On Friday we had a New Year in India once again. I have written about the different New Year celebrations a number of times, and it seems like I will have to do more posts about the same. Some unconfirmed sources have told me that there are 29 different communities in India that uses different calendars and so celebrating different New Year…
This time it was the Parsi community that had the New Year. They follow something called a Shahenshahi calendar, which differs from the “traditional western” calendar. That’s the reason why they celebrate New Year at a different time than others. The Parsi New Year eve is called Nowruz, which mean “New Light”.
Although the Parisan community is a very small community (it is not much more than 100.000 worldwide), it is a quite strong important and strong community. Many of the most influential business persons or rather business families in India are Paris. Examples of this are the Tata family and the Godrej family.
The parses originally came from the Iranian area and immigrated to India in the 10th century AD. Even if their background is from Iran, they have lost the connection with that area. The dominant language among Parses today is actually Gujarati, a local Indian language.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the Parsis had emerged as “the foremost people in India in matters educational, industrial, and social. They came in the vanguard of progress, amassed vast fortunes, and munificently gave away large sums in charity”. By the close of the 19th century, the total number of Parsis in colonial India was 85,397, of which 48,507 lived in Bombay, constituting 6% of the total population of the city (Census, 1881). This would be the last time that the Parsis would be considered a numerically significant minority in the city.
One special tradition for Parsees is the way they handle their dead people. It has been traditional, in Mumbai and Karachi at least, for dead Parsis to be taken to the Towers of Silence where the corpses would quickly be eaten by the city’s vultures. The reason given for this practice is that earth, fire and water are all considered as sacred elements, which should not be defiled by the dead. Therefore, burial and cremation have always been prohibited in Parsi culture. The problem today though is that in Mumbai and Karachi the population of vultures has been drastically reduced, due to extensive urbanization. Solar panels have been installed in the Towers of Silence to speed up the decomposition process but this has only been partially successful. There is a debate raging among the community as to whether the prohibition on burials and cremations should not be lifted. The Tower of Silence in Mumbai is located in Malabar Hill, one of the most porch areas in the city. It is prohibited for non-Parses to enter that area.
As some of my friends and colleagues are Parses, I should united them and say “Happy New Year” one more time…
Talk to you soon!