The term 'Parsi' is derived from Parsa, the
name of a province in southwestern Iran in ancient times. The word 'Parsi
' literally means 'a resident of Pars'. It is originally an ethnic term
and later the term acquired a religious connotation also and it was used
for the Zoroastrian residence of the Pars.
Arrival In India And Beginning Of A New Life
According to Parsi lore they spent nineteen years on the island of Diu, after which they set to sail again and landed in Sanjan situated on the west coast of India, around 716 AD Or 936 AD. The Hindu rulers of that region, Jadhav Rana and Jadi Rana granted their request to settle down in their region.
Hindu's of India were kind to the refugees from Pars. They suffered no persecution, no fear and were allowed to prosper and grow. They built the first fire temple in AD 721, installed with due ceremony the holy fire which they called the "Iranshah" meaning 'the King of Iran'. The Parsis lived largely peaceful, obscure existences in various villages and towns of Gujarat as farmers, weavers and carpenters. Parsis were excellent weavers and they gave India three ancient crafts, namely the 'Surti Ghat', the 'Garo' and the 'Tanchoi'.
For about three hundred years after landing at Sanjan, Parsis are said to have lived in peace and without molestation. By that time their numbers greatly increased and many moved from Sanjan to other parts of India with their families: to Cambay, Navsari, Anklesvar, Variav, Vankaner and Surat in the north, and to Thane and Chaul in the south. Some population of Parsis also settles in the Upper India namely in the regions of Sind, Dehra-Dun and Punjab.
Spreading Parsian Cultural Heritage
Whenever Parsis left Sanjan to settle elsewhere, they carried a part of the Iranshah with them-the first fire they had consecrated on Indian soil. In Sind, Ibrahim the Ghaznavid perceived the Parsis as a colony of fire-worshippers and attacked them. In Thana, which was ruled by the Portuguese, they were seen as idolaters and put upon by missionaries to convert to Christianity.
The Islamic Attack
In 1465 Sanjan was sacked and destroyed by the Muslim Sultanate. Parsis fought valiantly, side by side with their Hindu benefactors. Many lost their lives, but the priests managed to rescue the sacred fire and carried it safely to a cave on a hill, where, protected by jungle and sea, they guarded it for the next twelve years. Though they didn't completely lose touch with the Persian language, Gujarati, started to become their mother tongue. They adopted many Hindu customs. Parsi women dressed like their Indian counterparts and even wore nose rings.
Many settled down in the port town of Surat, in Gujarat, where in the 15th century, Europeans mainly the Portuguese, the British and the Dutch had been given permission by the Mughals to establish trading factories. Unhampered by caste prejudices, Surat provided an ideal opportunity for Parsis to engage in occupations that they had never attempted before. Farmers became traders and chief native agents, and carpenters became shipbuilders.
An adventurous few left Surat and moved south to Bombay, then only a set of islands, in the wilderness. Here, they acted as brokers between the Indians and the Portuguese. Parsis were already a presence in Bombay when it was ceded by Portugal to England in 1665 and three years later when the Crown handed over the island to the East India Company.