Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Our Mobeds – Our Community’s Lifelines

Our dear friend, mentor and community leader Dinshaw K. Tamboly shares some thoughts on the occasion of Parsi New Year 2019

Dinshaw K. Tamboly writes….

Dinshaw TambolyAt the outset, on the auspicious occasion of celebrating our Shenshai New Year (YZ1389) I take the opportunity to extend sincere greetings to all our community members. I am very grateful to Ms. Anahita Subedar, Editor, Parsi Times for having requested me to write a few words about our clergy in their Special New Year Edition.

For any community to thrive or for that matter even to survive, it is very essential to have a strong religious base. No religion can survive without an enlightened clergy. The success and survival of our Zoroastrian community is undoubtedly directly linked to our religion and our Mobeds (Athornans).

One of the crucial challenges that our Parsi community faces is that of ensuring to have a solid base of Mobeds, capable of not only sustaining our spiritual needs but also that of being capable of providing leadership in both spiritual as well as material matters.

It is recognised that looking to present and the future spiritual need of the community, what is necessary, is the development of an educated, intelligent, knowledgeable and articulate class of Mobeds. It is very essential not only to encourage our young Athornans to embrace Mobedi as a full time profession by making it economically viable, but also to inculcate in them the essential requisites to attain the class of Mobeds needed by the community, not only all over India, but worldwide.

Athornans, in days of yore, played a very decisive role in providing leadership to the community in matters spiritual as well as material. Unfortunately the vibrant sheen of yesteryears has become lacklustre as is evident when comparing present day full time practising Athornans with those of decades earlier.

The reasons for present day practising Athornans being in decline cannot be laid at their doorsteps alone. Of course one experiences some of the Athornans not being attentive or taking short cuts whilst reciting prayers, some dress shabbily, but these are the few exceptions and not the norm.

One of the two main reasons for the decline of Mobedi has been the extremely nominal remunerations that many Athornans receive for their humungous efforts, having to be on call 24X7 whenever required, and the other, considering that one has to be born into an Athornan family to be permitted to perform priestly duties, the number of young lads from Athornan families opting to become Priests are reducing, as with good education, opportunities abound for earning substantially more in secular environments than as practising Priests.

It has therefore become a need of the times to protect and preserve, not only our present day Priests, but keeping an eye on our community’s future to make Mobedi a viable and satisfactorily remunerative calling.

It was with these realities in mind that the focussed and visionary Psychotherapist Ms. Binaifer Sahukar, conceived of a plan that would re-establish the image and standing of our Mobeds. It was thus that her brainchild “Empowering Mobeds”, having the promise of being a game changer, with wholehearted support of Athornan Mandal & WZO Trust Funds, became a reality in 2017 and has since begun to undertake various programmes where experts in various fields have begun to train our Mobeds, developing amongst other things their leadership and counselling skills.

In addition to exposing Mobeds to the wise views of eminent and much respected Athornans such as Dasturji Firoze Kotwal, Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, Senior Athravan Asphandiar Dadachanji, professionals in various disciplines have held sessions with Mobeds that have provided them with insights into multifarious speciality areas that would open their minds and broaden their vision, which would facilitate them to interact with the laity who look up to them for guidance, in a far more organized and decisive manner. 

Some of the skills that Mobeds have thus far been exposed to are:

1. Psychologists and psychiatrists have conducted soft skills training sessions.

2. Mental health experts, media professionals have conducted sessions to make Mobeds digitally savvy. Impact of language to influence thoughts and feelings have been emphasized.

3. An intensive follow up workshop, for the core team of 16 members was later conducted in a corporate set up. This resulted in some Punthaks establishing a WhatsApp group for their Agiary worshippers and also spiking the follower numbers for their Agiary facebook page. Agiary event notifications for these priests are now digital, instead of the old notice board.

4. An offsite training program was conducted at the WZO Trust Funds Sanatorium at Sanjan where Mobeds underwent rigorous self awareness exercises along with an introduction to basic counselling concepts. In the psychotherapy overview, there was a tilt towards Narrative therapy and Solution Focussed Brief therapy along with the administration of an MBTI test

5. Stress management for Mobeds during the hectic Muktads was conducted. Living religious encyclopaedia Dasturji Firoze Kotwal spoke about the significance of Muktads.

6. Dasturji Khurshed Dastur and Er Aspandiyar Dadachanji gave simple doable tips for staying calm and maintaining a healthy work life balance during the hectic Muktads.

7. In collaboration with XYZ (Extremely Young Zoroastrians), our Mobeds conducted learning religion through fun and games for approximately 300 kids in 2 Bombay schools. 

8. Our young Mobeds led a heritage trail walk for the senior residential boys of the Dadar Athornan Institute and boarders of the Bai Avabai Petit School for girls. By weaving a narrative around the mute statues and monuments of South Bombay standing tall and proud, our kids were made aware of our rich heritage. 

9. Interaction between Team Empowering Mobeds & “Fellows” of Return to Roots during their sojourn to India.  

10.  A “Football match” between Mobed fathers and sons and Mobeds and Behdin teams to strengthen understanding, teamwork and create friendship bonds was arranged.

The Empowering Mobeds outreach program has in a short span of 2 years covered every demographic segment from kids to senior citizens.

Whilst the Empowering Mobeds roadmap is for Mobeds to upgrade their skills, understand themselves, speak better, read more, write more and interact more with the laity, it will be unable to elevate the profession of Mobedi to the position it occupied earlier, without the wholehearted support of the laity.

Our Behdins (Laity) need to look at Mobeds in a different light, treat thgem not as underprivileged, but look upon and act towards them with reverence, ensure they are compensated commensurate with the services they provide.

In the final analysis what needs to be realised is that unless our Athornans receive fair remuneration for services rendered, even fewer and fewer than at present, young Athornans will take to Mobedi as a calling / profession which will in a few years from now create a cataclysmic situation where the community will be faced with inadequate Mobeds to tend to our holy fires or service the needs of the laity. The community must come to terms and accept the reality that our Athornans are the lifelines of and for our religion and our community. Without a robust and enlightened clergy, our faith & religion cannot survive.

The not hard to understand equation is: No Athornans – No Religion – No Community.

Dinshaw K. Tamboly;