The Parsee Religion: A Speech by Dadabhai Naoroji


December 21, 2021

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On March 18th, 1861, more than 160 years ago, Dadabhai Naoroji delivered a speech in Liverpool, England. The speech makes fascinating reading of what was the current status of the Parsi community. Surprisingly on many issues and topics, it seems as if time has stood still or history keeps on repeating. Here is one one excerpt.


You can read the entire speech by downloading the PDF file.

I will first give some account of the present state of the knowledge of the Parsees about their religion. The priests are a separate caste.,__ and the priesthood is thus hereditary. As a body, the priests are not only ignorant of the duties and objects of their own profession, but are entirely uneducated, except that they are able to read and write, and that, also, often very imper­fectly. To read and write they must learn, as they have to prepare by rote a large number of prayers and recitations, which, in the performance of their usual avocations, they are required to recite. Their work chiefly consists of reciting certain pre­scribed prayers on various religious occasions ; to go to the fire­temple or sea-shore, and say a prayer for anybody that chooses to give a halfpenny; and to depend upon charities distributed on various joyous or mournful occasions, They do not under­stand a single word of these prayers or recitations, which are all in the old Zend language.

From the state of their education and knowledge, they are quite unfit for the pulpit; nor do they aspire to it, or seem to have any notion of the necessity of such teaching. The Parsees have, therefore, no pulpit at present. Far from being the teachers of the true doctrines and duties of their religio, the priests are generally the most bigoted and superstitious, and exercise much injurious influence over the women especially, who, until lately, received no education at all.

The priests have, however, now begun to feel their deg-raded position. Many of them, if they can do so, bring up their sons in any other profession but their own. There are, perhaps, a dozen, among the whole body of professional priests, who lay claim to a knowledge of the Zend Avesta, the religious books of the Parsees; but the only respect in which they are superior to their brethren is, that they have learnt the meanings of words of the books as they are taught, without knowing the language, either philologically or grammatically. They have been taught certain meanings for certain words, and they stick to them as a matter of course. I doubt much whether any one of them has a clear notion of what grammar is, and as to a liberal education, they never had it, and do· not, in conse­quence, understand the necessity of it.

Download PDF File: The Parsee Religion by Dadabhai Naoroji