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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee



Early Parsi History

Qissa-e Sanjan

Page 1. Escape from Iran

Last Stands & Flight from Iran

Introduction to the Qissa-e Sanjan

The Three Tragic Cycles

Beginnings of the Parsi Epoch

Journey from Iran


City of Hormuz & Astrology

Sailing to Hind (India)

Landing at Div (Diu?) & Astrology

Sailing to Sanjan & Storm at Sea

Early Travellers' Accounts

Mandelslo (1616-1644 CE)

Ogilby (1600 - 1676 CE)

Henry Lord (1620 CE)

Sir Thomas Herbert (1606-1682 CE)

C. Dellon (1667 CE)

Captain A. Hamilton (1716 CE)

Analysis of the Accounts

Page 2. Landing & Settlement at Sanjan

Sanjan Description

Landing at Sanjan

Settlement at Sanjan - Second Home

Proposed Dates for the Sanjan Landing

Sanjan Port

Sanjan Dakhma

Sanjan Excavations

Early Sanjan Zoroastrians Were Traders

Atash Behram Preparation

Tools from Khorasan. The First Mention of Khorasan

Development of Industry

Installation of the Iranshah Fire

Lament - Lack of Orthodoxy in 16th & 17th Century India

Dispersal of Zoroastrians

Page 3. Destruction of Sanjan

End of the Age of Peace. Muslim Assault on Sanjan

Triumph of Ardeshir

Alaf's Victory & Sanjan's Destruction

Flight to Bahrot

Refuge in Bansda

Changashah the Benefactor


Bringing the Atash Behram to Navsari

Page 3: Destruction of Sanjan

Associated reading:

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

» Zoroastrian Places of Worship - Atash Bahrams

» Limji Hataria in Iran

» Limji Hataria & Pestonji Marker in Iran

» Khorasan Kuhistan Region

» Parthava (Parthia) Region

» Hormozgan Region

End of the Age of Peace. Muslim Assault on Sanjan

Qissa couplet line 246. Five hundred years had passed in Hind when the Muslims came to Chapaner*.
[Note: *In 1206, Muslim rule was established in Delhi and the new Sultanate quickly began to spread its influence and control. The Qissa's author Bahman Kaikobad, appears to have confused two events involving Muslim armies, one five hundred years after the Zoroastrian-Parsi landing at Sanjan i.e. in the 1,200s and the other seven hundred years after the landing, i.e. in the 1,400s. We place line 246 here to maintain the chronological order of the two events.]

241. In this manner, seven hundred years went by and many of their descendants had lived in that town.
When several years passed over, the heavens became filled with misfortune,
The world suddenly became distressing for them and Time (destiny) resolved to take their lives.

247. A king ascended to the throne. He was called Sultan Mahmud**
He was known to his subjects as the 'shadow of God'.
After some years, he came to know of the Raja of Sanjan.
[Note: **In the mid fifteenth century, Sultan Mahmud Begada (r. 1458-1511 CE) ascended to the throne of Gujarat Sultanate. Alternatively, according to Kamerkar and Dhunjisha (2002) the Qissa's 'Sultan Mahmud' was Nasiruddin Mahmud Tughlaq and the assault on Sanjan took place in 1399 ACE.]

250. One day, the king's vazir (prime minister) went to Alaf (Ulugh?) Khan (a general?) with an order from the victorious king,
That he should march on Sanjan with speed and take possession of it.
Thus ordered by Sultan Mahmud, he rushed from his dwelling like smoke.
He readied his troops and unfurled his eagle (banner).
Marching with his army, he arrived at prosperous Sanjan.

255. The Hindu Raja received news that the advancing troops had been assembled from all quarters.
A host of thirty thousand horsemen, each with two mounts, all good warriors and famous heroes.
On hearing the news the raja lost consciousness and regained his senses in an hour.
Thereupon he summoned all mobeds, herbads and behdins.
The good king enquired of them, "My faithful, what measures do you propose we adopt?"

260. "My ancestors have extended their patronage to you and bestowed many favours.
In this hour of need, gird up your loins in my service and take the lead in battle.
If you acknowledge the obligations you owe my forbears, do not fail to raise your heads in gratitude."
The old mobed answered, "O Raja, do not weigh your heart with news of the approaching host.
As long as each one of us is alive, we will scatter the heads of a hundred thousand foes."

265. "Such is our tradition in battle, that as long as we are alive, we are of this worth,
That not a single one from among us will turn his back even if a grinding stone were to be held to his head."
The raja upon hearing the response gave each a robe of honour
In those days there were several fit to fight young and old behdins
When a count was taken, one thousand four hundred entered the rolls.***
[Note: *** This is our first idea of the remaining population of Sanjan and most likely surrounding towns.]

270. With speed, they saddled their horse and at the beat of the drum mounted their steeds.
Arrayed on the battlefield, they lined themselves with the raja and his forces.
The first light broke the darkness of night while the stars descended into this of the cave.
Alaf Khan prepared himself for battle with the forces of the Raja.
He and his horsemen donned their armour and approached the battlefield.

275. Jewelled saddles were placed on their chargers. Banners were raised on the back of their elephants.
The horses were harnessed and earth was filled with the sight of elephants.
The commanders lined up the forces in battle formation and weapons were drawn.
When the battlefield was filled with the armies at ready, the brazen trumpets were sounded,
The armies of Islam on one side and those of the Hindu raja on the other.

280. Day and night they battled and constantly at the gallop, the horses grew weary.
The two commanders fought like two water-dragons locked in a struggle with the fury of tigers.
The earth darkened from the clouds of swords, spears and arrows that came raining down.
The bodies of the slain from both sides began to pile in heaps.
There was none to heed their moans and calls for aid, for such was the decree of providence.

285. So many had fallen in battle, that nary a man could be seen standing
Suddenly, the Hindus took flight and no one could be recognized in the battlefield.
A behdin called to his comrades, "I cannot see any of our Hindu allies either to the front or to the rear
The Hindus have fled the battle, and no one save ourselves remain to do battle.
Now, dear friend, in this hour of combat we must battle like lions."

In 1297, the Muslim Sultan Allaudin Khilji launched a campaign under the command of Altaf Khan to conquer and subjugate Gujarat then ruled by King Karan Vaghela, (a possible descendant of King Jadav Rana). The Muslim armies destroyed the wealthy port of Khambat (Cambay) and pillaged the other towns and cities. Their killing of the civilian population was wonton and indiscriminate. The hated jizya tax was imposed on non-Muslims and unless non-Muslims consented to conversion, their lives became one of servitude and existence just to pay the tax.

Towards the late 14th century CE, the Muslim Sultanate started to break up after being being defeated by Timur Leng. Where possible, Hindus reasserted their independence and in places established local Hindu kingdoms. At the start of the fifteenth century, a Hindu king ruled over Godavra of which the village of Variav was a part. In a twist of history, the Hindu king imposed a heavy tax on the Parsees of Variav and when, by one account, they refused to pay, he slaughtered them all - men, women and children. But in other areas of Gujarat, the Parsees managed to live peaceably under whoever was the current ruler in their area.

Triumph of Ardeshir

Qissa couplet line 290. "If we attack as a body, we will draw the enemy's blood with sword and spear.
The first among the behdins to step forward was Ardeshir by name.
Seizing the moment the famed Ardeshir spurred his horse forward
Leaping in the air they landed within the ranks spear in hand
Dismounting, he stood upright clad in armour, spear in one hand, sword tied to the other.

295. At first, arrows raining from all sides tore through their armour
The world illuminating sun was hidden and no one could tell if it was night or day.
Then face of the sun was hidden by dust as man fell upon man
You might say the earth was covered with black tar in which arrow-heads glistened like diamonds.
From the thousands of spearmen and mace-bearers only a few remained standing

300. While the sky grew dark and gloomy, the soil, drenched with the blood of chiefs, grew red as a tulip.
For blood gushed from their bodies like a fountain, their shields were torn to shreds by the blade of the sword.
Men's armour entombed them from head to foot and every minute they became the guests of death.
The shafts of the arrows kept on flying in all directions and blood kept spilling on to the black earth.
Spears were buried into breast and blossom and blood oozed from the coats of mail.

307. For three days and nights the battle waged till at last there was no strength left in hand or leg.
309. The might of Islam had at last been stopped in that battle with the Hindu king.

310. In the dark of night Alaf Khan fled abandoning tent and equipment.
Confused, his whole army fled from Ardeshir,
Many of the enemy became his prisoner and he finally stood victorious.
All their tents, equipment and possessions became Ardeshir's prize
The next morning, the sun rose above the hills and it brightened the world once more.

Alaf's Victory & Sanjan's Destruction

Qissa couplet line 316-319. While the Hindu trumpets sounded the news of victory, Alaf prepared to do battle for a second time.
And on hearing the sounds of the drums of war Ardeshir rushed to the Hindu raja.

320. To the raja he said, "They have a hundred to our one."
The following couplets recount another bloody battle, with the Muslim hordes prevailing. Both Ardeshir and the Hindu raja were killed and Muslim armies destroyed Sanjan in every direction.

[Note: A possible date of the sack of Sanjan is 1465 CE (cf. The landing of the Zoroastrians at Sanjan by Rukshana Nanji and Homi Dhalla in Parsis in India and the Diaspora pp. 35–58 edited by John R. Hinnells & Alan Williams).]

Gujarat (India) towns where Parsees settled. Image credit: Base map courtesy Microsoft Encarta. Additions copyright K. E. Eduljee
Gujarat (India) towns where Parsees settled
Image credit: Base map courtesy Microsoft Encarta. Additions copyright K. E. Eduljee

Flight to Bahrot

Qissa couplet line 357. The behdins were now dispersed. There is a hill in Hind called Bahrot.
Many fled to it to save their lives. Man has no recourse against the decrees of God.
They had carried their Iranshah with them and twelve years passed there.

[Note: The Parsis hid in caves in Barhot hill. The 1,500 foot high hill is some twenty kilometres south of Sanjan, presently in Maharashtra near Bordi. The hill is reached via Gholvad town, which is about 12 km north of Dahanu station, and then a further 15-20 minute drive to Ashagadh Dam. The hill and its caves are accessed by a trek from the dam.]

Tour and Plight of the Bahrot Cave

Refuge in Bansda

Qissa couplet line 360. Then as heaven decreed, they all gathered together all families and relations.
Taking the Atash Behram with them, they arrived at Bansda.
When news of their arrival reached the town of Bansda, every one out to greet them with kindness
Three hundred men on horse and people of note when ahead to escort them
With a hundred marks of respect, they were brought into the town. It was like a sick person finds relief from poison.

365. From then on, Bansda flourished as if spring had arrived and in this manner time passed
From every clime where the pure religion existed, people of behdin descent
Old men as well as women, all came to pay homage to the Iranshah
Just as they had done in earlier times when they made an unequalled pilgrimage to Sanjan
so also now did did Parsees from various places come to Bansda carrying offerings.
Fourteen years passed in this ways while the celestial spheres revolved favourably for them.

[Note: Boyce (Zoroastrians p. 171) states that Bansda is some eighty kilometres inland (East) of Sanjan. Bansda is also spelt Vansda. There is another town called Vansada and sometimes spelt Vansda which is 80 km (50 km as the crow flies) north-east of Valsad or some 42 km (as the crow flies) east of Bilimora.]

Changashah / Changa Asa the Benefactor (1450 to 1512)

Qissa couplet line 372. A behdin appeared who had no equal in his time.
Known in his time for his devotion to the preserving the religion many good signs came from him
He was a dahyovad, leader, and his name was Changa, son of Asa and he always provided aid and solace to behdins.

375. That good natured man did not allow the faith to be neglected
Whoever had no kusti or sudreh, he provided them with these from his own pocket.
He made many arrangements for the faith. No suffering person who came to him
Did he not provide relief or console his heart.
In those days, many behdins became devoted to the faith through his good fortune.

380. My tongue is unable to describe this behdin who served the religion so well
One year that man of noble birth went to the Atash Kadeh, the fire temple, to fulfil a resolution
It was during the Jashan-e Sadeh, and the Atash Kadeh was at Bansda*
the Jashan-e Sadeh fell on Roz Adar, Mah Adar. Oh brother,
The devout and enlightened davar, upholder of justice, was accompanied by several behdins and dasturs
[Note: * According to what we read elsewhere, the Bansda Atash Kadeh housed in the Sanjan Atash Behram fire at that time.]

385. When they came before the fire, they all prostrated themselves, and then worshipped
They were filled with pleasure and pride
They took the road home with joy and gladness.
After two or three months of that year had passed, the benefactor took an idea to heart
He summoned an anjoman (community meeting) to be assembled and led a discussion about the Atash Kadeh.

Changashah / Changa Asa (sometimes also called Changa Asha), is said to have been the first Zoroastrian desai*, or large agricultural land owner (Pallonji Barjorji Desai, History of the Naosari Desais, Bombay 1887). Changa Asa was known for his piety and was a davar or community leader. [*The desaigiri was an feudal appointment of the Muslim court in Delhi and the position carried with it the responsibility of tax collection on behalf of the rulers. Changa Asa was given the desaigiri of the mahal of Navsari and the pargana of Parchol (mahal and pargana are like a borough). According to the Bombay Gazetteer, Vol. 7, when Achaga Asa's heir could not fulfil the responsibilities of the position, the office was conferred on Dastur Kaikobadji Meherji Rana.]


Changashah / Changa Asa persuaded the Zoroastrians of Navsari to send a representative to Yazd to clarify questions they had on practices and observances (in the seven hundred years since their landing in Sanjan, the Parsees had forgotten many practices). However, such a journey would be filled with peril for any Zoroastrian entering Iran. One brave soul, Nariman Hoshang undertook the task and sailed from Broach to the Persian shores whereupon he journeyed inland to Yazd and eventually met the Dasturan Dastur at Turkabad. While Nariman was warmly welcomed by the high priest of Yazd, little information of substance was exchanged between them since neither could speak the other's language. Undeterred, the indomitable Nariman decided to learn the vernacular, a task that took him a year before he had attained the proficiency required to communicate with the high priest. During this time, Nariman supported himself as a small merchant. When he had accomplished his mission, he returned to Navsari in 1478 CE carrying a lengthy letter, the first of the rivayats and two manuscripts written in Pazend for 'the priests, leaders and chief men of Hindustan' by two Sharifabadi priests.

Thereafter, for the next two hundred years, others Parsees followed in Nariman's footsteps, travelling to Iran at considerable risk to themselves. The Parsees of Navsari diligently collected and preserved all the rivayats and manuscripts they received from their Iranian coreligionists.

These documents from this period inform us that both the Parsi and Iranian communities shared a desire for orthodoxy and uniformity with the Parsees bringing their rites into line with the Iranian practice. These included the Nirangdin ceremony, the purity rites including the bareshnum, the method of consecrating a fire, temple and dakhma, preparation of the hom and using the barsom. The Yazdis also sent the Parsees ephedra (hom plant) twigs back with the Parsi envoys and at every other opportunity.

Mary Boyce on page 174 of her Zoroastrians informs us that one of the questions and its answer, according to B. N. Dhabhar, in p.276 of The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz and Others (Bombay 1932), was whether they should allow into their fold their Hindu servants who wished to enter the religion. The Iranis replied that while it was preferable for Zoroastrians to be of Iranian blood, "if servant boys and girls have faith in the Good Religion, then it is proper that they should tie the kusti, and when they become instructed, attentive to religion, and steadfast, the bareshnum should be administered to them."

In the very first of the letters the Yazdis sent back with Nariman, the Yazdis noted with sadness that at no time since Gayomard at the dawn of Aryan history had times been more distressing and dangerous for behdins than during the present "millennium of the demon of wrath" (Mary Boyce in Zoroastrians p. 175 quoting Dhabhar p. 598). Some residents of Yazd were fugitives from the Safavid kings who made Shia Islam the official religion of Iran. Abbas II (1642-67 CE) expropriated Zoroastrian land around Isfahan and the last of the Safavids, the butcher Sultan Husain or Hosain (1694-1722 CE), issued a decree for the forced conversions of Zoroastrians to Shia Islam at the point of the sword the sword. A Christian archbishop witnessed the destruction of a Zoroastrian temple and the massacre of those Zoroastrians who refused to convert. The slaughter of Zoroastrians turned the river red with blood.

Bringing the Atash Behram to Navsari

Qissa couplet line 390. "I yearn that the King of Kings here (Navsari). Oh well-wishers,
If we look at the face of the king everyday, we will gain great merit
In addition, we have to endure great hardship making the journey every year
For in that month it rains heavily and the going is difficult
What can be better, O friends, than proceeding to Bansda with some men of distinction."

395. "And bring back the glorious Atash Behram so that we can behold it daily?
Our means of livelihood will be enhanced and the hearts of our behdins will be filled with light."
All rejoiced on hearing his words as they would longer suffer the ordeal of travelling to Bansda.
With a hundred marks of reverence they brought over the fire and gave it in a fine home.
Three behdins were assigned as attendants at all times.

400. Night and day worship was celebrated by the one associate at the appointed geh (watch)
One of them was (Dastur) Nagan Ram*, piety was his constant work;
The second dastur was named Khursheed, and his father was Kayam-ud-din who was in eternity;
The third was Dastur Chiayyian (Janian), son of Saer, and who was also always in its service.
Their families and kindred were with them and all of them attended the Iranshah.
[Note: * According to Hodivala, the Qissa's author, Bahman Kaikobad "himself was a lineal descendant of this Nagan Ram, the pedigree being Bahman, Kaikobad, Hamjiar, Padam, Kaman, Narsang, Nagan, Ram."]

405. They were received with great respect and greatest and were treated with honour
These three Dasturs had arrived at Navsari, with their relatives, after a long journey.
In those days, that pious dawar befriended these priests of the Iranshah.
May his servant's homage reach him from this world. May his abode be among the celestial beings.

And so ends our exposition of the Qissa-e Sanjan.

As we had noted in our previous page, Kamdin Zarthosht was the first priest to arrive in Navsari from Sanjan in 1142. Navsari would go on to become the headquarters of the Zoroastrian-Parsi priesthood and a centre of religious learning and authority (The Parsis of India: Preservation of Identity in Bombay City by Jesse S. Palsetia). Two families of priests settled in Navsari in the early thirteenth century and their descendants are the present priests of Navsari.

Changa Asa had an Atash Bahram built to house the Iranshah fire brought over from Bansda to Navsari in 1516 (also see Atash Behram Moved to Navsari, Udvada page). In 1531, Manek Changa, the son of Changa Asa, built a stone Dakhma in Navsari.

While Navsari became the religious medieval capital of the Parsi-Zoroastrians, Surat would become the community headquarters. In the modern era, Udvada would assume the position of religious capital, while Bombay became the community headquarters.

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Previous pages:

» Page 1 - Escape from Iran

» Page 2 - Landing & Settlement in Sanjan

Following reading:

» Atash Behram, Udvada & History for the Iran-Shah Fire

Associated reading:

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

» Zoroastrian Places of Worship - Atash Bahrams

» Limji Hataria in Iran

» Limji Hataria & Pestonji Marker in Iran

» Khorasan Kuhistan Region

» Parthava (Parthia) Region

» Hormozgan Region

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