Mumbai Priests – Have The Courage To Say No. Have The Courage To Face The Truth

By Jehangir Mehta | Perth, Australia

Good leaders are invaluable to an association, community and the country. Bad leaders and gutter politics can destroy the very foundation of the pillars of any organization into economic disrepair and third rate status. Much of the wealth was gifted to BPP by the benevolence of the rich and famous families, whose fore-sight towards community welfare can be visualized through The Tatas, Wadias, Petits, Jamsetjees and many others of Mumbai. We can see the systematic erosion of the core values that BPP stood for and what it is today. What we see is a complete reversal in its objectives towards community work. Money talks and the power of money can be beneficial or destructive. Agenda of cheap personal politics with a cocktail of religious dogmas and ill-conceived ideas, is destroying BPP foundation. BPP is wasting their time and money on petty issues like the banning of priests who have prayed for those departed who have opted for cremation. These priests are banned from conducting any prayers at Doongerwadi. It very much reflects the dogmatic belief of a bishop in Canada a few years ago who issued a pastoral (decree) banning the eulogies at catholic funeral masses.

On the other hand a few years ago a retired priest in Ottawa died suddenly of a heart attack while cycling. “His funeral was remarkable in that far more people attended than expected. This Oblate priest, Fr. John Hunt, had developed a funeral ministry outside of the physical church. He went to funeral homes when called upon and sat down with families to develop a history of the deceased person. He helped them in their journey through the grief with a ritual in which they were a part, and that resulted in a true memorial. The moral here is that Fr. John connected with people and they in turn remembered and came to say goodbye to the one who helped them in their need to say good bye.”

Our banned priests Ervad Khushru Madon and Ervad Framroze Mirza and a handful of others like them can be likened to the services that Fr John Hunt rendered to the community. To be a good priest starts first and foremost with that relationship with God. To love all mankind is what God would love the most.

Each human being must find their own way to be in harmony with their God that inspires love to and from the Divine. This has nothing to do with one’s relationship with the High Priests of the organized religions. A true priest is the one who is in sync with his God – Ahuramazda, and he speaks Gods truth fearlessly and never promotes his own agenda. Priests like Ervad Madon and Mirza stand up and are visible when the laity look for direction. They lead by example. Many in Mumbai and the rest of the world are looking up towards them with great respect and admiration. For what it’s worth, one cannot imagine a world without all the good priests who pray for those dearly departed in Australasia, North America, and Canada, where burial or cremation is used as means of disposal of dead, in the absence of our traditional Dokhmenashini. Thank God that in Mumbai we have priests who would not be dictated by the absurd behavior of some trustees at BPP who are only serving their self-interest and pretending to be self-proclaimed defenders of faith.

Some trustees at BPP call them Renegade and even support their dehumanizing rhetoric by quoting the meaning from Oxford and Webster’s dictionary. Unconventional, resisting tradition, Rebel and so on… Those who call them renegade are often so busy looking at the traditional customs and clergy laws, that they have failed to live up to their own spirituality and failed to fully comprehend the teachings of our beloved Prophet. Whatever the cause, they need to live a life and leave others live their own. And if we hold to the central teaching of our beautiful Zarathushti religion “let the human beings live and die with dignity”, why does that not extend to all the people in the world and why this discrimination for those who opt for cremation. There exists no scriptural evidence in our faith that directly proscribes cremation as mode of disposal of dead. It makes no sense but to wonder in amazement at this dictum of the high Priests to an equally senseless committee at BPP.

So what does all this mean to actual humans here on earth today? More so to the gullible, priest fearing Parsis of Mumbai misled by veiled threats and fatwas. The candles and divas might be burning bright in the Agiaries and Atashbehrams, but sadly that inner light which exists within each one of us is diminishing in its pristine fight and search towards realizing the truth of why we have arrived on this earth. Silence, blind obedience and unquestioning trust on the part of the faithful Zoroastrians can no longer be viable options if the Zarathushti religion is to survive with the High priest and the clergy at the center. To the Parsis in Mumbai, I say- raise your head and look beyond your borders at the religious and social harmony that exists in places like Calcutta, Indore, Delhi, where the Anjumans and their Priests embrace the socio-religious needs of all people, including the non-Zoroastrian spouses and a wider circle of non-Zoroastrian friends and families to co-exist in a happy and peaceful way. This partaking in the tradition and ceremonies is not only restricted to Jashans and Gahambhars. Indore Anjuman has made a special provision to conduct a separate condolence meeting ceremony in a hall outside the Agairy, about an hour and half after the Zoroastrian Uthanma prayers, so that non-Zoroastrian friends could attend and pay their respects and meet the family of deceased.

Dasturji Late M.N. Dhalla wrote in his book Mankind Wither Bound quote “All Prophets of one and the same God should be honoured and loved by all men and women of the world as their own. Hyms and prayers of all scriptures should be devoutly recited by all peoples. Righteousness is not the monopoly of the followers of any one particular religion. It is universal. So is Truth. Mankind knows many religions, but God the giver of Religion knows only One Religion.” unquote

As Ervad Jehan Bagli in his book Religion of Asho Zarathusht and Influence through the Ages very poignantly describes – quote “The collapse of the priestly hegemony left behind a class of ritual performing priesthood, which in time, was at the mercy of the grass-root community for their livelihood.” unquote

Are we treating our Mobeds fairly? Also, a question that the priests need to ask- whether they are indeed truly serving the needs of the community. In my mind if the priestly duties is reduced to a mere profession of rattling/mumbling prayers from a book – like that of a hospitality industry, beckoning some tipping, then the Mobeds are only self-serving their own livelihood. Once again Ervad Jehan says – “Religiosity of some members may be anchored more to rituals and prayers, while for others the expression of religiosity may focus on the message of Asho Zarthusht. A priest of the future must cultivate tolerance for harmonizing such differences.” unquote

One such priest that comes to mind is Late Bapuji of Calcutta whom I had the distinct honour and privilege to meet in the early 90’s – the community adored and endeared him for his tolerance, understanding and his gift of love towards all. He understood the socio-religious problems and led by example. Mobeds of such attitude and caliber and wisdom will never have to struggle to make ends meet because the community always rallies behind them. A Priest must be friendly and approachable, caring, understanding, forgiving with a deep love for all people, but most importantly understanding the changing needs of the community and adapting to the winds of change. An example of rallying behind the priests is very much evident in Karachi where the Anjuman offers free housing, medical, schooling for children of priests and one month’s holiday including airfares back to India.

I am afraid the Citadels of our religion in India especially in Mumbai have to change their mind set to be inclusive towards the diverse views and not be monolithic in their thinking. Otherwise the priestly profession will disappear, not because of lack of funding, but because of the distancing of the people from such institutionalized priesthood, whose views differ widely from today’s time and age and the power to challenge- not for the sake of challenge, but for the sake of truth and proper interpretation of teachings of Zarathushtra. We need more Jehans, Antias, Dasturs, Desais, Katraks, Firouzgary, and the blessings of Late Dastur Daboo, Late Dastur Minocher Homji, Late Dastur Hormazdyar Mirza, Late Dastur Dhalla, Late Dasturji Bapuji, Late Dasturji Bode and many many such enlightened Mobeds around the world and particularly in India to bring about a lasting cadre of “wise class” priesthood.

In conclusion I would like to quote Dasturji Dr M.N.Dhalla “Not only that my religion is mine, but all religions are mine. I venerate not my prophet alone, but I honour all prophets as my own. I hold not my culture only as my own, but I treasure all cultures as my own. I pride myself not in claiming my race as the first favourite of God, but I hold all races as equally beloved of the Lord. Our earth will then turn into paradise and then will dawn, what the sages and seers and prophets of all lands and all times have envisaged, the Golden Age.” unquote

May Ahuramazda Bless our Zarathushti religion with people of vision, wisdom and courage. And May the courage and strength of Ervad Khushru Madon and Ervad Framroze Mirza and others who offer these services bring solace, strength and joy to those who feel so left out and persecuted within the folds of our very own community.

References: Mankind Wither Bound by Dasturji Dr M.N,Dhalla; Religion of Asho Zarathusht and
Influence through the Ages by Ervad Jehan Bagli, Pedagogical Pilgrim.

This perspective is published with the permission of the author,
and as it appeared in HAMAZOR & FEZANA.