Roj Adar Mah Sherevar, 1379 Yz.
It is my solemn duty to inform readers of the sad demise of Vada Dasturji Meherji Dastur Kekobad Meherjirana, the Vada Dastur not only of the Navsari Bhagaria Mobeds but also the senior most Vada Dastur throughout India. Dasturji Meherjirana (or just Dasturji, as we used to call him affectionately and respectfully) was the 16th descendant of the first Dastur Meherjirana who was elected Vada Dastur by the Behdins and Mobed Sahebs of Navsari in 1579. This appointment was in recognition of the great fame that was achieved by this pious Dastur in the court of the Mughal ruler Akbar, where he had been invited to join an august assembly of learned men to discuss the intricacies of religion, philosophy and science. Through the power of his prayers and his great piety and majestic bearing, Dastur Meherjirana captured the attention of Akbar and was gifted 200 bighas of land in the village of Gelkhari near Navsari. Since then, the descendants of this pious Dastur have assumed the title Dastur Meherjirana and have traditionally been given respect as the senior most of all the other Dasturs.
Dastur Meherji was born in 1935 in the family of the sister of the 15th Dastur, Dastur Kekobad Dastur Darab. Since Dastur Kekobad had no offspring, Meherji was adopted by him at a very young age. Dastur Meherji undertook rigorous religious training at the Dadar Athornan Madressa and was noted for his very strong memory and retention power and also an ability to pray with the right pronunciation at a very high speed. He underwent the Navar and Maratab initiations at Navsari and proved his competence by performing the Nirangdin ceremony at a very early age. He subsequently completed his B.A. in Avesta and Pahlavi from St. Xavier’s in Mumbai. Dastur Kekobad passed away on 24th July, 1960, and at his Uthamna on 26th July, young Meherji was appointed to take his place as the 16th Dastur Meherjirana at the young age of just 24 years. He would have completed 50 years as Dastur in July 2010, but for his death today.
Dasturji was a simple man with great enthusiasm for learning and religious knowledge. He had a sharp memory with fact and figures and despite his high office, was very approachable and would sit and talk with almost anybody who went to meet him. Nearly 20 years ago, a cousin of mine had his Navjote performed by Dasturji at Valsad. Being the priest in the family, I accompanied my uncle to give the invitation to Dasturji at his house in Dasturwad in Navsari. He immediately agreed to come without any fuss and said he would manage his own travel. On the day of the Navjote we went to welcome him at the station and after the Navjote I went back to drop him at the station. There was some nervousness since he would be boarding a train coming from Mumbai which would be invariably crowded, even in the first class. As the train halted I dived into the compartment and tried to find a seat for him but there was just no space. But as Dasturji himself climbed in to the coach dressed in his crisp Jama and shawl over his shoulders, there was a murmur in the compartment and several persons got up so that he could sit. As a very young boy at that time, this left a lasting impression on my mind, along with a great sense of relief that I could go back home and tell everyone that the Dasturji had indeed got a seat!
From a very young age, Dasturji was greatly drawn towards Ustad Saheb Behramshah Shroff’s unique life and teachings. He was a voracious reader and note taker and had piles of exercise books filled with notes from lectures or from his readings. This unique ability of his would soon draw him towards the undertaking of the most major project of his life – the Dictionary of Khshnoom. As my readers would have realized by now, there are several technical words which keep on recurring in the Khshnoom literature. These words, which are in Avesta, Pahlavi, Persian, Arabic or Gujarati often confuse the newcomers to this field of knowledge and sometimes even trip seasoned students. Moreover, many a times the meaning of one word can be taken in two or more senses, depending on the context. Dasturji embarked on making a dictionary of such words, not only explaining their meaning and import, but also giving references to all the different writings and books of Khshnoom where these words could be found! This was a massive exercise and required not only good indexing abilities but also a disciplined approach and vast amounts of memory and patience. Dasturji spent over 15 years on this project and the result was published in 2003 as the ‘Frahang-e-Meher’ and this book is an invaluable tool and compulsory accessory for every serious student of our religion and its mystic angle.
In addition to this project, another major exercise which Dasturji undertook was to make a copious index of the Parsi Avaz newspaper. The paper was published by Jehangirji Chiniwalla, one of closest disciples of Ustad Saheb. It started on 7th July 1947 and closed down in 1974, one year after the death of Jehangirji. This weekly was a newspaper in name only, since it had very little of topical news but over 90% of the content was Khshnoom. Week after week, Jehangirji – with nothing more than a pen and paper and helpful assistants would take out 8 tabloid sized sheets filled with Khshnoom. Dasturji Meherji was not only a careful reader of this paper, he was also a collector – one of a handful of people who had ALL the issues of this paper, bound into smart volumes every year! This great treasure trove of Khshnoom would be like a Tsunami for any student to wade through. It was here that Dasturji left his great legacy. Over the years, Dasturji began making and collecting index cards of all the topics which appeared in this paper. Finally, many years after the paper closed down, Dasturji collated these cards and typed out a gigantic index of the paper, running into nearly 100 sheets of foolscap paper!
Not satisfied with this venture, Dasturji made a separate index of all the articles of Dr. Saheb Framroze Chiniwalla, the elder brother of Jehangirji and the single most prolific writer of Khshnoom. He then made separate indexes of other published books and various topics, which are of great help to students like me today. Despite his ill health and advancing age, Dasturji was extremely energetic about his work. On my last visit to Navsari he proudly showed me his new computer, which replaced his trusty old typewriter, and we discussed the various methods of putting Gujarati into Microsoft Word and Excel! He also gave me his handwritten index notes of a popular column in the Parsi Avaz and told me to take up the project since he was getting old now.
Another very crucial and important role that Dasturji played was in the publication of several books of Doctor Saheb Framroze Chiniwalla which had remained as manuscripts for many years after his death in 1962. Dasturji undertook the very tedious and laborious work of typing out the manuscripts, sending them to the printer for formatting, checking and correcting the proofs, viewing the final layouts and overseeing the printing. It goes without saying that but for this backbreaking labour, in which he was helped by another great son of Navsari, late Master Saheb Dosabhai Desai, many works of Doctor Saheb which we are able to study today would have remained in their ancient files.
Dasturji was not only a true student of Khshnoom, he was also a good teacher and one willing to share what he had. Unlike others who hoard their books, on every visit to his house at Navsari, Dasturji would never let me leave without giving away at least one, if not more books from his private collection, saying, ‘tamune kaam laagse, Marzban.’ On my last visit to collect a huge selection of books and papers from the house of late Ervad Eruchshah Karkaria, Dasturji sent for me and gave away many books from his own library to me.
Mindful of his deteriorating health, Dasturji had made arrangements to tackle the event when the day arrived. It is with a great sense of pride, coupled with a hint of trepidation, that I can say today that all the prayers for him will be said at our Ustad Saheb Behramshah N. Shroff Daremeher in Jogeshwari (in addition to prayers done for him at Navsari). He was anxious to ensure that all prayers were done not only in the traditional manner but also in the more intense and deep manner done in light of the teachings of Ustad Saheb. It is for this purpose that he had sounded me out and made me prepare a prayer schedule for himself, to be implemented when the event happened. I am thankful to my team of Mobeds as well as several Mobeds from other Agiaries in Mumbai who have, at one request, agreed to perform his ceremonies in my Daremeher, some insisting that they would not take any money for the same. It is rare to get the honour to perform the ceremonies for a Dastur and for him to have chosen our Daremeher is not only a matter of pride but also an acknowledgment of the kind of work being done in this youngest of Daremehers of Mumbai.
I last met Dasturji when he attended the Nirangdin ceremony of the Kathawalla family at Malcolm Baug just about a month ago, where he requested me to perform a Yazashne for his departed sister. Just about five days ago, Dasturji called me to ask about the payment for this ceremony. When I tried to pass it off, he was very insistent and pressured me into giving a figure. Just two days ago I received his cheque in the mail along with a letter of thanks in his own writing. This morning I was rummaging through the indexes to find one which he had made regarding the advent of Shah Behram Varzavand, for a forthcoming series on the Frashogard blog when the phone rang to convey the news of his death.
Even in writing this tribute, I had to refer to Dasturji’s index to find out the relevant dates of his birth and taking up the Dasturi. And I was rewarded in being able to see the photograph of a very young and dashing Dasturji Meherji in the Parsi Avaz dated 7th August, 1960. Even though it is not very clear, I would like to share this photograph with my readers. Special thanks to our colony’s resident photographer, Mr. Aspi H. Patel for helping me out with this very quickly.
Dasturji leaves behind his wife Mehru. Unfortunately he had no offspring, and this is a cause for great concern as the future of India’s oldest Dasturi is in doubt. The Bhagarsath Anjuman will have a tough time in filling this vacancy and we pray to God to offer his guidance to the elders in this respect. In a way we can say that the Vatican of the Parsis is empty today. But unlike the real Vatican where there are over 100 candidates to fill the vacancy caused by the death of the Pope, in case of the Bhagarsath Panth, there are few who can fill in and take on the tremendous spiritual responsibility of this august post. It needs to be remembered that this post is not just ceremonial or administrative. Every priest, before beginning the major ceremonies, recites a short prayer called the ‘Dasturi’ where he traces and announces his own authority to perform the ceremony by running through the spiritual hierarchy of ancient priests, starting from Zarathushtra and ending with the name of the current Dastur. Until the seat of Meherjirana is filled, no new major ceremony can be done by Bhagaria priests since there is no name available to recite the Dasturi. Ustad Saheb used to say that the legacy of the gaadi or seat of the Meherjirana Dasturi as well as the Dasturi of the Sanjana (Udwada) Mobeds is protected and specially looked after by the Abed Sahebs of Demavand. Within the close circles of the Dasturi of Meherjirana, there are ample evidences of this fact, which cannot be discussed here. Let us pray one Ashem Vohu in the memory of the Ruvan of Dastur Meherji Dastur Kekobad, with the fervent hope that it quickly attains the protection of Sarosh Yazad and reaches the stage of Anushehi. Dasturji Meherji is dead. Long live Dastur Meherjirana!
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram