"In the days after the funeral, it struck me with some sadness that my
grandfather, who had spent almost a century devoted to the Zoroastrian
faith, would be the final Parsi in his family line. Growing up in
Britain, I’d read a bit about the history of Zoroastrianism, but only
knew the basics: it was one of the oldest religions, based on the
teachings of the prophet Zarathustra, who lived thousands of years ago,
though nobody knew exactly where or when (Iran, central Asia, perhaps
what is now southern Russia; and about 1500 BC, give or take a few
centuries). The faith he preached, of an epic battle between a powerful
deity and an evil spirit, in which his followers should do everything in
thoughts, words and deeds to aid the side of light, was passed down
orally for centuries before it was committed to parchment. It became the
dominant religion of Persia for more than a millennium, until the advent
of Islam in the seventh century. Some Zoroastrians who refused to
convert fled, and ended up in Gujarat in western India, where they
became known as Parsis after their Persian origins. They built new
temples to house their sacred fires, which were tended to by priests and
could never be extinguished.
The Parsis promised their Hindu hosts they would not proselytise, and
over the centuries this morphed into a dogmatic aversion to conversion.
The rigorous tribalism kept the small community alive and distinct for
more than a millennium, but in today’s world, the same intransigence is
killing it off. “You’ve seen four weddings and a funeral – well, for
Parsis, it’s four funerals and a wedding,” says Jehangir Patel, who has
edited the community’s monthly magazine, Parsiana, for almost 50 years.
When he finally retires, he fears the magazine will simply close, as
more of its readers are dying off each year. India’s Parsi population
shrank from 114,000 in 1941 to 57,000 at the last census in 2011.
Projections suggest that by the end of the century, there will be just
Via Frederick Wilson II.
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics