Parsi community poaching priests

The Parsi community is facing a mobad shortage and it’s causing community wars between the priests and their congregations across India


The Parsis are quite short these days, on both priests and tempers. The mobad, a rank of the Zoarastrian celebrant priesthood, are a diminishing clan, and the chronic shortage is making Parsi fire temples and their congregations poach each others’ priests.

According to several reports in the Parsi community newspaper The Parsiana, the situation has been building for quite some time over the year. The Bilimora anjuman, from Gujarat, at the West Zone B meeting of the Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI) in Valsad, Gujarat on July 24, 2016 complained that the Nagpur, Maharashtra anjuman lured their priest while the Gandevi anjuman was upset when their priest left for Bilimora, Gujarat. Gandevi poached one from Ajmer, and the Mhow, Madhya Pradesh anjuman is involved in a legal battle over the expulsion of their priest.

Insiders claim that the result of such factional warring is that some questionable priests, those who have been previously dismissed from one centre for example, are also being accorded senior positions at other centres. The quality of the appointments is suffering as the demand now exceeds the supply.

The biggest fear that Parsis face in such a circumstance that a priest is poached from one anjuman, is that the sacred fire will be left untended. The discrepancy is essentially of pay packages. The larger and better endowed anjumans, with wealthier trustees, are able to give their priests larger pay packages, while those which cater to smaller congregations struggle to make ends meet. Many can’t afford to dole out perks, or allow weekly offs and retirement packages.

The community now has less than 55,000 members in India; the dwindling numbers also straining their resources. While priests have been moving for reasons such as education and higher pay packages that will enable them to bring up their children, the most sacred of their duties are the five bois, or the five steps that keep the sacred fire sacred. The greater the rigour observed in carrying out the rituals, the greater the purity of the sacred fire. Currently, priests function on a one month notice period and the inability to fill vacancies is causing the parsi fire temples and trusts to play musical chairs with each other’s priests, one vacancy causing another elsewhere.

In some countries like North America and Iran, women priests (Mobedyar) are qualified to perform boi, but in India only male priests are permitted to tend to the sacred Fire. Since non-Parsis are forbidden from entering the fire temple, outsiders may not be hired for even basic tasks of cleanliness, which again falls to the priests themselves, taxing them even further. A fire temple which does not keep up to the rigour of following the puritanical rituals gets downgraded to a dadgah. Several in the community have called for radical change, allowing lay persons to perform rites, and seeking the entry of women in fire temples, in order to cope with the change.

Published on DNA