431. Parsis and Zoroastrianism in Toronto

 

Fravashi or “Divine Essence,” the guiding spirit for the soul, the symbol of Zoroastrianism.

Fravashi or “Divine Essence,” the guiding spirit for the soul, the symbol of Zoroastrianism.

I was surprised by the jokes and laughter. Also unexpected were the questions from the audience of over a hundred Zoroastrians. Do you have to be a Zarathushti to reach heaven? What about reincarnation? White lies? Since we can’t understand the language of the prayers, what’s the point in praying?

 I expected them to know all the answers already.

 When I lived in Mumbai, some of my friends were Parsis. Back in Toronto, I wondered if any Parsis lived here. The Web led me to a series of lectures in one of their two local community centres.

 I already knew that Parsis or Zarathushti are the people. Zoroastrianism is the religion which started about 3500 years ago in Persia, today’s Iran. Most Parsis fled to India after the Arab invasion in the 7th century CE. Some sources say that the “three wise men from the East” who brought gifts for the baby Jesus, were Magi, or Zoroastrian.

Ervad Tehemton Mirza Talks about the Concept of Heaven. Copyright ©2013 Ruth Lor Malloy

Ervad Tehemton Mirza Talked about the Concept of Heaven. Copyright ©2013 Ruth Lor Malloy

 In Oakville, I learned that their prayers are in an ancient language. Although most Parsis have been in Canada at least thirty years, many still speak to each other in Gujarati, the language of the Indian state of Gujarat. The lectures however were in English.

 My friends in Mumbai worshiped at a “fire temple” which non-Parsis weren’t allowed to enter. They laid out the corpses of their dead for vultures to dispose of in their Towers of Silence. This seemed to be a very ecological way of dealing with human remains. It was also an act of charity, of feeding birds.

 Zoroastrians are monotheists. Their god is Ahura Mazda. Toronto has no fire temple nor are deceased Parsis fed to birds here. They do have priests. Priest Nozer Kotwal was sitting behind me. He was born a priest, he said. But you don’t have to be Parsi to be a Zoroastrian.

 Free for the public was this lecture series on Zoroastrianism. I was the only outsider and they introduced me to the group. They were very hospitable and invited me to an Indian chicken curry lunch later too.

Copyright ©2013 Ruth Lor Malloy

Copyright ©2013 Ruth Lor Malloy

 Only about 69,000 Parsis live in India, so it’s fortunate that we have over five thousand in Ontario from whom we can find out about this very ancient religion first hand.

 When I was in India, I learned that the ancestors of the Parsis made much of their money in the opium trade with China in the 1700s and 1800s. I was angry at first because the opium was forced on China. It made a mess of the country. But working together with Parsis on a humanitarian project made me overlook this history. “Good deeds” are one of the pillars of their faith. Maybe the ancestors thought opium would help the Chinese.

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The Prophet Zoroaster. From a Picture in the Prayer Room.

Other pillars are “good thoughts” and “good words” or education.

One of the jokes was about a man who complained when he died and arrived in heaven. There he discovered he could eat everything he wanted, “If it hadn’t been for all those non-fat muffins, I could have come here 10 years earlier.”

 Zoroastrians believe they should always tell the truth, but one speaker said, “When there are two Parsis, they argue. If there is one Parsi, they argue with a mirror.”

It was reassuring for us non-believers that you don’t have to be of a particular faith to be eligible for heaven. You don’t have to be perfect to go to heaven either, but you have to be more good than bad.

 As for the disposal of human remains in Toronto, they do believe that we must not pollute the earth. They cremate or bury, but the coffins must be lined in concrete to avoid contaminating the earth.

 The Zoroastrian Society of Ontario is planning another such lecture series in December at its centre at 3590 Bayview Avenue. As soon as it’s announced, the information will be on www.torontomulticulturalcalendar.com.

 Take them your questions then, or consult its web-site: www.zso.org.

 Copyright ©2013 Ruth Lor Malloy

Copyright ©2013 Ruth Lor Malloy

 

 

9 Comments

  1. I was surprised to read the line, “Toronto has no fire temple.” I have visited the fire temple, Mehraban Guiv Darbe Mehr, at 3590 Bayview Avenue twice, with the Exploring World Religions Summer Experience, organized by Encounter World Religions.

    Mehraban Guiv Darbe Mehr does not have a continuously burning fire, but fires are kindled for ceremonies and I believe “Darbe Mehr” means fire temple.

    I highly recommend a visit; it is a fascinating place. Encounter has been taking people there for years. Their summer experience covers 11 religions, and includes visits to 18 fascinating sites in the Toronto area. Look for the date of next summer’s tour at
    http://www.worldreligions.ca

  2. Could you please tell us more about your tour next summer that covers 11 religions in the Toronto area. In response to Sophia’s comment above, I received the following from Firdosh Bulsara. Ruth:

    “The reader’s comment on visiting “Darbe Mehr” at Bayview & Steeles (southwest corner) is very interesting. The term “Fire Temple” is generally awarded to a consecrated building, and the fire located within. Zoroastrianism has an extensive process entrenched in doctrine, tradition and ritual requiring consecration and some of the requirements are strenuous to achieve in the North American environment.

    Darbe Mehr; as well as the house at OZCF are in reality simple “Place of Worship” created to offer the ambience of a Fire Temple. They serve an important purpose in ensuring that the community can gather for worship, however they are not the true Fire Temples as have been built in our homelands of Iran and India. The lengthy consecration processes also require 24/7 existence of the purified fire and the manpower to maintain the purity of the place.

    OZCF was formed in 2003 with the sole purpose of establishing a consecrated “Fire Temple”, the first of its kind on the North American soil. We believe that with the financial support from our community in Canada/USA and the spiritual dedication of our fellow Zoroastrians from around the world, we would be able to achieve this dream by 2017-2018.

    I hope I have been able to shed some light on the issue.

  3. I find this dialogue between conservative and liberal thinkers among Toronto’s Zoroastrians very interesting. It is a good example of how religions develop as they migrate away from the motherland. I am sure other immigrant religions in Toronto are going through similar developments. I hope others will tell us about the experiences of their groups. Ruth.

     Sarosh Bharucha, President of the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario writes:
    As far as I am concerned, our temple at 3590 Bayview Avenue is already consecrated by the millions of prayers and thousands of ceremonies that have already been performed there, since 1977.
    Also we do have a fire or flame-lamp which is continually burning.  
    We are not Indians or Iranians any more, we are Canadian Zoroastrians now.  It would be inappropriate to diminish our temple in any comparison with temples in India or Iran.  
     ZSO was also founded in 1971 with the hope of establishing a Zoroastrian Fire Temple. We have our own traditions and customs in consonance with our local norms, just as other Zoroastrian communities have done for themselves in their respective geographies.

  4. I have come to Toronto just a month back.
    I would like to know more about the zorastrian association in Toronto.
    Also if I could be advised the exact location of the fire temple.
    Also if there are any gathering or functions I could attend.

  5. Hi,, I am new to Canada on a stydy permit, presently staying in Scarborough , Toronto. Looking for an accommodation around 350 to 400 per month on rent.
    If possible Parsi or non veg eating family preferred..
    thnx, my number to contact is 6479366844.

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