This year, on August 18, Parsis in India celebrate their New Year. The Parsis are a small but influential minority who trace their roots back to ancient Persia, now Iran. Their monotheistic religion was founded in 1200 BC, based on the teachings of the prophet, Zoraster. Following the rapid spread of Islam in the Middle East and the Arab conquest of much of Persia, a sizeable portion of Zorastrians fled to western India in the 7th century AD. There they flourished under the protection of the local rulers and were treated with tolerance by the local population, acquiring the moniker, Parsi, over the years.
Today there are only about 200,000 Zorastrians worldwide. A sizeable percentage of them continue to live in Western India, primarily in the commercial hub of Mumbai. Other communities have established themselves in North America, Australia, the UK and other areas of South Asia. A small community still remains in Iran.
A Parsi family stands outside a Zoroastrian temple as they celebrate the Parsi New Year.
Following the lunar calendar, the Parsis begin their New Year celebrations with a day devoted to atonement which is known as Pateti. This day is spent in introspection over ones sins of the previous year and resolutions for the upcoming one. New Years day itself starts with ritual baths and cleaning of the house. The entranceway to the home is decorated with fresh flowers and elaborate ‘rangoli’ designs made from colored powder. Dressing up in new clothes, Parsi families then visit the fire temple where the spirit of god is symbolized by a continuously burning fire fed by fragrant sandalwood sticks. Returning home, families exchange gifts and indulge in an elaborate feast with family and friends. Parsis are renowned for their culinary skills and unique cuisine featuring spicy lamb, fish, chicken and rice dishes. Parsi desserts, featuring vermicelli in sweet cream or yoghurt with raisins and other dried fruits, are also delicious.
A typical Parsi feast in celebration of the New Year.
As a people, Parsis are known for their love of higher education, business acumen, political savvy and philanthropy. They are also very community minded, generously supporting the development of educational institutions, subsidized housing and income support programs for the poor. Some of the largest and most successful business conglomerates in India are owned by Parsis such as the Tata, Godrej and Wadia family empires.
Closer to home, Mela’s Co-Founder, Navroze Mehta, is a Zorastrian with roots in Mumbai’s Parsi community. Click here to learn about his motivation in launching a social enterprise to help Indian artisans along with his daughter, Co-Founder, Sonali Mehta-Rao.
Mela Artisans wishes Parsis everywhere a Happy New Year!
Try a new recipe to celebrate the Parsi New Year. Parsis love spicy seafood dishes like this one. Enjoy!
Parsi Green Fish Curry
- 8 teaspoons lime juice
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 ½ lbs white fish fillets (haddock, cod, sea bass etc.)
- 2 tbsp poppy seeds
- 10 oz coconut milk
- 8 green chillies (adjust for taste)
- 2 onions, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 oz cashew nuts
- 6 green cardamoms
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
- 2 bunches fresh coriander, leaves & stalks
- a few mint leaves
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/3 cup oil
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp sugar
- Mix half the lime juice with the turmeric, a pinch of salt and a dash of water and spread over your fish fillets. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes.
- Pound the poppy seeds in a pestle and mortar with a little water. In a blender, mix the coconut milk, chillies, onions, poppy seeds, garlic, cashew nuts, cardamoms and fennel seeds to make a chunky paste.
- Separately puree the fresh coriander and mint leaves.
- Mix the coriander powder with a little water to make a paste and set aside.
- Heat the oil with the cumin seeds in a large pan. When the cumin seeds begin to fry, add the coriander powder paste. After 10 seconds add the chilli & coconut spice paste and saute for 7 minutes, stirring continuously, scraping off any film that forms at the bottom of the pan.
- Add the pureed coriander and mint and salt to taste. Add the sugar and remaining lime juice. Pour in 10 oz of water and bring to the boil. Add the fish pieces and cook until done, about 7-10 minutes, over a medium heat.
Serve over white rice.