August 17, 2022


Engineer's Line

India’s Richest Minority. How did Zoroastrians becomes soo Rich?

9 min read

Hello, friends.

Famous industrialist Jamshedji Tata,

Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw,

Bollywood actor Boman Irani,

And Indian nuclear scientist, Dr. Homi Bhabha.

Do you know what’s common among them?

They belong to a community in India,

with a minuscule population.

But perhaps, in India,

this community is the richest and the most successful.

The Parsis.

India now has the most Zoroastrians

and the community there is wealthy and influential.

They’re known as Parsis, meaning Persians.

It’s a religion which, in fact, encourages Capitalism.

But Capitalism with a very important social responsibility.

That if you made a lot of money,

you must love to share it.

I love the idea that the community is seen as a

slightly eccentric, slightly weird,

slightly strange community.

But very loved.

India’s story is somewhat incomplete without the Parsis.

The contribution of this community to India’s progress has been substantial.

India’s first steel mill.

The first commercial airline,

India’s first luxury hotel.

Asia’s first stock exchange.

A Parsi is responsible for all of these.

Even so, the story of the Parsis didn’t begin in India.

Parsi is a Persian word meaning ‘Persian’.

Today, we use this word to refer to the people of a specific minority community.

They were the ones who came to India from Iran during the 8th-10th century.

The religion of this community is known as Zoroastrianism.

It is a religion similar to Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity.


But it isn’t as popular as the other three.

That’s why people of this community are known as Zoroastrians as well.

Zoroastrianism is believed to be the oldest monotheistic religion.

It began in Iran,

About 4,000 years ago.

Monotheism means that the believers of this religion

believe in the singularity of the God, One Supreme God.

The opposite of this is Polytheism.

Wherein people believed in the existence of multiple Gods.

Hinduism is a polytheistic religion,

And religions like Islam and Christianity,

fall in the category of monotheism.

Although, there’s much debate about Christianity

whether they believe in the singularity of God, or in the Trinity.

Whether it comes under the category of monotheism or not.

But my point here is that

Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions in the world.

Many scholars believe,

that the Abrahamic religions,

like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism,

were all shaped by Zoroastrianism.

The history goes like this.

Around the 7th century, the Persian empire was flourishing in Iran.

Specifically known as the Sassanid Empire.

The empire was invaded around the year 650 AD.

By the Rashidun Caliphate.

The empire of the Arab Muslims.

As with nearly all empires of the time,

After the invasion, the locals had to endure many atrocities.

There was discrimination against them.

There were forced conversions,

they had to pay taxes and fines.

During all this, a small group of Zoroastrians had enough of this.

They couldn’t continue living in such circumstances.

They decided to leave the place and take refuge

somewhere they could live peacefully.

Over the next 100-200 years,

Several Zoroastrians migrated from Iran to India.

The people we refer to as Parsis today,

are the descendants of these people.

The Zoroastrian community that came to India during the 8th-10th century.

There were 2 main reasons why they chose to come to India.

First, to protect their religion, and their culture.

And the second, some economic factors as well.

The Persian merchants of the time had come to India because

non-Muslim merchants had to pay higher taxes.

They came here to protect their businesses and livelihoods.

There was another migration of the Zoroastrians living in Iran,

between the 19th and 20th centuries.

We don’t call the descendants of these people Parsis.

We refer to them as Irani.

This is a major difference between the Parsis and the Iranis.

And it is important to establish this difference.

Because a community that has been living in a place for thousands of years,

and one that moved in about 100-200 years ago,

their culture, language, lifestyle,

would be significantly different.

Even though Parsis and Iranis are Zoroastrians,

there’s a significant difference between the two.

There’s no clear-cut record of the Parsis’ reception in India.

Their journey and how they were received in India,

because it was a long while ago, nearly 1,500 years ago.

The thing about history, friends, is that

the more you go into the past,

the more difficult it is to know what had happened exactly.

We know much more about recent history.

Like we know so much about the British Raj,

because of the abundance of clear-cut written records.

We know a lot about the Mughals as well,

because their reign was only 300-400 years ago.

But as you go back into the past,

the fewer historical records exist.

We have only one written record of the journey undertaken by the Parsis.

The Qissa-e-Sanjan.

A poem written in the 16th-century.

About 800 years after their journey.

According to this poem, this small community of Zoroastrians

crossed the Arabian Sea in boats to reach India.

They landed on an island named Diu.

They lived there for 19 years,

and they decided to relocate to mainland India

because it had more economic opportunities.

And so they reached the city of Sanjan in Gujarat.

According to Qissa-e-Sanjan, there was Maharaja Rana in the city.

The group of Zoroastrians decided to elect a priest from among themselves

to meet with the Maharaja.

When they asked for refuge in their kingdom,

the king was doubtful about that.

He brought in a glass of milk filled to the rim,

And said that there wasn’t space for more people.

So the Zoroastrian priest asked for some sugar.

He mixed the sugar in the milk.

Saying that,

the way sugar dissolves in milk,

they too would integrate into the kingdom,

without spilling the milk.

Maharaja Rana was overjoyed with the example.

And so he gave them refuge.

They were offered some land to resettle,

and some resources as well.

But the Maharaja imposed some conditions.

The Parsi women must wear saris.

The Parsi men weren’t allowed to carry weapons.

They were required to learn Gujarati.

And they were also asked to explain their religion to the king.

Over the next 100-200 years, more small groups of Zoroastrians kept coming.

And they settled here.

And let’s get back to the topic.

And then with the passing of the years,

the city of Sanjan lost its importance as a city for trading.

And so the Parsis moved out of Gujarat and settled in other cities.

The majority of them went to Bombay.

This is why the largest Parsi population in India

is presently found in Mumbai.

Parsis started working as artisans, traders, and merchants.

When the Britishers and other Europeans came in the 17th-18th century,

Bombay’s importance grew manifold.

The Britishers were in search of traders and artisans.

The Parsis grabbed this opportunity to work with them.

But nowhere in the video have I explained

how the Parsi community became so rich and successful.

The interesting reason behind this is,

the Opium and Cotton trade.

During the 1700s and the 1800s,

the Parsis began trading with China for opium and cotton.

An affect of this trade relationship can be seen even today in traditional Parsi sarees.

The Parsis like Chinese silk a lot.

So when they visited China,

they would get custom-made sarees for their wives.

These sarees were often sold in India.

These Parsi sarees were known as Gara Sarees.

You can see Chinese embroidery, Persian influence, and Indian influence in them.

Then in 1729,

the Chinese government banned the sale and import of opium.

Because of the rampant drug addictions in China.

By the 1830s, the Parsis stopped trading in opium.

As an alternative, they started the business of cotton manufacturing.

Cotton used to be in high demand back then.

By trading in the important commodities at the right time,

the Parsi community could become rich.

And because the community got rich,

they could afford to send their kids to English medium schools.

During the British Raj.

The Parsi children learned English and the western mannerisms,

things that were considered a luxury back then.

And because of this, the image of the community was one of

literacy, progressive, and successful.

Not only the Indians believed this,

it was acknowledged by the Britishers too.

They became the most ‘Europeanised’ Indian community.

Some Indians began to feel concerned because of this.

But we can talk about that later in some other video.

But there are some specific examples

such as Jamshedji Jejeebhoy.

A Parsi businessman,

who earned his wealth through the opium trade.

He was the richest man in India of his time.

But he didn’t spend all his money on himself.

He used it for charity as well.

That’s why he is so well known now.

He covered two-thirds of the cost of the Pune waterworks,

He founded the Sir Jamshedji School of Arts.

The oldest art college in Mumbai.

He built the Jamshedji Hospital.

It is now a part of the Grant Medical College, Mumbai.

This is something that’s prevalent in most of the Parsis.

They are very charitable.

They donate their money for the welfare of the community and society.

The reason is hidden somewhere in Zoroastrianism.

According to Zoroastrian theology,

Speaking good words, thinking good thoughts, and doing good deeds,

are the only devices against evils.

Many Zoroastrians strive to perform good deeds.

Building hospitals and schools

or working for the welfare of the poor,

Today, the Parsi community accounts for 0.006% of the Indian population.

According to the official records,

approximately only 57,000 Parsis are residing in India.

A minuscule number.

But when you look at their contributions,

it will shock you.

Parsi families like the Tata, Godrej, and Wadia,

have been the top industrialists in India.

Jamshedji Tata is known as the Father of Indian Industrialisation.

He founded the Tata group,

and established the city of Jamshedpur.

His relative, JRD Tata became the first licensed pilot in India.

Founded Air India, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Motors,

Tata Salt, as well as Titan Industries.

If you want to know JRD Tata’s story,

about how he founded Air India,

and Air India’s history,

I had made a separate video on that too,

I’ll put the link to that in the description below.

And then, Ratan Tata is known for his philanthropic works.

In the field of science, there’s doctor Homi Bhabha.

He played an important role in India’s nuclear program.

In the military, India’s first Field Marshall, Sam Manekshaw,

is still considered as one of the finest officers of the Indian Army.

His biggest achievement was the 1971’s India-Pakistan war.

In politics, Feroze Gandhi,

Indira Gandhi’s husband was a Parsi.

Feroze Gandhi had changed his surname to Gandhi

because he was very inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.

Even in the film industry,

the list is so long that I don’t even know where to start.

There are names such as Boman Irani, Ronny Screwvala, and Cyrus Broacha.

But indirectly, the actors with at least one Parsi parent,

the list includes John Abraham, Farhan Akhtar, and Farah Khan as well.

Strictly speaking, they can’t be called Parsis,

because the Parsi community believes that the lineage passes through male members only.

It means that in an inter-religious marriage,

between a Parsi man and a non-Parsi woman,

their children would be considered Parsis.

But if a Parsi woman marries a non-Parsi man,

their children will not be considered Parsis,

even if the woman continues practising Zoroastrianism.

Friends, this is said to be a reason why

the Parsi population is falling in India.

The Parsi population falls approximately 12% every decade.

Apart from this, another obvious reason is that

the economic status of the Parsi community,

since the Parsis are so rich and successful,

it’s obvious that their fertility rates are low.

A direct relationship exists between fertility rates and economic status.

The poor have more children.

The inter-faith marriages have been a topic of debate for the Parsi community.

Some people believe that it is an injustice aimed at women.

Because their children aren’t considered Parsis.

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