Even as the population of the Parsi community is diminishing, in the Sangam city as well as across the country, the community of Tata’s, Godrej’s, Wadia’s, Bhabha’s, Maneckshaw’s, is struggling with the crunch of finding a ‘Mobed’ (Priest) to perform various rituals spanning from birth to death.
At this crucial juncture, the ‘Atash Behram’ or the holy flame at the fire temple is kept burning by the efforts of members of the community, just about 10 to 12 left in the city, who either place wooden logs in the fire themselves or arrange for a Para-Mobed (a make-shift priest to perform holy rituals along with daily routine). When there is just one priest in the entire state, that too quite elderly, technology comes to rescue in the form of audio CDs or Parsi people conducting the rituals on their own, especially in the last journey of life.
For all the Parsis living in different districts of Uttar Pradesh, the community has just one priest who lives in Kanpur and he too has seen around 80 winters. Because of this shortage, when Parsi Zoroastrian priests is required to perform the baptism ceremony for children, the child and other family members travel to Kanpur or Mumbai. "There is dearth of ‘Mobed’ in the entire country, but the Atash Behram (holy fire) is kept glowing and will continue", said Veera Gandhi who owns the fire temple in the city and has arranged for a Para-Mobed from Mumbai to keep the fire burning.
"I am working as gardener here for the past 35 years and have seen how ma’am (Gandhi) has made some arrangement or the other to keep the fire in the temple burning," says Ram Lal, the guard of ‘Lejar Shapoorjee Ghandhi Dar.E.Maher’, the fire temple of the city.
"Since there is dearth of priests, we have to manage on our own to perform the last rites or any other rituals as in the case when Captain Dandiwala was buried in the Parsi Cemetery a few years ago. The population of Parsi’s was around 24 till a few years ago and only half the number is left. Our population is shrinking in small towns as some died and others moved to bigger cities", said a Parsi youth of the city.
The number of Parsis has been declining for several decades: the highest census counted was of 1,14,890 individuals in 1940-41 which included count in the united India. But now, with a fall of approximately 9% per decade, demographic trends project that by the year 2020 the Parsis’ number will fall to 23,000 as according to 2011 census the population is just around 40, 000.
Situation here at Allahabad, follows the national trends. The community, which has formed the Allahabad Parsi-Zoroastrian Anjuman, has few families and 12 heads count. Earlier, there was a Mobed performing rituals in the sole fire temple of the city, but after his departure, for over eight years ago, the duty was performed by a couple of Para-Mobeds. Couple of years ago, Dairus, one of the Parsis of the city, used to visit the temple twice every day and perform prayers and put the log into the fire, but after he moved to Delhi, Veera Ghandhi arranged for the Para-Mobed for the temple, foundation stone of which was laid on March 23, 1930.
The community, facing all odds, has managed to keep the ‘Atash Behram’ burning.
Any man or woman marrying an outsider is considered an outcast as a result of in-breeding, high incidence of genetic defects has set in. Asthma, heart and neurological problems, myopia, and depression have become hereditary.
Thus, the problem of finding Mobed or even Para Mobed, feel members of the community.