PARSIS IN INDIA-
PART 1: EXODUS FROM IRAN AND ARRIVAL IN INDIA
——–By Heritage Architect Sanaeya Vandrewala
For years, the Parsi migration to India has been of interest to many, and I’ve been frequently asked about the arrival of the Parsi community in India. The story of the Parsi Migration to India has been passed down for generations via oral traditions and in circa 1600 was noted by a priest Bahman Hormazdyar Sanjana know as the Qissa-i-Sanjan which is an important historical document of early Parsi history in India.
It is stated in the Qissa that after the defeat of Yazdegard III (652 AD.) the last Zoroastrian Sassanian king, the faith was rendered desolate. Dasturs and laymen went into hiding for the sake of the religion. They wandered around in
Kohistan for a hundred years. A group of Zoroastrians owing to persecution fled to the town of Hormuzd (in Iran) where they spent another fifteen years. During this time the chief priest realized that he and his group of men, women and children had to leave their country. They set sail for India. In due course they sighted land and anchored on the western coast of India on an island known today as Diu. The religious refugees lived in Diu for nineteen years, after which upon the advice of their wise Dastur, they set sail to reach mainland. Thus according to the information gleaned from the Qissa, it seems that the Parsis had arrived in India in 786 AD. But by further research it was then found with supporting evidence that the correct arrival date was 936 AD.
As stated in the Qissa they were caught in a nasty storm. The Dasturs were thrown into consternation. They prayed for help and promised to build the Bahram fire if Bahram, the Yazata for victory, delivered them from this storm. Their supplication was granted and a gentle wind brought them to a point upon the Indian coastline. They sought refuge from the Hindu King Jadav Rana, which is believed to be the local ruler. It is believed that the King asked for five conditions before granting refuge to this migrant group:
1)”What are the customs of your creed, which of these are open and which concealed?”
2)”You must abandon the language of your country and adopt the speech of the realm of Hind (Term used for India).”
3)”As to the dress of your women, they should wear garments like those of our ladies.”
4)”You must put down all your arms and weapons and cease to wear them anywhere.”
5)”When your children are wedded, the marriage knot must be tied at evening time.”
“If you give a solemn promise to observe all these, you will be given places and abodes in my city.” The Dastur readily agreed to these conditions proffered by the King who gave the Zoroastrian pilgrims fertile land to live on. A spot in this wilderness was chosen, of which the soil was excellent and there they made their abode. This abode was called Sanjan, in memory of the place they originally came from in North West Khorasan.
One day the Dastur went to the King to ask for land to build a fire-temple in order to fulfil their promise to Bahram. The land must be cleared for about three farsangs (a land measurement scale) so that the ceremonies of the Nirang (Cows urine which has been consecrated by prayer, used externally for cleansing and for internal purification) may be duly performed. Except for the wise men of the good faith, no other person belonging to another creed might be present there and then only will the fire be consecrated. The King bequeathed the land and all the unbelievers within three farsangs were removed and only people of the faith remained. For several days and months they recited the Yasnas (Act of worship, consisting of a series of invocations to all divinities of Zoroastrianism in hierarchical order) and Yashts (Hymns of praise devoted to worship of individual divinities) and worked with great energy. Several parties of Dasturs and laymen had also arrived on the spot. In their company were several alchemists. The holy fire was eventually consecrated and made sacred with all the appropriate ritual objects, Nirang and ash, which were brought from Iran. The named the fire as the Holy Iranshah in memory of their motherland.
During the next three hundred years since the Parsi Migration to India, the community grew in and around Sanjan. Gradually groups of Parsis moved out and settled in all directions fairly close to the western coastline. In this manner they spent two hundred years in prosperity, joy and peace. Five hundred years after the Parsis had arrived in India, Mahmud Begada attacked Sanjan. The Hindu King was defeated and the Parsis of Sanjan had to flee together with their fire to a hill named Bahrot. Twelve years passed since they had carried the Iranshah along with them to Bahrot. Subsequently, the fire was moved to Bansdah where it was housed for the next fourteen years.
The Qissa-i-Sanjan seems to be one of the earliest extant sources in which historical information is to be found about the life and times of the first Parsi settlers. despite a few anomalies, the Qissa still remains the main source of historical data on the first Parsi migration to India.
It is interesting to note how immigration has become relevant and also a point of contention in the present times, even though it is the most important and is irrevocably associated with human history and the progress of civilizations around the world. Maybe it is time we learn from our forefathers who exercised immense restrain, acceptance and tolerance of the differences of one another to form an all inclusive society.
Dhanjisa, S and Kamerkar,M (2002) From the Iranian plateau to the shores of Gujarat: The story of Parsi settlement and absorption in India. Mumbai: Allied Publishers/K. R. Cama Oriental Institute
Edulji, H (1991) Qissa-i-Sanjan. Mumbai: K. R. Cama Oriental Institute
Mistree,K (1982) Zoroastrianism : An ethnic perspective. Bombay: Khojeste P. Mistree
Next article to follow……..
PARSIS IN INDIA-PART 2: ABSORPTION IN INDIA