Parsis or Parsees (both: pärˈsēz, pärsēzˈ) [key], religious community of India, practicing Zoroastrianism. The Parsis (numbering about 75,000) are concentrated in Maharashtra and Gujarat states, especially in Mumbai. Their ancestors migrated from Iran in the 8th cent. to avoid Muslim persecution. They use the ancient Pahlavi scriptures and are faithful to much of the Zoroastrian dogma. The Parsis deny the frequent assertion that they worship fire; rather they reverence fire (along with other aspects of nature) as manifestations of the divinity of Ahura Mazdah. To avoid contaminating fire, earth, or water, the Parsis dispose of their dead by exposing the bodies in "towers of silence" (circular structures some 20 ft/6 m high surrounding a stone courtyard) where vultures devour them. The community is closely unified, and schools established by the wealthier members make the Parsis one of the best-educated groups of India. Their economic importance is far greater than their small numbers would indicate. The huge Tata industrial empire bears the name of one of India's most famous Parsi families.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.