Although the present-day Parsis are descendents of the Persian refugees who came to Gujarat some time after the fall of the the Persian Empire to the Arabs in AD 651, theirs was not the first Iranian emigration to India.
Under the Arabs, Iranians were forcibly converted to Islam. Those who clung to their ancient faith were persecuted and fled to the mountains of Kohistan in Khorasan.
According to tradition, they stayed there a hundred years. Then they went to the Persian Gulf port of Hormuz where they are said to have remained for fifteen years. From there, they set sail in seven junks, according to the reverend Henry Lord, … and arrived at Div, an island of the southern extremity of Kathiawar. They stayed there for nineteen years, and then again set sail, this time for Sanjan, a small fishing village on the west coast of Gujarat where they landed around 785, and where the local Hindu Raja, Jadhav Rana, gave them shelter.
According to Behman Kaikobad, when the Parsis approached Jadhav Rana … for permission to settle there, he imposed five conditions on them. These were:
- the explanation of the Zoroastrian religion to the Raja by the Parsi High Priest who accompanied the refugees and had safeguarded the sacred fire all the way from Iran to India;
- the adoption of Gujarati as their mother-tongue;
- the adoption of the sari by Parsi women;
- the surrender of all weapons; and finally,
- that Parsi wedding procession be held in the dark.
This last may have been a request from the refugees themselves, a protective measure to avoid attention of other communities to an alien community in their midst.
A far more vivid account of the meeting between the Persian refugees and Jadhav Rana, than that in the ‘Kissa’ is given in the Gujarati Garbas, group songs and dances, composed by the Parsis, and sung by Parsi women on such happy occasions as Navjotes and weddings. I give the story in prose which was once sung in verse.
Jadhav Rana issued a proclamation inviting all citizens to assemble in open maidan (meadow). On a throne covered with rich drapes, the Raja took his seat. He was dressed in royal robes, wore a magnificent turban, and embroidered velvet slippers. Ranged round him were his mounted bodyguards, dressed in white, holding glittering spears.
At a signal from Jadhav Rana, the Persian refugees were brought into the centre of the assembly. Their frail old priest, hiding a small Afarghan with the sacred fire, was the spokesman for the group, through an interpreter.
“What is it you want from us, O strangers from a far land ?” asked Jadhav Rana.
“Freedom of worship, Sire,” replied the old priest.
“Granted. What else do you wish?”
“A small piece of land that we could cultivate, so that we may not be a burden to the people among whom we live.”
“Granted. In return, what will you do for the country of your adoption ?”
The old priest asked for a brass bowl to be filled with milk and brought to the assembly.
This was done. He then stirred a spoonful of sugar in the bowl and, holding it up in his trembling hands, asked:
“Does any man see the sugar in this bowl of milk ?”
All shook their heads.
“Sir,” said the priest, “we shall try to be like this insignificant amount of sugar in the milk of your human kindness.”
There were murmurs of approval from the crowd. Then, at a signal from the priest, all the refugees — men and women, and children prostrated themselves full length on the ground. Each picked up a handful of earth and, with tears streaming down their faces they pressed it to their eyes and forehead.
There, after washing their hands and faces, the refugees turned their faces to the Sun, recited the Kusti prayers, and performed the Kusti ritual.
— from The Parsis by Piloo Nanavutty, quoted and described in Samavaaya Eva Saadhuh, an article by Swami Ranganathananda, published in Reflections on Harmony of Religions, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata, India, 2014
— For light on the contribution of Parsis to India, it will be useful to read an article by Mr Desh Kapoor. The link is here: