One of the most significant festivals of the Parsi community, Navroz or the Parsi New Year (Pateti) was celebrated this year on August 17 by the single largest group of the Zoroastrian religious community. As per the Parsi mythology, the universe is recreated on this day and life with all its glory is cherished. Navroz means spring and is believed Mother Nature casts her spell by dressing up like a young bride. Jamshedi Navroz got its name from the legendary King of Persia – Jamshed, who is said to have introduced the solar calculation in the Parsi Calendar. Thus, Navroz gives a new vision to everyone’s life. Parsis celebrate the day with jollity and mirth. Parsis are also known as Zoroastrians as they follow Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest known monotheistic religions founded by the Prophet Zarathustra or Zoroaster (Greek) in the pre-Islam era of ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago in 650 BC. After the invasion of Islamic armies in the 7th Century, Zoroastrians fled Persia and mainly dwelled in India.
Pateti is celebrated to gain health, wealth, prosperity, and productivity. Four ‘Fs’ – Fire, Fragrance, Food, and Friendship – play an important role in the celebration. The Parsis dress up in their best traditional clothes and visit ‘Agiary’ also known as fire temples.
History of Persia says that after the rise of Islam, only 10,000 Persians were left and today the count is approximately 2.6 million worldwide. India is home to the largest group of Parsis from around the World where the community has been a significant part of the economic and industrial growth of the country and lives in harmony with various other religions like Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and many more. But it is painful to note that day by day the population of Parsis is declining.
It is a welcome decision of the Indian government to fund new fertility clinics to help save its dwindling Parsi population which is now under threat of extinction. The Parsi’s should be grateful that the Indian government actually cares about preserving their community and is even on board monetarily to reverse the decline. The government has also launched a scheme called ‘Jiyo Parsi’ in order to reverse the declining trend of the Parsi population. The Parsis are an illustrious community and their contribution to India and its development is starkly out of proportion to their tiny numbers. Today, they are one of India’s most successful communities with Parsi figures playing leading roles in Commerce, Politics, the military and entertainment industry. Their numbers have declined by 12 per cent every census decade – India’s population increases by 21 per cent. The birth rate of the Parsis has dropped dramatically to below replacement levels. Parsi numbers have declined by 12 per cent every census decade – India’s population increases by 21per cent. They are projected to plummet to 23,000 in the near future, reducing this sophisticated, urbane community to a “tribe”. India’s Parsis have been facing a relentless demographic decline. In the decade till 2011, when the last national census was held, their numbers fell from 69,601 to 57,264. Their numbers have been falling every decade since 1941, when it had reached a peak of more than 1,00,000. Between 1971 and 1981 it fell by 20 per cent, the sharpest decline till the latest decennial count.
The average age of marriage for Parsi women is 29-30 and 35 for men. Fertility rates have fallen below viable levels; only one in nine wholly Parsi families has a child under age 10. Thirty per cent of the community never marries. Many girls marry outside the community and so they and their children are not considered Parsis.
Depression among the elderly, migration to foreign countries and the drastic decline in fertility. After three decades, their population is estimated to fall to 40,000. Their numbers are down to a critical 61,000, and diminishing by the day; another 40,000 are scattered across the world with an even greater struggle to hang on to their distinctive identity. Since 2001, the Parsi population has declined to 57,264, an approximate 18 per cent drop from 69,601. The tradition of marrying only within the community resulted in large numbers of people remaining unmarried in the 70s and 80s. According to an estimate, close to 30 per cent of Parsis in the bigger cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Pune are marrying outside the community. Time has now come when a cognisant effort is needed by the young Parsi generation to make a change in their socio-psychological attitude. They should get married early at the right time and should not delay the birth of children for the sake of better careers.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)