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ZOROASTRIANISM AND THE

PARSIS

ZOROASTRIANISM AND THE

PARSIS

AMONG the numerous divisions and subdivisions of Indian castes, there is a foreign ethnical group, which, in spite of its alien environments and utter isolation, has been able for centuries to preserve the purity of its race and faith and most of its traditional customs. We mean the adepts of the prophet of Iran, Zoroaster, successively called by the European travellers who have met them on the Indian coast, “Parseos, “Parses,” "Parsees,” “Parsis ”; they are the descendants of the fugitives who fled from Persia after the Mohammedan conquest, and settled at Sanjan in the eighth century of the Christian era. What was their exact number? Probably a very small one. Was this exodus from Persia the only one? It appears that several others took place, traces of which can be found in upper India; but the colony of Guzarat alone resisted the influence of their surroundings, and did not merge into the native populations. Nevertheless, they were they are still-a mere drop in the vast ocean of

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Indian communities, and at first they would seem to be a negligible quantity, except for the scholars who see in them the last representatives of one of the oldest creeds of the world and the depositaries of the sacred books of the Avesta and Persian lore. They are, in fact, the most active agents of progress and reform in British India, and have to be considered from a double standpoint, both religious and social. They occupy such a conspicuous position that an excellent critic affirms that “it is scarcely possible to conceive of the public life of western India without them.” This judgment will meet with no contradiction from any quarter. However, we would not have the conclusion drawn from this that the Parsis are the only workers in the vast field of civic usefulness. There are among the other communities deserving men, bent on promoting the welfare of India; but, beyond any doubt, at the dawn of the twentieth century, the Parsis are enjoying a welldeserved reputation for enlightened patriotism.

"By their natural ability and position in the country, they were well fitted thus to be the mediators between the rulers and the ruled, and they are now playing this part to a considerable extent. In political and literary matters, the Parsis have led the Hindus and the Mohammedans. At the head of most political associations, at any rate in Bombay, and in the vanguard of those who fight, rightly or wrongly, for the political advancement of educated Indians, are to be found men of this race. It is a Parsi for whom has been reserved the unique position of being the first Oriental to take a seat in the British House of Commons.

In

social matters, they easily take the lead of their Hindu countrymen, as they are singularly free from those narrow views of caste which hamper the latter.

It is a Parsi who has taken up the cause of Social Reform among the Hindu population, and tried to better the lot of millions of women, mute victims of unequal laws and customs manufactured during the dark ages of Indian history." *

Through their association with Europeans, the Parsis have undergone a complete change and have taken their place in our modern society. It has even been suggested that they are so thoroughly Anglicized that they are lacking in interest. Quite the reverse is the case.

It is their very readiness to accept the improvements of life and to assimilate our methods, their unprejudiced and broad-minded intellect, combined with a passionate attachment to their ancestral creed, which make them so sympathetic. We hope that in this short sketch we shall be able to show that Western civilization will not destroy Zoroastrianism, and that the future of the small Parsi community is not to be looked to either with concern or apprehension on the sole pretence that they are gradually discarding purely Hindu customs. What has garb to do with inner life and faith? A Parsi can tread the whole earth, wear any sort of dress, embrace any career, provided he keep pure in his heart the tenets of his religion, and make them sensible to his fellow-men by putting into practice his immortal precepts of good thoughts, good words, good deeds.

* Karkara, Forty Years of Progress and Reform, p. 50.

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