We have all heard about the famous Persians Xerxes, Cyrus and Darius the Great. They were recorded by ancient Greek historians, and were even referenced heavily in the Bible. But whatever happened to their descendants? The short answer is they moved to Mumbai.
Mumbai (or Bombay) in India is home to the largest Zoroastrian community in the world. Here their fire temples are a common sight, and their cuisine is well known by everyone in town. They have contributed some of the city’s best art galleries, most posh restaurants and well respected hospitals. Unlike a lot of Indian communities who migrated from various places centuries ago, the Zoroastrian community can trace their lineage right back to the Persia of old. So how did the people of ancient Persia come to be an integral part of the city that is considered to be India’s New York?
When what is now Iran was undergoing rapid transformation after invasion, many Zoroastrians came under heavy persecution. In order to preserve their cultural and religious heritage, some fled on ships to Gujarat on the western coast of India. There they integrated with the local culture while maintaining their own, and came to be known as the Parsis (pronounced Parsees). After international trade started developing under the British Raj, many Parsis moved to Bombay (now Mumbai).
Since then Parsis have become one of the most influential Indian communities in India. It was the Tata Group, a Parsi founded business house, that created ripples in the tech world a few years ago when they produced the world’s most affordable family car – the Nano (costing only $2,000). Parsis may have even influenced your or your parents’ taste in music. Heard of Queen? Know the lead singer Freddie Mercury? Well you guessed it, he was a Bombay boy and a Parsi.
There are a little over 130,000 Zoroastrians worldwide and Mumbai is home to more than half of them. It has more Zoroastrians than the whole of Iran! Their enterprises, architecture, and unbelievably good food dot the city-scape. Some may live the trail-blazing corporate life in a penthouse suite downtown. However many, if not most, enjoy life in one of the several neat Parsi colonies (quarters) that can be found in this wonderful city.
Most cities have a Little Italy, a Little China, or even a Little Iran. However, Mumbai is the only city that has what can be called "Little Persia."
And oh yes, for any Parsis reading this, I call Mumbai -Bombay, so forgive me using the “real” name for the sake of this article!
Is there a "Little Persia" or similar cultural annex in your community? How do these communities shape the built environment?
Credits: Images by Aeshna Das Gupta. Data linked to sources.