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.
About four thousand years ago,
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.
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.