It was 1995. My teenage children and I were at our first regional retreat organised by the Sathya Sai Centres of Northern California and Nevada.
Meals were served family-style. Seated at our table was a soft spoken Caucasian senior devotee. She was curious about our names: we explained the Persian origin. Conversation drifted to Zoroastrianism, and the lady seemed to have a lot of questions about our faith.
Growing up in a Zarathushti/Parsi family in central India, I have vivid memories of visits to the fire temple: shining spotless marble floors, gleaming silver urn in the centre holding the sacred fire, air filled with the heady scent of sandalwood, frankincense and fresh tuberoses. In our household, celebrations began five days before the end of the year, called Gatha-days--each day named after one of the five Gathas (songs composed by Zarathushtra)--and ended with the sixth day of the New Year, called Khordad Sal, celebrated as the Prophet’s Birthday.
Like all my Parsi friends I had my Navjote (initiation ceremony) performed at age seven years, and knew all the prayers for tying the kushti (sacred cord), in Avesta language—but with little to no understanding of the meaning. Moving to California in my adult life--there was no fire temple at the time--we often gathered with other Zarathushti families. The meetings were mostly social.
Then Swami appeared in a dream that awakened me. I was deeply fascinated by the few Sai books I was able to get hold of, and plunged headlong into the activities at the local Sai Centre.
This new-found interest baffled my relatives and Zarathushti friends. Rumors were rampant: I was brain washed or mesmerised by some strange man with an afro, and I was leading my children astray! Amazingly, the greater the opposition, the stronger grew my faith in Swami. Needless to say my contact with Zoroastrianism receded in the background…
So when this lady at the retreat started asking about Zoroastrianism, my answers were at best vague and general. Suddenly she seemed to straighten up, her demeanor changed.
“You don’t know much about your religion,” she said in a very clear, stern voice.
“Swami has selected Zoroastrianism as one of the five great religions for his Sarva Dharma symbol for a reason!” she thundered. “Go study your religion first, then learn about Swami.”
I was taken aback. The sudden change in her voice and demeanor seemed so out of character—I felt the message was coming straight from Swami…
As soon as we got home I dusted off our collection of mostly unread Zoroastrian books. One in particular caught my eye: The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra by Dr. Irach Taraporewala. The Gathas were so beautifully translated into poetic English, I could not put them down. To my joy and amazement, there was not one word in the Gathas that contradicted Swami’s teachings!
In more recent years, Veda Study, under the tutelage of a very inspired and inspiring teacher has tremendously deepened my understanding and appreciation of Zarathushti scriptures. What had seemed at first somewhat archaic, now seems to have many deeper layers of meaning, eternally applicable--some still waiting to be discovered. I now have a joyous habit of reading and pondering upon the Gathas as well as the Vedas regularly.
Swami’s timing is impeccable. He always sends us the right guidance at the right moment: be it through a dream, a vision, a book or a live teacher.
One day soon after the encounter at the Sai Retreat, during bhajans at our local Centre, I had this urge to open my eyes which I normally keep closed while singing. On the altar directly in front of me was the colourful Sarva Dharma symbol. As I stared at it, the different religious symbols seemed to fade and started to rotate clockwise. The lamp in the centre seemed to get larger, more effulgent, and like a spotlight, it brought each religious symbol into clear, colourful focus. It was then that I “saw” and understood vividly, the One unifying Light, the One creative energy underlying all the different faiths. As Sai Baba has said, “Let the different faiths exist, let them flourish.”
By Jeroo Captain, USA