Parsi Community (Zoroastrian, Zoroastrianism) in India

Introduction

Zoroastrian, followers of Zoroaster, are popularly known in India as Parsis. They are the followers of the religious system taught by Zoroaster.

Zoroastrianism is considered to be one of the oldest religions of the world. The other name of Zorastrianism is Mazdaism.

The supreme god of the religion is God Mazda or Ahura Mazda. Fire is worshipped as a symbol of Ahura Mazda, since it has the characteristics of purity and brightness.

Origin of Parsis

The roots of Zoroastrianism can be traced in an Iranian tribal society. By 500 B.C. Zoroastrianism had become the leading faith in Persia and Iran. The Iranian Zoroaster faced a serious challenge with the conquest of Iran by Arabian Muslims in the seventh century A.D. The mass migration of Zoroastrians into other regions of the world can be seen as a direct result of the forced Islamization of Iran.

Origin of Parsis in India

The Parsi Community introduced the Zoroastrian religion in India in about eight century A.D. It is said that the first batch of Zoroastrians or Parsis reached Die about 766 A.D. However, they abandoned it and set out for another place of residence. They look refuge in Gujarat. During their voyage to Gujarat from Die their ship was overtaken by a storm. The voyaging Parsis took a vow that if they reached the shore of Gujarat safely they would establish the most sacred fire temple there. The vow was fulfilled and a first temple was built in Sanjan in Gujarat where the Parsis landed safely. They took to agriculture and horticulture in and around Sanjan. As their numbers of increased they spread to other parts of Gujarat. When the Muslims conquered Sanjan in the 15th century, the sacred fire was moved to Udvada. The fire temple in Udvada is looked upon as the most sacred temple of the Parsis. The Parsi community in India has adopted Gujarati as their official language.

Population of Parsi Community in India

The Zoroastrian population around the world has been estimated to be around 137,000 of which 69,000 are in India. A large number of people belonging to the Parsi community are living in Mumbai. The Parsi community in India is found mainly in Maharashtra and especially in Mumbai, Gujarat and Deccan.

Role of Parsis in Socio-Economic Life

Migrating to India over 1300 years ago, the Parsis have been an important part of the economic, political, educational and social life of India. During the Muslim rule they lent their support to Hindu princes whenever it was needed. Following the arrival of the British they were among the first people to adopt the western style of life and English education. The Parsis began in India as a small mercantile community. They excelled themselves in trade and commerce. Two of the leading areas of economic activity, shipbuilding and textile industry owe their rapid growth mainly to the vestment and trading initiative of the Parsis. Thus, early growth of modern shipping industry in India is associated with the name of a Parsi family, the Wadias. Parsis have also been contributing greatly to the steel, chemical, cement and other heavy industries. This has been both during the British India and post Independent India. We have all heard about the Tata family, they are the pioneers of the steel industry in India. Today they also run a host of other industries, such as jute, chemical, tea, textile, printing etc. The Tata family is not only associated with industry but also with education and social work.

The Parsis began in India is a small mercantile community. Gradually a number of their families became successful industrial entrepreneurs, merchants, educationists, social reformers, lawyers and pioneers in many other fields.

Tenets of Zoroastrianism

Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism preached monotheism (belief in one supreme God). He was against idol worship and overemphasis of ritual sacrifice. The basic tenets of Zoroastrianism are outlined in two texts. The first of these is the Avesta or Zend Avesta and the second is the Gatha. Ahura Mazda is considered to be the supreme God. He is the creator of heaven and earth, day and night, light and darkness. Life is seen as a struggle between the forces of good and evil.

He who lives a righteous life attains paradise. He who lives an impious life he will go to eternal hell. The Parsis believe that the soul lives on after death. It meets its fate on the Day of Judgment, under the supervision of Ahura Mazda.

An important feature of Zoroastrianism is that it does not preach celibacy, asceticism, renunciation or self-denial in life. It demands strict purity in thought, word and deed.

Purity is associated with fire. For the Parsis fire is worshipped as a symbol of purity, energy, force and light. And fire is a symbol of Ahura Mazda. Many fire temples are places of pilgrimage for the Parsis. In the fire temple the priest reads portions of the sacred scripture—the Avesta, five times a day. In each household, a Parsi is also expected to say prayers five times a day.

The Gathas of Zoroaster is another source of information about Zoroastrian belief. They present the picture of a society in which agriculture and herds of domestic animals had come to be looked upon with affection. In the sacred prayer, reverence has shown to the cow. This aspect of Zoroastrian faith reflects interaction with Hinduism as Hindus look upon the cow as a sacred animal.

The Parsi custom of disposing the dead is unique. Parsis do not burn or bury their dead least this should pollute fire or earth and make them liable to a strict punishment. They carry the dead body to a place built high up for this purpose. This is called a dokhma or Tower of Silence. The body is left there to be eaten up by vultures.

Parsi marriage is sanctified by a religious ceremony but it is a contract. Parsis prescribe strict monogamy. Divorce is allowed under certain conditions.

Zoroastrianism is not a proselytizing religion. Feasting is a necessary component of Parsi worship. The principal festivals in the Parsi year are six seasonal festivals, Gahn bars and the days in the memory of the dead at the Parsi year’s end. The new-year festival, Noruz is the most joyous and beautiful of Parsi festivals.

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