Thus Shines Zarathustra

A two-month exhibition aimed at reviving interest in the Parsi community will open in New Delhi on March 19; it’s called ‘Everlasting Flame’ and it shines a light on Zoroastrianism and its followers.

We need to educate the world about the Parsi community before we become museum pieces,” Pheroza Godrej, founder of Cymroza Art Gallery had told Mumbai Mirror when the government announced an exhibition to showcase Parsi culture to the world. Come March 19, the who’s who of the Parsi community will head to Delhi to see the best preserved bits about Zoroastrianism and Parsis in three museums.

The Everlasting Flame International Programme will be inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi. It’s a two-month-long exhibition and the government has spent Rs 14 crore to organize the event under its new scheme ‘Hamari Dharohar’ that was launched to preserve the rich heritage of minority communities of India. The programme includes three exhibitions – The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination; Painted Encounters – Parsi Traders and the Community and No Parsi Is an Island; and Threads of Continuity — that will be held at the National Museum, National Gallery of Modern Art and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Objects on display have been loaned from the British Library, British Museum, Tata Archives in Pune, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai, Alpaiwalla Museum in Mumbai and collections from Russia, Uzbekistan and Iran. A look at some of the objects going from CSMVS and Alpaiwalla Museum…”

Amorous couple Collection: Alpaiwalla museum

The baked clay object excavated from Iran shows a couple lying in bed. The man (on the left) appears to be bearded, while the woman has long hair falling over her shoulder. While the purpose of such plaques is uncertain, they could show a religious ceremony, or they could be votive, intended, for example, to induce pregnancy.

Framji Pestonjee Patuck and Kaikhushru Framji Patuck Collection: CSMVS

Painted from life in Canton in 1833 by George Chinnery, this painting is of Patuck with his son Kaikhushru. “The father and son are seen in typical Parsi attire. On the left is the sacred fire in afarganyu (fire vase),” explained art historian and gallerist Pheroza Godrej, one of the curators.

Glazed brick with rosette designs Collection: Alpaiwalla museum

This part of a polychrome glazed brick broken from the left side was excavated from Susa and dates back to 5th-6th century BCE. These bricks were used to decorate the sides of staircases in the palace of Darius.

Framji Pestonjee Patuck Collection: CSMVS

Painted from life way back in 1835, this oil on canvas painting of Framji Pestonjee Patuck was made by George Chinnery who was well known for a portrait of Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy and his Chinese secretary. Patuck, a businessman who had travelled to China as a trader, was at the height of his success, when he got this portrait made.

Ivory statue of a Parsi girl Collection: CSMVS

Not much is known about the history of this statue. However, it gives a glimpse of the attire of Parsi children who wore ijar, jabla, coat and a topi.

Clay tablet with list of workers Collection: Alpaiwalla museum

This tablet records barley rations given to female workers. Dating back to the Third Dynasty of Ur, commonly abbreviated as Ur III, there are plentiful records documenting the detailed functioning of its large institutions during the period. Many people worked in the fields, tended flocks and manned the workshops that were the powerhouse of the economy.

Three Lute Players Collection: Alpaiwalla Museum

These three baked clay plaques show naked figures playing lutes. While the purpose and significance of these figures is not clear, two of them are bearded while one is beardless. The plaques were excavated at Susa, a city in Iran, and date back to Middle Elamite period (500 – 1100 BCE).

Bronze Indra Collection: CSMVS

This 18th century bronze Indra set in turquoise was picked up by Sarah Stewart, a lecturer in Zoroastrianism in the Department of the Study of Religions at the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Stewart, who is one of the curators of the exhibition aimed at drawing a comparison between Rig Veda and Avesta and further draw a comparison between the Vedic deity Indra and Zoarastrian deity Verethragna who epitomises victory.

Part of naked woman figurine Collection: Alpaiwalla museum

The plaque of a naked woman with a pendant suspended around her neck was also excavated from Susa.

Marble bust of Lady Meherbai Dorab Tata Collection: CSMVS

Lady Meherbai’s marble bust was sculpted by F. Jerace in 1905. Married to Dorab Tata, Lady Meherbai was among the pioneers of the women’s movement in India. After her death, all her jewellery including a 245-carat jubilee diamond was sold and the proceeds went to build the Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel. The hospital is the country’s premier cancer institute.

Published on Mumbai Mirror