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Teenage Zoroastrian priests lead dwindling congregations

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A teenage priest at Dadar Athornan Madressa in Mumbai performs a religious ritual he learned in school. (Peter Cox/Columbia University)

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At 12, Sheherazad Pavri is the youngest ordained priest at the Dadar school. The "child genius," as the school principal calls him, plans to become an accountant despite his religious skill. (Peter Cox/Columbia University)

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Rayan Dastoor, 12, memorizes verses from sacred scriptures as part of his training to be a Zoroastrian priest. ***Please note small file size: 1280 pixels by 960 pixels*** (Neha Singh Gohil/CNS)

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Boys studying to become priests at the Dadar Athornan Madressa in Mumbai spend their Saturday mornings memorizing ancient Zoroastrian scriptures. ***Please note small file size: 1280 pixels by 960 pixels*** (Neha Singh Gohil/CNS)

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Ramiyar P. Karanjia, principal of Dadar Athornan Madressa, explains that the boys are not obligated to join the priesthood once they graduate. The idea is that they get the tools to make that decision for themselves. This concept of free thinking is a central tenet of Zoroastrianism. (Peter Cox/Columbia University)

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Young boys from priestly families come to the Dadar Athornan Madressa in Mumbai to learn ancient Zoroastrian rituals and prayers. Many will go on to lead professional lives outside of the priesthood, perhaps volunteering their priestly services only in their free time. ***Please note small file size: 1280 pixels by 960 pixels*** (Neha Singh Gohil/CNS)

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The millennia-old Zoroastrian faith, once the reigning religion of the Persian Empire, is increasingly threatened by interfaith marriages and erosion of its rituals . But a new generation of Zoroastrian priests is maintaining a link with the faith's ancient past.


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