Remembering Bapaji

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Roj Khordad Mah Fravardin, 1385 Yz.

Today, Khordad Sal, remembered fondly by all Parsis as the birthday of Prophet Zarathushtra, is also the birthday of a profound scholar, pious priest, gentle teacher, a humble Athornan from Navsari who attained great fame and standing within the community but yet did not get all he deserved. Ervad Rustamji Dinshahji Dastur Meherjirana, more fondly known simply as ‘Bapaji’, was born on Roj Khordad Mah Fravardin, 1262 Yz, (6th September 1892) that is, exactly 123 years ago in Navsari, the headquarters of the Bhagaria Mobeds and once known as ‘Dharam ni tekdi’ or the ‘Vatican of the Parsis’. Bapaji belonged to the famous Meherjirana family and his father had, for some years, even officiated as the Dastur Meherjirana, under exceptional circumstances.

Bapaji lo res

Ervad Rustamji Ervad Dinshahji ‘Bapaji’ Meherjirana

Bapaji was born in very weak health, and his health remained weak throughout his life, severely restricting his otherwise dazzling career. He began his studies at the Tata English School in Navsari, and although brilliant from first in his studies, missed out a lot of school due to indifferent health. Even at that tender age, teachers remarked at his intellectual ability, his memory and his sheer brilliance. Along with studies, Bapaji also learnt the Avesta prayers under his father’s tutelage and became Navar at the Vadi Daremeher on Roj Mahrespand Mah Meher, 1272, at the age of 11 years. As was the custom at that time, all the Bhagaria Mobeds from the five different Pols (family groups) gathered at the Vadi Daremeher to examine whether the boy was properly trained and fit to be accorded the degree of Navar, and more so as he belonged to the Meherjirana family.

As Bapaji, at the tender age of 11, totally unfazed by the fearsome sight of over a 100 bearded, fierce looking Priests glaring at him, began his Yasna recital in the most perfect and correct pronunciation, the glares turned soft and then the eyebrows went up in amazement at the boy’s mastery of Avesta and his perfect pitch and delivery. By the time the boy climbed down the Hindola to proceed to the well to mark the end of the ceremony, the hall was abuzz with the silent gasps of ‘wah, wah! Soo bhanyo!’ The Anjuman was pleased that another gem had been added to the lustrous pearls which comprised the Bhagarsath Panth.

About eight days later, the young Navaria joined his father as the assistant priest in an Afringan ceremony, when disaster struck. As they sat on the Setranji, a spark from the Fire sprung on to the new Jama of the young boy, and in a second, Bapaji was totally engulfed by flames. Severely burnt and almost unconscious, Bapaji was rushed to the hospital where the doctors took one look at his weak constitution and the severity of his burns and gave up hope. But Bapaji was destined for greater things. Slowly but steadily, his health improved and the collective prayers of his family and many well-wishers saw the boy recover totally in about two months. But the deleterious effects of this accident were to trouble Bapaji till the end of his life.

Soon Bapaji shifted to the Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Madressa for high school studies and chose Avesta Pahlavi as his second language. After passing his Matriculation from the school, Bapaji proceeded to St. Xavier’s college in Mumbai for further studies. Proud of his genealogy and family history, Bapaji always dressed in the Pagdi and Dagli, leaving a mark on all those who attended college with him. But the state of the family’s finances was extremely precarious. The Meherjirana family lived in near poverty, despite their fame and standing, and took pride in their position, never accepting any money from outsiders. In fact, on succeeding his father as the 15th Meherjirana, Dastur Kekobad Dastur Darab said: “Our poverty is our Kingdom. This white Pichori which the Bhagarsath Anjuman has bequeathed to me in the Vadi Daremeher on the Chaharum of my father, and which marks the 15th generation of our Dasturi is the symbol of our Frugality. It is this Frugality and Poverty which we consider our highest honour.” Readers of Frashogard, remember these words well, for you will never ever hear them again!

Dastur Kekobad Dastur Darab

Dastur Kekobad Dastur Darab with the White Pichodi

The sorry state of the family’s finances and his own weak health compelled Bapaji to return to Navsari with his studies incomplete, to join the Mobedi work with his father and supplement their meagre income. Bapaji’s father was not educated in the literal sense with many degrees but was proficient in religious studies and highly regarded as a Yaozdathregar Mobed. In matters of doctrinal questions, liturgical issues, Tarikats and all other related issues, Dinshahji was considered an authority. Besides, he had the extremely good fortune of having as his teacher late Dastur Eruchji Sorabji Meherjirana (this accomplished Priest, about whom we will write one day, was such a Master that it is said that he could take any Avesta word, and recite from memory all the instances in the extant Avesta where the word occurred, with all grammatical inflexions!) Dinshahji himself occupied his day in the deep study of Avesta and the translations of leading scholars.

This studious bent of mind was also present in Bapaji, who began to study under his father. Bapaji realized that many times, they were depending on the translations of Persian texts for their understanding of certain Avesta passages. However, Bapaji was more interested in reading the actual Persian rather than the translations. With no finances to sponsor a teacher, Bapaji procured some old Persian study books and began to study the language on his own, without any help. Whenever he had any difficulty he would approach his richer friends who were studying Persian in school or college and ask the questions of their teachers and hence solve his problem. In addition, Bapaji realized the importance of Sanskrit in understanding Avesta and made friends with the renowned Pandit Vishwanath who had returned from Kashi (Varanasi) and settled down in Navsari to begin the study of Sanskrit under him.

Keeping in mind the family’s finances, Bapaji also took up a job as a teacher in the Tata School at the princely salary of Rs. 20 plus an allowance of Rs. 2 per month, in 1917! Thereafter he used his religious studies to deliver talks at various stages in Navsari and soon became a very popular speaker. Despite all these success, the question of money, or rather the lack of it, troubled the family immensely. They say teaching is the noblest profession, most poorly paid! So eager was Bapaji to study further that he resigned from this job and made one more try to set himself up in Mumbai. He joined the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy Madressa as a student. After years of struggle and hardship, Bapaji passed the MA exam in Avesta and Pahlavi, along with Sanskrit and Persian, standing first in the University. Yet again, his health faltered and in 1923 Bapaji fell seriously ill and was admitted to the Parsi General Hospital, where one midnight it seemed that all was over and family was called. Yet again, he staged a miraculous recovery.

His glittering performance in the MA exam caught the notice of Ervad Bahmanji N. Dhabhar, who approached Sir Jivanji Jamsetji Modi, who was at that time the Secretary of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet. After some discussion, Bapaji was appointed teacher at the JJ school at the princely salary of Rs. 150, in 1924. It was here that Bapaji really flourished. His gentle demeanour, scholarly rigour and loving temperament endeared him to a vast legion of students, some of who remember him even to this day as an intellectual giant with uncommon generosity of faith and love. In 1926 he was appointed as a teacher at the Sir JJZ Madressa for Avesta and Pahlavi and soon progressed to becoming the senior teacher. Such was his prowess in Avesta and the even more difficult Pahlavi that he once wrote a letter in pure Pahlavi to a personal friend who was also a scholar! The scholar could not believe his eyes at the purity of composition in Pahlavi!

Bapaji married in 1931, but it was not a happy marriage due to the constant pressure on the family’s finances.

In 1940, when Ervad B N Dhabhar retired as Principal of the JJ School, Bapaji was appointed in his place. In the years thereafter, Bapaji gave numerous lectures all over Mumbai, reviving the moribund Gatha Society, the Rahnumae Mazdayasnan Sabha and many other defunct societies. He made his mark at a strictly orthodox scholar, whom even the reformists respected due to his unfailing good nature and ethical behaviour. When some misguided Parsi youth decided to convert to Christianity, Bapaji took them under his wings and over many days, counselled them and saved their Ruvans from an uncertain future.

Simplicity, sincerity and service were his hallmarks. As a teacher and prayer Master, such was his standing that Bapaji was called as the external examiner in various Madressas, including in Udvada. A perfectionist to the core, Bapaji would write out long reports on the performance of each boy in the exam and give encouragement to those who had struggled. Some of these reports were even published in the Parsi Avaz. He had an eye for catching out promising students and his praise for a young lad called Ervad Kaikobad Nadarshah Mogul in Udvada in the report published in Parsi Avaz Vol. 3.35, dated 5 March 1950 was borne out in the years to come.

But one of the most life-changing experiences that Bapaji had came very early in the life, when he had the good fortune of meeting Ustad Saheb Behramshah Shroff. Bapaji was so captivated by Ilm-e-Khshnoom that he became a voracious reader of the Khshnoom literature that would emerge after Ustad Saheb’s death under the pen of Dr. Saheb Framroze. He brought to bear the same scholarly rigour to the study of Khshnoom which he displayed in his scholastic life. Alas! the politics of those days and his poverty made those jealous of Khshnoom prohibit him from expounding in the mystic doctrine too much.

The contrasting glittering academic career was offset by troubles and storms in his family life. On many occasions, Bapaji would break down in tears at the financial difficulties he faced, but still not approach anyone for help. His grandnephew – the current Vada Dasturji KND Meherjirana often recounted to me that such was the poverty that Bapaji could not even afford a new pair of shoes and would keep wearing the worn out and actually torn shoes, patched up again and again. He could often be seen on Marine Drive, shuffling slowly in those worn out shoes, from the Madressa, in his simple Pagdi and Dagli, sometimes with tears in his eyes over his family life or sometimes with tears of devotion as he prayed some particular verse of the Avesta to himself.

But KND told me that Bapaji would be in his element whenever he visited Navsari to perform the annual Baj ceremonies for his father, mother and other relatives. Bapaji always preferred to pray the Farokshi and he would literally sing it out, with tears of joy in his eyes as he recited the 24th Karda, detailing the birth of Prophet Zarathushtra. In those few moments of happiness, Bapaji revelled in his native town and mingled with all his childhood friends. He had a special place in his heart for young children and KND recounted how he would take special care of him and others of his age at that time.

Such was the life of this astonishing man, a scholar of amazing brilliance. Yet what tragedy! All his notes and books, his dreams of publishing his collected works remained unfulfilled. Such was his precarious financial state that his own researched papers were ‘borrowed’ by wealthier scholars and published as their own. My eyes burn with shame and indignation at the humiliation he must have felt. This is how our community treated one of their brightest and the best. And yet he never complained! Always the smiling face, always the gentle laugh, the glittering eyes and the gentle teaching! Such was his nature that even one envious of his knowledge could not make him an enemy. He was universally loved and admired.

His health, never good, turned worse over the years and after a long bout of illness, Bapaji passed away on 22nd July, 1953 at the age of only 61. After his death, glowing tributes were paid to him and numerous organisations passed long resolutions mourning his passing away. Such is our community, which never cared for or took care of one of their best, and then put him on a pedestal after his death.

To my mind, Bapaji’s most valuable contribution to our community was the small book he brought out of a collection of all the Afringans, Afrins, Khshnumans and other prayers used by priests in their daily ceremonies of Afringan, Farokshi and Stum. This book – simply called ‘Bapaji ni Chopdi’ is the handbook for all sincere priests. While the prayers are available in other books too, the main attraction of this book is the long preface written by Bapaji, where he very frankly and directly accused his fellow priests of using shortcuts in their prayers, of using unethical means to enrich themselves and warning them of the consequences of such actions.

Bapaji’s foreword to this book is so strong and eloquent that it should be translated into English and made required and compulsory reading for all those Priests who enter Mobedi life. But look at the tragedy! When Bapaji’s book was republished a few years ago, the very Preface – which is the essence of the book, was dropped and left out by those who felt ‘it is too harsh and exposes our secrets to Behdins!’ ‘Ave ene kon vaachvanu?’ Shame on such scholars and shame on such Dasturs who did this, and shame on the intellectual shallowness of those who edited out certain parts even from the prayers, without disclosing these facts in the preface.

Readers of Frashogard, on this auspicious Khordad Sal, as you enjoy your holiday, please pass a thought for Ervad Rustam Ervad Dinshah, who spent his life struggling to make two ends meet, but whose Ruvan, I am sure, is today in a place where all the benefits of Paradise are available to him! With the help of our ollective one Ashem Vohu, may his pious Ruvan progress further and further and may it send down blessings to our unfortunate and deeply troubled community.

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

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Comments

  1. Aspi Bamanji Ambapardiwala  August 23, 2015

    Khoob sundar! Vadhu shu kahu! Pak parvardegar aapne tandorasti aape tevi duvao sathe!
    Khordad Sal Mubarak!

  2. Agreras KAIKHUSRU Dastur  August 23, 2015

    Nice writeup. It is with regret to inform that as on today our religion is so much weakend that our parsi community does not have faith in our religion and they accept other religion tentaments.
    Even mobeds go for shortcuts in their prayers such as Afringan, Farokshi, stum.and No tarikat whatsoever.
    Pray to PAK DADAR AHURAMAZDA TO BLESS ALL of our Zorastrian (Parsi)community.

  3. k  August 23, 2015

    It was Bapaji who made the dictionary (Shabda Kosh) of “khshnoomn” terms in the “Nikiz e Vehdin”, Vol. 1, written by Dr. Saheb Faramroze Sohrabji Chiniwala. Dr. Saheb Faramroze has given great respect to this Athornan from the MeherjiRana Family. (See page 69-K of the First Nikeez).

  4. k  August 23, 2015

    “khoda kare ne evan jeva anek Athornano janme ke jethi dinno zaro vahetoj rahe”, Dr. Saheb Faramroze Sohrabji Chiniwala, Nikiz e Vehdin, Vol.1, page 69-k.

  5. Amy Hormazdiyar Turel  August 23, 2015

    MAY BAPAJI’S SOUL PROGRESS TO HIGHER AND HIGHER REALMS

  6. Aspy  August 23, 2015

    Ervad Marzban, great write up on a great soul.

    Belated Navroze Mubarak & Khordad Saal Mubarak to all on Frashogard.

  7. Quiet Reader  August 23, 2015

    Dear Readers, Iam so fortunate to yet have all the editions of the above mentioned book with me.
    I thank Marazban saheb for this post which is very enlighting to me.
    The first edition of Bapaji was printed in year 1954 . preface of 172 or 174pages.
    second edition in 1987 or 88 in which the preface was removed.
    third edition in 1991 a new preface was given by dasturji Kotwal. few changes were there in that .
    fourth edition in 1994 without any preface . a note by rustomji panthaki where he appologises that the preface of kotwal was removed due to high printing cost.
    last edition in 2004 which is yet available at our dadar madressa preface of dasturji kotwal was reinstated back think abt 82 pages.

    Dasturji kotwal also brought a booklet of 32 pages which was available at dasturji kukadaru trust (Not available now) on how to do afringans the correct way.
    Please note the same preface is put in all the Books from 1991 and 2004 editions very enlighting and knowledgable worth reading .

    PS: As far as my knowledge i also heard that the preface of the very first edition of Bapaji 1954 was incomplete as he died and later was completed by Homi Chacha a scholar. I think Marazban would know better.

    Thank You Marazban for this wonderful post.

  8. Mehernosh  August 23, 2015

    Thank You Marazban Saheb for this wonderful post.

    Here’s wishing you and your family a very Happy and Prosperous Papeti and Khordad Sal Mubarak. Thank-you once again for sharing with us your wisdom and knowledge, I earnestly look forward to read each of your articles

  9. Er. Gustad Maneckshah Panthaki  August 24, 2015

    Dear Marzban,
    Excellent bio of Bapaji. I have had the fortune to meet Bapaji at the Udvad’s Madressa, where I was a student. In fact Ervad Kaikobad Nadarshah Mogul and his brother Soli were studying Martab and Samel study during my time. The Madressa was the last bunglow in the lane where Iranshah is. Many who were exmined by Bapaji would remember his favorite Tat thwa peresa eresh moi vaocha Yasna 44.
    If you have or get the 174 page preface, please put on your blog.
    Knowledge is most detrimental element for fortune; Bapaji’s life proves it. I am looking forward to read Dastur Eruchji’s bio.
    Thanking you,
    Er. Gustad Maneckshah Panthaki

  10. Nazneen  August 24, 2015

    Khordad Saal Mubarak Ervadji
    Wish you an enlightened and peaceful year
    Always in our thoughts and best wishes
    Thank you for this wonderful post !!
    May Bapajis soul progress at higher realms.

  11. Ervad Jal Minocher Panthaki.  August 24, 2015

    From: Ervad Jal Minocher Panthaki. M0ntreal, Canada.
    Dear Ervad Marzban Hathiram:
    Thank you for a very interesting write-up on Ervad Rustom [Bapaji] Meherjirana. I am fortunate in having the 1954 edition of Bapaji’s book, which I refer to often for our prayers , where it states that due to his failing health, and eventual death,he could not read the final proofs, and his long time scholar friend, Homi Faramroz Chacha completed the final proofs, and with his guidance, on 22 July 1954 on the first death anniversary of Ervad Bapaji, the book was published.
    May his soul rest in eternal peace.
    Ervad Jal Minocher Panthaki. Montreal, Canada.

  12. Maneck  August 24, 2015

    Dear Ervad Marazban Saheb, Where were you all these months. We missed your articles and knowledge very much. It is heartening to read this article. May Ervad Rustam Ervad Dinshah’s ruvan progress further and further.

  13. Behram Dhabhar  August 26, 2015

    I have read the preface from Bapaji’s book and have copied it but do not have the original Bapaji’s book. The new book which does not have any preface has some pages missing. If anyone has the old original book and wishes to sell it or give it way, I would be very eager to purchase it. Please do let me know.

  14. Hoofrish  August 27, 2015

    Beautiful article on Remembering Bapaji Sir can we not bring back the original version without deletion

  15. Quiet Reader  August 28, 2015

    Dear Behram D,
    Its very kind of you making copies of the mentioned book. It would be better if you could upload the same on frashogard via taking permission from Marazban. I too have few books of bapaji but those are my most valuable assets for me.I have various books some are binded some are the original with butter paper on certain pages. some are pink/green in color . All are with the prefaces and some are in bad condition though i kept it. I request you to scan these and upload them for Humdins and priest.

    Also note in Bapaji editions i came across certain things the very first edition includes the Baj Dharna of ardafarvash Baj which is never seen in any other book of afringhans very rare.

    In later edition the Baj dharna is removed and replaced with Ashirwad and Sanskrit ashirwad .

    Much later editions even that is removed.

    Nevertheless the latest edition 2004 the preface put by Dasturji F M Kotwal is much more interesting and i agree with what he says about the Hamkaras Vs Dahman afringhan page 50 of the book which is available in Madressa where most priest make mistake while praying Dahamn yazad beresad and not the hamkaras.

    Above all else Dear Readers also i would like to draw your attention regarding Bapaji Book where i only found a mistake perhaps the only one which is there in all The EDITIONS right from 1954-2004 editions .I wonder if anyone or any priest has figured it out ?
    The error lies in the Afarghan of Ghambhar where only one word is missing if you have carefully read it properly. This word has been left out in all editions printed.Iam sure you can open the book now and read it. I have very thoroughly read Bapaji Book & Request u all do the same.

    Also just for your query Behram D you can get the Bapaji book available from any agiary as mostly i dont see much priest praying from that book most of them use the union press faraokhshi book.
    You can ask Panthaki of any Agiary and iam sure he would give you a copy for your reference.

    I have many many many queries related with our prayers i hope some day to catch Marazban and Have a detailed discussion with him.

    There are so many Books published by various authors sects and tolas each recommending their own.
    Khordeh avesta are just so many Shenshahi , Kadmi, Fasli.

    I dont know if you know readers, jehangir and karani bros also published shudh uchhar as well as aashudh ucchar KA.

    I can even say tht KA(Guj & eng) available from dadar Madressa has mistakes Its By Karani bros and the flaw is in Satum Na kardo with gatha Kshnuman . The whole Vadi khsnuman of gatha is missing in tht book.I hope Marazban Can draw their attention to this.

    Union press KA also used to publish Shudh Uccharni before but now only publish Ashudh ucchar KA.

    Kangaji KA is mostly recognized as the most authentic one though.

    There is no Shudh ucchar TAMAM KA yet available for the kadmi sects.

    Varous kriyakam books by Udwadias and Bhagaria And surat and kadmi sects have DIfference of opinions In all sects. WHo is right who isnt .

    Wish there was unity and standardization highly awaiting for our saviour.

  16. Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram  August 28, 2015

    @Quiet Reader
    The word missing in the Gahambar Afrin in “Gospand”. This has been corrected in the last revision.

    Regarding your confusion about different methods in diferent Tolas there is no need to despair. Ustad Saheb used to say that to arrive at a certain number you can use various operators – ex: to reach 12, 3×4, 6+6, 12×1, 4×3, 8+4 etc. All these operators still achieve the same result. So also the differences in Kriyakam still achieve the same result – Ruvan Bokhtagi.

  17. Quiet Reader  August 28, 2015

    Dear Marazban,
    Thank you for your wonderful post . The actual word missing lies in the Afarghan of Ghambar the nani Khsnuman where it is Rathwam Ayarnamcha Asnanyamcha ….. The third word is missing from there.
    just after Fravarane … Gah than the nani khsnuman over there stated above.
    This Error of missing word ‘Asnanyamcha’ is in all EDITIONS from 1954-2004 till date…
    However this word is there after yatha 2 Yasnemcha …. at the end of the ghambhar afarghan.

    Also i was seeing your wonderful video on Abonormal Death ceremonies so much to learn from you . I have a pdf version of Death and Beyond and the abnormal death ceremonies chapter is missing there .Pls Guide me where can i have this book or the incomplete version of Abnormal death is it uploaded on your site ?Is there a pdf version available in Guj /eng . Kindly let me know Thank you.