Irani Zoroastrian Renaissance. The Benefactors.
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.
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.
Framji Bhikaji Panday - the Father of Irani Zoroastrians of India
After their meeting, Golestan and Framji Bhikhaji Panday decided to wed.
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.
Maneckji Limji Hataria (1813-1890 CE)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.