from a contact with the spirit of Christianity. But for that holy contact I could scarcely have grown into the stanch and sincere Zoroastrian that I am, with a keen appreciation of all that appeals readily to the intelligence and a reverend curiosity for what appeals to the heart, knowing full well that much of what is mysterious to man is not beneath, but beyond, the comprehension of a finite being."

[ocr errors]

The Parsis are totally ignorant of propaganda; they are most tolerant and never attempt to change the creed of any one. Were they always so? Is their present reserve in keeping with the Zoroastrian precepts? It seems that in days of yore they were more zealous. Some ancient treatises are of an essentially propagandist character, and we cannot help alluding to the most severe persecutions that the Christians had to endure under the Sassanian princes. Nevertheless, the Parsis, in India, show the greatest reluctance to increase their number, not only by conversion, but also by any alliance with people of other religions. So that they have to multiply by marrying among themselves; fortunately, they belong to a prolific race, if we consider the small number of the first settlers and their present position.


According to the general census of 1891, the number of Parsis then in India was 89,904; 76,774 are quartered in the Bombay Presidency. The city of Bombay has a flourishing Parsi population of 47,498 souls; Surat, 12,757; then we can mention Broach, Thana, Karachi, etc. The priestly town of Nausari is, perhaps, the most important of the settlements outside British territory. The occupations in the lower classes are varied and numerous. It is remarkable that the Parsis have never taken to the more menial employments, such as those of day-laborers, scavengers, palki-bearers, barbers, washermen, grooms, etc. Before the terrible trials of plague and famine, among thousands of mendicants there were only five Parsis, four males and one female. As to the victims of immorality, a Parsi was proud to record that “not a single Parsi female returned herself as living on the wages of shame.” *

The Parsis are not exclusively quartered in India. Some are to be found in China (Canton, Macao, Hong - Kong), Penang, Rio, Mauritius, Cape Town, Madagascar, Australia. We do not mention Europe, where they come frequently, either for study or pleasure, never for a permanent stay, except in London.

We must not forget the small group of the Zo roastrians living in the Persian provinces of Yezd and Kirman. Their condition was for years miserable to a degree. The number of the educated few is limited; the head of the Yezd community is Mr. Ardashir Mihraban, with whom the writer became acquainted through Mr. E. G. Browne, the eminent lecturer on Persian at Cambridge, his * Karaka, History of the Parsis.

guest in Persia. In spite of his endeavors, he has not yet succeeded in raising the intellectual level of his co-religionists. Their social status is very low, indeed; and it is even difficult—this we know from experience-to lighten their burdens, as they are still too ignorant to understand the benefits of certain improvements.

Their condition has been greatly ameliorated by Nasr-Eddin, who, by a firman, restored them to a footing of equality with his Mohammedan subjects (1882). Their number did not exceed 9,269 in 1891. They are remarkable for their honesty and chastity. Their Indian brethren have started a fund on their behalf.


What is the future of the Parsis? The question is momentous, and it is difficult for an outsider to decide. Socially, they are growing more and more important; the number of their distinguished men is daily increasing, and they have acquired a wide-spread influence. Now, as to religion, they are certainly more enlightened than their forefathers; but are they the same stanch believers as their predecessors? European rationalism does not spare their sacred books, and the spirit of free inquiry seems to have inflamed some of their young men. It has rightly preoccupied thoughtful philosophers. Mr. Malabari calls his co-religionists "a flock without a shepherd,” and he is right. The community lacks unity; that is evidently the weak point. For years and years the Parsis were led by their own Panchayet,* which ceased to exist after the promulgation of the laws of marriage and inheritance. The courts took the place of the anjuman.† On the other hand, the authority of the Dastur Dasturan, f being purely nominal, had ceased also to be effective. So that the two supports, religious and civil, happened to fail at almost the same time.

The Parsis have thus reached a turning-point in their national career, a period as important as that when they began to mingle with Mohammedans and Europeans. The revival which followed has not yet ended, and they seem launched on the path of progress; but there are symptoms of such a rapid change in customs and ideals that one feels almost afraid of such rapidity.

Fortunately-if we can say so—all the classes are not yet won over.

The contest between the old class and the young one is by no means settled. There are still Parsis in the Mofussil who are steeped in a pure conservatism. These are the very men who will serve as a dam to restrain the violence of the flood. Gradually, they will be gained to the cause of modern education, and they will allow the forward party to try experiments which will guard the new generation against exaggerated theories. They will also learn that they lack The National Assembly of the Parsis. An assembly. Literally, Priest of the Priests-High Priest,

cohesion, and that they have to make their own religion and philosophy the guides that they need. Both have aided them in their social development; both will continue to support them in their new, modernized life in India and abroad; and both will enable them to wait for the final triumph of the Good Principle.


« ForrigeFortsett »