The Parsi community in India appears to be sharply divided over the presence of the high priest of Udvada, the fire temple in Gujarat revered by the community, at the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya – as well as special prayers held at several fire temples in India to mark the consecration of the Hindu temple on Monday.

For the Zoroastrian community, a “Khushali nu Jashan” is a celebratory prayer held to mark the beginning of anything new, like moving into a new home, or an occasion like a birthday or an anniversary.

The consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya was marked with a 45-minute special prayer on Monday morning at the Atash Behram in Navsari, Gujarat.

An Atash Behram is a fire temple of the highest order in which a sacred fire, from 16 different sources, is maintained. India has eight such Atash Behrams, apart from over 150 fire temples.

Special prayers were also held in Delhi’s Dar-e-Mehr fire temple, and the fire temples in Thane and Mumbai’s Jogeshwari.

The prayers have triggerred a debate, as an orthodox section of Zoroastrians have expressed their discomfort at rituals being held for a Hindu temple. Others pointed out that such a decision should have been made keeping the precarious situation of India’s minorities in mind, and the current political climate.

Kersi Deboo, vice president of the National Minority Commission and also a Navsari resident, said he supported the prayers in Navsari although he was not present for them. Instead, he attended prayers at the Dar-e-Mehr in Delhi to mark the Ram temple consecration. Dastoor Khurshed, who is the high priest of Udvada, attended the Ayodhya event.

‘Extremely problematic’

Journalist Freny Maneksha, from Thane, said the community members are keen to know what transpired in these prayers. “Parsis are fairly strict about certain rituals,” she told Scroll. “It seems strange to hold ‘Khushali nu Jashn’ for a Hindu temple.”

Given the conservative bent of the community, which frowns, for instance, on Parsi women marrying outside the community, the prayers struck a discordant note. “In my knowledge, I have never come across special prayers like these for something outside of the community,” Maneksha said.

She added: “The community should inquire about who took such a decision and what happened during these prayers.”

Others said including a Hindu deity’s name in a “Khushali nu Jashn” prayer was against Zoroastrian culture.

Mumbai-based lawyer Persis Sidhva said she found it “extremely problematic for a high priest to attend the temple inauguration”. “The Udwada fire temple is one of the most sacred temples for our community and its high priest attended the Ram temple inauguration,” she said. “As a minority community, Parsis should be mindful of the political landscape in India before making such a statement.”

The Supreme Court judgement, she pointed out, also “acknowledged the presence of a mosque where the temple now stands, whatever the final judgement may be.” She added: “We should be mindful about the minority community.”

‘Gratitude to the government’

Khurshed Pastakia, secretary of the Borivali Zoroastrian Association, which organised the special prayers at the Jogeshwari fire temple in Mumbai, said the idea was to “celebrate with Hindu brethren”.

“About 1,500 to 2,000 years ago, when Parsis came from Iran, the Hindus gave us refuge and we prospered,” he said. “We have gratitude for that. We are Indians first, and it we want to share this happiness.”

Pastakia said the community does not want to go into the politics of the Babri mosque demolition and the construction of Ram temple.

A member of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, who did not want to be identified, told Scroll that several religious leaders and celebrities had been invited for the consecration. “So was the high priest, and he went,” this person said, adding that Parsis are only showing gratitude to the government and the country by holding special prayers.

Yazdi Kasad, trustee of the Navsari Bhagarsath Anjuman in Gujarat, said it is good that Parsis are joining the celebration with Hindus, but refused to elaborate.

Adil Nargorwala, vice president of the Delhi Parsi Anjuman, said Parsis in Delhi are liberal in their approach and often offer prayers for non-Parsis and allow non-Parsis to attend funeral ceremonies. The prayer held at the fire temple in Delhi on Monday, he said, “was held outside the fire temple, in the verandah”.

Nargolwala said the prayer was to celebrate a national event. “We don’t intend to hurt any community’s feelings,” he said.

Political or religious?

Jehangir Patel, editor a community magazine called Parsiana, said that the community is divided about the celebration of the Ram temple.

“Some feel we should [rejoice] in the spirit of Ram temple and show our support, and some question the need to pray for Ram in a fire temple,” Patel said. “It should be left to individual priests to decide.”

Patel did make one point: “There is a sense [that we must] remain on the right side of the government.”

But he added, “It should also have been kept in mind that the temple was built on the blood of thousands of people. It is a political thing, it is no longer religious.”