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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

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Contents

Irani Zoroastrian Renaissance
The Benefactors
Parsi Assistance

Irani Zoroastrians of India & Iran

Story of Firouzeh. Early 18th Century

Story of Golestan. Early 19th Century

Benefactors Rise to the Occasion

Framji Bhikaji Panday - the Father of Irani Zoroastrians of India

Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia

Maneckji Limji Hataria (1813-1890 CE)

Maneckji's Journey to Iran

Zoroastrian Demographics - 1855 CE

Hataria Petitions Qajar Government

Education - a First Priority

Infrastructure Projects

Individual Financial & Work Assistance

Change for the Better

Irani Benefactors

The Anjuman-e Zartoshtian Charitable Organizations

House of Mehr

Jahanians

Arbab Rostam Guiv

Other Irani Benefactors

Least We Forget

Irani Zoroastrian Renaissance. The Benefactors.

Parsi Assistance


Prior reading:

» Page 2: Conditions & Treatment of Zoroastrians c 650-1500 CE


Related reading:

» Zoroastrianism in Yazd

» Early Parsi History


Irani Zoroastrians of India & Iran

The Irani Zoroastrians of India are those Zoroastrians - mainly from Yazd & Kerman in Iran - who escaped to India from the dangers of degradation, humiliation and death in post Arab invasion Iran. For the main part, the migration of Irani Zoroastrians to India took place during the reign of the Qajar dynasty (1794 - 1925 CE) of Iran. The assistance provided to these Irani Zoroastrians in escaping and then upon their landing in India, as well as the assistance provided to Zoroastrians remaining in Iran, is the story of Parsi assistance to their co-religionists in Iran. It is also the story of the rise of Irani Zoroastrian benefactors and the story of Parsi-Irani cooperation. The Parsees are those Zoroastrians of India who escaped Iran shortly after the Arab invasion in the 7th century CE, and for our purposes, Iranian Zoroastrians are those who continued to live in Iran and maintain their Iranian citizenship.


The Story of Firouzeh. Early 18th Century

One of the early stories of the start of the 18th century phase of Zoroastrian immigration to India is the story of Firouzeh (also spelt Firoze), wife of Rustamji Dorabji (1667-1763), defender and patel of Bombay.

By way of background, the Dorabji family were among the early Parsi inhabitants of Bombay. In 1692 CE, when the British garrison of Bombay had been decimated by a cholera epidemic, Rustamji (also spelt Rastamji) Dorabji rallied the Koli fisherman and other residents to defend Bombay from an attack by the Muslim Sidi of Janjira. In recognition of his leadership and valour, the British appointed Rustamji (Rastamji) with the hereditary title of patel or chief, a position that carried the authority of collecting taxes from the residents. (For further information on the role of Parsees in the early history of Bombay, please see our page on Zoroastrian Places of Worship.)

Rustamji Dorabji Patel's wife was a refugee from Iran, Firouzeh. Firouzeh's Iranian parents had been forcibly converted to Islam. Unable to escape, they sought nevertheless to save their two daughters from their fate. They were fortunate that a German traveller agreed to take the girls with him to safety to the newly established port of Bombay. Firouzeh met Rustamji Dorabji while under the care of Bhikhaji Beramji Panday [D. F. Karaka, History of the Parsis (London, 1884), Vol. II, p. 52 n.]. Bhikhaji Beramji Panday was the father of Framji Bhikhaji Panday who would marry another Irani Zoroastrian refugee, Golestan.


The Story of Golestan. Early 19th Century

Benefactors Rise to the Occasion

When the murderous Qajars (1794 - 1925) assumed power, they banned Zoroastrians from travelling - a form of local imprisonment. Zoroastrian women began to be abducted and forcibly married as sex slaves to Muslim men. A Kermani Zoroastrian, Khusrau-i Yazdyar, whose beautiful daughter Golestan became the object of desire of a wealthy Muslim Yazdi businessman, was threatened with such an abduction. Khusrau decided that despite the travel ban and the penalty of death if caught, he would flee to India with his daughter. In 1796, they landed in Bombay and the Parsees gave them refugee and succour. In particular, they were befriended by the benevolent Parsi family of Eduljee (Edulji) Dorabji Lashkari. The tradition of community benefactors had been established by Changashah / Changa Asa (1450 to 1512) the benefactor of Navsari, Gujarat, was being continued of Lashkari and he would soon be joined by others.

The Bombay Parsees welcomed Golestan and her father into their circles and affectionately called Golestan 'Gulbai Velatan' or 'Gulbai the foreigner'. Helped by the Lashkari family, Khusrau-i Yazdyar returned to Yazd three times and eventually succeeded in bringing his whole family to Gujarat.

After father Khusrau and daughter Golestan had settled down in their new home, Golestan met a Parsee merchant Framji Bhikhaji Panday.


Framji Bhikaji Panday - the Father of Irani Zoroastrians of India

After their meeting, Golestan and Framji Bhikhaji Panday decided to wed.

Framji, upon hearing about the plight of Iranian Zoroastrians from his wife and father-in-law, decided to help his co-religionists of Iran "with body, mind and money". One of Framji's first acts was to assist other Iranis flee the hell in which they were living. Upon the arrival of the Zoroastrian refugees in India, Framji helped them settled down to a new life of hope. For his service to the Iranian Zoroastrian refugees, they gave Framji the title 'father of Irani Zoroastrians of India'.


Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia

By the 1830s, the numbers of Zoroastrians fleeing Qajar Iran for India and Bombay had steadily increased. In 1834, the Panday's eldest son, Burjorji Framji Panday, started a fund to help Irani refugees. Then in 1854, the Panday's third son, Meherwanji Framji Panday started with the help of other Parsees, a society to help Irani Zoroastrians in Irani - the Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia.

In a document signed on February 24, 1882, the signing officers of the society were Dinshaw Manockji Petit, Nusserwanji Manockji Petit, Cursetji Nusserwanji Cama (honorary treasurer), Bomanji Framji Cama, K. R. Cama, Eduljee Bomanji Morris, Nusserwanji Meherwanji Panday (presumably Meherwanji Panday's son), Muncherji Cowasji Shapoorji, Eduljee Nusserwanji Settna. Later, Pestonji Marker, founder of Yazd's Marker schools, would become one of the society's most munificent supporters.

Among it various projects, notably those initiated through Maneckji Hataria, the society also financed the translation of the Avesta into Persian by the noted scholar Pour-e Dawoud.


Maneckji Limji Hataria (1813-1890 CE)

Maneckji Limji Hataria
Maneckji Limji Hataria. Given threats
to his life, Hataria had to arm himself.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

One of the first resolutions of the society was to send an an emissary to Iran and they were very fortunate to recruit the indomitable Maneckji Limji Hataria. Hataria, a travelling commercial representative, was born at the village of Mora Sumali near Surat in 1813 CE. He began to earn a living at the age of fifteen. His father was Limji Hushang Hataria.

If the concept of finding one's khvarenah, a calling, is valid, then Hataria was about to find his. In doing so, if there is an modern-day example of an ashavan, it was Maneckji Limji Hataria. Hataria would be an agent, indeed a warrior, for positive change.

Also see:
» Maneckji Hataria's role in the reconstruction of Yazd's temples and towers of silence.
» Maneckji Limji Hataria's Vision for Iranian Zoroastrians - Schools.


Maneckji's Journey to Iran

Hataria was tasked with travelling to Iran, assessing the condition of the Zoroastrian community there, and then providing the community with assistance in order to improve their living conditions. On March 31, 1854 Maneckji Limji Hataria set sail for Iran. It was a land in which he would, at the age of 77, take his last breath. However, the passing away of this noble life would not before he would change Iranian Zoroastrian history and in the process Zoroastrian history.

At the outset we should note that Hataria mission to Iran was not without risk to his person. While journeying in Iran, he and his son Hormuzdiar were both threatened with death, and they took to travelling well armed. However, despite being armed, he still, as he records, had "to part with goods to save (his) life."

Hataria travelled by ship from Bombay to the port of Bushehr in Iran via the island of Hormoz. From the port of Bushehr in the Persian Gulf, Hataria made his way through Firozabad to Shiraz. All along the took of ancient forts, dakhma and fire temples, stopping at various sites such as Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rostam enroute to Yazd.


Zoroastrian Demographics - 1855 CE

When he reached his destination, he set about learning the language and he took inventory: 6,658 Zoroastrians in Yazd, 450 in Kerman, 50 in Tehran and a handful in Shiraz i.e., less than 7,200 in all of Iran. [At about the same time there were 110,544 Indian Zoroastrians in Bombay (where they constituted 20% of Bombay's population), about 20,000 in Surat and about another 15,000 elsewhere in India.


Hataria Petitions Qajar Government

By the time of Hataria's visit while local officials were despotic and unsympathetic to Zoroastrian concerns, the king, seeking international favours and support, often bent to British and Russian pressure. Maneckji, used the Parsi's British connections to petition the royal court. One of Hataria's first achievements was to successfully petition the Iranian Government to lift restrictions on Zoroastrians renovating their temples and dakhmas - even restrictions on building new structures. Hataria also led an arduous campaign to abolish the oppressive jezya (poll tax). He had to deploy the funds sent from Bombay in this campaign which resulted in success in 1882.


Education - a First Priority

Then, much to the dismay of the jealous local authorities, Hataria motivated local Zoroastrian leaders to build schools based on the model used by the Parsees in India. The first school built was in Tehran in 1860. By 1882 he had eleven other schools constructed and functioning in Kerman and Yazd cities and villages.

Of all the changes he introduced, this farsighted and simple act laid the foundation of a Zoroastrian renaissance. For the world was entering an information age. As a result of this Zoroastrian emphasis on a good education, Zoroastrians today make up one of the most educated communities in the world.

Wherever he went, Hataria started to light fires - in temples, in schools, in minds and in hearts.


Infrastructure Projects

Hataria also erected buildings and installed water tanks at the annual pilgrimage shrines at Pir e-Sabz and Pir-e Banu Pars. He helped to have fire temples, including the Atash Bahram in Yazd, and dakhmas repaired and built. Maneckji also had a lodging house in Tehran built for Zoroastrians as a refuge form local persecution and harassment in Yazd, Kerman and elsewhere. We list his other infrastructure projects in our pages on Yazd.


Individual Financial & Work Assistance

Hataria provided monetary relief to those Zoroastrians who were desperately poor. He also provided older Zoroastrians with food, clothing and medicine. For the daughters of the very poor he provided dowries so that they could marry. For poor and debt-ridden individuals seeking work in order to earn a decent living, he found paying jobs. All of these measures helped to restore a sense of dignity amongst Zoroastrians who were being viewed by Muslims as less than human.


Zoroastrian family in Tehran 1910 CE (towards the end of the Qajar era)
Zoroastrian family in Tehran 1910 CE (towards the end of the Qajar era)
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Change for the Better

Through his efforts supplemented by other assistance projects from India and by empowered Iranian Zoroastrians, Zoroastrians in Iran began to prosper. It wasn't long before those who prospered and who were the beneficiaries of the acts of generosity and kindness, began to give back to the community and became benefactors in their own right.


Irani Benefactors

The Anjuman-e Zartoshtian Charitable Organizations

Another one of Hataria's legacies was the formation in the late 19th century, of the community societies, the Anjuman-e Zartoshtian of Yazd, Kerman and Tehran. These societies provided the organizations that could administer the waqf, the communal charitable undertakings. The Tehran anjuman was founded in 1907 under the stewardship of Keikhosrow Shahrokh of Kerman, the first elected Zoroastrian member of parliament. Shahrokh helped establish funds for a temple, a burial ground and numerous schools in Tehran and Kerman.


House of Mehr

One of the first families to become substantial benefactors was that of Meheraban Rostam, or 'Mehr'. His seven sons, Jamshid, Rashid, Kay Khosrow, Ardeshir, Godarz, Rostam, all became wealthy merchants and bankers. In their own right, they set up charities catering to a wide range of community needs. For instance, in Yazd Jamshid and Rashid built a new fire temple in the priests' quarter close to which, Kay Khosrow founded a school. Accompanied by Ardeshir, author E. G. Browne visited the school in 1887, and described the visit and the school in his book A Year Amongst the Persians (Cambridge, 1893; repr. 1926, 1927. p. 408). The family assisted in the building of several other schools and community structures. In order to facilitate pilgrimages to Pir e-Sabz, Godarz built an ab-anbar, a community water storage tank, on the way from Yazd to the mountain shrine. At Pir-e Sabz itself, he built a shelter pavilion for the use of the pilgrims.

In Elabad village where the family owned property, brothers Rostam built the fire temple, Kay Khosrow built the dakhma, while Godarz built the school and ab-anbar, the water tank (which benefited the Muslim residents of Elabad as well). Godarz also provided the land for a hospital run by Christian missionaries. The schools, water tanks and hospitals were available from everyone in need without religious or ethnic distinction.

In the 1950s, the Firuzgar family founded a hospital which was later taken over by Iran's Ministry of Health.
Source: Encyclopaedia Iranica


Jahanians

Complementing the Mehr family's beneficence in Yazd, were the Jahanians. Arbab* Kay Khosrow Shah-Jahan built and opened the first girls' school (one of the first in Iran) on January 8 1909. (*Arbab is a title of respect given to wealthy Zoroastrians especially those who are benefactors of the community) In the 1920s his sons built a fire temple with an adjacent boys' school, an additional girls' school, a rest house and a hospital.


Arbab Rustam Guiv

Morvarid and Arbab Rostam Guiv
Morvarid and Arbab Rostam Guiv

Arbab Rustam Guiv (1888-1980 CE) was a native of Yazd. His father Shahpur Guiv had a business in Yazd selling local hand made cloth. Arbab Guiv moved to Tehran to join his brother and made his fortune in trading, manufacturing and land. He converted a 150 to 200 acre parcel of fallow land at the foot of the Damavand mountain, some hundred kilometres north of Tehran, into fertile land where he cultivated fruits, vegetables and grain. He called his oasis Rustamabad. He added to his land holdings by purchasing another tract of land ten kilometres from Rustamabad.

During a 1953 trip to India, Arbab Guiv was very impressed with the housing colonies built for low and middle income Zoroastrians by wealthy benefactors. He was particularly impressed by Khosrow Bagh in Colaba, Bombay (Mumbai) and used it as a model for constructing a housing colony for Iranian Zoroastrians in Tehran. With this in mind, he purchased at a reduced cost fifteen acres of a new development by the Tafti and Aresh families in the north-east of Tehran, called Tehran Pars. On the land he purchased, Arbab Guiv a housing colony of 80 duplexes (160 units) called Rustam Bagh (or Rostam Baug). The units were then made available for low and middle income Zoroastrians. The colony included gardens, a community hall, library, school, sports ground and fire temple.

Arbab Guiv had now firmly established his desire to serve the community. In Yazd, he funded the building of an ab-anbar, a community water storage facility. His factories and businesses provided employment to Zoroastrians, his colonies provided housing and his schools provided education. in his later years, he turned his attention to providing funds for immigrant Zoroastrians in Europe, North America and Australia build a spiritual home, places of worship called Darbe Mehrs. This writer was a trustee of a Arbab Rostam Guiv Darbe Mehr in Burnaby (in Greater Vancouver), Canada.


Other Irani Benefactors

In the late nineteenth century, while the Mehrs and Jahanians were setting up their charities in Yazd, a successful banker Jamshid Bahman began his own charity in Tehran.

Yazd's gahanbar-khana, a large hall that could accommodate the community during the gahanbars or seasonal feasts was constructed in the 1930s by Rostam Khosrow Sedayat, a merchant of priestly family. In Kerman, Soroush Shahriyar started the Soroushian family charities. In the 40s, the family donated land for a new burial ground which they continue to maintain.


Least We Forget

Nowadays, with both Parsi and Iranian Zoroastrian communities living in relative peace and prosperity, it is easy for Parsi and Iranian Zoroastrians to allow petty differences to get between them. Some misguided individuals even resort to insults about the members of the other community, not knowing that when they do so, they hurt all Zoroastrians and eventually themselves. Let us remember that without mutual assistance, neither community would have been able preserve the rich heritage of the Zoroastrian faith. All Zoroastrians owe those noble souls - those who persevered despite all odds, those who maintained their faith and heritage despite being subjected to the worst kind of degradation and humiliation, and those who responded to the desperate plight of their co-religionists - a depth of undying gratitude.


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Prior reading:

» Page 2: Conditions & Treatment of Zoroastrians c 650-1500 CE


Related reading:

» Zoroastrianism in Yazd

» Early Parsi History


» Site Contents

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Zoroastrians
in Post-Arab Iran

Conditions & Treatment 1500s-1800s

Migrations to Yazd & Kerman

Under the Safavids

Under the Afghans

Under Nader Shah

Under the Generals & Karim Khan Zand

Under the Qajars

Further Descriptions of the Plight of Zoroastrians in Yazd and Iran

Maintaining the Faith Against All Odds