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The Parsis are Zoroastrians who left Persia (Iran) between the 8th and 10th centuries CE, migrating to India and Pakistan to avoid Muslim persecution following the conquest of Persia by Islamic forces.

At the time of the Muslim conquest, Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in the region. Iranians fought against the Muslims for nearly two centuries, and it was during this time that many Zoroastrian Iranians fled from Iran to India, where they were given refuge. What is now Pakistan was then part of India.

On the advice of an astrologer-priest, a group of Zoroastrians left northern Persia, traveling across the country, then going by boat to the coast of what is now Pakistan, where they settled for about twenty years. They moved on, again at the advice of an astrologer-priest, landing on the northwest coast of India, where a local prince granted them permission to settle, as well as land to build a temple.

The Parsis believe that their journeys were part of a divine plan, one that was written in the stars, as well as an answer to their prayers. In India, they were required to make only minimal adaptations in order to fit in, and a degree of harmony has developed between their religion and the Hinduism of their hosts.

The Parsis learned, and eventually adopted as their own, the language of their hosts, and developed a national affiliation as Indians. While maintaining Zoroastrianism as their religion, they stressed those aspects that were similar to Hinduism. However, they maintained their Persian roots by avoiding intermarriage with the local populations.

When Muslim armies invaded India in 1297, and again in 1465, the Parsis fought alongside the Hindus. Although Islamic forces did take over the region for a time, persecution was not as bad as they had been in Persia. Those who were left in Islamic Pakistan after it broke away from India have not had it so easy, however.

During the British occupation, the islands of Bombay were developed as a commercial base. As early settlers on the islands, the Parsis became wealthy and influential in commerce and politics.

In the 20th century, the wealth of the Parsis community declined considerably, but they remain a respected, well-educated, and largely middle-class community.

They have also picked up Western influences. Some Parsis have studied their own religion at Western schools, while others have picked up Protestant Christian influences. The traditional Parsis language, a variant of Gujarati, has largely given way, and Parsis traditions have developed into Parsi theater, literature, newspapers and magazines, schools, medical centers, Scout troops, and even Masonic lodges.

Parsi religious practices emphasize the concepts of purity and pollution (nasu), initiation (navjot), daily prayers, and worship at Fire Temples. The idea of purity and pollution represents the balance between good and evil, with purity held to be the essence of godliness.

Zoroastrians are initiated when he or she is old enough to make that choice. The initiation begins with a ritual bath, then a cleansing prayer. The initiate then changes into white pajama pants, a shawl, and a small cap. After introductory prayers, the initiate is given a number of sacred apparel that is associated with the faith, such as a sacred shirt and cord, an undergarment known as a sudre, and a kushti, which is a sacred girdle. The initiate faces the priest, and fire is brought in to represent God. Once the priest completes the prayers, the initiation is completed, and the initiate is a full member of the Parsi religion and community.

Marriage is an important component of the Parsi religion. Given that Parsi Zoroastrianism is as much an ethnic identity as a religious practice, procreation is the sole source of expanding God's kingdom. Child marriage was common until the mid-1800s, but has since been discontinued, and was never part of the Parsi religious doctrine.

Traditionally, the bodies of deceased Parsis are taken to the Towers of Silence, a raised structure where the corpses are eaten by vultures. Through this practice, the earth, fire, and water are not defiled by the dead. In modern times, the population of vultures has decreased. As a result, the corpses are taking much longer to decompose. Solar panels have been installed in the Towers of Silence to speed up the process, with limited success. In Peshawar, a graveyard was established in the late 1800s, but most Parsis prefer to use the traditional method of disposing of the dead.

The Ilm-e-Kshnoom are a Parsi sect or school of Parsi-Zoroastrian philosophy based on a mystic and esoteric interpretation of religious texts, rather than a literal one. The largest community of Kshnoom are in the Bombay suburb of Jogeshwari, where they have their own fire temple, housing colony, and newspaper.

 

 

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