Though small numbers camouflage their presence, Parsis in Bangalore city are an active community.Come March 21, the city will feel their presence as they gear up to celebrate the most important day in the Parsi calendar — Jamshed-e-Navroze, the Parsi New Year.
Falling on the same day every year, Jamshed-e-Navroze is believed to bring each Parsi a promise of good health and prosperity. “Jamshed-e-Navroze celebrates the onset of spring. Also, according to some people, it falls on god’s birthday. Some Parsis celebrate the festival on August 21, every year,” said Kaiwan N Billimoria, an IT consultant.
“The New Year is an important festival for all Parsis. We get up early, take bath, wear new clothes and go to a nearby fire temple to offer prayers. At home, we light a diva (lamp in Gujarati) in front of prophet Zoroaster. It is believed that lighting the divas will make the day go well. We also adorn our doors with jasmine garlands and observe thanksgiving,” said Billimoria’s wife, Dilshad, an investment advisor and mother of two.
Jamshed-e-Navroze is also a time for entertainment. After festivities at home, Parsis in the city head for the Parsi Club in Kothari Hall, where they will be greeted by cultural and theatre performances. “There will be a whole lot of singing and dancing by little ones of the community. They are trained by the senior ladies at least for a month,” said Billimoria.
Like the Billimorias whose descendants came from Gujarat, most of the Parsis in the city trace their lineage to either Mumbai or Gujarat. History states that the sacred fire was brought by Iranian Zoroastrians to the state of Gujarat centuries ago, where the early Indian Parsi settlements began.
The community’s rigid norms against inter-community marriages has been the cause of its dwindling numbers. The number of Parsis in the country is reported to be well below one lakh.
“But the number of Parsis in Bangalore is quite good. There are approximately 600 to 700 Parsis residing in the city now. And there is also a floating population of young Parsis who have made the city their temporary abode,” said Phiroze Bharda, former president of the Bangalore Zoroastrian Association.
Bharda’s recollection of the earliest Parsi settlements in Bangalore goes back to early 1930s. “At that time there were only 150 Parsis in the whole of Bangalore. Most of them were working in the Indian army. Another group of retired community men flocked from various parts of the country to the city because they wanted to settle down in the Pensioner’s Paradise. But there were very few who came hunting for business prospects,” he revealed.
However, it was the IT boom that drew most of the younger lot to Bangalore. “They are keen on pursuing a career in the industry. Parsis are professional and extremely devoted to their careers. They are hardworking and trustworthy; something that is quite symbolic of the community they belong to,” said Pashmina Barker, a model.
The Bangalore Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman is a body that looks after the cultural and religious aspects of the community. “They have taken up a few philanthropic activities. They give financial assistance to underprivileged children,” said Billimoria.
Though the community is sometimes looked upon as rigid because of the strict norms against inter-community marriages, Parsis on the whole are quite western in their outlook and friendly at heart.“We are a group of people who like to sing, dance, drink, and of course, have an affinity to pearls,” said Barker.