Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The dwindling Parsis ...

Todays NYT had an interesting story on Zoroastrians and their dwindling numbers. (One is used to seeing such stories surface periodically in the Indian media ... first time I've seen this in the US.) It's a well written story of anxiety about future survival, and division about how best to address this. One part that I found interesting:
The very tenets of Zoroastrianism could be feeding its demise, many adherents said in interviews. Zoroastrians believe in free will, so in matters of religion they do not believe in compulsion. They do not proselytize. They can pray at home instead of going to a temple. While there are priests, there is no hierarchy to set policy. And their basic doctrine is a universal ethical precept: “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”

“That’s what I take away from Zoroastrianism,” said Tenaz Dubash, a filmmaker in New York City who is making a documentary about the future of her faith, “that I’m a cerebral, thinking human being, and I need to think for myself.”
While I know next to nothing about Zorastrian doctrines (despite having several Parsi friends), I did wonder if this were part of the cause of the decline, why did it take so long? I think it's probably more a combination of such teachings in a secular world for which religion ought to be an entirely private and subjective phenomenon.

A little surprisingly, the article has led to some discussion in the Christian blogosphere: Amy has the scoop.

Anywy, FWIW, this is a Parsi agiyari (Fire temple) that I photographed in Baroda over the summer ...



And finally, all you Gamecocks: the purist in me just has to keep reminding people that the famous tune that we all go nuts to during football season, was used by Stanley Kubrick in the movie 2001, but is actually "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (Thus spake Zarathushtra) by Richard Strauss, inspired by Nietsche's famous work of the same name]
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1 comment:

assiniboine said...

Of course if they'd get busy and rescind the ban on conversion and on the children of mixed marriages being Parsi it would be a whole 'nother ball game. The silly thing is that clearly those communal suicide doctrines are neologisms: Zoroastrianism didn't get to be the religion of ancient Persia in the first place by not proselytising, and there was recently an interesting article on DNA testing of Indian Parsis which categorically demonstrated that they're more Gujarati than Iranian. So the original refugees were men, and they took Hindu wives.

(Apparently it was a condition of their settling in Gujarat that they not proslytise and by the time that was no longer a matter of practicality it had become dogma.)

I wonder whether the 190,000 figure includes only Parsis or Parsis and Iranis — the Parsis are just as exclusionary as to their fellow Persian-origin Zoroastrians as they are to the rest of us.

(On the other hand, even the issues of intermarriage and religion may ultimately be somewhat moot: Kerala, with its virtually 100% literacy rate, has a birthrate less than replacement level, and they are Hindu, Christian and Muslim.)