Talk on Zoroastrianism September 15th 2016

On Thursday September 15th about 35 friends of Altrincham Interfaith Group gathered in Westleigh, adjoining St Vincent’s Church in Altrincham, to hear Burjor, Zarin and Rushna Avari talk about their religion, Zoroastrianism. After a prayer said by the family, Dr Burjor Avari, who teaches multiculturalism at Manchester Metropolitan University, began by talking about the history of the religion, which features the teachings of Zoroaster who lived around 600-1000BC in eastern Iran. He was one of the first people to teach monotheism, and to dismiss all the Indo-Aryan gods that had been worshipped before. Their supreme being was called Ahura Mazda which means “The Wise Lord.” But there is also an evil spirit called Ahriman who represents the spirit of evil in all of us. These two primal spirits are depicted as being in conflict in our minds, and we have to ensure that it is the good spirit that is uppermost. Burjor followed the history of the followers of Zoroaster from Iran to India after the Muslim conquest of Iran, where they prospered, and integrated well with the other communities there. Some later returned to Iran but after 1979 when the Ayatollah took over, they fled to the UK and the USA. Now only about 150,000 Zoroastrians survive in the world, where they are mostly engaged in businesses and are generally known as Parsis or Parsees.

Then Rushna, Burjor’s daughter, spoke to us about the ethics of the religion, and the importance of following the right path, with moderation in all things. She described the many charities that are funded in the UK and India by members of the religion, and also the importance of caring for the environment and animals. Harmony of living is a key factor.

Following that, Mrs Zarin Avari spoke about the various ceremonies that are carried out: the Fire Temples where a fire is always kept burning, the initiation ceremonies of boys and girls, and marriage and funeral rites. Funerals were often carried out in Towers of Silence in India, which are large, stone towers. The body is taken there by corpse-bearers and left for the vultures to eat, but in the UK people are cremated or buried. New Year celebrations, held on March 21st, were described, and the special dishes that are prepared for that occasion which involve items such as apple (beauty, fruits of the world), garlic (good health and peace), lentils (rebirth), pomegranate (sweetness) etc, which Mrs Avari had kindly brought along in their ceremonial containers for us to see.

There were several questions and a lively discussion after the talk, which was much enjoyed by everybody.

Carolyn Jones

(Hon., Sec. Altrincham Interfaith Group)