Tividale, UK, 28th September 2013:
Clear tones of the ‘dholak’ (drum) and ‘shehnai’ (Indian oboe/clarinet) echoing through the premises of the Vekateshwara Balaji Temple in Tividale, West Midlands (130 miles northwest of London), commenced the proceedings of an event that will surely go down in the history of our community. The day saw about 400 Zoroastrians witness the inauguration (consecration) of the ‘Zoroastrian (Parsi) Faith Hill’, one of 7 manmade hills in the 25 acre temple complex, each representing a different faith. Dr. Narayana Rao, the Chairman of the temple, came up with this concept of dedicating a world faith that has impacted India and the UK, to each of the seven hills around the main temple. He, along with the priests and other trustees of the temple gave a warm welcome to all the guests with a small ritual after which the guests were guided to some refreshments.
The south Indian musicians then paved the way for a grand procession around the complex right up to the hill, on top of which stood a golden screen concealing an 8 foot wide, three dimensional sculpture of the ‘Farohar’, one of the best known symbols of Zoroastrianism.
At the hill, Dr. Rao officially welcomed everyone present and aptly described the day as a beautiful celebration of 1,300 years of collaboration and friendship between Hindus and Zoroastrians (Parsis).
Soon after, Raaj Shamji, master of ceremonies, who organised the event, invited the chief guests for the day, Lord Karan Bilimoria MBE (founder of Cobra beer) and Freddie Mercury’s sister Kashmira Cooke onto the hill. After a countdown led by Raaj and endorsed by the crowd’s enthusiasm, Lord Bilimoria and Mrs. Cooke unveiled the magnificent, matt even, rusted finished sculpture of the Farohar, which gleamed in the complimentary colours of the beautiful autumn day. It is the only monument of its kind in the world and the only Zoroastrian landmark in the U.K. outside London. The artwork is made from Tata Steel by a British artist Luke Perry, who comes from the same locality of the temple known as the Black Country. In an article written by him before the unveiling, he describes how the place is famed as the ‘workshop’ of the world and the birthplace of the industrial revolution. He hopes that this piece stands as a solid reality demonstrating that together we can make beautiful things when cultures meet. The sculpture was flanked by a ‘divo’ lit for the inauguration.
The unveiling was followed by a prayer recited by the Parsi priests present, led by UK-based Ervad Rusi Bhedwar along with Ervad Bahadur Nalladaroo and his son Ervad Ferdaus Nalladaroo, both from India. Other priests who joined the prayer were Ervad Zaal Sethna, Ervad Zubin Writer, Ervad Yazad Amalsad and I, all based in the UK. After the prayer, everyone who had gathered participated in a short ‘Humbandagi’. The vibrations of the Ahunavar (Yatha Ahu Vairyo) and Ashem Vohu resounded throughout the temple grounds, making it truly a delightful experience for all those fortunate to be present.
A granite plaque with the words, ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds – Humata Hukhta Huvarshta’ was unveiled as well together by the trustees and priests of the temple as well as the Parsi priests on the hill.
The crowd then made their way to a marquee for a cultural programme. The programme celebrated the contributions of eminent Zoroastrians viz. Jamsetjee Tata, Freddie Mercury and Dadabhai Naoroji, to the U.K. and the world. The theme also encompassed the promotion of love, peace and inter-faith harmony through the celebration of Gandhi Jayanti which was just around the corner.
The programme began with Dr. Raja, one of the trustees of the temple, giving a short history of the temple, its activities and its vision.
Jimmy Suratia, Chairman of the North West Zoroastrian Community, who assisted with organising the event, thanked the trustees of the temple for their remarkable gesture on behalf of the entire Zoroastrian community. He narrated the story of how the Parsis landed on Indian shores over a thousand years ago and were given refuge by the then Hindu King and his courtiers, who were concerned at first. However, the Parsis convinced them that they would mix as sugar mixes with milk, ‘sweeten’ the land, help it flourish and will live harmoniously forever. He later went on to accept Dr. Rao’s invitation to host an annual event where the two communities can continue to commemorate the day and everything it stands for, rather than it just being a one-time event.
In line with the theme for Gandhi Jayanti, entertainment performances were interspersed amongst the speeches. A Bharatnatyum performance on the song ‘Vande Materam’ by a young local student set the tone of patriotism. Later on, 17 year old Jessica Mistry, showcased her exceptional talent on the Bansuri Flute when she played ‘Vaishnava Janato’, the famous Hindu bhajan incorporated by Gandhiji in his daily prayers.
Dorab Mistry OBE, co-Vice Chair of the Inter-faith Network (IFN) for the United Kingdom gave an enlightening presentation entitled ‘HMS Trincomalee to Jaguar Landrover’ highlighting the contributions of the Parsis to the U.K.
Lord Bilimoria inspired the audience once again with a fitting speech. He related the times when he prayed at various different places of worship as a child whose father was in the military and how little that mattered. He stressed on the principles that made our forefathers so successful and quoted Gandhi’s words on the Parsis – “In numbers beneath contempt, but in contribution, beyond compare.” He ended with how Gandhi’s sermon on our beliefs evolving into our thoughts, words, actions, habits, values and finally our destiny is completely in align with the basic tenets of our religion.
Samuel Cooke, son of Kashmira Cooke and nephew of Freddie Mercury recounted the stories he was told regarding his uncle. Mrs. Cooke affirmed how she was honoured to be a part of such a great event stating Freddie would have been honoured as well.
Darayus Motivala, former Chairman and President of the World Zoroastrian Organisation (WZO) underlined the importance of the Zoroastrian qualities of philanthropy and charity. He then gave an overview of the WZO’s charitable works all throughout the world.
Luke Perry gave his thoughts on what a wonderful opportunity he received to research on the Zoroastrianism, including the ‘Farohar’ and make something that will signify a monument in the Black Country that ties people from different faiths.
Kusoom Vadgama, an author famous for her books on Indians in the British Empire emphasised on the contributions made by Parsi women like Cornelia Sohrabji and Madam Bhikaji Cama.
Prof. Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, CBE who is known to be a friend and advisor of Ratan Tata and who was a member of the panel that chose Cyrus Mistry as the current chairman gave a remarkable account of the Tata’s. Stressing on their charitable nature, moral ethics, humility and great business acumen, he defined them as the perfect examples of typical Zoroastrians.
Finally, Malcolm Deboo, President of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZTFE), gave a presentation on the background of Zoroastrianism, its beliefs and gave a brief significance of the Farohar. He also touched on the history of the ZTFE, the oldest Asian religious voluntary organisation in the U.K. established in 1861, and the second President being Dadabhoy Naoroji.
The crowd then proceeded to have a sumptuous meal organised by the temple.
I was fortunate to receive a guided tour of the temple by its trustees and priests after the cultural programme, along with other Parsi priests and guests. It was truly a divine experience. It took months of planning and preparation by dedicated individuals on behalf of the temple, including Jyothi Ramaiah with the help from Parsis like Mahtab Nalladaroo, an MBA student at the Birmingham City University who worked alongside Raaj Shamji to put together an event of this magnitude.
The people at the Balaji temple have actually put their beliefs into practise. Rather than merely prattling about promoting inter-faith relationships, they have demonstrated the importance of enjoying unity in cultural diversity by creating an atmosphere where more than 3000 people, regardless of gender, caste and creed go to worship every week. The other hills in the complex have been dedicated to Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity, the last two of which have already been consecrated.
Now the ‘Farohar’ will forever stand atop the Zoroastrian Faith Hill, a landmark for people visiting the area. Like the Fravashi within us all, it will remind us to proceed toward the good (loop on the right), turn away from the bad (loop on the left), practise the three tenets of our religion in our daily life (signified by the three layers of weathers on its wings) and to make a covenant (signified by the ring) to follow a righteous way of life as prophesised by Zarathustra.
Atha Jamyat, Yatha Afrinami (May it be so as we pray, Amen).
Ervad Jimmy Khushroo Madon
Jimmy is a young Parsi priest from Mumbai, India who came to the UK 3 years ago to acquire his degree in Computer Science and now works as a Software Engineer in Leamington Spa. He believes in spreading the meanings of our daily prayers, especially to our youth, which will help make daily kusti and prayer sessions a conversation with God, rather than a custom or ritual. Jimmy wants to help make Zoroastrianism a way of life!