A tribute to Dasturji Meherjirana

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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.

Meherjirana

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

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Comments

  1. M Dastur  January 24, 2010

    An extremely informative and moving write-up! It is indeed a matter of great honour that the prayers for Dasturji’s soul are being recited at Behramshah Shroff Daremeher.

  2. arZan  January 24, 2010

    Marzban, thanks for a wonderful eulogy. It is a sad day for us Parsis. However one lives with the hope that he and other great souls will look down on us and guide us along the right path.

  3. Nazneen P.G. / H.K.  January 24, 2010

    Thank you Ervad Saheb for sharing this information with us.

    We pray for the soul of Dastur Meherji to rest in peace and for the guidance to choose the right successor of this great title.

    Anxiously looking forward for your write up on advent of Shah Behramshah Varzavand

    Best regards,
    Nazneen PG/HK

  4. Eddie P. Behramkamdin.  January 24, 2010

    Dear Ervadsaheb Marzban,
    I heard this sad news from you when you were kind enough to get up from your chair and inform me on 23rd when I was in pak Daremeher. You have rendered a good service to the great soul by undertaking to perform the required ceremonies in our pak Daremeher. I could make out you were keen to attend his pak paydast ceremony but in destiny it is written for you to perform his ceremonies under your able guidance. May Dadar Ahurmazd give courage to Dasturji’s wife to bear this great loss and may his soul progress to Garothman Bahest.
    God bless you with your family to serve our community.
    Best Regards.

    giveDasturji’s wife to bear this great loss

  5. Cyrus P. Kherawala  January 24, 2010

    Dear Ervad Saheb it was good enough of you to inform about the sad demise of Dasturji, i am indeed very sad to hear this news.He was a real gem which the Zoroastrian comunity has lost,but the only thing which we can done is pray to Sarosh Yazad for the protection of his soul.

  6. BHRAMSHAW KALIANWALA  January 25, 2010

    I WOULD LIKE TO ADD MY HUMBLE THANKS TO YOU SIR, FOR THE ERUDITE INFORMATION ABOUT DASTURJI SAHEB MEHERJIRANA AND HIS GREAT CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE ARCHIVES ON MATTERS PERTAINING TO OUR RELIGION.
    MAY HIS SOUL REST IN ETERNAL PEACE.

  7. BEHRAMSHAW KALIANWALA  January 25, 2010

    PLEASE CORRECT MY NAME AS AN ERROR HAS CREPT IN.
    IT SHOULD READ “BEHRAMSHAW”
    THANK YOU.

  8. Hanoz Vajifdar  January 26, 2010

    It is indeed sad to hear my Mota Dasturjis sad demise. We used to live on the same “Dasturwad” in Navsari, I shall be perishing those memories for the rest of my life.

  9. Sheraz Bhesania  January 26, 2010

    Thanks to the modern technology and the power of the Internet and ofcourse thanks to you sir for spreading the news all over the world. Would have loved this this Holy Gentleman and it would be nice if you could publish his recent picture for us to view. I grew up in Dadar and am no settled in Canada since 1967 but not a day goes by when after my prayers I visualize my Dadar Dasturji Kutar sitting at the entrance to our Rustom Faram Agiari and we always going and giving our hands to be blessed by him. When I think of Ahuramazda or an angel he appears befor me. Those were our true, pious, dasturjis who would have guided our community today to walk the right path i.e. CHANGE IS EMITABLE & WE NEED TO MOVE WITH THE CHANGE OR DWINDLE AWAY.

  10. COOVER D. SETHNA  January 27, 2010

    IN THE PASSING AWAY OF VADA DASTURJI MEHERJI DASTUR KEKOBAD MEHERJIRANA THE COMMUNITY HAS LOST A DIRECT LINK WITH THE HOLY AND PIOUS FAMILY. MAY THE LORD AHURAMAZDA GUIDE THE COMMUNITY, IN CHOOSING A WORTHY SUCESSOR TO GUIDE WE FOLLOWERS OF THE MOST ANCIENT ZORASTRIAN RELIGION, THROUGH THESE TURBULENT TIMES.

  11. Behram Dhabhar  February 1, 2010

    Certain paragraphs have been copied word to word by Mr. Berjis Desai, editor of Mumbai Samachar – PTA column from this article. The sad part is that he has failed to acknowledge the source, that is this website or the author. Is this called ethical journalism ?

    In another PTA article he runs down the present Dasturji Meherjirana. Is this the sort of respect an Athornan, that too an Ervad from the Bhagarsath tola gives to his High priests ?

  12. Sixkrez  January 4, 2011

    Dusturji Meherjirana was not a khshnoomist. He was a close friend of Dusturji Kotwal, who claims khnoomism is a heresy unto Zoroastrianism. The recent Meherjirana(KND) has performed like one nirangdin in his life time.There were more deserving people for this Gaadi like Dr. Rooyintan Peer and Aspandiar Dadachanji. Maybe KND should stay in Navsari and stop running to Mumbai now and then and get a varasyaji consecrated there, since there has been a varasya eej va ni kriya in Navsari for years now. Please don’t speak falsely of the dead, especially when it insults their sacred legacy.

  13. Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram  January 4, 2011

    @Sixkrez
    The first quality of a true Mobed is honesty and fearlessness. Do not hide behind alias names, please reveal your true name as is apparent from your email ID.

    You are free to check with Dastur Kotwal whether Dasturji Meherjirana was a Khshnoomist or not. Dastur Kotwal was present at the condolence meeting of Dastur Meherjirana in Navsari where speaker after speaker noted this fact. You can also check the same with Meherbanu, Dasturji’s wife.

    At no point of time has Dastur Kotwal considered Khshnoom as heresy – if so why would he grace the function to mark the Baj of late Ustad Saheb Behramshah Shroff?

    Perhaps, having settled abroad for a long time, you are not in contact with the day to day happenings of Mumbai and Navsari.

    Heresy is being conducted by heretic and apostate priests like you who are leading people on the wrong path and indulging in the worst form of Yasna Daruji. I am reading with great amusement your plans to set up a so called Daremeher in your country. It will never be a Daremeher – a house of light, but will be a Dar-e-Druji – a house of sin. So called Priests like you are an insult to the sacred legacy of the Priesthood and Dasturji Meherjirana.

    Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

  14. Sixkrez  January 5, 2011

    Dude seriously? im not who u think i am, and i no who u think i am. ok so why wasn’t Dr. Rooyinton Peer or Asphandiyar Dadachanji chosen, and when KND goes around the world professing that hez frantically looking for a heir, why rnt theez 2 fully qualified noble men eva mentioned by him.
    —-and oh yea the person u think i am is in India performing the last rights of his mother who passed away on Dec. 30, 2010. the char divas noo bhunvaanoo was performed at Doongarwadi and the later at shri Paak Anjuman Atashbehram,by him, so basically that guy noes his stuff. So in da loss of his mom cut the guy a break and be nice to him dude. (and therez a reason i wrote in text form). Peace out man

  15. Sixkrez  January 5, 2011

    can u explain what u exactly mean by the following-
    “Heresy is being conducted by heretic and apostate priests like you who are leading people on the wrong path and indulging in the worst form of Yasna Daruji.”
    And what makes u say the following abt the dar e meher
    “It will never be a Daremeher – a house of light, but will be a Dar-e-Druji – a house of sin. ”
    Seriously dude chill! eva heard of compassion, where u talk nicely to ppl u dnt agree with?

  16. Sixkrez  January 5, 2011

    i mean i have nothing against u. ure a cool dude. ive even seen u in person. and i rele like some of ure articles, they’re very informative and ive learned allot from them. fact is dat, when i first heard that KND was appointed as the 17th Meherjirana, well i was kinda shocked. Many Bhagarsath priest expected a practicing priest to be the next Meherjirana. With all due respect to KND hes a lawyer and a part time priest. and yea yea i no the heir to the Meherjirana gaadi has to have some relation to the Meherjirana family, but in these desperate times i personally think dat it be best they be a highly qualified Bhagarsath priest.

    I’m rele sry if i offended u in anyway or pushed ure button and enraged u, but still ure a cool guy, as we teens say ure coolio 😉 peace and luv

  17. Behram  January 21, 2011

    You have to agree Sixkrez isn’t lying! He knows what he’s talking about! But anyway, Marazban could u provide me with the names of all 16 Dustur Meherjiranas, just for personal knowledge. Thank you! God Bless!

  18. rohinton  June 2, 2011

    My Dearest Marzban iam highly thrilled and i really pay my respects for all your vast knowledge you have and shared and answered them .I really do love reading all your post with great interest. I also read Hoshang J bhada post, iam sure you maybe knowing abt him as he also has given me such valuable information as to our religion. i really strive and i hope i can get to learn more and more from you both renouned priest . Iam highly thankful to you Marzban and i hope i can see you meet you in person someday and know as much as i can from you.Thank you as always.

    Secondly pertaining to this sixkrez i really pitty you for your vulnerable language you have used in your earlier post. A person who gives knowledge is called a teacher a preacher and iam sorry to say you havent learnt anything what is taught because one who cant respect wont ever gain it . You should know and your first step should be is learning how to talk in public . By using words like dude and chill and etc shows your character what type of person you are . Ervad Marazban is a panthaky of a dare meher, learn to respect and by talking and uttering such words is a disgrace on your path.
    Secondly Sixkrez you talk about other people this happen at doongerwadi or whatever instead of talking something learn to talk about your ownself first. I suggest you to read articles on our religion so you yourself know what should be done at such circumstances and why it should be done . Read various books so you can answer your own questions.Iam not boasting myself iam also an Ervad but i didnt know a lot of all this although i would love to know if someone could have guided me the right manner. I myself have learnt by asking various people asking their opinions and mainly gained most of it by reading various books . I have asked many questions where sometimes havent got satisfactory answers as you are aware no person in this world is perfect or right we are all human beings. I do thank Marazban heartedly for sharing his knowledge and educating me in whatever way . if i knew about him years back and about this site i would be the first person to contact him .
    Sorry if that hurts just giving you my opinion. take care…
    Regards Rayomand.
    (Rohinton is just a screen name Fyi).