Like a Benediction

His Excellency, the Governor of Maharashtra, Dr. P. C. Alexander, being presented with a banyan bonsai by Mrs. Pheroza Godrej, Editor of "A Zoroastrian Tapestry", at the book’s release at the Taj Hotel, Mumbai, on 7 June, 2002 (Photo courtesy: Ms. Nazneen Vajifdar, Spectra Vision).



In Mumbai we have book releases aplenty, but the release of A Zoroastrian Tapestry was a special occasion nonetheless. For one thing, the tapestry was so vast, so diligently woven, so exquisitely embroidered that the audience at the Ballroom of the Taj Hotel was left gasping. For another, the Tapestry is heavy in content (Art, Religion and Culture: 776 pages, 1,200 pictures) and in weight (7 kilos), and so had to be given its place of honour atop a pedestal, draped in a red embroidered cloth cover. To ‘‘release’’ it, His Excellency Dr. P. C. Alexander, the Governor of Maharashtra, had merely to remove the cloth and turn the book around on a rotating stand to display to the audience. Governor Alexander quipped that it was very thoughtful of the organisers, for had he been required to lift the book as he normally does to let the audience view it, he might have needed a shoulder massage immediately after!

Dr. Alexander spoke knowledgeably and eloquently about the great religions of the world, the unity of God and diversity of His worshippers, and made the insightful suggestion that since the contribution of Parsis in politics was as notable as in religion, art and culture, that too required a follow-up book to do full justice to the achievements of this great little community.

A Zoroastrian Tapestry concentrates mainly on events prior to 1947, the year of Indian Independence. Controversies such as the one raging these days over the mode of disposal of Parsi dead have been wisely omitted.

Mrs. Pheroza Godrej, the Editor, pointed out that there is no comparable publication on Zoroastrianism that focuses on the many topics that have been covered in the Tapestry: ‘‘You do have books on archaeology, you do have books on Parsi cuisine, you have books illustrated specifically on Persepolis, but this volume, we believe, is a comprehensive visual documentation of art, religion, culture and customs of the entire Zoroastrian people. The illustrations in particular were really difficult to source and their location and identification took a major part of our time. Some scholars who are academic find it difficult to imagine their work illustrated with anything at all. But they were very forthcoming in pointing us in the right direction and we literally went to museums which have repositories of Zoroastrian Art to get these illustrations, as well as from libraries both within India and overseas. But more importantly, it was from our fire temples and Zoroastrian and Parsi people who really opened up their homes and their collections to us.’’

As her source of inspiration for this monumental task, Mrs. Godrej gave full credit to the late Roshan Sabavala and to Dr. Mary Boyce for their advice and encouragement during the nine years it took to compile the book: ‘‘As a documentation of a religion that has spanned over 3,000 years of civilization, we hope, and we believe, that this book will make every Zoroastrian proud of the contribution of Zoroastrianism to the mosaic of other religions, faiths and cultures of the world... There is an entire section in the book that covers the contacts that Zoroastrianism has had with world religions such as Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.’’

At the book’s launch, Ajoy Misra, Senior Vice President (Sales & Marketing), the Taj Group of Hotels, gave the welcome address. Bipin Shah, Director, Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., considered it a privilege to be associated with the publication of a book that dealt so comprehensively with one of the world’s earliest and greatest religions. Manek Patel, General Manager, the Taj Group of Hotels, expressed similar sentiments about hosting the release function.

In her Vote of Thanks, the book’s Co-Editor, Mrs. Firoza Punthakey Mistree, thanked everyone associated with the book, the publisher, contributors from all over the world, the designer, the processors, the printers, the organisers of the function, the hosts, compere Sudha Seshadri and, for the long hours he spent on the computer, Rumi Majoo. Most graciously, she concluded by thanking the adopted country of the Parsis for ‘‘welcoming the Zoroastrian community so warmly in the 10th century when we came as refugees to India. Our thanks to India is by way of a Zoroastrian blessing.’’

In keeping with the short, moving speeches, Mrs. Mistree concluded with a benediction: ‘‘Let there come to this nation the blessings of the Holy Ones. Let there be contentment, devotion and satisfaction...’’ The atmosphere too was benedictory. As a member of the audience, I felt blessed. My mind went back in time to that afternoon when, in a secluded room of the J. B. Petit Library containing its most cherished possession, Firdausi’s Shahnameh in its original manuscript form, the late Sohrab Godrej and I were privileged to have brief glimpses of the picturesque script with its fancy curlicues and bold strokes and pictures of ‘‘kings forgotten and battles long ago’’.

Like the Shahnameh, A Zoroastrian Tapestry is a book specialised in theme, but awesome in appeal. A mainstream academic work, as Mrs. Godrej described it, it will be a source of delight and wonderment for casual readers who just dip into it and, meticulously researched and richly documented as it is, it will be a reference book for research scholars and writers for all time.




The Zoroastrians
By Nadir Godrej

About four thousand years ago,
Civilization’s early dawn,
Saw nomads always on the go
Use their strength, their sheer brawn
To plunder, pillage and destroy.
The settlers then could not enjoy
The well-earned fruits of all their labours,
They lived in dread of raiding neighbours.
But one man pondered on this hate.
"Why is there evil in this world?
Could God have possibly unfurled
This ugly thing?" It was his fate
To state a doctrine then quite new.
The universe was shaped by two
Opposing spirits struggling on.
And one of them created good,
A single God, quite early on,
Ahura Mazda, proudly stood.
But evil wasn’t his creation
For that would be an aberration.
So Angra Mainyu or Ahriman
Was the chosen name for the one
Responsible for evil’s role.
The role of man was to bravely fight
For good and always spread the light.
Defeating evil was the goal.
Good thoughts, good words, good deeds, the way
His followers could always stay
Engaged in this important battle.
This was the teaching of Zoroaster.
And I think it is no idle prattle,
To state that he was quite the master.
Religions then placated gods.
The people tried to fight the odds
By sacrificing what was dear
To any force inspiring fear.
But now we see a newer height,
We should ensure that good prevails
And ultimately evil fails.
We are important in this fight.
And ethics is religion’s pillar.
Not that all else is just a filler,
For rituals have a role to play.
Above all else they help to guide,
They help to show the righteous way
They remind us that we’re on the side
Of forces fighting for what’s right.
And on this day we’ll see the sight
Of priests in prayer offering thanks.
The power of prayer surely ranks
Extremely high. It’s not the meaning,
However great, alone, that can’t,
Explain the power of a chant.
In fact I think that I am leaning
To the view that just the sound
Can influence all things around.
Zoroastrianism next hit a peak
When Cyrus built a vast empire.
The Emperors had a tolerant streak
The Jews maintain that the entire
Temple of Jerusalem
Was reconstructed just for them.
And they acknowledge gratefully
Their freedom from captivity.
Perhaps at this stage it would be wise
To talk about the exchange
Of ideas over a wide range ?br> The Devil, Hell and Paradise
Around this time spread to the West
As many scholars can attest.
For a thousand years off and on
Zoroastrians were at the helm.
Three continents they ruled upon,
It was a civilizing realm.
Then from Arabia came the hordes.
And Persia fell beneath their swords.
King Yazdegerd was cruelly killed.
The true believers were instilled
With dread and yet they kept the flame.
But when they could take it no more
They just set sail for another shore.
And I don’t think that we could blame
The Indian prince who saw them land
For taking a suspicious stand.
His land was full, he had no need
For people from a distant land.
Refusal wasn’t in his creed
And so he thought they’d understand
If he could cleverly convey
There was no way that they could stay.
A pitcher full of milk was sent.
The Persian Priest read the intent.
But he could not accept a no.
He slipped a lump of sugar in
And sent it back. And what a win!
The community began to grow.
But like the lump it stayed quite small.
In sweetness though, we have it all.
In Gujarat they settled down.
For their honesty they were known
When the British came they went to town.
They really came into their own.
They moved with ease from East to West
As go-betweens they were the best.
They built the ships, they went to sea,
Excelled in trade and charity.
Nowroji Seth came to these shores
To plead his case and protest
His wrongful treatment and arrest.
And luckily he won his cause.
Returning home he could declare
The British had been very fair.
Receiving twenty thousand Pounds,
Which then was an enormous sum,
Was certainly sufficient grounds.
Others then began to come.
I can’t tell tales about them all.
And so I’ll have to make a call.
I’ll talk of Mr. Naoroji
Who was a Liberal MP.
For forty years he served you well,
Your longest serving president.
He had the courage to dissent
And in his book he chose to tell
The British to just walk the talk
There was no cause for them to balk
In giving India democracy.
"Unbritish rule" he then decried
And thanks to him today we’re free.
But in deference to the British side
I do declare they did some good.
For English is now understood.
And even on a sticky wicket
Indians learned to play good cricket.
And why not also praise their trains?
Although we struggled to be free,
From them we learnt democracy
And the means to break our chains.
They also brought hygiene and health
And of course the Commonwealth.
Back to MPs, for I digress,
Sir Bhownagree KCIE
For ZTFE did no less.
About a quarter century
He presided after Naoroji.
He was no Liberal MP
The Conservatives it was that sent
This MP on to Parliament.
One more Zoroastrian was MP
Labour and the Commies sent
Comrade Sak to Parliament.
No! He didn’t head ZTFE.
At that time you could find
Parsi heroes of every kind.
ZTFE in various forms
Has lived for 140 years.
But all the same against all norms
I will not bore you to tears
With every little change of name.
Few in numbers but rich in fame
Your illustrious Members from the past
Have made quite sure your fame will last.
And Britain has been nobly served
By this group from distant shores
Who bravely fought in all her wars.
And your success is well deserved.
And Britain, I am sure will see
Much more of this loyalty.
And that brings me to the Queen
And her glorious Jubilee.
In times to come she will be seen
As one who brought prosperity.
And though she isn’t here today
We should be able to convey
Your faithful pledge of loyalty
To the nation and its Royalty.
We bow to the Countess and the Earl
We hold them both very dear
And thank them both for being here.
I am quite dazed and in a whirl.
I pray my audience wasn’t bored.
My poem’s done, peace is restored.

Poem recited by Nadir Godrej at a function organised by the Trustees and the Managing Committee of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZTFE) on June 26 to celebrate the golden jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen. Among the many Zoroastrian mementos presented to the Royal Family was the lavish publication, A Zoroastrian Tapestry: Art, Religion and Culture, edited by Pheroza Godrej and Firoza Punthakey Mistree. This was an important occasion for the ZTFE, too, as members of the Royal Family joined them for the first time in its long history of over 141 years. Details on following page.


  A Zartoshty Morning

Pheroza Godrej presents ‘‘A Zoroastrian Tapestry’’ to His Royal Highness Prince Edward.



On Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, Their Royal Highnesses Prince Edward and Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, visited the Zartoshty Brothers Hall at the Zoroastrian Centre of Europe in Harrow, a London suburb. They were welcomed by Zoroastrian children waving the Union Jack.

Dorab Mistry, President of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, dressed in a white dugli and pheto, greeted the Royal Couple to the tune of Thus Spake Zarathushtra by Richard Strauss, followed by the Farsi song One Ashem Vohu and Two Yatha Ahu Vairyo and spontaneous applause by the Community when they entered the Zartoshty Brothers Hall, which was full to capacity.

The formal proceedings started when the grandson of Arabab Kaikhusrow Shahrokh, past President of ZTFE and currently the Chairman of the New Premises Committee, Mr. Shahrokh Shahrokh, welcomed the Earl and Countess of Wessex first in Farsi and then in English.

In his speech President Dorab Mistry covered the relationship between the British and the Zoroastrians commencing in Surat in India, when Rustom Manek Sett in 1701 secured the trading rights for the British East India Company from the Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb. Not only had the Zoroastrian Community helped the British, but so had the British helped the Zoroastrians. Indeed it should never be forgotten that the main reason for Zoroastrianism being a living religion in Iran today is because of the religious sanctuary granted to the Parsis by the Hindus of India and the role the British played in the emancipation of the Zoroastrians in Iran. It was only after the personal intervention of Queen Victoria, that Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar, when he first visited Britain in 1874, agreed to receive the delegation of Parsis led by then President of Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji. The purpose of this delegation was to directly appeal to the Qajar Shah to improve the condition of his Zoroastrian subjects in Iran.

Their Royal Highnesses Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, applaud Nadir Godrej’s recitation of his poem, ‘‘The Zoroastrians’’. Also in the picture is Dorab Mistry, President of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe.

The President also read out various messages. Chief amongst them was one from the Senior Patron of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, Mobed Mehraban Jamshid Zartoshty. In his message Mobed Mehraban expressed his pride that such a historic function was being held in the Zartoshty Brothers Hall. A message of congratulations was also read from the Incorporated Trustees of the Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hong Kong, Canton and Macau.

Being established in 1861, the archive of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe holds copies of scrolls of allegiance presented to Queen Victoria, King George V, the Queen’s grandfather, and King George VI, the Queen’s father. This tradition was continued and Senior Trustee Noshir Avari read out the contents of the scroll where the Zoroastrian Community pledged allegiance and wished Her Majesty and the House of Windsor longevity. The rolled scroll tied with a golden ribbon was presented to HRH Prince Edward.

Many Zoroastrians from different parts of the world had flown to Britain to specifically be present for this historic occasion, including Nadir Godrej, Managing Director of Godrej Industries of India, Soli Sorabjee, Attorney General of India, and Pheroza Godrej, the Art Historian and Editor.

Nadir Godrej read out a poem written by him specially for the occasion, illustrating the relationship between the Zoroastrian Community and the British Crown.

Pheroza Godrej, Editor, and Firoza Punthakey Mistree, Co-Editor of A Zoroastrian Tapestry, presented the First Copy made available in the United Kingdom to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Although the world’s first launch of A Zoroastrian Tapestry was on Saturday, 1 June, 2002 no copies were distributed prior to this presentation.

Prince Edward was overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality shown by the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe. He thanked the Zoroastrian Community for their loyalty to the Crown and hoped that there would be more Royal visits to the Zoroastrian Community in the future, because this was the first in the 141-year history of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe.

The formal function concluded with the song I Want to Be Free! by the late Farrokh Bulsara, better known as Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen.