Parsi is member of a group of followers in India of the Persian prophet Zoroaster. The Parsis are Persians who descended from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to India to avoid religious persecution by the Muslims. They are concentrated in Mumbai, Karachi in Pakistan, Chennai, Pune, Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad. They are not Hindus, but a well-defined community. The Parsis initially settled at Hormuz on the Persian Gulf but moved to India in the 8th century. They settled first at Diu in Kathiawar but soon moved to South Gujarāt, and remained for about 800 years as a small agricultural community. According to the 2011 Census of India, there are 57,264 Parsis in India. Demographic trends project that by the year 2020 the Parsis will number only 23,000. The Parsis will then cease to be called a community and will be labeled a tribe.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the
Parsis had emerged as "the foremost people in India in matters educational,
industrial, and social. Near the end of the 19th century, the total number of
Parsis in colonial India was 85,397, of which 48,507 lived in Bombay,
constituting around 6.7% of the total population of the city, according to the
1881 census. This would be the last time that the Parsis would be considered a
numerically significant minority in the city.
Parsis are an ethnoreligious group of the Indian subcontinent whose religion is Zoroastrianism. Their ancestors migrated to the region from modern-day Iran following the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century CE. At the time of the Muslim conquest of Persia, the dominant religion of the region was Zoroastrianism, an Iranian religion that also served as the official state religion of the Sassanid Empire. Parsis chose to preserve their religious identity by fleeing from Iran to India.
The word Parsi is derived from the Persian language, and the Parsi people are pre-Islamic Zoroastrian ethnic Persians in India and Pakistan. Farsi, the modern word used locally in Persian-speaking regions is an endonym for the Persian language, and the Arabized form of the word Parsi.
The Zoroastrian Indian community of Iranis are mostly descendants of the Iranians who fled the repression of the Qajar dynasty and the general socio-political tumult of late 19th- and early 20th-century Iran. According to P. K. Verma, "Education was a common thread that bound together this pan-Indian elite"; almost all of the members of these communities could read and write in English and were educated beyond regular schooling institutions.
The earliest settlement of the Parsis in India is
Sanjan, a town situated in Umargam taluka in the Valsad district in the state of
Gujarat, India. Sanjan is located around 70 km from the Valsad city.
Although their people's name Parsi comes from the Persian-language word for a Persian person, in Sanskrit the term means "one who gives alms". Mahatma Gandhi wrote, "I am proud of my country, India, for having produced the splendid Zoroastrian stock, in numbers beneath contempt, but in charity and philanthropy perhaps unequaled and certainly unsurpassed." Several landmarks in Mumbai are named after Parsis, including Nariman Point. The Malabar Hill in Mumbai, is a home to several prominent Parsis. Parsis prominent in the Indian independence movement include Pherozeshah Mehta, Dadabhai Naoroji, and Bhikaiji Cama.
Notable Parsis in the fields of science and industry include physicist Homi J. Bhabha, Homi N. Sethna, J. R. D. Tata and Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, regarded as the "Father of Indian Industry". The families Godrej, Tata, Poonawalla, and Wadia are important industrial Parsi families. The husband of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and son-in-law of Jawaharlal Nehru, Feroze Gandhi, was a Parsi with ancestral roots in Bharuch. Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was the Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, and the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the rank of field marshal. Other Prominent Parsis.
The main components of Zoroastrianism as practiced by the Parsi community are the concepts of purity and pollution (nasu), initiation (navjot), daily prayers, worship at Fire Temples, marriage, funerals, and general worship.
Purity and pollution
The balance between good and evil is correlated to the idea of purity and pollution. Purity is held to be of the very essence of godliness. Pollution's very point is to destroy purity through the death of a human. In order to adhere to purity it is the duty of Parsis to continue to preserve purity within their body as God created them. A Zoroastrian priest spends his entire life dedicated to following a holy life.
Zoroastrians are not initiated by infant baptism. A child is initiated into the faith when he or she is old enough to enter into the faith, and the child is required to recite some prayers along with the priest at the time of Navjote ceremony ideally before they hit puberty. Navjote cannot be performed on an adult. The initiation begins with a ritual bath, then a spiritual cleansing prayer; the child changes into white pajama pants, a shawl, and a small cap. Following introductory prayers, the child is given the sacred items that are associated with Zoroastrianism: a sacred shirt and cord, sudre, and kusti. The child then faces the main priest and fire is brought in to represent God. After the priest finishes with the prayers, the child’s initiation is complete and he or she is now a part of the community and religion.
Zoroastrian Parsi Wedding
Marriage is very important to the members of the Parsi community, believing that in order to continue the expansion of God’s kingdom they must procreate. The wedding ceremony begins much like the initiation with a cleansing bath. The bride and groom then travel to the wedding in florally decorated cars. The priests from both families facilitate the wedding. The couple begins by facing one another with a sheet to block their view of one another. Wool is passed over the two seven times to bind them together. The two are then supposed to throw rice to their partner symbolizing dominance.
Parsi Tower of Silence
The pollution that is associated with death has to be handled carefully. The priest comes to say prayers that are for the cleansing of sins and to affirm the faith of the deceased. Fire is brought to the room and prayers are begun. A circle is drawn around the body into which only the bearers may enter. As they proceed to the cemetery they walk in pairs and are connected by white fabric. A dog is essential in the funeral process because it is able to see death. The body is taken to the tower of death where the vultures feed on it. Once the bones are bleached by the sun they are pushed into the circular opening in the center. The mourning process is four days long, and rather than creating graves for the dead, charities are established in honor of the person.
Parsi Fire Temple
Fire is considered to represent the presence of Ahura Mazda, and there are two distinct differences for the types of fire for the different temples. The first type of temple is the Atash Behram, which is the highest level of fire. The fire is prepared for an entire year before it can be installed.
The Parsi community has given India very many
distinguished military officers. Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji
Manekshaw, Military Cross, the architect of India's victory in the 1971 war, was
the first officer of the Indian Army to be appointed a Field Marshal. Admiral
Jal Cursetji was the first Parsi to be appointed Chief of the Naval Staff of the
Indian Navy. Air Marshal Aspy Engineer served as India's second Chief of Air
Staff. Fali Homi Major served as the 18th Chief of Air Staff. Vice Admiral RF
Contractor served as the 17th Chief of the Indian Coast Guard. Lieutenant
Colonel Ardeshir Burjorji Tarapore was killed in action in the 1965
Indo-Pakistan war and was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra. Lieutenant
General FN Bilimoria was a senior officer of the Indian Army and the father of
Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder of the Cobra Beer company.
Notable Parsis in other areas of achievement include cricketers Farokh Engineer and Polly Umrigar, rock star Freddie Mercury, composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji and conductor Zubin Mehta; cultural studies theorist Homi K. Bhabha; screenwriter and photographer Sooni Taraporevala; authors Rohinton Mistry, Firdaus Kanga, Bapsi Sidhwa, Ardashir Vakil and Pakistani investigative journalist Ardeshir Cowasjee; actor Boman Irani; educator Jamshed Bharucha, India's first woman photo-journalist Homai Vyarawalla; Actresses Nina Wadia, Sanaya Irani and Persis Khambatta in Bollywood films and television serials. Naxalite leader and intellectual Kobad Ghandy is a Parsi. Mithan Jamshed Lam was a suffragist, the first female barrister admitted to practice law at the Bombay High Court, and served as a Sheriff of Bombay. Dorab Patel was Pakistan's first Parsi Supreme Court Justice. Constitutional expert Fali S Nariman. Soli Sorabjee was a Attorney-General of India. Rattana Pestonji was a Parsi living in Thailand who helped develop Thai cinema. Another famous Parsi is the Indian-born American actor Erick Avari, best known for his roles in science-fiction films and television. Cyrus S. Poonawalla and Adar Poonawalla are prominent Indian Parsi businessmen currently being celebrated for their effort in producing vaccines for the world.