At the outset, on the auspicious occasion of celebrating our Shenshai New Year (YZ1389) I take the opportunity to extend sincere greetings to all our community members. I am very grateful to Ms. Anahita Subedar, Editor, Parsi Times for having requested me to write a few words about our clergy in their Special New Year Edition.
For any community to thrive or for that matter even to survive, it is very essential to have a strong religious base. No religion can survive without an enlightened clergy. The success and survival of our Zoroastrian community is undoubtedly directly linked to our religion and our Mobeds (Athornans).
One of the crucial challenges that our Parsi community faces is that of ensuring to have a solid base of Mobeds, capable of not only sustaining our spiritual needs but also that of being capable of providing leadership in both spiritual as well as material matters.
It is recognised that looking to the present and the future spiritual needs of the community, what is necessary, is the development of an educated, intelligent, knowledgeable and articulate class of Mobeds. It is very essential not only to encourage our young Athornans to embrace Mobedi as a full time profession by making it economically viable, but also to inculcate in them the essential requisites to attain the class of Mobeds needed by the community, all over India as well as worldwide.
Athornans, in the days of yore, played a very decisive role in providing leadership to the community in all matters – spiritual as well as material. Unfortunately, the vibrant sheen of yesteryears has become lacklustre today, as is evident when comparing present day full-time practising Athornans with those that thrived decades earlier.
The reasons for current-day practising Athornans being in decline cannot be laid at their doorsteps alone. Of course, sometimes one experiences that some of the Athornans are not being as attentive or are resorting to short-cuts while reciting prayers; and some dress shabbily… but these are a few exceptions, and not the norm.
One of the two main reasons for the decline of Mobedi has been the extremely nominal remunerations that many Athornans receive for their humungous efforts, having to be on call 24X7 whenever required. The other reason, considering that one has to be born into an Athornan family to be permitted to perform priestly duties, is that the number of young lads from Athornan families opting to become Priests is reducing, as with good education and alternative options, opportunities abound for earning substantially more in secular environments, than as practising Priests.
It has therefore become the need of the times to protect and preserve our present day Priests, as well as keep an eye on our community’s future to make Mobedi a viable and satisfactorily remunerative calling.
It was with these realities in mind that the focussed and visionary psychotherapist, Binaifer Sahukar, conceived of a plan that would re-establish the image and standing of our Mobeds. It was thus that her brainchild, ‘Empowering Mobeds’, came into being, bearing the promise of being a game changer. With the wholehearted support of the Athornan Mandal and WZO Trust Funds, ‘Empowering Mobeds’ became a reality in 2017, and it has since, undertaken numerous projects and programmes, where experts from various fields have been training our Mobeds, developing and honing their skills, especially those related to leadership and counselling.
In addition to exposing Mobeds to the wise views of eminent and much respected Athornans, such as Dasturji Firoze Kotwal, Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor and Senior Athravan Asphandiar Dadachanji, professionals from various disciplines have held sessions with Mobeds that have provided them with insights into multifarious speciality areas that would help open their minds and broaden their vision. This would further facilitate them in their interactions with the laity, who look up to them for guidance, in a far more organized and decisive manner.
The following are some of the efforts employed to enhance and empower our Mobeds:
- Psychologists and psychiatrists have conducted soft skills training sessions.
- Mental health experts, media professionals have conducted sessions to make Mobeds digitally savvy. Impact of language to influence thoughts and feelings have been emphasized.
- An intensive follow up workshop, for the core team of sixteen members was later conducted in a corporate set up. This resulted in some Punthaks establishing a WhatsApp group for their Agiary worshippers and also spiking the number of followers for their Agiary FaceBook page. Agiary event notifications for these priests are now digital, instead of the old notice board.
- An offsite training program was conducted at the WZO Trust Funds Sanatorium at Sanjan, where Mobeds underwent rigorous, self-awareness exercises along with an introduction to basic counselling concepts. In the psychotherapy overview, there was a tilt towards the Narrative form of therapy and the Solution Focussed Brief therapy, along with the administration of an MBTI test.
- Stress management for Mobeds during the hectic Muktads was conducted. Our very own living religious encyclopaedia, Vada Dasturji Firoze Kotwal, spoke about the significance of the Muktads, providing invaluable insights.
- Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastur and Er. Aspandiyar Dadachanji shared simple doable tips for staying calm and maintaining a healthy work-life balance during the hectic Muktads.
- In collaboration with XYZ (Extremely Young Zoroastrians), our Mobeds conducted learning religion through fun and games, for approximately three hundred children in two schools in Mumbai.
- Our young Mobeds led a heritage trail walk for the senior residential boys of the Dadar Athornan Institute and boarders of the Bai Avabai Petit School for girls. By weaving a narrative around the mute statues and monuments of South Bombay standing tall and proud, our kids were made aware of our rich heritage.
- An insightful and informative interactive session was held between Team Empowering Mobeds and ‘Fellows’ of Return to Roots during their sojourn to India.
- A ‘Football match’ between Mobed fathers and sons and Mobeds and Behdin teams was conducted to add the element of fun by essentially strengthening understanding, teamwork and creating friendship bonds.
The Empowering Mobeds outreach program has, in a short span of two years, covered every demographic segment – from children to senior citizens. Whilst the ‘Empowering Mobeds’ roadmap is for Mobeds to upgrade their skills, understand themselves, speak better, read more, write more and interact more with the laity, it will be unable to elevate the profession of Mobedi to the position it occupied earlier, without the wholehearted support of our community members.
Our humdins need to look at Mobeds in a different light, and not perceive them as underprivileged, but look upon and act towards them with great reverence and ensure that they are compensated commensurate with the crucial services they provide.
In the final analysis, what needs to be realised is that unless our Athornans receive fair remuneration for services rendered, even fewer and fewer than present, young Athornans will take to Mobedi as a calling / profession, which will in a few years from now, will create a cataclysmic situation where the community will be faced with inadequate Mobeds to tend to our holy fires or service the needs of the laity. The community must come to terms and accept the reality that our Athornans are the lifelines of and for our religion and our community. Without a robust and enlightened clergy, our faith and religion cannot survive. The not-hard-to-understand equation is: No Athornans – No Religion – No Community!
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