Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

The Marshalls keep the Parsi flame alive in Kozhikode

Though Marshalls, the lone family of Kozhikode keeping the lineage of the Parsi tradition, seems to have embraced the rhythm of Malabari culture, they remain intact in Zoroastrian beliefs and customs.



Fluent in regional tongue one can hardly distinguish Darius P Marshall or his sons Zubin and Farzan from the local people here apart from their slightly alien physique.

Born to parents from Bharuch and Kutch Darius P Marshall is now the proud owner of a flourishing automobile workshop ‘Auto Motto’ on Vellayil Road near the beach in Kozhikode. With large number of imported automated machines the Marshalls’ service station caters to customers from across the state.

The work shop owner who receives the vehicles with much enthusiasm himself, diagnoses them before handing them over to the workers. Elaborating on the machines and tools at the workshop mostly imported from various European countries, firm and confidant Marshall was not ready to leave aside the air of seriousness. Amidst the talks on Parsi life in Kerala, he shared the pride of having hosted a ritualistic ceremony for all the six Parsi families spread across Kannur, Kozhikode, Thrissur, Ernakulam and Mangalore.

What happened to the 299 other Parsi families who were once part of Kozhikode? Marshalls have a quick answer: Most of them left the place in search of greener pastures. “Nowadays our people in Mumbai and other cities hesitate to shift to Kozhikode,” they say. He added that the traditional Parsi rituals are slightly altered in Kozhikode to suit the local needs. “We cannot perform many rituals being followed by our community in cities such as Mumbai or Chennai where we are a sizable community. The ‘Tower of Silence’, where the body of the dead is kept on a tower for vultures, is not viable in Kozhikode. Here we bury the dead on the compound of the Fire Temple ‘Anjuman Baguh’ at SM Street. Bodies of the dead Parsis from all over Kerala and Mangalore are brought here for burial,” he says.

Heralding the legacy of Parsi business doyens such as Tata and Godrej, the Parsis who arrived in Kozhikode in the mid 19th century also eyed at the commercial and industrial prospects of the region. Marshall says the first group arrived here in 1851 to set up a coir factory to supply products to the East India Company. The bungalow of Dr Kobab Muga Sett, who had a degree in medicine from London and believed to be the highest qualified doctor in Malabar then, is the present Mayor Bhavan. Deep in the memories of Marshall are the heroic deeds of Coverjees, the most renowned Parsi family in Kozhikode of seven brothers who remained bachelors.

The thread ceremony which initiates one into to the Parsi faith is usually performed between the ages from nine to 11. No gender difference is followed in the ritual. The baniyan cloth ‘sudre’ and silk thread ‘kusti’ are worn round the waist of a boy or girl,” Darius says. Fire brought from Udvada in Gujarat, the renowned pilgrimage centre for Zorastrians world over, is kept at the Parsi Fire temples everywhere. “Here we don’t’ keep the fire burning round the clock. We will light the sandal wood fire whenever we visit the Fire Temple on SM Road. Usually we visit the Anjuman Baguh on Sundays. The admission to temple is open only to Parsis. Nowadays, apart from the Marshalls the Air India pilots and air hostesses who belong to Parsi community are the other visitors to the Fire Temple in Kozhikode.