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A Grand Insight into Zoroastrian Culture

Rita Bhimani

For four days, from 26th of October to the 29th of October, Calcuttans had a chance to view an exquisitely crafted exhibition titled Threads of Continuity at the Olpadvala Hall, curated by Dr. Shernaz Cama, marking the 150th year of the Calcutta Zoroastrian Community’s Religious and Charity Fund. The Parsis of Calcutta are a small, but culturally and socially strong community, and this initiative has succeeded in creating a deep awareness of the history, traditions and Zoroastrian way of life. It was at the invitation of the CZCRCF that the PARZOR Foundation brought this exhibition to Calcutta.

Speaking to Dr (Mrs.) Niloufer Shroff, Executive Council member of the PARZOR Foundation, we learned about a number of key exhibitions which have taken place under their aegis in Mumbai and Delhi. The Parzor Foundation, catalysed by UNESCO, facilitates social and scientific research, focusing especially on Parsi culture, with an aim to create awareness about the miniscule Zoroastrian minority. It “covers issues ranging from art, history and manuscript protection to preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the form of songs, language and dialect, theatre, dance and religious practices.”  Many books and films have been produced by them and some of the crafted items in Parsi embroidery, from scarves and jewelry boxes to spectacle cases and borders found immediate takers at the exhibition which they had brought to Calcutta.

The panels on display led the visitors to the community’s antiquity, as did a film that ran continuously. What attracted people were some of the priceless artefacts. From a miniature version of the Avesta to an embroidered portrait of Jerbanoo Kanga who died in childbirth in 1924 from the exquisite garas with their Chinese and European influence to a real charkha for weaving the kusti—it was, as Dr. Shroff put it “ a showcasing of a living culture.”

The volunteers were well known and well established Parsis, who gave of their time and effort, manning the various points of the exhibition, and also the craft sales counters. And putting together a range of Parsi dishes including dhansak, akoori, vegetable stew, kheema patties and mawa cake, to name  a few of the popular delicacies that visitors bought and savoured.

A few years ago, A Parsi Tapestry was presented where a group of Parsi women preened in their most valued heirlooms and collectible embroidered Parsi garas and borders, done through a series of ceremonies that are special to the Parsi community, showing the significance of the events along with the grandeur of the garments.

But more recently, there have been many other activities. Cyrus Madan, Trustee of the CZCRCF which functions like an Anjuman and looks after the welfare of the community said: “The Exhibition is the showpiece of the CZCRCF Trust which is celebrating 150 years of service to the Parsi community in this city. We have had a host of events which began end October last year and ends 31st October this year. The response to the Exhibition has been incredible. Thank you Calcutta.”