MUMBAI, INDIA, November 14, 2023 (RNS): In a leafy neighborhood of central Mumbai, classic Parsi-style bungalows with their deep porches and balconies adorn the streets, a historic Parsi school has been recently renovated and at the Dadar Athornan Institute, 14 students dressed in T-shirts and skullcaps are immersed in learning the sacred scriptures and rituals of the Zoroastrian faith. But while this community still practices the faith — likely the biggest single Zoroastrian colony in the world — the number of Parsis has been whittled down to close to 50,000. More pressing, the dwindling in numbers has put priesthood, the lifeblood that has sustained the community for centuries, in peril. With steadily declining numbers, some of India’s Zoroastrians are looking to reduce the strain of becoming a priest in order to encourage more young men to devote themselves to the rituals that sustain the religion.

“Training in higher liturgical services is essential to the continuance of the Zoroastrian faith,” said Dinshaw Tamboli, the chairman of the World Zoroastrian Organization Trust Funds in Mumbai. “The number of mobeds qualified to perform such ceremonies is not enough.” In Zoroastrianism, mobeds serve as spiritual guides to build a bridge between the laity and their faith. They are seen as alaat, a vehicle through which divine energy flows, through the performance of rites and rituals that have held them together for centuries. Ramiyar Karanjia, a genial priest who has been principal of the institute for nearly three decades, said the number of erudite mobeds — Zoroastrian clerics of a particular rank — has been declining for years, but as the community itself dwindles, fewer Parsi families are seeing the priesthood as a viable career option.

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