The last of the Parsees: The only family in Balasore, Orissa tells their tale


August 29, 2019

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Balasore, August 25 (LocalWire): The eastern state of Odisha is known for its culture, age-old traditions, temples and its indigenous people. People of all religions have called the state home although one community has only one family living here.

The lone Parsee family of the state has been enriching the cultural flavour without losing their own identity.

Article by Sibdas Kundu | Local Wire

The Barjorjis residing in Balasore for near about a century is a prominent family with its fourth generation living under the same roof.

Talking about their past and the history of the family that settled in the state, the family members said a part of their community, had fled former Persia, present-day Iran, fearing persecution.


‘Our forefathers along with several of their friends fled Iran after the community was being forced to undergo conversion, we were told, They climbed aboard two boats and as one travelled towards Germany, the other sailed to India.

They initially settled in Bombay and Gujarat, then came to Balasore in search of a job,’ Hosei Bodhanwalla, the senior-most member of 15-member family said, adding further that even after 100 years they prefer to be known as Barjorjis.

‘We are close to the Gujarati culture. Our attire is almost similar to Gujaratis and although our language is Gujarati, our accent differs from the original (Gujarati), since we have been living in Balasore for generations.

We prefer non-vegetarian food and are the one and only Parsi family in the entire state of Odisha. Our relatives are in Kolkata, Mumbai, Gujarat and Jamshedpur.

Our marriage and social events are observed with them. Here, I and my brother and our children live under one roof,’ he added.

Rustamji Patel and B Barjorji, two brothers-in law, came to Balasore In late 1920s. While the former later settled in Jamshedpur, the latter settled here.

B Barjoji tried his luck in Balasore by selling soda lemon water door to door in a bullock cart and was nicknamed Paniwala Babu.

‘Slowly, the family gained prominence and introduced and brought several new things to Balasore.

They were the first to open fuel stations, liquor shops, arms and ammunition shops. The community is generally litigation-free,’ remarked an Octogenarian resident of Balasore.

The family now owns prominent hotels, restaurants and a petrol pump in Balasore town and is known as an established and reputed family, besides contributing towards social causes.

‘We are closer to Hindu religion although our religion is Zoroastrian.

We worship Fire as well as Sun as our prime gods.

We have sacred thread ceremonies both for male and female children which are conducted between 7 to 11 years.

We believe in disposing our dead bodies in the open, in the tower of silence, a specially-made structure on a height, so that it can feed other creatures especially the vulture but at rare occasions, like in Jamshedpur, they bury the bodies in a burial ground, These are the basic distinctions of our religion,’ the family members said.

‘One would definitely find a burning candle in each Parsee house.

We have the sacred fire burning still in Sanjan in Gujarat,’ said Malcolm Bodhanwalla, the younger brother of Hosie.

‘We are only 15 in Balasore and in India the Parsee’s number around 50,000- 60,000.

Our population is declining fast. In fact, we are becoming an endangered community,’ they said.

‘Both men and women love to work. We prefer late marriages and marry around 35-36 years and we restrict children to two.

In order to save our dwindling community, our Parsee panchayat appealed to us to go for a third child who would be the responsibility of the panchayat but our people didn’t show much interest,’ said Sarosh Bodhanwalla, the eldest son of Hosie Bodhanwalla.

‘When we arrived in India from Persia and sought shelter from the ruler of Saurashtra region, he had asked what this additional community would do for the country.

We had convinced him citing an example of sugar in tea.

If a cup of tea contains three spoons of sugar, an extra spoon would not spill the beverage but enhance the sweetness by blending into the tea. Since then our community across India has been fulfilling the commitment,’ they added.

Of the festivals the community celebrates, the prominent ones are Navroz (New year), Papetti (change of calendar) and Khordad Sal birth Zoroaster (Zarathustra) in the month of August, September and March respectively.