On the occasion of Parsi New Year, we got in touch with a few people from the community attempting to bring out the important traditions of the Parsi culture to know them from a little closer.
Indian has always been the country that has welcomed people from all over the world with open hearts. No doubt why the country is the home for various religions and cultures, even if were not indigenous, now constitute an important identity of India. One such is the Parsi community, the descendants of Persian Zoroastrians and now a significant part of the Indian culture.
The Parsis, who came from Persia (now Iran) in the 8th century, took no time in blending in India like “sugar in the milk”. The reason for saying this goes back to when they had arrived in Sanjan, a town in Gujarat. Since the language of Persians was different and the then King of the place, Jadhav Rana, could not understand it, he welcomed the guests with a glass of milk. The Persians took the gesture as a message and reciprocated by adding sugar in the milk, hinting that they would get mixed with the Indian culture. As the King got impressed with their action, he granted them asylum and welcomed them with gifts, which marked the beginning of a new culture in India.
Festivals and amusements
“Our most popular festival is ‘Navroze’ (Parsi New Year),” says Jasmine Diviney, a Parsi who runs an Instagram meme page, ‘The Authentic Parsi‘. The new year begins with the spring equinox and marks the first day of the year on the Parsi calendar. “On Navroze, we always wear new clothes and give gifts to our loved ones,” Jasmine says. The festival also includes a common tradition to set up the ‘Navroze table’. “The table signifies the bounties of the universe and is also like a prayer for a good year and good life”, Jasmine adds.
“We go to the Agyari (Fire Temple) and say special new year prayers,” Jasmine says, adding that another notable Parsi festival includes ‘Khordad Sal’, which marks the birthday of Prophet Zarathustra and is celebrated similarly. Apart from these, ‘Zarthost No Deeso’ is also one of the important festivals in the community.
“Parsi wedding traditions are a combination of our Persian and Gujarati culture,” Jasmine says. The brides at the weddings can be seen wearing a white sari and the groom in a ‘Dagli’. Another traditional Parsi garment for women is the ‘Gara’. “The Gara embroidery style has a strong Chinese influence because of the business interests that the Parsi merchants had with China,” Jasmine says.
One of the most heartwarming gestures in Parsi weddings is the ‘Madhavsaro ceremony’ where the bride and the groom’s families plant saplings, mostly a mango sapling, a symbol of fertility. They are planted in separate pots, and the people involved in this ceremony wear red clothes. The food in Parsi weddings is always served on a Patra (banana leaf) and includes dishes such as ‘Sali Boti’, ‘Patra Ni Macchi’ and ‘Lagan Nu Custard’.
Armaan U. Hoyvoy, a partner of Parsi Da Dhaba, an outlet based in Mumbai, talks about the food culture of Parsi and says that it consists of ‘Farcha’- chicken (on the bone) marinated in traditional home spices, then cooked and deep-fried. He also mentions other dishes like ‘Salli Boti’. “It is a classic celebratory dish where the soft chunks of mutton is cooked in a gently spiced tomato gravy and served with thin potato crisps and generally enjoyed with ladi pav or rotis,” he says.
Another dish representing the culture is ‘Kheema per Eedu’- chicken mince marinated in a sweet & tangy tomato-based recipe, served with a fried egg on top. As per Armaan, ‘Patra ni Machi’, ‘Mutton Palav Daal’, and ‘Lagan nu Custard’ are the most visible items in the Parsi festivals, including the Parsi New Year. However, he also lists a few dishes that are a must-try from the Parsi food culture, and that includes ‘Akuri on Toast’ (with jam), ‘Mutton Cutlets’ (with gravy), ‘Salli ma Marghi’, ‘Mutton Dhansak’, ‘Papri ma Gos’, ‘Saas in Machi’ and ‘Prawn Curry Rice’.
“If you go to any corner of the world, classics are handed down from parents to children and remain authentic. The same goes for us. Parsis are traditionalists. We will experiment but never alter the classics. We even have our own unique ‘Sambhar Masala’!”, Armaan says.
Parsi are the followers of the Zoroastrian faith. The major reason for the community to come to India was to protect their religion which had become hard in Persia after the foreign invasion. The community worships Ahura Mazda, who is the creator, and Zarathustra, who is their prophet. “We worship them through fire which symbolizes God’s divine light. It represents luminosity. Luminous things such as the sun, stars, and fire signify warmth and energy, are believed to be the attributes of
God”, says Jasmine.
The religious book of the community is known as the Avesta. Another significant part of their belief is Asho Farohar (guardian angel), a symbol worn or displayed by Parsis on necklaces, buildings, and even on their cars. Jasmine says that the symbol is very important to them and is believed to protect them.
“The main motto that Zoroastrians are told to live by is good thoughts, good words and good deeds”, Jasmine adds.
The Parsis are believed to uphold their traditions and age-old norms. “Most of our traditions have remained the same for thousands of years as they have been passed on by elders and priests for generations”, Jasmine says. “We say our prayers in ancient Persian even if we speak Gujarati at home”, she adds. The community performs the Jasan ceremony on various occasions, which is like a “thanks-giving” ceremony.
One of the oldest traditions in the community is the ‘Navjote ceremony’, which is held when a Parsi child is inducted into the Zoroastrian faith. In the ceremony, the child is made to wear ‘Serdeh’, the undershirt and ‘Kushti belt’, the thread for the first time, which they carry on with them for good. The ceremony also means that the parents become obligated to teach the child moral and religious values.
“All in all, the Parsis are known for being typically jolly, peaceful and always friendly!”, Jasmine says.