In November, the city’s only school dedicated to training Parsi priests will complete a hundred years since its founding. Yet, just last month, it placed an appeal in the Parsi Times, a weekly newspaper, seeking funds to stay afloat.
The call for donations said, “The success and survival of our Zoroastrian community is directly linked to our religion and our priests (Mobeds). Training and introducing new Mobeds into the mainstream is very vital, for without erudite Mobeds, we only face the bleak future of the end of our religion and, consequently, our community.”
The Dadar Athornan Institute, as the school is called, currently has a batch of 25 students from classes I to X. The school estimates that it will be required to spend Rs 2 lakh per head for boarding, lodging and educating each student and has sought donations from both Parsis living in India as well as abroad, apart from corporates and organisations.
The institute, which is located in the leafy Parsi Colony in Dadar East, became operational on November 9, 1919, with the aim of imparting religious, scriptural and secular education to Parsi children and train them to become priests, free-of-cost. It was shut for a year between 1965 and 1966 when funds dried up, before the new management revived it.
On average, the Institute ordains three priests every year. However, after graduating, students first opt for a five-year-long formal college education and then take the decision of either becoming full-time priests at a fire temple, or following a different career path. “In the last 60-65 years, 20-25 per cent of our students have become full-time priests,” said Ramiyar Karanjia, who has been the institute’s principal for 25 years.
The institute provides its students with free education, food and housing and mainly relies on public donations to survive. “Our donations range from between Rs 10 and Rs 10 lakh,” said Karanjia. While admitting boys, the institute only requires that they shouldn’t be older than 9-10 years. “Many of our previous students came from villages in Gujarat, but incomes of families have steadily increased and most Parsi parents living in rural areas can now afford better schools,” said Karanjia, adding that the number of students has been dwindling.
But the institute has adapted to these changing times by relaxing its rules. Where students were once required to wake up at 5.30 am, classes now begin for older students later in the morning, and in the afternoon for the younger ones. Students are also taken on outings, allowed to meet their parents more often and socialise more.