by Noshir H. Dadrawala

A common question that Parsi youths and sometimes even the parents ask is why Parsis, as a community, are averse to inter-caste or mixed marriages.

This issue can be addressed from three perspectives, viz.,

I. Historical

II. Religious

III. Social

Let us examine each one separately.


One of the main causes for the downfall of the once mighty Sasanian Empire in Iran was inter-marriage among members of the Royal family. We shall provide two instances of the havoc played by such marriages:

i) Khusro I, also known as Anosharavan or Noshirwan-e-Adil, (531-579 A.D.) married a Roman Christian princess for political reasons (i.e., peace through marriage between Rome and Iran).

Writes Dastur Dr.H.K. Mirza in ‘Outlines Of Parsi History’, "Khusro’s son Anoshzad was born of his Christian wife and had adopted Christianity. Instigated by his mother, Anoshzad rose in rebellion against his own father.....He marched to the capital and banking on help from the Christians and the Romans, he proclaimed himself king."

ii) "Khusro II, also known as Khusro Parvez, was proclaimed Emperor in 590. Behram Chobin, who had rebelled against Hormazd IV, marched also against the new Emperor. Khusro tried to appease him, but in vain. The army sent by Khusro was defeated, he escaped with a few soldiers and invoked the Romans for help. The Roman Emperor, Maurice, did not miss this opportunity and immediately sent military and financial help and gave his daughter, Maria, in marriage to Khusro."

Concludes Dastur Dr. Mirza, "There was tragic chaos in the Royal family, particularly after the death of Khusro II. Intrigue, deception and lust for power and other dangerous vices were rampant. The princes instigated and actively supported by their mothers of foreign extraction and foreign faith, played havoc in the royal family, in aristocracy and in state affairs."

It is also interesting to note from a historical point of view that after the fall of the Sasanian empire, Parsis, to escape Arab persecution, moved to China, Central Asia, Punjab and even as far as Europe. Over time, they intermarried, lost their distinct religious and ethnic identity and faded into oblivion. THE ONLY GROUP THAT SURVIVED was the one that came to Div and later moved to Sanjan on the Gujarat coast. This was not an accident. They survived because they decided to lay down some ground rules and not compromise on any one of them. The compromised on certain social and cultural issues such as giving up the Farsi (Persian) language for Gujarati, laying down weapons, adopting Indian dress, etc. But on religious issues such as wearing sudreh kusti, Atash parasti (reverence for fire), dokhmenashini (the Zoroastrian method for the disposal of the dead), marrying only within the fold and not converting others to the Faith, and Manthravani (praying in the original language of the Revelation - Avesta), they made no compromise. The Parsis not just survived in India, but actually flourished because they decided not to tamper with the fundamental ground rules they had laid down for their survival as a religious and ethnic community.


Marriage from a Zoroastrian point of view is a religious duty/discipline. It is an institution that pleases Dadaar Ahura Mazda, according to the ‘Vendidad’.

Marriage from a Zoroastrian point of view is a sacrament and not just a civil contract. This sacrament can only be given by a qualified Zoroastrian priest when both parties to the marriage are Parsi Zoroastrians.

A number of religious texts, in particular, the Avestan ‘Vendidad’ and the Pahlavi ‘Dinkard’ have proscribed mixed marriages. These texts have considered "mixing of the seed" (intermarriage) as sinful.


The Parsi aversion for mixed marriages should not be confused with "racial superiority" or "communal prejudice". For Parsis, marrying within the community is important from the point of view of "self-preservation". Parsis are a historic people perpetuating an unique ethic of living. They are torchbearers of a rich culture and heritage. Intermarriage leads to a dilution of faith and weakening of cultural bonds.

Parsis do not claim racial superiority. But as Maritn Luther King said, "I want the white man to be my brother, not my brother-in-law". Parsis treat all Indians as their brothers, but would prefer not to have them as their brothers-in-law.

Factors That Promote Intermarriages

Noted researcher, Dr. Huzan Davar, had studied the problem of inter-marriages among Parsis for three years for the Victoria University of Manchester. Some of her observations are quite pertinent. She states:

"Although a large percentage of intermarried women stated that most Zoroastrian girls had difficulty finding eligible (educated) Zoroastrian men, when they were asked whether they personally had any difficulties finding a Zoroastrian spouse, the majority (75%) said, "no", because they had never made an effort to find a Zoroastrian spouse.

The other important factor that has promoted intermarriages is a change of attitude where young people do not think it is important to marry within the fold. The change of attitude has occurred for a number of reasons: westernisation, secularization, higher education and, above all, all lack of religious education and religious identity which has facilitated assimilation into the host society."

Regarding the issue of accepting the children of inter-married parents, Davar has observed, "I have observed through my research work that even though a large number of children of intermarried men and women are being ‘navjoted’ today, more often than not, being a Zoroastrian is usually a temporary, often a 24-hour phenomenon for them - more for the emotional satisfaction and comfort of the children’s parents and grandparents. Due to a lack of religious education, our children seldom end up as full-fledged enduring and contributing members of the Zoroastrian religion and our community."

Does Davar offer a solution to the problem of mixed marriages? Indeed, she does. She recommends: "If the community is to survive in the 21st century, the first thing we need to do is get our priority straight. Our first priority should be religious and ethnic education, not just for children, but for all interested individuals."

Did The Early Parsi Settlers Inter-Marry?

It is often bandied about by heterodox Parsis that after their arrival in India, in the wake of Arab persecution, Parsis began inter-marrying with members of the Hindu community, since there were little or no Parsi women accompanying Parsi men. This argument, to say the least, is a figment of the believer and propagator’s fertile imagination. However, on this issue, we would like the eminent pathologist, Dr. P.K. Antia, to take over. In his paper, ‘Parsis and Blood Diseases’ published in the Diamond Jubilee Volume of the B.D. Petit Parsi General Hospital, he writes:

"It is wrong to assume as many do, that after landing in India, Zoroastrians had to marry with the local Indian population and there was hybridization of immigrant Zoroastrians. Iranian Zoroastrians left Persia to save their sacred fire and it is not plausible that they left their women fold to the mercy of the Arabic invaders. They brought their women folk and inbreeding continued in India with the same religious zest that made them leave their motherland, to protect their religion. Besides, the hospitable Hindus had a parochial caste system, which would not allow inter-marriages even in their sub-castes, let alone outside racial or ethnic groups.

The immigrant Zoroastrians, true and faithful to their word, never dared alienate the feelings of their hospitable rulers. Thus, exceptions apart, the immigrant Zoroastrians did not marry outside their community. Hence the process of hybridization of racial mixing did not occur in Parsis. After the initial stage of seven centuries of struggling, settling and giving a heavy toll of life against new environmental conditions, Zoroastrians breeding amongst themselves, settled in their new home. This natural selection without hybridization has increased certain genetic traits manifested by proclivity to certain disease patterns. Interbreeding and mixing with other races would have led to dilution of these traits."

Marriage According To Zoroastrianism

The Zoroastrian religion contemplates and recognises only that union as "marriage", in which both the spouses are born Parsi Zoroastrians and profess the Mazdayasni Zarthoshti Religion.According to Zoroastrianism, marriage is a sacrament and not just a contract. Such a sacrament can only be conferred by qualified Parsi priests, when both the parties to the marriage are Parsi Zoroastrians.

In a letter dated 29th September, 1964, addressed to the Joint Secretary, Parsi Punchayet, Bombay, the learned Dasturji Dr. Kaikhusroo Minocher JamaspAsa writes, "The Zoroastrian religion considers marriage as a sacrament which necessiates certain religious ceremonies and, as such, does not recognize civil marriages. Marriages contracted between persons of different faiths may be considered legal by the secular state, but recognition of such marriages cannot be forced upon the community."

According to ‘Vendidad’ (3.2): "That place is happy over which a holy man builds a house, with fire, cattle, wife, children and good followers."

In ‘Vendidad’ (4.47), Dadaar Ahura Mazda states, "O spitama Zarathushtra! Indeed I thus recommend here unto thee, a man with a wife above a magava (saint), a man with a family above one without a family, a man with children above one who is without children."

However, in chapter 18, paragraphs 62 and 63, "mixing of seeds" (mixed marriages) has been abhorred and considered an act which displeases Dadaar Ahura Mazda. Ervad Kavasji Edulji Kanga’s translation (Bombay, 1876) of ‘Vendidad’ 18.61-62 runs as follows:

"Zarathushtra: ‘Most beneficent spirit, creator of the corporeal world, O Righteous one! Who grieves thee with the greatest grief? Who torments thee with the greatest torments?’ Thereupon Ahura Mazda replied: ‘Indeed he/she is committing the sin of impudicity who being a Mazdayasni mixes his/her seed with that of non-Mazdayasni.’ "

It is interesting to note here that the ‘Vendidad’ does not discriminate between the sexes. Ervad Kanga explains in his notes: "This paragraph shows that there is interdiction between the marriage of a Mazdayasni man or a woman with that of a non-Mazdayasni man or a woman and that is (to be known) as ill matched couple (Gujarati, Ka-Jodun)."

It is important to note here that the ‘Vendidad’ is the only ‘Nask’ out of the twenty-one ‘Nasks’ (volumes) compiled during the time of Prophet Zarathushtra, to have survived in its entirety.

The Shahnameh On Mixed Marriages

There is hardly a Zoroastrian in India or the world who needs an introduction to the ‘Shahnameh’ of Firdaosi Tusi. The epic is replete with exploits of Iranian Kings and Glory of the Iranian Tokham (lineage). For brevity’s sake, we shall cite only two important references.

In the first instance, Godafrid, the daughter of Gozdahm, says, "Be khandid aangeth ba afsoos goft: ke Iran ba Turan na yaaband joft." - "She laughed and observed ..... that never, never shall there ever be a nuptial union of an Iranian with a Turanian (i.e., non-Iranian)."

In the second instance, Gordieh, the sister of Bahram Chubin, says, "Dadu goft shui kaz Iran buvad Azu tokhme - Ye maa na viraan buvad" - "An Iranian husband is welcome for our lineage is preserved thereby."

References On ‘Tokham’ (Lineage) In Other Zoroastrian Scriptures

While reciting the Fravardin Yasht, we chant, "We worhsip with reverence, the Fravashi of the holy Gayomard, who first heard the Word of Ahura Mazda. The TOKHM-E-KAYAN of the Iranian race was procreated by him." (Fravardin Yasht 87).

In Chithrem Buyaat, we pray, "Chithrem Buyaat ahmi nmaane Tokhm pithurem buyaat ahmi nmaane" - "May Chithra (Seed - Tokhm-e-Kayan) be (increased) in this house. May the prosperity (of this chithra) be in this house. May the blessedness of the Tokhm-e-kayan be in this house."

In the same Chithrem Buyaat, we also pray; "Paedaai baad andarin in maane vehaan", meaning "May there be born among themselves (in this house of the Mazdayasnis) good ones (i.e., Mazdayasni Zarathushtis)."

The Ashirwad Ceremony

Certain ignoramuses within the community hold the view that ‘Ashirwad’ is merely a ceremonial benediction and has nothing to do with the Zoroastrian religion. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Marriage, according to Zoroastrianism, is a "tarikaat" (a spiritual discipline). The Ashirwad ceremony which mainly has sublime compositions in Pazend and two powerful Avesta Nirangs (talismanic formulae) spiritually binds the couple in matrimony. Any other form of marriage, from the Zoroastrian point of view, is invalid in Nature. Those with keen ears may have heard priests chant during the Ashirwad ceremony, "Avardaad va aaeen-i-Deen-i-Mazdayasni", meaning "According to the foremost law and creed of the Mazdayasni Religion (this lady is offered as a wife.....").

The Special Marriage Act, 1954

The controversy, several years ago, concerning the rights of Parsi women marrying non-Parsis under the Special Marriage Act had generated more heat than light. It needs to be emphasized that the Act merely provides a protective platform to those who desire to transgress their religion by violating the sanctity of the Ashirwad ceremony.

The Special Marriage Act, 1954 neither gives any special right nor privilege to Zoroastrians entering into civil marriage with non-Zoroastrians as far as the Zoroastrian religion is concerned, to accept them as Parsi Zoroastrians after marriage.

There is NO PROVISION in the Special Marriage Act, laying down that a woman marrying under the Act shall continue to enjoy the same religious rights and benefits after the marriage, or that she will be entitled to the use of the institutions of her religion in which she was born or which she professed immediately before her marriage. The Special Marriage Act confers no special civil right to anyone in matters of religion. All the 51 sections and 5 schedules of the Act are silent on this subject.

Under the Special Marriage Act, 1872, if a Parsi professing the Zoroastrian religion wished to marry under the Act, he or she had to make a declaration that her or she did not profess the Zoroastrian religion. In the present Act (i.e., the Special Marriage Act, 1954), there is no such provision for making such a declaration (i.e., renouncing one’s religion). The absence of this provision, which previously existed in the repealed Act of 1872, is the only trump card relied upon by the champions of the alleged rights of Parsi women married to non-Parsis under the Special Marriage Act.

The issue before us is, can the mere absence of a provision confer a civil right? In our humble opinion, the answer is a definite NO!

India being a secular state, on one hand, and having given constitutional rights of freedom or religion to individual citizens as also to religious denominations, on the other, no civil legislation can have such provisions as may disturb such religious freedom. Who can be a member of a particular religious denomination of who can have a right to insist on being a member thereof and being entitled to the use of its religious institutions is determined by the personal law of that denomination which, again, is based on the precepts, beliefs and tenets of the religion. Whether a person continues to be a Parsi, Hindu or Muslim and whether he/she is entitled to the use of the religious institutions, are questions for the denomination to decide. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Special Marriage Act is deliberately silent on this question.

Gender Discrimination?

While it is true that Justices Dinshaw Davar and Frank Beamon, (as reported in (1909) 33 ILR 509 and 11Bom.L.R. 85) have observed that the Parsi community consists of: (a) Parsis who are descended from the original Persian emigrants and who are born of both Zoroastrian parents and who profess the Zoroastrian religion; (b) the Iranis from Persia professing the Zoroastrian religion; (c) the children of Parsi fathers by alien mothers who have been duly and properly admitted into the religion. I am of the view that this so-called definition is an obiter dictum (i.e., a collateral opinion/observation of the judge, which is not binding).

In 1948, an Irani Zoroastrian, in order to escape from the purview of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, declared that Iranis professing the Zoroastrian religion are not Parsis and therefore, not governed by the aforesaid Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act. Justice Coyaji who was presiding over the Parsi Matrimonial Court upheld the Irani Zoroastrians’ contention. The contention was again upheld in Appeal by Justices Chagla and Gajendragadkar [(1950) 52 B.L.R. 876).

Now, if the definition of a Parsi, as given in the Davar-Beamon judgement, which includes "Iranis from Persia professing the Zoroastrian religion" was a valid legal definition having the force of law, why did Justice Coyaji and later, Justices Chagla and Gajendragadkar uphold the contention of the Irani Zoroastrian who declared that Iranis professing the Zoroastrian religion are not Parsis? The answer in Justice Chagla’s words: "Now, in the first place this observation of Sir Dinshaw Davar, undoubtedly a very great authority on Parsi law, is an obiter because the question he and Mr. Beamon had to consider in that case was whether by conversion to the Zoroastrian faith, a person could become a Parsi."

Note here, Justice Chagla’s use of the key words, "observation of Sir Dinshaw Davar" as opposed to the use of the word "held" or "judgement". In fact, he clearly states that Davar’s observation "is an obiter".

A similar issue in the case of Jamshed Irani vs. Banu Irani [(1966) 68 B.L.R. 794] came up before Justice Mody. Justice Mody also concurred with the views held by Justice Chagla, "Now so far as that part of the Judgement is concerned, Chagla C.J. has pointed out that it was obiter....."

It was only after recording fresh evidence of four eminent scholars (one of whom was Dastur Dr. H.K. Mirza) that Justice Mody held that Irani Zoroastrians are Parsis.

Clearly, therefore, Justice Davar’s alleged definition of a Parsi has no force in law and no less than three eminent sitting Judges have observed that the so-called definition is "an obiter".

Those who claim that according to the "law of the land", a Parsi includes "the children of Parsi fathers by alien mothers who have been admitted into the religion" don’t know what they are talking about.

There is no law of the land that can force a priest to perform the so-called navjote of a child of a Parsi father and a non-Parsi mother. Of course, there are a few priests who will even perform the navjote of children of Parsi mothers and non-Parsi fathers in anticipation of a fat "ashodad".

End Note

Asho Zarathushtra in the Gatha (Yasna XLVI: 6) has cautioned, "Who lets untruth exist without protest, himself becomes supporter of untruth." This treatise has been penned with a view to demolish certain legal myths, historical fallacies and socio-religious falsehood, propagated by those who have a huge axe to grind.

Chapters of the Saga

Saga of the Aryans Home Page

Traditional Zoroastrianism Home Page

How to get the Saga in book form