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VADA DASTURJI SAHEB KAIKHUSROO JAMASP ASA'S KEYNOTE
ADDRESS FOR 50 YEARS OF DASTURSHIP OF THE ANJUMANNA
ATASH BEHRAM

 

Tuesday, 3rd October 2006
Dae pa-Meher Roz, Ardibehesht Mah

Vada Dasturji Sahebs, Panthaky Sahebs, Ervad Sahebs, Founder Members of WAPIZ, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to see such large numbers of Zarthoshtis who have come to honour me for 50 years of Dasturship of my beloved Anjumanna Atash Behram. I feel truly humbled by your kind presence and would like to thank the office bearers of WAPIZ for having arranged this function. Vada Dasturji Saheb Kotwal whom I have known for many years has highlighted my family lineage and Vada Dasturji Saheb Meherji Rana of Navsari has offered his kind words of praise as the Head of the Bhagarsath Anjuman in Navsari. I would also like to thank all the Managing Committee members past and present of my beloved Anjumanna Atash Behram.

 

A 50-year career as a High Priest has been a long and fulfilling one, for little did I realize on the 3rd of October 1956, that I would fulfill my obligation and serve our community as a High Priest for such a long period of time. I remember the words of my beloved mother, Najamai, who after my installation as High Priest of the Anjumanna Atash Behram, whispered in my ears, "dikra, gadhi barabur sachvine rackjo, I would also like to publicly thank the late brothers Jamasp and Hormuzdiar Dastur who were both solicitors and Seth Hormusjee Adenwalla, the father of our present Cawasji Adenwalla, who were all instrumental in ensuring that I was appointed as the sixth High Priest of our beloved Atash Behram Saheb. It is with their perseverance and blessings and those of my family that I humbly stand before you all today as the Dastur of the Anjumanna Atash Behram.

I remember the two jashan ceremonies on that day 50 years ago when I was installed as the High Priest. The morning jashan was led by Sardar Dastur Hormuzdiar Dastur Noshirvan, the High Priest of Poona, Malva and the Deccan, who served as the Dasturji Saheb of our Atash Behram, from 1950 to 1956. The High Priests of Navsari, Surat, Udvada and Mumbai were also present on that day. Later in the afternoon, in Uzerin Gah, I was given the honour of leading the jashan as the next High Priest of our pak Anjumanna Atash Behram Saheb. I remember that the hall was absolutely packed with over 100 priests participating in this jashan.

Managing an Atash Behram is a spiritually responsible and onerous task. Religion often brings out the best and the worst sentiments and feelings amongst our humdins. As a High Priest, I have had to be strict and yet show patience and understanding to the many different problems which have arisen both from the clergy as well as from our behdins over the years.

I would be failing in my duty, if I did not thank the late Ervad Sahebs Edulji Adarji Gae, Kersasp Meherji Kotwal, (the brother of my dear colleague Dastur Firoze Kotwal sitting beside me, whom I have always seen as a brother in arms), and Burjor Ardeshir Bode who were all outstanding boiwaras of our Atash Behram when I joined. They were always friendly and have guided me in my early days of Dasturship and have given me the highest respect. Since the 1980s, we have had perhaps 15 boiwaras tending our precious and glorious Padshah Saheb. As a High Priest I have officiated over thousands of navjotes and ashirvads. I have also given ecclesiastical sanction for the performance of some 200 nirangdins, as the varasiyaji of the Bhagarsath Anjuman is under my official care, in Mumbai.

I believe that our religion is truly "mazishtacha, vahishtacha, sraeshtacha", the mightiest, the best, the purest and therefore throughout my life my family members and I have always been proud to have been practicing Parsi Zoroastrians in all respects. Whilst we respect all religions, we should not fall prey to introducing the precepts and practices of other faiths into our homes, nor should we indulge in pujas, fasts, and prasads, if we wish to be truly spiritual in the religion of our birth.

Over the years, my family has been a source of great strength and comfort to me through all times. Though I married late in life, my wife Bakhtavar, who is a doctor, has always been by my side and I would like to thank her publicly for the support and the beautiful 29 years of married life with her. I have two grown up children - my son Jamasp who is a doctor and who is here with me this evening will, I know continue to uphold and maintain his priestly duties as I have done and carry with pride the Jamasp Asa name. My daughter Shirin who is also a doctor is currently practicing in the UK. On behalf of my family and myself I would like to thank you all most sincerely for having come here this evening to honour me and in doing so you honour also our sacred Anjumnanna Atash Behram.

Darius, Mithradates, Ardeshir, Shapur and indeed Yazdegird Shahriyar. Moving to the present times, I believe that our community is at a cross road. The secular pressures of the 21st century have made some of our people forget the rich and glorious heritage of our past. We came to India, a thousand years ago, in order to safeguard our religion from the Arabs who invaded Iran. Our forefathers did everything in their power to uphold and maintain the time tested religious beliefs and practices of our noble religion. Thousands of them died and gave their lives for our faith, as they preferred to wear the sudreh and kusti, rather than apostatize to Islam. At the cost to life and property, they sought to uphold their commitment to be a "Mazdayasno Zarthoshti". Over the millennium in India, we grew in numbers and prospered wherever our humdins moved to. Hard work, integrity and above all honesty of purpose were the hallmarks of our community's achievement and excellence. And that is what has made our community shine so uniquely in the eyes of others. Over the last 150 years, I find that our people's value systems have changed partly because of British influence during colonial times and now due to the over-secularization of our community, resulting in the weakening of our ethno-religious identity. "Let us seek reform and change", are the words I often hear. But should our religious precepts and practices change at the altar of time? Prophet Zarthushtra's divine message has flowed in our veins since time immemorial, as Zoroastrianism has been the religion of the Parsis and Iranis since the days of our great Kings CyrusOur prayers and rituals have been passed down to us by a hereditary clergy who till recent times was faithful to the dasturi or oath which every navar and maratab is enjoined to take. The role of the High Priests is to religiously guide our people in the best possible manner. The task of a religious head is to always uphold the traditions and practices of the faith, so that we in turn can pass down the rich legacy of religious uniqueness left to us by our illustrious forefathers. And yet, today there are pressures from certain quarters to change and regularize what is religiously misconceived and often wrong. As High Priests, we cannot agree to such changes merely because a small though powerful lobby of individuals wants to bring about changes, which we, through scholarship and knowledge believe, to be harmful to our community, as a whole.

We, as High Priests, are aware of a number of socio religious problems facing our community. Whilst, we may empathize with the difficulties or problems at an individual level, we cannot change the socio-religious fabric of the whole community to suit the personal needs of such individuals, particularly when we see it as being harmful to the religion as a whole. Increasing number of inter marriages have weakened the Parsi/Irani ethnicity of our community and our religion. If this happens in greater numbers, then we have no guarantee whatsoever, that our community and therefore the religion will survive, successfully, in the future. We have to preserve our identity in terms of Parsi-panu and reet-rivaj at all costs, as it is this ethnic foundation which has been the glue that has held the religion together over the millennia. As High Priests we cannot religiously accede to the demands made by those who have chosen to break away from our time tested beliefs and practices for personal and often selfish reasons. Such persons often flout the norms and rules of the community. It seems to me to be supremely ironical, that whilst some within our community want to adopt and follow all sorts of new and alien beliefs and practices which are seen to be anti-Zoroastrian and irreligious; there appear to be a number of non-Parsi/Irani groups from across the world who wish to seek admittance into the faith. In my opinion, Zoroastrianism has always been the religion of the ancient Iranian people, since its inception, as we have no scriptural references of any rituals or practices specifically created to accept such non-Iranians into our fold. There are no religious rituals or an established mechanism by which we can include such persons into our community, moreover, if such persons have not shown a sense of fidelity to their own religion of birth, then what guarantee do we have that they will show an unflinching commitment to our Parsi/Irani Zarthoshti beliefs and reet-rivaj? In fact, it is our observation I am sorry to state, that mixed marriage progeny show little or no interest in wishing to preserve their limited Parsi/Irani heritage, in the first instance. Seldom have I found such children coming back into the fold by seeking a life partner from within our community.

It is unfortunate that our community today is plagued by controversy and fragmented in their beliefs. This I believe has happened because those seeking change and reform do not seem to have the right religious or historical knowledge in the first place, to support their desire for such radical changes, on many important issues.

Currently, for the last few months, we again have the Doongerwadi controversy which is plaguing our community unnecessarily. Five years ago the community was put through the same turmoil, by those wishing to seek a rationale and justification for their demand for an alternative form of disposal of the dead, when they sought to adopt a mode of disposal which is religiously wrong and unacceptable. My colleague and friend Dasturji Kotwal and I have written many letters to the BPP trustees explaining the importance and spiritual relevance of upholding and strengthening the system of dokhmenashini at all costs. I am pleased to state that the trustees of the BPP have declared publicly that they wish "to strengthen and uphold our mode of disposal of the dead", taking cognizance of our religious opinions. It is only right that as trustees they are committed to strengthen the system of dokhmenashini, which is an integral part of our religious belief system. If they give away community land or bungli facilities for anything other than dokhmenashini, then clearly the BPP trustees are admitting to the outside world that our system of dokhmenashini has weakened or failed, which is clearly not the case. khurshed nigarishini is what is required for the spiritual journey of the soul and the birds of prey including the vultures are mere catalysts to this mode of disposal of the dead.

Taking photographs and videos of what lies within the dakhma is an utterly irreligious act, and I am sure that my fellow dasturs, all our panthaky sahebs, all our ervad sahebs and the vast majority of the community support me in condemning such an act, perpetrated by those involved in creating a controversy where we believe, that none should exist.

In conclusion, then, I truly believe that the right religious education is the key issue of our times. It is with the right scholarship and knowledge that we will be able to understand the importance of upholding our beliefs, customs and socio-religious practices. As part of our religious duty we should follow the Zoroastrian path of Truth and Righteous living, visit our fire temples regularly, wear the sudreh and kusti, perform our religious rituals, marry within the fold, and maintain the system of dokhmenashini. These are some of the important hallmarks of our ancient faith. For those who have strayed away from the religion of their birth, for those who have sought to abandon our traditions and Parsi way of life, and for those who have stopped wearing their sudreh and kusti, I would like to say to them, most reverently, come back to the faith, come back to the religion of our ancestors, please give up your irreligious ideas and demands and come back into the fold, and we will welcome you with open arms, so that we may once again be united in strength and remain committed to our Mazdayasni Zarthoshiti faith.

Atha Jamyat Yatha Afrinami

May it be so, as I bless

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