What was the origin of Freddie Mercury?

Probably everyone who has seen Queen’s vocalist Freddie Mercury was interested in the question: where are his roots from? His band is British, but the swarthy singer does not look like a typical Englishman.

The musician’s real name is Farrukh Bulsara.

He was born in 1946 in Zanzibar. Then on this island off the African coast there was a sultanate of the same name under the British protectorate. Many immigrants from India traditionally lived there. In particular, Farrukh’s parents.

Actually, they were Parsis. They are descendants of Iranians who, after the Arab conquest of Persia in the 7th century, did not want to accept Islam and preserved their traditional faith – Zoroastrianism. They moved to the territory of the present state of Gujarat in western India.

Parsis. India, 1870. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Farrukh’s parents came from Gujarat. The surname Bulsara was formed from the name of the Indian city where their family lived – Bulsar (now Valsad).

The name Farrukh in Farsi means “happy”. In general, the Parsis have forgotten their ancestral language and speak one of the Indian languages – Gujarati. But their religious literature is written in ancient Iranian languages – Avestan and Pahlavi.

From Gujarat, the Parsis moved to different Indian states. Most of all – to Maharashtra with the center in Bombay (now Mumbai). Farrukh spent his childhood in Panchganj in Maharashtra, where his aunt and grandfather lived. He went to school there, became interested in rock and roll, formed his first teenage band and started calling himself Freddie.

Фаррух Бульсара в Індії
Freddie Mercury with a school band. India, early 1960s. Source: Mrs Bulsara

At the age of 16, Bulsara returned to Zanzibar. But not for long: the revolution began there, which was accompanied by bloody pogroms of immigrants from India. And the whole family moved to London in 1964. Where six years later Freddie would join the band Smile, which would later be renamed Queen.

When Freddie Mercury died in London in 1991, his funeral was held according to the Zoroastrian rite. Actually, he left this religion in adulthood, but his parents insisted on the ceremony.

Only the burial itself was impossible according to the Zoroastrian tradition. It involves the exposure of the body in a specially designated place (or the so-called “tower of silence”), where the soft tissues are eaten by birds or dogs (and the bones that remain are then put in an urn). According to British law, there are only two ways of burial – in the ground or cremation. And the musician’s parents were forced to agree to the second option.

Today there are very few Parsis left in the world – about one hundred thousand. Most of them live in Mumbai. In Iran, there are small communities of Zoroastrians who survived centuries of persecution.

Літній парс
Літній парс продає зороастрійську символіку, наші дні. Джерело: Scott Edmunds / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Despite the small number of Parsis, they occupy a prominent place in the culture, business and politics of India. Among them was, for example, Jamsheti Tata – the founder of Tata, the Indian car giant. But the most famous Parsi of all time is, of course, Freddie Mercury.