities in the universe originated from these four. Although Zoroastrianism was ubiquitously practiced in then greater Persia, now Iran, which encompassed the surrounding regions, i.e. the Iranian plateau throughout south-west-central Asia, and the Caucuses and Eastern Europe for nearly three millennia, its follower dwindled with the collapse of the Sassanid Dynasty and the advent of Islam from Arabia 1,400 years ago. Its caste system has since been reformed markedly among the still quarter of a million, who reside mostly in Mumbai India and Yazd, Tehran and Kerman of Iran, with clusters in North America, Europe, and Oceania. Notwithstanding the dominance of Islamic faith in the region, nearly 250 million inhabitants of the region still adhere to certain cultural aspects of Zoroastrianism such as the three tenets, as well as seasonal festivals of Norooz (Nowruz), Tirgan, Mehrgan, Daygan/Yalda, and Sadeh. The White House has held an annual Nowruz extravaganza as well. Who among the 7.5 billion world population could not subscribe to the three tenets of Zoroastrianism?! At the extravagant Lunch, I serendipitously sat next to one of the high priests, Cyrus, who had received his theological education in of the strictest orders in Mumbai to require original pedigree and the memorization by heart of voluminous amount of Gatha, Yasna verses before he was accepted as an authentic Zoroastrian. He pleasantly surprised me when he stated that their historical population will in a few generations become extinct, unless they become more tolerant of intermarriage, and embrace Zoroastrian cultural peoples who each may be at different stage of Faravashi, wisdom, from celebrating merely Nowruz as a cultural observer alone to the most devout ones.

As to today’s Iran, the constitution guarantees a permanent parliament seat for not only the 50,000 Zoroastrians, but also for the Armenians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, and Iranians with Judaic beliefs. Amongst these religious minorities however, Zoroastrians are most respected by the 80 million mainstreamers and emulated for some aspects of their cultures in observance of Nowruz and other celebrations and Iranian traditions. For instance, although the newly dedicated DMZT today serves a 1,000 Zoroastrian families in the metropolitan New York, it reaches out tens of thousands of Iranian- Americans in the region who have been and continue to celebrate Zoroastrian festivals as cited above and the NY Persian Parade with Pride. The DMZT continues to provide language and culture classes in Persian, Gujarati and Hindi, poetry readings, art displays, as well as youth and senior citizen forums among others. The national American Zoroastrian association is FEZANA.

As the Parsi Community of India along with their Iranian-American brothers and sisters, have once again endured trials and tribulations of the past few decades in their newly adopted home the U.S., they feel a soothing sense of solace to witness their diasporic community has grown strong roots. And as the current and future generations will congregate at DMZT to cherish their cultural past, as well as showcasing their broad contemporary contributions and look forward to their ever brighter future in America, it is reassuring to know the illuminating Zoroastrianism, as symbolically expressed by the sun and sacred fire, will guide them, and putatively, the humanity as whole, through life.

Living nearby, Darius, a young and brilliant college youth living nearby, whose pedigree is only a quarter [Muslim] Persian, was present at the inaugural ceremony. I asked him for his motivation to be present. He answered, a few years back his only grandfather had imparted onto him the three Zoroastrian tenets, which he tattooed them on his body as exhibited here; ironically, he still could neither read nor pronounce them but rather, he has had a basic notion of what they meant. So, he has in practice adopted them in life. He was elated for his opportunity today to connect with and learn more about Zoroastrians today. “I am ecstatic to learn more about this ancient culture and share them with my siblings but above all, to rebuild a new bound with my paternal grandfather.

This last picture Chak-Chak Pire Sabz in Yazd of Iran, depicts the most sacred pilgrimage destination for the Zoroastrians worldwide. When the first group of Persian Zoroastrian pilgrims fled from Iran to the shares of Gujarat in the 8th century to escape religious persecution, the local King sent them a large bowl overfilled to the rim with local milk to welcome them but to also imply their towns are overpopulated and so they may rethink and land elsewhere. The Parsis drank some of the milk, over-filled it back up with Shad, the local honey they had brought with them form Persia and sent it back to the King. As soon as the King stated the sweetened milk, he got the implicit uplifting message, LOUD and CLEAR! The Parsi Zoroastrians were instantaneously welcomed ashore sympathetically where they have for over a millennium sweetened and enriched the diverse Indian life for everyone ever since, not only in Iran and India but also everywhere especially in New York’s tri-states region and the U.S. of America! After the ribbon cutting ceremony, the placement of eternal fire in the altar and the sermon, and acknowledgment of the major benefactors and introduction of dignitaries concluded, the gala continued with Persian and Indian music, songs and dances, just to be wrapped up with scrumptious dinner in the late afternoon, anticipating the crowd would continue supporting and participating in the ZAGNY and IZA regular gatherings at the DMZT.
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Copyright ©2016 D. Rahni