The Zoroastrian religious tradition has always been that a girl upon her marriage not only takes the name of the husband, but is also deemed to have embraced his religion. As you are aware, there is a religious custom even amongst Zoroastrians, between those belonging to the priestly class and those belonging to the laity. In our religious prayers and ceremonies, female members of the priestly class are referred to as "Osti" and those of the laity are referred to as "Behdin". If a Parsi girl from a priestly family marries a "Behdin". her religious title changes from "Osti" to "Behdin" and, after her marriage, she is referred to as a "Behdin". Conversely, if a girl from a "Behdin" family marries a member of the priestly class, the religious title of the girl changes to an "Osti"and she is referred to as such. In other words, she ceases to be a "Behdin" upon her marriage to a member of the priestly class, viz., an "Osta", an "Ervad" or a "Dastur". Thereafter, in all religious ceremonies, her name is prefixed by her religious title, which essentially has to be the same as the religious title of the husband she marries. It can never be different in the Zoroastrian religion.

If, according to the Zoroastrian customs, traditions and precepts, a girl takes the religious title of her husband upon marriage within the community itself, surely when a Zoroastrian girl marries a non-Zoroastrian, the same religious practice has to be logically extended, so as to deem her to have embraced the religion of her husband.

The fact that our religion puts great emphasis on the religion of the husband of a married woman, is evident from the fact that, in all religious ceremonies and prayers, the husband's name is always a suffix to the wife's name - for example, Behdin Mithibai Behdin Hormasji . It is also a very old religious practice never to recite a non-Zoroastrian name in any Zoroastrian prayer. Both these religious practices have been followed from times immemorial. To marry outside the fold is next to adultery, since the marriage is not solemnised according to the rites and customs of the Zoroastrian religion. A girl is given in marriage "in accordance with the law and custom of the Mazda-worshipping religion" (awar dad o ayin I din I mazdayasni), so declares the Marriage Benediction. Vendidad Chapter 18, Paragraph 62, prohibits union between a Mazdayasni and non-Mazdayasni. "Such a union hurts and distresses Ahura Mazda." A woman who marries outside the Parsi community often claims that she wears the vestments of the Zoroastrian religion, viz. sacred shirt and girdle (Sadro-Kusti), and hence she is still a Zoroastrian and is entitled to participate in all Zoroastrian ceremonies and to the last rites on her death. We firmly hold that, from the religious point of view, her claim of being a Zoroastrian is hollow, hypocritical and full of pretensions. A woman marrying outside the community cannot observe the rules of purity as laid down by the Zoroastrian religion. She cannot perform ritual ablutions (Padyab-Kusti) and do prayers (Farziyat and Bandagi) in a non-Zoroastrian environment. When she bears children of a non-Zoroastrian seed (Tokham) and participates in Zoroastrian ceremonies, such women do great damage to the Zoroastrian religion.

Another very important point which needs to be highlighted is that when a woman marries a man belonging to another religion, she moves into his household where the religious ceremonies are performed according to the religion of the husband. Therefore, when a Zoroastrian girl marries, say a Hindu, and enters his household, she is considered part of his family and is expected to participate in the Poojas and other religious ceremonies which take place in the Hindu household. It may be possible that she may not actually participate, but that does not change the religious position since she is expected to follow the religion of her husband. It is for this reason that her children are also expected to be brought up in the religion of the father. the only exception being under Judaism which follows the matriarchal religious pattern. All other religions are patriarchal and both the wife and the children are expected to follow the religion of the male member of the family.

There is no custom or usage to support marriages between Parsis and non-Parsis. A custom has legal sanctity only when it has been followed and transmitted from times immemorial. It should be definite, widely acknowledged and practised without obstruction from any member of the community. The Parsi community has the right to enact laws for the preservation of its identity and customs which have enabled it to live and flourish so long with distinction.

While I am aware of the provisions of the Special Marriages Act, which permits persons belonging to different religions to have a legally valid marriage, I would like to stress with all the emphasis at my command that such a marriage has no sanctity in our religion. In other words, religiously, a Zoroastrian woman who marries a non-Zoroastrian is deemed to have embraced the non-Zoroastrian religion and, therefore, religiously she has ceased to be a Zoroastrian. If a Zoroastrian male marries a non-Zoroastrian under the Special Marriages Act, the marriage has no religious sanctity. In the Zoroastrian religion, a marriage can only be solemnised between two Zoroastrians when the "Ashirwad" ceremony is performed. Any other mode of marriage is not recognised in our religion. Hence, a child born in such a situation is considered to be illegitimate in the Zoroastrian religion, though in view of the Special Marriages Act, the child does acquire all the rights as, legally, the marriage is recognised. In the past. there have been controversies regarding the performance of "Navjote" of such illegitimate children. In certain cases, they were performed. However, these controversies have no bearing on the true tenets of the Zoroastrian religion which only recognises a marriage between two Zoroastrians after the "Ashirwad" ceremony is performed.

It has to be emphasized that the Dokmenashini ceremonies at the Towers of Silence can only be performed strictly in accordance with Zoroastrian tenets, practices and precepts. The legal position emanating from the Special Marriages Act has no bearing in such a situation. If, according to religious precepts and practices, a Zoroastrian woman ceases to be such when she marries a non-Zoroastrian and is deemed to have embraced the religion of her husband, her mortal remains cannot be consigned to the Towers of Silence after performing Zoroastrian rites. I am aware of the fact that, in the past, in two or three cases the mortal remains of a Zoroastrian woman married to a non-Zoroastrian were consigned to the "Chotra". In my opinion, this was wrong from a purely religious point of view. Therefore, it would not be correct to accept that as a past practice and continue to do the same. If religiously this is not possible, any action taken in the past would have to be ignored because that was not in conformity with religious customs.and traditions.

If, according to the Zoroastrian religion, a Zoroastrian woman married to a non-Zoroastrian is deemed to have renounced her religion and accepted the religion of her husband, she has to be treated as a non-Zoroastrian from the date of marriage, irrespective of the fact that her marriage may be legally valid under the Special Marriages Act and, legally, she may not be deemed to have renounced the Zoroastrian faith. I may point out that the Dokmenashini ceremony is based on religion and not on Law. Hence, only the religious view has to be taken and the legal view has to be ignored. The religious view demands that a Zoroastrian lady married to a non-Zoroastrian ceases to be Zoroastrian upon marriage and, therefore. she is not entitled to the after-death ceremonies as per the doctrine of Dokmenashini. Hence, her mortal remains cannot be consigned to the Towers of Silence.

Issues of faith and identity of a microscopic community, like the Parsis, cannot be settled by Court judgments, but by the upholders of religion who are the High Priests . Courts have no jurisdiction over the community in matters of religion and its long-cherished customs, traditions and practices. Traditions are as important as religion. and they are duly eulogised as the Law of Zarathushtra and the good Mazdayasni religion in many places in Avestan scriptures.

It is for this reason that the priestly class, as represented by the Athornan Mandal. has rightly taken the view that a Zoroastrian woman married to a non-Zoroastrian is not entitled to the after-death ceremonies as per the tenets of Dokmenashini and, therefore, no priest should perform such ceremonies. The fact that some priests may surreptitiously perform such ceremonies, as has been done in stray cases in the past, does not mean that what was done is sanctified by the religion.

I may mention that laws made in a country are changed from time to time, sometimes depending on political pressures. Further, judgments may vary and may even be conflicting as different Judges may take different views. However, the Laws of the religion are immutable and do not change with the vicissitudes and exigencies of time. The fundamental laws of the Zoroastrian religion cannot be changed merely to serve the pressures of the so-called broad-minded and liberal Parsis of today, nor can they be changed in view of the Special Marriages Act. If there is a conflict between the legal position and the religious view, the Divine Laws of God must prevail.


What the World's GREATEST HISTORIANS have to say ---

``The rise, success, decline and fall of a civilization depend upon the inherent quality of the race. The degeneration of a civilization is what the word itself indicates - a falling away from the genus, stock or race. Peoples degenerate only in consequence of the various mixtures of blood which they undergo. Only those who are themselves the product of such enfeebling mixtures talk of the equality of races, or think that `all men are brothers'. All strong characters and peoples are race conscious, and are instinctively averse to marriage outside their own racial group.''

- The Lessons of History (page 26) by Will and Ariel Durant. Nobel Prize winners

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