Thursday, July 01, 2004

Participant Observations (appendixes to "The Parsees in Twin Cities")

Participant Observation N: 1

(Gathering in Parsee Dharamshalla)

Time: February 13, 2002
Place: Bai Pirojbai Edulji Chenai Parsee Dharamshalla in
137 Prenderghast Road, Paradise Circle, Secunderabad.

Prof. Rustom and I came to Parsi dharamshalla after roaming around in Mahatma Gandhi road in Secunderabad. We came there at four o’clock and after some times people came one-one, two-two. Madame Mithra also came with her friend Madame Cheney and we put chairs round and set together. People were coming and Madame Mithra used to introduce Prof. Rustom and me to them. We got introduced and shaked hands with some of them, and started talks while sitting in the chairs. Madame Mithra started talking but still some people were coming and sitting in empty chairs and started listening to her. They introduced themselves later during the coffee break. There were 25 people, half (13) of whom were women. Majority were old and people of middle age (40-50) and a single young gentleman. He looked young but later I discovered that he also was at least about forty. One old woman could heavily move alone. And so did some two old men who carried sticks in their hands. But I was sure they could listen whatever we were talking.

The Dharamshalla had an open meeting place with vast land where many cars were staying. It used to serve as an auto-park as well. There were a lot of rooms in ground-floor buildings in the right and left sides. The meeting place was round with similar round-shaped roof resting upon the numerous stands. There were no chairs in the ground but it seems whenever there was a meeting, they would gather chairs from somewhere and put round in the middle and sit. I remember I was there sometimes before and we saw a documentary about the Parsees.

I came here at the instance of Mrs. Therkey whom I know for last one year and she was a good friend of Madame Mithra from Mumbai. Madame Mithra was a prominent Parsee intellectual who happened to visit Russia for several times and had a lot of friends over there. I knew Madame Mithra for last one and a half years since when I came to know of her through my Mumbai-based friend whom again I came to know through Internet.

First Madame Mithra started to introduce Prof. Rustom who has been recently initiated into the Zoroastrian fold and had a great interest in studying Parsees and their religious customs. She told:

- Friends, I appreciate very much your spending time and coming here. I have not been in Hyderabad for long times and It’s very nice to see all of you here. I thank my friend Mrs. Cheney and Mrs. Therkey who organized this talk. I do not want to take much of your time we have to hurry, because we have train ticket at 8 o’clock. I’m very sorry, due to train delay we could not have come here yesterday. Anyway let me, please, first introduce you this gentleman, who is a Zoroastrian professor from Tajikistan. He has been here for last two months and is going to translate the whole Avesta scriptures into Persian Cyrillic script.

Then she spoke about Zoroastrians in Russia who until now preserved their Zoroastrian traditions and customs. First she spoke about her own experiences of several trips to one of former Soviet countries and her meeting and talking with the people whose ancestors were once upon a time Zoroastrians, who were later forced to abandon their faith, while preserving their language, customs and cultures related to Zoroastrian belief systems:

- Many people of the former Soviet Union are basically from Zoroastrian ancestries, who, despite oppressions and historical persecutions, have preserved their Zoroastrian culture and traditions.
I have been there in many Central Asian countries and witnessed a lot of customs and traditions related to their ancestral religion.

She spoke with great inspirations of the recent Avesta conference initiated by a government of a former Soviet country, her participation on behalf of Parsee Zoroastrian scholars, her meeting and talks with its people and their love and affinity towards their past history and civilization. According to her there was a movement among Iranian nations of Caucasus and Central Asia to restore their ancient belief while the Parsees in modern times, especially the youths were not much interested in religious teachings:

- Recently, with the initiative of the President of Tajikistan in Dushanbe they held a conference dedicated to Avesta and I have been representing Parsee Zoroastrian scholars. The people and leaders of Tajikistan are very good people, very Zoroastrian in nature. I have come to know first about them ten years before when Russian consul of that time told me “We have our own Parsees, Tajiks are Parsees of the Soviet Union with their great culture and good traditions…” I was curious since that time and finally made a lot of friends from there and succeeded to visit and see those people. During Soviet times no religion was allowed there but now people are going to restore their ancient religion. Governments are supporting them.

People were listening with great interest and a sense of surprise as how it came that they did not know before about any other Zoroastrians except their fellow Parsees and Irani brethren. Madame Mithra mentioned that several Parsee scholars for long times believed that the Iranian mainland and the motherland of Zarathushthra was located in the Central Asia and it was from here that great Achaemenidians moved westwards up to the modern western Iran where they defeated Babylonians and liberated the Jew. Now they were, as if, seeing by their own eyes a real Zarathushti from Central Asia.

I was not much interested in political generalizations and found it good time to take some photos of the group. I quietly clicked my camera without disturbing anyone. However, Madame Mithra observed and looked at me with a sign of to get a photo for her as well. I did so. All were sitting quietly while listening with a lot of attention at speakers. Madame Mithra went on to speak about some Central Asian peoples, having customs and cultures very similar to Parsees and being very “Zoroastrian” in their heart. She said that half of the people of Tajikistan were of Zarathushtrian ancestries and spoke Persian, a dialect closer to Dari of Afghanistan. They studied and read “Shahnameh” of Ferdawsi in their mother tongue, in the same language written by Ferdawsi himself without any translation, while Parsees read its translations into Gujarati.

She also said that Zarathushtra the first monotheist prophet was born in the same location where Central Asia is now situated. Moreover, she added that the Old Kiyani dynasty, which is described in “Shahnameh”, nave exactly been there in present day Central Asian territories. She emphasized that thanks to government of Tajikistan that with the initiative of their president they are celebrating Avesta and the anniversary of the prophet Zarathushtra. They were going to restore their ancient belief. Moreover, this was a first step and once upon a time pak dadar Ahura Mazda would restore the ancient religion in the whole Iranian soil.

Here I remembered about a Parsee folk legend, which speaks of a savior called Shah Behram Varzavand, that who “would come and bring justice to the whole world”. That, “who would restore the ancient Iranian religion”. Such beliefs were common among Parsees, and had more influence over their minds, I think, because of a kind of nostalgia towards the past glories of their fatherland. Such legends must definitely be the product of nostalgic minds.

In the middle of speech, one lady lifted her hand and asked a question. She asked:

- How many Zoroastrians are there in Kajakistan (this is the way she pronounced “Tajikistan”)?

Madame Mithra declined to say the number and simply said that half of the population was of Zoroastrian ancestry, although not all were Zoroastrians. However there were a number of people who considered themselves true Zartoshties. I observed that people did not get the point, so another man asked more curiously:

- What is actually the main religion in Central Asia?

Madame Mithra passed the question to me. I told that the main religion was Islam and then Christianity, but we also had a few Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Bahais etc. They again asked the exact number of Zoroastrians. I told I did not really know how many Zoroastrians we had, but definitely, they were in dozens only. People were surprised:

- Wow! So few?

- I mean only those who are officially recognized as Zoroastrians and have been initiated, - I told, - but we have a lot of people, especially youths who eagerly want to make their nowjotes done. I told it was more intellectuals who adopted Zoroastrism as the religion of their ancestors, as well as because of the valuable teachings of Asho Zarathushtra. But I could not count how many such people were there. At least I did not want to focus much on this issue.

I told that we had an association, which included Muslims and Christians as well, those who had love towards Zarathushtra and his teachings. Most of them were scholars and intellectuals who had studied or researched on ancient Iran and Zoroastrian religion, and were not officially Zoroastrians. But they would prefer to consider themselves Zoroastrians. I did not speak much, because there was not much time and the lady Madame Mithra and the professor had schedule to go to Mumbai that day.

Madame Mithra asked professor Rustom to speak about his experiences among Parsees. He started with long compliments to Madame Mithra for her helps to get in touch with Indian Zoroastrians and then spoke about diversity of Tajik and Indian cultures, and some similarities too. He complained about spicy food and said that first times he did not pay attention but one day he felt pain in her leaver. Then he started to be careful with spicy food. He said that Parsees preserved religion, while Tajiks mostly preserved ancient languages. He spoke about various local languages, which were derived from Avestan tongue - the language of Zoroastrian scriptures. He said that Tajiks read “Shahnameh” in its own language and are very proud of their ancestors who were Zoroastrians. Many Tajiks were interested in their pre-Islamic history and they needed more information and knowledge about their past. He hoped that people sitting there one day would travel and enjoy seeing the ancient land of Zarathushtra, archaeological sites and remnants of Zoroastrian culture. For all this he thanked the President of the republic who was going to restore ancient humanistic traditions.

I have never been interested in political slogans, really I felt bored, but I observed that people were all ears to listen. This would show how concerned they were about their co-religionists and how attached they were to their religious traditions, while at the same time being very modernized. I imagined while they were listening, at the same time they may be thinking of the savior who one day would come and restore Zoroastrian faith, and according to some traditionalists that time was very close. This just came to my mind, maybe because of my many times encountering with some old intellectuals who were more superstitious than the ordinary people.

At the end, they started asking questions and a gentleman gave some comments. He said that Tajiks need not learn anything from Parsis, but it’s Parsis who should learn from Tajiks. He said “we do not have anything to learn, and we are to learn something new from you, you should not ask our mobeds come and initiate you, you should establish something new and ask us to adopt it”. This was as a blast for many people who ran over him for such comments. But I thought the gentleman was of the kind of modernizers who critically view the traditional practice of the religion by most of the Parsees, but the people did not get his point correctly. Then the only young man asked me where I stay. He then commented how and what now the Zoroastrians worldwide should do to become more united in a centralized organization and do cooperate with each other according to a program. I found this man of the kind of young leaders and reformers, who have skills to make innovations and bring about difference. I was at least happy to see one such a person here. He promised to talk with me later on all issues. He later became my key informant and helped a lot in my research activities.

The debate became very hot, but someone called the people to coffee break. They started having coffee and biscuits. Some of them came and asked me questions and registered their names in my address book. I also gave my email addresses to some of them. Most of them said that they were happy to see Zoroastrians from Tajikistan. Then they started moving to their homes with a lot of impressions. Mr. Jehanshah, whom I stereotyped as a “young leader” asked me to sit in his car. We said goodbye to all he dropped me to Mehdipatnam. By chance, I came to know that he knew Russian and many times had traveled to Russia. We spoke Russian in his car the whole way to Mehdipatnam.

Participant Observation N: 2

(Hormazdruz prayers)

February 13, 2002
Place: Khan Bahadur Seth Edulji Sohrabji Chenai Dar-e-Meher in
125 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Secunderabad.

Early morning I went to Madame Chenei’s house, because she had informed me two days before about Hormazdruz prayers and I was interested to know how it would be performed. We went to Secunderabad fire temple called Dar-e-Meher, that’s the House of Love. Meher is modern name of the pre-Zoroastrian deity Mithra – the god of love, friendship and promise, which later lost its status in Zoroastrian belief system but still was respected as an angel.
So we both went to fire temple by her car. Madame Chenei has told me that her family built the fire temple and her family members were trustees of this Dar-e-Meher. At the doorsteps of the temple she showed me the “chalk” – a kind of painting made by white powder, which one can see at the doorsteps of all Indians. She explained that it was typical Parsee “chalk” and was different from that of the Hindus. Hindus would not call it “chalk” but had a different name for it.
Before entering we washed our hands from a small water cistern located in the right side of the balcony and then while reciting koshti prayers we first untied and then re-tied our religious thread around our waists. Madame Chenei guided me how to enter and do prayers in the fire temple. There were two doors from two sides and we entered the temple from the left door.
There was a big hall with chairs in two sides and a place for performing ceremonies in the middle. A priest came and talked with Madame Chenei in Hindi or Gujarati, I could not distinguish. But as far as I understood he was saying that there was a marriage ceremony early morning. I was saddened that I missed such an opportunity to see the marriage ceremony to record for my further research. I expressed my feeling to Madame Chenei and she told that it was too early and even she did not know. She told that most times such ceremonies are held too early which I could not reach because of long way.
There were a lot of portraits of famous Parsees in all four sides of the wall of the hall. Those were pictures of men and women of various ages with their profiles recorded below their portraits. Some of them supposedly lived centuries before. We passed the hall and entered another room where an employee who was selling sandal wood sticks welcomed us. Madame Chenei bought some wood sticks, which we would later offer to fire. I was imitating what Madame Cheney used to do. There were a lot of candles put in a corner and we each lighted a candle. Madame Chenei said that each person should light one candle only. First, we put wood sticks in a plate, which had some ash and some coins. Then we “worshiped” or prayed before the fire, put our fingers in the ash and put it in our foreheads.
The fire was in another small room, where only the priest could enter in it. One side of that room was open towards the people who would pray. Two other sides also were open in a shape of window bars. The behind side of that room was wall only. A woman was sitting near the window from left side and was praying towards fire. There were some sticks put in a small plate inside the window bar. I thought probably that woman has put them there. Some people were sitting in chairs face-to-face to the fire and reciting prayers. Madame Cheney set in a chair, opened her prayer book, started reading and I also did the same. Some people were still coming and some were finishing and going.
An old man was sitting in a chair next to Madame Chenei and was reciting prayers loudly to the extent that I could understand. One woman with a small girl also was praying. The small girl was sitting while looking at others and me. She supposedly knew how to behave and not to interrupt people in the temple, because she was sitting very quietly.
The burning fire was very beautiful. It was moving up it looked like a river that was going upwards to heaven or heavens. It was consecrated in a big fire pot, which Parsees would call it in a different name. I looked at the fire and went deep into the long history of Iran. For a minute I was beyond the space and time. I thought we would be still having similar fire temples if one thousand and three hundred years ago we had not lost war with Arabs. I thought hundreds years of barbarism deserted our minds and the fire of our hearts was gone.
Madame Chenei interrupted me and indicated particular prayers in my book to be recited in this occasion. I started reading those very long prayers. It took long time. Sometimes I observed people who used to come and pray at the same time while reading my book. Everybody had headwear. One man had a red topi or hat while two other men sitting next to him had black hats. Three women used to hold one side of their sarees over their heads, but a lady from left side head a headscarf.
After some times a priest appeared in the room where fire was located and started to recite loudly. He was reciting and sometimes used to put woods in the fire with an instrument. He had a long white dresses with white topi (particular hat) and a piece of white cloth covering his mouth. Somewhere I read that Zoroastrian priests cover their mouth in order not to pollute fire by their breath. After long time praying he started to ring the bell hanged in that room.
Then he continued some more praying and then left the room. People also started moving out; it seemed some who did not yet finish their prayers continued to pray for some more minutes. We came out of the temple and in the balcony Madame Chenei introduced me to one of the priests. Then we left the fire temple.

Participant Observation N: 3

Nowruz Celebrations)

Time: March 21, 2002
Place: Khan Bahadur Seth Edulji Sohrabji Chenai Dar-e-Meher in
125 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Secunderabad.

I went with my friend to Dar-e-Meher at around 9:30am. There were many people outside the temple as well as inside. I asked my friend who was not a Zoroastrian to stay outside and I myself went forward to ask somebody whether my “key informant” or “assistant” Mr. Jehanshah had already come or not yet.
There were a numerous people in the balcony and some were making their kushties tied while praying at the right side of balcony. While I was still on the steps a man came forward and asked where was my cap and if I was a Parsee. I asked him Mr. Jehanshah has come or not yet. He told no. I went back to my friend who was staying under the tree in the house garden. He was holding my bag with my tape-recorder and books and papers. I put my cap on and returned to the temple.
I washed my hands and untied my kushti and then re-tied it while praying kushti prayers. Kushti is a religious thread to be tied around the waist. When tieing kushti a Zoroastrian should have his/her headwear in her/his head.

Case 1. Inside the temple

Suddenly I saw that Madame Chenei came and greeted me and guided me inside. I asked her about Mr. Jehanshah who would better guide and help me to get interview of some people. She first asked which Jehanshah I meant and after assuring the one she told that his mother had died just a day before and he would not come probably.
After having my kushti tied I went inside the temple where I saw the real jashn that’s Nowruz was celebrated in religious terms in the hall. There were chairs in two sides: men were sitting in one side; women were sitting in the opposite. Both groups were face to face. In between, there was the place of mobeds (priests) and two mobeds were performing the ritual and praying. I did not stop here and went inside the second room where the fire was located. There were many people praying before the fire. After prayers some used to join the Jashn ceremony while others used to go out and stayed in balcony.
I went inside to pray; in the way first I bought some sandalwoods for Rs.10 and went before the fire. I prayed and put sandalwoods in the plate, which contained some ash and some coins along with some more sandalwood. People put sandalwood in the plate and later priests themselves would offer to the fire. Because people cannot go inside the small room where the fire is consecrated.
There were some eight chairs put face-to-face to the fire and some people used to sit and pray. I sit in a chair and opened my prayer book. Started reading havangah prayers. Havangaah means morning and it’s a time from sunrise to midday. According to Zoroastrians a day is divided into five times that’s morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night. Each of these times has its separate prayers.
Looking at the book, I tried to observe the people who were praying. There were two old man and three old women sitting in chairs and reading prayers from prayer books. A small boy also came and started to pray but without reading anything. People looked very devoted and religious. All men had topies or caps and women had scarves, even one woman had a red topi like men. A man had a handkerchief in his head instead of cap. Zoroastrians usually pray with headwear or topies and one should never pray without wearing anything in his/her head. So if one does not have a cap or headscarf, they would realize that he/she is not a Zartoshti. There are a lot of topies in the temple for those who come without headwear, but despite this most people who come without headwear, usually put their handkerchiefs in their head.
However the dress was not important and I saw some Parsi women had sarees and some were with more modern dresses. There were very few young people. Most of them were of old ages. Usually, I did not see many youngsters visiting fire temples. They are probably less interested than the old people. They would start to come to the fire temple as far as they become old and start thinking of God. However this time I saw more youngsters in the temple than before. A young girl came and kneeled down before the fire while reading something. Then there was a plate with some ash in it. People usually put their finger in the ash and then put it in their foreheads. That was the ash taken from big pot the holy fire was in. Some people used to put some coins also in that ash-plate. So there were some sandalwood and some coins along with the holy ash.
There was no particular order or systematized way of praying together. Everyone coming inside would start praying without paying attention to others. Everybody was praying in his/her own and nobody was praying for all so that other would follow what moves he does just like in the case of Muslim mosques I have seen before.
Some women were reciting loudly so that one could understand what prayers they were reading. Usually one should recite prayers with louder voice but not all would follow this custom. Some who finished praying were greeting and embracing each other for Nowruz while not yet getting far from the fire. There was no discrimination of women and men and everybody was equal before the fire. There was no rule that men should be closer and women should stay farther. Old and young would not differ in approaching to holy fire.
The voice of the mobed (Zoroastrian priest) praying outside in hall could be heard here. I finished my prayers and went to the room where the mobed was praying. When first entering I should have lighted a candle, but I forgot. I would not remember until just after some times I suddenly saw a girl lighting a candle in one corner of the room. I just finished my prayers and the lighted a candle and went outside to the hall where the Nowruz ceremony was preformed.

Case 2. In the ceremony hall of the temple

I set in a chair in the left side and started to look how they perform Nowruz ceremony. Two mobed (Zoroastrian priests) were reciting in the middle and there was a tablecloth before them, in which they put a fire-pot smaller than that I saw inside the fire room. They were reciting in turn with giving some break to each other. Two plates for various fruits like bananas, oranges, apples, grapes and colorful flowers were put in the tablecloth near the priest and the fire they were praying before. There was some sandalwood in a plate and mobeds used to put some of those small wood sticks in the fire while reciting with an instrument we call “atashgir”-literally “a handle for taking fire”. The mobeds’ voices were very loud and were spread all over the fire temple. From outside also one could hear their voices.
Some hundred people were sitting in both sides: women in one side and men in another opposite to each other. There were three-four women were sitting in men’s place. I could not count the people promptly, but the number of women was definitely more. There were few youngsters.
Some children also were seen. My good friend and “key informant” Mr. Jehanshah’s son was there and set near me. We were hearing the mobed’s praying together. I asked him why his farther had not come and he responded that his grandmother had died a day before. His grandmother had cancer and it was very critical period for her when I saw her a week before.
I wanted to take photos here but was cautious whether it was allowed. I asked a man who knew me since last time I came with Madame Chenei to Hormazdruz prayers. He first told that it’s ok and I could take photos, but after he had asked somebody he again told me that yes, it was really not allowed to take photos inside the hall. So I kept my camera off until later I went outside and took some photos there.
I put my recorder on to record some prayers, but in this moment mobeds finished praying and the head of Anjuman asked Madame Chenei to speak before microphone. Madame Chenei went near microphone that was close to mobed’s place of performing ceremony and started speaking. She is a trustee of this Anjuman and the fire temple and she is from Chenei family to whom this temple belonged, so she would speak. Apart from this she was a prominent intellectual and a professor in some university.
She said many things in Gujarati and sometimes spoke some phrases and sentences in English. There was no opportunity to note down all those speeches. However I tried to write some phrases and sentences in my notebook. For example once she said something like this “…today we have our enemy from within. It’s difficult to find it… There are some traditions, which cannot change, must not change, and should not be allowed to change… Some wrong changes should be prevented… We, a small community should follow the path of righteousness…” She again continued to speak in Gujarati or maybe Hindi for some time. And finally she finished her speech with these words: “Not to pollute the waters, lands, … let us stand united and fight against evil, not against each other…”
After she had finished a man probably from Anjuman came to microphone and spoke something in Gujarati or Hindi. I guessed he probably thanked Madame Chenei for her good speech and said something in addition. Then after he had finished his speech, Madame Chenei again came before microphone and said “sorry…” because she had forgotten to announce something before. She spoke about those good Parsi children who showed their good skills and got some awards from their schools, Olympiads, contests etc. She congratulated them and praised their parents for this way of bringing their children up. She announced that these children would be awarded this evening in Nowruz party in Zoroastrian Club and asked everybody to come to Nowruz party.
Then the man thanked all people for coming and announced that they can go and eat some Nowruzi cakes, drinks etc. outside. So the ceremony finished and all went outside.

Case 3. Outside the temple

There were a lot of people outside. Most of them did not enter the hall probably because of little number of places available and maybe they could listen to the mobed’s prayers from outside the windows. Anyway it was good for them to take advantage of the Nowruz celebrations and meet and talk to each other outside whom they may have not met for long times, and not interrupt the atmosphere of the hall inside. In the left side in the balcony there were tables with various cakes, biscuits, samosas, etc…
Madame Chenei guided me and asked to eat something. I told her I needed to interview with some people. She introduced me with some of her friends. People started to eat the cakes, chips etc. and in a corner they were giving cool drinks. I took some photos of the people eating Nowruzi cakes. People were so many that I could not easily move from amongst them. Mr. Jehanshah’s son was accompanying me. And then we also started to eat some cakes. We had cakes and some halva (sweet) with some cool drinks. In this moment Madame Chenei called me and we went to her house with her car.

Case 4. In Madame Chenei’s house

When we came to Madame Chenei’s house, a man was waiting in her balcony. He congratulated Madame Chenei and gave some flowers. Madame Chenei introduced me as a Zoroastrian from Tajikistan. We went inside the room.
The man and I set in chair in one room and Madame Chenei went to her kitchen to order and advise her servants on what should be prepared. The man asked me if I was a Parsee too. I told that I was a Zoroastrian but not a Parsee. He again asked if there is any difference between Parsee and Zoroastrian. I said yes, there is a little different. I meant Parsees were Zoroastrians, but not all Zoroastrians were Parsees. I thought the man did not get my point correctly. And he said that there were a lot of Parsees, Zoroastrians, Muslims, and Christians in Hyderabad. So he separated Parsee and Zoroastrian.
The people were coming one by one and in just a minute or more the room filled with people coming to celebrate Nowruz in Madame Chenei’s house. Men and women, old and young were coming one by one two by two. They used to greet and congratulate each other with Nowruz and wished each other all the best. Madame Chenei introduced me to some more of her friends. They had some sweets and she asked me to have some.
After some times she had introduced me to some lady and told that I could get a good interview from her. I did so. She was a journalist from times of India and was accompanied with another lady. We went to balcony where there some chairs and tables. We set in the chairs and started talking. After some times some other people followed us and came outside and set in other chairs and tables. Now they were interrupting me with talking loudly. Anyway I recorded my interview and Madame Chenei called them inside for some reason.
I remained alone in this table and looked at the old men and women who were talking loudly in the table next to me. They were probably talking something very interesting. It was clear from their face. I just asked something from someone and by this joined that group. I put my tape-recorder in the table and recorded some of their talks.
One old man was talking about some kind of Kabuli Marco. “…It was called Kabuli Marco…(laughs), because it was different from other Marcos…” He was taller than the second one. The second man was hearing with great interest and positively was affirming what the first men said. Then he started to say his own story. He started telling first something about Afghanistan, more correctly eastern Afghanistan …Hindukush… and western Afghanistan, which was closer to Iran. Then he told about how once he had to go long way to Nepal and saw the Everest from some location in a sunny day. “…It was possible to see the Everest only in a sunny day, but a sunny day was very rear there…” – he was telling.
Later they were talking about the rich natural heritage of Himalayas. They were telling to each other that there were almost all kinds of wild animals there in those mountains and they should be protected and the natural wealth of Himalayas and Tibet should be managed properly. As if they had discovered something which others still did not know.
Then the short man started to ask me some questions. When he found that I was from Tajikistan, he was happy and said: “Or Dushanbe, Dushanbe…? You are from Dushanbe?? I was in…” “Dushanbe?” – I interrupted. “No, no, I was not in Dushanbe, I was in Kirgizstan, Frunze…” – he answered, - “I was in Caucasian republics also, … Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia…(laughingly)”. “How did you like those places?” – I asked. “Oh, wonderful, very interesting, very beautiful places…” – he said, – “I was in Moscow and also Khabarovsk…”
He tried to speak some Russian with me, but could remember only some words: “spassibo, zdorovo, vsego dobrogo…”
“So you tell us more about Tajikistan and Zoroastrians over there” – he asked me. I summarized on geographical location and talked about the language and people of Tajikistan, their customs and cultures.
While we were talking Madame Chenei called me in and told to see Mrs. Shirin Bari, a lawyer whom I know for long time. She asked me how was my research going on. I said it was ok.
She was with her little girl and mother-in-law. I told them Happy New Year (Nowruz). They said they were happy to see me there. We went out to balcony and set in the third table where two ladies were sitting. Mrs. Shirin knew them and introduced me.
After some times I saw that the two old men and ladies listening to their stories had gone and just at the moment some four-five youngsters set in their table. After some observation I thought it was important to know the views of the youths and I approached them and asked to give interview. They agreed and answered my questions.
When I finished again Madame Chenei asked me and introduced her sister Mrs. Delbanu Chenei who was the head of Anjuman. I told her about my project and asked her to answer some of my questions. She agreed and responded to my questions. At this time a young lady from Great Britain was listening our talks and joined my conversations. Instead o answering she started to ask me various questions about Tajikistan. She supposedly had been in some former Soviet countries and was aware of some situations over there. She told that she was in Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
While we were still talking somebody asked to go to the next room because the lunch was ready. People had their lunch and left for their homes.

Participant Observation N: 4

(Birthday of the Prophet)

Time: March 27, 2002
Place: Khan Bahadur Seth Edulji Sohrabji Chenai Dar-e-Meher in
125 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Secunderabad.

Two days before the event Mr. Ruyintan one of my informants informed me about the occasion of the prophet’s birthday in March 27. In this date I visited fire temple at about 4pm. I went to Mr. Ruyintan’s house; he lives in the colony pf Parsees where the fire temple located. I asked him some more information on the structure of Parsee Anjuman and how it works and other issues.

Case1. In the prayer hall

At 430 pm I came to fire temple and saw some men and women were staying outside. I washed my hands, made my koshti tied and went inside. There were some people in the hall and prayers had already started. I went inside the prayer room hall. Lighted a candle, went before the fire and put a sandalwood in the plate containing some ash and some coins and started praying. I opened my prayer book and ‘observed’ people who were praying. There were two old men sitting in chairs and reading their books. One of them was praying loudly so that I could understand. A lady also was sitting in another chair next to the men and was praying. Just a girl came and bowed down before the fire and stayed for more than a minute so. After she opened her book and started reading while standing. Although there were two free chairs, she did not sit.
An old woman entered the fire temple, lighted a candle in the corner, and then started to kiss and worship some pictures in the wall. Those were pictures of the prophet and some legendary king from “Shahnameh”. Parsees would call it the picture of Shah Faridun (Thraethaona of Avestan language). They consider many legendary kings from “Shahnameh” as saints. I saw many times Parsee old ladies who worship the pictures of the prophet and some ‘saints’ if there is some in the walls of fire temples.
The two old men had topies, that’s traditional hats. One had a red hat another had a black one. Zoroastrians in Iran never wear black hats because they think black is not a good symbol, it’s a symbol of unhappiness amongst Zoroastrians opposite to Muslim Iranians who wear black dresses, especially Iranian women who have black hejabs (veils). It is because, they claim, their prophet Mohammad liked black color. So this is one of the main contradictory symbolisms between Iranians of two kinds of beliefs. However, I saw many Parsees had black hats and they say it is in order to distinguish ordinary people from the priests. Only the priests do wear white hats, the rest of the Parsee Zoroastrians wear red, blue or black hats. It was eminent that one group of Zoroastrians (Parsees) had faced the issue of hierarchy while living in a hierarchical society, another group (Iranian Zoroastrians) encountered with a question of differentiation in a strongly intolerant society.
A small child having a blue topi came with her mother and set in a chair. The mother bowed down before the fire and then started praying. I looked at my book and after some times I saw, the child was moving around. A man captured from his hand and took him outside. I do not know when his mother went out, but she was already not there. I realized that I lost my sight and could not see when she had left; I paid too much attention to my prayer book. Then one of the old men also went outside.
I felt bore, did not finish my prayers, but simply looked though the pages and closed my book without finishing very long “Atash Niyayesh” prayers for fire. I went outside.

Case 2. In the ceremony hall

People were staying in both sides of the hall and two priests were performing ceremony in the middle. There was a big fire pot and some plates containing sandalwood, fruits, and flowers in the tablecloth near the priests and a big and beautiful fire was flowing like a waterfall but upwards. Parsees would have certain name for what I called fire-pot, but I could not learn it, maybe it is better to call ‘fire-cup’. To some extent it is similar to cups, which are usually given to sportspersons who win the contests.
I set in a chair near the door of prayer-hall. There were two boys sitting in one chair near to me. One was sitting and holding the other. I put my tape-recorder to record some prayers and started writing notes in my book. Those boys became curious about me and started disturbing. One of them asked me what was I writing. I said nothing. I started writing in Persian so that they could not read it. He started laughing with his friend and again asked me if I was from Persia (Iran). I said yes.
I started drawing the draft of the ceremony hall in my notebook with my pen and whatever was located there. I counted most of the existing things.
There were three windows from the right side towards the balcony and two big portraits between the three windows. Between the doors from both sides and windows in the middle there were two big mirrors. The two doors from corners of both sides would let people come in. There were 13 portraits on the wall of the right side above the windows, 11 portraits on the wall of the right side towards prayer-hall, 3 in the western and three in the eastern walls of the hall. Portraits were of very big sizes. They were pictures of women and men, those who were historically significant persons or famous personalities in Parsee community.
At this moment I saw my key informant who passed the ceremony hall and went in to the prayer hall. After few times he came out and joined the people in the ceremony hall. He came and set at a chair near to the place where priests were reciting prayers. I took my bag and went near to him in order to see priests from closer distance. Both priests had some pieces of white cloth in their mouth. They were reciting very loudly, so that the people from outside the windows also could hear. For some times I looked at the priests and listened how they would pray. I found a particular accent of Parsee priests, which was different from that of Iranians. Iranian style of praying had some elements of Iranian traditional music, while Parsees from the beginning to the end were reciting in a single tune without musical ups and downs. Sometimes before I had imagined that Parsee way of praying might have peculiarities of Hindi music, but now I did not find that either.
While I was thinking about all these things, all people were quiet without even a single disruption until the priests finished their prayers. After prayers one of the priests thanked people for coming here and announced that there would be food ready outside and all were welcome. They moved to prayer room and people one by one came and worshipped the fire, which the priests used for ceremony. They used to bow down before the fire and used to put their fingers in the ash and then in their foreheads. Then they were going outside. I also went outside and followed people.

Case 3. Near the sacred well

There was a well for water behind the fire temple and I saw that people were moving that side. I also went and saw that one of the priests was already there and was reciting prayers. This well was considered sacred and the priest was praying near the well. People stood up around and were listening the prayers. That took long time. Some found some chairs and set down while listening. They were some old people. I saw here many youngsters and children, which I did not see before. I saw a girl who had a black topi (traditional hat) for boys. She did not have headscarf and used it instead. I saw some people whom I knew before. Some of them saw me and showed a sign as if they were greeting.
After some times finally the long prayers finished. And some lady gave a coconut to the priest who broke and threw it in the well. Then some people brought flowers and put in the wooden bar over the well. The priest went away and some people started kissing and worshipping the above side of the well. They put some more flowers there and another lady broke some more coconuts there and they threw it in the well. All these were from one side of the well. People and especially youngsters came around the well and looked inside. I also went expecting to see something, but there was nothing except some dirty water, not even water, but just wetness mixed with some pieces of coconuts and flowers.
Then after seeing nothing I moved away to get some people interviewed. I saw Madame Ch. who brought me to this fire temple several times before. She asked me how was my study and introduced to some more people whom maybe I did not know, and of course some, whom I did know. Then the people moved towards garden.

Case 4. Meeting in the garden

There were a lot of chairs put outside the balcony in the ground and some people went and set in those chairs. There was a table and microphone face-to-face with the people. Some ladies set in the chair/tables and the head of Parsee Anjuman a lady about fifty started talking. I saw Mr. Jehanshah my key informant who told me that there were two people very keen to meet me. I gave my camera to him to get some pictures of the crowd and some individuals. And started to record some talks in audiocassette. There were some young boys standing near me and I just asked them several questions to know to what extent they are aware of their history and culture. They were not much serious but anyway gave some incomplete answers.
There were two tables near the place we were talking. There was numbers of a new book about Parsee cooking which was published recently. I asked the price and it was too expensive for me to buy. But I think it was worthy because it covered the whole details of various kinds of foods often made by or could be seen in any Parsee home. There were some envelopes having the symbol of ‘Fravahar’ as well and I bought some. ‘Fravahar’ is a symbol of prototypes of men/women before anyone is born in metaphysical sense. It looks like a man having wings and having a circle in his hand, which is interpreted in various ways. It has been the symbol of Zoroastrian religion for long times.
After some times some other things also appeared in those tables. There were symbols made by metal as well as rings and necklaces and bangles having Fravahar symbols or the picture of the prophet. A woman was responsible for selling them out. Some people came and bought some of these items.
Some people used to go up to balcony and get their meals. Mr. Jehanshah brought me a plate of food consisting of sweet, burger and chips and ice cream. I put my food in a table near the microphone stand started interviewing with a lady who was a leader of Zoroastrian Stri Mandal and had my meal after finishing my interview. After some times somebody announced from microphone that there was a lot of meal and those who still did not have food should come forward and take their foods. But it seemed all people already had their foods.
After having my food I saw Mr. Jehanshah who already took a lot of photos of the crowd. Madame Ch. appeared before us and said goodbye and went to her home. People started moving. Mr. Jehanshah asked me to a corner and introduced to a young priest and a lady. They were very happy to see me. They asked some questions about Zoroastrians in our country. And then we decided to go to the lady’s home. Mr. Jehanshah took me in his car and the young priests went with the lady. …

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