Adi Engineer: Zoroastrianism respects science, not superstition

Oct 18, 2018, 07:45 IST | Adi Engineer

As Mumbai's Parsis await court verdict on the Metro Line 3 Vs Fire Temples case, a civil engineer debunks claim by Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation advocate of Zoroastrian practices being akin to superstition

Adi Engineer: Zoroastrianism respects science, not superstition
The Anjuman (above) and Wadiaji Atashbehrams holy fire's sanctity is threatened by infrastructure developments, say the Parsis. Pic/Atul Kamble

Final arguments by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRCL) and the Parsi community ended on October 8 in the Bombay High Court, which is hearing a case where Zoroastrian residents of Mumbai are protesting tunnelling for the underground Metro Line 3. The line is expected to run below two of the community's highest seats of worship in the city, the Wadiaji Atashbehram and Anjuman Atashbehram, both at Princess Street.

To prove their comitment to allow infrastructure development to progress, the petitioners — structural engineer Jamshed Sukhadwalla, advocate Zerick Dastur, lawyer Berjis Desai, priest RP Peer, and two others — engaged European tunnelling expert Nicola Della Valle at their own expense through the good offices of Mumbai architect Hafiz Contractor. The concept drawings for eight realignment options, including reducing the proposed Kalbadevi station by 3.5 metres to enable shifting of the up tunnel under JSS Road, were presented.

A Parsi family celebrating Jamshedi Navroze. Pic/Getty Images
A Parsi family celebrating Jamshedi Navroze. Pic/Getty Images

But, this constructive approach was rebuffed by MMRCL as 'not acceptable' without so much as holding a meeting to iron out issues, if any. What justification can there be for hurting religious sentiments of a community when viable options exist? It is now left to the learned court to determine the outcome. MMRCL counsel and former state advocate-general SG Aney, said, Zoroastrian beliefs are akin to superstition. Mr Aney can be excused for his ignorance of theology or the nuances of Zoroastrian religious beliefs, but his inaccurate utterances should not leave readers, and the people at large, with the wrong impression.

The Biblical Magi, also referred to as the three Wise Men, who appeared at the birth of Jesus bearing gold, frankincence and myrrh, were Zoroastrian priests. The word magi is the plural of the Latin magus, borrowed from the Greek magos, itself a derivative of the Old Persian term magus. The three priests' mastery over the science of astrology meant that the term magi would be used for occult as a whole, and gave birth to the English term magic.

The holy fire in an Atashbehram in Yazd, Iran. Pic/Wikicommons
The holy fire in an Atashbehram in Yazd, Iran. Pic/Wikicommons

It's well known that Zoroastrianism was opposed to sorcery, and in fact, the magi carried scientific knowledge way ahead of the times. For instance, the attire of a Zoroastrian priest is identical to the way a surgeon dresses. This tradition stands unchanged from ancient times evident from rock cut carvings found in Iran.

The attire is spotless; the head is covered tight so as not to expose a single strand of hair. The nose and mouth are covered with a cloth mask to prevent sputum from polluting the object at hand. Thus, clinical purity is maintained while attending to the holy fire. It was only as late as as the mid-1800s that French scientist Louis Pasteur discovered the importance of this sterile regimen and surgical operations thereafter registered fewer mortalities due to sepsis.

More close to the current topic of fire temples is the significance of the divinity of the holy fire through which Parsis communicate with the supreme source of creation they refer to as Ahura Mazda.

From the scientific standpoint, the five elements correspond to various states of matter. The Earth represents the first, i.e. solids. Water represents the second, i.e. liquids. Air is the third, i.e. gaseous, and Plasma is the fourth. Fire embodies all four states of matter. It has fuel at its source. This fuel can be wood or other combustible solids; liquids like inflammable oils, petrol, kerosene etc, or gas like CNG, methane, etc. Fire is a consequence of the heat exchange between molecules, and during this process of exchange, electromagmentic waves are released.

From ancient times, Zoroastrians have been knowledgeable in concepts of electromagnetic waves and electrical conductivity. They called it Ilm-e-Khshnoom or the science of wave energy. Zoroastrian theology enjoins the direct contact of the holy fire alter and the fire temple with the earth. Therefore, no fire alter is ever located on the upper floor of a structure. Electromagnetic wave conductivity is integral to Zoroastrian rituals, which is why only iron/metal implements are used for certain rituals. As far as offering prayers go, Zoroastrians do not pray bare feet. It's also why a fire temple's sanctum sanctorium is carpeted end to end, ensuring that the devotee, who is charged with subtle electromagnetic vibrations of mantra or prayers, is insulated from the earth s/he is standing on. The Metro tunnelling violates this belief of not disturbing the contact between the holy fire and the earth.

A sanctified Atashbehram is likened to a nuclear reactor gone critical, where the fission chain reaction is a constant, producing energy. The fire temple emanates positive energy in all directions and these beneficent vibrations should not be disrupted by other intrusions, incluing tunnelling, or trains whizzing to and fro in close proximity, is the belief.

The holy fire is recharged spiritually five times every day through ceremonies. It is an eternal flame. The one at Wadiaji Atashbehram has been alight continuously since 1830. It deserves veneration and conservation, not disrespect in the push for an infrastructure plan. And the both can very well co-exist as is evident from Valle's realigment solutions.

The writer is an independent company director, chartered civil engineer with experience in infrastructure projects including in India and abroad.

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