Zoroastrianism does not emphasize ritualism yet some basic rites and ceremonies form an integral part of Parsi social life. Initiation rite is performed where the newborn, child’s lips are steeped in haoma (the sacred liquor). At the age of 17 or 18, the girl or the boy receives the girdle or cord (Kushti) which marks the admission into Zoroastrian faith. There are certain purification rites such as padyab (ablution), nahn (bathing) etc.
Death rites among the Parsis are elaborate and unique. The dead body is placed on the tower of silence or dokham to be eaten by vultures. The tower of silence has separate concentric circles for men, women and children. When the vultures eat up the flesh, the bones are dried in the, sun and then swept into a central well. All these are marked by elaborate rituals. The Parsis believe that the departed soul is judged by Ahura Mazda.
Marriage amongst Parsis is a contract where prayers are recited and is thus sanctified by a religious ceremony. Monogamy is the prevailing rule and the consent of both is essential. Divorce is allowed under certain conditions. Remarriage also takes place after which the widow does not give up her inheritance rights over her husband’s property.
An important area where women suffer disability is the inter-religious marriage. While a child of a non-Parsi mother and a Parsi father can be initiated into the Zoroastrian faith, the child of a Parsi mother and a non-Parsi father cannot be admitted into Zoroastrianism. Since there is an increasing number of Parsi women marrying non-Parsi men, there is a steady decline of the Parsi population. If a Parsi dies without making a will, the male heir receive double the share as compared to the female heir. A widow and her son receive the double share of each daughter.
Adoption is not recognized legally among Parsis. However, a childless widow can adopt a son on the 4th day of her husband’s death to perform religious rites. Parsi Panchayat or Anjuman was first established in the 17th century in Surat and Navsari. Both priests and laymen were its members. When the Britishers developed Bombay as the main trading center. The Parsi Panchayat played active role in promoting the economic interests of the community. The Bombay Panchayat was formally recognized to punish the violator of Parsi customs and norms such as polygyny, child marriage etc.
Punishments were meted out to the guilty. Remarriage was performed by the priest named by the Panchayat. The punishments which could be imposed were forbidding, the person to visit the Parsi temple or to go to the tower of silence, beating with a shoe, excommunication etc. Later the Panchayat became discriminatory where the rich Parsis were shielded. Many senior members resigned and the British withdrew its recognition’s from the Panchayat. Chiefly, there are six seasonal festivals, Gahanbar and the days in the memory of the death at the Parsi years end Navroz, the new year festival, is a spring festival and is celebrated with great joy and fervor.