“The 57,000,000 Mohammedans, of whom 23,658,000 are in Bengal, and over 6,000,000 in Bombay, are either descendants of emigrating Asiatics, or Hindus converted to that faith. Their religion is a mixture of the doctrines of the Prophet and local idolatry; for they have been somewhat infected by the prevailing worship of the natives. The Parsees are an educated mercantile class, the great body of them being found in Bombay. They are fire-worshippers; and their creed is that of Zoroaster, who flourished not less than 800 years before Christ. The Zend-Avesta is the sacred book of the sect, containing their religion and their philosophy. The Caliph Omar conquered the Persians, and established Mohammedanism there, persecuting all who would not believe. The obstinate Parsees fled to India.”
“The Parsees of the present day are their descendants, and still cling to their ancient faith. Like all sects, they are fully tolerated by the British government, and are considered one of the most respectable and thriving classes of the community. They are largely merchants and land-owners, and bear the highest reputation for honesty, industry, and as peaceful citizens. They are quite prepossessing, and many of their ladies are remarkably beautiful, though I have seen a fairer American than any one of them.
“Some of them have studied law in England, and all are forward to avail themselves of the advantages of education. A merchant-prince of this sect was noted as a philanthropist; and for the vast sums of money he gave for benevolent institutions, the Queen knighted him, as she did Sir Modava for his public service. This gentleman is Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy He died in 1859.”
“Parsees do not eat anything cooked by a person of another religion, and reject beef and pork, especially hams. They are not permitted to marry outside of their own sect. Their dead are not buried or cremated, but are committed to what is called the Tower of Silence. The bodies are exposed on an iron grating, where the carniverous birds of the air can get to them until the flesh has all disappeared. Then the sun-dried bones fall through into a receptacle, from which they are removed to a cavern in the earth.”
“How horrid!” exclaimed the ladies with one voice.
“The Parsee does not think so; and perhaps he has the same view you have of our manner of disposing of the dead. In spite of the awe and respect with which the Parsees regard fire, they are about the only eastern people who do not smoke. But I think you need a rest by this time, and I will retire for a little while.”
The company applauded as usual, and then began to pace the promenade deck.
LORD TREMLYN DISCOURSES MORE ABOUT INDIA
The delightful weather of the forenoon charmed the party as they walked the deck. It was mid-summer in the middle of the winter, as they looked at it; for the almanac of home lingered in their minds, though the days were longer. The sun was rather warm on both sides of noon, though it was not oppressive, and the abundant awnings protected the passengers from its more searching rays.