Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Allahabad Parsis Relying on ‘temporary’ Parsi priest for rituals

ALLAHABAD: Even as the heads count of the Parsi community is diminishing, both in the Sangam city as well as across the country, the community is struggling to find a ‘Mobed’ (Priest) to perform various rituals spanning from birth of individual to his death.

Even in this crucial juncture, the Atash Behram or the Holy fire at the Fire Temple is kept burning by the efforts of members of this community, just a dozen head counts in the city, who have either placed the wooden log in the fire by themselves or arranged for a ‘Para-Mobed’ (a ‘temporary’ priest who performs holy rituals along with daily routine). And when there is just one priest in the entire state, that too quite elderly, technological avatar in form of audio cassettes or Parsi people conducting the rituals by their own come to fill the vacuum, especially in the last voyage of life.

For the population of Parsi, living in different districts of Uttar Pradesh, the community has just one priest living in Kanpur and he too has seen around 80 winters. Because of this shortage, when Parsi Zoroastrian priests is required to perform the Navjote ceremony – i.e. the rite of admission into the religion for children, the child and other family members, travels to Kanpur or Mumbai. “There is dearth of ‘Mobed’ in the entire country leave aside this small town, but the Atash Behram (holy fire) is kept ignited and will continue”, said Veera Gandhi who owns the Fire temple of the city and has arranged for a Para-mobed from Mumbai who has the responsibility of keeping the fire burning.

“I am working as gardener for the past 35 years and seen that memsaab has made some or the other arrangement to keep the fire in the temple burning,” said elderly Ram Lal, the guard of ‘Lejar Shapoorjee Ghandhi Dar.E.Maher’, the fire temple of the city.

“Although there is the dearth of the priest, we have to manage by our own while performing the last rites or any other rituals as what happened when Captain Dandiwala was buried in the Parsi Cemetery few years ago. The population of Parsis was around two dozen just a few years ago, but half of that numbers are presently left in the city. Our population is shirking in small towns as some would die and other would move to bigger cities,” said Cyrus Framjee.

The number of Parsis has been steadily declining for several decades. The highest census counted was of 1,14,890 individuals in 1940-41 which included united India. But now, with a decline by approximately 9% per decade, demographic trends project that by the year 2020 the Parsis will number only 23,000 as per the 2011 Census the population is just around 40, 000. Situation in Allahabad, follows the national trend. The community, which has formed Allahabad Parsee 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 8 years now, the duty was performed by couple of Para-Mobed (a temporary priest which performs holy rituals along with daily routine). Couple of years ago, Dairus, one of the Parsi of the city, used to visit the temple twice every day and performed the prayers and put the log, but after his moving 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 or the Holy fire flaming.

Any man or woman marrying an outsider is considered as 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 number is diminishing and so is the problem of finding Mobed and now even Para Mobed, feels the members of the community.