A peek into Parsi life

2Be Responsible. Don’t Use A Condom Tonight. At a time when the world was, and still is, looking for ways to promote safe sex, there appeared an advert proclaiming, “Let there be nothing between your togetherness”. That campaign, an initiative under a Union government-supported scheme to arrest, and reverse, the decline in population of Parsis, might be almost two years old, but it’s still relevant.

“The number of Parsis in India is so low that they are counted as ‘others’ in the census. The reasons for the decline (among others) are late marriage or no marriage,” says Shernaz Cama, director of Parzor Foundation, a Delhi-based community organization mandated by Unesco to preserve the Parsi-Zoroastrian heritage.

“Despite being a small community of 69,000 people, it has contributed immensely in industrialization as well as education and research. Be it (industrialists) Tata and Godrej, or (scientist) Homi Bhabha. Even in art and culture, their contribution is noteworthy,” says Najma Heptulla, Union minister of minority affairs.

To highlight these contributions, track the spread of Zoroastrianism from Persia to India’s west coast, and raise awareness about the community’s dwindling numbers, the Parzor Foundation and the minority affairs ministry, along with several other institutions, will present “The Everlasting Flame Programme” from 19 March-29 May in the Capital. Organized under the ministry’s “Hamari Dharohar” scheme to preserve the “rich heritage of India’s minority communities”, the programme will include three multimedia exhibitions, talks and workshops. “It is time we did something before the Parsi community gets lost in the pages of history,” says Heptulla.

The exhibition Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism In History And Imagination, which will open at the National Museum on 20 March, will focus on Zoroastrianism’s influence on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Painted Encounters: Parsi Traders And The Community, which will open on 22 March at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), will showcase the community’s trading encounters in China and its alliance with the British East India Company. Threads Of Continuity: Zoroastrian Life And Culture, which will open on the same day, will showcase the “lifestyle side” of Zoroastrianism at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).

3The three exhibitions will include antiquities such as artefacts, coins, silverware, texts, paintings, textiles and furniture loaned from 15 museums across the world, including Syria, Iran and the UK, along with personal objects donated by individuals. “What makes this festival extra special is that Iran hasn’t loaned its treasure trove till now. Trust me, it needed a lot of convincing,” says Cama.
The highlights of the show at the National Museum will be a walk-in fire temple, in which the ceremonies and rituals of the Parsi community will be displayed visually (non-Parsis are generally not allowed into the fire temple), as well as a fragment with one of the holiest Zoroastrian prayers, the Ashem Vohu, written in the Avestan (ancient Iranian) language, inscribed on it. Among the highlights at the NGMA exhibition are the many portraits of wealthy Parsi traders who, emulating the British, used portraiture as a social device to secure a place in society.

4The IGNCA spectacle will showcase Parsi life through garas (embroidered saris), ceremonial silverware, armchairs and jewellery.
The Parsi community is an integral part of our national history and identity, but, time and again, they have been regarded as others by many, says NGMA’s director Rajeev Lochan. This show highlights the fact that they are very much a part of our collective past, present and future, he adds.