About Zoroastrianism, Parsis, and Delhi Parsis!
When we say us, we mean Delhi Zoroastrian Parsis. And we say this, because while all Parsis are Zoroastrians, but all Zoroastrians are not Parsis! Confused? Well, read on!
Zoroastrianism is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings ascribed to the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra, Zartosht). Mazdaism is the religion that acknowledges the divine authority of Ahura Mazda, proclaimed by Zoroaster to be the one uncreated Creator of all (God).
As demonstrated by Zoroastrian creed and articles of faith, the two terms are effectively synonymous. In a declaration of the creed — the Fravarānē — the adherent states: “…I profess myself a devotee of Mazda, a follower of Zarathustra.” (Yasna 12.2, 12.8)
Zoroastrianism was once the dominant religion of much of Western- and Central Asia but as of 2007 practiced only by fewer than 200,000 worldwide, with its largest center in India. (courtesy wikipedia)
A Parsi, sometimes spelled Parsee, is a member of the close-knit Zoroastrian community based in the Indian subcontinent. Parsis are descended from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to the Indian subcontinent over 1,000 years ago to escape religious persecution after the Islamic conquest of their homeland.
Parsis first arrived in India at Sanjan, on the coast of Gujarat in the year 755 AD. Since then, we have merged into the fabric of the country, and are as Indian as you can get today.
While Parsi characters have provided comic relief in many a Bollywood film, thanks to the general perception (and reality) of Parsis being good natured, fun-loving, and always young-at-heart, Parsis have over the years contributed greatly to the Indian subcontinent in almost every area you can choose to mention. Starting with the man who’s considered the father of Indian Industry, Jamsetji Tata; to others like banker Sir Sorabji Pochkhanawala; freedom fighters like Phirozeshah Mehta, Bhikaji Cama, and Dadabhai Naoroji; legendary filmmaker Sohrab Modi; nuclear scientist Homi J Bhabha; the champion of the 1971 Indo-Pak war Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw; screenwriter and author Sooni Taraporewala; authors Bapsi Sidhwa, Bachi J Karkaria, Firdaus Kanga and Rohington Mistry; legal luminaries like Soli Sorabjee and Fali S Nariman; actor Boman Irani; captains of Indian Industry including Ratan Tata and Adi Godrej to name a few; and the recently retired Chief of the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major… the list is endless!
Historically speaking, Parsis first arrived in North India way back in the times of Emperor Akbar. The story is that Dastur Meherjirana of Navsari really impressed the Emperor with his knowledge and humility. As a result, Akbar invited him and other learned Parsis to grace his court in his new capital of Fatehpur Sikri.
As time passed, more Parsis arrived in the region. And the earliest physical evidence of Parsis being in the region lies at the old Parsi cemetary which bears an inscription dating back to 1869.
As numbers grew to around 40 Parsis in Delhi, the Delhi Parsi Anjuman (DPA) was formed in 1925. Today the number of Parsi members of the DPA in the National Capital Region stands at just around 750!
While the numbers are small and dwindling, the community is vibrant and progressive in its thinking – working not just towards preserving its rich cultural heritage, but also towards finding solutions that can stem the slow annihilation of a race that at one time ruled half the world way back in 6000BC!
The Delhi Parsi Anjuman is today run by a group of Trustees that prides itself in being of a great combination of old world experience and enthusiastic young blood.
What’s unique in this day and age (and also community) is that the DPA Trustees, both young and old, share the same thinking and approach when it comes to nurturing and preserving the endangered community of Parsis.
The DPA today owns and maintains the Mengusi Parsi Dharamshala (rest house), the Bhiwandiwalla Community Hall which houses books on Zoroastrian history and culture, as well as the Kaikhusuru Palonji Katrak Dar-e-Meher (Fire Temple) which is the only one of its kind in North India.
The Delhi Parsi Anjuman is managed by a Board of Trustees, duly elected by all the members of the DPA.