Recently, a meeting of the Federation of Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India was held in Mumbai. The meeting was scheduled for two days and I attended the same in my capacity as Jt. Honorary Secretary. However, I left just before lunch on the first day itself because of the proverbial ‘bad blood’ I saw spilling out from certain quarters.
I had the choice to contest the elections and I have good reason to believe I’d have been re-elected, had the issue been put to vote. However, I feel not every battle is worth fighting and certainly not with those hungry for power, position, and control. I never believed in holding on to any position and if so called ‘fresh blood’ is what some with an agenda of their own wanted, I let them have it. There is a saying: Give a man enough rope to hang himself.
Fortunately, in my life, I have far bigger and better things to do and more importantly, the pleasure of working with prim and proper professionals, not petty politicians. Hence, as I did at the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, I decided to walk out and away with my head held high and my dignity intact. However, this experience over half a Saturday made me think about what we, as a community, need most and I think the answer to that is peace, understanding and unity.
Need For Peace: Peace is an outcome of harmony characterized by the lack of violence (be it in thought, word or deed). Peace comes from ‘freedom from fear’ and the absence of hostility and vengeance. But, above all else, peace requires sincere and repeated attempts at reconciliation. However, unfortunately, we continue to divide ourselves within the community… over virtually everything, be it efforts to revive or sustain our community institutions or even religious or cultural events. As a community, we much prefer to meet each other in the courts of law rather that sit across a community table and find solutions.
Hamā-zor – Strength That Comes From Unity: In the Zoroastrian tradition, lies a beautiful and meaningful term – Hamā-zor – which captures the spirit of peace, harmony and unity. ‘Hama’ means ‘together’ and ‘Zor’ means strength. It literally means: Strength that comes from togetherness or unity.
In the Āfrin-ī-Gāhambār we pray, “Hamā-zor bād vehāne haft-keshvar zamīn … emān avā eshān, eshān avā emān, hamā-zor ham-baher, ham-yāred,” which means: “May we all cooperate with the righteous men of the seven regions (the whole world) …. May we be one with them and may they be one with us. May we all benefit and help each other.” During the Jashan ceremony, Zoroastrian priests offer a special handshake to each other, reciting “Hamāzor hamā asho bed,” or “May we be united in spiritual strength, may we all be righteous in our actions.”
The Achaemenian Model: There was a time, five centuries before the birth of Christ, when Persian Zoroastrians ruled over half the known world of that period. They were the first to envision the concept of a world empire. How did they do that? Cyrus the Great, who founded the Achaemenian Empire, was a skillful monarch. He adopted the policy of tolerance toward the countries he conquered. For example, he allowed them to speak their own languages, practice their own religions, and follow their own ways of life. He also declared the first Charter of Human Rights. Etched on a clay cylinder, this charter enshrined Cyrus’ policies on freedom and tolerance. His respect for the people made Cyrus popular and made it easier for him to create a peaceful and stable empire.
Building on what Cyrus the Great had achieved, Darius divided the Persian Empire into several provinces to make it easier to govern. He appointed governors called ‘Satrap’ to carry out his orders and to collect taxes. Darius also started use of a Royal Road that allowed messages, soldiers, and mail to be sent quickly across the empire. He promoted trade and business and established a law code.
The Achaemenians were tolerant of different cultures and creed and even celebrated the rich diversity of their kingdom every year, during the spring festival at Persepolis. This spring capital was the United Nations Organization (UNO) of that period.
An inscription by Darius the Great at Persepolis reads as follows: “A great god is Ahura Mazda who created happiness for man … By the Grace of Ahura Mazda I am of such a sort, I am a friend of the right, of the wrong I am not a friend. It is not my wish that the weak should have harm done him by the strong, nor is it my wish that the strong should have harm done him by the weak… To the man who is a follower of the lie I am no friend. I am not hot-tempered. What things develop in my anger, I hold firmly under control by my thinking power … What a man does or performs, according to his ability, by that I become satisfied with him.”
Living The Religion: Religion is a way of life and is meant to show us the path. Unfortunately, today, as a community, we talk about religion, argue about religion, fight for religion and some are even ready to die for the religion. We are ready to do anything and everything except, live for the religion or live on the path that our religion shows us! Darius the Great and Xerxes the Great – both believed in and worshipped Ahura Mazda, but, they were also tolerant and respectful of other belief systems. They built fire alters, but focused far more on socio-economic development, building roads, highways, bridges, dams, caravansaries and systems for better communications.
The Lessons Of History: What is the lesson of history from all this for all of us? It was Peace that the Achaemenians cherished, valued and emulated that led to Progress and it was Progress that led to Prosperity. Therefore, let us endeavour to promote peace, tolerance and understanding. Let us endeavour to build and work on our strengths and try to ignore our weaknesses for it is only our strengths that can give us the energy to correct our weaknesses.
As a community, let us remain open to social and economic changes, but not at the cost of our values, ethos, culture or identity. As Mahatma Gandhi used to say, “You must open the windows of your mind, but you must not be swept off your feet by the breeze.” Above all else, let us endeavour to become more tolerant.