Parsi Reform Movement

Doctrines Doctrinally, the Parsi reformists aim to synthesize Zoroastrian beliefs with the modern world. The existence of a divine being other than Ahura Mazda was denied and the Amesha Spentas were declared to be merely abstract nouns. Although the Pahlavi texts contradicted these theories, they were dismissed as a corruption of the original teaching of the prophet. The noted reformist Maneckji Dhalla summarised his own reformist position with five criticisms of Zoroastrian practice which all focused on 'excessive' ritual practices, such as the practice of ritual washing in cow's urine. In addition, Dhalla described death in Christian terms as the freeing by God from the bondage of human life, an interpretation wholly at variance with orthodox Zoroastrian teaching on death and belief in the essential goodness of life. For some reformists at the beginning of the 20th century, such as D.M. Madan, the Zoroastrian virtue of Wisdom became identified with western knowledge, in so doing, questioning the revelatory aspects of the faith. However, other reformists have not advocated such variant interpretations. For instance, the contemporary reformer Khojestree Mistry reaffirms the orthodox doctrine of bodily resurrection in an attempt to re-interpret the religion of Zoroaster in its traditional form.

History This school of thought known as the Parsi reform movement began in the late 19th century as a response to the impact of western culture. The first translation of a Zoroastrian text was produced in the middle of the nineteenth century by Martin Haug who spent the 1860s in India, lecturing to the Parsis on his understanding of the prophet's teaching. His ideas were taken up by the reformists who used western philological methods to defend their sacred texts against Christian charges of polytheism and dualism. In particular, Parsi reformists such as Maneckji Dhalla (1875-1956) criticised various aspects of ritual practice, including the reciting of prayers by rote in Avestan, and denied 'irrational' elements of the religion.
The attempts by Dhalla and other Parsi reformists to present Zoroastrianism in western terms led to both a contradiction of traditional beliefs and an avoidance of doctrines which were unmistakeably Zoroastrian. Nevertherless, their presentation found widespread support and approval within the Parsi community and Dhalla's work has retained its influence amongst Parsis throughout this century. Contemporary Parsi reformists continue this process of reinterpretation. For example, the western-influenced scholar Khojestee Mistry believes he is reinterpreting the religion of Zoroaster in its traditional form; reaffirming orthodox doctrines such as bodily resurrection and the Pahlavi myth of the world renovation.

Symbols Although Parsi reformists advocate a simpler and less ritualistic form of Zoroastrianism, there is no academic evidence to suggest a turning away from ritual practices practised by the majority of Zoroastrians, as described in the main entry.

Adherents As the reformist position is similar in nature to a school of thought, there are no distinct numbers of adherents.

Main Centre
 Bombay region, India.