The community of Zoroastrians living in India or descended from those living in India. Parsis make up the largest coherent group of Zoroastrians in the modern world, since few large Zoroastrian communities remain in mostly Muslim Iran. The word Parsi is a derivation of the Greek Persian, or Iranian. The Parsis are descended from Iranian immigrants to India who first left Iran in large numbers in the tenth century. Apparently these migrants were seeking freedom from Islamic oppression, and their early experiences are noted in a text called the Tale of Sanjan. Most settled in the westcentral state of Gujerat, an important commercial center on the Arabian Sea. They generally lived in peace with the majority Hindus, but suffered incidents of oppression under various Islamic rulers over the next centuries. When British imperialists began establishing their empire in India in the seventeenth century, many Parsis moved to Mumbai (Bombay) on India’s west coast. There they gained prominence in commerce and the professions, giving the Parsi community a relatively privileged position in British India. Some Parsis also settled in other areas of the British Empire: Australia, Canada, Singapore, and South Africa being among their primary destinations. After India’s independence in 1947, Parsis remained among Bombay’s economic elites. But their numbers have begun to dwindle as younger Parsis marry outside the faith or adopt mostly secular ways of life. Estimates in recent years suggest the Parsi population, still concentrated in Mumbai, is fewer than 100,000. Meanwhile, the older communities of migrants have been joined by more recent Parsi newcomers, often highly skilled professionals, who have settled in the United States and Great Britain as well as the other, earlier destinations. Their distance from Iran’s Zoroastrian origins, their small numbers, and the pressures of the modern world have introduced numerous challenges to Parsis’ religious practice and belief. As early as the fifteenth century Zoroastrian authorities in Iran sent the Parsis a series of letters intended to reinforce and standardize Parsi religious practice, and numerous institutions arose to fulfill that purpose. Ceremonies such as formal initiation into the faith, weddings, and religious services are held in special buildings open only to Parsis. Not all practices survive strongly, however. The traditional Parsi funeral, in which the body was laid out on an open platform to be consumed by vultures, has been falling out of favor due not only to modernization in general but to both public health concerns and the high value of real estate in Mumbai, where some of these burial grounds would be worth a fortune. In recent years the community has split between liberal believers, who are ready to adapt Parsi practices to the modern world (partly to ensure that younger people re- main solidly within the faith) and the orthodox, who cling to more traditional rituals and, in some cases, belief in an occult form of the faith featuring reverence toward a mythical group of Iranian Zoroastrian masters and the recitation of prayers in an ancient language. Most Parsi immigrants to wealthy countries have been of the liberal branch.
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