‘Vacationing’ to reconnect with India’s Zoroastrian culture

Religion News Service | 1/7/2019 | Staff
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MUMBAI, India (RNS) — Farzad Irani, a physical therapist born and raised in New York, tucked into a plate of mutton dhansak and egg chutney pattice, happily reacquainting himself with Parsi cuisine as part of a 15-day trip through western India intended to stir up his connections to his ethnic and religious identity as a Zoroastrian.

Irani had last visited Mumbai as a 12-year-old, when he’d undergone his navjote, the traditional Zoroastrian initiation ceremony. This time he’d returned with Return to Roots, an organization that hopes to connect young Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians to their heritage, partly in hopes of reviving a community that once thrived in and around India’s largest city.

Irani - Lunch - Visit - Dadar - Athornan

“I thought it could be cool,” said Irani over lunch after a visit to the Dadar Athornan Institute, where Parsi priests are trained. “It would be different from my normal vacations. I wanted something more spiritual, more educational, to learn where we came from.”

According to legend, Zoroastrians arrived by boat on India’s west coast between the 8th and 10th centuries, fleeing religious persecution in Persia. They found refuge, quickly integrating with the local population by adopting the Gujarati language and local customs, while steadfastly hanging onto their religious beliefs. That first wave became known as Parsis; a second wave, arriving in the 19th century, became another subset called Iranis.

Minority - India - Merchants - Lawyers - Doctors

Since then, they have flourished as a successful, well-educated minority, producing some of India’s most prominent merchants, lawyers and doctors.

But with later and fewer marriages and lower fertility rates, Parsi and Irani numbers have fallen in the past three decennial Indian censuses — just 57,264 in 2011, compared to 100,772 in 1961 — prompting fears that the proud minority may soon disappear. It’s estimated that there are as many as 40,000 Zoroastrians living outside India.

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