Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Houston Inaugurates The Bhandara Atash Kadeh

Jamshedi Navroze 2019 and the subsequent days shall long remain etched in the memory of the hundreds of Zarathushtis who gathered here to witness the inauguration of North America’s latest place of Zoroastrian worship. What makes this place an Atash Kadeh and a first in many a ways is that it designed to have a continuously burning consecrated fire and spaces to perform some of the higher liturgical ceremonies, including the navar and martab ceremonies for the initiation of mobeds.

The creation of the Atash Kadeh also harks back to a very Parsi trait of one benefactor/donor putting in the money to make the project happen. In this case it was Shernaz and Firoze Bhandara who took it upon themselves to make this a reality by funding the entire project.

Conceptualized and designed by our dear friend and architect Cyrus Rivetna of Chicago; the building evokes the grandeur of Persian architecture and brings in the elements of filtered light, high ceilings and beautiful spaces that are conducive to worship and make the entire process from the moment you enter a very spiritual one. In a collaborative spirit, the laser cut frieze panels have beautiful gara design by the brilliant textile designer Ashdeen Lilaowala.

Spread over four days, the Zoroastrian Association of Houston pulled out all the stops in true Texan style in making sure that all those present would remember it for a lifetime.

The hustle and bustle of activity was present from Wednesday March 20th, when the last touches of paint were being put on the building and the landscape was being spruced up for the opening. People from all over Houston dropped off Sukhad and Rakhiya to be used for the opening day ceremonies.

On Navroze Day, Thursday March 21, 2019 the entire community gathered for the first Baj ceremony in the Urvish Gah of the new Atash Kadeh. After that, a boi was performed in the existing Atash Gah and a procession of priests carried the fire from the old building into the new one. The procession was beautifully created so that the oldest priests started the procession and passed on the fire to the younger generation, symbolizing the passing of the torch from the old to the new and the fire from the old prayer room to the new Atash Kadeh.

Later that evening in a wonderful Jamshedi Navroze celebration the Vada Dasturji of Iranshah Dastur Khurshed Dastoor who was visiting Houston specially for the Inauguration addressed the gathering. He asked the Houston Zarathushti community to step up and take responsibility of making sure that the Atash Padshah remains burning in perpetuity and asked Ahura Mazda to shower his choicest blessings to the entire community on this very momentous occassion. He urged those gathered to take the middle path, and to adhere to the tenets of the religion and show the adequate respect when visiting the Atash Kadeh.

On Friday morning March 22nd, 2019 at 1:45 AM the Vendidad ceremony at the Atash Kadeh began. The Vendidad was performed by 7 mobeds from Houston, Dallas, Washington D.C. and London. For the 100 or so folks who were present all night for the prayers it was a beautiful serene and surreal experience to hear prayers being chanted in the new Atash Kadeh. The prayers ended just before sunrise. A community breakfast was organized by ZAH and sev dahi, pora pav and chai made everyone feel at home.

The evening program was organized by the ZAH Library Committee and it was a fantastic production spearheaded by the amazing Aban Rustomji, our dear friend and mentor. Aban who is also the Co-Chair of the FEZANA FIRES Committee and her team organized a beautiful exhibition titled Down Memory Lane where they recreated scenes from the past using original period artefacts. An entire kitchen was laid out, as was a sandalwood shop in Navsari. The newly acquired artefacts from the estate of Prof. K. D. Irani were on display for the very first time.

The literary giant Bapsi Sidhwa made a rare appearance in person. Even with her fraility she delivered a beautiful address as she spoke about her kid brother Firoze and his journey from their native Lahore in Pakistan to Houston in United States. In her fantastic style she regaled the crowd with personal anecdotes of them growing up as siblings and shared insights into the motivation that led Firoze and Shernaz Bhandara to make this magnificent donation.

Architect Cyrus Rivetna addressed the gathering and gave insight into the creation of the building and some of the firsts that this building has established.

The evening formal program had the Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor as the keynote speaker. He spoke about the Zarathushti way of life and reminded us of what our prayers say and how we can implement the teachings in our day to day life.

Saturday morning March 23, 2019 dawned bright in Houston. People gathered in droves to witness the first Jashan in the new Atash Kadeh followed by the first Boi ceremony.

25 mobeds led by Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor performed a beautiful Jashan witness by over 300 people. There were generations of priests in the jashan with the oldest in their 80’s and the youngest being Freyaan Vimadalal at 13, who just had his Navar ceremony in early January. What was really impressive and heartening to see was the large number of local Houston young mobeds participating in the Jashan.

After the Jashan was completed, the fire was carried to the Atash Gah and the main afarganyu fire lit for the very first time followed by the Boi ceremony. The first Boi was performed by Ervad Behramshah Sanjana a senior local mobed in Houston.

After the Jashan those gathered posed for a huge group photograph with the Atash Kadeh in the backdrop. Chasni and other refreshments were shared by all to conclude the morning series of events.

Later that evening the Gala Dinner had over 640 people gathered. So large was the demand and turnout that ZAH had to set up a tent in their parking lot to house the large turnout.

Local politicians, the Indian Consul General and other dignitaries graced the occassion and spoke on the momentous occassion. Firoze and Shernaz Bhandara thanked all the folks at ZAH who had worked tirelessly with them to make this building happen. He thanked the various local officials who intervened at the right times to allow the building’s construction to remain on schedule.

The evening ended with a delicious spread and a lot of merriment and dancing.

Sunday March 24, 2019 was the last day of festivities and a Ava Yazad Parab Nu Jashan was performed to bring to close the 4 days of celebration.

The Houston community once again proved that collective resolve, passion, a sense of belonging, and a combined purpose can move mountains and make dreams into reality.

The unequivocal support from Zarathushtis of North America and the world was evident in the number of out of town guests, the FEZANA Executive, past and present FEZANA Presidents, presidents of many Zoroastrian associations across from all over North America and friends and family who flew in from all over to be there in Houston to witness this auspicious once-in-a-lifetime event.

The opening of the Atash Kadeh is truly the end of the begining. Now the real work begins. It is now upon the ZAH community to use the beautiful Atash Kadeh to fulfill all their spiritual needs. As the Vada Dasturji emphasized, the continuous burning of the fire into perpetuity is the only way that this truly amazing gift by the Bhandara family can be honoured. In the days and weeks ahead the hope is that the fire is one day consecrated, and in the future the first generation of Navar and Martabs in the western world shall come from this Atash Kadeh.

Atha Jamyat Yatha Afrinami.