The term “Parsee” or “Parsi” is derived from Persian. In India, it generally relates to a member of the Zoroastrian religion, which moved to India from Persia (modern Iran) as Muslims gained control of Persia. Indians also apply the term to anyone of Persian origin, regardless of religion. Possibly arriving in the 8th – 10th century, they were seeking an opportunity for freedom of religious practice. Their initial settlements were in Gujarat. During the Mughal or Muslim rule of India, the importance of a southern center increased.
Throughout the 20th century, Parsees expanded from traditionally held crafts and merchant positions into all areas of Indian society. They also maintained cultural distinctions through language, dress, arts including theater, and publications.
In the 21st century, a dispersed Parsee community persists in several areas of India, numbering over 50,000 people. Their population seems to be declining, which is generally attributed to the low birth rate. A stereotype of being wealthy bankers has persisted.
The largest communities are in Mumbai and areas to the south, with others in Pune and Bangalore. There are also Parsee communities in Pakistan. A relatively high degree of endogamy characterizes their social interactions, with little marriage outside the community until recent years. There is disagreement about paternal descent being the sole determinant or even a primary indicator of group membership and if children with Parsee mothers are also considered Parsee.