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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle


Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, James Legge (trans.)


Media, Babylon and Persia

by Zénaïde Alexeïevna Ragozin

Excerpt:

3. It was in the year 641 A.D. that the Arab invaders, in the heyday of their fervor for the faith of which their prophet Mohammed had taught them to consider themselves the heaven-sent bearers. won the battle, (on the field of Nehavend, fifty miles from ancient Ecbatana), which changed the destinies of Eran, and turned its people, dreaded and victorious for four centuries under their last national kings, the Sassanian dynasty, into a conquered, enslaved, and for a long time ruthlessly oppressed and ill-treated population. YEZDEGERD III., the last Sassanian king, was murdered on his flight, for plunder, and no effort was made to retrieve the lost fortunes of that terrible day, with which closed an heroic struggle of over eight years; the country's energies were broken. 4. It was but natural that the religion of the vanquished should be the first object of persecution at the hands of victors whose wars and conquests were all prompted by religious fanaticism. The Persian clergy were persecuted, their temples desecrated and destroyed, their sacred books likewise, and the faithful followers of the ancient national creed subjected to so many indignities and extortions as to make existence not only burdensome, but wellnigh impossible. They were made to pay ruinous extra taxes, were excluded from all offices, from all participation in public life, and, worst of all, very nearly deprived of the protection of the law, at all events systematically denied justice or redress whenever they applied for either against a Mussulman. Their property, their lives, their honor, thus were completely at the mercy of the insolent and grasping foreign rulers. From so many and unbearable ills, the only escape lay in embracing the faith of these rulers, doing homage to Mohammed, and abjuring all their own traditions, beliefs, and practices. By this one act they could step at once from the state of down-trodden slaves to a condition if not of equality with their masters, at least of well-protected subjects. It is no wonder that apostasy became ripe in the land. Compulsory conversion, however, is scarcely likely to be sincere, and we may take it for granted that the first generations of new-made Mussulmans were so only in self-defence and in outer form. Not so their descendants. Habit and associations gradually endeared to them the faith in which, unlike their fathers, they were born and bred, and at the present moment there are no more zealous followers of the Arab prophet than the Persians. 5. But even at the time of the wholesale conversion of the country to Islamism, which was an accomplished fact in less than two hundred years after the conquest, great numbers preferred every hardship to apostasy. Only, as life under such conditions had become unendurable at home, the vast majority of these took the desperate resolution of going into exile, to seek some place of refuge in foreign lands, where they would be tolerated as harmless guests, and suffered to practise their religion unmolested. A small remnant only stayed, lacking the courage to sever all old ties and go forth into absolute uncertainty, and of this remnant the fate was most pitiful. "In the tenth century of the Christian era," says a distinguished modern Parsi writer,* "remnants of the Zoroastrian population were to be found only in the provinces of Pars and Kerman; and the reader will have an idea of the rate at which that remnant has declined even in recent times, when it is stated that, while about a hundred and fifty years ago it numbered one hundred thousand souls, it does not at present exceed seven or eight thousand."

*Dosabhai Framji Karaka, in his " History of the Parsis," London, 1884.

6. The self-exiled Zoroastrians fared better. After wandering for many years somewhat at random, stopping at various places, but not attempting any permanent settlement until they effected a descent on the western coast of India, they reached at last the peninsula of Gujerat (or Guzerat), where they were hospitably received by the reigning Hindu prince, after they had agreed to some by no means onerous conditions: they were to lay down their arms, to give an account of the religion they professed, to adopt the language of the country, to conform to some of its customs. From this time forth and through several centuries the Zoroastrian exiles, who now began to be called Parsis, prospered greatly. Deprived of arms, and with no call to use them had they retained them, they settled into the thrifty, intelligent, industrious ways which characterize them at the present day. Agriculture and commerce became their favorite pursuits, and as they were in no way repressed or restrained, they began to spread even as far as Upper India (the Penjab). Then, about 1300 A.D., they were once more driven forth homeless, by a Mussulman invasion, which ended in the conquest of Gujerat. This time, however, they did not stray far, but betook themselves to NAvsARi and S0RAT near the coast, where they came in contact with Europeans, to the great furtherance of their commercial interests. It was undoubtedly this new commercial intercourse which drew them southwards, to the great centre of the western coast, the city of Bombay, where we find them as early as about

1650 A.D., just before the transfer of the city and territory from the Portuguese to the English crown. The Presidency of Bombay with its capital has since become the head-quarters of the Parsis, whose numbers in this part of the country and the whole of India amount to something over 85,50x3.

7. It has always been known in Europe that the Parsis, or GKBERS, (" infidels," as the Mussulmans contemptuously call them), followed a religion of which the most peculiar and striking outer feature was the honor paid to fire; that they had fires kept burning always in Is, and that when they moved from place to place they carried these fires with them. It was, naturally enough, in-ferred that Fire was their j deity, their god; and the 'name of " Fire-Worshippers" was universally bestowed 'o\\ them. Only a scholarly few had a deeper and more correct perception of what was to the mass an absurd superstition, and knew that the Parsis did not worship fire as a deity, but admired and honored it as the pureest and most perfect emblem of the Deity.* They also knew that the Parsis believe in a number of spiritual beings who take care of the world under the orders and supervision of the Creator, in six spirits more exalted still and partaking in their essence of some of the Divine qualities, also in the existence and power of sainted souls, and that they invoke all these beings in prayer somewhat as the Roman and Oriental churches do angels, archangels, and saints. Lastly, scholars knew that the Parsis professed to follow strictly and undeviatingly the law of Zoroaster, as it was handed down from their ancestors before the conquest, the Persians of the Sassanian period, who were, in their turn, said to have received it from remote antiquity. Now these assertions are strongly confirmed by a great many passages from Greek and Roman writers of various times,

* The Parsi writer qtiotctl above, in vindicating his brethren from the charge of heathenism, very aptly cites the words of liishop Mcurin, the head of the Roman Catholics of Bombay; " A pure and un

I. A Parsi Gentleman (modern).


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