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HandWiki. Zoroastrianism in India. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 24 April 2024).
HandWiki. Zoroastrianism in India. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 24, 2024.
HandWiki. "Zoroastrianism in India" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 24, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, November 09). Zoroastrianism in India. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Zoroastrianism in India." Encyclopedia. Web. 09 November, 2022.
Zoroastrianism in India

Zoroastrianism in India has significant history within the country. The initial migration following the Muslim conquest of Persia has been canonized as a religious persecution by invading Muslims. Zoroastrianism meanwhile suffered a decline in Iran after the conquests. Subsequent migrations also took place after the attempts by Safavids to convert their subjects to Shiism. Due to persecution of Zoroastrians in other countries and the liberal atmosphere and patronisation of India, today the largest population of Zoroastrians resides in India, where Zoroastrians have been allowed to play a notable role in the Indian economy, entertainment, the armed forces, and the Indian freedom movement during British Raj. The Zoroastrian groups are regarded as either Parsi or Irani depending on the time of migration to India.

religious persecution zoroastrianism zoroastrians

1. History

By 632 A.D., Yazdgird III came to power in Iran but the Arab/Muslim army had already begun invading Iran. The Muslims defeated them at Nahavand and Yazdgird was slain by a miller in Merv in 652, bringing an end to the Sasanian dynasty and thus of the official history of Zoroastrian Iran. While losing their religion and script along with some Sasanian historiographical literature, the language and culture essentially survived. Between the seventh and thirteenth century, political and social pressures resulted in ascendancy of Iranian Muslim over the Zoroastrians. With the conquests, Iranians gradually lost their predominant religion.[1]

The Zoroastrians moved to India in successive migrations in the Islamic period. According to the account, the Zoroastrians suffered at their hands and in order to protect themselves and safeguard their religion, fled first to northern Iran, then to the island of Hormuz and finally to India. Recently, scholars have questioned this explanation of Iranian origins. There is a scarcity of sources about the migration. Historians are forced to rely exclusively on Qissa-i Sanjan written in 1599 by a Parsi Priest and Qissah-ye Zartushtian-e Hindustan written more than 200 years later. This is complicated by the fact that there were already Zoroastrians in India in the Sasanian period.[2]

Iranian Zoroastrians are known to have been trading with India for centuries before the dates calculated for arrival of Parsis per Qissa-i Sanjan. Ruksana Nanji and Homi Dhalla while discussing archaeological evidence for 'The Landing of Zoroastrians at Sanjan', conclude that the most likely date for the migration at the start of the middle phase of their chronology, namely the early-to-mid-eighth century. Nevertheless, they express their general skepticism about the Qissa-i Sanjan account.[3] Scholar Andre Wink has theorized that Zoroastrian immigrants to India, both before and after the Muslim conquest of Iran, were primarily merchants, since evidence suggests it was only some time after their arrival that religious experts and priests were sent for to join them. He argues that the competition over trade routes with Muslims may also have contributed to their immigration.[2]

Although historically unsubstantiated, the story of how Zoroastrians gained permission to step on the shores of Gujarat continues to be critical to the self-identity of the group. Per the commonly told narrative, the Rajah of Sanjan, summoned them and demanded to know how they wouldn't be a burden on or a threat to the indigenous communities. Replying to their request of practising their religion and till the land, he showed them a jug full of milk, saying Sanjan like it was full. In one version, a dastur added a coin to the milk, saying like the coin, no one would be able to see that they were there but they would enrich the milk nonetheless. In another version, he added sugar instead and claimed that like it, they would sweeten lands of Sanjan. In both of them their settlement is approved by the Rajah who addresses certain conditions for it: they would explain their religion, promise not to proselytise, adopt Gujarati speech and dress, surrender their weapons and only conduct their rituals after nightfall.[4] During this period, Zoroastrian traders faced execution outside India, including in China where many were killed during the Guangzhou massacre.[5]

The immigration of Zoroastrians to India continued, and by 1477 they had lost all contact with Persia. Not until three hundred years had passed would they come into contact. Zoroastrians also played a notable role during the freedom movements of India.[6] There were also subsequent migrations, especially resulting from attempts of Safavids' to convert their subjects to Shia Islam in the sixteenth century. This added to the Parsi population and cemented their close association with Iran.[2]

2. Demographics

In the Indian census of 2001, the Parsis numbered 69,601, representing about 0.006% of the total population of India, with a concentration in and around the city of Mumbai . Due to a low birth rate and high rate of emigration, demographic trends project that by 2020 the Parsis will number only about 23,000 or 0.002% of the total population of India. By 2008, the birth-to-death ratio was 1:5; 200 births per year to 1,000 deaths.[7] India's 2011 Census recorded 57,264 Parsi Zoroastrians.[8]

The Zoroastrian community in India remains one of the most recognized groups, playing a part in various commercial sectors such as industry, movies, and politics.[9][10]

3. Communities

There are two major Zoroastrian communities in India.

3.1. Parsi

The word Parsi in the Persian language literally means "Persian". Persian is the official language of modern Iran, which is also known as Persia. The language (Parsi) is commonly referred to as Farsi, because, after the Arab invasion of Persia, because of the absence of the "P / G / Zh / Ch" sounds in the Arabic language, Parsi became Farsi. Similarly, Babak Khorramdin's first name, originally Papak (Papa + Kuchak = Papak), "Young Father", became Babak.

The long presence of the Parsis in the Gujarat and Sindh areas of India is supported by a genetic study[11] and it also distinguishes them from the smaller Zoroastrian Indian community of Iranis, who are more recent arrivals.

3.2. Iranis

Although the term 'Irani' is first attested during the Mughal era, most Iranis are immigrants who arrived on the subcontinent during the 19th and early 20th centuries, that is, when Iran was ruled by the Qajars and when religious persecution of non-Muslims was rampant. The descendants of the immigrants of those times remain culturally and linguistically closer to the Zoroastrians of Iran, in particular to the Zoroastrians of Yazd and Kerman. Consequently, the Dari dialect of the Zoroastrians of those provinces may be heard among the Iranis.


  1. Fereshteh Davaran. Continuity in Iranian Identity: Resilience of a Cultural Heritage. Routledge. pp. 54-55, 136-137. 
  2. Monica M. Ringer. Pious Citizens: Reforming Zoroastrianism in India and Iran. Syracuse University Press. pp. 25, 26. 
  3. Alan Williams. The Zoroastrian Myth of Migration from Iran and Settlement in the Indian Diaspora: Text, Translation and Analysis of the 16th Century Qesse-ye Sanjān 'The Story of Sanjan. Brill Publishers. pp. 205, 206. 
  4. "Excarnation and the City: The Tower of Silence in Mumbai". Topographies of Faith: Religion in Urban Spaces. Brill Publishers. p. 75. 
  5. "The Other Middle Kingdom: A Brief History Of Muslims In China" by Chiara Betta, p. 2
  6. Jesse S. Palsetia. The Parsis of India: Preservation of Identity in Bombay City. BRILL. pp. 26-35. 
  7. Doomed by faith, Guardian, 2008-06-28,, retrieved 2008-06-28 
  8. "Parsi population dips by 22 per cent between 2001–2011: study", The Hindu (PTI), 2016-07-26,, retrieved 2016-07-26 
  9. "Jains become sixth minority community - Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis". 21 January 2014. Retrieved 20 November 2016. 
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