Parsees (i. e., inhabitants of Fars or Persia), the modern followers of Zoroaster, mostly dwelling in Yezd and neighboring towns in Persia, and in Bombay and a few other places in India. While in Persia their number has decreased to about 7,000, they are steadily increasing in India, where they are variously estimated at from 150,000 to 200,000. The Mohammedans apply to them in contempt the name of Guebres or Ghaurs, meaning " infidels." (See Guebres.) When the empire of the Sassanides was destroyed by the Saracens (about 650), the Zoroastrians were persecuted, and most of them embraced Islamism. Only a small number clung to the old faith, and were finally allowed to settle in one of the most barren parts of Persia. Some of the Zoroastrians fled or emigrated to Hindostan, where the rajah of Guzerat was their principal protector; but on the spread of Mohammedanism they became again subject to persecution. Since the occupation of the country by the British they have fared better, and form now quite an influential portion of the population. They keep up an intercourse with their brethren in Persia. Their worship in the course of time became corrupted by many Hindoo practices, and the reverence for fire and the sun, as emblems of the glory of Ormuzd, degenerated into idolatrous practices.
The sacred fire which Zoroaster was said to have brought from heaven is kept burning in consecrated spots, and temples are built over subterranean fires. Priests tend the fires on the altars, chanting hymns and burning incense. After an ineffectual attempt by the Par see punchayet or council to purify the worship, a society called the Rahnumai Mazdiasna, or " Religious Reform Association," was organized in 1852 for the regeneration of the social condition of the Parsees and the restoration of the creed of Zoroaster to its original purity. The meetings and publications of this society are said to have had a considerable effect. There is now a marked desire on the part of the Parsees to adapt themselves to the manners and customs of Europeans. The public and private schools of Bombay are largely attended by their children, and every effort is made to procure the translation of standard English works. Many follow commercial pursuits, and several of the wealthiest merchants of India belong to the sect. - For their religious tenets and history, see Zend-Avesta, and Zoroaster.