How the power of our Manthra prayers and the Amal of a revered priest conquered the toughest of evil spirits
Roj Govad Mah Tir, 1378 Yz.
In my earlier post on Bhulki Daakan, we saw how the Parsis of Navsari used the services of a Hindu exorcist to rid the possession of a young Parsi maiden from the clutches of an evil witch. Many readers wrote back to ask as to why the Parsis did not use the services of the many pious and experienced Mobeds of Navsari to cure Dhunmai. I have no answer to that question, since I was merely reporting on the incident which happened more than a century ago. However, there is another well known incident of a similar type, where the services of a revered Mobed Saheb were used with amazing results. This is the story of Dastur Pesuji of Surat.
This incident took place in Surat more than 200 years ago. As with stories handed down through the oral tradition, it is difficult to put an exact date to the events, but definitely this is quite an old episode, somewhere around the time when the British were first making inroads into west India. Surat, at that time was under Mughal rule and the local affairs were looked after by a Nawab, who reported to the Mughal emperor.
The Nawab of Surat was blessed with several children, including a most beautiful and innocent daughter, who unfortunately had become possessed by an evil spirit, known as Jin. These evil spirits are known in the Avesta as ‘Zaena’ and ‘Pairika’, from which are derived the words ‘Jin’ and ‘Pari’, roughly translated as sprites and fairies. As a result of this possession, the daughter was given to bouts of violence during which she exhibited amazing strength, became uncontrollable and almost manic. The distressed Nawab approached several high ranking Muslim priests and Maulvis to remedy the problem but none were able to cure the malady. The combined opinion was that the spirit which had possessed the daughter was of a most powerful nature and there was grave danger to the life of anyone who tried to exorcise the spirit.
As the possession of his daughter grew more and more violent, the Nawab was advised that the Parsi community had several priests who were both pious and powerful and may be able to help him. Taking this advice, the Nawab approached a very prominent and rich Parsi businessman called Mancherji Seth who was often present in his court. Taking Mancherji Seth into confidence, the Nawab requested his help and assured him that if successful, the Nawab would be put in great gratitude of both Mancherji as well as the entire community. Realising that this was a delicate situation which could also go horribly wrong for the community, Mancherji Seth convened a meeting of all the leading priests of Surat to discuss the issue and to come up with a solution. The opinion of all present was unanimous – that if there was anyone who could help the Nawab, it could only be Dastur Pesuji, who was well known within the community as a Mobedan Mobed and one having the Amal or spiritual power to use the sacred Avesta Manthras for such activities.
Hearing this, Mancherji Seth paid a visit to Dastur Pesuji and briefed him about the situation. He gently counselled the priest to take up the assignment only if he was absolutely sure of the outcome, since a bad result could cause great shame and even possible harm to the community. Dastur Pesuji was a very pious and noble hearted priest, who lived in near seclusion, silently practising the strict Tarikats of his religion and immersing himself in constant prayers. He seemed lost in thought for a long time and finally opened his eyes and told Mancherji Seth to immediately go to the Nawab’s palace and to convey to him the message that his daughter’s health would start improving from this very instant and on a particular day, Dastur Pesuji would completely cure her and rid her of her malady, although he would have to go through great trouble and difficulties in this task.
Mancherji Seth conveyed this message to the Nawab, who was happy. As the days passed, soon it was time for the moonless night (Amas), which was generally marked by more violence by the girl. But this time the Nawab observed that the daughter seemed more calm and composed than usual for this difficult night, and she had managed to eat some dinner too. The Nawab realised that a miracle was taking place before his eyes, and conveyed the happy news to Mancherji Seth. After a few days, Dastur Pesuji requested Mancherji Seth to bring the Nawab’s daughter to his house for the final exorcism. When Mancherji Seth went to the Nawab’s palace to fetch his daughter, the Nawab was most reluctant to let his daughter out of the palace as per the strict rules of Hijaab that the Muslims followed. He suggested that it would be better if Dastur Pesuji were himself to come to the palace and cure his daughter. Despite his great reluctance to step into a place frequented by non-Parsis, which would curb his Amal to some extent, the pious Dastur Pesuji finally agreed. He sent instructions that a chair, made completely of either iron or brass or any other metal be kept ready on which the daughter would sit while Dastur Pesuji worked his Amal. In addition he requested the services of three or four ladies of the household, who had passed the stage of menopause. They were told to be ready to catch the daughter as soon as she started screaming and to hold her tightly, but compassionately, and to give her the moral strength to pass this severe test. Dastur Pesuji also firmly stated that his work would be possible only on the ground floor of the palace and he would absolutely not climb any stairs or work on a higher floor.
The Nawab agreed to these conditions, and on the appointed day, Dastur Pesuji came to the Nawab’s palace on foot, where he was received with great respect and pomp. The Nawab, eager to show his appreciation of the pious person’s visit had lavishly decorated his living room and covered the floor with the most priceless and attractive rugs. Dastur Pesuji saw all this and politely refused to come into the room until all the rugs were lifted off the floor, as it would nullify his spiritual power and cause the exorcism to fail. As the rugs were lifted and the floor exposed, Dastur Pesuji walked into the drawing room and had his first look at the Nawab’s daughter. Ever since he had started his Amal, there had been a great change in her and she was now much more quiet and subdued, although it was obvious that the evil spirit was still very much inside her.
In front of the Nawab, the elder ladies of his family and Mancherji Seth, Dastur Pesuji very softly and politely spoke to the Nawab’s daughter in Urdu and requested her to occupy the silver chair which had been kept for this purpose by the Nawab. As she silently obeyed him and sat down, Dastur Pesuji took out a small glass bottle from inside his priestly dress. The glass bottle had a tight fitting glass stopper, on which was tied a small piece of cotton string, such that the bottle could be lifted and held straight with a finger. Dastur Pesuji opened the bottle and placed it near the chair. Then he went back a few steps and drawing a Kash or invisible spiritual boundary around himself, began to very softly chant a sacred Manthra. As he prayed on, suddenly the daughter screamed out loudly, ‘O, mother!’ and stood up from the chair. Immediately, as instructed earlier, the elder ladies of the family caught her gently, held her in their laps and consoled her. As this was happening, Dastur Pesuji moved out of his Kash and still praying those mighty Manthras, loudly and tightly closed the mouth of the bottle with the glass stopper and moved the bottle aside to another place close by.
Soon, the girl stopped crying and became calm and composed and Dastur Pesuji asked her how she felt. The daughter replied: ‘I feel as though a great weight, which was constantly crushing my body and my soul, and which was causing me great distress, has suddenly lifted and I am feeling much better now.’ The Nawab who had silently witnessed this miracle was overjoyed and could not contain his happiness and the awe and respect he felt for the pious Dastur Pesuji. But the great Mobed always maintained his distance from him and instead bowed down to the Nawab and his family in great respect, thereby maintaining his spiritual aura intact. Most Mobeds have a great sense of humour and Dastur Pesuji was no exception. As he made to leave, Dastur Pesuji requested the Nawab to lend him one of his men to carry the small glass bottle back to his house. The Nawab had become so emotional and so grateful towards the Dastur that he himself volunteered for this task, and promptly bent down to pick up the bottle from the ground. But alas, he could not lift it! The Nawab summoned some of his guards and instructed them to pick up the bottle. But even four of them together could not lift the bottle. It seemed as though the bottle had magically stuck to the floor! With laughter on his bright red face glowing with spiritual radiance, the pious Dastur once again began his silent prayer, bent down and putting his little finger through the cotton thread tied on the bottle, effortlessly picked up the bottle and walked out of the Nawab’s palace. It was then the Nawab realised the true magnitude of Dastur Pesuji’s Amal. In this manner, a simple pious Dastur of Surat managed to raise the reputation of his entire community in the eyes of the most important man of the city, and in doing so, performed a miracle whose faint memory lingers on to this day.
I remember my grandfather telling me this story one night and the warm tingly feeling I had all over my body as he described the miracle. The memory stayed for many years and was reignited while reading the old Parsi Avaz newspapers of 1964, where Jehangirji Chiniwalla has written this story. The objective of writing this article is to preserve the oral tradition of our community, which is slowly but steadily being wiped out (already most of it is gone). But there is also another reason, and that is to show the life that a true Athravan is supposed to live. To compare the life lived by Dastur Pesuji with the lives we priests of today live is a blot on the fair name of the pious Dasturji. It shows how far we have come in discarding bit by bit the strong and strict Tarikats of old, in the name of modernity and convenience. This story demonstrates that the power of our Manthra is great – but its greatness also depends almost entirely on the kind of life lived by its practitioner. One who hopes to attain the exalted state of Amal compulsorily has to live a life of seclusion, far away from the pollutants of modern day civilization, and with a support system that can take care of the necessary interactions with the outside world. This is the true meaning of maintaining the Bareshnum, which all practicing priests are supposed to hold dear. It is today impossible to maintain and live this life in a city like Mumbai, and it is increasingly becoming true in our villages too, where day by day, non-Parsi presence right next to our greatest Atash Behrams and Agiaries is threatening the exclusivity of our religious boundaries. This is the reason why there is no one of the calibre of Dastur Pesuji today. Those who want to make our places of worship into places for tourists and cacophony should realise that by doing so they are sowing the seeds of destruction of the Mobed’s ability to hold his Bareshnum and practice his ancient Tarikats.
May the Ruvan of the great and pious Dastur Pesuji and that of the so many hundreds more like him, whose names and deeds are now lost forever to us, guide us and protect our community.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram