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Such is our own opinion, and it is likely to be shared by any one who will study the transformation of the social status of the Parsis.
In 716 A.D., after a succession of hardships, a small troop of Persians, warriors and priests, fled from their own native land and disembarked at Sanjan, which is situated twenty-five miles south of Damaun (Guzarat), in quest of a permanent abode where they could freely practise their religious rites. At that time, Sanjan was a flourishing emporium, and a favorable welcome was given to the exiles. The Hindu prince, the wise Tadi Rana, greeted the dasturs (or priests), and asked them several questions about their creeds and habits. The answers of the learned priests were so satisfactory that a sort of compact was passed between the immigrants and the Rana, who gave them permission to settle in his territory, and granted them the privilege of building a temple of the sacred fire. In their turn, the Persians submitted to certain obligations, as, for example, to wear no arms, to dress according to the Hindu fashion, to adopt some of the local customs; and they so strictly adhered to the clauses that, up to the present time, some of them are still observed. It is most important to note the starting-point of the friendly intercourse of the Parsis with the native populations.
years the Parsis lived in perfect peace and harmony; they increased in number and dispersed in small knots over the whole of Guzarat. The Mohammedan conquest at first did them harm. They had sided with the Rana against the Sultan of Ahmedabad; after the storming of Sanjan they had much to suffer from their new rulers, and the sacred fire was removed from place to place. However, by degrees, the Parsis grew accustomed to the Mohammedans and had no persecution to suffer.
It seems that, during that time, the community was wholly engaged in agricultural pursuits and absorbed in the practice of their religion. The European travellers, Friar Jordanus, to begin with, mention them in their narratives and relate some of their customs-for instance, fire worship and funeral rites. At the close of the fifteenth century occurred a most solemn hour in the history of the refugees, viz., the renewal of the intercourse with the persecuted Zoroastrians, or Ghebers, who had persisted in dwelling in Persia. A wealthy and influential Parsi, a resident of Nausari, named Changa Asa, at his own expense, deputed a talented beh - din (layman), Nariman Floshang, to Yezd and Kirman, in order to obtain answers to a certain number of questions relating to religion. The Ghebers were overjoyed to see their co-religionist; they did not know that any of their brethren had settled in India. From that time, the relations between the Indian and Persian communities were never interrupted.
Under the Mogul rule, the Parsis continued to prosper. After having been tillers, toddy-drawers, carpenters, cabinet-makers, they became wealthy land-owners, ship-builders, and, in general, extensive traders. Their principal headquarters were Nausari, the priestly town; Surat, the great market of the East; Bombay, the dowry of the Portuguese bride of Charles II. Caste system had proved extremely beneficial in preserving their religious independence, but had left them totally unprejudiced, and had put no barrier between them and the foreigners. Hence the great advantage to them in mixing freely with the Europeans who were beginning to traffic with India; so that, far from keeping aloof from the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, they made their services acceptable and acted as middlemen between the new-comers and the natives. By degrees they supplanted the supple banyan ;* they became brokers of the factories, dubashes, shroffs. Their influence prevailed, and their pent-up energies at last found a vast field for developing themselves. Thanks to unexpected opportunities, an enterprising spirit, and no objection to sea voyages, they opened an extensive trade with the Far East, especially with China, Burma, and the Straits. In the mean
* Banyan, a Hindu trader, and especially of the province of Guzarat. (See P. della Valle, i., 486–7, and Lord, Preface.) † Shroff, a money-lender, a banker. (Ar. sarrâ), also sairas.)
time, they were doing good and loyal service to the United East India Company. Such is the origin of their attachment to British rule and of the particular regard and esteem of the British government for them.
Europe also had early attracted them. In the seventeenth century a Parsi had already come over to England, and in the following century Maniar was Burke's guest at Beaconsfield.
Wealth rewarded the commercial skill and extreme honesty of the Parsi traders; it made them powerful and influential. Their liberality was universally known; such men as Sorabji Mancherji Readymoney and Ardeshir Dady fed thousands of people during the famines. Towers of silence, fire temples, dharmsálas,* charitable institutions, hospitals, colleges, were in turn erected by the munificent gifts of their merchant princes. Above all, they were remarkable for their spirit of catholicity, which recognized no difference of race, caste, and religion. Ovington, as early as 1689, had noticed this tendency. In 1842, Jamshedji Jijibhai, the Bombay merchant so well known in the whole of India for his charities, was honored with knighthood, and in 1857 was created baronet, the first native to whom this coveted distinction was granted.
Such was the situation of the community in the early fifties of the nineteenth century. At that time (1852) Briggs could write with accuracy that Dharmsála (pious edifice), a resting-house for wayfarers.
"the bent of the Parsi community was purely commercial.” He was perfectly right, and the evolution, which has turned an exclusively mercantile caste into the one priding itself most on its education and its intellectual pursuits, was only beginning to develop. It is nearly achieved, at least in the main lines. Nowadays, the Parsi is no more the broker, or dubash, of the European; he sits next to him on the benches of the corporations, in the high courts, at the Legislative and Vice - Regal Council — nay, even in Parliament. No wonder that such a contact has modified his customs and habits. What has become of the banyan's co-worker, once in dress and occupation so much like his rival that sometimes European travellers have confused the two? The Parsi has abandoned his white garments, his curved shoes; in India his brown pagri alone distinguishes him. On the Continent, he is an English gentleman.
This transformation that we are now witnessing is entirely due to Western education, and its influence on a race whose plasticity is undeniable, and whose powers of assimilation are of the rarest order. This will be seen presently.
The Parsis were the first natives to take advantage of Western education in the Bombay Presidency; as soon as the mission schools set