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Maneckji Limji Hataria's Vision for Iranian Zoroastrians
|Maneckji Limji Hataria (1813-1890 CE)|
» Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia.
» Maneckji Limji Hataria (1813-1890 CE).
» Maneckji Hataria's role in the reconstruction of Yazd's temples and towers of silence.
Education the Key to Advancement
Maneckji Limji Hataria (1813-1890 CE), was the representative of the Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia, a Bombay-based charitable society set up by the Parsees of India. Hataria was appointed to this position soon after the society's formation in 1854 CE. He set about his work immediately and since since the majority of Iranian Zoroastrians lived in the province of Yazd, he made Yazd his destination and arrived there on March 31, 1854. He was 41 years of age at that time. Upon arriving in Yazd, his first task was to determine the nature of the conditions in which the Zoroastrians of Iran were living and how best he could be of assistance using the funds at his disposal as well as his wits.
In trying to gauge how best to deploy the Society's funds over which he had discretion, Hataria recognized that while funds were needed to alleviate the immediate problems faced by Zoroastrians in Iran, the long-term needs of these Zoroastrians would best be served by providing them with a sound and relevant education - an education that would place them well in developing a dignified and prosperous future.
Within a year of his arrival in Yazd, Maneckji working through the community's akabir or elders, employed the funds to start - much to the chagrin and consternation of the local Muslims - primary schools based on the Parsi education model which by that time had become an amalgam of western and Parsi systems. Soon, schools had been started in Yazd and Kermans cities and villages. Hataria was determined to provide Zoroastrian youth with an education that would not just be as good as, but superior, to the education provided to the Muslim majority.
In 1865, he opened a small boarding school in Tehran, since he felt their was less prejudice against Zoroastrians in the Iranian capital. If obstacles from outside was not bad enough, Hataria faced resistance from parents who were understandably reluctant to send their children to Tehran. As an inducement, Hataria gave the families financial incentives. Worse still, some Zoroastrians were even jealous of him and campaigned against his efforts. He prevailed and the school was established. It became a focal point of a fledgling Zoroastrian community of Yazdis and Kermanis in Tehran.
Hataria's Report Regarding Yazd's Education Needs
In his report to the society, Maneckji wrote:
"Dear Sir; This noble group (the Zoroastrians of Iran) has suffered in the hands of cruel and evil people so much that they are totally alien to knowledge and science. For them even black and white , and good and evil are equal. Their men have been forcefully doing menial works in the construction and as slaves receive no payment. As some evil and immoral men have been looking after their women and daughters, this sector of Zoroastrian community even during daytime stays indoor. Despite all the poverty, heavy taxes under the pretexts of land, space, pasture land; inheritance and religious tax (Jizya) are imposed on them. The local rulers have been cruel to them and have plundered their possessions. They have forced the men to do the menial construction work for them. Vagrants have kidnapped their women and daughters. Worse than all, community is disunited. Their only hope is the advent of future saviour (Shah Bahram Varjavand). Because of extreme misery, belief in the saviour is so strong that 35 years earlier when an astrologer forecasted the birth of the saviour, many men in his search left the town and were lost in the desert and never returned. I found the Zoroastrians to be exhausted and trampled, so much that even no one in the world can be more miserable than them."
In his book, Travels in Iran, A Parsi Mission to Iran (1865) at Fravahr.org, Hataria wrote (while Hataria often frames his recommendations in the third person, we can safely assume many of the recommendations he notes were his own):
"The inhabitants of Kerman and Yard are mostly Zoroastrians and they have suffered much at the hands of the Arabs and Muslims. Their population appears to be dwindling. When the Arabs got their sway over Iran, the Zoroastrians were slaughtered mercilessly, their houses were burnt down and they were robbed of their valuables and other belongings. Rape, arson, fire, house-breaking and all other possible crimes were perpetrated by the Muslims. There was unspeakable cruelty. One can well imagine their sorry plight; yet we have been able to preserve our ancient religion of Zoroaster, and the Muslims have not been able to prevail upon us.
"Hardly two to three percent of the Zoroastrians of Iran are in a somewhat better state than the rest. A majority live in misery and poverty in mountain caves and forests for fear of Arab tyranny and having known only broken Dari language they were unable to carry on trade and communication with people of other parts of Iran. Most of them were farmers and it was not difficult to realize their sorry plight as they worked in the winter without sufficient clothes."
State of Zoroastrian Education
"After the Arab occupation, education had suffered. The Arabs were semi-barbaric tribes who had no culture of their own and did not know the value of education. Old madressas, teaching Avesta, Pahlavi and Persian, were destroyed by the invaders. Consequently the Zoroastrians who remained in Iran had no scope for education; their children could not learn Avesta or Pahlavi and Persian languages and consequently their religious knowledge was wanting. They were forced to learn Arabic instead.
"Consequently, the Zoroastrian children of Iran remained uncultured and uneducated and, being uneducated, they became aggressive. It is, therefore, necessary to provide some education - I mean useful education - to the children. Languages like Avesta, Pahlavi and Persian need to be revived.
"For want of education, many evil customs entered into the community. Zoroastrians were forced to embrace Islam, girls were forced to marry Arabs and Muslims and so on. Many Zarthushti girls remained unmarried through life either due to poverty or some other reasons. Zoroastrians took to vices and led an evil life in keeping with the customs of the wild Arabs.
Even in India today, it is quite necessary for Zoroastrian children to learn Persian and Avesta in order to acquire perfect knowledge of religion. It is foolish to abandon our own language (Persian) and culture and adopt those of others.
"Some provision must be made to provide suitable education to the remaining Zoroastrians of Iran: they must be taught some art so that they can come out of their captivity and earn a decent living for the betterment of their families."
Benefits of Education - the Russian Experience
"Let us take the example of Russia. There were no schools in Russia in the past yet education was imparted to the children in different ways and young men were prepared for army, navy, technology, theology, etc. Later they found that they could get efficient men for certain jobs. Then schools were started and Russia took a great stride in education. In other countries of the West, all over the continent of Europe, very useful and job disposed persons and it was found that they were really educated and useful members of the community. When schools were established in Russia, it was found that not a child in the whole country remained illiterate. Education was sound and useful. Everyone learnt a means of livelihood and there was no unemployment. Iran wanted to follow the example of Russia. It was strongly recommended to start a boarding school in Iran for the benefit of the Zoroastrian children. Scholars of the western countries were also consulted in this matter and they all approved the idea."
Tehran Boarding School
"There a recommendation has been made to start a boarding school in Tehran for Zoroastrian children residing in Tehran, Yazd and Kerman. This was supposed to be the only way to inculcate Zoroastrian children in religious matters. A study of Avesta and religious rituals was also recommended so that the Zoroastrian children may not be attracted towards Islam but would follow with zeal the religion taught to us by our prophet.
"A building was donated by a Zoroastrian of Tehran to house the proposed boarding school. On October 30, 1860, a petition was sent to the Parsi Anjuman of Bombay wherein the proposal for a boarding school in Tehran was put. The petition dated October 7, 1860, written and signed by the donor of the above-said building, runs:
" 'I declare that I am a Zoroastrian inhabitant of Tehran and the house that I propose to donate for housing the proposed orphanage has been purchased by me from a Muslim lady Imam Murteja for 1,000 tomans. I donate this building and the ground on which it stands to the orphanage with my own free will and accord, under the following conditions:
" 'Myself and my son and successor will live in this house so long as it is not used for the orphanage and we will pay three tomans per month to the Parsi Anjuman.
"As there has been a need for starting a Zoroastrian boarding school in Tehran, the same building can be used for that purpose and the organizers/owners of the said orphanage should pay to the Parsi Anjuman a rental of three tomans per month, which amount would be used by the Anjuman for the maintenance of the orphanage.
" 'So long as the house is not used for the orphanage, it could be used by Zoroastrians even as a godown for storing food grains and the utilisers must pay to the Anjuman a rental of three tomans per month.
" 'I have been using this house at present but in my will I shall direct that the whole property together with the plot of land be handed over to the Anjuman after my life-time. And if the house is rented, the rental should be 150 tomans per annum.'
"The author visited Baghdad for some urgent work and from there he sent a copy of the above document to Bombay to Seth Merwanji Framji Panday. Seth Merwanji Panday forwarded the same immediately to Seth Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney, but unfortunately Seth Readymoney did not pay heed to it and the orphanage did not materialize for some time.
"The author (Hataria) came back to Bombay and on March 1, 1864 he contacted the people concerned including Seth Cowasjee Jehangir. He expressed his great desire to set up an orphanage at Tehran and appealed to the philanthropists here for necessary help and donations. It was not possible for him to go to Iran immediately; so the matter was prolonged.
"On November 16, 1864, a meeting was held in Bombay by the Parsis to finalize the venue and other details about the boarding school to be established in Iran. They had to decide where the school should be set up, what subjects to be taught, how to impart religious education, etc.
"The necessary fund was created by the Parsis of Bombay for the purpose of improving the conditions of the Zoroastrians in Iran wherein the greatest contribution was made by Seth Maneck Noshirwanji Petit. Then Seth Bomanji Framji Cama donated Rs. 5,000 in sacred memory of his late daughter. This amount was specifically to be used for the construction of the proposed orphanage. The work was started and was carried on with zeal and enthusiasm.
"Considering all this, it was decided to start a boarding school so that the Zoroastrian children of Kerman, Yazd, Tehran and other provinces of Iran could live together and learn their own scriptures. Thirty-six Zoroastrian orphans were collected from different villages in Iran. Some of them were nourished and education was given to them by charitably.
"A boarding school was established in the capital city of Tehran and Zoroastrian children between the ages of 10 and 15 were admitted from neighbouring towns and villages. The timetable of the school functioned as under:
" 'Of the 24 hours of the day, nine hours were kept for sleep. Of the remaining 15 hours, specified times was allotted to various activities, including education, religious instruction, gymnastics, rest, games, etc.
" 'After getting up early in the morning, boys were required to take a bath and then say their prayers. Then there was time 'we must weep over this Anjuman which does not listen to our complaint' enough for breakfast and tea. The regular work of the school starts afterwards. Books printed in Persian only are used; and Persian is the medium of instruction. Boys are taught to put into practice what they learn in books. Much attention is paid to handwriting. There is fixed time in the evening for games and recreation so that boys can become fresh after the whole day's work.
" 'There are special classes for science and mathematics. Besides, boys are taught arts and crafts like carpentry, smithy, cane work, masonry, mechanics, etc. The aptitudes of the students are found out by special tests and boys are given training to develop their abilities so that they can become useful citizens and stand on their own feet. The education imparted in the school is job-oriented.
" 'Every month, Hormuzd roz, Khorsheed roz and Ram roz are days when the regular timetable does not apply. Instead, the boys do work like washing, cleaning, ironing clothes, etc.
" 'A register showing the record of work of each student is maintained.' "
The Tehran boarding school was opened in 1865 and was to be the forerunner of other Zoroastrian residential schools and orphanages supported by the Parsi Zoroastrians of India, one such being the Pestonji Marker schools and orphanages of Yazd.
Also see: Maneckji Hataria's role in the reconstruction of Yazd's temples and towers of silence.
First Yazd Girls' School
The educational of girls was not permitted by the Muslim clergy of Iran and it was against this current that Arbab Kay Khosrow Shah-Jahan built and opened on January 8 1909, one of Iran's first girls' schools, the Zoroastrian girl's school in Yazd. We also understand that around the same time, Sohrab Kayanian, head of Yazd's Zoroastrian Anjuman, was also involved with the establishment of a girls' school in Yazd, and we have yet to confirm if this was the same as Kay Khosrow Shah-Jahan's school or a second school.
Pestonji (Peshotan) Dossabhai Marker (1871-1965 CE)
|Pestonji (Peshotan) Marker|
The Yazd schools and orphanages of Markarabad were founded and funded by Pestonji Dossabhai Marker.
A quiet, self-effacing man, Pestonji Marker was born in India in 1871 and educated at Bombay's Elphinstone College. He started his career working in a solicitor's office and soon started his own business. His life's work however, would be determined not by his career but by his community service in general and community education in particular. He put the income of his business to establish a school in the Parsi Gujerati village of Vesu. In addition, he financed the upkeep of wells and water storage tanks. He also provided funds for a medical clinician to attend to the community's health needs.
Pestonji also became interested in the work of Maneckji Hataria and the deplorable plight of the persecuted Zoroastrians of Irani. Gathering further information, he realized that the situation there needed extraordinary intervention. Marker shared Hataria's opinion that providing a sound and practical education was the best hope for alleviating the plight of the Iranian Zoroastrians, and he decided to establish two funds for the establishment of Zoroastrian boys' and girls' schools and attached orphanages in Yazd. In April 23, 1923, Marker established the fund for a boy's orphanage with a personal contribution Rs. 50,000. Six other Parsees added an additional Rs.34,500 to the fund. On June 1, 1929, he established the fund for a girl's orphanage with a contribution of Rs. 100,000. The schools would be high schools and would include religious classes as well as skills training in crafts. While we in this page, will pay particular interest to his educational charities, Parker's other philanthropies included religious scholarships, religious texts, Darbe Mehrs, hospitals and clinic.
Pestonji Marker made several trips to Iran to put his plan of the construction of the schools and orphanages into action. He also took the time to visit landmarks of particular interest to Zoroastrians. One such landmark was Persepolis, where he conducted a jashan ceremony.
Marker was well loved by the Zoroastrians of Iran and held him in the highest regard. When the local Zoroastrian populations of Yazd, Isfahan, Kerman and heard he would be visiting them, they would send welcome parties to greet him miles out of town and then escort him back. On one instance, the students of the Yazd orphanage set out to meet him seventy kilometres from Yazd. There they garlanded him and escorted him for a tour of the city in a manner befitting visiting royalty. was taken around the city in a huge procession. On several occasions he was received by Ardeshir Edulji Reporter, a fellow Parsi.
Indeed, the government of Reza Shah recognized his extraordinary community service with the insignias of the Neshan-e Elmi and Neshan-e Sepas in 1949. Later, on his return to Bombay, he received the Neshan-e Humayun. In the centre of Yazd, outside the Markarabad High School, the municipal government constructed a large traffic circle with a garden and clock dedicated to Marker.
While Marker was setting up his schools and orphanages, he befriended Arbab Kai Khosrow Shahrokh, then the first Zoroastrian Member of Parliament, the Majlis. Marker also got to know Mirza Soroush Lohrasp, then principal of the Dinyari High School in Yazd. Together, the three would work without respite to realize the Marker's vision. We introduce Kai Khosrow Shahrokh and Soroush Lohrasp to the reader below.
Kai Khosrow Shahrokh
Kai Khosrow Shahrokh was the first Zoroastrian deputy to the Iranian parliament, or Majlis, established in 1906 CE, a position he held for thirteen sessions of the Majlis. In his childhood, Shahrokh, born to a Kermani family, had been sent by Maneckji Hataria to school in Bombay. There he was deeply impressed by the advancements made by the Parsees in matters of religion, education, governance, and commerce. He resolved on his return, to strive for improvement in the standing and quality of life for Zoroastrians of Iran. [Note: Kai Khosrow is also spelt Kaikhosrow and Kaykhosrow]
Shahrokh was particularly impressed by the Zarthosti Fasili (Fasli) Sal Mandal, or the Zoroastrian Seasonal-Year Society, founded by a Bombay priest, Khurshedji Cama. The Mandal was constituted to develop a corrected Zoroastrian calendar based on traditional precepts. He convinced Sohrab Kayanian of Yazd and Soroush Soroushian, head of Kerman's Zoroastrian Anjuman (Society), to promote the Fasli calendar in Iran. Working together, they had the Zoroastrian community in Iran adopted the new calendar in 1939, calling it the Bastani (traditional) calendar. Orthodox Iranian Zoroastrians continued to observe the Qadimi (old) calendar and they do till this day.
Upon his return, Shahrokh wrote two books, Ayin-e Mazdesnan and Furugh-e Mazdesnan which reflected progressive ideas on Zoroastrianism that he had acquired while in India.
Kai Khosrow Shahrokh was instrumental in the appointment of Mirza Soroush Lohrasp as principal of the Dinyari High School in Yazd. Mirza Soroush would soon become the foremost Zoroastrian educator of his time.
Mirza Soroush Lohrasp (1906-1997 CE)
|Mirza Soroush Lohrasp|
Mirza Soroush Lohrasp was an educator and administrator and was responsible in large part for enabling the education goals of Maneckji Limji Hataria and Pestonji Marker reaching fruition in Yazd, Iran. The title Mirza is given to senior educators.
Mirza Soroush Lohrasp (sometimes spelt Sarosh Lohrasb) was born to Tirandaz and Gouhar in 1906 CE (1274 YZ), who had their home in Tehran's Jamshidabad district. Mirza Soroush pursued his education at Tehran's Alborz College.
While we do not have a date, we assume that sometime in the 1920 or 30s, the Soroush Lohrasp was asked, on the recommendation of Arbab Kaikhusraw Shahrokh, the then Zoroastrian Member of Iranian Parliament, to become principal of the Dinyari High School in Yazd on the retirement of the incumbent. [The two previous principals had been Mirza Sohrab Safrang and Mirza Kaikhusrau Kiamanesh.] Mirza Soroush moved from Tehran to Yazd to assume his duties and what was to become an illustrious career that would span some thirty momentous years.
It wasn't long before Mirza Soroush came to the attention of Pestonji Marker who was then seeking to start his orphanages and boarding (high) schools in Yazd. Impressed with Mirza Soroush's leadership skills, Marker asked Mirza Soroush to become director of his project as well as the fourteen Zoroastrian schools that had been established in Yazd by Parsi / Indian Zoroastrian charities and the efforts of Maneckji Hataria. With the energy, dedication and insight and that Mirza Soroush brought to his position, he became far more than an administrator of schools. He became a community leader and sociologist as well.
[Mirza Soroush's successor as principal of the Dinyari School was Mirza Shahriyar.]
This author had the privilege of knowing Mirza Soroush, and had on occasion accompanied the latter when he visited some of his former students in Tehran, students who by that time held senior positions in commerce and government, becoming community leaders in their own right. It was at that time that this author also had the privilege of meeting Parvin, nee Aga (of Bombay), Mirza Soroush's gracious and noble wife. If angels live amongst us, Parvin and Soroush Lohrasp surely qualify.
With his position as director came the authority over the donated funds. Under Mirza Soroush's stewardship, the funds did not get depleted in expenses. Rather, they grew through judicious investments primarily in land. Today, the large property of the Markerabad schools is one of the most prized pieces of property in the heart of Yazd.
|Markerabad lands and schools|
We understand that some of the lands were appropriated by the municipal government of Yazd, who gave as compensation a large tract of land on the eastern perimeter of the city - lands that are now called the Markerabad Gardens.
|Marker Park Satellite Image|
|Marker Park. Flower beds, path and centre square in background. Image credit: Oshihan|
The administrative and financial stability that Mirza Soroush brought to the fourteen schools, enabled them to employ trained and competent teachers. The Markerabad schools soon became renowned for the quality of education they delivered - a quality that was comparable to education delivered by good schools anywhere in the world.
The Markerabad schools offered a complete education up to high school graduation. Given that Marker and Mirza Soroush desired to make quality education available not just to the residents of Yazd city, but to the children of the Zoroastrian villages as well as orphans and other disadvantaged children, the schools offered attached dormitory residence as well. In this manner, quality education was made available to every Zoroastrian child. In addition, to a regular school curriculum, the schools also offered vocational training in mechanics, carpentry and construction.
We understand that at one stage Mirza Soroush was asked to intervene in a labour-management dispute at the Zoroastrian-owned Darakhshan Manufacturing Plant in Yazd. The dissatisfied workers had chased out the manager and had occupied the plant. Mirza Soroush entered the plant on a bicycle and engaged the agitated and angry workers in a dialogue. Reasoning with the workers as to what was in the best interests of all, he reached an agreement with them and brought the dispute to an amicable end followed by the resumption of work and production.
While the school itself is a standing and enduring testament to the legacy of Pestonji Marker's generous community spirit, Mirza Soroush obtained permission for, and supervised the construction of the Marker traffic circle with gardens and a clock tower called the Midaneh Sa'at Markar or the Marker Clock Plaza. The plaza is situated on the road to Kerman just north of the Markerabad school entrance. The permissions from the municipality did not come by easily.
|Midaneh Sa'at Markar/Marker Clock Plaza|
In order to establish a foothold in the capital Tehran, Mirza Soroush sold some of the Markerabad lands and used the funds to purchase land in the eastern suburb of Tehran Pars, lands that were originally developed by the Tafti and Aresh families and then by Arbab Rustam Guiv. These lands were used for community housing and facilities. His decisions were not always well understood or appreciated by newcomers to the boards of the charitable organizations in India that still had an interest in the Yazd schools and properties. But eventually, the wisdom of Mirza Soroush's decisions became apparent. When at the age of ninety one, the always humble and self-effacing Mirza Soroush passed away, he could take pride that his accomplishments and community service were second to none, and that the community owes him a depth of gratitude that words cannot adequately express.
Zoroastrian Arts and Crafts Schools in Yazd
There are two Zoroastrian traditional arts schools in Mahale-ye Yazd district of Yazd city: the Vohuman and Pourchista / Pouruchista schools. These schools offer classes in a variety of visual and performing arts with an emphasis in preserving Zoroastrian heritage.
Vohuman's students include both girls and boys ranging from five to eighteen years in age. The classes offered include naqashi (drawing), papier maché, calligraphy, carpet weaving, koshti-making (koshtis or kustis are the cords that Zoroastrians wear around their waist during and after their initiation ceremony), and musical instruction in traditional Persian instruments such as the tombak (a type of drum). The school's official policy is that these classes be conducted in Dari, the traditional language of Yazdi Zoroastrians.
Pourchista / Pouruchista, is housed a newly built, custom-built structure located few blocks from the old city center. With ten teachers and an enrolment of about 500 students, mostly young females, it is the larger of the two schools. The school was founded during the severe recession that gripped Yazd during the turn of the century, with the objective of occupying Zoroastrian youth who would otherwise be idle whilst providing them with marketable skills. The funds for the schools construction and initial operation were donated by a group of Zoroastrian philanthropists residing in the United Kingdom. The items produced at the schools are sold and the proceeds go towards the paying for the schools expenses.
The courses offered at Pourchista / Pouruchista include koshti-weaving, tailoring (specifically, traditional Zoroastrian wedding attire of green silk), mojjassameh-sazi (decorative clay or ceramic figurine-making), make-up, sewing, and cooking. The cooking classes are conducted in a fully equipped kitchen. As at Vohuman, the school's many classes provide a context of total or partial Dari immersion.
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