Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Zip-lining Zoroastrianism to the Communty and at SOAS – Not Just a Lesson in History

It is difficult to Zip-line religious facts from 1500 BCE to the present times but this is exactly what Khojeste Mistree did in his four hour session with teenagers and adults in London. At the request of parents, keen on exposing their children to the faith, Khojeste was invited to return to ZTFE, to brief teenagers, on what it means to be a Zoroastrian, beyond the commonly held dictum of Good Thoughts Words and Deeds. “Surely our religion has more to offer” he said to them, singling out and decoding the idea of Happiness, held in the Ashem Vohu prayer, as perhaps the most important part of Zarathushtra’s revelation. He spoke at length on the idea of cosmic dualism in a religion that has traversed time and survived. He discussed the making of the universe, answered on the finiteness of evil and the infiniteness of Zarathushtra’s message. He spoke of the existential relevance of evil, both as a force to confront in life and as an irrational and non-redemptive being, that attacks all that is good in the world.

Article by Bapsy F. Dastur

Khojeste was his measured best, in opening the doors of the faith to young minds and inviting them to walk through and grasp the incandescent beauty and relevance of Zoroastrianism in our times. His power-point presentation made it easy for the viewer to get to grips with a religion that has survived all times. Despite his years of giving talks on Zoroastrianism, Khojeste was overheard saying that, “ it is the questions asked by bright young minds that often make him pause, and think on his feet for an answer” and this young group was no exception.

Mothers they say, have an important role and Marzbeen Jilla the mother of two very bright youngsters, was instrumental in getting Khojeste back to ZTFE to talk with teenagers.

Parsi predilection for Chinese food is well known and may perhaps stem from the time our ancestors were traders and merchants in China – and so not surprisingly, the lunch was Chinese cuisine enjoyed by all.

The after-lunch session open to all, was a power-point titled –

Civilizing the World and Safeguarding the Faith – The Legacy of Nine Zoroastrian Kings

Using a collage of images, some never seen before by the community, Khojeste swept through the corridors of history, unravelling for the audience the stories of some of our great kings and the measures they took to make the faith a unified and strong presence in the ancient world.

DSC_2429 (2) with the ZTFE Youth

He asked who doesn’t know of Cyrus the Great and his Bill of Human Rights, or the postal service instituted by Darius the Great, but how many are aware, that successive Zoroastrian Kings, in order to protect the Iranian homelands, fought the Romans and the Byzantines for nearly 700 years. Khojeste informed, that the Persians under Orodes the Parthian King, captured the famous Eagle-headed, standard bearers of Rome at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE. This was a devastating blow to Roman pride and honour. Even fewer remember, according to Khojeste, that the Parthian King Phraates IV, defeated the famous Roman general Mark Antony, of Cleopatra fame, in battle. He illustrated, through the well known bas-relief, the Sasanian King Shapur, capturing the Eastern Roman Emperor Valerian, and this sent shock waves in the Roman world.

Khojeste’s narration of history with a “Zing” to it, made one’s hair stand, to think that these were our kings, and our people.

DSC_2601 with BD and Marzbeen and Malcom

Not one to ignore the religious aspect, Khojeste talked of the many attempts by Zoroastrian kings to safeguard the Avesta. From Volgasses I to Ardeshir and Shapur, they collected the sacred Avesta from fire temples across the empire and commanded that a “fair copy” be deposited in the royal treasury . The Sasanian Kings established and funded hundreds of fire temples; and during their time, the invention in the 6th century CE, of the Avestan alphabet, by an unknown Zoroastrian priest, helped to preserve the Avesta in written form.

The most moving story he narrated, was of the death of Yazdegird Shahriyar the last Zoroastrian King. With pathos in his voice, Khojeste said of Yazdegird “Crowned when he was 8 years and killed at 28 years, his story is an unsung tragedy, a trauma which has not been explored by the community’s consciousness. Did you know that he was buried in the garden of a Nestorian monastery in Merv, described in the Shaname as a garden filled with “musk and silk”. Did you know, that a headless statue of Yazdegird still fronts the Gao-zong Mauoleum in China for all to see. For this information he said he was indebted to Touraj Daryaee, a community friend and scholar.

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Amongst many of us there is a misunderstanding that once Yazdegird was defeated, all was lost and Iran collapsed like domino tiles at the hands of the Arab invaders. “This is far from the truth, and it should do our collective conscience some good to know”, said Khojeste, “that Yazdegird’s sons and many princes of the realm, continued to fight the Arabs for over 300 years after the fall of Ctesiphon”.

But the essence conveyed in Khojeste’s talk, was not just a lesson in history, but that we should never forget, that our kings have left us a legacy of heroic deeds and of safe guarding the religion, which must be recalled, remembered and narrated by each generation and never forgotten, for this is our inheritance and our enduring legacy.

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He thanked President, Malcom Deboo and the Trustees and Managing Committee of ZTFE, as well as the Dastur and Jilla families for their support and interest.

This occasion was in the pious memory of marhoom Framroze Naoroji Darukhanawalla, a man for whom piety and devotion to the faith was important.

On another morning, Khojeste also addressed Dr. Sarah Stewart’s group of graduate students at SOAS, on how an ‘insider’ immersed in the faith, views the religion and its practices.