Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

The Sandalwood Controversey at Udwada Atash Behram

A few years ago, our entire family was at Udwada to offer prayers after my wedding. Just as we were about to give the “sukhad” to the “boiwala” dasturji, he refused to take it saying that its not original. We were completely taken aback, both by the dasturji’s pronouncement and his harsh and rude tone. We informed him that the sandalwood had been bought at the Banaji Fire Temple in Bombay. He refused to accept it, even threatening to throw it away in the garbage. This deeply hurt us but keeping in mind the place we were in, and with due respect to the Iranshah, we let it go.

Since then we have spoken to a few people and have heard similar stories about the same attitude of the dasturs in Udwada.

Below is a more detailed account circulated via email by Bakhtyar Vazifdar. He also poses the same questions.

I have yet to hear a plausible religious arguement that sounds convincing. The one point that someone made was that this was a way for people to buy sandalwood from the locals in Udwada and hence help the local economy. While that can be a valid plan of action, the execution of it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

Have any of you had a similar experience? Can someone throw more light on the issues at hand ?

Bakhtyar Vazifdar writes…

Dear Parsi and Irani Zoroastrian Friends. (I think this is now the politically correct greeting within the members of our community).

Those of you who know me, know one thing for sure, that I cannot accept anything at face value.  I need proper reasoning (and ofcourse a lot of dialogue… read argument….). before I accept something.  The last thing I can accept is when I am told to follow or accept something unquestioningly, just because no one else bothers to question it, or just because people want me to believe / accept it because it have gone unquestioned for years and hence has become an accepted norm within our community.

Now I don’t profess to have extensive knowledge of our religion, but I do know enough to ask pertinent questions.

I don’t profess to be totally religious, but I do believe in the tenets of ‘Humata Hukhta and Huvarashta.’

And I do respect the Priests of our community who I feel are doing a tremendous job in these present times, when there are so many more like me who have pertinent questions to ask at every stage, before accepting thing that were previously being forced down our throats .

I am not a regular Fire temple visitor like most Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians, and on rare occassions that I do visit our Fire Temples, I humbly offer my Sandal wood at the Kebla and am off without a backward glance.

I also follow this practise at our Iranshah in Udvada.

Recently, I have regularly been hearing whispers, and lately this whisper has become a agitated topic of conversation between Parsi and Irani Zoroastrian friends whom I know, that, when we offer our sandalwood especially those pieces that are purchased elsewhere other than from Udvada, the priests in charge at the moment at the Iranshah, duly segregates the sandalwood peices and only those pieces which are purchased from Udvada are duly offered to the Iranshah and that the "other" pieces are later offered at the Adarian fire.

I sincerely hope this is not true and is just a rumour started by some unsatisfied brethren.

But, if per chance this is true, I would definitely like to know when and why this custom has developed and with whose authority.

I do not believe that there is not enough Sandalwood for the Adarian Fire, as each and every person leaves some quantity of sandalwood at each of the fires.

I would also not believe, that the Sandalwood sold in Udvada is of better quality than that sold elsewhere because there has been a composite ban of Sandalwood harvesting in India for years.

I also cannot accept that the sandalwood sold in Udvada is "Purer" because I have seen non Parsis / Iranis handle the wooden sticks in Udvada.

I also believe, that the Parsi and Irani Zoroastrian selling the Sandalwood pieces door to door in Mumbai and other cities is as poor or infact poorer that the Sandalwood sales people in Udvada.

So unless there is a Non-Questionable Religious Tenet which so dictates this move, I would like this issue to be discussed, clarified and settled by our small but educated community in an amicable manner.

If such a Non-Questionable Religious Tenet does exist, then my apologies, but I would like to know about it and any such other Tenets which may exist which discreminate between religious articles from place to place, so that I may not commit sacrilege unknowingly.

If there is no such tenet, then I question my Parsi and Irani Zoroastrian friends, why they have taken this lying down and not raised their voice at the first instant such a custom was introduced by these beneficiaries who have vested interest.

I know raising these type of question at present times of religious stress when we have bigger topics to discuss like conversion etc., may not go down well with most of my brethren, who believe in letting sleeping dogs lie.  But I want us to at least think and question these so called customs which will slowly become an unwritten law.  Do you not feel the need to check the dog before it gets up and bites you?

Friends, I know that in present times of chain letters, most of you may delete this letter, But I fervently appeal to you to forward it to your Parsi and Irani Zoroastrian friends only, because only if this is networked then I am sure we will all be satisfied with a proper educated answer.

No bad luck will befall you if you you do delete, but only good will come if we come forward and question any doubts, for our religion is definitely going to be present in the next millenium.

I also fervently request any and all editors of newspapers, magazines and periodicals, to not publish this letter without prior approval as this is not an open letter to one and all and I do not wish these matters going out of the community.

I do not intend to make this a controversial topic and if the responses are cordial, I do have a lot more questions to ask, on objectionable (in my opinion only.) matters being practised with our community.  If we want our religion and our community to prosper, we have to be bold enough to raise these questions and demand proper answers because the next generation is not going to be a mute spectator in the functioning of our religion / community.

Without malice to all.

Yours Sincerely

Bakhtyar Vazifdar.