They number 600-odd in a city with a population of nearly 4.5 million. That nearly half of this 600 are senior citizens may have been a cause for concern for any community but the Parsis of Kolkata. ‘Think Positive’ is their mantra and it came as little surprise that they turned up in large numbers on Tuesday to hear Er Dr Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia speak.
Karanjia is principal of the Dadar Athornan Institute in Mumbai, where Zoroastrian priests receive training. Widely travelled and an expert on world religions, he spoke to TOI on the future of the community and some of its religious practices that continue to remain an enigma for others.
"It is true that our numbers are coming down but this is not a big cause for concern. One major reason for this is the migration of young professionals to foreign shores. In north America, there is a Zoroastrian population of nearly 30,000 today. Till a few years ago, their numbers were a mere 10,000-15,000. The population of Parsis in Australia and New Zealand is also growing. Conversion is certainly not an option to increase the population in India. That would be suicidal. However, certain steps are being taken to encourage youngsters to start families. In Mumbai, we have matrimonial clubs and youth meets.
There are ways by which youngsters from across the country may meet their prospective life partners over the internet," said Karanjia.
In Mumbai, the ‘panchayats’ have taken the initiative to provide housing to young couples. A stipend is also paid every month for every third child born to a family. But what did Karanjia tell community members when they turned up to hear him speak on the start of the centenary celebrations for the only fire-temple in Kolkata?
"I spoke to them on simple ways of following the religion. The basic tenets of our religion are to be positive, encourage progress and stay away from negativity. Problem is that many of the youngsters know little about Zoroastrianism or have little time to practice the religion. I tell them that only a few minutes in a day and overall goodness will suffice to practice the religion. I urge them to care of the religion, take responsibility and sustain it," Karanjia said.
According to him, members of other communities are forbidden from attending Zoroastrian religious ceremonies not because they are considered inferior but to preserve the ‘purity of certain rituals’. At their institute in Dadar, there is a system to ‘demonstrate’ the rituals for the benefit of researchers and students who do not belong to the community. "For us, fire is extremely important and holy. The fire inside our temple has to be fed five times a day.
Whenever an offering is made, prayers are chanted to drive out evil thoughts, evil words and evil actions," Karanjia said.