Story

House of Fire: The Declining Community of Parsi in Mumbai

February 26, 2016|

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A boy looks out of the Dadar Athornan Institute, a boarding school for priests established in the Dadar Parsi colony in 1915. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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A secular tree inside the Dadar Parsi Gymkhana Club, a club for sports and social activities. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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A Lamassu statue outside the Bombay Parsi Punchayet in Kalaghoda. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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Two priests perform a Jashan ceremony for a housewarming in Mahalakshmi. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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View of part of the Doongerwadi, a land in Malabar Hill, covered in thick forest, where the towers of silence are located. The tower of silence is a circular structure used by the Zoroastrians to expose the dead bodies to birds for the purpose of excarnation. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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A Faravahar pendant hangs on a Parsi woman's chest. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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Birds fly over the Doongerwadi in the early evening. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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An area designated for the display of the body during the funeral service, before it is taken to the tower of silence, inside the Doongerwadi complex. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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Fali (center) and Khushroo Medon, Parsi priest—son and father—sit on the bed of their room at the Seth Jeejeebhoy Dadabhoy Agiary in Colaba, Mumbai. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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Photographs lie on a shelf inside the home of Feroza Vakil, a 103-year old Parsi woman. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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A Parsi woman, pregnant with twins, sits in the living room of her apartment in a northern suburb of Mumbai. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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Darayus Bajan, a Parsi priest, stands by the Doongerwadi Sagdi Dadgah Sahib. Mumbai. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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A sacred fire, sandalwood, flowers, fruits, used during a private Jashan ceremony for a housewarming in Mahalakshmi. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

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A musanda plant inside the Doongerwadi, Kemps Corner, Mumbai. Image by Chiara Goia. India, 2014.

The Parsis are descendants of a group of 10th century Zoroastrians from Iran, practitioners of a three-and-a-half thousand year-old faith. Fleeing persecution under their Muslim Arab conquerors, the ancestors of today’s Parsis traveled to India by open boat, according to legend, to seek religious freedom and economic opportunity.

The great Parsi families made their money in trade in the 19th century and they were among the first Indians to embrace Western education, enjoying friendly professional and personal relations with the British and prospering under the colonial government. Their success continued after independence, when the real estate they owned became more valuable than the commodities they’d once traded and produced.

Despite their enormous influence, the Parsi population has been declining steadily since 1955, and today numbers about 60,000 in India. They are concentrated in Mumbai, where a large number of schools, hospitals, streets, and monuments bear their distinctive names.

Photographer Chiara Goia traveled with writer Nell Freudenberger to report on the Parsi community and to document the stories of this declining community.