CHAPTER XVI. CONTINUATION OF JOURNEY AND SOJOURN.
The women visit the temple generally at different hours from the men. They are not forbidden to go there at the same time as the latter; but they never do so, and, indeed, very seldom go at all. A pious Parsee is supposed to pray daily four times, and each time for an hour; for this purpose, however, it is not necessary that he should go to the temple; he fixes his eyes upon fire, earth, or water, or stares into the open air. Whoever finds four hours of prayer daily too much, ingratiates himself with the priests, who are humane and considerate, like the priests of other religions, and willingly release applicants from their cares for the consideration of a moderate gift.
The Parsees prefer offering up their prayers in the morning in the presence of the sun, which they honour the most, as the greatest and most sacred fire. The worship of fire is carried to such an extent by them that they do not pursue any trades which require the use of fire, neither will they fire a gun, or extinguish a light. They let their kitchen-fires burn out. Many travellers even affirm that they will not assist in extinguishing a conflagration; but this is not the case. I was assured that on such an occasion, some years since, many Parsees had been seen giving their help to put the fire out.
Manuckjee was so obliging as to invite me to his house, that I might become acquainted in some degree with the mode of life of Parsee families; he also conducted me to the houses of several of his friends.
I found the rooms furnished in the European manner, with chairs, tables, sofas, ottomans, pictures, mirrors, etc. The dress of the women was little different from that of the more wealthy Hindoos; it was more decorous, as it was not made of transparent muslin, but of silk; and they had, moreover, trousers. The silk was richly embroidered with gold, which luxury is extended to three-year old children. The younger ones, and even the newly-born infants, are wrapped in plain silk stuff. The children wore little caps, worked with gold and silver. The Parsee women consider gold ornaments, pearl and precious stones as necessary a part of their dress as the Hindoos; even in the house they wear a great quantity, but when visiting, or on the occasion of any festival, the jewellery of a wealthy Parsee woman is said to exceed in value 100,000 rupees (10,000 pounds). Children of only seven or eight months old, wear finger-rings and bracelets of precious stones or pearls.
The dress of the men consists of wide trousers and long kaftans. The shirts and trousers are chiefly made of white silk, the jacket of white muslin. The turban differs greatly from that of the Mahomedans; it is a cap of pasteboard, covered with coloured stuff or waxed cloth, ten or twelve inches high.
Both men and women wear round their waists, over the shirt, a girdle passing twice round, which they take off during prayers and hold in their hands; with this exception, they are never seen without it. The law is so strict with regard to the point, that whoever does not wear the girdle is driven out of society. No agreement or contract is valid if the girdle is not worn when it is made. The children begin to wear it when they reach their ninth year. Before this ceremony, they do not belong to the community; they may even eat of food prepared by Christians, and the girls can accompany their fathers in a public place. The girdle changes all; the son eats at his father's table, the girls remain at home, etc.
A second religious ordinance relates to the shirt; this must be cut of a certain length and breadth, and consist of nine seams, which are folded over each other on the breast in a peculiar manner.
A Parsee is allowed to have only one wife. If the wife has no children, or only girls, during a period of nine years, he can, if she consents, be divorced from her, and marry another; he must, however, still provide for her. She can also marry again. According to the religious belief of the Parsee, he is certain to enjoy perfect happiness in a future state of existence if he has a wife and a son in this life.
The Parsees are not divided into castes. In the course of time the Parsees have acquired many of the customs of the Hindoos. For example, the women are not allowed to show themselves in public places; in the house they are separated from the men, take their meals alone, and are, upon the whole, considered more as mere property. The girls are promised when children, and betrothed to the man when in their fourteenth year; if, however, the bridegroom dies, the parents can seek for another. It is considered by the Parsees to be a disgrace if the father does not find a husband for his daughter.
The Parsee women, however, enjoy far more freedom in their houses than the unfortunate Hindoos: they are allowed to sit even at the front windows, and sometimes be present when their husbands receive visits from their male friends, and on both occasions without being veiled.
The Parsees may be easily distinguished from all other Asiatic people by their features, and especially by the lighter colour of their skin. Their features are rather regular, but somewhat sharp, and the cheekbones are broad. I did not think them so handsome as the Mahomedans and Hindoos.
Manuckjee is a great exception to his country people. He is, perhaps, the first who has visited Paris, London, and a considerable part of Italy. He was so well pleased with European manners and customs, that on his return he endeavoured to introduce several reforms among the people of his sect. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. He was decried as a man who did not know what he would be doing, and many withdrew from him their friendship and respect in consequence.