18 Aug 2012 Once upon a time, a little over a thousand years ago, a tired and expectant group of people fleeing from Iran showed up at a tiny principality in Gujarat, ruled by Jadi Rana at the time.
The beleaguered king, not too keen on allowing foreign refugees to settle in his small kingdom, sent them a bowl filled to the brim with milk, symbolizing the fact that the land was full and could accommodate no more.
The wise leader understood just what Jadi Rana wished to convey. He added a pinch of sugar to the bowl so that it did not overflow.
Jadi Rana was impressed with his astute gesture of sweetening the milk and the message behind it, and graciously allowed the Parsis to stay.
And so this community of grateful Parsis mingled with the residents so as to never be a burden to the land, infact India is culturally richer today due to its contributions. In the sciences, the arts and industry, they have given back more than a thousand-fold in reciprocation for the land that sheltered them a thousand years ago.
As the maxim "Parsi, thy name is charity" reveals, their greatest contribution is their philanthropy. The term "Parsi" in Sanskrit means "one who gives alms".
But, they are now a dying community. With UNESCO stepping in to help preserve their heritage, their story is one that must be told, read and preserved.
A Parsi or Parsee is a member of the larger of the two Zoroastrian communities in South Asia, a member of the other being an Irani.
These Parsis were fleeing to avoid persecution by Muslim invaders from Arab who were in the process of conquering Iran. The Iranians rebelled against the Arab invaders for almost 200 years which is now known as the "Two Centuries of Silence" or "Period of Silence". The exhausted Iranians, who neither wanted to pay heavy taxes to live in their own land or to convert to Islam, chose to take refuge by fleeing from Iran to India.
They live chiefly in Bombay and in a few towns and villages mostly to the north of Bombay, but also at Karachi (Pakistan) and Bangalore (Karnataka, India).
The immigrants were granted permission to stay by the local ruler Jadi Rana on the condition that they adopt the local language (Gujarati), that their women adopt local dress (the sari) and that they henceforth cease to bear arms. The refugees accepted the conditions and founded the settlement of Sanjan, which is said to have been named after the city of their origin in present day Turkmenistan.
Parsis have distinct rites of passage that start at birth and solidify with the Navjote (meaning new light) ceremony where the child is blessed and inducted into the Zoroastrian way by donning a sacred thread and a soft muslin undershirt.
Their marriage ceremony, that always takes place after sunset, is a joyous affair and among some, includes the western custom of the groom kissing the bride. Both the Navjote and marriage ceremonies embody the spirit of free choice. In both ceremonies, the individuals are asked if they embrace the faith or the partner freely, of their own choice.
The final rite of passage is still the most authentic and considered truly alien because Parsis take their dead to designated, enclosed places called Dokhma or Dakhama, euphemistically known as 'Towers of Silence'. The corpse is left in the open for scavenging birds to dispose of and emanates from the Parsi belief in doing good right up to the end. A week or so later, the dried bones are lowered into a deep pit layered with sand and charcoal, for decomposition. In all of the above ceremonies, the sacred fire, fed with sandalwood and incense, plays a pivotal role.
The role of fire in the Parsi faith is signified by the fire temples, their religious place of worship.
Nauroze, the first day of spring, is considered to be their New Year. They start spring cleaning a few weeks earlier and some germinate seeds of lentils. A day before the vernal equinox, the table is set with a new tablecloth called ‘the cloth of seven dishes’. Seven dishes are prepared to be served on this table set with the new cloth. They include wheat or lentil sprouts, pudding, apple, dry fruit of lotus, any berries, vinegar, garlic and a bowl of water with an orange and some coins floating in it. Some people put out dry fruits and hyacinth. Candles are lit for the children in the house.
They consider seven a sacred number since there are seven angelic heralds of life: rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience and beauty.
Traditionally, they visit family and friends for 13 days. Guests are sprinkled with rosewater and then shown their faces in a mirror. They laugh and hope it will be a year of laughter and happiness.
Spend this Parsi New Year with a Parsi family! We are happy to offer Heritage Homes looked after by Parsi communities on our network:
- Acc no. 54660 :: Experience Parsi hospitality at this family run heritage home in Panchgani
Being run by different generations of the same family since 1923, this heritage home is popular with many. A long winding driveway flanked on either side by bamboo trees and other plants leads to the main building which maintains the look of a 1920's building. The benches outside, amidst the flowers and trees are the best spot to gaze dreamily at the river at a distance.
The rooms vary in size. There are rooms that can accommodate one to those that can accommodate six people. The only thing common is that they are all well maintained and comfortable.
If you're a foodie and like Parsi food, you're in for a treat! The menu is personally decided and the cooking overseen by the Parsi couple, whose children jointly look after the management of the place. A fixed menu system is followed at this accommodation and food is served at fixed timings. Guests are requested to make their preference for vegetarian or non-vegetarian food in advance. Guests particularly love the tranquility, scenic view and home-like stay here.
- Acc no. 54657 :: A Colonial Bungalow in Matheran
In the family for the fourth generation, this private property has been converted into a heritage accommodation for people on a holiday.
Covered in a foliage of green, the old structure still houses carefully preserved items right from the ancient television that's surprisingly in working condition to old portraits that adorn the walls.
The food is delicious and not just the hosts but the staff as well are friendly. It's the collective warmth of the place perhaps that it has attracted loyal guests over so many years. Grandchildren of one-time, visitors now come and re-live their fore-fathers experience. Jain meals are also served to guests on prior notice.