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Parzor Foundation

President

Mr. Tirlochan Singh

Executive Council

Dr. Shernaz Cama
Mrs. Piloo Jungalwalla
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan
Prof. Armaity S. Desai
Mr. Dadi Pudumjee
Mrs. Ava Khullar

Parzor Patrons

Dr. Karan Singh
Mr. Fali Nariman
Mr. Minoo Shroff
Mr. Dinshaw Tamboly
Mr. B.G. Verghese
Mr. Wajahat Habibullah

UNESCO-Parzor Exhibiton in New Delhi, 8-10 July 2003

By Dr.Yaaminey E. Mubayi
DG UNESCO Mr.Koichiro Matsuura inaugurates the UNESCO Parzor exhibition. Dr.Murli Manohar Joshi Hon'be Minister of HRD Govt. of India ,Dr Cama and Gen.Sethna look on.



Naasha Mehta welcomes the DG, UNESCO, Mr.Matsuura with a traditional Tili and Sagan while Ashi Jijina holds the Ses
A view of the traditional textile display at the UNESCO Parzor exhibition
A view of the traditional textile display at the UNESCO Parzor exhibition
Dr.Cama with honourable Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Mr. R. P. Perera of UNESCO, New Delhi at the inauguration
of the 3000th Anniversary of Zoroastrian Culture

In keeping with their role as the 'conscience of the United Nations' and the only UN agency with the specific mandate for preserving cultural heritage, UNESCO New Delhi catalysed the project "Preservation of the Parsi-Zoroastrian Heritage" through a seed grant of $4,500 in 1999. The response to this initiative from within the community was overwhelming, and the project grew in size and strength through donor funding to encompass ten modules that examined the reality and problems faced by the Parsis today: increasing ignorance of their own traditions, poverty and loneliness of the aged, and most importantly, a terrifying and inexorable annual demographic decline of 10%.

Threatened by the monoculture created by globalisation, the preservation of cultural heritage in the modern world is a challenge facing communities today. Zoroastrianism, the world's oldest revealed religion, has survived since prehistory with most of its core beliefs still intact. Since their advent into the Indian sub-continent from their homeland in ancient Persia centuries ago, the Parsi-Zoroastrians are a distinct thread in the multi-cultural tapestry of India. Although comprising less than 0.01% of India's population, they have made a mark in all walks of public life, business activity, sports, science and technology, politics, academics and the arts.

The Parzor Foundation, set up as a response to the need for sustainable research and documentation generated by the project, produced a three-day exhibition entitled "Pictures with a Purpose", at the Ashok Hotel, New Delhi from 8-10 July 2001. The exhibition commemorated the recognition of 3000 years of Zoroastrian culture by UNESCO, and flagged off a two-day international conference on 'Dialogue among Civilisations' hosted by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India. The exhibition was inaugurated by the Director General of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, in the presence of the Indian Minister for Human Resources Development, Prof. Murli Manohar Joshi. It was attended by senior representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country responsible for initially proposing the theme of 'Dialogue among Civilisations' to be taken up by UNESCO as a global initiative, as well as Uzbekistan and the Chairman of the UNESCO General Conference, 2001, Mr. Jalali. It sought to sensitise governments, development agencies and citizens to the need for preserving tangible and intangible heritage across the country. The exhibition was also accompanied by a Parsi food festival, which showcased the blending of Gujarati and Persian culinary forms.

The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his inaugural address at the conference, came out with unprecedented praise of the role played by the Parsis in contributing to India's composite culture, social, economic and political development. He stated- " It is a fitting tribute to India's longstanding tradition of tolerance that the Zoroastrians, a prominent minority community, are holding an exhibition to herald the celebrations of the 3000th year of Zoroastrianism to coincide with this conference. They comprise less than 0.01% of our country's population. Yet, they have made a major contribution to many walks of our national life. The world needs to recognise the greatness of the Zoroastrian faith and culture, and help in its protection and resurgence. The government of India has lent full support in organising this exhibition, which will be taken to other parts of the country."

The exhibition showcased the ongoing activities being carried out by the Foundation, which ranged from microfilming of medieval archives to celebrating the illustrious life and military career of India's senior-most soldier, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. The tanka system of water harvesting, now practised only by a small group of Parsis in a village in Bharuch district of Gujarat, was described to visitors by Dr. Kawas Kapadia of the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture. This system drains collected rainwater into an underground tank after a process of straining and purification, where it can be stored for as long as ten years.

The display of Parsi textiles and embroidery was extremely popular with visitors, and Dadi Pudumjee, eminent puppeteer and theatre personality, exhibited a collection of traditional Parsi garas draped on mannequins. The display included the first piece of tanchoi fabric woven by the Joshi brothers and showcased by a descendant of their family, Ms. Diana Khambatta. The section on textiles also attracted students and researchers from design institutes like the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi. The mingled traditions of Iran, South Asia, China and Europe were brought out in the photographs of jewelry, paintings, wood carvings and musical instruments.

The sacred rituals of the yasna, invoking the blessings of the natural forces and the jashan, a celebration of the community, are subsumed by the overarching law of Asha, or universal harmony. A study of this theme comprises a major research module proposed to UNESCO for inclusion under their programme ' Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage' by six of its member-states, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Sri Lanka. An exhaustive covering document for the project was on display, and generated a lot of interest among guests.

Documents from the 131-year old Meherjirana library in Navsari, Gujarat, housing a collection of 90,000 rare manuscripts, including an original sanad of the Mughal emperor Akbar dating back to 1578, were exhibited. The Parzor project had initiated the microfilming of the archival material with the support of the National Archives. However, more funding is required for the completion of the task, as well as evolving a sustainable environment for their preservation, including temperature-controlled chambers.

Amidst the rich display of material heritage, there were a large number of family photographs on display, marking the primacy of people as being the most precious resource for the Parsis, a rapidly dwindling one. An extensive medical research module initiated by the Parzor Foundation and funded by the Dorab Tata Trust, seeks to examine the causes of the demographic decline.

The exhibition has gone a long way in creating awareness about Zoroastrian heritage in the Capital, as well among the conference delegates, and has received extensive press coverage. A three-day celebration is to be held in Mumbai in October, when a Rs.5 coin commemorating Dadabhai Naoroji, the great Indian statesman, is to be released by the Finance Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh. An exhibition, film shows, seminar and entertainment programme has been planned. Workshops on the different project modules, particularly the medical-demographic research and ASHA- the environmental consciousness programme, will be held. The two major films generated by the project, one on Sam Manekshaw and the other on ASHA, will be screened. A similar event is planned to be held in Kolkata later in the year.

The events are a celebration of the Parsis' legacy of progressive endeavour, high achievement and harmony with society and the environment, so much a part of the cultural landscape of the sub-continent, which must be preserved.

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