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India Trip Helps 25 Zoroastrian Youngsters Get Closer to Their Identity

The trip through Udvada, Navsari, Surat and Bharuch in Gujarat has helped the Zoroastrian youth from across the world get some answers about their religious identity.

By Asmita Sarkar | Little India

Twenty five Zoroastrian youth from across the world are in India for a “Return to Roots” program. The initiative, organized by Parzor, a New Delhi-based foundation that works with Unesco to preserve the community, culture, heritage and the Zoroastrian religion, is taking the group to the culturally significant locations in Mumbai and Gujarat.

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The group, comprising youngsters from the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Pakistan and other countries, is in India for the fourth installment of the program, which they said became popular due to word-of-mouth publicity.

The participants, along with volunteers and scholars, attended the Iranshah Udvada Utsav in Gujarat from Dec. 23 to 25, 2017. The Fire Temple festival is a celebration of the culture and religion of the small community. Parsis from all over the world come for the festival.

“The program has historical importance and it reinforces identity,” United States-based Arzan Sam Wadia, one of the organizers, told Little India. It will tell them how the Parsi community came to be in India, Zubin Gheesta, a Mumbai-based volunteer added.

The Zoroastrian religion has two strands, the Parsis and the Iranis. They originated in Iran, but left the country between the 8th and 10th century fearing persecution. The minority community is spread across the world, with the largest population being in India.

Among the participants this year is Anahita Partovi, an Irani woman from California, who wanted to see the other side of the religion.

“I didn’t know how they lived. This is a great experience for me. I knew some of the stories but now I can put them all together,” the 25-year-old student told Little India.

The essence of the journey for the group has been to come to terms with their identity. Living away from the community has been alienating for many of them and the trip — through Udvada, Navsari, Surat and Bharuch in Gujarat — has helped them get some clarity about themselves.

“The trip was fulfilling, it filled a gap in my identity. This was like a healing process and gave me whatever the immigration took from me,” said Tanya Hoshi from Toronto, Canada. Hoshi was born in Karachi, and lived in Pakistan till the age of 6 years.

In Canada, she went to religion classes every Sunday but did not feel a strong enough connection. Most of her peers grew outside the community. The India trip has been eye-opening, she said.

For others, it was interesting to see the first fire temple and the general upliftment of the society that the community is involved in.

Aubtin Yazdgardian from Vancouver, Canada, was surprised at the sophisticated fire temples in India. The country has two fire temples – one each in Toronto and Vancouver. The one in Vancouver, he said, was not open 24 hours but people come together during spiritual ceremonies.

Many among the Parsi youth, like many others across the world, are split between being involved in or remaining distant from religion.

For 27-year-old Samaya Master, however, there is no confusion. After growing up in New Zealand, she moved to United Kingdom for work, and currently works full-time towards organizing the World Zoroastrian Youth Leaders Forum to be held in March 2018. She was earlier part of the organizing team of the same forum in New Zealand, where the community is fairly new and has only 1,500 individuals, who live close to each other. “I met other young Zoroastrians and learned more about the religion during the India trip,” she said.

With India struck off the list of dream destinations, the next place that looms large for them is, of course, Iran. The desire is deep, plans are taking a firm shape, and all that remains to fall in place is a conducive political climate.

25 Zoroastrians on India tour to understand their religion, culture

The 25 youngsters from the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand, UAE and Pakistan are on a trip called ‘Return to Roots’. Visit is part of a programme called Return to Roots, an annual 12-day trip.

A GROUP of 25 young Zoroastrians from across the world are touring India and visiting holy places to reconnect with their roots. Their journey has a great value for the diminishing Zoroastrian community, which is making desperate efforts to promote its rich culture among the youth — an attempt to survive possible extinction of the community.

Article by Priyanka Sahoo | Indian Express

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The 25 youngsters from the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand, UAE and Pakistan are on a trip called ‘Return to Roots’. They wish to understand their religion, their customs and their origins. “We follow similar customs and traditions. We have the same prayers but we hardly know what it means. Most of the customs have been handed down through generations and the meanings have been lost. This trip has helped us reconnect with our origin,” said 22-year-old Cyrus Karanjia, a final-year media student from Karachi.

The programme — Return to Roots (RTR) — was started by four young Zoroastrians from India and the US in 2014. “The need arose when two cousins, one from Mumbai and the other from the US, realised they didn’t know much about the culture they shared,” said Arzan Sam Wadia, the programme director for RTR.

RTR arranges a 12-day trip for Zoroastrians to India every year where the participants get a close look at all facets of the community. “The trip includes a visit to Delhi, Mumbai, Udvada, Navsari and Surat. They are taken to Fire temples, dungerwadis. Participants are told about the Iranshah Udvada temple and how the holy fire was created,” said Wadia. According to Wadia, this year’s batch is the largest ever.

Throughout the 12 days, participants bond and share cultural practices. For instance, while Zoroastrians in the country still debate on gender equality and inter-community marriages, those in North America are more inclusive. “Back home, the community is more liberal and accepting of inter-faith marriages compared to India,” said Aubtin Yazdgardian, 29, from Vancouver.

Yazdgardian believes that programmes like the RTR will help the community emerge out of near-extinction. “The youth has become more questioning of their customs and traditions. They need reasons. A trip like this helps put matters in perspective,” he said.

The 25 participants also attended the Iranshah Udvada Utsav, a biennial festival held last week that celebrates the culture of the community. Union Textiles and Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani said the RTR programme would help spread the message of the community across the world. “The participants must write about their experience and share it with the world,” said Irani.

Youth of Parsi diaspora arrive in India to explore roots

Members of the Parsi diaspora have joined community members in India to devise a guided tour for youngsters who wish to explore their roots in this country.

The fourth edition of the Zoroastrian ‘Return To Roots’ programme began December 22. For the next 15 days, 25 Parsi youngsters from the US, UK, New Zealand and Pakistan will travel through Mumbai and Gujarat experiencing Zoroastrian culture, history and religion and meeting with other youth. They will also participate in the Iranshah Udwada Utsav in Gujarat. The RTR programme is organised under the aegis of Parzor Foundation.

Article by Bella Jaisinghani | Times of India

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One of the organisers Arzan Sam Wadia himself is based in the US. He says, "Some Parsis living abroad say that they do visit India on their own so why join us. But as lone travellers, how would they get to enjoy the wide gamut of Zoroastrian culture or interact with the topmost business leaders and high priests of the community? Last year for instance we coordinated a meeting with industrialist Ratan Tata. Our itinerary includes visits to the historical site in Gujarat where the Parsis first arrived from Iran, Udwada, Navsari, Surat and Bharuch."

The group imbibes lessons in Zoroastrian history from community scholars. "They are often invited to Parsi homes for meals. Each household prepares a lavish spread in the true spirit of Indian hospitality. They feed them as if there was no tomorrow. We also enlist the help of local Parsi Panchayats to engage hosts in each city who guide them on a food tour of restaurants that are hidden nuggets. In fact by day 11 or 12 the participants experience an overdose of ethnic cuisine. They say let’s just have pizza or burgers today," laughs the organiser.

Return to Roots is designed for youth aged 22-35. "There are a couple of reasons for this. This is a hectic tour which often spans 12 hours a day from 8.00am to 8.00pm. Older adults may find it exhausting. Teenagers on the other hand may not fully absorb the religious discourses and debates. Also this programme is funded by several Parsi individuals, NGOs and corporates as a project for the youth of the community," says Wadia.