Tag Archive for 'Zoroastrians'

Herodotus, and the Parsis at Thermopylae

Aakar Patel at The News:

In 480 BC, Persia’s emperor Xerxes attacked and defeated Greece. He bridged the Hellespont, the slim neck between Europe and Asia now called the Dardanelles, and marched his army of Iraqis, Iranians, Egyptians and Indians across to Macedonia and then south into Greece. Most Greek states on his path surrendered to him. Sparta lost one skirmish against his army and then refused to fight. The people of Athens abandoned their city to Xerxes and fled to an island in the south called Salamis.

Xerxes had invaded in anger, after Athens interfered militarily in one of his colonies on the west coast of Turkey. Reaching Athens, he burnt all of it down, including the Acropolis. Then, realising that the Athenians would not defend their state, took his army back to Asia.

We know all this because it was recorded by a Greek historian, Herodotus, who was born a few years before the invasion. It’s a simple and conclusive story. But over the centuries, one part of the invasion, that skirmish with the Spartans, has been used by Europeans to tell a different story. This is the story of freedom-loving individuals (Europeans) defending themselves against slavish barbarians (Asians). And this brave stand of the Spartans, according to the movie ’300′ and a recent BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘In Our Time’, “saved civilisation”.

It is a bold claim to make, because it assumes that civilisation is entirely European and there was no civilisation on the Persian side. It is also a factually untrue claim on two counts. The first that the skirmish, the battle of Thermopylae, was fought between 300 Spartans and 5.2 million Persians. The second that Xerxes lost the war.

Xerxes is Greek for the emperor’s Old Persian name, which was Kshayarsa, from the same root as Sanskrit Kshatriya and the modern caste name Khatri. More:

A Zoroastrian matchmaker

Roshan Rivetna’s voluntary matchmaking began 20 years ago in an effort to preserve her religion. Samuel G. Freedman in The New York Times:

 Roshan Rivetna is a member of the small and shrinking Zoroastrian religious group who volunteers as a matchmaker for people within the religion. Photo: Sally Ryan / NYTimes

Roshan Rivetna is a member of the small and shrinking Zoroastrian religious group who volunteers as a matchmaker for people within the religion. Photo: Sally Ryan / NYTimes

When Pouroo Dorabshaw flew to Los Angeles four years ago on a business trip, her mother urged her to visit a family friend just outside the city. The friend, it just so happened, was having a party the night of Miss Dorabshaw’s arrival. There was even another guest who could drive her straight from the airport.

o through two hours of gnarled freeway traffic, Miss Dorabshaw, a corporate trainer from Ohio, sat beside a California accountant named Yazdi Dastur. They quickly discovered they both were Zoroastrian by faith, both Indian immigrants to the United States by experience, both signed up for a conference on telemarketing.


Towering silence

For millennia Zoroastrians have used vultures to dispose of their dead. What will happen when the birds disappear? Meera Subramanian in Science & Spirit [via 3quarksdaily]:

When Nargis Baria died at the age of eighty-five in Mumbai, India, her only child, a daughter named Dhun, initiated the death rituals of their Zoroastrian faith. Her mother’s body was dressed in white, prayers whispered in her ear, and after three days a summoned dog’s dismissal indicated that the spirit had moved on. It was time for the nassesalars, or pallbearers, to carry the body to the Towers of Silence, circular structures of stone located on fifty-seven, park-like acres in the heart of Mumbai, surrounded by the upscale high rises of Malabar Hill. They removed her clothing and placed her body in the middle of three concentric circles, one each for women, men and children. At the center was a well where the bones, the last of the last remains of a human body, would be swept in a few days time.