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MUMBAI, India -- After trying for four years to have a baby, Khorshed Bulsara called on her fellow Zoroastrians for help.

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When Parsi Zoroastrians, having fled Persian persecution, arrived on Indian soil sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries, the story goes, an Indian ruler sent a cup full of milk.

The intention, clearly, was to convey that India was filled to the brim.

The Zoroastrian king inserted either sugar—or in some tellings, a ring—and sent the cup back to suggest that not only was there room for his people, but they would also enrich Indian society if permitted to settle.

Certain restrictions curbed the private and communal lives of the Zoroastrian asylum seekers, but they were largely allowed to thrive in India.

Roughly a dozen centuries later, many Parsis have settled in the diaspora, where they’re encountering a different challenge: assimilation and a not-too-distant scenario in which, some worry, there will be no Zoroastrians left in the world. This worry is often directed toward young Zoroastrians, whose minds—and perhaps more importantly, hearts—may determine the future of the religion.

Decisions about dating and marriage can also be decisions about whether to stay within their community: Zoroastrianism is a patriarchal tradition, so the children of Zoroastrian women who marry outside the faith are not accepted, and even shunned, in many communities.

Meanwhile, children of Zoroastrian men who intermarry are likelier to be accepted.

Unlike, say, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Zoroastrianism calls for individual rather than communal worship services in its houses of worship, called fire temples, and it prescribes “good thoughts, good words, good deeds” rather than the plethora of positive and negative rules that govern other religious traditions.

Zoroastrianism does have holidays and rituals, and adherents go through an initiation rite, which some people compare to a bar or bat mitzvah, called “navjote.” Although it might appear to outsiders as though fire is worshipped in the temples, Zoroastrians say that fire is a symbol of the divine, due to its warmth and light, rather than the divinity itself.

Parsis, the descendants of the Zoroastrians who fled Iran for India, represent the largest portion of the Zoroastrian population globally; the other portion lives in Iran.

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