New Life for Ancient Zoroastrian Religion

Parsi children (Parvez Damania)

Zoroastrianism, founded in Persia about 3,500 years ago, has become almost extinct in the modern world. With the rise of Islam in Persia in the 8th century, many Zoroastrians fled to India to avoid persecution and settled in Gujarat. They became known as Parsis or Parsees — meaning Persians.

In 2006, The New York Times estimated the Zoroastrian population worldwide at less than 190,000 with the vast majority living in India.

In a 2015 article, the BBC reported an estimated 60,000 Parsis living in India—half as many as there were in the 1940s. And the future of the culture and religion is threatened: for every Parsi born, four die. The decline in numbers is blamed on late marriage, no marriage, infertility and mixed marriage with non-Parsis.

Marriage with non-Parsis is frowned upon and if a woman marries outside the faith, her children are not considered Parsi and she is banned from attending the fire temple—the Parsi place of worship. Khojeste Mistry, a trustee of the Bombay Parsi Panchayet, an organization founded in the 17th century to maintain Zoroastrian family and social values, explains why children of mixed marriage are not accepted into the community: "If we want to preserve the Parsi ethnic identity then marrying out is not the answer. If we turn a blind eye to our kids marrying out, then I do not see Zoroastrianism surviving into the next century.”

The Parsi community helps young Parsis meet potential spouses by organizing events where they can meet. Dating services, social media and dating sites are also helping young Zoroastrians connect with one another within and outside India. And although India’s policy for the past five decades has been to curb its explosive population growth, the reverse is true when it comes to the country’s policy toward the Parsi community. The country has adopted a policy to reverse the decline and maintain the Parsis as a vital part of India’s cultural landscape. They have adopted a policy called Jiyo Parsi—Long Live Parsi—to encourage Parsi men and women to have children through an advertising campaign and federally subsidized fertility treatments. India’s Minister of Minority Affairs Najma Heptulla told BBC’s Linda Pressly that the Parsis have contributed greatly to India and the country wants them to survive.

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