Religious / Spiritual Identity

In Zoroastrianism a young person is initiated (naujote – meaning new birth) just before the onset of puberty not in infancy, as it is believed this must be a voluntary act.

The naujote is the same for male and female and consists of the formal investiture, by the priest, of a sacred shirt (sudre) and cord (kusti). The sudre is a white cotton garment worn at all times except when bathing. It has a small pocket at the ‘v’ of the neck interpreted as the spiritual purse in which one keeps good thoughts, words and deeds. The kusti is made of 72 threads of lamb’s wool, symbolising the 72 chapters of the sacred text. It is tied around the waist with knots at the back and front, and is regarded as a ‘sword belt of the faith’. The kusti comes from ancient Indo-Iranian practices like the Brahmin’s cord, only in Zoroastrianism it is worn by all members of the religion.

After initiation the kusti should be tied and untied 5 times each day to the accompaniment of prayers confirming commitment to God and rejecting evil. The sudre and kusti are thought to protect individuals from evil influences and, as such, are a symbol of community membership.

Only the offspring of a Zoroastrian male may be initiated. Among the Parsis in India only the offspring of two Zoroastrian parents is initiated in order to ensure gender equality. Conversion is forbidden, as conversion is associated with proselytizing which is regarded as causing more oppression and persecution than almost any other human activity. Faith is believed to be part of a person’s fundamental identity therefore conversion is viewed as psychologically dangerous. Furthermore, they believe conversion is unnecessary because the good people of any religion will go to heaven and the evil of any religion will go to hell; one should remain within the religious tradition into which one is born. One exception to this is a small California-based branch where conversion is acceptable.

Initiation is therefore into a tightly knit clearly defined, community. Intermarriage and conversion are seen as ways of diluting Zoroastrian identity. In India, for example, a low birth rate and high mortality have led to declining numbers of Zoroastrians. However, this is seen as preferable if it ensures the Zoroastrian faith remains undiluted. The Zoroastrian aim is to preserve the identity of one of the world’s oldest prophetic religions.

Zoroastrians are not required to go to a fire temple (atash), though in India where there are many temples, most Parsis choose to go regularly. Traditionally, especially in Iran, participation in the festivals is obligatory (see under ‘Celebrations’). In their daily life they are expected to practise Good Thoughts, Words and Deeds, to care for the world and for others, act honestly at all times and to reject evil in all its forms. For Parsis, more than for Iranian Zoroastrians, commitment is identified and recognised by the wearing of the sudre and kusti.

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