delivered by Mrs. Perveez Aggarwal on Feb 02, 2005)]
Long, long, ago, about 1300 years ago, a weary group of travelers
landed in Sanjan, a small port city, on the West coast of India.
Three leaders amongst them were sent to approach King Jadi Rana, to
ask permission to land and settle in his kingdom. When the king saw
tall, fair strange foreigners, he tried to turn them away. With
typical Indian politeness, he showed them a glass full to the brim
with milk, to indicate that there was no place in the land. The
leader of the group, sprinkled some sugar over the milk, to
illustrate that the milk had been sweetened, but that it did not
over flow. It also signified that his people would sweeten and
enrich his land. The King welcomed them.
The group were Zoroastrian by religion were known as Parsees,
because they hail from a region "Parsa" in Southern Iran.
The Parsis worship fire, as a symbol of purity and divinity. It
represents that heavenly light, which dawns within man's soul, when
he yields his heart and mind to God.
King Jadi Rana saw in the worship of fire, a similarity with his
Hindu religion. At the King's suggestion, the Parsis adopted the
manners, customs, dress and language of Gujarat. They even included
verses of Sanskrit prayers in their prayer ceremonies including in
Parsi wedding ceremonies.
Zoroastrians are the followers of the great Iranian prophet,
Spitaman Zarathustra. Zarathushtra lived more than 3000 years ago -
Iran, at the time of Zarathushtra's birth, was a land where many
pagan Gods and Godesses were being worshipped through ignorance and
fear. The Zoroaster through his hymns, the Gathas, revealed to
mankind that there is one, supreme all knowing eternal God - Ahura
Mazda, who is wise, good and just.
For over a thousand years, from 55 BC to 651 AD, the religion
flourished as the State religion of three mighty Iranian Empires ―
The Achaemenians (550-330 BC), the Parthians (248 BC - 224 AD) and
the Sessanians (224 AD - 65 IAD).
Like Gautam Buddha after him, Zarathushtra wanted to discover the
mystery of life. Why was there death and suffering in the world?
What was the origin of evil? He became filled with a deep longing
for justice, for a moral law, that would allow mankind to lead a
good life in peace. He turned his back on the world and retreated to
live in the mountains, where he meditated for ten years, communing
with nature and his inner self. He finally received enlightenment
from Ahura Mazda, the wise lord above.
When he was 30 years old he descended from the mountains and
preached a new way of life, which still has relevance to us thousand
Zoroastrians believe in one divine power, we call Ahura Mazda, the
Supreme Being. In the world there are both good and evil in almost
all human situations. The Zoroastrians duty is to strive against the
evil. A life of active good towards others - people, animals and
nature, is the essence of his preaching. He gave us a simple creed
to follow –
Humato - Good thoughts
Hukhta - Good words
Huvarshta - Good deeds.
religion teaches us to be happy. Because by being happy within, we
project happiness and harmony in the environment.
Later religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam all borrowed freely
from his teachings.
Zoroastrianism propounds five fundamental principles :
Goodness being godliness, one must always be good and openly
recounce evil, in thought, humata, word, hukhta and
in the midst of troubles, so that one is a peacemaker
among quarrelsome people.
Freedom of faith - a licence permitted by Zoroaster. Our
religion was never promulgated with the force of arms, even when
Persian kings extended their empire. It appealed to one's reason and
needed no force.
Self-denial is a Zoroastrian virtue, evident in the many
Parsee charities. A Parsee is supposed to dedicate everything, even
his body, to God, and use his gifts as a trustee here on behalf of
God. Self-denial implies altruism (concern for others).
Absolute purity, integrity and innocence are to be cherished
as essential virtues of a Zoroastrian in all his dealings with
rise and spread of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries covered most of
Middle East. The Zoroastrian Sassanians of Persia, fared extremely
badly when they went to war against the Arabs and Islam was imposed
upon the vanquished people. Religious persecution followed. Rather
than accept conversion, they left their homes and went to the
mountains of Khorasan, where they stayed until persecutions followed
them. They fled to the island of Hormuz and then set sail for India
in seven junks, they first landed in Diu and later decided to sail
to the Western Coast of India, landing in Sanjan.
first contact in India, with the Western world, was in the port town
of Swat, in Gujarat, where in the 15l Century, the Portuguese, the
British and the Dutch had been given permission by the rulers
(Mughals) to establish trading factories. Surat provided an ideal
opportunity for Parsis to engage in occupations, that they had never
attempted before. For example, Farmers became traders, carpenters
become shin builders, etc.
first Parsis came to Mumbai in the 17th century at the invitation of
the East India Company when it was but a small group of islands set
in a marshy wilderness. Since that time about 500 years ago, Parsis
and the city have nurtured one another, grown together hand in hand.
Parsis helped build the city - its roads, causeways, harbors, ships,
institutions and charities. The city in turn rewarded them with
peace and prosperity.
They helped build Bombay Port. The master ship builder Lovojee
Nusserwanji built the ship "The Queen" for the East India Company.
The Wadia's built the HMS Cornwallis in 1800s, it was purchased by
the British Navy and used in the battle of Trafalgar. The family
controlled the shipyard for over a 100 years.
Parsi entrepreneurs began springing up in all fields. They also
entered new professions and were enormously successful.
our fortunes changed, so did our names. Names that sounded strange
to English ears became easier to remember. Thus some names changed
to what we did, E.g. Lawyers, Doctor, Paymaster, Engineer, Banker,
Confectioner, Readymoney (first to loan money to the British) are
all common Parsis surnames.
1800 Parsis owned half of Mumbai and were even renting out their
magnificent houses to the British. Sir Jamshedji Jeejabhoy's home
boasted English, French and Chinese dining rooms. Legend has it that
Ming Vases were used as waste paper baskets.
Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy - Starting life as a bottle-washer, Sir Jamsetji
Jeejeebhoy rose to be one of the world's richest men, establishing a
trading empire. An extraordinary philanthropist, he gave away almost
two-thirds of his immense wealth during his lifetime.
sixteen he was orphaned and, with a small gift of food from a
neighbor in Navsari he walked to Bombay in search of work.
There, Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy worked in his uncle's bottle business.
Later, a cousin was trading between China and India and hired him as
a cashier. He then went into the China trade himself, taking cotton
and opium to China, returning with silks and other goods. The
business continued to flourish, with Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy eventually
owning a fleet of ships, trading between India, China, Siam (now
Thailand), Italy and England.
Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy now started to use his wealth to help others and
in 1822, the year of his eldest son's marriage, he freed all the men
in a debtor's prison by paying their debts.
1837, a fire in Surat, on the coast of Gujarat, India, destroyed
twenty thousand homes. Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy immediately sent a ship
to the stricken city with a cargo of food, clothing and money. He
paid for the building of many public water systems, Bombay's first
hospitals, the famous Sir Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy School of Art.
1850 Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy visited Navsari, where the local prince
ordered that drums be beaten continuously in his honour during the
time he was there. Although initially flattered, Jamsetji
Jeejeebhoy, soon had to send a messenger to the prince asking for
the drummers to stop so that everyone could get some sleep! Before
he left he found the woman who, in 16799, had given him food for his
journey to Bombay, and rewarded her a thousand times over for her
1827, he was the first Indian juror and in 1834 he became the first
Indian magistrate. He also started one of the first Indian-owned
newspapers, which later became the Times of India.
Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy's good works extended to Europe. He sent large
sums of money to Ireland in 1822 and 1846, when the population faced
starvation. He also sent money to France in 1856 when there was
was an unusual man for his time, a supporter of female education and
emancipation and, by introducing his wife and daughters to society,
outraged many more traditional Indians who thought that women should
not be seen in public.
1841, he became Sir Jamsetji then, in 1855, was given the Freedom of
the City of London, receiving the honour in the same year as the
famous explorer and missionary, David Livingstone. In 1877, Sir
Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy was made the first Indian Baronet, a hereditary
knight. Two years later he died in Bombay.
Parsees played an important role in forming the Indian National
Congress which worked towards gaining Indian independence. They
provided the only three Indian members of the British Parliament -
Dadabhoy Naoroji, Sir M.M. Bhownagree and Mr. S Saklatvalla.
Madame Bhikaji Cama, a radical fire brand, was exiled by the British
and live in France. She fought abroad, for Indians freedom. She was
the first person to create and hoist the Indian National flag at the
International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart in Germany on August
22, 1907 which was attended by nearly 1000 delegates from different
countries. Her speech exposed the atrocities of the British. To
raise the rebel flag in front of an international gathering required
defiant, courage of a high order. This she had in ample measure.
There are scores of statues all over Mumbai of Parsi gentlemen who
contributed to the city and country, Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah
Mehta, Jamshedji Tata, Cowasajee Jehangir, Banaji Petit and what is
called the "Standing Parsi" at Byculla Bridge.
Parsi leaders include –
Nuclear Scientists Homi Bhabha and Homi Sethna.
First Indian Field Marshall Sam Maneckshaw, Air Marshall Engineer
and Admiral Khushedji commanding the Navy.
Cursetjee Furdumjee Parikh (1812 -1896) was a wealthy merchant, who
traded with China. He built Flora Fountain, in the middle of Mumbai
Sir Pherozeshah Mehta - he was the first Mayor and he had three
terms as Mayor . He was associated with all the developments that
took place at that time. He is considered the father of the Bombay
Municipal Corporation. He was called "The Lion of Bombay".
JRD Tata - a keen aviator was the first Indian to start a national
airline (Tata Airlines) that later became Air India. The TELCO Coach
Factory, in Jamshedpur, Taj Mahal Hotel, Tata Oil & Mills, Bombay
Cornelia Sorabji was the first Indian practicing women lawyer.
Jamshedji Madan, pioneer of the Indian film industry.
A Parsi syndicate created the Bombay Times in 1838 which later was
re-named as the Times of India. He also gave substantial help to
start the Mumbai Samachar in 1822 and the Jam-e-Jamshed press in
1829, two newspapers that exist till today.
Zubin Mehta, famous music conductor.
Our late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, husband of the now popular
and famous Sonya Gandhi was a Parsi (Indira Gandhi's husband was a
Parsi, Feroze Gandhi).
Editor of Times of India today is a Parsi lady - Dina Vakil.
Jamshedji Tata - launched steel production in India a 100 years ago.
He also started the first cotton textile mills in Nagpur. The Indian
Institute of Science. The Taj Mahal Hotel is also a Tata enterprise.
He also started factories for producing heavy chemicals and
transport vehicles. The latest venture from the House of Tatas is
Indica, a passenger car indigenously produced under the present
Chairman of the House of Tatas - Mr Ratan Tata
Parsi food has to be experienced to be appreciated It is now a blend
of Hindu, Muslim, Portuguise, Dutch, French and British culinary
traditions, which they experienced after landing in India.
They brought with them recipes from the original country, Iran These
were influenced by their ancestors conquering vast areas of the
Middle East The Persian Empire stretched from Palestine in the West
to the Indus Valley in the East Contact with all these cultures gave
them the impetus for the introduction of exotic dishes to what must
have been simple nomadic fare.
religion is the only one I know of where no fasts are necessary.
is stated in our religious book , the Vendidad, that fasting serves
no good purpose at all. No
one who does not eat has strength to do works of holiness, strength
to do works of husbandry, strength to beget children. By
eating, every material creature lives, by not eating, it dies.
While you are in Mumbai, do try to go to a Parsi Navjote or wedding.
It is a splendid experience.
me tell you about the sit down dinner we arranged at one of the
pre-wedding celebrations for our son's wedding.
Lagan-Nu-Bhonu : Wedding feasts are traditionally served on plantain
leaves. Potato wafers, aachar (pickle) are served as appetizers,
followed by :
Saas-ni-Machhi - Pomtret cooked in a sweet and spicy white sauce
with cherry tomatoes, flavoured with sugar, green chillies, vinegar,
thickened with rice flour.
Sometimes the fish dish in Patra-ni-Machhi - piece of de-boned fish
covered in a spicy green coriander and coconut chutney, wrapped in
banana leaves and then steamed.
Chicken or Lamb with apricots and potato crisps accompanied by
mutton Pulao and masala dal (cooked lentils).
Other side dishes such as Bharuchi Akuri, Kid Ghosh, lamp cooked in
cashew nut gravy and coconut are also served.
Laga-nu-Custard is a sweet served with the main meal, and dessert is
served in the end.
There is a story how the Parsis protected their religion by their
expertise in producing fine food and wine. The Portuguese Roman
Catholic Missionaries were determined to convert the Parsi community
living peacefully in the region of Thana until the 17th century to
Christianity. They issued an ultimatum to the Parsis. Seeing that
resistance would be futile, if not fatal, the elders of the Parsi
community approached the Portuguese Governor, declaring their
eagerness to be converted. They asked for 2-3 days during which they
would worship their sacred fire one last time and celebrate their
Pleasantly surprised the Portuguese declared that no one should
interfere with their festivities. The Parsis prepared a sumptuous
feast to which they invited all the important officials. Wine flowed
freely accompanied by music and dancing. The Parsis took the
opportunity of making their exit out of the city. They re-settled in
nearby Kalyan away from Portuguese rule and preserved their
Parsis were excellent weavers who produced beautiful textiles. TUN
CHOI is a fine brocade silk with floral designs woven into the
fabric. During 1750 -1850 when trade with China was brisk, three
Parsis brothers learnt the secret of weaving this beautiful fabric
during a visit to China. The fabric is called Tun Choi - Tun means
three and Choi means Chinese.
fame of this weaving center reached Mahatma Gandhi, who admired
their art, told them that when India was independence, he would
invite the Joshi family to introduce this art all over India.
Before he died, Joshi lived to see the Tanchoi Sari woven in centers
from Kashmir to Kanya Kumari.
conclude, we Parsees did fulfill our ancient promise to be the sugar
in the milk of kindness offered to us by the Hindu King who gave us
refuge. Ever loyal to the land that gave us sanctuary, we have and
will continue to give our all to the country.