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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee



Surat: Zoroastrian-Parsees & Their Influence

Page 1

Surat - a Background

Surat - Earlier History & Muslim Conquest

The Zoroastrian Parsees of Surat - Traders

Connections with the Gujarati Based Vania

Parsi Clothing Adopted From Their Gujarati Vania Hosts

Nanabhai Punjibhai (d. 1667)
and the Modi Family - Early Parsi Family of Surat

Office of Davar - Community Leader

Bhimji Kuvarji Modi
and His 1710-11 CE Petition to the Nawab of Surat

Muslim Attitudes Towards Zoroastrians

Western Accounts of the Zoroastrian-Parsees of Surat

Page 2

British East India Company

Transfer of Premier Port Status from Surat to Bombay 1687 CE

The Company Moves to Armed Trade. Child's War 1687-89 CE

Transformation from London to English Company

Page 3

Rustom Maneck of Surat (1635-1721 CE). Intercessor Extraordinaire

Rustom Maneck's Poor Treatment by the new East India Company President 1690

Restitution for Rustom's Family

Naorozji Rustamji & the Seth Khandans

Mancherji Kharshedji Seth & Dhanjisha Manijisha. Surat leaders in the 1700s

Surat's Great Kabisa (Qabisa) Controversy. 1745 onwards

Surat's Fire Temples & Dakhma

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Related Pages:

» Parsi Settlement. West Coast of India

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Page 3

Suggested prior reading:

» Destruction of Sanjan, Gujarat, India

Associated reading:

» Early Parsi History. Escape from Iran

» Early History of Mumbai's (Bombay's) Fire Temples

Rustom Maneck of Surat (1635-1721 CE).
Intercessor Extraordinaire

It is in this setting that Rustom Maneck (also spelt Rastam Manak. 1635-1721), a resident of Surat, established himself as broker and agent to the various trading houses who he assisted in trade negotiations and resolution of conflicts with the local rulers. More importantly, Maneck worked to better the interests of the Zoroastrian community and all of Surat itself. His English clients helped defend Surat against the Maratha's plundering raids.

His clients included European trading houses as well as others such as Turks. For instance, when a ship owned by a Turkish merchant Usman Chalebi was unjustifiably seized by the Portuguese, the Turk unable to obtain redress from the Portuguese petitioned Maneck for assistance. Maneck undertook the assignment and journeyed to the Portuguese colonial capital of Goa. There, he successfully appealed to the Portuguese Governor General Vizreal for justice and redress for the Turks.

Port of Surat end of 17th century
Port of Surat end of 17th century. Painting at Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum Stadhouderskade.
Painter: Dutch Anonymous. Photo Credit: sjsu.edu/encounters

Amongst his many commissions, Maneck was appointed as chief broker for the British East India Company's factory in Surat. According to Dosabhai Karaka in his (History of the Parsis), in 1660, in order to resolve a conflict between the British factory and the local Muslim Nawab of Surat, Maneck accompanied the President of the British factory to the imperial Mogul court of Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707 CE) in Delhi - an audacious move for a young man (Maneck would have been 25 years of age at the time). There he addressed the Emperor as follows: "This Englishman has come to Hindustan for trading purposes, but your majesty's nobles are throwing many obstacles in his way. The English gentleman now with me, is a good and noble man. He seeks your royal favour and solicits that he may be permitted to settle in Surat and be allowed to establish a factory there for trading purposes, and that he may be protected in his business by your imperial commands." Karaka tells us that Aurangzeb responded by proclaiming a decree forbidding any impediments to the establishment of the British factory in Surat, and as well, forbidding the molestation of the British in any way. The emperor went further by making a free grant of land on which to build the factory and allowing the importation of British goods free of duty.

As a result, Surat became the head of all English factories including Madras and Bantam (in Indonesia). Surat also became the premier port of India. In both of these developments Rustom Maneck played a pivotal role.

Rustom Maneck became a very wealthy man and he distributed his wealth in the service to both, the Parsi community and the city of Surat. The city him regarded as its greatest benefactor. Through his influence with the Mughal court, he helped relieve the oppression suffered by other Zoroastrians at the hands of discriminatory local Muslims. For a Zoroastrian to have overcome the prejudices of his Muslim overlords was no uncommon feat. The force of his presence and his abilities must have been singular. He built roads and bridges for the convenience of travellers, wells and tanks for the thirsty, and dharmashalas for the weary. The suburb of Surat where he lived was named Rustampura. Today, it is near Gopi Talav and the Textile Market. His death was mourned by the whole city.

Rustom Maneck's Poor Treatment by the new East India Company President. 1690

Rustomji Maneck had been retained by the British factory for thirty years when in 1690, the newly appointed president of the factory, Sir Nicholas Waite, displaced the previous president Sir John Gayer. Such was the bad blood between the officers of the new 'English' Company and the old 'London' Company (see previous page), that Waite engineered the arrest and imprisonment of Gayer, his own compatriot, by the Muslim Governor of Surat. According to the Annals of the East India Company (vol. III, page 595), Rustomji Maneck (who was already upset by the move of the Company's headquarters from Surat to Bombay), got caught up in the dispute when he reportedly told two of the Company's employees that Waite had offered him Rs. 50,000 if Rustomji would use his influence with the Muslim Governor of Surat to keep Gayer imprisoned. Word of Maneck's disclosure reached the ears of Sir Nicholas Waite, who summarily dismissed Rustomji Maneck from the Company's employment.

Waite persisted with his decision to dismiss Rustomji despite the Surat factory president's opposition to the dismissal. Such was Rustom's high standing with the Surat factory that the Surat executives informed their head office that unless Rustom's employment was reinstated they could not be held "responsible for the Company's property nor their own liberty." At the time of his dismissal, the Company owed Rustomji Rs. 690,000 - a small fortune in those days. We do not know if Rustomji was reinstated. However, we know that the Company did not pay the monies they owed him by the time of his death.

After Rustomji Maneck's death his sons, in 1721, demanded payment of the amount that the Company owed Rustom's estate. Locally, the company brought great pressure to bear on the Rustomji family to drop the claim. When the family persisted in their claim, the officers of the Company contrived to have Framji Rustomji Maneckji, Rustom's eldest son imprisoned by the Nawab of Surat (imprisonment by the nawab appears to have become the Company's favourite method of retaliation. The Nawab who was probably paid handsomely by the English, obliged the latter and in addition fined Framji Rs. 50,000 and made him pay Rs. 200 daily as well.

Rustomji's family was dismayed by this unjust treatment by the morally bankrupt Company and their utter lack of consideration for the valuable service the family had provided the English. Framji's younger brother Bamanji Rustomji Maneckji journeyed to Bombay to seek redress from the governor. But instead of receiving justice Bamanji himself was placed under house arrest and prohibited from leaving Bombay Island.

With two brothers now under confinement, the youngest of the brothers, Naorozji Rustomji Maneckji (born in Surat in 1688) decided to take their case to the Company's head office and set sail for London where he arrived in April 1723.

Restitution for Rustom's Family

Naorozji Rustamji & the Seth Khandans

In travelling to London, Naorozji became the first Parsi to do so and his experience would have a marked impact on all Parsees. Naorozji was warmly received by the Company's Court of Directors who gave him a full hearing. By mutual consent, the dispute was referred for resolution to an independent arbitrator, who at the close of the hearing ordered the Company to pay Rustam's family Rs. 546,780. The directors complied and also presented Naorozji with a dress of honour before his return to India. In addition, the Company's directors issued instructions to their Bombay and Surat offices dismissing the claims of the offices and ordering that the two confined brothers be given their freedom immediately. Naorozji's experience with what justice can truly be deeply impressed him.

Upon his return, Naorozji moved his family from Surat to their Bombay home. West of Prince's Dock, Naorozji purchased a hill that came to be known as Naorozji Hill and from which he extracted a blue basalt. His descendants came to be known as Seth Khandans and we shall continue our story about Naorozji's descendants in our page on Bombay.

Mancherji Kharshedji Seth & Dhanjisha Manijisha. Surat leaders in the 1700s

We move here to our brief account on another Parsi Zoroastrian, Mancherji Kharshedji of Surat. Mancherji was born in that city in 1715. Initially, he worked for Naorozji's son Manakji Naorozji (perhaps in Bombay) becoming familiar with the brokerage business. Later, he returned to Surat as a broker for Surat's Dutch factory. As had Rustamji, Mancherji developed great influence with the Nawab of Surat and was twice admitted to an audience with the Mughal emperor in Delhi.

Continuing Rustamji's tradition, Mancherji too built a dharmashala and handed it over to be run by a group of community trustees. He had several wells dug as well. He was one of the main contributors for the building of an fairly large tower of silence with 476 pavis or receptacles, and he had another Dakhma built in Nargol at his own expense. He established several charitable foundations.

His other claim to notoriety was his leadership of the Shenshai (Shahenshahis) in the unfortunate Kabisa (see below) debate with the Kadmis led by Dhanjisha Manijisha.

Dhanjisha Manijisha was a jagirdar*, a person who had been given a royal (in this case Muslim) grant of land. The jagirdar was for the period of the grant a feudal landlord and tax-collector who obtained an income from the land by retaining a portion of the taxes. Dosabhai Karaka in History of the Parsis calls Dhanjisha an 'extensive' jagirdar. Dhanjisha was also a ship owner and trader in the old Aryan tradition. He maintained a fleet of ocean-going vessels from trade with overseas nations such as China, and a fleet of coastal vessels called batelas for trade with centres along the Indian coast including Bombay.

[Note: * jagirdar is a compound Persian word consisting ja=place (land), gir=possessor, and dar=office holder (official). The grant of land was usually for a short term and often included a village.]

Surat's Great Kabisa (Qabisa) Controversy. 1745 onwards - a Lament

We record the kabisa controversy with a sad heart. Starting in the 1700s, the Zoroastrians of Surat engaged themselves in a dispute that has since divided the entire community - a division that was and is entirely unnecessary. Compounding this unnecessary division is the realization that both sides to the dispute were fighting over two errors - it was an absurd case of whose mistake was more sacred. Bankrupt in the knowledge of their own heritage language Persian, both parties used an Arabic word to name the topic of their controversy - Qabisa. Then they used yet another Arabic word to name the calendar in use by the Zoroastrians of Iran - Qadim, meaning old.

Kabisa (also spelt Qabisa, Qabissa or Kabissa), means intercalation of a calendar in Arabic. In the case of the Zoroastrian calendar, it refers to the adjustment of the solar year. Since the earth's rotation around the sun takes 365 and a quarter days, a solar calendar based on a year of 365 days must periodically adjust (intercalate) for the extra quarter-day in order for its appointed days, such as Nowruz, to correspond with the equinoxes, and for its months to correspond with the seasons. The Zoroastrian text, the Dinkard, specifies the required method of intercalation of the Zoroastrian calendar by inserting an extra day (a leap day) or month (a leap month).

Atash Behram - Mody/Shenshai, Surat, India
Mody Shenshai Atash Bahram at Sayyadpura, Bhagal / Bhagol, Surat, India
Consecrated on November 19, 1823
Credits: Various - photographer unknown. Currently at Zagny
Atash Behram - Vakil/Kadmi, Surat, India
Atash Bahram - Vakil/Kadmi, Shahpur / Shahpore, Surat, India
Consecrated on December 5, 1823
Credits: Various - photographer unknown. Currently at Zagny
Close-up of Mody Shenshai Atash Bahram
Close-up of Mody Shenshai Atash Bahram
Credits: Kinkhab at webshots
Pirojbai Maneckji Patel Adarian Saheb at Vesu, Surat
Pirojbai Maneckji Patel Adarian Saheb at Vesu, Surat.
Image Credit: parsis.net
Disued tower of silence in Surat
Disued tower of silence in Surat
Credits: Kinkhab at webshots
Disued tower of silence in Surat
Disused tower of silence in Surat
Credits: Kinkhab at webshots

According to our ancient Zoroastrian texts, adjustment of the Zoroastrian calendar is not optional - it is required: "The addition of the day or period should be maintained regularly and should not be neglected." "When the additional six hours (in each solar year) are accumulated and adjusted, days align with days, months with months and years with years." (Dinkard 3, chapter 419)

"The certainty with which people of faith have offered prayers at the allocated time, when the seasonal festivals are celebrated, when the corn will ripen and when the plants will grow depends on taking the intercalary period for the additional six hours into calculation. Thus, there is recognition of the difference between the seasons of summer and winter in the conduct of expeditions by kings, there is reasoning on when gales will blow and when the sea breezes will commence." (Dinkard 3, chapter 419)

"The proper alignment of the four seasons of the year is connected with the motion of the sun through the constellations." "This additional day or period is fixed by calculation and is required in order that Nowruz, Mihragan, and other time-honoured Jashans, which are related to the four seasons of the year, are celebrated at the right time of the year." (Dinkard 3, chapter 419)

For the obvious reasons stated in the Denkard above, a leap day every four years is preferred over a leap month every 120 years. A comprehensive text of the intercalation instructions in the Dinkard, can be found in our section Additional Hours - Leap Years in our Calendar page.

The manner in which the controversy arose is as follows:

After the Arab conquest of Iran and in years of disarray that followed, the group of fleeing Zoroastrians who would later become the Parsees managed to make one leap-month intercalation around 1126-1129 CE to the calendar the were using - and from then on failed to continue intercalating their calendar. While in 1126-1129 CE, the Parsi calendar was brought in line with the seasons through the required intercalation, however, as the years progressed, their calendar fell out of phase with the seasons. The Zoroastrians who remained behind in Iran neglected to intercalate their calendar entirely. Therefore, their calendar also fell out of phase with the seasons - a month sooner than the calendar used by the Parsees. Ever since, the two calendars were out of phase by one month.

In the 1720s CE, Jamasp Peshotan Velati, an Iranian-Zoroastrian priest, visited India and - wonders upon wonders - during his discourses he and his Parsi hosts discovered that there was a month's difference between their two calendars followed by Zoroastrians in Iran and India. This caused some consternation amongst a group of Parsi priests in Surat, and since Iran was considered the source of all orthodoxy, their assumption was that the calendar followed by the Parsees was in error. What they unfortunately did not realize was that both calendars were in error. Based on this erroneous assumption, these priests began to solicit community support for adopting the Iranian calendar which some Parsees of Surat formally adopted on June 6th, 1745.

The move was strongly resisted by other Parsees who wished to conserve the use their existing, but equally erroneous, calendar. The two calendars were now given names. The Iranian calendar was called Qadimi (later Kadmi), and the existing Parsee calendar was called Shenshai (perhaps a corruption of Shahenshahi, meaning imperial). Surat's Parsee community was now split with the followers of each calendar adopting the name of their calendar as the name for their sect. Thus two Zoroastrian denominations were born: the Kadmis and Shenshais. It is wrongly assumed this was an Irani-Parsi divide. It was a Parsi-Parsi divide - Parsees arguing with Parsees. (We further describe the calendar differences in our calendar page.)

It is with some amazement that we read the justifications of both sides - how an error by both sides is not merely justified but also attached to some sort of spiritual connection - even divine justification. All kinds of rationalizations were invented. The Kadmis came up with the idea that intercalation was prohibited by Zoroastrianism! Later, when the two were made aware that both calendars were in error, the Parsees indulged in even more contorted reasoning. What were two simple errors of forgetfulness - perfectly understandable because of the turmoil the community endured after the Arab invasion - were now turned into a monumental religious debate with spiritual implications and ramifications for the fate of the soul. All this despite the fact that both sides in India couldn't even spell or pronounce the two names of the calendars correctly (and adding insult to injury, used Arabic names for the names of the dispute and one of the calendars). Even though both sides could not pronounce Shahenshahi and Qadimi correctly, they nevertheless made much about the differences in their pronunciation of scriptural words. Perhaps both sides can start to make amends by saying 'Zartosht' instead of 'Jartosht'. Then they may have some qualification to talk about correct pronunciation.

At first those who chose to follow one or the other calendar, amicably continued to coexist. Then appeared the hot-heads who assumed the leadership of the two groups: Mancherji Kharshedji (see above) for the Shenshais and Dhanjisha Manijisha for the Kadmis. The two led their respective groups in a fierce debate with the other. Perhaps the word 'debate' is a bit too civilized to describe what by all reports was a mle. Surat has the ignoble distinction of being the home of this internecine quarrel.

Dosabhai Framji Karaka writes in History of the Parsis: Including Their Manners, Customs, Religion, and Present Position (p. 104): "...a good deal of violent writing was indulged in by both sides. When arguments failed abuse was freely resorted to, and the outside mob showed a tendency to resort to sticks in order to effect a settlement of the question."

The controversy spread to other Zoroastrian inhabited towns. In 1782-83, during an argument in Broach, one Homaji Jamshedji kicked a pregnant woman in the stomach causing both extreme pain and a miscarriage as well. He was tried in court, convicted for murder, and sentenced to death. The controversy had now claimed the life of an unborn child and an adult Zoroastrian. Several other individuals involved in the mle were imprisoned and the Kadmis were fined Rs. 3,900.

The more numerous Shenshais were much the aggressors in the conflict, prohibiting their children from marrying Kadmis, provoking the Kadmis by feasting on the Kadmi fasting days and by calling the Kadmis such insults as 'churigar' (we do not know in what context the Shenshais used the word 'churigar', but we know that the churigar is a last name of some Zoroastrians, and also the name of a guild of glass-blowing craftsman, some of whom might have been Hindu untouchables). Dosabhai Karaka relates an incident that he witnessed when he was a young boy. One day he saw some Shenshai boys provoking a wandering bull by shouting "churigar" at it. The bull became enraged and charged down the street. The boys continued their provocation by chasing the enraged bull shouting, "The churigar is angry. The brute does not being liked called a churigar."

Karaka further informs us that as if the acts of Parsi-upon-Parsi violence were not tragic enough, Muslims were invited to the debates to provide 'expert' information. It is then that both sides to the conflict learnt that each was celebrating Nowruz on the wrong day. The right date celebrated in Iran from time immemorial was March 21. The Muslims were following the ancient Zoroastrian festival of Nowruz more faithfully than had been the Zoroastrians of whose heritage this festival was the most important! The Muslims must have left the meetings gleeful at the stupidity, ignorance and suicidal internecine conflict of the Zoroastrians. Perhaps, they even used the opportunity to stoke the dissension by setting one group against the other. Zoroastrians were thus responsible for adding insult to their own self-inflicted injury.

Of all possible reasons, this most inconsequential and erroneous of reasons is why Zoroastrians choose to divide themselves into groups. For a tiny community on the brink of extinction and so plagued by the oppression of Arabs and others, to then turn around and oppress its own members, is the opposite of wisdom to which Zoroastrians are supposed to aspire. Zoroastrians can be the judge if those who led this debate that escalated to acts of Zoroastrian upon Zoroastrian violence including the death of an unborn child, must relinquish all claims to inspired leadership - and instead bear the burden of a loss of one's farr, khvarenah or grace, indeed shame. The 'kabisa' controversy relives the tragedies that befell the Aryans because of their own internal dissentions, internal dissentions that left them vulnerable to external oppression.

To this day, Zoroastrians have failed to learn the lessons of history recounted in the Shahnameh and instead regrettably still mark disagreements between themselves with self-righteous anger and abuse. The principal lesson of the Shahnameh is that the Aryans have often been their own worst enemy, and the dictum from the story of Jamshid is that pride comes before a fall - pride that breeds self-righteousness, greed and arrogance. That transformation results in a person loosing herself or himself, and loosing the way of asha as well; a person who also does not know how to disagree without being disagreeable. The guiding principle that emerges from the Shahnameh's tales of glory and lament is that if one aspires to lead, one should become a servant first - a servant to the people - subverting the mindless pursuit of personal gain and fame in favour of the community's welfare. There is one later son of Surat who does exemplify this ideal. He leaves us with a happy side to Surat's legacy.

This great and enlightened Zoroastrian soul is the indomitable Maneckji Limji Hataria. Hataria was born at the village of Mora Sumali near Surat in 1813 CE. No Kadmi-Shenshai controversy prevented Hataria from devoting his life - indeed risking his life - for the amelioration of the sorry state of Iran's Zoroastrian population, a community faced with far greater troubles than a silly, inconsequential debate about calendars. Hataria inculcated the spirit that can make Zoroastrians a community truly based on the creed of good thoughts, words and deeds. He was a true leader with incredible compassion and foresight - an exemplar of the Zoroastrian spirit and a son of Surat. If only others can now follow his example.

Surat's Fire Temples & Dakhma

According to Prof. John Hinnells at Encyclopaedia Iranica, Surat was the first city in India to have more than one Atash Bahram or cathedral temple - the senior most of Zoroastrian temples. In 1819, the widow of D. N. Modi sought the Surat Anjuman's permission to establish an Atash Bahram. At the same time P. K. Vakil planned a Kadmi (Qadmi) Atash Bahram. As is typical of Parsi-Zoroastrian community enterprises, there was much debate. The Shenshais being in the majority, argued that they had priority and shamefully took the matter to court - for by this time the Zoroastrian concept of internal dispute resolution by a davar in consultation with a council of elders had long since been abandoned. The Supreme Court of Surat decreed that the widow Modi should have her building consecrated first to be followed by the consecration of Vakil's Atash Bahram. Some 20,000 people gathered to celebrate the installation of the fire and consecration of the Modi Atash Bahram on November 19, 1823. The Vakil Atash Behram was consecrated on December 5, 1823.

To honour the occasion of the consecration of the Modi Atash Bahram, the Surat government declared a public holiday, closing the courts, the Collector's office, treasury, and all factories. The community celebrated the occasion by holding a large communal feast. When the Vakil Atash Bahram was consecrated, priests and behdins from numerous Gujarat villages and Bombay congregated in Surat for a large communal feast as well. The precedence for the existence of more than one Atash Bahram in the city provided the impetus for the construction in Bombay of Atash Bahrams in addition to the Kadmi Dadiseth Atash Bahram that had been consecrated on September 29, 1783.

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Related Pages:

» Destruction of Sanjan, Gujarat, India

» Parsi Settlement. West Coast of India

» Parsi Settlement. Konkan & Thana

» Early Parsi History. Escape from Iran

» Early History of Mumbai's (Bombay's) Fire Temples