By Noshir H. Dadrawala

The Resolution of the High Priests
Needs to be viewed in the Right Perspective

The Resolution of March 7, 2003 passed by the High Priests of the Parsi Community has generated more heat than light. If one would care to analyze the so-called ‘public opinion’ especially in the secular media, the loudest and rudest critics are those who themselves are intermarried or children of intermarried parents.

In the heat of this orchestrated debate, the essence of the resolution and the intent with which it has been passed has been completely bypassed. In fact there have been deliberate attempts to put words in the mouths of the High Priests. Terms like “ex-communication” have not even been used by the High Priests. But clear thinking can hardly be expected from a vociferous mob, especially one that has a huge personal axe to grind.

The raison d’être is stated by the High Priests in the very first paragraph of the resolution:

“We the Parsi Zoroastrian High Priests are pained to observe the potential threat to the very survival of the Parsi Zoroastrian community due to increasing number of intermarriages within the community and the so called initiation of the progeny of such intermarried couples into the Parsi Zoroastrian faith. This is against the tenets of the religion. If this trend continues, the day is not far when the unique ‘Parsi Zoroastrian’ identity which the community has zealously preserved since centuries will be diluted and subsequently wiped out.”

For decades the community criticized the clergy and particularly the High Priests for ‘living in ivory towers’, ‘not taking the lead’ or for that matter ‘not guiding the community with authority’. Admittedly the resolution has come late in the day. But that does not detract from the bold and upright stand taken by them on a thorny religious issue that is diluting the religious and ethnic identity of the community.

After the fall of the Sasanian empire, Parsis, to escape Arab persecution, moved to China, Central Asia, Punjab and even as far as Europe. Over time, they intermarried, lost their distinct religious and ethnic identity and faded into oblivion. THE ONLY DIASPORA GROUP THAT SURVIVED was the one that came to Div and later moved to Sanjan on the Gujarat coast. This was not an accident. They survived because they decided to lay down some ground rules and not compromise on any one of them. They compromised on certain social and cultural issues such as giving up the Farsi (Persian) language for Gujarati, laying down weapons, adopting Indian dress, etc. But on religious issues such as wearing sudreh kusti, Atash parasti (reverence for fire), dokhmenashini (the Zoroastrian method for the disposal of the dead), marrying only within the fold and not converting others to the Faith, and Manthravani (praying in the original language of the Revelation - Avesta), they made no compromise.

The Parsis not just survived in India, but actually flourished because they decided not to tamper with the fundamental ground rules they had laid down for their survival as a religious and ethnic community.

The High Priests are neither ‘bigots’ nor ‘fundamentalists’ as the intermarried ones and their progeny aided by the secular media tend to portray them. As High Priests it is their religious duty to arrest and contain trends that are harmful to the community. Their resolution is neither a ‘fatwa’ nor a ‘dictat’. It is at best, a recommendation of “Best Practices” for the clergy and laity.

The Zoroastrian scriptures do not discriminate between the sexes and intermarriage on the part of either a Parsi male or female is considered a transgression of the tenets of the faith. And yet, thanks to the deliberate misinterpretation of the Davar- Beamon obiter dicta (a passing reference made by the court which is not binding in law) inroads began to be made in the very fabric of the community with the so called ‘acceptance’ of children of Parsi fathers and non-Parsi mothers after performing the navjote ceremony. Little did the priests realize that there is no law of the land that can compel or force a priest to perform the navjote of a child of mixed parentage!

And it is for this reason that the High Priests in their recent resolution lament:

“ We are also pained to observe that certain priests are performing the “ashirwad” ceremony of couples where only one partner to the marriage is a Parsi Zoroastrian and the other is not. Subsequently these renegade priests also perform the “navjote” of children born of such intermarriages.”

In their resolution the High Priests have expressed the view that our Religious Scriptures “disapprove the marriage of Zoroastrians with members of other communities and faith and consider it to be a transgression of the tenets of the religion. The Parsi community recognizes only the marriage between two Parsi Zoroastrians where, both the marrying individuals are born of Parsi Zoroastrian parents, and where the “ashirvad” ceremony which includes the “Nahn”, Holy sacrament, and prayers specific to the ceremony are duly and properly performed.”

This is a statement made by ordained, qualified and practicing priests who have devoted a lifetime to the study and research of our Holy Scriptures. This is not a statement made by the dime-a dozen scholars we find in our community today who hold a doctorate in chemical or mechanical engineering but bandy around as experts thanks to a “Dr.” prefixed to their names. Some solicitors who claim to be ordained priests and laymen whose knowledge of Zoroastrianism is confined to reading a couple of English translations (many not even that) are not even under consideration here.

Dasturji Dr. K M JamaspAsa holds a doctorate in Avesta and Pahlavi from the University of Bombay and has been High Priest of the Anjuman Atash Behram since 1965. He is Honorary Professor of Ancient Iranian languages at St. Xaviers College since 1961 and has been Guest Professor at Johannes Gutenberg University. He has also been a trustee of the renowned K R Cama Oriental Institute for more than a decade.

Dasturji Dr. F M Kotwal too holds a doctorate in Avesta and Pahlavi and is faculty member of five prestigious Universities, including London, Harvard, Colorado, Cambridge and Mumbai. He has also been bestowed a Fellowship of the Royal Asiatic Society of London and has authored several books and contributed over two dozen research papers in various international journals.

Dasturji Dr. H K Mirza is High Priest of the oldest and Holiest of Holy Atash Behram, which is in Udwada and he is one who could be called “a professors professor”.

To dismiss or mock at the recommendation of the High Priests, which in turn is based on their knowledge and depth of learning, is akin to a lay patient lying on the operating table and questioning the surgeon on the wisdom or rationale of a surgical procedure. The solicitor who also moonlights as priest may be excused. Solicitors are trained to argue and the clever ones among them can even convince the court that the murderer was in fact a sage or the vice versa.

In their resolution the High Priests have declared that marriage of a Parsi Zoroastrian “man or woman with a person of another faith cannot be considered as a religiously valid marriage under the Parsi Zoroastrian faith.” It needs to be noted that the High Priests are not saying that such marriages are not legally valid. Based on the religious texts as also the long standing customs and traditions of the community, they have stated that such marriages “cannot be considered as religiously valid”. In fact they have categorically declare that the “marriage of a Parsi Zoroastrian, male or female, with a member of another community or faith under any civil law of the country, is a civil contract. However, marriage from the Zoroastrian point of view is a sacrament and therefore such civil marriages may be valid from the point of view of civil law, but such marriages cannot be considered lawful from a religious point of view.”

Considering the fact that the scriptures do not discriminate between the sexes, the High Priests have declared that the “performance of “navjote” of children where only one of the parent is a Parsi Zoroastrian, cannot give religious rights of the Parsi Zoroastrian faith to such children”.

The High Priests in their resolution have admitted and accepted that “there have been stray instances in the past of mixed marriages in the community and ‘navjote’ of children of Parsi fathers and mothers belonging to other communities and faith. However this was never accepted by the priests or the community at large. In fact, the community, at Samast Anjuman Meetings has, from time to time, condemned such acts. The High Priests hereby reaffirm the resolutions passed at these meetings.” It can be gauged from this statement that the present High Priests have not stated anything new. The present resolution is only a reaffirmation of similar resolutions passed over the last century.

As prelates they have in the course of their religious duty recommended that “no Parsi Zoroastrian priest should perform the marriage ceremony where only one of the marrying partner is a Parsi Zoroastrian and the other is not. Also, no Parsi Zoroastrian priest should perform the ‘navjote’ ceremony of children of such mixed marriages.” This recommendation finds an echo in the sentiments expressed by the community even a century ago at various Samast Anjuman meetings presided by leading Akabaars of the community.

In short what the High Priests have attempted to do is sound the alarm. It is a clarion call to the community to revert from its suicidal path before it is too late. It is a clarion call to other members of the clergy to refrain from aiding the community in committing “identity hara-kiri”.

It takes courage and fortitude in not taking a populist stand. Many priests, including some High Priests, being human have erred in the past. But two wrongs do not a right make! Doctors err, lawyers err and we all err, because we are human. The value of the present resolution cannot and should not be diluted on the basis of previous errors of judgement and emotions.

Personally I was never in favour of the infamous “Wadia Navjotes”. I am still not in favour. I would think that some of the High Priests erred in supporting the Neville Wadia Navjote in deference and gratitude to the vast and invaluable contribution of the Wadia family to the Parsi community. It was an error of judgement clouded by human emotions and burden of gratitude. But to reiterate, two wrongs do not a right make.

The recommendation of the High Priests is bound to evoke violent reactions from those who are directly affected. Clearly those who have voluntarily chosen to marry outside the community want to have the cake and eat it as well. And for the press, right now, it is ‘party time’. What better way to tarnish the mild and peaceful image of the community than to twist and condemn the resolution as ‘racist’, bigoted’, ‘regressive’………………..and hang it!

And the tragedy of it all! Today it is not Alexander attempting to destroy us. It is not the Arabs trying to repress us. The enemy today is within our own community.

For the intermarried ones it is all about “rights” without “responsibility” and “self interest” before the “survival of the community”.

For the media it is “striking the headlines at whatever cost”! Each one has his or hers own axe to grind. Who cares if the Parsi community loses the distinct religious and ethnic identity that it has managed to preserve for more than a millennium? After all even that would make a great story in the secular media.

From: "Mistry H M"

Superb, Noshir. Do give this write up wide publicity.


From: "Adil J. Govadia"

Kudos Noshir! That was an excellent retort in defense of our High Priests.

Every society lives by its rules. While some rules are well documented in the shape of religious laws, others remain unwritten but have the sanction of tradition and long usage. As we all know, modern society that has no rules, cannot survive. Be it thieving, marriage, divorce, clothing/nudity, vulgarity, general behaviour etc----a society almost always has specific rules for good behaviour, both written and unwritten. One cannot simply throw out one's wife/husband on the roads just because one doesn't like her/his face! For that the society has specific divorce laws framed; such are written laws of the land.

Can a Muslim couple get married in a Church? Can a Hindu opt for burial in a Muslim cemetery? Can a person walk nude on the streets? Can a Parsi enter a fire-temple without his head covered? If one dares to break these rules then the society will take its' own steps to protect itself as it deems fit. Such are unwritten rules of a given society.

Why are rules made? Because in organized societies, humans need to behave responsibly as reckless and negligent behaviour breeds chaos and tramples upon the rights of the other members of the society.

For millennia, the Parsis/Iranis have had rules prohibiting inter-marriage and conversion; there is no Parsi/Irani man, woman or child who can claim that he/she is not aware of the same. Therefore, when one intermarries he/she does so deliberately and knowingly. Period. Under the circumstances, what does the Parsi/Irani community do to safeguard its' interest? Obviously treat the violator as an "outsider" by simply disallowing him/her privileges like entry into the fire-temples, dokhmas and religious ceremonies and by rejecting their progenies from staying within the religious fold.

The issue of inter-marriage has become vital to the survival of the Religion. Unfortunately, it has also become heavily politicized that proponents of inter-marriage are prepared to do just about anything to justify their deed. They are so desperate that they simply don't care whether they do it rightly or wrongly. Most part of this desperation springs from their need to save face from their community, and more so from their own children to whom they are unable to pass on a religion that they themselves mocked and insulted in the passion of their youth! In the bargain, these innocent children find themselves rootless and faithless because of the sins of their parents.

Clutching at straws as drowning men do, they desperately search the scriptures to find something, anything to redeem themselves. The only thing they are able to find to their undying relief is that the Holy Gathas has no direct or specific reference to inter-marriage. But then the Holy Gathas do not specifically mention a great many other things as well, but who cares? Going by the absurd argument, there are several other subjects like wearing the Sudreh-Kashti, or covering of the head, or reverence of Atash (Fire) that do not find a mention in the Gathas. Neither is there any mention of other 'pillars' of the Zarathushtrian religion in the holy Gathas, namely the Dokhmenishini, Kriya-kaam (practice of rituals and prayers), Boonak-Pashbani (purity of seed) or practice of Avesta Mathravani (Science of vibrations through prayers). Although the Gathas mention some rituals in the passing, no particular ritual by name like the Nahan, Bareshnoom, Jashan, Afringan, Farokhshi, Stum are mentioned therein; nor does it say anything about the Navjote ceremony. Also, words like 'Humata Hukhta Huvarshta' or 'Fravarshi' and 'Ameshaspands' are conspicuous by their absence in the Gathas. Should then one discard all these practices and dictates as mumbo-jumbo simply because they are not mentioned in the Gathas? How convenient one can get? In fact it is an insult to great Prophet Zarathushtra even to believe that in His 40 long years of religious preaching He was able to write only 17 chapters of Gathas comprising of approximately 5660 words in 896 lines!

Going forward, the proponents of intermarriage found, now to their dismay, that there were indeed several specific references to the incorrectness or sin of inter-marriage in the Vendidad and other scriptures. What could they do now? Very easy; just disown all the other scriptures! Just say that except for the Gathas, all other Zarathusti scriptures are wrong, fake and handiwork of unholy priests who were/are all imposters and charlatans!

The Vada Dasturs, through their latest Resolutions, are only re-emphasizing the fact that intermarriage by well-documented religious law is but a sin and those who wish to rebel may do so but at their own risk of getting ex-communicated. Quit, leave, go away and, if need be, even structure your own cult but please leave us alone to follow our ancient ways of preserving our great religion.

Pray, is that asking for too much?


Ervad Adil J. Govadia.

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