Before all her exams, Benafsha Shroff, 26, fervently hoped that she could offer prayers at a fire temple. However, it was not possible as she could not find a fire temple in the US where she lives. She had to be content with asking her relatives in India to offer prayer services on her behalf at an agiary there.
Similarly, when their relatives travelled to India, her family would give a list of prayer services they wanted performed in a fire temple. Shroff's friend Dinsha Mistree faced similar problems. Knowing that several other Parsis too may not be able to visit the fire temple, the two friends started the first online prayer service website for the community called the 'Agiary Connect' - www.agiaryconnect.com.
"While many Zoroastrians are fortunate to live in close proximity of their co-religionists, many are dispersed across the world. It is difficult to stay connected to the rituals and religious practices. This website is designed to help Zoroastrians, particularly those who are in the remote corners of the world, to remain in touch with the spiritual side of their religion," Shroff told dna.
The idea to start the service was conceptualised in the summer of 2011 after several rounds of talks with many Indian authorities. At present, a Zoroastrian can book a prayer service only at the Banaji Limji Shenshai Agiary in Fort, Mumbai. The promoters are in talks with other agiaries to expand the service. A person wanting to book a prayer service has to establish that he/she is a Zoroastrian and make the payment online. After the prayer service is offered at the fire temple, the person gets a confirmation via email.
"With a vast number of Zoroastrians living abroad, the demand for temple services has declined. As a result, many of our brightest priests are choosing higher-paying jobs instead of practising our rituals. To solve these twin problems, we are offering a range of services to people such as donating sukkhar (sweet-smelling woods) for $1 and lighting adivo (oil lanterns) for $5. They can also opt for higher-level services such as the Farishta ceremony ($251) and the Vendidad," Shroff explained.
Nazneen Gamadia, a resident of Mahim, has welcomed the initiative. "So many people will be now be able to offer prayers for their loved ones no matter how far they are, especially on special days when we pray for the dead," she said.
As part of Agiary Connect, services are provided in association with Ervad Hoshedar Godrej Panthaki, who has been the panthaki (head priest) of the Fort agiary since September 2007. Once the service is booked, Shroff, who is based in Mumbai, acts as an intermediary and ensures that the prayer is performed at the agiary.