onsdag 25 november 2009

Freddie Mercury and Zoroastrianism

Dear Zaneta

Thanks for sharing this posting with us.
It should be noted that Freddie Mercury only was a performance name.
"Freddie Mercury" stood for his real passport name: Faroukh Bulsara, which he carried with pride in private.
Faroukh is an iconic figure both for music fans, Zoroastrians and gay rights campaigners throughout the world.
Nobody has contributed more prestige and goodwill to the Zoroastrian religion in modern times than him.


2009/11/25 Zaneta Garratt

The following excerpts are from Rick Sky's book The Show Must Go On: The Life of Freddie Mercury (Citadel Press/Carol Publishing Group: New York City, NY, 1994). These excerpts can all be found in the adherents.com com article The Religious Affiliation of Freddie Mercury.

[from pages 8-9]:
Just like Mercury himself, the occasion [of his funeral], which the singer had spent weeks planning in meticulous detail, was a bewildering mixture of flamboyance and secrecy, witnessing the collision of two very different worlds--the modern world of rock music and the ancient world of the Zoroastrian religion, in which Mercury had been brought up.

Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest and most exclusive religions. Founded by the prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) in 600 B.C., it has only 120,000 members worldwide and just 6,000 in Britain. Its followers see life as a battle between two spirits, Spenta Mainyu, the "Bounteous Spirit," and Angra Mainyu, the "Destructive Spirit." Whichever one a Zoroastrian lives his life by determines where he or she goes to after death. The final resting place is the Zoroastrian equivalent to the Christian heaven or hell.

As Mercury's oak coffin was carried into the chapel, covererd in a satin sheet and topped with a single red rose, Zoroastrian priests, dressed in white muslin robes and caps, chanted traditional prayers to their god Ahura Mazda, also known as the Wise Lord, for the salvation of the singer's soul. Throughout the twenty-five minute service, conducted totally in the ancient Avestan langauge, the priests used no word of English other than commands to the forty mourners to stand and sit.

Mercury had insisted on his funeral being a private, low-key affair, and the magical ancient ceremony was attended only by extremely close friends and family, as he had wished. The singer's parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, wept throughout as did Mary Austin and Elton John. Among the other tearful mourners were sixties drummer turned impresario Dave Clark, the three remaining members of Queen, and Brian May's girlfriend, former EastEnders' soap star Anita Dobson.

[pages 12-16]:
Mercury's parents were both Parsees and devout followers of the Zoroastrian religion, and it was in Bombay that the largest Parsee community in the world was to be found. In the tenth century, after the Islamic invasion of Persia, the Parsees fled to India, where they were free to practice their religion. India had a reputation as one of the most tolerant countries in the world when it came to religion, and in Bombay, with its polyglot population, many of the world's religious groups--Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Zoroastrians--lived side by side.

The Parsees were one of the most economically successful communities in Bombay. In their early days they had adopted the language and dress of India's largest religious group, the Hindus, but they later exchanged them for the customs and way of life of India's former colonial masters, the British. So the young Freddie was to receive a typical British public school education, even if it was achieved thousands of miles away from Eton and Harrow.

India, at the time the young Mercury arrived, had a population of 400 million, and Bombay was its largest city--and the world's seventh biggest. A harbor port lying on India's western seaboard overlooking the Arabian Sea, it was the country's financial and commercial center. Bombay was a fantastic place for Freddie to grow up in. He loved playing in its winding, narrow streets and visiting the beautiful Hanging Gardens in the affluent Malabar Hill area close by the Parsee hospital. He loved going to the bazaar to watch the snake charmers weave their magical, hypnotic tunes, or to gape wide-eyed at the fakirs, Indian holy men, lying on their beds of nails. In those crammed markets he would watch the traders sell the city's most exotic wares as he feasted on mangoes, coconuts, and litchis. In the afternoon he would go to the harbor and look out on a sea of ships laden with tea, cotton, and rice, ready to set off on voyages to distant parts.

Mercury enjoyed his boarding school, too. He excelled in sports, particularly cricket, boxing, and table tennis. The fast, furious pace of table tennis--involving a mixture of dexterity and speed--was something he was especially skilled in and he became one of the school champions at the sport. It was at school in Bombay that Mercury also began the piano lessons that were to be crucial to those florid, bombastic compositions for which Queen became known. The city was a bizarre musical melting pot, where the eleven-year-old was simultaneously exposed to the classics and operas that his cultured parents loved, the meandering rhythms and romance of Indian music, and a pinch of that relatively new phenomenon, rock and roll, which was slowly beginning to invade the world.

Religion, too, played an important role in Mercury's life, and he went with other Zoroastrian youngsters to the fire temples where the Parsees worship. The sacred fires are a crucial part of their religion, and prayers are said in front of them as an affirmation of a believer's faith. They are kept permanently burning--in some parts of Iran there are fires that are two thousand years old--and are tended five times a day by the priests of the temple.

At the age of eight Freddie became a full member of the Zoroastrian religion in the majestic Mayjote ceremony, during which the young initiate was given a purifying bath while the head priest chanted prayers. (The bath symbolizes physical cleanliness, which devotees regard as essential for the cleansing of the mind and soul.) Then/ in front of one of the eternal fires, he repeated the prayers of the priests, accepting the Zoroastrian religion as revealed by Ahura Mazda to Zoroaster, and was given his sudreh, a shirt made out of white muslin, symbol of innocence and purity. Around his waist the priest then tied the kusti, a cord made out of the finest and purest white lamb's wool and symbolizing the girding of the loins to serve humanity. The kusti was wrapped around him three times to remind the young boy of the three aspects of Ahura Mazda as creator, preserver, and reconstructor, and the initiate was expected to wear it for the rest of his life. Finally Mercury was showered with rice, rose petals, coconut, and pomegranate and dressed in his new clothes. Rusi Dalal, a friend of Mercury's family says of the Navjote ceremony: "It is one of the most important events in the religion and everyone from the Parsee community is invited. It is a very festive and enjoyable event."

Later Freddie was to talk affectionately about his years at boarding school. Many pop stars recall their schooldays as a horrific period that they could not wait to finish, but not so Mercury: "My time at boarding school was very enjoyable..."

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