3. SADDA MAMA
Among the Parsis the chameleon is regarded with reverence and is never killed. In fact it is affectionately called “Sadda Mama”. A mama is a mother’s brother (Gujarati) and at the time of the wedding rituals it is the mama who stands as witness from the bride’s side and gives her in marriage. So a mama is one who can be depended on and who protects a family.
The legend of Sadda Mama goes back to the time in Iran when the Zoroastrian empire had collapsed. Yazdegard III had been defeated by the Arabs, in the battle of Nihavand in AD 641 and he and his army were in hiding as they scattered across the land. The poorer people who wanted to follow their religion were persecuted and forced to give up their faith. The few who refused were trying to escape the Arab army and make their way to safety.
One day a group of tired Zoroastrians, refugees in their own land found that they had to cross a large dry desert. It seemed barren and empty and they hoped that they could cross it peacefully and move towards the sea coast. It was a long and tiring journey and the sun beat fiercely down on the group of people. Far away there seemed to be a well and they started moving towards it in the hope of cool fresh water.
The Zoroastrians did not know that behind the well a group of Arab soldiers had laid an ambush for them. They were hiding in the sand behind the well with their weapons ready to kill the tired refugees. A small chameleon was watching all that was happening and was very anxious to prevent the massacre of the Zoroastrians. He wondered how he could help these poor people and tell them the Truth about what was happening. Suddenly he got an idea. In the desert everything is brown and dry, but the Arabs were wearing brightly coloured clothes. The little Sadda jumped on to the back of the first soldier and turned a bright blue. Far away in the desert the refugees saw a flash of colour and paused wondering what it could be. The chameleon jumped on to another man and turned a bright red. He then kept hopping from one soldier to the other as they lay in ambush and the colours sparkling across the brown desert alerted the Zoroastrians. They sent off a scout party by another route and soon the scouts returned with the information of the ambush. They also told them that a little chameleon was jumping from one soldier to another and trying to warn the Zoroastrians not to fall prey to the trap. The animal kept shaking his head from right to left trying to tell the refugees that it was not safe to proceed to the well.
The Zoroastrians were grateful to the little animal helper and because of this warning prepared themselves and managed to defeat the ambush party. They thanked the chameleon, who nodded his head up and down telling them that they should heed the messages of the animals whenever they needed help and needed to know the Truth.
Even till today Zoroastrians, especially children ask Sadda Mama whenever they are in doubt about any issue and want to know the Truth. They ask a question and if the Sadda Mama warns them by shaking his head from right to left, they change their plans accordingly. The Sadda is however believed to give his blessings and tell the Truth of good news by nodding his head up and down as if he is encouraging them to go ahead and act with the Power of Truth behind them.