Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Irani or Parsi, what’s the difference?

By Meher Marfatia in DNA India

Who hasn’t smiled at quaint “By Order” instructions written in coloured chalk at Irani restaurant entrances? But walk to your corner café today. The interior will likely wear a special festive feel. It’s March 21. Spring Equinox – Nauruz. Or Navroze, as Parsis call it.

How they pronounce or spell this day is a less interesting difference between Iranis and Parsis. In a public lecture, Dr Rashna Writer shared: “Though both are originally Persian, Iranis and Parsis speak different languages, eat different food, look different and have a different sense of humour. Both groups seek the ‘true’ Zoroastrian vision.”

Persians fleeing persecution, who entered the country a thousand years ago, were christened Parsi, after the Pars region, their original turf. Iranis followed much later in a mass migration through the 19th century’s second half. They answered to a generic surname, “Irani”, though true family names were Kermani, Yezdani, Khosravi, Faroodi, Jafrabadi, depending on their hometown.

“We continue appreciating the welcome India extended us,” says Gustasp Irani, a travel writer like his Parsi wife Jeroo. “Physically sturdy and brave in business”, as Boman Irani describes them, the hardworking community takes pride in its cultural legacy.

“We’re a jolly lot, not prickly about being called ‘junglee Iruns’ by the Parsis,” the actor adds.While few third-generation Iranis are fluent in Dari – the dialect sans script their forefathers adopted (so Arabs couldn’t understand them communicate) – Irani children know age-old customs. Six celebratory days are a throwback to the characteristically agrarian, ancient Iranian society. They coincide with mid-spring, midsummer, harvesting, start of winter, mid-winter and this equinox. These occasions worship the creation of the universe, water, earth, plants, animals and man respectively.

Irani weddings play out rituals lost by the Parsis. For instance, seven male witnesses carry lit candles as they go in mock search of the bride sitting with her face covered. Then, “Numo Khodu (Touch wood)” they say!