Fellow Mazdayasni Zarathushtris,
Here is a superb article by Ms. Pashmina M. Contractor, a Zoroastrian lady in India, on "Love and Mixed Marriages", published recently in the famous Jam-E-Jamshed Zarathushtri newspaper of Mumbai, India. Kudos to this young woman for writing with such fervour and faith on our ancient religion. While there are such women as these in our tiny community, women who consider it their religious duty to marry only to a fellow Zoroastrian and no other, our precious community will never die out. Religious women such as these are the backbone of our people and our religion.
Quite recently, whilst browsing through a recent copy of the 'Parsiana' magazine, I was appalled to go through the figures representing the number of inter-communal marriages for the month of January 1998. Thirty one (31) Parsi boys and twenty five (25) Parsi girls were married out in a short span of one month!
If only these individuals entering into inter-communal marriages, would realise the gravity of the situation at hand, and the enormity of what, their action portends for the future of the Zoroastrian community, I doubt that they'd have the heart to go ahead with that course of action i.e. marry a non-Zoroastrian.
Upon analysing the current trend of marriages outside the community, it can well be said, that the fault for this lies less with the individuals actually marrying out, but more so with their parents and elders! Somewhere, along the way a generation lost touch with their roots; somewhere along the way a generation took the existing scheme of things for granted; somewhere along the way a generation assimilated and merged so well into their surroundings, that they practically lost their sense of religious and cultural identity. And, in turn, this led to the present trend of our youth so thoughtlessly and wantonly taking the decisive step of marrying outside their religion. And can they really be blamed because they really and truly do not know any better!
There was a time not so long ago when Zoroastrianism was not just a religion, but a way of life. It was a time when Zoroastrian children were brought up with a distinctive sense of religious and cultural identity of their own; their own set of moral, spiritual and cultural values. And the credit for this went to the efforts of their untiring elders. They led by example and educated their children in the true ethos of the Zoroastrian-Din. Zoroastrianism was not just something we happened to be born into, it was supposed to be one of life's special Privileges, and this notion was kept alive in every facet of a Zoroastrian's life. Thus, an individual always acted with a degree of responsibility towards his community in every walk of life. To somewhat contort the words of President Kennedy, "Ask not what your religion can do for you, but what you can do for your religion." In these present times, this should be the attitude of all the well-wishers of Zoroastrianism, i.e. those who wish that this glorious religion should flourish to posterity.
However, in this jet-set day and age, parents seem to have neither the time nor the inclination to educate their tots on matters of religious import, neither do they give their children a sense of cultural identity. They are happy blending into the scheme of things as good Indians. Surely, we are all Indians by way of taking birth in this magnanimous and big-hearted land, and so is a Hindu and so is a Muslim! But in the end, every Indian is either a Hindu, a Christian, a Sikh, a Muslim or a Zoroastrian for that matter. Like every religion has its own cultural, religious and other devices that help keep a religion alive, similarly we, too, have a set code which sets us apart from others - A Sikh is proud to sport his "turban", a Muslim lady will proudly wear her "Burqa" to the ends of the earth, a Jewish business tycoon will proudly sport his skull-cap" atop New-Yorks dizzy sky-scrapers. In the same way a Zoroastrian should ideally and proudly be wearing their Sudreh and Kusti.
However sadly, many of our fold (and I refer here to both young and old) do not feel quite so proud or obliged to don their 'Sudreh-Kusti' at all times. And why so? Because once again they do not know any better.
Have they been explained by their parents and elders the esoteric significance of this ancient custom? Have they been told that there is a vast intellectual and scientific basis for this ancient custom. To cite a couple of least important reasons ... The 'Sudreh' made of pure white cotton absorbs excessive heat, sweat, perspiration and other impure secretions and radiations of the body. The 'Kusti', made of pure new lamb's wool, absorbs the positive energies of the universe, and the wool especially helps insulate and keep away the human-body from negative vibrations and energies surrounding it. Thus in conjunction, the two form an invisible and impregnable fortress around the body of the wearer. Furthermore, these are the hallmarks of our great faith as expounded by Holy Zarathustra which scream to the world "Hey, guess what, I belong to the world's most ancient religion which has survived twice the duration of time than Christianity has. "Isn't that amazing!" Similarly a Sikh's turban proudly declares "I am a follower of Nanak" and a Moslem's beard proclaims "I believe in Mohammed!" So it should be with a Zoroastrians Sudreh and Kusti.
If only our kids knew of the rich folk-lore of ancient Iran, and the historical tales of the Shah-Nameh ... but yet again, parents are happier letting their kids watch episode after episode of "The Ramayana" on Television, but they will not take the time to read a few stories from the Shah Namch each day to their young ones, during their impressionable years, But then again, do they themselves know of the great kings Kayomars, Hoshang, Faridon or Kaveh or Jamshid or Rustom and Sohrab? In the past it was a must for every Zoroastrian family to possess a copy of the Shah-Nameh!
Have you ever heard of a Hindu who has no idea of the Ramayana or Mahabharata?
Parents today, might feet that their duty towards the spiritual growth of their child extends so far as getting their Navjote performed on time. Not so. Do they take the time to explain the simple yet sublime messages (to the best of their ability) of the 'Ahunavar' and the "Ashem Vohu" to these children? Every Zoroastrian household should inevitably possess a copy of the "Avesta-ba-Maani" (Avesta with meanings) so that firstly the elders themselves understand these divine litanies of our ancient faith, as best comprehended and explained to us in earthly terms by scholars. They, in turn, can do their best in preparing a background wherein children do not feel that they are rattling off prayers without knowing what they're saying. But all this takes time and effort.
Have our young ones been explained that the Zoroastrian method of exposing of the dead considered to be the most environmentally friendly way of disposing the dead and they have nothing to be ashamed or afraid. When it comes to this, it's parents that put things into the minds of their young ones during their impressionable years. A child who picks up strains of conversations between its parents discussing the down-side of the "Dakhmas", will naturally bear this in mind for all times to come. Do people actually know that despite all the hue and cry of the efficiency of our 'Towers of Silence', this is the most humane way to dispose of the dead. Whereas in burial, it takes years for a body to decompose underground. (The natural elements like rain and wild animals of prey are not kind either). Similarly, cremation grounds and the actual) cremation is no pretty sight either! In marrying outside the community, are our children just trying to escape facets of a religion they don't fully understand?
Also, it is a very common practice amongst Zoroastrians to have this misplaced faith, that it is good to believe in all religions. Yes, we should respect all religions, but it's 'His' divine plan that each person born in a particular faith, stick to his own. Thats what nature ordained. it is definately not ethical for a man to serve more than one master at a time. Parents take their children to Catholic Novenas, Hindu Temples, Dargahs, etc. Thus they grow up with no sense of religious identity, and this extends further out of their system when its time for them to select their spouse. They feel its perfectly O.K. to marry outside their faith. "Mummy or Daddy didn't say anything when we visited all those temples?" What do these parents say to their children now?
However, it wouldn't be fair to put all the blame for this on the elders alone. These individuals marrying out are mature adults with a mind of their own. They make the choice in the name of love. But there is another love they over-ride, in the name of love... i.e. love of ones religion, our beautiful Zarthosti-Din. Is it so easy for people to sacrifice their spiritual love in favour of their worldly one?
Every religious community, has their set of values and traditions, which is their right, and these sometimes are out of the intellectual grasp of the lay person. It may not be within the reach of every person to practice our profound "Tarikats", however, an understanding of them or at least an attempt to, would result in better appreciation of our great faith. ln fact, this understanding would lead to us being able to truly live our religion, without feeling the bounds of pressure. When we begin to understand, we begin to love, and yes, love for one's religion can be just as profound as any other love!
It is the moral right of every religion to safeguard its customs and traditions, that have existed since times immemorial. When die-hard reformists call for changes in these age-old traditions, it only exposes the petty nature of their grievances, and this is illustrated by the fact that it is mostly the people who marry out, that call for these so-called reforms... because they suddenly feel left out. These reformists often ask vehemently "Show us one instance in our Avestan scriptures where it says that children of Zoroastrian's married out cannot become Zoroastrians?" To them I say, "Show me one instance, where it says they can."
Reformists also have this tendency of labelling the upholding of Zoroastrian traditions as "fanatical", Well, for the real meaning of the word 'fanatical', one need only look up the dictionary, and then some History Books. History is full of examples of religious fanaticism, but it can proudly be said that even at the Zenith of its power, the Persian Empire was known for its benevolent attitude towards all its subjects. Zoroastrianism has always existed in harmony, in the midst of various religious and cultural influences. Thus, is it not only fair for Zoroastrianism to defend itself the best way it can?
Is it fair to change customs and traditions that have existed for thousands of years, to suit the needs of a small percentage of individuals? To quote Eckhard Kulke (The Parsees in India), "The community's existence, while not being threatened from the outside, is all the more endangered from the inside". The time has come when we Zoroastrians have not to think about converting outsiders into our faith, but about re-converting ourselves into true Zoroastrians!
In this regard, each Zoroastrian has a burden to bear. The same way we owe a debt to our nation, we owe some to our religion. In our case the burden is much heavier on every individual, owing to us being small in numbers.
The time has come for some drastic choices and every Zoroastrian has it in them to summon up the courage to make the right ones, painful though they may be sometimes.
If it is alright to lay down our lives for our country, is it not alright to lay down our lives for our religion?
"I too have travelled a thousand miles
I've touched a thousand shores.
Strangers to me were very kind
I was welcomed with open doors.
I've been places, I've seen faces,
Beautiful and divine... but in the nick of time,
I realised, I had inside of me, a greater love,
Forever undeserting, and forever mine...
This article is not meant to hurt the sentiments of anyone. But because drastic times call for drastic measures, this is merely to strike an alarm bell to highlight an issue, the gravity of which, many Zoroastrians might not even be aware of. Whereas this article may sound like its shooting straight from the hips, its actually coming straight from the heart.
by Ms. Pashmina M. Contractor,
Article published in the Jam-e-Jamshed newspaper.
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