Roj Hormuz Mah Meher, 1379 Yz.
As can be expected from our community press, none of the newspapers carried any news about the passing of the Master. Mr. Jehangir Vimadalal, a leading advocate and great believer of Ustad Saheb made inquiries and found out that although an obituary had been written and sent to the Jame Jamshed for publication, the same was not carried since it contained the names of the Masani brothers and Jame Jamshed did not print anything with their name! Finally, Mr. Vimadalal himself penned an article on the life of the Master and it appeared in Jame three weeks after his passing away. The Theosophical magazine ‘Cherag’ carried an obituary on Ustad Saheb written by Mr. Ardeshir Billimoria, an admirer of the Master. Later on a small note on Ustad Saheb was printed in the Parsi Prakash magazine.
Ustad Saheb’s unexpected death finally got together his students and for two years, Ervad Phiroze Masani strove night and day to get all those who had come into contact with the Master to write for a proposed Memorial Volume. Many students contributed to this venture and finally in 1930, the Behramshah Shroff Memorial volume came out as Frashogard volume 17 and 18. This mammoth publication, over 850 pages long contained articles by 34 different individuals who had interacted with Ustad Saheb during their lifetime, and contained their reflections and memories of the association they had formed with the Master. This memorial volume has been reprinted by the Trustees of the Zoroastrian Radih Society and is available to this day. Any person who is serious about knowing more about the life and depth of knowledge our Master possessed cannot but read this memorial from cover to cover.
Among the outstanding articles in this volume, some worth noting include an article by a pucca Yaozdathregar Mobed of Udwada, Ervad Behramji Unwalla on how his contact and meeting with Ustad Saheb completely changed his view about religion and rituals and how he totally reversed his earlier opinions and practices being followed by the priests there. Another superb article, written in the most amazingly pure Gujarati language by Barjo Laher describes how this simple man came into contact with Ustad Saheb and how his earlier reluctance to believe in such a person turned into admiration and near worship after meeting with the Master. Another very emotional and touching article was penned by Ervad Manekji Burjorji Dastur Bhathena, the High Priest of the Bhathena Mobeds. Giving vent to the ongoing modernization and aping of western culture within the community, the pious Dastur implored his readers to come back to the traditional way of life as espoused by the Master.
The article written by Mr. Kavasji Sarkari detailing his experiments with Avesta Manthra has been described by me in an earlier post . A very technical article by Hakim Rustam Sola Doctor described the various Ilm in which the Master was proficient in. Sola Doctor also recounted the warning which Ustad Saheb had given to him (and Parsis in general) to never use the process of breath control or regulation, called pranayam. While certain health benefits could be derived from this procedure, Ustad Saheb specifically warned that Parsis would regress spiritually by following this method. While certain Yogic exercises could be followed on health grounds, the practice of pranayam has been strongly discouraged in this article. Displaying his own personal skill in the science of ABJAD – the method of attaching numeric weights to each letter of the Persian alphabet and then arriving at the sum of the letters to derive a deeper meaning (much like numerology), Hakim Saheb also penned a poem in Persian with the name of Ustad Saheb in such a way that adding the totals of the words in the final sentence of the poem gave the sum of 1927 – the year of Ustad Saheb’s death!
The Master’s closest disciples penned articles not only recounting their days with the Master, but also some very deep Khshnoom philosophy. Dr. Saheb Framroze Chiniwalla wrote two articles, one on the Jam-e-Jehanuma or method of calculating the future events and another very long and extremely intricate article on the life of the Master as well as the depth of knowledge he possessed. His brother Jehangir Chiniwalla wrote on the new light Ustad Saheb had shone on Firdausi and his Shah Nameh. Dinshaw Masani wrote the longest article in the volume, going into great details about the Master’s public life and the various episodes, both good and painful in his interaction with the Parsi Vegetarian and Temperance Society and also a staunch defense of vegetarianism. In a scholarly article, Ervad Phiroze Masani gave details about the different facets of the Zoroastrian religion where Ustad Saheb had displayed his amazing knowledge and completely changed the way of thinking of many scholars and free thinkers. The person who had the honour of first listening to the Master – Manchersha Pallonji Kekobad, or Manchersha Master who also finally drew Behramshah out of his silence and introduced him to the outside world penned an intimate account of his meeting with the Master and subsequent developments.
On 7th July 1928, the Varsi and first Baj of the Master was performed and commemorated by a public meeting. In 1929, the Baj day was not observed but Ustad Saheb’s birthday was commemorated on 10th August. At this meeting Mr. Jehangir Vimadalal suggested that a committee should be formed to ensure that the Baj of Ustad Saheb was observed every year with a public function. This thought was carried forward into the next year and finally on 7th July 1931, on the fourth Baj of Ustad Saheb, the Ilm-e-Khshnoom Felavnari Committee was constituted and till this day the members of this committee have observed the Baj of Ustad Saheb without a single break.
Ervad Phiroze Masani continued with the publication of the Frashogard quarterly, printing many of Doctor Saheb Chiniwalla’s articles as well as a long series of articles on the deeper meaning of various ceremonies, written by himself. After a long and faithful life of service towards religion and Khshnoom, Ervad Masani met with a tragic death on 18th February 1943. With his death, the Frashogard quarterly also closed down. There was now no official publication from the Khshnoom movement and the loss of Frashogard was felt deeply. Advocate Jehangirji Chiniwalla proposed to start a weekly newspaper which would take the place of the quarterly Frashogard. After a great deal of effort and support from various quarters, the Parsi Avaz weekly commenced publication on 7th July, 1947 – the 20th death anniversary of Ustad Saheb.
Week after week, Parsi readers were presented with 16 sheets of news in Gujarati along with commentaries on community affairs and a great deal of Khshnoom knowledge. This superhuman effort was almost single handedly taken on by Jehangirji Chiniwalla along with a few close associates and friends, including Ervad K. N. Dastoor, now the 17th Dastoor Meherjirana. The pen of Doctor Saheb Framroze Chiniwalla wrote endlessly – over 40,000 pages have been written and published, many more remain to be published! A superb and in depth series on the history of ancient Iran up to Yazdegard Sheriar was printed over 17 years in the Parsi Avaz, every week! Many more series of articles were printed, which were later on catalogued by late Dasturji Meherji. After a long almost ascetic life of prayer, and non-stop writing, Doctor Saheb Framroze Chiniwalla passed away on 6th August 1962.
The superhuman effort of Jehangirji went on even after his brother’s death. Whenever any issue threatened to destroy the traditional fabric of the community, Jehangirji was in the forefront, leading as a fearless Ratheshtar right in front, boldly taking on each and every reformist. After a long life devoted to Khshnoom, innumerable speeches, thousands of articles (including a very long series on the life of the Master – from which this series by me has been written) and editorials (including one written hardly 30 minutes before his death – on the Dokhma!) and many memorable fights, Jehangirji passed away on 13th October 1973. About a year later, the Parsi Avaz newspaper also closed.
The Fasli Agiary concept at Behram Baug died a natural death with the demise of Ustad Saheb. However, the Fasli Muktad ceremonies were continued under the supervision of Dinshaw Masani. The project to build a Tarikat colony of individual bungalows also remained on paper. After independence, the vast lands comprising the Behram Baug estate were encroached upon. A major part of the land was acquired by the government for the ostensible purpose of giving it to the poor. No such thing happened and while the litigation between the government and the Trustees of the Zoroastrian Radih Society continued, more and more land was encroached upon. Throughout these years of hardship, Dinshaw Masani stayed on the Behram Baug estate, all alone, protecting the sacred space where the Fasli Dadgah was going to be constructed. After his death on 22nd October, 1965, the Fasli Muktad scheme continued and litigation also continued.
Due to the tireless efforts of late Ervad Nadirshah Turel, the Radih Society finally got back the land from the government and under consent terms filed between the two, a plan to build a housing colony for Parsis was approved by the government in return for some of the land being given to them. Construction of the Behram Baug Parsi colony started and the first two buildings came up in 1997, seven more by 1999, and more projected to come up. Work on the construction of an Atash Dadgah started in 1999 and finally on 29th March, 2001, the Atash Dadgah was consecrated and enthroned as the Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowroji Shroff Daremeher, thereby fulfilling in some manner the dream of Ustad Saheb. In November 2003, it was my great privilege and honour to be appointed as the Panthaky of this Daremeher. Since then, the Fasli Muktad ceremonies have been made more intense and almost at the same level as performed during the lifetime of Ustad Saheb.
In this manner, my dear readers, we come to the end of this long voyage. It has been an emotional journey for me, to sit down and write all these details, gathering material from old Parsi Avaz cuttings, the Memorial Volume and memories of my interaction with senior Khshnoom figures over the years. It is my insignificant contribution to repay the deep debt I owe to my Master, Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowroji Shroff, for completely turning around my life and making me the person I am today. It is my sincere hope that this account of his life in English and over the Internet will bring many more Parsis into contact with this most noble of souls that our earth has seen in these last two centuries, and prove to be as significant an influence in their lives as it has been in mine.
Let us pray one Ashem Vohu in memory of my Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowroji Shroff and wish that his Ruvan progresses from whatever station it is in nature and continues to shower its blessings on our troubled community. I shall conclude by quoting and translating the following lines from a poem composed in Persian by late DasturFaramarz Kutar (translator of the Shah Nameh) in honour of Ustad Saheb, printed in the memorial volume:
Babaadaa dorudo doa aafreen,
Ba Ustad-e Behramshah-e guzeen!
Doa guyad del bar aan naamdaar
Ke roohe varaa dar Behsht-e bareen
Bemaanad ba khurram abaa aafreen!
Benedictions, blessings and homage
To the Chosen One, Ustad Behramshah!
O great one! My heartfelt wishes and entreaties
That your Ruvan may reside in Paradise,
in everlasting bliss, forever and ever!
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram