The last of the Zoroastrians | The Guardian

A funeral, a family, and a journey into a disappearing religion. By Shaun Walker My grandfather had never been a tall man, and now he looked absurdly small, no bigger than a child. Swaddled in off-white sheets like a newborn, with just his head and the soles of his feet visible, his eyes were open and mouth disconcertingly agape, as if in surprise. His corpse was slightly raised from the floor, lain atop a rickety wooden stretcher. Beside the body, three priests in white robes intoned in Avestan, the long-dead language of the Zoroastrian scriptures, as a small fire burned in a silver urn in front of them.It was the height of Mumbai’s monsoon season, and the air in the prayer pavilion was heavy with moisture. The occasional cloudburst outside provided no respite from heat or humidity, and the priests cooled themselves with handheld fans that resembled ping-pong bats as they repeated their sonorous chants. The funeral was the first time I had heard Zoroastrian prayers spoken out loud, though I remembered my grandfather over the years murmuring them under his breath multiple times a day, velvet cap on his head and prayer book in his hand. Besides my mother and me, the small group in attendance was mainly made up of frail friends and distant relatives, almost all of them Parsis, as the Zoroastrians of India are known. Continue reading…

A funeral, a family, and a journey into a disappearing religion. By Shaun Walker

My grandfather had never been a tall man, and now he looked absurdly small, no bigger than a child. Swaddled in off-white sheets like a newborn, with just his head and the soles of his feet visible, his eyes were open and mouth disconcertingly agape, as if in surprise. His corpse was slightly raised from the floor, lain atop a rickety wooden stretcher. Beside the body, three priests in white robes intoned in Avestan, the long-dead language of the Zoroastrian scriptures, as a small fire burned in a silver urn in front of them.

It was the height of Mumbai’s monsoon season, and the air in the prayer pavilion was heavy with moisture. The occasional cloudburst outside provided no respite from heat or humidity, and the priests cooled themselves with handheld fans that resembled ping-pong bats as they repeated their sonorous chants. The funeral was the first time I had heard Zoroastrian prayers spoken out loud, though I remembered my grandfather over the years murmuring them under his breath multiple times a day, velvet cap on his head and prayer book in his hand. Besides my mother and me, the small group in attendance was mainly made up of frail friends and distant relatives, almost all of them Parsis, as the Zoroastrians of India are known.

Continue reading…

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