For the Diaspora ‘y-gen’ Zhamdins, who should have known, but were Too busy! (weren’t bothered?) To ask about their heritage. Vignettes from Parsi History & Prospect – and the What if? Factors! Arrival

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Parsinustan-ne Kahanis.

(Stories from Parsi homeland)
For the Diaspora ‘Y-Gen’ Zhamdins, who should have known, but were . . . . .

Too busy! (weren’t bothered?) To ask about their heritage.
Vignettes from Parsi History & Prospect – and the What IF? . . . . Factors!
Arrival . . . (Sunrise?) 2
Survival 3
Ethnicity 4
Education 5
Philosophy 6
Basic Prayers 7
Genesis of Family Names 8
Western Impact 9
Industry & Philanthropy 10

Parsi Prosperity 10
Parsi Luster on Indian Soil (Lord Wellingdon –Forward) 11
Few Notable – Noteworthy of the Clan
Dadabhay Navroji, Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy 1st Baronet & Jamsetjee N. Tata. 13

Madam Bhikaiji Rustom Cama. 14

Bai Jerbai Nusherwanji Wadia. 15

Cornelia Sorabji 16

Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji. 17

Field Marshal. Sam Bahdur Manekshaw. 18

Sir Pherozeshah Mehta. 20

Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit. (First Baronet) 21

Homi Jehangir Bhabha. 22

Dastoor Meherji Rana. 23

Dr. Sir Ervad Jivanji Jamshedji Modi. 24

Kharshedji Rustamh (K.R.) Cama. 25

The Forgotten Gandhi. 26

Enduring Legacy: Parsis of the 20th Century (Review) 28

Bawajis’ Lament! . . . (Sunset?) 29

Blindly into the abyss. – ‏Bachi Karkaria – TOI. 30

Do Not Ostracize the Intermarried – Homi R Khusrokhan – Bombay Samachar. 31

Historical precedence – Mazgaon Navjotes of 1882. 32

End Notes 32

Referenced List (of Live links & available articles) 34

Compiled for the information my Grandchildren, the Diaspora ‘Y Gen’ & Others – from acknowledged sources.

  • E. Kanga. Nov.2012

Vignettes from Parsi History & Prospect – and the What IF? … Factor!

With active links & articles available by request – for further readings.

There is no doubt, that Parsi history makes fascinating reading with stories of ‘Sugar in the Milk’ – ‘Saga’s of Survival & Settlement’ in a foreign land under difficult conditions; family names as memory of ‘Towns & Villages’ and the ubiquitous, exaggerated pseudo fables, as how ‘Parsi Pomp & Prosperity’ is based mostly on the ill-gotten gains of opium trade* in the 19th century. So, one gets to wondering . . . . What IF…?
Arrival: When our venerable ancestors fled Persia – in the 10th century AD – to protect, preserve & propagate their Mazdayasni Faith; setting sail from the ancient ports in the Persian Gulf, eastwards into the unknown Arabian Sea.

ButWhat If ? Destiny hadn’t favoured them by making land-fall at Diu, on the southern shore of the Kathiawar peninsular, allowing them to later sail to the west coast of the new land and into the friendly/fertile deltas of Narbada & Tapti Rivers of western India But instead, their small ships tossed by storms and winds had forced them to make their initial landing in the ‘Gulf of Kutch’ – the seasonal salt marshes of the Thar Desert – in the land of the Rajput warrior clans, their chances of survival would have been slim if not dismal.

Alternately, what if, the winds had swept them past Diu, farther down the coast making landfall at the villages of the fisher-folks of Salsette Island, or even further, along the coast-line of the Western Gaths and land of the Maharatha warrior clans, the Parsa survival and fortunes would have been distinctly different, if not untenable.

In the Rann of Kutch, which is a white emptiness, a brilliant, frost-coloured land, burning the eyes with its whiteness. Not a bump, not a hump, not a shrub, not a bird, not even a breeze. Nothing! But, white in every direction. Horizon after horizon, on and on, for over two hundred miles east to west, & almost one hundred miles north to south; with very poor chances of survival at all, in such a barren and adverse moonscape.

While in the later case of a southern landfall, the narrow piece of land between the sea and the Western Gath foothills would have made survival equally difficult and dangerous, to subsist and thrive in the Shivaji clan’s homeland.

In either instant, early Parsi history would have recorded differently. ‘Blood in the Sand’ instead of ‘Sugar in the Milk’ for posterity.

Push the scenario of this desperate group of our forebears from Persia, even further south-wards on to the Karwar/Malabar coast; there they would have probably survived as fisher folks for a few centuries, but later, would have been forcefully converted into Christianity, by the Portuguese, who controlled vast sections of the western coastline of India.

In the 16th century – with Goa from 1530 onwards as Capital of Portuguese Indian colonies – forced conversion of the indigenous population into the Christian faith through the Grand Inquisition** by the Jesuit Francis Xavier, who had been granted all Orient by the Pope, as his territory for converting the heathens; was a constant occurrence on India’s W. coast.

Having considered the various W-IF scenarios of Parsa ‘Arrival History’ on the Indian sub-continent and acknowledging the fact that our community/faith survived & prospered for over a millennium in India only because, the people of the river deltas and hinterlands of the Gulf of Cambay opened up their hearts & homes to alien refuges, from across the Arabian Sea. During this span of a thousand plus years in India; that we, the Parsis have willingly embraced ‘the Customs, Cuisine and Culture’ of our gracious hosts of Gujarat, is a historical fact.

So, having acknowledged our gratitude to the people of Gujarat; It behoves us, the Parsa’s of today, not to indulge in juvenile ‘Gujju Jokes’ about our very own – ‘Kith & Kin’ of Gujarat. (E. Kanga)

* Article – The Dragon Awakens’ -Giving true facts about the real players in this trade. – Available by request. (File Size 3.3MB)

** Article – Auto de FePart II – Available by request. (File Size 1.3MB) Gujarat State2011/12 Data – Available by request.

Survival: The existence of our Zoroastrian forebears and their faith in the new lands of western India, which depended greatly on the tolerance & understanding of the indigenous population. – What IF It had been denied?

According to the ‘Qeṣṣa-ye Sanjān’ (The Story of Sanjān), the only existing account of the early years of Zoroastrian refugees in India – composed at least six centuries after their tentative date of arrival. Although the ‘Sanjan group’ are believed to have been the first permanent settlers, the precise date of their arrival is a matter of conjecture. All estimates are based on the Qeṣṣa, which is vague or contradictory with respect to some elapsed periods. A range of possible dates – 716 AD to 936 AD – have been proposed as the year of landing, and the disagreement has been the cause of much controversy between the 20th century scholars. Since dates are not specifically mentioned in Parsi texts prior to the 18th century, any date of arrival is perforce a matter of speculation.

The importance of the Qeṣṣa lies in any case not so much in its reconstruction of events than in its depiction of the Parsis – in the way they have come to view themselves – and in their relationship to the dominant culture. As such, the text plays a crucial role in shaping Parsi identity. Even if one comes to the conclusion that the chronicle based on verbal transmission is not more than a legend, it still remains without doubt an extremely informative document of Parsee history.

The Qeṣṣa has little to say about the events that followed the establishment of Sanjan and restricts itself to a brief note on the establishment of the first Atash Bahram (Fire of Victory) at Sanjan and its subsequent move to Navsari. According to recorded history, the next several centuries were "full of struggle & hardships" before Zoroastrianism gained a foothold in India and secured for its adherents some means of livelihood in this new country of their adoption.

Two centuries after their landing, the Parsis began to settle in other parts of Gujarat, which led to Athornan (priest) family disputes in defining the limits of priestly jurisdiction. These problems were resolved by 1290 through the division of Gujarat into five panthaks (districts), each under the jurisdiction of one priestly family and their descen-dants. Continuing disputes on the jurisdiction over the ‘Iran Shah’ – Atash Bahram, led to the fire being moved to Udvada in 1742, where jurisdiction is shared in rotation between the five Zoroastrian. . Iran Shah’ – located in Udvada Atash Bahram (Gujarat. India) panthak families.

Then during Mogul Emperor Shahjahan's rule, a dark background of suffering and misery was seldom exposed to view. In the fourth and fifth years of his reign (1630-32), while the emperor usually was encamped at Burhanpur in Khandesh, intent on his aggressive schemes directed against the sultans of the Deccan, an appalling famine of the utmost possible severity desolated the Deccan and Gujarat. Between Surat and Burhanpur the ground was strewn so thickly with corpses that (one) could hardly find room to pitch a small tent. His­torian, Abdul Hamid, makes no attempt to disguise the horror of the calamity, which he describes in vividness” (Excerpt: Oxford History of India – Vincent Smith)

The first Parsi settler came to Bombay from Gujarat in 1640, he was Dorabji Nanabhoy Patel. – Again in 1689-90, a severe plague epidemic broke out in Bombay and most of the European and other recent settlers succumbed to it.

These two epidemics in western India within six decades must have reduced the Parsi population to pittance. Hence it begs the question – how did the Parsi population of Gujarat and Bombay increase dramatically from these disasters? If not by having out-of-wedlock & interfaith marriage children embraced into the Faith by our learned Dasturs of yore!?*

But, What IF…? Our legendary learned Dasturs had refused to consider this acceptable line of action** to help the Parsi community to grow again Surely, we would have disappeared as a distinct society of India, a long time ago.

It’s high time we embrace our Faith in its true form, welcome children of interfaith marriages into the fold and stop considering ourselves as different; with some convoluted concept of ethnic purity & purpose. (E. Kanga)

* Article Conversion in ZoroastrianismAll you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask! – Available by request. (File Size -13MB)

** “ “ – ‘Religion of Zarathushtra is for all Mankindby Cyrus Mehta. – Available by request. (File Size -50KB)

  • “ “ – ‘CM - Narendra Modi addresses Parsis at UdvadaAvailable by request. (File Size -170KB)

Ethnicity: Parsa’s Achilles heel?
A 2004 study in which Parsi mitochondrial DNA (matrilineal) was compared with that of the Iranians and Gujaratis determined that Parsis are genetically closer to the people of Gujarat, than Iranians. This does point to a lot of inter-mingling between the two communities having taken place over a long period of time. 

Genealogical DNA tests to determine purity of lineage have brought mixed results. One study supports the Parsi contention (Nanavutty 1970, p.13) that they have maintained their Persian roots by avoiding intermarriage with local populations. In that 2002 study of the Y-chromosome* (patrilineal) DNA of the Parsis of Pakistan, it was determined that Parsis are genetically closer to Iranians than to their (Pakistani) neighbours (Qamar et al. 2002, p. 1119)

However, a 2004 study in which Parsi mitochondrial DNA (matrilineal) was compared with that of the Iranians and Gujaratis determined that Parsis are genetically closer to Gujaratis than to Iranians. Taking the 2002 study into account, the authors of the 2004 study suggested . . . . "A male-mediated migration of the ancestors of the present-day Parsi population, where they admixed with local females [...] leading ultimately to the loss of mtDNA of Iranian origin" (Quintana-Murci et al. 2004, p. 840) <>

Re: The article – Zoroastrians Search for their Roots’** by Zubair Ahmed [BBC News, Mumbai. 19 July 2005] … The following was my Reader’s Comments sent to the news media in 2005.


Sir … With reference to the tragicomic article ‘Zoroastrians Search for their Roots’ by Zubair Ahmed [BBC News,

Mumbai; 19 July 2005] – the following excerpt from the ‘The Vanishing Breed’ by Jehangir S. Pocha. [Oct 2004] makes this ‘urge to connect with their Persian past’- by the Parsis’ of India – however tenuous – comically understandable.

“… Many modern Parsis are increasingly pushing for change, but conservatives such as Mistree say their ‘over-westernisation & over-secularisation is killing our Parsipanu’ [i.e. Parsi way of life]. This finds resonance with many Parsis who believe the best way to secure their community's future is to hold fast to the past. For example, more and more Parsis, myself included, have begun visiting Iran in an attempt to reinvigorate their affinities with Zoroastrian Persia's Grand Past. This has given rise to what I call the ‘Über-Parsi’. Über-Parsis cruise public libraries and surf the Web to excavate obscure facts and reacquaint the world with the ancient Achaemenian, Parthian and Sassanian -Persian dynasties- which were the cultural and military superpowers of their times, eventually outlasting their rivals, the Greeks and the Romans. Über-Parsis are easily made, for Parsis are not defined by how small they are in number, but by how great they are in mind. But curating history can only go so far in energising a community. In many homes the attempt to cull present meaning from Persian history descends into farce. These are homes where glossy picture-books on ancient Persia lie strategically on coffee tables, a silver bookmark from Tiffany’s thrust carelessly between pages never opened. If at all the books are read, it is to satisfy the thirst for that latest trend of Parsi parents - the quest for a ‘different’ name with which to name sons and daughters. Names like Artaxerxes, Sohrushmani, Cambyses; bludgeon friends with their ancient authenticity & reassure parents that their children will always be regarded as ‘special’ & they as refined Parsis.” (end of quote)

Now in my opinion, the truly tragic part of the BBC’s reported article and above excerpt, is that after more than one thousand two hundred years of residing in a relatively safe and stable environment in India, we still have some in the community that consider themselves as being of pure Persian/Iranian origin. How tragic indeed, when I hear some Parsis wistfully state that one group of Zoroastrians fled to Europe instead of India, and claim that the picture of a white robed, bearded old man, holding a small fire urn in his hand, is indeed proof of this; a European representation of a ‘German Zarathushtra.’?!? . . . . In reality, it’s a post exile picture of the Jewish Prophet Isaiah.

It is high time we Parsis give our venerable ancestors credit for their wise choice of destination for the safe future of the community and religion; that could survive only in a country which practiced the principle of ‘freedom from religious persecution’ for millennia . . . . . . . The only country, INDIA!

As soon as we Parsis accept the fact that the centuries of Parsi Prominence and Prosperity (c.1760-1960) on the Indian subcontinent has passed; and that as proud Indian Nationals, we should be more in tune with what our forefathers achieved in India – instead of, for ever talking about the ancient Persian Achaemenian, Parthian and Sassanian dynasties, as our source of pride – we will soon grow out of this malaise.

Now about the claims – made by those interviewed in afore referenced BBC article – ‘of genetic memoryas the reason for this ‘urge-to-search & connect’ by the Parsis for their roots. . . . Their genetic roots theory seems to go back only between circa 600BCE to 600CE. . . . . . . Now my genetic memory goes back to our Prophet’s time of c.6000BCE. So in-fact, my Yatra is going to take me to the present day countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; area known as ‘Arya-na Vaeja’ in the Vendidad, wherein our Prophet ‘Walked-the-Talk’ and converted King Vishtasp into the Faith. . . . . . If and when I do return, with Head-&-Hide intact! I shall regale one-and-all with stories of this journey for the search of my antiquated roots.

But as of now, after ‘twelve centuries’ of Parsi ancestral history at hand; I proudly proclaim that my Zoroastrian genetic roots, ancestral home and country of origin, is indeed – INDIA! *** (E. Kanga. Aug ’05)

*Y-Chromosome – Indo-European language & Blood Types’ – Available by request. (File Size - 5MB)

**Zoroastrians Search for their Rootsby Zubair Ahmed Available by request. (File Size -80KB)

***FYI – A Celebration of Human Genetic Diversity over Millennium Available by request. (File Size -115KB)

Article – Religious Impulse & Gopi Krishna – Available by request. (File Size – 30 KB)

Education: A few weeks back, I had just finished reading ‘Three Cups of Tea’ by the American mountaineer Greg Mortenson, documenting his astonishing story of a real-life Indiana Jones adventure and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the mountain villages of Pakistan – in the Taliban’s backyard. It started when he drifted into an impoverished village in the Karakorum Mountains after a failed attempt to climb K2. Moved by the village head and the inhabitant’s kindness, he promised to return and build a girl’s school in that remote village in Baltistan region of Pakistan, as per their wishes & request. It takes Mortenson a decade to collect enough funds to build the girls’ school for Korphe village. (A must read account)

Then last week, an attempt on the life of a 14year Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai* by the Taliban, because she is an outspoken crusader for girl’s education – one gets to wondering . . . . What IF?

What IFin the past two centuries; our enlightened Parsi Sethias & Akbar’s of the Faith were, as-myopic-as, ones in our midst today; . . . . would we be having similar incidents in the Parsi community?** (E.Kanga)
Sooni Taraporevala’s comments at 9th World Zoroastrian Congress, gives one an inkling & reasons to worry!?

It is a matter of great sadness to me that we, the Parsis of India, who were once at the forefront of reforms the first Indian community to embrace change, seem to be sliding backwards in many waysinto the DARK AGES

[Following – an excerpt from: ‘The Good Parsi’ by Tayna M. Luhrmann. (pg. 133-4) – ISBN 0-674-35675-6]

Parsis began to treat their women like western progressive women, in the nineteenth century.

A turn-of-the-century Parsi woman proudly explained that Parsi women “live a natural life, enjoy their games, can admit of a childhood, as-well-as, a womanhood and are fast becoming splendid companions for their husbands; it is no longer a rule but an oddity when a Parsee husband spends his evenings away from his home. (Cavalier 1899). Parsis were among the first communities in India to educate their women, doing so in English from 1860. (Hinnells n.d.1.)

By 1870, over a thousand Parsi women had received secondary education (Kulke 1974:104).

One article pointed out how the community realised by 1849 that “for social and intellectual advancement of their respective communities, no means could be more hopeful & fruitful than the education of girls.” [43] Private homes were used for some years until, in 1858; the Parsi Girls School Association was formally inaugurated.

There are pictures of students of the Tata Girls School at Navsari, taking first-aid classes, and accompanying essays on a convalescent home for women & children and “Parsi Ladies as Educationists.”

Most dramatically, Parsis spoke English. In the mid-nineteenth century, Parsis built more schools & attended school more regularly than other communities, proportional to their numbers (Hinnells n.d:1). By 1881 74% of the community was literate. (Hinnells 1978:52).

By 1901, more than a quarter of the community spoke English, as compared to less than one percent of the Jains and half a percent of the Hindus. (Axelrod 1974:31); 63% of Parsi women were literate and nearly all the men. (Hinnells n.d.:2)

In 1899 an English Newsletter remarks, “The Parsis are most loyal to England, and nearly all the younger generation speak English well.” [44] In 1906, a journal article comments: “the love of English literature has spread among the women-kind of Parsis more widely and more rapidly than among any other nationality in India. Of this, there can never be two opinions.” [45]

Men and Women of India’ – self-advertised as the only society magazine in India – devoted a special issue to the Parsis in 1906. Bombay Parsis, – the magazine suggests – are delightfully English. … After I (author Luhrmann) had written the first draft of this book, I met a man who had been stationed in the British military in Bombay during the war. I asked him about the Parsis. “Oh! He said, they were the very nicest Indians, and they were so well educated.”

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