Over the past year, Parsi Times ran 12-part series on ‘Parsi Parabs’ which was very well received and received great feedback from our readers. This was followed by a 12-part series on ‘Popular Parsi Myths’, which won ever greater appreciation! Parsi Times is thankful to our erudite Zoroastrian Scholar, Noshir H. Dadrawala, whose immense religio-cultural acumen about our Community, put together with his exceptional flair for writing, constantly elevates the bar of content-excellence to higher levels. Though this is final part of the ‘Myths’ series, Noshir Dadrawala will soon take readers down the golden age of Zoroastrian history, in his inimitable style, with a series on the three Great Kings of Ancient Persia – Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great and Xerxes the Great. Watch this space for interesting, informative and inspiring insights on what made these King of Kings Great in the eyes of world historians!
Myth: Immediately after the Arab invasion of Iran, Zoroastrians lost their king (Yazdagird III), their kingdom (the Sasanian Empire), and were forced to give up their Zoroastrian religion and embrace Islam and thus, immediately fled to India seeking refuge!
Fact: Late Prof. Mary Boyce who was professor of Iranian studies at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), wrote in her book, ‘A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism’: “It is now generally agreed that the Arab conquest of Iran in the seventh century AD was not achieved by a few great battles, but took more than a generation to accomplish; and that, although Islam was established thereby as the State Religion, it needed some three hundred years, or nine generations, for it to become the dominant faith throughout the land.”
There were a few million Zoroastrians in Iran right up to the tenth century AD. Many Zoroastrian texts including the Pahlavi Dinkard and the Vendidad were written three centuries after the Arab conquest of Iran. Historians have recorded Zoroastrian strongholds in Khorasan and certain parts of Northern Iran, right up to the sixteenth century AD. The fact is, Zoroastrians were mostly wiped out between the twelfth and fifteenth century AD, by the Mogul marauders – Chengis Khan and Taimur Lang in particular.
Even Late Dastur Dr. Hormazdyar K. Mirza writes in his ‘Outlines of Parsi History’ (Bombay 1987, Pg. 179): “A Zoroastrian dynasty ruled in the mountainous region of Damavand, in the district of Tabaristan, in post-Sasanian times. This was a dynasty of the Zoroastrian priests, and the rulers of this dynasty were known as masmoghan, i.e., “Chief of the Mobads“. This term is translated by Arabic geographer Yaqut as Kabir ul-madjus, or ‘the Chief of the Magians’. The Masmoghans ruled in the Damavand and the adjoining districts under the Sasanian Emperors, and after the Arab conquest they ruled as independent rulers.”
It is also believed the Sipahbads of the Bavand dynasty (a continuation of the Zoroastrian Masmoghans) ruled a province around Mount Damavand in the tenth century (i.e., almost three hundred years after the Arab conquest of Iran) which had more than ten thousand villages. The province was said to be prosperous and most of its people were gabrakan or Zoroastrians. (See V. Minorsky’s ‘Hudud al ‘Alam ‘- The Regions of the World: Oxford 1937, Pg.135).
Thus, it is a myth to think than no sooner the Sasanian empire fell, Zoroastrians were forced to convert by the Arabs and therefore some of them immediately fled to India. Most notable scholars of the East and West now agree that the Parsis probably came to India around the tenth century AD or virtually three centuries after the fall of the Zoroastrian (Sasanian) empire. However, Iran and India had trade relationships going back to five hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ and therefore, it is plausible that some Zoroastrians may have settled in India even before the Arab conquest of Iran.