Source: USA Today
By Peter D. Kramer, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News
RAMAPO, N.Y. — Drive along Pomona Road in Ramapo, and you’ll find the new home for followers of one of the world’s oldest religions.
The gleaming square building with an impressive colonnaded portico is the Dar-e-Mehr Zoroastrian Temple, or DMZT. It is the meeting place and sanctuary for some 1,000 followers of Zoroastrian faith from across the tri-state area.
Zoroastrianism is believed to be one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, dating back some 4,000 years to Persia, modern-day Iran. Before there were Christians and Muslims and Jews, there were Zarathushtis, as its followers are called, after their prophet Zarathustra. Scholars believe the Magi who came to honor the baby Jesus in Bethlehem were Zoroastrian priests from Persia.
The religion’s watchwords are “good thoughts, good deeds, good words,” and the followers employ fire as a symbol of their belief. The altar holds a huge “kebla” or fire vessel in which wood burns during services. Before entering the prayer room, visitors remove their shoes and cover their heads. Priests cover their faces with cloth to keep the fire pure.
This new temple’s single roof shelters two branches of Zoroastrians: those from Iran, under the Iranian Zoroastrian Association; and those from India and Pakistan, under the Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York.
About 1,400 years ago, when Persia was invaded by Muslims, some Zarathushtis fled to India, where their faith took root. They are called Parsis, while those who stayed in Persia are called Iranian Zoroastrians.
Today, there are fewer than 200,000 Zarathushtis worldwide, and their numbers are shrinking, making the shining new temple — which was opened with a ribbon-cutting on March 26, at the start of Nowruz, the Persian new year — a beacon of optimism and hope in the next generation.