The Parsi Journey : Sugar in the Milk Story
Although the present-day Parsis are descendants of the Persian refugees who came to Gujarat some time after the fall of the Persian Empire to the Arabs in A.D. 651.

Under the Arabs, Iranians were forcibly converted to Islam. Those who clung to their ancient faith were persecuted and fled to the mountains of Kohistan in Khorasan. According to tradition, they stayed there a hundred years. Then they went to the Persian Gulf port of Hormuz where they are said to have remained for fifteen years. From there they set sail, ‘in seven junks’, according to the Reverend Henry Lord writing in 1630, and arrived at Diu or Div, an island off the southern extremity of Kathiawar. They stayed there for nineteen years, and then again set sail, this time for Sanjan, a small fishing village on the west coast of Gujarat, where they landed around 785, and where the local Hindu Raja, Jadi Rana, or Jadhav Rana, gave them shelter.

The Parsis were almost shipwrecked on their way from Diu to Sanjan. They vowed that if they landed safely, they would build an Atash Behram in thanksgiving. This they are believed to have done, around 790, within five years of their arrival in Sanjan. An oral tradition, however, asserts that the first Parsi Atash Behram in India was building in 721 at Sanjan.

The only written document on the early history of the Parsis is the Kissa-i-Sanjan, the story of Sanjan, a chronicle in Persian couplets by Behram Kaikobad Sanjana, a Dastur of High Priest, of Navsari, and dated 1600. Despite its late date, and some discrepancies, the Kissa is a very valuable document, more so as we have no earlier testimony on the subject.

According to Behman Kaikobad, when the Parsis approached Jadi Rana, the local raja of Sanjan, for permission to settle there, he imposed five conditions on them. These were: the explanation of the Zoroastrian religion to the raja by the Parsi High Priest who accompanied the refugees and had safeguarded the sacred fire all the way from Iran to India; the adoption of Gujarati as their mother tongue; the adoption of the sari by Parsi women; the surrender of all weapons; and finally, that Parsi wedding processions be held in the dark. This last may have been a request from the refugees themselves, a protective measure to avoid the attention of other communities to an alien community in their midst.

In the sixteen Sanskrit Shlokas, still extant in various Sanskrit and Gujarati manuscripts, a very rough idea of the religion is given to flatter Hindu sentiments.A far more vivid account of the meeting between the Persian refugees and Jadhav Rana, than that in the Kissa is given in the Gujarati Garbas, group songs and dances, composed by the Parsis and sung by Parsi women on such happy occasions as Navjotes and weddings. I give the story in prose which was once sung in verse.
 
Jadhav Rana issued a proclamation inviting all citizens to assmble in an open maidan (meadow). On a throne covered with rich drapes, the raja took his seat. He was dressed in royal robes, wore a magnificent turban, and embroidered velvet slippers. Ranged round him were his mounted bodyguards, dressed in white, holding glittering spears.

At a signal from Jadhav Rana, the Persian refugees were brought into the centre of the assembly. Their frail, old priest, holding a small Afarghan with the sacred fire, was the spokesman for the group, through an interpreter.
 
“What is it you want from us, O strangers from a far land?” asked Jadhav Rana.

“Freedom of Worship, Sire,” replied the old priest.

“Granted. What else do you wish?”

“Freedom to bring up our young in our own traditions and customs.”

“Granted. What else do you wish?”

“A small piece of land that we could cultivate, so that we may not be a burden to the people among whom we live.”

“Granted. In return, what will you do for the country of your adoption?”

The old priest asked for a brass bowl to be filled with mild and brought to the assembly. This was done. He then stirred a spoonful of sugar in the bowl and holding it up in his trembling hands, asked :

“Does any man see the sugar in this bowl of milk?” All shook their heads.

“Sir,” said the priest, “we shall try to be like this insignificant amount of sugar in the milk of your human kindness.”
 
There were murmurs of approval from the crowd. Then, at a signal from the priest, all the refugees-men, and women and children-prostrated themselves full length on the ground. Each picked up a handful of earth, and with tears streaming down their faces; they pressed it to their eyes and forehand.

Then, after washing their hands and faces, the refugees turned their faces to the sun and recited the Kusti prayers, and performed the Kusti ritual.

So moving was the recital of the Garba that children would jump up and clapping their hands, start reciting the Kusti prayers, while many an adult wiped away the tear that had gathered in the eye.

Between the eighth and fifteenth centuries, the Parsi settled in various small town of the Gujarat coast. As Behman Kaikobad writes : “Some turned to Vankanir and some took their way to Broach. Some went to Variav…some arrived at Anklesar, and some proceeded towards the city of Cambay. Some took all their kit to Navsaree…”
top