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  1. PARSI IDENTITY . . . . LOST? Sarosh Manekshaw Houston, TX December 30, 2010

  2. OBJECTIVE • To trace the development of and changes to Parsi Identity over time • To present some major events that impacted Parsi Identity, and to describe how they changed our Identity • To forecast the future of Parsi Identity based on the past record of change

  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT • Palsetia, Jesse S.: The Parsis of India, Delhi, 2008 • Hinnells, John R.; Zoroastrian and Parsi Studies, Aldershot, 2000 • Boyce, Mary: Zoroastrians, London, 1979 • Williams, Alan: The Zoroastrian Myth of Migration, Leiden, 2009 • Randeria, Jer: The Parsi Mind, New Delhi, 1993 • Luhrmann, Tanya M.: The Good Parsi, London, 1996 • Plus plagiarism from many more!!

  4. WHAT IS IDENTITY? • Our identity is the set of behavioral or personality characteristics by which we are recognizable as a member of a group • Our identity is what defines us • It differentiates us from the other • It binds us to those who are similar

  5. WHAT IS IDENTITY? • Our identity has many attributes: • Nationality -- Language • Religion -- Ethnicity • Gender -- Clan or tribe (family) • Occupation -- Social status • Politics -- Culture • We use different characteristics in different situations, and identify ourselves with different groups depending on the situation

  6. WHAT IS IDENTITY? • When representing our country – nationality • When visiting a place of worship – religion • When working – occupation • When communicating – language

  7. GROUP IDENTITY • Group identity begins developing in early childhood, where each individual’s core personal identity is intertwined with that of the larger group • Without this early link to the group, personal identity does not develop • Groups represent safety, strength, harmony and familiarity • Groups fulfill the need for bonding, identity, cohesiveness, integrity, recognition and security

  8. GROUP IDENTITY • Social scientists see identity as a basic human need, which is fulfilled through belonging to a group • As Parsis, we belong to a distinctive group

  9. PARSI IDENTITY What uniquely identifies us as Parsis? • We are Mazdayasni Zarathushtis – Religion • Originally from Iran – Ethnicity • Blended our original Iranian traditions with those of Hindus during our domicile in India – Culture (Tradition) We will use these three primary characteristics to develop the Parsi narrative

  10. PARSI IDENTITY • For Zoroastrians, the link between religion and ethnicity goes back to Achaemenian times • Darius refers to himself, in ethnic terms, as: arya arya ciça 'Aryan, of Aryan stock‘ • And further states that: Uramasda nap harriyanum 'Ahuramazda is the God of the Aryans' • Thus, from Achaemenian times on, Zoroastrianism has been considered an ethnic religion


  12. QEȘȘE-YE SANJĀN • In 652 C.E. the Sassanian empire was defeated by the Arabs • Islam was forced on the Iranian people • By the sword – Genocide • Financially – By the Jizya Tax • Inculcating Islam in the children – Brainwashing • Religious persecution and discrimination made life for Zarathushtis unbearable

  13. QEȘȘE-YE SANJĀN • 651 C.E. – Group of staunch Zarathushtis left Khorasan for Kuhestān • 751 C.E. – Left Kuhestān for Hormuz • 766 C.E. – Left Hormuz for Diu • 785 C.E. – Left Diu for Sanjān (Gujarat) – Storm at sea and vowed to consecrate an Atash Behram if granted safe passage • Sought asylum from the local ruler – Jadi Rana

  14. CONDITIONS FOR ASYLUM • Explain your religion and customs • Renounce your native language and take up the local language • Women shall wear the local dress • Lay down your swords and arms • Marriages shall take place at night

  15. ASYLUM GRANTED • Jadi Rana granted asylum and gave them a parcel of land • Named the land Sanjān after the homeland from where they came • 790 C.E. – Consecrated an Atash Behram fire in Sanjān, in fulfillment of their vow • Came to be known as “Parsis”

  16. ADAPTING IN INDIA • Parsis lived harmoniously with the local population • Parsis were free to practice their religion with no fear of conversion to the local religion • In turn, Parsis did not proselytize, and were not perceived as a threat by the Hindus • Parsi ethnicity was maintained because they could not inter-marry with Hindus

  17. ADAPTING IN INDIA • Mainly agriculturalist • Spread out over Gujarat • Gradually took on some local Hindu customs

  18. PRESERVING THE IDENTITY • Parsis remained strongly orthodox • For Parsis, religious identity as Zarthushtis and ethnic identity as Parsis were synonymous • Engaged in endogamous (within the tribe) marriage to preserve the Parsi identity • Hindu caste structure also prevented inter-marriage between the communities • Remained a non-proselytizing community • Strong emphasis on ritual purity, but simplified some ceremonies and adapted others to Indian conditions

  19. QUAE MUTATIO? (WHAT CHANGED?) • RELIGION – Unchanged – strongly orthodox • ETHNICITY – Unchanged – no inter-marriage • CULTURE & TRADITION – Major change. Had to adapt to and take on many of the local Hindu customs This was the basis of our Parsi Identity


  21. PERSIAN RIVAYATS • Parsis still looked up to the Iran priests on religious matters • Changa Asa, a leading Parsi from Navsari, sponsored an envoy to travel to Iran to consult with Iranian priests on religious matters • In 1478 Hoshang Nariman returned with letters and religious manuscripts • No differences in doctrine – mainly clarified procedures for rituals • This correspondence between the Parsis and the Iranian Zarathushtis came to be known as the “Persian Rivayats” and continued for several hundred years

  22. CALENDAR CONTROVERSY • During the course of correspondence, it became known that there was a one-month difference between the Parsi and Iranian calendars • Sometime in the period 1120 to 1130, the Parsis in India intercalated (added) an additional month, resulting in the Parsi calendar being one month behind the Iranian one • The why or the when of this intercalation is not known

  23. CALENDAR CONTROVERSY • The Parsis had religiously organized themselves into 5 panths (geographical areas), where priestly families had authority • Sanjanas • Bhagarias • Godavaras • Bharuchas • Khambattas • That the intercalation had taken place indicates the unity of the Parsi priests • Priests were the leaders of the community

  24. CALENDAR CONTROVERSY • In 1746, several priests in Sanjān decided to adopt the Iranian calendar • Called themselves Kadmis or “ancient” ones • Most Parsis continued with the traditional system and were known as the Shenshais • The issue became bitter to the point of violence • This was the first major schism within the Parsi community

  25. CALENDAR CONTROVERSY • In 1783, a wealthy philanthropist, Dady Seth, had a Kadmi Atash Behram consecrated in Mumbai • This helped reduce the tension between the Kadmis and the Shenshais • Kadmis looked up to priests in Iran for guidance • Shenshais followed the Parsi priests • Major change between the two was the difference in calendar and Navroz • Doctrinally no changes, with minor changes in rituals and prayers

  26. QUAE MUTATIO? • RELIGION • Schism between the Kadmis and Shenshais. • One month difference in Navroz. • Minor changes in rituals and prayers • Both communities remained orthodox • ETHNICITY – No change • CULTURE & TRADITIONS – No change Leaders and Community remained strongly driven to preserve Parsi Identity


  28. UNDER MOGUL RULE • Parsis, like other non-Muslims, also suffered persecution under Islamic rule in India • Emperor Akbar took an interest in the Zoroastrian religion – a period of religious tolerance • Dastur Meherji Rana went to Akbar’s Court • Akbar was impressed and removed the Jizya tax from the Parsis • However, the tax was re-imposed by Akbar’s successors • Continued unrest between Parsis and Muslims

  29. BRITISH EAST INDIA COMPANY • Early 16th Century, Europeans established trading outposts in Surat and other Gujarat towns • Parsis entered their employment • Parsis gradually transformed from agriculturalists to traders, and taking on the role of Agents to the Europeans • Growth of Parsi involvement in trade and commerce • Establishment of the “Sethias,” the rich Parsi merchants • Deep sense of communal care and charity • Elders strictly supervised the morals of the community • Renegade Parsis were ostracized – made “out of caste”

  30. SETTLEMENT IN MUMBAI • In 1662, the 7 islands of Mumbai ceded to British by Portuguese – as dowry to Charles II • Essentially a swampy, fishing village • Parsis rapidly migrated to Mumbai and greatly impacted the urbanization, growth and culture of the city • Made their fortunes in trade, finance and ship-building • Parsis highly regarded by the British • Period of collaboration between the two communities • Built Dakhma in 1670, and Vachha Modi Agiary in 1673 • These were essential for community building in Mumbai

  31. SETTLEMENT IN MUMBAI • Priests were imported from Gujarat to Mumbai to serve the growing community • Power and control over community affairs shifted rapidly from the priests of Gujarat to the wealthy merchants in Mumbai • The elite played a leading role in influencing and directing community affairs • Strongly focused on maintaining their distinct religious identity and culture

  32. PARSI CHARITY IN MUMBAI • The merchants contributed generously to Parsi charities • Spread to Parsis outside Mumbai, and even to non-Parsis • This charity was born of the Zarathushtrian spirit of betterment of humanity • Parsi charity came to characterize the essence of Parsi Identity

  33. BOMBAY PARSI PUNCHAYET • Growth of the Parsi community in Mumbai required a base of governance to preserve communal morals and unity • The Sethias had formed the informal core of the community’s leadership. • They recognized the need to preserve social norms and build a senses of community • Formal governance was instituted in the form of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP)

  34. BOMBAY PARSI PUNCHAYET • The BPP was first constituted in c. 1725, by 5 prominent, lay, Parsi merchants • Interested primarily in the social and civil needs of the community • The ability of the BPP to mete out punishment (in the form of ostracizing) led to the behdin-mobed dispute • Appeals, to the British, ruled in favor of the BPP and strengthened their position

  35. BOMBAY PARSI PUNCHAYET • In 1787, the BPP was reconstituted under the authority of the Government giving it legal rights • Increased to 12 members – all still prominent Parsis • This institution was now key in shaping the Parsi identity • Gradually BPP took over the leadership role from Navsari, the center of priestly authority, and started controlling religious issues as well • Outlawed bigamy and child marriages. • In 1836 the BPP put “out of caste” 3 priests for performing the Navjote of illegitimate children

  36. BOMBAY PARSI PUNCHAYET • The BPP was instrumental in setting community norms on social & marital issues, and they had the authority to mete out punishment by declaring the individual “out of caste” • This left the individual bereft of communal support • Laskari case, and other disciplinary actions, displayed the necessity of social control to maintain communal cohesiveness • 1818 to 1823, the BPP proscribed rituals deemed to be Hindu or Muslim (visiting holy places; those pertaining to wedding & funeral rituals; superstitious practices; etc.) • Issues of marriage, role of men and women, and religious observances, came to define the Parsi Identity.

  37. DECLINE OF THE BPP • Starting about 1836, the BPP went into decline • Members did not attend meetings • Nepotism prevailed, and those taking over lacked an interest in communal affairs • Rulings were inconsistent, delayed, and unevenly enforced • Several prominent leaders resigned in frustration • Parsis felt the BPP had abdicated its responsibility to safeguard the community’s interests • The newly educated, reformist Parsis opposed the BPP and the community split

  38. QUAE MUTATIO? • Religion – • Leadership over religious matters gradually shifted away from the priests in Gujarat to the Sethias in Mumbai • Doctrinally unchanged • Strictly controlled religious purity by proscribing non-Zarathushtrian rituals and ceremonies • Ethnicity – Unchanged • strong opposition to conversion and proselytization

  39. QUAE MUTATIO? • Culture & Traditional – • Shift from rural to urban • Interaction with Europeans • Very effective institution (BPP) was formed to dispense social justice, with the primary focus of preserving Parsi Identity and communal unity • Its rapid decline led to a split in the community


  41. CHRISTIAN PROSELYTIZATION • In 1813 the East India Company was forced to permit missionaries to enter India • In 1829 the Rev. John Wilson, a Scottish missionary arrived in Mumbai • He was impressed by the Parsis’ outstanding character and progressiveness • Thus, the Parsis became a target community for Rev. Wilson’s evangelical efforts

  42. REV. JOHN WILSON • He studied the then available (Antiquetil du Perron’s) translations of the Avesta and Bundahishn • Set about attacking Zoroastrianism by vilifying the doctrines of the religion • Published these attacks in a series of articles in the local newspaper • Several individuals responded to this attack and a debate raged in the community • They, unschooled in Western education, proved to be poor defenders of the faith • Their contradicting defense further added to the confusion

  43. REV. JOHN WILSON Wilson’s attack was on the following grounds: • Zoroastrianism robbed God (Ahura Mazda) of his glory by admitting to the powers of an Evil Spirit • Because of the veneration of the AmeshaSpentasand Yazatas, Zoroastrianism was polytheistic • Because of its veneration of fire, water and the earth, it was a form of nature worship • That the Avesta was not written by Zarathushtra • Zarathushtra was not a prophet, since there is no record that he performed miracles

  44. REV. JOHN WILSON • The only coherent defense was by Dastur Edul Sanjana, of the Wadiaji Atash Behram, who strongly defended the orthodox position • He, too, was viciously attacked by John Wilson • This confrontation left the community in disarray, since they felt that even their priests were unable to satisfactorily defend the religion • Wilson’s attack had the desired effect of spreading confusion, and left several (especially the educated Parsis) distressed that they were unable to defend or explain their beliefs and doctrines to the British

  45. REV. JOHN WILSON • Despite Wilson’s persistent attacks, he was only able to convert one Parsi • On May 1, 1839, Dhanjibhai Nauroji, a 16-year old, was baptized a Christian by Rev. Wilson • This conversion caused outrage, and unified the community in its opposition to proselytization • The case was challenged in court, but the British justices ruled in favor of Wilson • This incident raised the necessity to defend, preserve and protect Parsi Identity

  46. MARTIN HAUG • Martin Haug was a Lutheran, German scholar teaching Sanskrit in Pune • He also studied the Avesta and was the first Western scholar to isolate the Gathas from within the Yasna, as the words of Zarathushtra (1859) • He stated that Parsis should only focus on the Gathas • Haug concluded that Zarathushtra’s theology was a rigid monotheism, with Ahura Mazda creating both the Good (Spenta Mainyu) and the Evil (Angra Mainyu) Spirits • This was anathema to the orthodox view that Ahura Mazda could not conceivably be associated with the creation of evil

  47. MARTIN HAUG – THE CHAMPION • Martin Haug deflected Wilson’s charge of polytheism by stating that these were later concepts added by ignorant priests • By doing so, Haug dichotomized the religion into two periods: (1) The original pure religion of Zarathushtra, and (2) the later priestly corruption • Haug’s concepts of Zoroastrianism were championed by the elite, reformist Parsis, who could now present themselves to the British as followers of a monotheistic, progressive, Protestant-like religion

  48. QUAE MUTATIO? • Religion – • Wilson’s attack left the Parsis in disarray about the nature of their doctrines • Haug defended the religion against Wilson’s charges, but compounded the error by mischaracterizing the religion as monotheistic, and then dichotomizing it by proposing two separate theologies • This was the start of and basis for the present theological differences between the Reformists and the Orthodox

  49. QUAE MUTATIO? • Ethnicity – No change • Culture and Traditions – • The Wilson attack on the Parsis forced the community to become more introspective • It brought about communal unity • It brought to the front the question of Parsi Identity and to defend it against outside attack • Haug helped the elite, Western-minded Parsis to better ingratiate themselves with the British