The Parsis in India are descendants of those persons who, when humiliated in their homeland in Persia due to their separate religious identity, were given refuge in India before several centuries. Keeping their distinct dientity safe, the Parsis have flourished themselves and have suitably contributed to the economy, culture, polity and the civic society of India. The Parsis have truly proved themselves as one of the model Indian communities by significantly contributing in the rich social, religious and cultural diversity of the nation.
A Parsee or Parsi is a member of a Zoroastrian community living in India. As per tradition, the Parsis presently residing in India belongs to a group of Iranian Zoroastrians who migrated to Western India more than 1,000 years ago. In the 8th century, the Parsis first came to India and landed in Diu, were they were provided shelter in Sanjan (Gujarat) by Jadav Rana, the local Hindu ruler. Since their aim was to preserve their religion, the Parsis constructed the first fire temple, Atash Behram, to protect the holy fire which they have rescued from Iran. Gradually, they acquired the customs, language and ways of living of the Gujaratis. Gujarati language thus became their native language and the sari became the garment of their women.
Unlike other religious communities, the Parsis belonging to even the poorest families cannot afford to stay in a single room and even the poor Parsi woman at least requires two silk sarees a year, trousers, shirts, shoes, etc along with proper clothing her children. Parsi women in India are considered to be the center all the happiness of the family. Both the parents take pride in beautifully dressing their children and dress up their children magnificently in festive occasions. Parsi families are very helpful to their neighbours, and in case of difficulty they prefer to stand by them. The costumes of the Parsis form a major component of their culture in India.
The Parsis in India belonging to the rich and affluent classes bear the habit of wearing light trousers. The skull-cap or 'topi' is used to cover the head, and light shoes for the feet. Children belonging to both the sex it they attain the age of six or seven are same which the only distinction being the girl having long hairs and the ornaments on her person. Parsi costumes at home includes a sudra or a long muslin shirt and kusti or girdle, waistcoat prepared of white cloth or chintz with sleeves, slippers, loose cotton trousers and also a China silk skull-cap. While moving out, a Parsi male puts on an 'angrakha', or loose coat without any belt, the sleeves of which doubles the length of the arm, and consequently folds up in creases over the wrist. The Parsi jewellery largely implies to those used by the Parsi ladies to decorate themselves.
The Parsi ladies wear on their wrists glass, gold, or jeweled bangles. Gold or jeweled bangles are worn by the Parsi ladies on some special or festive occasions. They however wear glass bangles regularly and this denotes the fact that the concerned lady is not a widow which is somewhat similar to that which is followed by the Hindu ladies. Like the Muslim and Hindu women, the Parsi ladies were, until the last generation, wore nose rings. This ornament was made of three pearls in a gold ring, an inch in diameter, one of the pearls is a pendant which is supposed to fall gracefully upon the upper lip; but their good taste at last led them to discard the barbarous practice of penetrating the nose. The people of Parsi community living in India also contributed considerable to the art and architecture of the nation.
The Parsi theatre was greatly influential in the 1850s and 1930s. It can be seen as the first modern commercial theatre in India. It was a combination of European techniques, pageantry, and local forms, hugely successful in the subcontinent. As the name suggests, it was subsidized to a great extent by the Parsis. They were chiefly engaged in shipbuilding and trading. They finally became a major business force on the west coast by the earlier parts of the nineteenth century, and began to cultivate the arts and philanthropy. Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, a Parsi, bought the colonial Bombay Theatre in the year 1835. In the year 1846 the Grant Road Theatre in Mumbai (Bombay), founded by Jagannath Sunkersett started to host plays in English, then in Marathi, Gujarati, and Hindi or Urdu. As per the Parsi customs, the people belonging to this community do not burn or bury their dead bodies since they consider the corpse to be impure which would if contacted with the sacred fire and soil would impure them. They thus place the bodies of their dead on the towers of silence to be eaten up by vultures. Therefore they have constructed the towers of Silence in India for this purpose. The Parsis constructed the fire temple where they worship the sacred fire, in India. They also contributed to the Indian literatureby several writings in English.
Some of the prominent Parsi writers in India include Boman Desai, Farrukh Dhondy, Firdaus Kanga, Perin Bharucha, Rohinton Mistry, Dina Mehta, etc. All these writers have ventured deep into the field of creative work. The work of these writers in English have brought then immense fame and placed then high in the social structure. The Parsis, after leaving their own country and settling in India, adapted Gujarati as their native language but have preferred to express themselves in writing in English. There are several Parsi festivals celebrated in India which are considered to be a vital part of their culture.
Some of the major Parsi festivals celebrated in India include Khordad Sal. This festival is the celebration of the birth anniversary of Zoroaster or Prophet Spitaman Zarathushtra in the month of August-September. It falls sometime on the sixth day of the Parsi month of Farvardin. In some old Parsi texts, this day is also spoken of as the Navroz-I-Khas, which means 'Special New Year's Day'. Even the real New Year's Day is referred to as Navroz-I-Am, meaning 'Common New Year's Day'. Zarthost No Deeso is another Parsi festival which is observed as the death anniversary of Zoroaster. It is therefore not a celebration but a mourning day for the Parsis. It falls on the month of June, on Khorshed roz, Dae mah of the Zoroastrian calendar. Jamshed Navroz is a festival which dates back to over 3000 years when the legendary king of Persia, Jamshedji ascended the throne on the day of 'Navroz'. 'Nav' means new and 'Roz' means day. The day happened to be a vernal equinox; when the length of the day equals to that of the night. Navroz marked the transition from winter to summer. Later, the particular day came to known and celebrated as 'Jamshed Navroz Festival.' Pateti is another major festival of the Parsis living in India. Navroz is the Parsi New Year's day. On the 21st of August, the Parsi community celebrates its New Year. It is a time of piety, rejoicing and feasting. Pateti is in fact the eve of the new year of Zoroastrian Calendar. Most of the Parsis in India are followers of the Shahenshahi calendar and thus, in India, Pateti falls in the month of August. Gahambars was regarded as the festival which the King Jamshed was the first to observe. Gahambar means, 'in time' and refers to the six seasonal Zorastrian or Parsi festivals. Gahambar can be translated to mean 'full time' or 'proper season'. This festival is observed by paying tribute to the phases or elements responsible for the creation of the world. Four liturgical services are executed in the first four days, and in the fifth day communal interaction is made. Celebrations start with a benediction ceremony, known as Afrin. It is a prayer of love and praise in remembrance of the ancestors. All these festivals are celebrated in India by the people of Parsi community with lots of pomp and glory. The Parsis are also admirer of tasty food and therefore their taste includes different cuisines.
The cuisine of the Parsis form a combination of a number of culinary techniques found in different parts of India as well as other parts of the world. It can be also said that the Parsi food is a significant part of the Parsi culture which adds to the variety and richness of the Indian cuisine. The delicious dishes of the Parsis reflect the influence of their old home in Iran and valuable influence of Gujarat where they took refuge to get rid of the religious persecution. The Parsi dishes are extraordinary and are the combination of ingredients from different parts of the world. There are different varieties of both non-vegetarian and vegetarian preparations, which are exceedingly tasty and nutritious. Patrani Machhi and Dhansak are the prominent Parsi dishes known for their unique taste and flavor.
The Parsis have contributed significantly to the growth and development of India through the works of some of the great Parsi writers in English and also by the advancement in the commerce and industry of India by several Parsi industrialists like Tata's and Godrej. The Culture of Parsis, although unique has also been influenced by the great India culture and they have acquired various Indian trends. The Parsis living in Gujarat have accepted Gujarati as their native and the sarees are adapted by the Parsi women of Gujarat as their normal costume.
(Last Updated on : 17-02-2011)
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