It is a well- known fact and recorded history that several centuries ago, Zorastrians left Iran in an exodus to escape persecution by Arabs. Many came to India; others left for countries like Azerbaijan, Tajikstan, Germany, Russia and China. There is not much trace of Zoroastrians who settled in places other than India but here’s a true story of a Zoroastrian settled in Mongolia. It was a fragmented story, but after piecing it together like a jig-saw puzzle, it forms an authentic narrative that will interest Parsis.
During partition, i.e. around 1947, a Parsi gentleman, Khurshed Patel, staying at Dhobi Talao, came across a man in his early thirties who had Chinese features but was wearing some form of Sudreh-Kasti and gave his name as Behram. Dressed in tattered-clothes and penniless, Behram spoke only Persian and Chinese. He survived on alms given by passers-by. He had no knowledge of Hindi, Gujarati or English. Khurshed Patel’s interest was piqued, so through a friend fluent in Persian, communicated with Behram, who shared his background thus…
He claimed his fire-worshiping parents lived in Ulan Bator city in Mongolia, (north of China) and were Persian descendants, followers of Lord Zarathustra. In addition to his settlement of about fifty people in Mongolia, there were other similar, smaller settlements in North China, comprising Persians following Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. He moved to Harbin city (Manchuria) for work where he sold cattle he bought from Eastern Tibet. One day, as Behram was crossing the Tibetan border, he got arrested by the British police who mistook him for a spy (The British, then, had political presence in Tibet) and sent him to Delhi where he was imprisoned for years despite his innocence. On his release, he approached the Chinese Embassy to help him return home to Mongolia, but since Mongolia had become an independent state with a semi civil war ongoing with China, they couldn’t help. The Embassy advised him to seek help in Bombay as they knew of Zoroastrians (Parsis) presence there.
Though he somehow managed to come to Bombay, Behram was unaware of the helpful and thriving Zoroastrian community living here. He didn’t know how to identify or contact fellow Zoroastrians – his compromised state and no knowledge of local languages proved to be a challenge. Khurshed asked him to recite the ‘Kusti’ prayers, which he did – but as a mixture of Avestan and other strange words that he claimed were in ‘Daazi or Taz’ language. These people also created fire/alter and termed it ‘Atashkadeh’; ate non-vegetarian food except cow’s meat; wore a velvet cap, somewhat similar to the Parsi headgear. The last rites included exposing corpses to the Sun and practice ‘Khorshed Nagirashni’. They did not have ‘Dokhmas’ but the dead bodies were placed in a specially reserved spot to be devoured by carnivorous animals.
With difficulty Khushed was able to raise funds to help Behram return home via Tibet. Though he tried to convince Behram to stay in Bombay, as he wanted other Parsis and Trustees of the Parsi Punchayet to meet him and record his history, Behram simply wished to get home immediately.
During the exodus from Persia to escape atrocities and conversion, Zoroastrians left in droves. However, outside of India, they were very few in numbers and could not sustain our religious traditions of building Atashbehrams and Agiaries. This was the first blow to their ethnic ethos. The second blow was the loss of Avestan language over the years. Hence, prayers were lost, as to comprehend Avesta, a knowledge of cosmogenesis known as ‘Bundehishna’ is required. Gradually, this was lost and only a superficial and dry language remained. ‘Manthravani’, whose powerful vibrations is the very basis of sound containing energy, was lost. The third blow was intermarriage. When a group of Zarthostis are like a drop in the ocean of foreign and alien people, they integrate in the melting-pot of an alien culture through intermarriage and the offspring have no knowledge of their roots, hence very little is known of Zoroastrians settled outside India, following the Persian Exodus. The saddest part of Behram’s story was that nobody knows whether he reached his home safely, due to lack of any communication thereafter.