As their name indicates, are descendants of Persian immigrants who settled in Bombay and its vicinity and who brought their Iranian religion with them. To the 130,000 who now live in India should be added about 20,000 "cousins" who remain in Iran, in the regions of Kerman and Yazd. The Parsees of India have adopted the Gujerati language of the Bombay area. All claim allegiance to the god Mazda or Ormazd and to his prophet Zardusht or Zoroaster. However, under the influence of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, their religion has lost much of its original dualism. Ahriman has for the most part been reduced to a symbol of man's evil tendencies.
The most striking features of the Parsees' religion are fire worship and the exposure of corpses in "Towers of Silence." During their fire worship, which is carried out in fire temples, the priest, holding a ritual staff, covers his mouth with a veil which is intended to protect the fire from any possible impurity. The ceremony is completed by a continuous reading of a large portion of the Avesta. The Parsees are not a caste, but they remain a closed community. They never marry outside their group and they make no attempt to convert non-Parsees to their religion. They are antiascetic and have little interest in astrology and mysticism. They are conspicuous for their generosity and interest in education as well as for their wealth, their desire to alleviate misery without distinction of race or religion, and their founding of hospitals, orphanages, and schools. Under Western influence they have changed their dress and abolished infant marriage.
Bibliography: d. menant, j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 1908–27) 9:640–650. j. duchesne-guillemin, La Religion de l'Iran ancien (Paris 1962).