Zoroastrians, or Zarathushtis as they are traditionally called, are fighting stereotypes about the community’s decline, opening a new religious and cultural center in Pomona, N.Y. this March, and counting a steady rise in their numbers. The new Dar-e-Mehr building is inspired by ancient Persian and Zoroastrian architecture of the fire temples of India.
The small community of 500 families of both South Asian and Iranian extraction, raised $5 million over a period of four years from local, national and international sources, to build a home for future generations, a press release from a group of organizations said. The current Zarathushti population in the Greater New York area is estimated at about one thousand and growing as the community becomes more culturally flexible and intermarriage is accepted.
On March 26th, Zarathushtis, from the Tristate area will inaugurate the new Arbab Rustam Guiv Dar-e-Mehr building, a religious and cultural community center, in Pomona, NY. The Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York (ZAGNY), the Iranian Zoroastrian Association (IZA), and the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple (DMZT) will host the event. The inauguration is scheduled to coincide with the week of Navroze, the start of the Persian new year, and March 26th coincides with the birthday of the Prophet Zarathustra.
“This will be the community’s third home in the last 40 years, but the first that will reflect traditional Zoroastrian architecture and character,” Mrinalini ‘Mindy’ Nair, spokesperson for the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple, who is married to a Zarathushti, Sheherzade Mehta, told Desi Talk. She also said that contrary to reports about a decline in population, there’s been an increase in membership of the Zoroastrian organizations. “There are multiple reasons for this growth, including more of them coming from India and other parts of the world to the U.S., more kids, and more marriages to non-Parsis,” Nair said.
The first Dar-e-Mehr in the country opened in 1977 in New Rochelle, N.Y. It soon proved too small to meet the community’s needs. It was relocated to an old Jewish synagogue in Pomona, N.Y. after the land and building were purchased. The desire to build a traditional Dar-e-Mehr and infrastructural problems with the old Jewish synagogue, drove leaders like Edul Daver, to rally others and fundraise successfully to achieve that goal. Sixteen individuals pledged $500,000 each initially. “In March 2014, they had enough money to pull the trigger and start with the groundbreaking,” Nair said and the construction began.
Considered one of the oldest religions, Zoroastrianism once widely followed in ancient Persia, found a home in India when followers had to flee religious persecution. The Tristate community prides itself o being able to maintain their cohesiveness, and follow the basic tenets of their religion attributed to Prophet Zarathushtra 3,000 years ago.
Zoroastrians have made an outsize contribution to India’s growth in contrast to their numbers, as leaders in business, film, science, education, national security and other fields.