There were 275 guests expected, with Minister for Minority Affairs Najma Heptulla as chief guest, and Rohinton Fali Nariman, newly appointed judge to the Supreme Court, to be felicitated that evening.
On Monday, the 10 days of Muktad, an annual period observed by the Parsis in memory of departed souls ended and Nawroz, Persian term for “the new day”, marking the Parsi new year began.
Late afternoon, the Delhi Parsi Anjuman on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, which houses the only agyari (fire temple) in the city and a dharamshala, was abuzz with preparations for the evening function. “Pulao, dhansak, patrani machchli, chicken aletipaleti..” Benaifer Bagli, whose husband Cawas D. Bagli is the priest at the fire temple, narrated the delicacies being prepared for the evening, as she took a break from making additions to the ever growing guest list. Ms Bagli’s mother-in-law Dhun Daraius Bagli who manages the Anjuman made hectic rounds checking the final preparations. Traditional sev rao and dahi were also to be served along with the feast.
There were 275 guests expected, with Minister for Minority Affairs Najma Heptulla as chief guest, and Rohinton Fali Nariman, newly appointed judge to the Supreme Court, to be felicitated that evening. Entrance to the Anjuman dining hall had been decorated with fragrant flowers and intricate rangoli had been drawn at all the doors. “The Zoroastrians, who came to India 1384 years back from Iran, made this day their new year. From today, we start our new year. Each month is named after our scriptures and all have 30 days unlike the Gregorian calendar which has a leap year,” said Nargish Mistry, a senior member of the Anjuman at her residence in Defence Colony.
While the spring equinox on March 21, is celebrated as the new year in Persia, one of the capitals of the Achaemenid empire, the Zoroastrians who migrated to the Indian sub-continent between sixth to eighth centuries celebrated the month they arrived here as their new year. “We have 10 days of to remember the fravashis (departed souls), in which we pray and light incense in the agyari for ten days. We take vases from our homes and place flowers such as tuberoses in them every day for 10 days. This is a period of meditation, reflection, prayers, austerity. At the end of the 10 days, the priest returns the vases, we keep them for the following year. The new year begins, as we feast and make merry as we enter the month of Fravardin,” she explained.
Delhi and Gurgaon together have over 700 Parsis, with a majority now concentrated in Gurgaon. Their numbers in the Capital is much smaller than in Mumbai where the population of Parsis is over 65,000. The government last year began supporting the community's long-drawn initiative of pooling resources to support couples requiring help for medical tests etc. to conceive through the “Jiyo Parsi” scheme.
“We are a close-knit community, sharing, counselling each other on important matters regularly, through Farohar we even guardianship programs for children aged 5-14 years. The government scheme may help as it is true Parsis' numbers are dwindling. Yet, contrary to other members of the community such as the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, many of us at the Delhi Anjuman believe in and support inter-community marriage by our children,” said Dadi E Mistry, who was president of the Anjuman till 2011 and is a member of the Minorities Commission. “Both my children had inter-religion marriages. I feel happy when mixed couples desire to have their children’s navjote (thread ceremony for community initiation). I oppose to any form of discrimination against those who marry outside the community or choose methods of disposal of the dead against using the Towers of Silence,” he added referring to a case pending before the Supreme Court since 2011 between the orthodox and liberal members of the community over the issue of priests allowing inter-community marriages and burial.
As Delhi does not have a Tower of Silence, traditional Parsi spaces for disposal of the dead, the community practices burial at Prithiviraj Lane. Delhi does not have any madrasas, where hereditary male Parsi priests are trained and the only two Zoroastrian traditional schools are located in Mumbai.