Les Parsis
by D. Menant
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Les Parsis


D. Menant

Translated in part

By the late

Miss Ratanbai Ardeshir Vakil


Printed for private circulation




Introduction ix Chapter I. The Exodus of the Parsis 1 II. The Zoroastrians in Persia 38 III. Population—Costumes—Usages—Festivals 77


A special interest attaches to this translation into English of D. Menant's monograph entitled "Les Parsis," arising from the circumstance that it is, in great part, the work of a Parsi lady, the late Miss Ratanbai Ardeshir Vakil.

I have still a vivid recollection of the morning in the beginning of the year 1886 on which Mr. Ardeshir F. Vakil, senior partner in one of the leading firms of solicitors in Bombay, brought his two daughters Meherbai and Ratanbai to the Wilson College to begin their career as students of the Bombay University. Although for many years that University had prefaced its Regulations with the sentence—"In the following regulations the pronoun 'he' and its derivatives are used to denote either sex," and had thus opened its doors wide to the women of India, only one lady student had been enrolled as undergraduate in Arts before these two sisters entered upon their College career. The experiment which was then made awakened some anxieties. Would it be possible for Indian ladies to study in a mixed College class? How would the men be likely to conduct themselves in the new situation?—these were questions which naturally presented themselves. The result of the experiment disappointed from the beginning all such fears. From the first day the presence of these ladies elevated the tone and discipline of the College class in a manner most creditable to the ladies and to the men. The success of this experiment paved the way for the admission during subsequent years of an increasing number of lady students to the privileges of a University education, who are under no small obligation to the courage and character displayed by these two sister pioneers. They both came to the University under the impulse of a real love of learning, and their success in the pursuit of it was assured from the beginning.

In this prefatory note I confine myself to the career of the younger sister. The elder, after her graduation as Bachelor of Arts in Bombay, entered upon a course of medical study which led her ultimately to London and Glasgow. From the Glasgow University she received the degrees of M.B., C.M., and is now exercising her profession in her native city.

The younger sister, Ratanbai, never left home. The strength of her attachment to her home in Bombay was quite remarkable. She found little enjoyment even in those temporary absences from Bombay during the hot season vacation which prove so attractive to many. Her life moved in two spheres—the College and her home, and these two sufficed.

Born in December, 1869, she was a girl of sixteen when she entered upon her studies for her degree. She passed through the ordinary curriculum of study, which included English and French Literature, Mathematics, Elementary Science, History, and Logic. The subjects in which she was specially interested were English and French Literature. French was recognised by the University as one of the languages which might be studied in the course for the degree of Bachelor of Arts when she entered upon her studies, and she was one of the first to select this language. She had as her instructor the late Signor Pedraza, a gentleman whose name will always be associated with the history of the progress of French studies in Western India. Under his competent guidance she acquired a great love for French literature, and found in this side of her studies much mental enjoyment. In 1890 she passed her examination for the degree with honours, and was immediately thereafter elected to a Fellowship in the College. This also was a new and interesting experiment, amply justified by its results.

As a Dakshina Fellow she taught the French classes in the College, and had as her pupils not only young ladies but also young men. When the period of her fellowship expired she continued her connection with the College and remained in charge of the French classes, performing a highly-valued service on the merely nominal salary of a Fellow of an Indian College. She maintained her connection with the College simply from love to the College and the work. During her College career both she and her sister had given evidence of their unselfishness by declining, on more than one occasion, scholarships to which their position in the University examinations would have entitled them, in order that poorer students less high in the lists might have the benefit of the aid and rewards which they were willing to forego. Ratanbai showed the same spirit of generosity during all the years of her connection with the College, and every student movement that needed financial aid could always reckon on her liberal help. In the truest sense her work in the Wilson College was a labour of love.

She continued this work up to the time of that last sad illness which ended so rapidly in her lamented death. So quickly did she succumb that I knew of her serious illness only a few hours before she passed away. I shall not readily forget the grief of her home when the shadow of death was falling upon it, nor the gloom which entered when she passed out of it. It was indeed as if all its light and joy had perished. One could see how the education and culture of women, instead of creating a cleft in the life of the family, as is so often erroneously imagined by those who oppose the cause of female education in India, proves a means of strengthening its unity and elevating its whole character.

In this respect Ratanbai was exercising an influence greater than she knew on the prospects of education amongst her countrywomen, by disarming all such suspicions and by proving in her own person the essential compatibility of the higher culture with the best domestic virtues. She never felt tempted by her love of books to neglect her duties as a daughter and a sister in the home, or, if she did, she overcame the temptation completely.

Her influence on College students was of the same quiet, unobtrusive character, and, for that reason, all the more real. When she died, the students of the College felt themselves bereaved of a true friend. A spontaneous movement on their part to found a memorial of her in the College awakened a general response, and the Ratanbai Collection of French Works placed in the College Library was the result.

Through the efforts of friends outside the College who admired her character and attainments, a scholarship fund was raised in her memory, and the College awards every year scholarships to women students on this foundation.

During a brief career she was enabled to illustrate by a singularly modest and unassuming life the power and the lasting influence of unselfish service. The truest mark of her unselfishness was her own unconsciousness of it; by look and manner she seemed continually to deprecate all commendation or praise. Unselfish devotion to duty in the two spheres of life to which she belonged, her home and her College, was the outstanding feature of the brief but happy career which closed so suddenly when Ratanbai passed away in 1895, at the early age of twenty-six; and because of this her memory remains.

The unfinished manuscript now completed and published will be welcomed by many who knew and esteemed the writer, as well as by all in whom the perusal of this volume awakens an interest in the ancient race to which she belonged.

D. Mackichan.

Wilson College, Bombay,

May, 1902.




The Parsis are the descendants of the ancient Persians, whose fame has survived in the annals of the world. Reduced henceforth to perhaps the most restricted minority amongst all the nations of the globe, they are found dispersed all over the Presidency of Bombay, and in some districts of modern Persia, in Yezd and in Kirman, where they have been vegetating for centuries. The Bible, [1] the classical historians, [2] national traditions, [3] and epigraphical documents recently brought to light by European savants [4] give us some information concerning their history.

Fars represents in our days the little province of Parsua, which has given its name to one of the greatest civilisations of antiquity. It is bounded on the west by Susiana, on the north and on the east by the Deserts of Khavir and Kirman, with a coast-line along the Persian Gulf between Bushire and Bunder Abbas. In ancient times the inhabitants, divided into tribes, led a simple, rustic life, superior in all respects to their neighbours the Medes, already enervated by civilisation. Between the ages of five and twenty, says Herodotus, the young Persians are taught three things: to mount the horse, to stretch the bow, and to speak the truth (Her., Clio, cxxxi.). It was amongst them, and amongst the Bactrians, that the principles of the Zoroastrian religion had been maintained in all their purity.

With Cyrus, the descendant of Achaemenes, the real history of Persia begins. He founded the dynasty of the Achaemenides, which lasted for two centuries, and attained by its conquests a degree of splendour of which we find unmistakable traces everywhere. It was at Arbela [5] (331) that Alexander overthrew Darius, the last prince of this dynasty, and, on his death, Persia was numbered amongst the countries that had passed under the subjection of the Seleucidae. In 225 B.C., Arsace, of the province of Parthia, revolted against Antiochus Theos, and laid the foundations of a new empire. The dynasty of the Arsacides reigned until a Persian prince of somewhat inferior birth, Ardeshir, founded in his turn a national dynasty, viz., that of the Sassanides (226 A.D.). The Romans were its constant enemies. However, the real danger revealed itself only with the advent of the Arabs, who, approaching nearer and nearer, had already conquered several provinces when King Yezdezard made preparations for resistance.

The first invasion took place under Khalif Omar (633). [6] Khalud Ben Walid at the head of ten thousand men, and Mosanna at the head of eight thousand, had marched against Hormuz, the Persian Governor of Irak, and had vanquished him. After this victory Khalud had gone forward and conquered Irak; but he was defeated at the battle of Marwaha (634). Four thousand Mussulmans were killed, and two thousand returned to Medina. Unfortunately the Persian general Behman did not follow up this advantage. The country was at this time divided into two factions, one under Rustam, the generalissimo of the Persian Empire, the other under Prince Firoz. Behman, instead of securing the independence of his country, hastened to support Rustam against Firoz. The Arabs, emboldened by their rapid successes, established their camp between Kadesia [7] and Koufah, where by the Caliph's order hordes of Nomads came to reinforce their troops. The struggle lasted for three days and three nights; the Persian army was entirely destroyed, and the royal standard fell into the hands of the Arabs. [8] Yezdezard, informed of this misfortune, escaped to Holwan. Sa'd, having taken possession of Madain, pursued the fugitive monarch, who withdrew to Rei.

In the twentieth year of the Hejira, Omar recalled Sa'd, and Yezdezard took this opportunity to gather together a hundred and fifty thousand men, all the contingents having been drawn from the province of Khorassan and from the environs of Rei and Hamadan. Firouzan was appointed commander. The Caliph, hearing of the preparations of the Persian king, sent in his turn reinforcements, and placed at their head his general No'man, with the strictest orders to destroy the impious religion of the Fire-Worshippers. It was at Nehawend [9] that, after a delay of two months, the shock of arms decided the fate of Iran. Thirty thousand Persians fell on the battlefield, and eighty thousand were drowned in the moats surrounding the camp. Firouzan was pursued into the mountains and killed by a detachment of Arabs. [10]

From that time Persia passed into the hands of the Caliphs. Yezdezard escaped at first to Seistan and then to Merv. The governor of this town offered to deliver up the fugitive prince to the Khan of Turkestan. The Turks entered the town in spite of the resistance of the inhabitants, and the king, taking advantage of the confusion, succeeded in hiding himself in a neighbouring mill. The miller at first gave protection to the king; but urged by a desire to get possession of his arms and his clothes, he, like a coward, killed the king. The irate people massacred the assassin, and the body of Yezdezard, son of Sheheriar, the last sovereign of the Sassanian dynasty, was sent to Istakhr, there to be deposited in the tomb of his ancestors (A.D. 650).

The conquest of Persia was accomplished with surprising rapidity. Shortly after the death of the king, Islamism was imposed upon all; but certain amongst the Mazdiens offered resistance, and even succeeded in remaining in their fatherland; others, unwilling to accept the law of the Koran, abandoned their hearths, and went and dwelt in the mountainous districts of Khorassan, [11] where, for a hundred years, they were enabled to live and practise their religion without being disturbed. They were, however, obliged to quit this asylum and to take refuge in large numbers in the little island of Hormuz, [12] at the entrance of the Persian Gulf. Here they made but a short sojourn, and finally decided to seek the protection of the Hindoos. They procured vessels and embarked with their wives and children.

The relations between Persia and India had been rather frequent, and it was precisely their former intercourse, rendered closer a few centuries before the Arab invasion, that made this migration possible. This we can see from an interesting resume given in the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, p. 247, and which we reproduce here:—

"In legendary times some religious connection had existed between the great prophet Zoroaster, who flourished about 1000 B.C. (see Haug, Essays, 299), and the Brahman Tchengreghatchah, who was sent back to convert his compatriots. (See also in Firdusi the story of Prince Isphandiar, son of Gustasp, who was such a fervent disciple of Zoroaster that he persuaded the Emperor of India to adopt the worship of fire,—Elliot, History, v. 568). The Hindoo tradition of the introduction of fire-worshipping priests from Persia into Dwarka in Kathyawar is probably of a much later date (Reinaud, Memoire sur l'Inde, 391-397). Another link, and this time of an entirely political nature, is discovered in the mythical conquests of Northern India, which, according to Persian writers, must have followed from the year 1729 B.C. (Troyer, Rajatarangini, ii. 441). In historical times the Punjaub formed part of the Persian dominions since its conquest by Darius Hystaspes (510 B.C.) down to the end of the dynasty of the Achaemenides (350 B.C.). (Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies, iv. 433.)

"Towards the commencement of the Christian era, as is seen from the fire altars on their coins, the Kanerkis or the Scythians of India, the rulers of the Punjaub, seem to have adopted the religion of the Magi (Lassen, in J. B. A. S. ix. 456; Prinsep, Note on Historic Researches from Bactrian Coins, 106). As far as Southern India is concerned, the mention of Brahmani Magi in Ptolemy (150) seems to indicate some relation with Persia, but the Kanarese word mag or 'son' gives a sufficient explanation.

"Closer connection between India and Persia dates from the restoration of the Persian power under the Sassanide dynasty (226-650 A.D.). In the fifth century the visit of the Persian prince Behram (436), who had come, doubtless, to implore aid against the White Huns (Wilson, Ariana Antiqua, 383), his marriage with a Hindoo princess, and, according to indigenous accounts, his founding the dynasty of the Ghardabin kings, made this intimacy closer (Wilford, As. Res. ix. 219; Masoudi, Prairies d'or, ii. 191; Reinaud, Memoire sur l'Inde, 112; Elliot, Hist. ii. 159). Later on Noshirwan the Just (531-579) and his grandson Parviz (591-628) allied themselves, by treaties and by the exchange of rich presents, to the rulers of India and Sindh (Masoudi, Prairies d'or, ii. 201). As to these treaties, it is interesting to notice that the subject of one of the paintings in the Caves of Ajanta is believed to represent the embassy of Noshirwan to Pulikesi, king of Badami, in the country south of that of the Mahrattas, whilst another is supposed to be a copy made after the portraits of Parviz and the beautiful Shirin (Fergusson, in Burgess' Ajanta Notes, 92). According to certain narratives, a body of Persians landed, at the commencement of the seventh century, in Western India, and it is supposed that to one of these chiefs, regarded by Wilford as a son of Khosroo Parvis, is to be traced the origin of the Udeipore dynasty (Gladwin, Ain-i-Akbari, ii. 81; Dr. Hunter, As. Res. vi. 8; Wilford, As. Res. ix. 233; Prinsep, Jour. Ben. As. Soc. iv. 684). Wilford considered the Konkanasth Brahmins as belonging to the same race; but, although their origin is doubtful, the Konkanasths had settled in India long before the Parsis. Moreover, India and Persia had been connected by commercial treaties. Cosmas Indicopleustes (545) found some Persians amongst the principal traders settled along the coasts of the Indian Ocean (Migne, Patrologiae Cursus, lxxxviii. 446; Yule, Cathay, 1, clxxvii.-clxxix.), and his assertion as to the existence of a Persian bishop at the head of the Christian communities of Kalyan (Yule, Cathay, 1, clxxi.), discloses close relations between Thana and the Persian Gulf. Shortly after the time of Cosmas, the empire of the seas passed from the Romans to the Persians, and the fleets of India and China visited the Persian Gulf (Reinaud, Aboulfeda, 1-11, ccclxxxiii.-iv.). It was this connection between Western India and Persia which urged, in 638 (H. 16) Caliph Omar (634-643) to found the city of Bussorah, partly for the needs of commerce and partly to prevent the Indian princes from coming to the help of the Persians (Troyer, Rajatarangini, ii. 449; Chronique de Tabari, iii. 401), and, in the same year (638-639), prompted him to send a fleet to ravage the coasts of Thana (Elliot, Hist. i. 415). Tabari (838-921) and Masoudi (900-950) both prove that the district round Bussorah and the country under the subjection of the King of Oman were regarded by the Arabs as forming part of India (Chronique de Tabari, iii. 401; Prairies d'or, iv. 225). In the seventh century it has been noticed that several Indians had settled in the principal cities of Persia, where they enjoyed the free exercise of their religion (Reinaud, Aboulfeda, 1-11, ccclxxxiv.). It should also be noticed that from the sixth century, when the Persians commenced taking a leading part in the commerce and trade of the East, they visited not only India, but China also (Reinaud, Aboulfeda, 1-11, ccclxxxiii.). Towards the period of their arrival in India, the Parsis were settled in China as missionaries, merchants, or refugees. Anquetil du Perron (Zend-Avesta, 1, cccxxxvi.) speaks of Persians going to China, in the seventh century, with a son of Yezdezard. According to Wilford (As. Res. ix. 235), another band of emigrants joined them in 750, towards the beginning of the reign of the Abbassides. In 758 the Arabs and the Persians were so strong in Canton that they stirred up several riots and plundered the town (Reinaud, Aboulfeda, 1-11, ccclxxxv.). In 846 there is a mention made of Muhapas or Mobeds in Canton (Yule, Cathay, 1, xcvi.), and sixty years later Masoudi affirms that there were many fire-temples in China (Prairies d'or, iv. 86)."

It is scarcely probable that there could have been only one migration of the Persians. There must have been many such, at different periods, according as the spirit of persecution was more or less strong amongst the conquerors. The traditions concerning this subject are vague. We are in absolute ignorance as to the mode of their departure, and the number of those who, in despair, had to quit the Persian Gulf. The only information that we can get at concerning this subject is that contained in a book entitled Kissah-i-Sanjan, [13] written towards the year 1600 by a Mazdien priest called Behram Kaikobad Sanjana, who dwelt in Naosari. According to this author, Diu, [14] a small town on the Gulf of Cambay to the south of the Kathyawar coast, was the first port where the refugees landed. Here they dwelt for nearly twenty years, at the end of which they sought for another residence. There is a mysterious passage in the Kissah-i-Sanjan upon this second immigration, but it scarcely explains it. "An old Dastoor (high-priest) who had applied himself to the science of predicting from the stars, declared that they should leave this place and seek another residence. All rejoiced on hearing these words, and immediately set sail for Gujerat." Scarcely had they left the coast of Diu when a storm burst upon them, and the Persians believed themselves hopelessly lost. They then implored the aid of Him for whom they had abandoned all, promising to light the sacred fire as soon as they should have touched the shores of India.

He heard the prayer of his faithful children. The tempest fell, and they were able to land at Sanjan, [15] twenty-five miles south of Damman. [16] The territory of Sanjan was, at that time, subject to the sage Jadi Rana, [17] to whom the Persians sent a Dastoor, with presents, to obtain permission to settle in his country, and to inquire what conditions would be imposed upon them. The Dastoor, approaching the Rana, invoked blessings upon him, and after having explained to him the reasons that had determined the fugitives to quit their fatherland, he narrated their misfortunes, and asked for his countrymen authoritative permission to settle in Sanjan. The prince, it is said, struck by the warlike and distinguished appearance of these foreigners, at first conceived some fear, and desired to know something of their usages and customs. During their sojourn at Diu the Persians had learnt sufficiently well the spirit and character of the Hindoos, to answer his questions in a satisfactory manner. The most learned amongst them drew up sixteen Slokas or distichs, in which they summarised the duties enjoined by their religion [18]:—

1. We are worshippers of Ahura Mazda (the Supreme Being), of the sun and of the five elements.

2. We observe silence during bath, at prayers, while making offerings to the fire, and when eating.

3. We use incense, perfumes and flowers in our religious ceremonies.

4. We honour the cow.

5. We wear the sacred garment, the Sudra or the shirt, the Kusti or thread for the waist, and the twofold cap.

6. We rejoice ourselves with songs and musical instruments on marriage occasions.

7. We permit our women to wear ornaments and use perfumes.

8. We are enjoined to be liberal in our charities and especially in excavating tanks and wells.

9. We are enjoined to extend our sympathies to all beings, male or female.

10. We practise ablutions with gaomutra, one of the products of the cow.

11. We wear the sacred thread when praying and eating.

12. We feed the sacred fire with incense.

13. We offer up prayers five times a day.

14. We carefully observe conjugal fidelity and purity.

15. We celebrate annual religious ceremonies in honour of our ancestors.

16. We observe the greatest precautions with regard to our wives during their confinement and at certain periods of the month.

It is interesting to notice that, at this juncture, the Zoroastrians showed themselves singularly skilful and clever, avoiding all mention of the true basis of their religion, and only setting forth certain ceremonies, of no importance, which seemed of a nature likely to conciliate the goodwill of the Rana. Anxious to find some place of repose, the Parsis knew the Hindoos and their susceptibilities of caste and religion too well not to be willing to please them; and that is why they formulated their answers with a prudence and skill which won the favour of the Rana. He therefore permitted them to reside in the city on condition that they adopted the language of the country, and ceased to speak that of their ancestors; that their women should dress according to the Hindoo mode; that the men should no longer carry weapons, and should perform their marriage ceremonies at night, according to Hindoo custom. What could the unfortunate exiles, thirsting for peace and rest, do but accept these conditions? And this they did. They settled down in a vast tract of land not far from Sanjan, and with full hearts offered prayers to Hormuzd. They resolved to fulfil the vow they had made at the time of their memorable voyage from Diu to Sanjan, to raise the altar for lighting the sacred fire. The Hindoos, far from opposing this, helped to build the temple (721), and Zoroastrian rites and ceremonies began to be performed from that time on Indian soil. (Parsee Prakash, p. 2.)

For nearly three hundred years the Parsis lived peacefully at Sanjan; but with time, their numbers having increased, some emigrated to other places: in the north, to Cambay, [19] Ankleswar, [20] Variav, Vankaner and Surat; in the south, to Thana [21] and Chaul, places still to be found on the map of India. Their first migration from Sanjan seems to have been to Cambay (942-997). Several considerations attracted them to this place, and, besides, they seem to have prospered there. [22] The settlement of Variav seems to have been as old as that of Cambay. A Pehlvi inscription on the sides of the Kanheri caves, tells us that a certain number of Parsis visited them on the 2nd of December, 999, and according to another similar Pehlvi inscription, other Parsis seem to have visited them on the 5th of November, 1021. [23]

We then find the Parsis at Naosari [24]; in 1142 a Mobed named Camdin Yartosht quitted Sanjan with his family, to perform there some religious ceremonies required by the Zoroastrians of that place. If we follow the authority of a certain manuscript preserved by the descendants of Meherji Rana, the celebrated High Priest who lived three centuries ago, it was from the Parsis that Naosari received its name. When they arrived there—511, Yezdezard—they found the climate as pleasant as that of Mazanderan, one of the provinces of Persia, and called it Navisari or Nao-Sari. Since then it has been called Naosari-Nagmandal instead of Nagmandal, its old name. [25]

From the narrations of different travellers it would seem that the Parsis had settled in a great many cities of Upper India; but it is impossible to say whether these came from Western India or from Persia. A Mahomedan traveller of the tenth century, Al Isthakhri, mentions several parts of India as being occupied by the Guebres: that is the name given by Mahomedan writers to the Parsis. An unexceptionable testimony of their presence at Dehra-Dun (1079) is furnished to us in the attack of Ibrahim the Ghaznevid against a colony of fire-worshippers living in that place. Similarly we find the Parsis in the Panjaub before 1178, if we are to believe the tradition of a voyage made that year by a Parsi priest named Mahyar; he had come from Uch, a town situated on the conflux of the five rivers of the Panjaub, to Seistan in Persia, in order to acquire a thorough knowledge of the religious rites. After six years of study under the Dastoors he brought into India, in 1184, a copy of the Pehlvi translation of the Vendidad. [26] It seems also that there must have been some intercourse between the Parsis of Cambay and those of the Panjaub, since, in 1328, the former were in possession of some copies of the Vendidad acquired by Mahyar.

At the time of the invasion of India by Timur, we find Parsis or Magi amongst the captives. The men who have been represented as believing in the two principles of good and evil, and admitting at the same time Yazdan (God) and Ahreman (the Devil), and who offered a desperate resistance to Timur at Tughlikhpur, were the Parsis. It is said besides that the colony at Gujerat was reinforced by a large number of Parsis, who fled before the conqueror. The mention made by a Mahomedan writer of the destruction of fire-temples by the Emperor Sikandar (1504), shows that long before this date Parsi emigrants had dwelt in Upper India. Sir H. M. Elliot, in his History of India, following the opinion of Professor Dawson, affirms that the Guebres of Rohilkhand, the Magyas of Malwa, and the Maghs of Tughlikhpur, although at present they offer no religious peculiarities, are the remnants of the Parsis of Upper India. According to a communication anent Mount Abu by Sir Alexander Burnes, cited in the Gazetteer of Bombay, there had been a Parsi colony at Chandrauli towards the middle of the fifteenth century.

It is believed that the Parsis settled at Ankleswar in the middle of the thirteenth century of our era. One of their religious books, the Vispered, was in fact copied there in 1258. There is no doubt of their having been at Bharooch [27] before the commencement of the fourteenth century, for we find that a "Dokhma" was built there in 1309 by a Parsi named Pestanji; and the ruins of a still older Tower are to be found in the suburb of Vajalpoor.

The settlements at Thana and Chaul must have been founded at an early date; Mahomedan and European travellers mention them in speaking of these two places, without giving them their true name. However, the description given of them agrees very much with that of the Parsis; and this idea is confirmed by Odoric, an Italian monk who was travelling in India about the beginning of the fourteenth century. [28] The people (at Thana) were, according to him, idolaters, for they worshipped fire, serpents, and trees, and did not bury their dead, but carried them with great pomp to the fields, and cast them down as food for beasts and birds. Now, as the Hindoos either burn or bury their dead, the custom here described relates evidently to the Parsis who, later on, left this place in a body. A tradition preserved at Thana furnishes an amusing instance of the manner in which the colony contrived to escape a forced conversion to Christianity. The Parsis, constrained to renounce their faith, and having no means of escape, succeeded by cunning in avoiding the persecutions they were threatened with. They repaired in a body to the governor and declared themselves ready to embrace Christianity, demanding as an only favour a delay till the following Sunday before renouncing their faith, in order to take advantage of the few days of respite to worship the sacred fire and celebrate, for the last time, their festivals. The Portuguese were so pleased with this prompt submission to their will that a proclamation was issued to the effect that, on the day fixed, no one should interfere with the Mazdiens in the performance of their rites and ceremonies. The Parsis prepared a great feast, to which all the notables were invited; wine flowed freely, and while the guests were indulging themselves in it, the Parsis, to the sound of music and in the middle of the dancing, left the town and reached Kalyan, to the south of Thana, where they settled. [29]

Travellers in India from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries have found Parsis in different places. There is reason to believe that at that time nothing of any importance befell the community. The Parsis lived amicably with the Hindoos, and were chiefly occupied in agriculture. About 1305 an event of considerable importance occurred in their history, at the time of a struggle maintained by the Hindoo chief of Sanjan against Mahmood Shah or Ala-ud-din Khilji (Parsee Prakash, p. 4), who had sent into Gujerat a strong army commanded by Alp Khan. [30]

The Mahomedan general arrived before Sanjan with thirty thousand men; the Hindoo prince, conscious of his danger, appealed to those whom his ancestors had so generously received into their country. The Parsis were not unmindful of this, and fourteen hundred of them, under the command of Ardeshir, joined the troops of the Rana. In defending his cause they were equally defending their own independence and religious liberty which they had come to seek under his kindly protection. The armies met not far from Sanjan. Already were the Hindoos giving way under the stress of the Mahomedans when the Parsis engaged directly in the combat. Ardeshir and his followers rushed into the thick of the fight and compelled Alp Khan to fly. But the Mahomedan general soon re-appeared with reinforcements. Ardeshir, addressing the Hindoo prince, swore to him the most complete fidelity, and although the enemy was in numbers superior to his handful of men, he returned to the field of battle.

It was at this time that a single combat took place between Ardeshir and one of the Mahomedan chiefs, a combat in which the latter was thrown from his horse and killed by the Parsi. Alp Khan, enraged by this scene, threw himself in the contest. A furious carnage followed, and Ardeshir was struck in his turn by a dart which threw him off his horse. The Rana perished, and Alp Khan became master of Sanjan. The Parsis had to seek a new residence. [31]

They had much to suffer from this Mahomedan conquest, and therefore many fled to the mountains of Bahrout, eight miles east of Sanjan; the cave where the sacred fire was deposited is still to be seen. According to the Kissah-i-Sanjan, the fugitives remained there only twelve years, after which they quitted this mountainous district and went to Bansdah, [32] about fifty miles north-east of Naosari, where a few Parsi families had already settled. Fourteen years later (1331) they bore the sacred fire to Naosari, where their co-religionists were numerous and influential. But the date 1419 being generally accepted as the year in which the sacred fire was brought to Naosari, it may be presumed that between the flight of the Parsis from Sanjan and the era of their new independence, a whole century, and not twenty-six years, must have elapsed.

From Naosari the fire was removed to Surat, on account of the apprehensions of the inroads of the Pindaris, and was again removed to Naosari three years later; thence, owing to certain disputes among the priests, it was taken to Balsar. After being there for some time it was transferred to Udwada on October 28, 1742; here it is to this day; and here is to be seen the oldest fire-temple of the Zoroastrians in India, and the one held in the greatest veneration (Parsee Prakash, p. 95).

In the midst of the calamities that followed the overthrow of the Rana of Sanjan, the Parsis continued to apply themselves to agriculture. A single incident deserves being related. One of their small colonies had settled in Variav, not far from Surat, and was under the rule of the Rajah of Rattampoor, a Rajput chief who attempted to impose an extraordinary tribute on the Parsis. They refused, and defeated the soldiers sent to enforce it. The Raja's soldiers then sought an opportunity of avenging themselves, and seized the moment when the Parsis were invited to a wedding. These, surprised in the midst of their wives and children, were all ruthlessly massacred. The anniversary of this cruel carnage is still observed at Surat.

The settlement of the Parsis in this latter place is the most recent of all. The earliest mention made of it does not go further back than 1478. It was there that the community first acquired its great importance and came in contact with the Europeans. We shall see its destiny further on.

It is very difficult to assign a fixed date to the arrival of the Parsis in Bombay. It seems probable that they were induced to do this by English merchants, and that their first settlement in this island was a little before the time it was ceded to England by the Portuguese, as the dowry of Catherine of Braganza on her marriage with the Stuart king Charles II. (1668).

Dr. Fryer, who visited Bombay in the year 1671, [33] says: "On the other side of the great bay, towards the sea, there is a sort of promontory called Malabar Hill, a rocky mountain covered with woods, on the top of which is a recently erected Parsi tomb." [34] Now, as the first care of the Parsis, wherever they settle, is to construct a "Tower of Silence," it is to be presumed that the community could not have been of any importance before this period; it has prospered since. It is in Bombay at the present time that can be best studied the changes that have been going on for two centuries, and which make the modern Parsis the most loyal subjects of the British Crown, and the most active agents of civilisation and progress.

In this first chapter we have confined ourselves to a summary indication of their principal settlements in the Presidency and to a succinct recital of the most prominent events which have signalised their sojourn in India before the arrival of the Europeans. We will now freely approach the study we have proposed to undertake. The reader will not, we hope, lose sight of their grievous exodus; and, at the height of the fame of the Dadiseths, the Banajis, the Jamshedji Jijibhoys, the Camas, the Petits, and many other no less illustrious names, will remember the first fugitives of Persia, and their kindly reception by the Rana of Sanjan. "Welcome," said the prince, "welcome to those who walk faithfully in the way of Hormuzd! May their race prosper and increase! May their prayers obtain the remission of their sins, and may the sun smile on them! May Lakshmi by her liberality and her gifts contribute to their wealth and to the fulfilling of their desires; and, for ever, may their rare merits of race and intellect continue to distinguish them in our midst!"



Let us now turn to the Zoroastrians who had remained behind in their fatherland. Although it is only by the way that we have to treat of this subject, it is nevertheless proper not to leave out of notice this nucleus of the Mazdien community who have remained so faithful to the religion of their ancestors, and who have been so tried in their long residence in the midst of powerful and pitiless conquerors. We shall have occasion, besides, in the course of this work, to look back upon these far-off regions, to note the frequent relations between the Parsis of Persia and their brethren of India, and the inestimable benefits secured by the wealthy Parsis of Bombay for the unfortunate Guebres of Yezd and Kirman.

Two hundred years after the Mahomedan conquest the condition of Persia had entirely changed. The national spirit was dead, and the entire population had embraced Islamism. It is in the presence of changes so sudden and so complete that one feels justified in raising the disquieting question of the influence of race and surroundings on the history of a nation. We do not need to address ourselves to modern thinkers to find it clearly formulated.

According to Renan, as far back as the second century, Bardesane had wondered that "If man is the creature of his surroundings and of circumstances, how is it that the same country is seen to produce human developments entirely different? If man is governed by the laws of race, how is it that a nation which has changed its religion, for example, become Christian, comes to be quite different from what it used to be?" [35] We have only to substitute the epithet Mahomedan for the epithet Christian to bring the question to the point. How, in fact, could such a radical change be effected, and to what degree of despair must the Zoroastrians have reached, to submit to the levelling laws of Islam? If we attempted to explain this we should have to go back to the history of the internal agitations and the policy of the Persian Court, and their study would draw us away too far. We have noticed only the chief events of its history, without stopping to gather any instruction from facts. Let it suffice to say that the same causes made the Arabs victorious over the Byzantine emperor and the Persian Shah-in-Shah, and that these causes were the weakness and exhaustion of the national dynasties in the presence of the vital elements of the conquerors. The people suffered from the carelessness of their kings; individual energy was powerless against the invasion of disciplined and fanatical tribes, commanded by generals like Omar and his officers.

The Persian nation was singularly maltreated. [36] The national unity was broken. Each province accommodated itself in the best way it could to the regime imposed by circumstances and by the inclinations of local chiefs. From that time the boundaries of the ancient kingdom underwent changes from century to century. In the tenth century, Taher, governor of Khorassan, threw off the heavy yoke of the Caliphs of Bagdad, and established, in his province, the authority of the Taherides. After them came the Saffarides, the Samanides and all those foreign dynasties that divided the sovereignty amongst themselves, such as the Ghaznevides, the Seldjoukides, &c.; finally there came, with all its calamities, the torrent of invasions to which succeeded the reigns of the Sophis, and of those dynasties, cruel and grasping, which have succeeded each other on the throne of Persia without doing anything for the true welfare of the people.

As we have seen, the followers of Zoroaster who would not accept the religion of Islam expatriated themselves. Those who could not abandon their country, and continued to cling to their old religion, had to resign themselves to frightful sufferings. These dwelt chiefly in Fars and Khorassan. European travellers who have visited Persia at different periods, have all been struck by their miserable and precarious condition, and have felt interested in their language, religion, and customs. We quote here some of them:

Pietro della Valle, at the time of his sojourn in Persia, studied them closely, and this is what he has to say:

"These past few days I have been to see their new town [37] (that of the Gaures), or, let us say, their separate habitation, which, like the new Ciolfa inhabited by the Christian Armenians, like the new Tauris, or Abbas-Abad, where dwell the Mahomedans brought from Tauris, adjoins Ispahan, just as if it were a suburb; and although, at present, it is separated from it by some gardens, nevertheless with time,—for the number of inhabitants greatly increases every day,—Ispahan and this habitation of the Gaures>, with the two others aforesaid, will make but one place. I am therefore doubtful whether to call them separate citadels, or suburbs, or rather considerable parts of this same town of Ispahan, as is the region beyond the Tiber and our city of Rome. This habitation of the Gaures has no other name that I know of except Gauristan; that is to say, according to the Persians, 'the place of the infidels,' just as we call the quarters of the Jews, Jewry. This place is very well built; the streets are wide and very straight, and much finer than those of Ciolfa, for it was built later with more design; but all the houses are low and one-storied, without any ornament, quite consistent with the poverty of those that occupy them, and in this respect very different from the houses of Ciolfa, which are very magnificent and well planned; for the Gaures are poor and miserable,—at least they show all possible signs of being such; in fact, they are employed in no traffic; they are simply like peasants,—people, in short, earning their livelihood with much labour and difficulty. They are all dressed alike, and in the same colour which resembles somewhat brick cement." (Voyages, French translation, Paris, 1661, vol. ii. p. 104.)

About the same time (1618), Figueroa, the ambassador of Philip III. in Persia, remarks as follows:

"In the most eastern part of Persia, and in the province of Kirman, which forms its frontier to the east, there have remained some of those ancient and true Persians, who, although they have mixed with the others, and by uniting themselves to their conquerors, have become like one people, all the same retain their primitive mode of living, their customs and their religion. Thus, at this day, they adore the sun as did the ancient Persians during the period their empire was the first in this world, and, following their example, they invariably keep in their houses a lighted fire, which they keep up unextinguished with as much care as the Vestal Virgins of Rome did." (The Embassy of Don Garcias de Silva de Figueroa in Persia. Trans. Wicquefort, Paris, 1667, in 4to, p. 177.)

Thevenot (1664-67) declares that "there are in Persia, at the present day, and particularly in Kerman, people who worship the fire like the Persians of old, and these are the Guebres. They are recognised by a dark yellow coloured material of which the men and women like to have their dresses and veils made, these being the only ones who wear this colour. Moreover, the Guebre women never cover their faces, and generally speaking, they are very well formed. These Guebres have a language which with its characters is understood only by them, and they are also very ignorant." (Continuation of the Travels in the East, Second Part, p. 116; Paris, 1674.)

With Daulier (1665) we shall enter the quarters of the Guebres assigned to them by the Persian king. "If you go about a quarter of a mile from Julpha in the direction of the mountain you will see a fine village composed of one long street. It is called Guebrabad, and is the dwelling-place of the Guebres, or the Gauvres, who are said to be descended from the old Persians who worshipped the fire. The king has given them this place to live in, having destroyed them in many other places. They are dressed in a fine tan-coloured woollen stuff, the dress of the men being of the same form as that of the other Persians. But the women's dress is entirely different. They keep their faces uncovered, and wear round their heads a loosely tied scarf with a veil to cover their shoulders not ill resembling our gipsies. Their drawers are like the upper part of Swiss hose, reaching to their heels. Most of their stuffs are manufactured at Kirman, a large town on the south coast of Persia, where there are several of this sect. They are so reserved on the subject of their religion that it is difficult to know anything certain about it. They do not bury their dead, but leave them in the open air in an enclosure. I entered some of their houses, where I saw nothing particular except that the women, far from avoiding us, as the others do, were very glad to see and speak to us" (The Beauties of Persia, p. 51).

Towards the same time (1665-1671) when Chardin went to Persia he found the Zoroastrians spread over the Caramanian desert, and chiefly in the provinces of Yezd and Kirman. He calls them Guebres from the Arabic word Gaur, infidels or idolaters, pronounced Giaour by the Turks.

"The Persian Fire-Worshippers (vol. ix. pp. 134 et seq.) are not so well formed, nor so fair, as the Mahomedan Persians, who are the Persians of this day. Nevertheless the men are robust, having a fairly good stature, and are well featured. The women are coarse, with a dark olive complexion, due, I think, more to their poverty than to nature, for some among them have rather fine features. The men wear their hair and beards long; they put on a short-fitting vest and a long woollen cap. They dress in cotton, woollen, or mohair stuff, and prefer the brown or dead-leaf colour as being perhaps most suited to their condition.

"The women are very coarsely dressed. I have never seen anything showing such bad grace, nor anything further removed from galanterie....

"The dress of the Guebres so greatly resembles the Arab dress that one would think the Arabs copied it from them when they conquered their country. They work either as ploughmen or as labourers, or fullers and workers in wool. They make carpets, caps and very fine woollen stuffs.

"... Their chief occupation is agriculture; ... they regard it, not only as a fine and innocent employment, but also as a noble and meritorious one ...

"These Ancient Persians are gentle and simple in manners, and live very peacefully under the guidance of their elders, who are also their magistrates, and who are confirmed in their authority by the Persian Government." Then follow numerous details concerning their manners, beliefs and temples. The chief temple was then near Yezd, and the high priest, the Dastoor Dastooran, resided there. (Ed. of Amsterdam, J. L. Delorme, MDCCXI.)

Ker-Porter (1818-1820) speaks also of the Guebres: "Some of them," he says, "poor and faithful to their religion, not having the means of gaining a distant shelter, remained slaves on their native soil, their souls raised to Heaven, their eyes bent to the ground, weeping over their profaned sanctuaries. While the wealthier ones were flying to the mountainous regions of the frontiers, or to the shores of India, these few faithful ones ended in finding comparative security in their extreme poverty, and took refuge in Yezd and Kirman, far from the eye of the conquerors. Yezd, even now, contains from four to five thousand of their descendants; and on account of their relatively large number they are allowed to practise their faith in a more open manner than in the smaller localities. In general they are excellent cultivators, gardeners and artisans, &c." (Travels in Georgia, Persia, &c., vol. ii. p. 46, London, 1821-1822.)

The census of the Guebre population, taken towards the end of this century, gives an absurd figure. We find no vestige of them anywhere except in Yezd, and in the neighbourhood of Teheran, in Kaschan, Shiraz and Bushire. In 1854, according to the information furnished to the Persian Amelioration Society of Bombay, and quoted by Mr. Dosabhai Framji Karaka, [38] the total came to 7,200 individuals, viz., 6,658 at Yezd (3,310 men and 3,348 women); 450 in Kirman, 50 in Teheran, and some at Shiraz. [39]

According to the census of October, 1879, by General Houtum-Schindler, [40] the Zoroastrian population comprised 8,499 individuals, of whom 4,367 are men and 4,132 women, they being distributed in the following manner: In Yezd, 1,242; in the surrounding districts, 5,241; in Kirman, 1,498; in the surrounding districts, 258; at Bahramabad, 58; at Teheran, 150; at Kaschan, 15; at Shiraz, 25; at Bushire, 12. The latest census (1892) shows a sensible increase of the population, rising to 9,269 individuals.

Yezd and Kirman are the two most important towns, the former being about two hundred miles south-east of Ispahan, the latter about three hundred and eighty miles from the sea, in the port of Bunder Abbas. They are both situated on the confines of two extensive deserts, the Dasht-i-Kavir and the Dash-i-Lut, which, to the north, cover an area of over five hundred miles, and which are separated by a chain of rocky mountains through which the caravans trace their way with difficulty. This region is feared by travellers, and is hardly known to Europeans. [41]

Yezd [42] communicates with the rest of Iran only by the caravan roads. On leaving the argillaceous plateaus, the rocks and the sandhills, the town and the villages around seem to emerge from a veritable oasis of mulberry trees; the desert begins at the very foot of the walls, where the sand driven by the tempests is heaped up. A line of ruins surrounds it and testifies to its ancient extent. Yezd is, however, prosperous. It contains a population of from seventy to eighty thousand inhabitants, composed of the most diverse elements—amongst others 2,000 Jews, still obliged to wear on their cloaks the badge of their disgrace, and some Hindoos called to this place by their business affairs.

There are five reservoirs, abambars, fifty mosques, eight madressas, and sixty-five public baths; a post office ensures a regular weekly service with Bander-Abbas and Bushire; the telegraph puts it in communication with Kirman and Ispahan. Commerce flourishes; about the middle of this century eighteen hundred manufactories gave work to nine thousand workmen. Nowadays the number is, however, less.

It is here that we find, grouped together, the scattered remnants of the Zoroastrian community. The Guebres gave themselves up chiefly to gardening and the cultivation of mulberry trees, notably of the species of brown fibre, the wearing of which was formerly incumbent on them. But a great change has taken place, and such a trader now possesses a thousand camels. There are schools there, four Fire Temples, and several Towers of Silence. About twenty kilometres to the south-west is the town of Taft, where was preserved for a very long time the permission to keep up openly the sacred fire. The community has a high priest, and also a lay chief, Ardeshir Meherban. Some of the Guebres are naturalised Englishmen, and thanks to them, for the last fifty years the trade of Yezd has grown by their intercourse with India. Their role is similar to that performed in the open ports of Japan by the compradores and the Chinese agents into whose hands nearly all business passes. This activity is due to the efforts of their co-religionists in India, for in spite of their recognised probity and practical intelligence, the Guebres have long been exposed to the most humiliating vexations.

Kirman is the chief city of ancient Caramania [43] and stands in the centre of four great highways which run from the south and the west. Its situation makes it a very important centre of commerce between the Persian Gulf and the markets of Khorassan, Bokhara, and Balk. Of the twelve thousand Guebres who were formerly resident in this locality, there only remain, according to the census taken in 1878 by the orders of the Governor, thirteen hundred and forty-one. [44] At the time of the Arab invasion, Kirman served as a place of refuge for King Yezdezard, and passed successively into the hands of the Beni-Buzak, the Seldjoukides Turks, the kings of Kharezm (Khiva), and a Kara-Kitaienne family which remained in power till the year 1300; and it was also the See of the Nestorian metropolitan bishopric of Fars. This city had to suffer much from the invasions, from the east and west, of Gengis-Khan, Timour, the Afghans and Nadirshah. The siege it sustained in 1494 is memorable for the massacres ordered by Aga Mahomed Khan. [45] It was within its walls that the last of the family of the Zends, Luft Ali-Khan, had taken refuge. Betrayed by his followers, the young prince contrived, however, to escape the cruelty of the redoubtable Kadjar eunuch. For three months the soldiers committed all sorts of excesses, the town was given up to plunder [46] and finally razed. A little later, having been rebuilt by Fath-Ali-Shah, it recovered by degrees its ancient prosperity, thanks to a capable and at the same time avaricious and strict governor, Vekil-ul-Mulk. The ruins of Kirman occupy a length of three miles. The modern town contained in 1879, 42 mosques, 53 public baths, 5 madressas, 50 schools, 4 large and small bazaars, and 9 caravanserais. Its commerce is flourishing, the carpets and shawls manufactured there being very wonderful.

The physical and moral condition of the Guebres has changed very little in Persia. Their contact with the Mussalmans has neither relaxed nor enervated that condition. The women, of whom the majority belong to poor families, are renowned for their chastity, while the men are so famous for their morality that they are particularly employed in the gardens of the Shah. From an ethnographical point of view, this is what can be said; we follow the resume given by M. Houssay [47]:

"When the Arabs by right of conquest imposed a new religion on the Persians, the fusion of the Turano-Aryans had been already for the greater part accomplished in the north and east of the empire. At this time there was no difference of race, manners, customs or religion between the ancestors of the Mahomedan Persians and those of the real Guebres. Separated to-day as surely by their religion as by vast extent of space, they no longer commingle; but being descended from the same ancestors, and neither having undergone any modification since that period, we find them again to-day not unlike each other in the same region.... The only ethnical element which could have been introduced among the Persian Mahomedans and not among the Guebres, would be the Semitic element due to the Arab conquerors. But it was not so. The soldiers of Islam were indeed sufficiently fanatical and violent to impose their laws and religion on the people, but not sufficiently numerous to effect any change in them. It would be practically quite the truth to say that this invasion has left no traces outside the families of the Seides. The language alone has felt its effects; all words connected with religion and government are Arabic. The Guebres should be all the less regarded as pure descendants of the Aryans, as they resemble their Mussulman neighbours, and are, on the other hand, not all of the same type. Those of Yezd have, according to Khanikoff, Aryan characteristics. It is not because they are Guebres, but because they dwell in a country adjoining Fars. Those of Teheran resemble the other inhabitants of Teheran. The Parsis of India, whose ancestors preferred exile to conversion, are more like the Parsis of Persia, and differ from their co-religionists of the North. Since their exodus, they have not at all mixed with the people who received them; they are such as they were then. Thus at the time of the Arabic conquest there was no single race. The ethnical distribution, which can be observed even now, existed already. The Guebres who remained in Persia were the Turano-Aryans; the emigrants, who had chiefly started from the south of the kingdom, were Aryans." [48]

The condition of the Zoroastrians who had remained behind in Persia had been, as we have said, always miserable. In 1511, they wrote to their co-religionists who had taken refuge at Naosari, that since the reign of Kaiomar, they had not endured such sufferings, even under the execrable government of Zohak, Afrasiab, Tur and Alexander! As a matter of fact, the connection between the two communities, which had been broken, was happily renewed since the end of the fifteenth century. At this period Changa Asa, a rich and pious Parsi of Naosari, had at his own expense sent a learned layman, Nariman Hoshang, with the view of acquiring from the members of the Iranian clergy certain information regarding important religious questions. (Parsee Prakash, pp. 6-7.)

In another letter to their co-religionists in India dated from Serfabad, September 1, 1486, Nariman Hoshang declared that all the Iranians had been desiring for centuries to know if any of their co-religionists still existed on the other side of the world! After an absence of several years he returned to India, and eight years later went back to Persia, where he collected the most curious information. These statements are confirmed by the letters of the Guebres addressed to the Parsi community of India (1511), in which it is said that "since their departure from Persia to the arrival of Nariman Hoshang (in all thirty years) the Mazdiens had not known that their co-religionists had settled in India, and that it was only through Nariman Hoshang that they had come to know of it."

From that period the relations between the Guebres and the Parsis were sufficiently close. As far back as 1527, one Kama Asa, from Cambay, had gone to Persia and procured a complete copy of the Arda-Viraf-Nameh. In 1626 the Parsis of Bharooch, Surat, and Naosari sent to Persia a learned man of Surat, Behman Aspandiar, charged with numerous questions; he brought back the answers, and also two religious books, the Vishtasp-Yasht and the Vispered (Parsee Prakash, p. 11). The information thus obtained by intelligent emissaries for a long time guided the Parsis in their decisions regarding social and religious questions, and formed the collection of the Rivayats. At the same time the members of the community in India were not in a position to alleviate the miseries of their Persian brethren, and each century brought to the latter a new increase of sufferings and troubles.

Four revolutions contributed to the destruction of the Zoroastrian population of Kirman. The Ghilzi-Afghans, who had long groaned under the yoke of the Persians, rose at last under the command of a brave and intelligent chief, called Mir Vais, who quickly made himself master of Khandahar. [49] The Persian monarch Hussein, powerless to reduce them by arms, tried to bring them back to a sense of duty by sending emissaries, who were however treated with contempt. The Afghan chief who succeeded Mir Vais resolved in his turn to be revenged by invading Persia as soon as an opportunity presented itself. It came soon. Whilst the north-east frontier of the kingdom was threatened by the Abdali-Afghans of Herat, and whilst the Arabian Prince of Muscat was taking possession of the coast of the Persian Gulf, Mahmoud, who had succeeded his father, Mir Vais, in the government of Khandahar, made an irruption into Persia. This invasion of the Ghilzi-Afghans was the greatest catastrophe to the Zoroastrian community, Mahmood having preferred to pass through Kirman rather than risk the deserts of Seistan. Massacres and forced conversions drove the faithful band to despair.

At the time of the second invasion of Mahmood he persuaded the Zoroastrians of Yezd and Kirman to join his troops, and avenge the wrongs they had suffered for centuries. [50] It is needless to say that these unfortunates, too confiding, allowed themselves to be convinced and enlisted. What do we know of their ultimate fate? What became of them under the standard of Mahmood after the victory of Ispahan? (October 21, 1722, H. 1135 [51]). Were they better treated, and did they receive any recompense? There is reason to believe that their condition, far from being ameliorated, became worse.

It is said that under the reign of Nadir-Shah and his successors, they had again to elect between the frightful alternative of conversion or death. At the time of the siege of Kirman, of which we have spoken (p. 55), many Zoroastrians were put to the sword, and their quarters laid waste and destroyed for ever.

This series of vicissitudes and misfortunes accounts for the small number of the survivors, their precarious life, their difficulties in the exercise of their religion, and the dispersion of their sacred books. In the time of Ibn Haukhal each village had its temple, its priests, and its sacred book. According to Mr. Dosabhai Framji Karaka, in 1858 there were thirty-five Fire Temples in Yezd and its environs. At present there are four in Yezd itself, eighteen in the neighbouring village, and one at Kirman. As for the sacred books there are only those that are to be found in India. Westergaard, who visited Persia in 1843, writing to his friend the late Dr. Wilson of Bombay, to inform him of his disappointment, says, [52] "I have stopped in Yezd for eleven days, and although I have mixed in their gatherings, I have seen but sixteen or seventeen books in all; two or three copies of the Vendidad Sade and of the Izeschne, which they call Yasna, and six or seven copies of the Khorda-Avesta. I have only been able to obtain two and a portion of a third, a part of the Bundahish and of another Pehlvi book. That is all that I have succeeded in obtaining, in spite of all my efforts to get more—for instance, the fragments of the Izeschne with a Pehlvi or Pazend translation, of which there is only one copy in Europe, that at Copenhagen."

The same traveller, speaking of the Zoroastrians who at present reside in Kirman, expresses himself in these terms: "The Guebres there are more maltreated than their brethren in Yezd. They have only two copies of the Vendidad and of the Yasna and a rather large number of the Khorda-Avesta, with which, however, they will not part. Here nobody reads Pehlvi. They complain bitterly of Aga Mahomed Khan having given up the city to plunder, of the destruction of most of their sacred books, and of the massacre of the faithful."

One of the harshest conditions of the conquest of Persia had been at all times a tax called "Jazia." The Mahomedans are the only persons exempted from this tax, all the other infidel inhabitants of the kingdom, Armenians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, being subject to it. The Armenians of Tauris and of the villages of Persia situated near the frontier have been relieved of this tax by the care of the Russian Government. It is difficult to arrive at an estimate of the tax paid by the Armenians and the Jews, but this is certain—and the fact has been verified—that the annual tax imposed upon the Zoroastrians rose to 660 tomans. The governors and collectors having gone on increasing its amount in order to profit by the surplus, the sum rose to nearly 2,000 tomans, or L1,000 sterling, about 25,000 francs of our money. According to statistics, a thousand Zoroastrians were compelled to pay. Of these two hundred could pay it without difficulty, four hundred with much trouble; the rest could not do so even under threats of death. Lamentable scenes have ensued at the time of the collection of this onerous tax. [53] Sometimes these unfortunate beings turned to their brethren in India in the hope of obtaining a favourable intervention with the Persian Government, such as some of the European Powers had effectually attempted in certain cases.

Dishonoured by the appellation of Guebres or "Infidels," they endured at the hands of the Mussulmans sufferings similar to those endured in India by the members of the Mahar caste at the hands of the well-born Hindoos. [54] All relations, all intercourse with them were tainted with pollution; a host of lucrative occupations were forbidden to them. Moreover, we know the frightful inequality of laws in Mahomedan countries, where the general rule is to grant aid and protection to the true believers and to ignore these rights in the case of the infidels. Instances of this are too numerous to be quoted; we will content ourselves with pointing out this inequality without any further comment. [55]

In the presence of this painful state of affairs the Parsis in India could not remain indifferent. Mr. Dosabhai Framji Karaka wrote, a quarter of a century back: [56] "Can we then do nothing for our unfortunate brethren in Persia? Our community has considerable funds and possesses men known throughout the world for their benevolence and their noble efforts towards the amelioration of the condition of their co-religionists.... It seems to us that a deputation from us to the Court of Persia, presented and duly supported by the English Ambassador at Teheran, might successfully attempt some negotiations with a view to put an end to the cruelty practised every day. The amount raised by the Capitation Tax with such useless violence must be to the Imperial treasury insignificant in the extreme, and there is no doubt that a representation from the Parsis of India has all chances of being favourably received. Persian princes seldom know the true state of their subjects, and we hope our countrymen will comprehend the honour that will be reflected on them by their efforts to relieve the miseries of our brethren in Iran."

It was in 1854 that the first emissary from Bombay to the Zoroastrians in Persia was sent; and from that time, thanks to the Persian Zoroastrian Amelioration Fund, they seriously began to consider the means of aiding them. The trustees delegated Mr. Maneckji Limji Antaria, who was to utilise his great experience and his devotion in the accomplishment of the task he had accepted. He started (March 31st) with instructions from the committee to open an inquiry and to send in a report. Very soon the most pathetic details came to excite the charitable zeal of the Parsis of Bombay. A meeting was called on January 11, 1855, under the presidency of the late Maneckji Nasarwanji Petit (Parsee Prakash, pp. 654 et seq.) to consider the resolutions to be adopted on the report of Mr. M. L. Antaria. [57]

Before taking in hand all the evils set forth it appeared specially important to direct all their efforts towards the abolition of the "Jazia," the chief cause of the complaints and miseries of the tax-payers. These efforts relaxed neither with time nor with obstacles, and after a campaign which lasted from 1857 to 1882 [58] the desired abolition was finally obtained. During this period of twenty-five long years all suitable means were taken to secure the success of the object aimed at. Thus Mr. M. L. Antaria profited by the kindly disposition of Sir Henry Rawlinson, the English Ambassador at the Court of Teheran, to get himself presented to the Shah and to lay before him a touching picture of the miseries suffered by his Zoroastrian subjects of Kirman. At the end of the audience he succeeded in obtaining a reduction of 100 tomans from the amount of the contribution annually raised (920 tomans) in Yezd and in Kirman.

Another audience was granted by the Shah in Buckingham Palace at the time of his voyage to England (June 24, 1873). A memorandum, drawn up in the most flowery and courteous style, such as Oriental politeness demands, was presented by several members of the Bombay Committee. [59] Sir Henry Rawlinson and Mr. E. B. Eastwick supported it. In his reply His Majesty thought fit to say that he had heard of the complaints of his subjects, and that he would consider the means of ameliorating the position of the Zoroastrians of Persia. But we know, alas! that in the East abuses take long in disappearing. In spite of the friendly promises of the Shah there was no change made in the collection of this tax. A pressing appeal through the English Ambassador at Teheran did not even reach the monarch. It was only in 1882 that Sir Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, the president of the Persian Zoroastrian Amelioration Fund, received through the medium of Mr. Thomson, of the English Embassy, the communication of the royal firman decreeing the immediate abolition of the tax (Parsee Prakash, p. 662). This long struggle has cost the Persian Amelioration Fund of Bombay nearly 109,564 rupees, or about 257,475 francs! It is needless to say with what transports of joy and gratitude this boon was received by the unfortunate victims, who for centuries had groaned under the exactions of subordinate officials, and whom the enlightened kindness of the sovereign placed at once on a footing of equality with his other subjects. [60] As to the friends of the Mazdien communities of Iran, they may hope to see them prosper and their numbers increase under the influence of the same qualities and virtues which have contributed to the greatness and prosperity of the Zoroastrians of India. [61]

The relations between Bombay and Persia were not confined to this single benevolent initiative of the Bombay Committee. [62] We should also notice the establishing of schools in the towns of Yezd and Kirman (1857) due to the munificence of the Parsee notabilities, and the pecuniary gifts given for the purpose of settling in life young girls exposed on account of their poverty to terrible dangers in a Mahomedan country. Between 1856 and 1865 nearly a hundred Mazdien women were thus got married by the care of the agent of a charitable association. We may also mention the establishment of dispensaries and houses of refuge, and should not omit to include in this brief list the founding of two monuments, which throws a very interesting light on the direction of the religious ideas of the modern Parsis.

Two localities, situated not far from Yezd and held sacred by tradition, Koh-i-Chakmaku and Akda, preserved the memory of their ancient glorious days through a legend concerning the two daughters of Yezdezard, Khatun Banu and Hyat Banu, who had at one time disappeared without leaving any trace behind them. After the fall of the king, his family, finding no protection in Madain, had taken refuge in the citadel of Haft Ajar; but they were soon obliged to disperse. Meher Banu shut herself up in the fortress of Gorab; Khatun Banu directed her steps to more secret places. In her hasty march the princess, exhausted and dying of thirst, met a burzigar (farmer) busy cultivating the soil, and asked of him a little water to drink. There being no stream or tank near, the peasant offered her his cow's milk, and commenced milking the animal; but the moment the vessel overflowed with the fresh and foaming liquid, the cow with a kick upset it. The unfortunate girl, thus deprived of this last comfort, feverishly continued her way, and reaching the mountain in an agony of despair, threw herself upon the ground, praying to the Almighty to protect her, either by stopping the pursuit of her enemies or by screening her from mortal sight. Hardly had she finished her prayer when she disappeared in a cleft of the rocks, which opened before her and closed upon her immediately. At the same moment the burzigar, who had discovered the retreat of the princess, arrived with a refreshing drink, only to find her little band of mourning followers. On hearing of her strange disappearance he ran to his stable and sacrificed the cow in the very place where the king's daughter had disappeared. Soon the faithful ones came to offer, in their turn, similar sacrifices, and the place was called Dari-Din, "the Gate of Faith." Hosts of pilgrims repaired to this place every year, but these sacrifices of blood were repugnant to the feelings of the Parsis of Bombay. However, as it was right and seemly to honour a place marked out by ancient tradition, Mr. Maneckji Limji Antaria substituted in the place of this barbarous custom ceremonies more in accordance with modern Zoroastrian practices. The sacrifice of the cow was suppressed, and an influential member of the Bombay community furnished means to raise a beautiful monument with spacious quarters to lodge the pilgrims.

Hyat Banu, the other princess, disappeared in an equally mysterious manner. On the spot consecrated by legend a grand reservoir, fed from neighbouring springs, has been erected. The walls of this reservoir having gradually fallen into ruins, they were repaired by the generous care of Mr. Merwanji Framji Panday, the same gentleman who erected the monument at Akda. [63]




It is on the western coast of India, in the Bombay Presidency, that we find the most compact gathering of the members of the Parsi community. Since their exodus from Persia the refugees here have maintained themselves successfully, and have gradually acquired wealth and the intellectual superiority which distinguishes them from the other natives of India.

The Bombay Presidency, or, to be more exact, the province of Bombay, [64] comprises twenty-four British districts, and nineteen Native States (Agencies) under the protection of the English Government. Its boundaries are: To the north, the State of Balouchistan, the Panjaub, and the native States of Rajputana; to the east, the Mahratta State of Indore, the Central Provinces, Western Berar and the States of the Nizam of Hyderabad; to the south, the Madras Presidency and the State of Mysore; and to the west, the Arabian Sea. It is divided into four great divisions, made according to the local dialects. On the north lies Sindh or the lower valley and delta of the Indus, a region essentially Mahomedan both historically and as regards the population; then more to the south, Gujerat, containing, on the contrary, the most diverse and mixed elements, and comprising all the districts of the northern coast, the Mahratta country, and the interior districts of the Deccan; and, finally, the provinces where the Canarese language is spoken, divided in their turn into four British districts and eight Native States. [65]

This territory has been formed little by little round the Island of Bombay, ceded to England by the King of Portugal as the dowry of the Infanta Catherine of Braganza. The Portuguese were the first to occupy these parts; in 1498 they arrived at Calicut with Vasco de Gama, and five years later, thanks to the bravery of Albuquerque, they took possession of Goa. Bombay came into their possession in 1532, and for a hundred years they managed to maintain themselves at the head of commerce and traffic. Two rival factories, one English and the other Dutch, were established in Surat in 1613 and 1618. It must be stated that the acquisition of the island of Bombay gave but little pleasure to the English, for in 1668, on account of great difficulties, the King transferred it to the East India Company, and in 1686 the control of all the possessions of the Company was transferred from Surat to Bombay, which was made into an independent Presidency (1708) at the time of the amalgamation of the two English Companies. Finally, in 1773, Bombay was placed in a state of dependence under the Governor-General of Bengal, who has since been replaced by the Viceroy of India.

It is from Bombay that the English have spread their influence at present so firmly established in these territories. Simply merchants at first, they gradually supplanted their rivals from the Portuguese and Dutch settlements. Soon they aspired to a more solid power, and came into direct conflict with the natives—the Mahrattas—whom they hastened to drive from Colaba, finding their nearness troublesome. After the first Mahratta war, which arose from the contested succession of the Peishwa (1774), the treaty of Salbai permitted the English to settle in Salsette, Elephanta, Karanja, Hog Island, &c. (1782). The fort of Surat was in their hands from 1759, and in 1800 the administration of this town was made over to them by the Nawab, whose descendants contented themselves with the vain title till 1842.

The second Mahratta war had its origin in the treaty of Bassein (1802), by which the Peishwa accepted the subsidiary system—a system since adopted by the English. It resulted in an accession of territory in Gujerat and an increase of moral influence in the Court of the Peishwas and of the Gaekwars. The interval of peace was employed in repressing the invasions of the pirates who were infesting the Gulfs of Cambay and Cutch.

In 1807 the States of Kathiawar were placed under the British protectorate, and in 1809 the Rao of Cutch was forced to sign a treaty by which he bound himself to help in the destruction of the pirates; whilst, on the other hand, scarcely had the Peishwa Baji Rao been placed on the throne by an English army when he began plotting for the expulsion of the English from the Deccan. In 1817 he attacked the Resident himself, Mountstuart Elphinstone, who withdrew to Kirkee, where with a few troops he succeeded in routing the entire army of the Peishwa. Soon after the prince submitted to Sir John Malcolm. A pension of L80,000 was secured to the Prince, but he was deprived of his States, and Bombay gained in this manner the districts of Poona, Ahmadnagar, Nasik, Kolahpoor, Belgaum, Kaladji, Dharwar, Ahmedabad, and the Konkan. At the same time Holkar abandoned his rights over the districts of Kandesh, and Satara fell into the hands of the English in 1848 on the death of the last descendant of the Mahratta Shivaji. In 1860 the Non-Regulation Districts [66] of the Panch Mahals were ceded by Scindhia, and in 1861 the southern limits of the Presidency were still further extended by the annexation of the northern district of Canara taken from Madras. From this time the history of the Bombay Presidency is free of incidents; peace reigned, even at the time of the mutiny of 1857. The local army has, however, rendered important services in Afghanistan, Persia, Burmah, China, Aden, and Abyssinia. Entirely occupied in administrative reforms and the welfare of the country, the Government has attained a state of complete prosperity under such men as Mountstuart Elphinstone, Malcolm, and Lord Reay. [67]

According to the general census of 1891 [68] the number of Parsis in India rose to 89,904; that is, an increase of 491 over that of the 17th of February, 1881, which gave a total of 85,397. On the 26th of February, 1891, the entire population of the Bombay Presidency, including the Native States and Aden, formed a total of 26,960,421 inhabitants, [69] of whom 76,774 were Parsis (39,285 males and 37,489 females). The surplus is divided between Madras, Bengal, and the districts of the Gaekwar of Baroda, where is to be seen among other flourishing settlements the ancient community of Naosari. To this number must be added the Parsis of China, and of some foreign localities, and the Iranians, 9,269 in number. The exact number of Zoroastrians scattered over the globe we thus find to be a hundred thousand at the most!

We refer to the Zoroastrian Calendar for all information concerning statistics, and in a special chapter (pp. 119 et seq.) we find a detailed list of the population of the city and the Presidency of Bombay. [70] We take from it the following table (see next page), which gives the assessment of the population in the different centres. Occupying the first rank we find Bombay with its 47,458 Parsis, and Surat with 12,757; then Broach, Thana, Poona, Karachi, down to the least of the localities, some of which stand for only a simple unit.

- - - - - Widowers and Names of Towns Not Married. Married.[2] Widows. Total. and Districts. - - - - - - M. W. M. W. M. W. - - - - - - - - Bombay 14091 10153 9804 9258 810 3342 47458 Ahmedabad 230 175 203 175 12 40 835 Kheda 49 31 39 27 ... 7 153 Panch-Mahal 43 15 40 13 3 3 108 Bharooch 754 623 702 865 70 259 3273 Surat 2990 2535 2597 3212 266 1157 12757 Thana 1001 802 845 860 78 334 3920 Colaba 39 29 51 32 7 9 167 Ratnagiri 6 3 4 2 ... ... 15 Kanara 1 ... 8 ... 1 ... 10 Khandeish 119 73 199 99 10 8 508 Nasik 127 77 108 75 6 14 407 Ahmednagar 51 45 41 37 5 10 188 Poona 622 476 402 386 42 98 2026 Sohlapore 67 59 54 41 3 8 232 Satara 32 40 29 24 1 8 134 Belgaum 17 3 22 15 1 3 61 Dharwar 37 23 40 41 2 2 135 Bijapoor 8 4 5 4 1 2 24 Karachi 424 301 310 282 26 65 1408 Hyderabad 17 10 11 8 ... ... 46 Shikarpoor 20 9 27 12 1 2 71 Thar and Parkar ... ... 1 ... ... ... 1 Upper Sindh 2 ... 3 2 1 ... 8 - - - - - - - 20738 15486 15545 15459 1346 5371 73945 Native States 606 480 761 495 55 114 2511 Aden 88 37 138 40 8 7 318 ======= ======= ======= ======= ======= ======= ======= 21432 16003 16444 15994 1409 5492 76774 - - - - - - - -

Considering the importance of Bombay, we will quote from a paper on it, read by Mr. B. B. Patel before the Anthropological Society of Bombay. [73] We find there the lists of births, deaths and marriages in the city of Bombay from 1881 to 1890. During that period of time the average of births has risen per year to 1,450, and that of married women bearing children to 13.293 per cent. The average of deaths has reached 1,135 (575 of the male sex, 500 of the female sex), and 92 still-born (52 of the male sex and 40 of the female sex). The annual average of mortality among children below the age of five years has been 469 (236 of the male sex and 233 of the female sex); between the ages of five and ten, 27 (13 of the male sex and 14 of the female sex); between the ages of eleven and twenty, 47 (20 of the male sex and 27 of the female sex); between the ages of twenty-one and thirty, 65, in the proportion of 27 to 38 for the two sexes; between the ages of thirty-one and forty, 62, in equal proportions for the two sexes; between the ages of forty-one and sixty, 177 (67 males and 90 females). Above the age of eighty the average reaches 37, of whom 13 are males and 24 females.

During these ten years, four persons have died at the age of 100, two at the ages of 101 and 105, and lastly one at the age of 110 years. These centenarians have been all women. The principal cause of mortality among Parsis is fever (Table D); thus of 1,135 deaths, 293 may be attributed to it, 150 to nervous disorders, 91 to affections of the respiratory organs, 70 to dysentery, 38 to phthisis, one hundred to old age, and the rest to diverse other causes, such as measles, pleurisy, diarrhoea, &c., &c. According to the table drawn up by Mr. Patel (Table E), the highest rate of mortality in Bombay is in the Fort, and next to it in Dhobitalao, Baherkote, Khetwady, &c., in proportion to the population of these localities.

After the crisis of 1865 a serious decrease of the population in Bombay had been apprehended for a time; but it was an exaggerated fear which disappeared with the census of 1881. It has been proved, on the contrary, that the conditions of life among the Parsis, both as regards mortality and hygiene, have reduced the average of mortality among the individuals, grown-up men, women and children. These latter, well-tended and carefully brought up, supply a splendid race, susceptible of culture, and endowed with perfect health. Accordingly, from 1872 to 1881, the Parsi population has increased nearly ten per cent. This increase has continued, and, as we have said, the highest increase has been estimated in 1891 to be 4.91.

It is in vain that communities of Parsis have been sought for outside those regions which we have indicated. [74] About sixty years ago a Mahomedan traveller did try to persuade others of the existence of a Parsi colony at Khoten, a country situated to the south-east of Kaschgar; but Sir Alexander Burnes, in a communication to Mr. Naoroji Fardunji, dissipated this illusion. [75]

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