No more an option to stay quiet: An Interview with Dastur Khurshed of Udvada

No more an option to stay quiet says Dastur Khurshed Kaikobad Dastoor. High Priest of Iranshah

The below is an interview by Teenaz Javat who interviewed Dastur Khurshed, the Vada Dasturji of Udvada. This appeared in the FEZANA Journal December 2010.

With a warm hug in a ranch-style house in the leafy neighbourhood of Mineola, Mississauga. I met an old friend and we got talking.

It was as if the 25 years since we last met just seem to evaporate. I was thrilled to bits as I met Ervad Khurshed K. Dastoor, now Vada Dasturji (High Priest) of the Iranshah Atashbehram in Udvada.

No soppiness and no telling how the years had flown, he now sports a white beard and I have 20 extra pounds on my 5 foot 2 inch frame. We got talking almost immediately as I had 45 minutes to spend with him and his wife Havovi.

Growing up in Mumbai, India, most of my summer holidays were spent in Udvada at my nam’s house. He spent most of his time in Udvada, being the son of a father who occupied the position of Head Priest. So over the years we cultivated a bond- the strength of which was evident in the sharp questions I posed and the no-nonsense answers he provided.

A commerce graduate from Mumbai University’s Hasaram Rijumal College, Ervad Khurshed. 47, was ordained as Head Priest by Udvada Samast and Athornan Anjuman on January 27 2002 after the demise of his late father Dasturji Kaikobad Dastoor.

clip_image002[4]

Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor joined the Dadar Athornan Madressa in 1971 and became Navar/Martab in Udvada in 1975-76. A father of three (they have 2 daughters Parinaz and Shanaya and 1 son Daraius) he divides his time equally between his liturgical duties in Udvada and his personal life in Mumbai.

Here are excerpts from the interview that took place on May 28, 2010 in Mississauga. Ontario when Dasturji Khurshed was visiting the Greater Toronto Area.

Teenaz Javat (TJ): Why is there so much of bad blood flowing within our community viz-a-viz the debate over inter-community marriages? Do you even get the sense of how divided a community we have become?

Dasturji Khurshed (DK): Yes, I do More so as childhood fnends who I have grown up with and have chosen to marry outside of our faith are sometimes treated quite shabbily. However, I want to set the record

By Teenaz Javat

straight once and for all. Our religion is based on gender equality and if a Parsi/lram girl or boy chooses to marry outside of our faith and does so by way of a civil ceremony he/she has, according to me, every right to continue to attend the Agiary or Atashbehram of their choosing.

If, after marnage to a non-Parsi. the Individual born as a Parsi and whose navjote has been performed, chooses to continue to follow the faith they are born and

initiated into. I do not see any reason why they should not be allowed to offer prayers at any and all places of worship.

Let me be clear, this is not my ruling – it is what Dasturji Daboo, a great scholar, had suggested way back in 1968 and I whole heartedly endorse it. However, in some cases where the immediate family pressurizes    the

intermarried girl/boy not to visit our place of worship then there is nothing one can do about it. However, I want to set the record straight, that in no way am I advocating or favouring inter-caste marriages

TJ: There are so many petitions floating around the internet both for and against conversion, what do you have to say about them?

DK; The internet has to an extent created a false sense of runaway knowledge Not everything can or must be believed as the information is in most cases one-sided. I do keep abreast of all that is going on, but am not inclined to participate in the controversy that such exchanges generate. To be honest, it is a waste of time. I have other greater and more meaningful responsibilities to shoulder and internet petitions hold the least of my interest or my worries.

TJ: But as a head priest of our most pious and sacred atashbehram you do not have an option to stay quiet anymore and the buck to an extent does stop at your doorstep?

   

DK: A lot of stuff you read about is one-sided. Citizen journalism is not helping our cause, which is to maintain

peace and balance within our small community. Take for instance the case of Ervads Khushroo Madon and Faramroz Mirza. There is one petition that is calling for them to be defrocked and another to be reinstated. I have seen both and signed neither. I am of the school of thought that once you are ordained as a Navar or Martab no one can defrock you as you have been ordained In the house of God. Besides that there are many priests who have like Ervads Madan and Mirza performed navjotes/lagans of children of mixed parentage and other irreligious activities yet nobody is talking about them.

TJ: It seems the orthodox lobby is gaining strength over the years. Can you explain this rise in Zarathushti fundamentalism – for want of a better word – over the past

25 years?

DK: It all boils down to financial clout propagating religion of convenience. Just take a look at the amount of money WAPIZ – which is at the forefront of obnoxious movements within the community – spends on advertising in Free Press Journal and circulates them free of charge. Because everyone cannot match their scale of funding does it mean that the defenders of the religion are those with ample money to burn? Certainly not! There are bigger and better things to be achieved to improve and strengthen our community than participate in such a bitter and nonsensical feud.

TJ: Bigger and better things like what? Do you have a pet project you are working on?

DK: Yes, in fact that is what I spoke about at the Zoroastnan Society of Ontario after performing the jashan on Zarthosht-no-diso.

My pet project is to declare Udvada a heritage village – the reason being to stop the construction of high nse buildings that have been spnnging over the village and to preserve the heritage grade status of the Parsi homes and mansions at Udvada .

The local infrastructure cannot cope up in providing the required amenities, resulting in inconvenience to the locals and most importantly pose a threat to our Iranshah. These high rise buildings once constructed need to be serviced with huge quantities of water, electricity etc and with 60% of the local population depending on wells for water both for drinking and otherwise, we need to preserve our source of water. The village was built up in a way that one well was meant to service one home not multiple flats that have come up in place of that home.

Secondly, the sewage of these buildings is by way of septic tanks. Some of them are so close to the Iranshah that any contamination of the well within the prescient of Iranshah will be disastrous. All our higher liturgies like yazashne. vendidad, nirangdin depend on pure water from our own well and would come to a gnnding halt if the Iranshah wells were to be contaminated.

Once the heritage label is applied to Udvada, there will be tangible benefits accruing to the village. The sale and subsequent demolition of heritage grade homes and mansions will be stopped, construction of high-rise apartment buildings will not be allowed and the pristine glory of Udvada as global religious headquarters will be preserved and maintained. Also notification as a heritage village/site will encourage the government to improve the basic town planning infrastructure such as roads, drainage etc. It will also help save our beach. The gravel and sand depletion which has taken place, thanks in part to the construction boom, has left our beach barren and rock-strewn.

The pristine glory of Udvada along with the sanctity of Iranshah must be preserved at all cost for the generations to come. Udvada cannot be allowed to degenerate into a location where heritage is replaced by modernity.

TJ: At what stage is this project at?

DK: Presently nowhere, thanks to those from the community who shout from the rooftops proclaiming themselves to be defenders of the faith. The proposal to car/e out Udvada as a Hentage site was opposed by them resulting in thus far the Government of Gujarat not considering the hentage proposal put up to them in 2004-2005. These same self-defenders of our faith have acquired the heritage status for Agiaries and Atashbehrams in Mumbai, which quite frankly I find ridiculous.

TJ: Have you approached the UNESCO?

Personal Profiles

DK: No. I do not want the UNESCO involved as then for every structural change to the Iranshah we will have to get approval from them. Let me set the record straight – we are not doing this due to any lack of funds. Iranshah is truly blessed by philanthropist who at a moments notice clamour to serve and fund any renovations that we may require.

My purpose in spearheading this heritage project was to make sure the village does not get run over by runaway development which current infrastructure cannot support. The quaintness of Udvada as you and I remember so fondly must stay as that is what we have to preserve in addition to the Iranshah ever since it was sanctified in 1742.

Teenaz Javat is a journalist living in Mississauga. Ontario She works for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporate (CBC). teaches journalism at Sheridan College. Oakville and freelances for newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad.

All Copyrights: Teenaz Javat and FEZANA Journal

  • Contradhongi

    What the Dastoorji has spoken removes the myth surrounding all recent controversies in the false name of Orthodoxy and Tenets. We were made to believe that all fatwas originated from High Priests but now the community will realize who are actually responsible for avoidable bitternes, divisions and discord.The dhogees, pretending to be saviours of Religion have imposed needless and fruitless litigation on non issues by making docile and aged High Priests sign “Defrocking” orders on dotted lines and misguided the community into believing that the same originated from High Priests. WELL DONE PARSI KHABAR. KEEP IT UP

  • Icchaporia.

    There is a saying that ultimately the Truth triumphs and the misconception the Parsis had about the regressive bias of our Vada Dasturs and their propensity for issuing orders BANNING this and that now seems to be not out of their own desires but due to pressures and pulls from an association which has assumed the role of preservers and protectors with the ultimate objective of capturing B.P.P. considering that this Trust has large properties. They want the community to remain engaged in infighting so that no body questions their utter incapacity to do something substantive for the benefit of the community at large during last over two years.The aim of getting heritage status for Fire Temples is also not borne out of honest intetions as was suspected all along.
    The rationalists who blamed the High Priests for their diktats now ought to realize who actually were the motivating force behind pressurizing our learned priests into giving into caprices and whims of pseudo Scholars who have made Religion a profession despite not being ordained priests. Deceptions are bound to get uncovered. On their part our Scholar Priests should not relent to pressures from such ‘social workers trustees’ whose real motives are far from good of the community.
    The last lesson that is essential for these charlatans of Dhobhi Talao is not to pelt stones at others since their own office bearers are living in glass houses.

  • Zarathustra Zarthosti

    Thanks Mr. Arzan Wadia for putting up this article.

    KHSHNAOTHRE AHURAHE MAZDAO

  • farzana

    Moderator , I would request you to plz put up the full interview of Dastur Khurshed of Udwada that has appeared in FEZNA issue of 2010 Fall.

  • Behroze Sidhwa

    It is like refreshing air to know that we have in our midst upright and frank priests who speak out their minds,without being indebted to Sharbatwallas. Such cheapskate and shallow minded industrialists ought to know that they cannot manipulate all the High Priests by offering them bulky Ashodad packets.

  • Barak Aga

    .
    The Dasturji has hit the nail right on the head.

    But he has also placed himself in the crosshairs of the builder lobby.

    He has also exposed those who opposed heritage status for Udvada.
    It was the builder lobby which would have been affected.

    And we were led to believe that heritage status was opposed on the grounds that tourists would flock there.

  • kunwalla

    Well, now that Dasturji Khurshedji has the tiger by the tail, he should take the next step of uniting the community against the fatwakhor sharbat lobby. Love you Khursheji and wishing you all the strength…

  • Farsak Ashli

    Wrong interpretation of the word orthodoxy by first class dhongis has been exposed by the man of Religion in the words ‘It all boils down to financial clout propagating religion of convenience. Just take a look at the amount of money WAPIZ – which is at the forefront of obnoxious movements within the community – spends on advertising in Free Press Journal and circulates them free of charge. Because everyone cannot match their scale of funding does it mean that the defenders of the religion are those with ample money to burn? Certainly not! There are bigger and better things to be achieved to improve and strengthen our community than participate in such a bitter and nonsensical feud” Well Spoken Dasturji Saheb.

  • Rathestar.

    As for heritage status for Fire Temples, the less said the better. How many devotees one finds in Fire Temples in Fort area theses days, in the evening,
    And what is the nature of “heritage’ about the structures of Fire Temples like Indawalla and Ashburner Fire Temples. Getting heritage status has meant prolonging ‘vegetable’ existence of a patient at a time when Parsees in Bombay suburbs badly need a place of God. But then this is how “pure & traditional” persons claim to presrerve and protect.!

  • Phiroze

    What our Dasturji has said about inter married Parsis allowed to enter religious institutions pertains only to those indiviual who were born Parsis and had their navjotes done, choose to marry non Parsis and not to their non Parsi SPOUSES OR OFFSPRINGS. He has made it very clear that he does not ADVOCATE OR ENCOURAGE INTERCAST MARRIAGES.
    He also said “The internet has to a (large) extent created a false sense of runaway (religious) knowledge. Not everything can or should be taken at face value. barak and farzana to note.
    VERY WELL SAID DASTURJI INDEED.

  • R.Kayani.

    @ Unwalla,
    Were there conflicts and controversies raging within the community to the present extent before the ‘angels’ set up an office opposite Kayani Restaurant Near Metro.?
    I am told that our HIGH priests (mostly hereditary) have joined hands to gather to form a COUNCIL.
    Can somebody provide:
    1. Address to which we can send communications to this Council,
    2. Who is the Head of this Council.???

  • Barak Aga

    .
    Dear Mr. Phiroze,
    We can understand your discomfiture with the internet.

    Ironically you take recourse to the very same “internet” which you seek to rubbish.

    What the learned priest refers to is websites put up by “Parsis” which state utter nonsense.
    So please note.

    Also the learned priest has not specified which websites have created this false sense of religious knowledge.

    The sites we refer too are General Knowledge sites which post works of research by renowned and acclaimed scholars, on history, not on religion. They are not websites dedicated to any particular religion.

    The policy of those sites is that any information placed there can be challenged, and if found untrue, or copied from other websites, it would have to be removed.

    So far no one has had the courage or capability to challenge the information placed on those sites, and have it removed if they felt it was incorrect.

    The learned High Priest did not give you a license to shoot the messenger.

    Also if the learned Priest feels that any website contains false information, he is free to provide facts and evidence to disprove what has been stated on those sites.

    Perhaps Mr. Phiroze you can take the lead on that if you feel that what those sites have stated is false.

  • Behroze Sidhwa

    Phiroze here is absolutely right. Hope other members of the COUNCIL will support what Dastur Khurshed has stated hereinabove.
    @ Kayani,
    Such paper council have no meaning. They will never reply uncomfortable questions.If you want I can provide E Mail Addresses of our HIGH Priests as well as their advisors.
    What were behind the scene events leasding to formation of this COUNCIL are known to quite a nember of intelligent persons.

  • farzana

    Phiroze, this is for you …words of Zarathushtra-
    Yasna 48:10 “When will thou do away with this piss of drunkenness with which the priests delude the people.”

  • phiroze

    barak, you and farzana have been showing off your half baked knowledge of the religion gained from the internet with multiple, lenghty and humorous posts. Nobody is trying to rubbish the internet, only showed you that not all info on the web is creditable, which now you have come to accept. As you say the general knowledge site info is used by you’ll to comment here and on fb, hence your posts are being taken with a pinch of salt.

  • Rathestar.

    Specimens like Phiroze are helpless against the exchange of thoughts on the internet because they cannot impose a puppet editor with multiple paymasters on the internet.
    To-day the world is witnessing upheavals in the middle east due to awakening as a result of internet.
    Phiroze is free to take comments of others with a pich of salt because such comments constitute facts as they are and to a mind already ‘conditioned’ such truth is unpalatable to set ideas. Phiroze and others like him ought to note for their benefit that their comments are taken by rational persons not with a pinch of salt but bagfuls of it.

  • farzana

    Rathestar,
    Specimens like Phiroze are helpless against the exchange of thoughts on the internet because they realize they no longer can twist truth and fool naive bawas, as types like him had done in past.

    Yes, Phiroze, by now we all know how much of knowledge you store between your ears…

  • Barak Aga

    .
    Dear Phiroze, we are not “showing off half-baked knowledge”.

    We are merely stating historical facts, as authenticated by archeological evidence.

    Photographs and research work have existed for a long time. Nothing is fabricated.

    The internet is only a medium, and is a great leveller.
    Information which was accessible or in the possession of only a few is now available to millions on the spur of the moment

    No one ever claimed that all the material on the net is credible.

    Content from the works of researchers has been digitised and placed on the internet.

    This has made it difficult for the clique of self-serving individuals to take the community for a ride.

    As Abraham Lincoln said,
    You can fool some people all the time.
    You can fool all people some of the time
    But you cannot fool all the people all the time.

    The site we quote from has apprehended no less a person than Prince Johan Friso, son of the reigning Queen Beatrix, of Netherlands, and his wife Princess Mabel of Oranje-Nassau, making changes to an entry concerning a scandal that forced him to renounce the throne.

  • Farshak Ashli

    Obviously men like Phiroze read selectively. Dasturji has rightly highlighted the the notorious role of one organisation in the words “Just take a look at the amount of money WAPIZ – which is at the forefront of obnoxious movements within the community – spends on advertising in Free Press Journal and circulates them free of charge.” OBNOXIOUS iss the word.
    In his post of 21st Feb 2011 Phiroze states:”What our Dasturji has said about inter married Parsis allowed to enter religious institutions pertains only to those indiviual who were born Parsis and had their navjotes done, choose to marry non Parsis and not to their non Parsi SPOUSES OR OFFSPRINGS. He has made it very clear that he does not ADVOCATE OR ENCOURAGE INTERCAST MARRIAGES.”
    Exactly Phiroze, now would we see that the same is reiterated by the COUNCIL of Priests formed recently.Or as some rumors abound that this Council is a knee jerk reaction out of panic to rebut what has been mentioned by Dasturji in his above interview because it seems to contradict the contents of Affidavits Amdavadi flaunted at sanjan Day Celebration?

  • Phiroze

    Rathestar Hansotia,
    Those bringing a change in the middle east are bold enough to come out in the open squares, while you are afraid to even post your photo on your fb profile. besides what has the politics of middle east got to do with this topic?.

  • Rathestar.

    What has my profile on Face Book got to do with what I post on Parsi Khabar Mr. Phiroze?

  • Pingback: Clarification on the Actress Debarred Issue | Parsi Khabar()

  • Phiroze

    Rathestar, if you want to be taken seriously, you should be open about your identity on fb profile and not conceal it like zz who does it to protect its family and the orthodox from shame and embarassment. Joke of the century Ha Ha Ha
    Those in the middle east are ready to be recognised in the streets for the change they want to bring and that is why they are taken seriously.

  • Phiroze

    Barak, once again it has been proved that all you read on the internet and other media is not gospel or in the case of your matrix friends “Gathas”

  • Rathestar.

    Mr. Phiroze,
    Just to remind you that I had forwarded to you a request to be FRIENDS on the F.B. which you have chosen to ignore and therefore you cannot complain on this topic.
    I am least concerned whether you or persons sharing your views take me seriously nor do I need your advise in this regard but the fact that besides you, no one else indulges in criticism of my posts speaks for itself. I do not need any certificate from you or anybody else for I am answerable to Ahura Mazda and not to any ‘fekoo’ Scholar or Priest.

  • Barak Aga

    .
    Mr. Phiroze,

    You have criticised / questioned the credibility or the acumen of those whose views differ from yours.

    You have gone after the identities of many of those who post.

    You have criticised the medium (internet) through which information / knowledge is disseminated.

    But very strangely, you have avoided quoting scriptural, historical and archeological evidence to buttress your assertions.

    In not a single post of yours have you quoted Zarathustra’s words.

    Now why is this so?

    If you claim to be an adherent of the religion as preached by Zarathustra, why is it that you have not quoted Zarathustra in a single argument put forward by you?

  • Phiroze

    Rathestar, I do not accept a friend request of fb unless I am able to verify the person’s identity thru profile picture or other sources. Infact my first instinct towards such people is of suspicion. Any skeletons in the closet for hidding your real identity like your friend zz? How can anyone trust or take what you say seriously if you are not open about your identity.

  • Phiroze

    Barak, I have just tried to post my views logically. Anyone who has a better logical answer is free to voice the same. I have and will continue to go after the identity of those whose posts are anti Parsi. About the internet I have poined out to you that not all that you read there is “Gathas”. I have quoted from immemorial Parsi customs and traditions which are transcedental laws.
    How can I quote the z(arathustra)z in our midst who is an imposter and is boosting about bringing shame and embarrassement to me and his family? 🙂

  • Rathestar

    BARAK,
    Pl do not squander your time arguing with an individual who will say it is morning just because electric light is put on or when in a cave or underground consider it as Night. As for those bragging over customs and traditions, one is astonished as to why they put on Shirt and Trouser or Jeans & blouse because as per customs and traditions they ought to dress up in the manner of Sethias and their spouses of the past whose portraits adorn the main Hall of Fire Temples. Why follow customs and traditions selectively is something that is intriguing.
    N.B. : This message is addressed to BARACK and I will not enter into a futile debate with a logically illogical and a cantankerous boarder here.

  • Peshotan Vistasp

    Dusturji’s logical, yet traditional approach to problems within our community are greatly respected and appreciated today. Thank you Dusturji for listening to your Vohu Man, rather than the dogmatic ideas of society.

  • Peshotan Vistasp

    Dusturji’s logical, yet traditional approach to problems within our community are greatly respected and appreciated today. Thank you Dusturji for listening to your Vohu Man, rather than the dogmatic ideas of society.