Roj Mohor Mah Khordad, 1380 Yz.
Meanwhile, when Dastur Mulla Kaus proceeded to Hyderabad, Seth Dadibhai Nosherwanji appointed his son Mulla Feroze as the second Dastur of the Kadmis in Mumbai in 1794. Mulla Feroze was destined to have a career even more illustrious than his late father. He immersed himself in deep study of Avesta, Pahlavi, Persian and wrote many books and treatises, gathering in the process a library full of priceless manuscripts. His habits and living style were in perfect sync with the mandates of our religion. Dastur Mulla Feroze would hardly ever step out of the Atash Behram premises. He slept one hour in the afternoon and two hours at night. The remaining part was spent in prayers, ritual and writing books and treatises on religion. A man of very frugal habits, Dastur Mulla Feroze ate only 120 grams of food per day and maintained strict laws of purity. He impressed not only Parsis but all members of the public with his humility and piety.
As his name grew more popular, his piety and learning made him a leader of the community in Mumbai. Dastur Mulla Feroze would personally supervise and conduct many Pav Mahel ceremonies at the Dadyseth Atash Behram. During the Yazashne ceremonies, Dastur Mulla Firoze would personally weave a thread made out of cotton yarn he would himself draw. While praying the 72 Has of the Yasna, Mulla Feroze would give numerous twists and knots in the thread. Many Parsis would come to Mulla Feroze and take this thread to use as a cure for sick children and other health problems and difficulties. In this manner, Dastur Mulla Feroze stopped the habit of Parsis who would visit houses of worship of other religions and indulge in idol worship and religious adultery. This tradition continued for many years, making Dadyseth Atash Behram a centre of hope for those who were troubled by fate and disease.
As a distinguished scholar and man of learning, Dastur Mulla Feroze caught the attention of the Governor of Mumbai at that time – Sir Jonathan Duncan, who was himself very interested in Persian and in unravelling the mysteries of the east. As a mark of his respect towards Dastur Mulla Feroze, Sir Jonathan Duncan would drive up to the Dadyseth Atash Behram in his government carriage and Dastur Mulla Feroze would teach him Persian sitting in a room in the building used for wedding receptions today. Sir Jonathan Duncan paid Dastur Mulla Feroze the princely sum of Rs. 100 per month as tuition fees. This relationship grew into a strong friendship and Dastur Mulla Feroze and Sir Duncan spent many hours in the study of Persian.
Out of this friendship and relationship arose the translation of one of the most esoteric and difficult to understand books in Persian, which gave rise to much controversy, called the Desatir. Writing the foreword of this book, Dastur Mulla Feroze remarks: “this professes to be a collection of the writings of the different Persian Prophets, who flourished from the time of Mahabad to the time of the fifth Sasan, being fifteen in number; of whom Zerdusht, or Zoroaster was the thirteenth and the fifth Sasan the last… The writings of these fifteen prophets are in a tongue of which no other vestige appears to remain, and which would have been unintelligible without the assistance of the ancient Persian translation”. The contents of the Desatir have been criticized by several modern scholars (many call it an outright forgery!), who do not grant it any standing as a work coming down from ancient times for linguistic reasons. However, it contains teachings which are not merely universal, but which run far back into the night of human history; for example, the first chapter suggests the seven sacred planets; each star and planet having an intelligence, a soul, and a body; the kingdoms of nature on the cosmic ladder of life; reincarnation; rounds; and the grand periods or times of deluge.
Dastur Mulla Feroze wrote over 29 books, although only a few were printed. The majority remained as manuscripts in his priceless library. Of many things we can remember and thank him for, the foremost is his famous Monajat in honour of Prophet Zarathushtra which is found at the end of most Khordeh Avesta books. Written in superb Persian verse and dripping with emotion and devotion, the Monajat quickly became very popular and was often sung at religious functions. In addition, his account of the many travels he made to far off places in Iran are relevant even today and provide a fascinating and detailed account of the life and times of the Zoroastrians of those days.
Another great achievement of Dastur Mulla Feroze was the conceptualization and execution of the mammoth project called “George Nameh”. Based on the style of Firdausi’s epic Shah Nameh, Dastur Mulla Feroze began to write in Persian verse, an account of the conquest of India by the British and the establishment of the Raj in 40,000 verses. Even though he could not finish this project in his life time, Dastur Mulla Feroze’s name is indelibly linked to the George Nameh. For his services to the British government, Dastur Mulla Feroze was paid the sum of Rs. 400 per month till the day he died.
On 11th January 1797, Seth Dadibhai Nosherwanji made an appeal to the Governor of Mumbai, Sir Jonathan Duncan, asking for permission to construct a Dakhma for his family’s personal use on his land near Malabar Hill. Although two Dakhmas had been already constructed and consecrated in Mumbai, the ceremonies had been performed by Shahenshahi priests. Seth Dadyseth was eager that a Dakhma be consecrated as per the Kadmi tradition too. Due to his position and influence, Seth Dadyseth received a favourable response from the Governor vide a letter dated 28th February, 1797. Work started immediately and soon thereafter, the intricate Tana ceremony which is performed prior to the construction of the Dakhma was undertaken. The honour of performing this very difficult and back breaking ceremony was taken by Ervad Kekobad Mulla Kaus Jalal, the younger son of Dastur Mulla Kaus and brother of Dastur Mulla Feroze, who supervised the entire proceedings. Unfortunately, Ervad Kekobad passed on 31st August, 1797, shortly after performing the Tana ceremony at the young age of just 32. Finally on 22nd April, 1798, the Dakhma was consecrated and after a Jashan, was put open for the use of the members of the Dadyseth family.
In this manner, Seth Dadibhai Nosherwanji not only introduced the first Atash Behram in Mumbai, he also constructed the first Kadmi Dakhma. It is a measure of the goodness and prominence of this great philanthropist that His Creator helped him perform all his acts in a meritorious and religious way. Having lived a life totally dedicated to serving the poor and needy of not only his own community but all humans, Seth Dadibhai Nosherwanji – the Great Dadyseth breathed his last on 7th April, 1799, just one year after the Dakhma had been made ready. What an illustrious life! What philanthropy! What religious zeal! Where are these Sethias in our community today?
Dastur Mulla Feroze continued his brilliant career and his life of piety and prayer. Soon he was appointed as a Trustee of the Parsi Punchayet in Mumbai. He played a leading part in all religious matters and his voice of reason and logic was much in demand whenever controversies arose and issues had to be settled. A few years before his death, Dastur Mulla Feroze collected all the books and manuscripts in his possession and organised them thoroughly. He left instructions that after his death, these books should become part of a library open to the public for study and research. Having lived a complete and truly Zoroastrian life, Dastur Mulla Feroze passed away on 8th October, 1830 at the age of 72. His body was laid in the same Dakhma which he had overseen the construction of – the Dakhma of Seth Dadibhai Nosherwanji. Thus, in the end, the sponsor and the priest both met even in death.
On the day of his Uthamna, his brother’s son, Rustamji Kekobad Mulla Kaus Rustam Jalal was appointed as the third Kadmi Dastur. In line with the wishes of Dastur Mulla Feroze, his library was set up and opened to the public. The day after his death, Sir James Sutherland, Member of the Governor’s Council in Mumbai sent a heartfelt letter to his friend Dadabhai Wadia. I am reproducing that letter here to show in what high estimation Dastur Mulla Feroze was held even by the English. Sir Sutherland wrote:
“I am much grieved to hear of the death of the learned and venerable Mulla Feroze bin Kaus, and many will be sorry on the occasion, for he was held most deservedly in high estimation by the literary community. To the Parsis, of whom he was so bright an ornament, his loss must be severe, for I fear he has left darkness behind, as he had not his equal as an oriental Scholar, and there is no one so well qualified to throw light on any difficulties of your ancient religion and literature as he was. For my own part, I never met a more gentlemanly person possessed of such amiable feelings as he had among any of the natives of India.”
In 1854, on the death of Dastur Rustamji Kekobad, the Kadmi Anjuman decided to set up a Madressa (school of learning) in honour of Dastur Mulla Feroze. This Madressa provided free education in Avesta, Pahlavi and Persian to any Parsi student. A few years later, the Madressa was merged with the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy Madressa. It has been my honour and privilege to have been a student of this Madressa for 10 years, where I learnt the basics of Avesta and Pahlavi. The library of Dastur Mulla Feroze is today merged with the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute and two very large bookcases containing the valuable books and manuscripts of Dastur Mulla Feroze can still be seen there, along with a portrait of the Dastur in the main hall of the library. A copy of the portrait of Dastur Mulla Feroze hanging in the hall of the Dadyseth Atash Behram is given below. I am thankful to Khshnoom lover and noted photographer Mr. Minoo Bhagalia for taking this photograph and allowing me to reproduce it here.
Dear readers of Frashogard, being a Priest is a way of life, not a business. It calls for strict discipline, endless hours, great devotion and dedication, coupled with a life of simplicity, piety and purity. The priests of today (this writer included) are not fit to be called priests. The benchmarks left behind by the illustrious lives of Dastur Mulla Kaus and Dastur Mulla Feroze serve as beacons of endless light – to be admired and aspired for, but we can never dream of emulating them. Our community refused to take care of its priests when they lived real lives of purity and piety, and today’s generation is paying for those mistakes in the form of rogue priests who shorten prayers and so-called priests who advertise in newspapers for inter-community ceremonies. It behoves us all to think of the dawn when we shall face our Creator and be asked that simple question: “did you live your life on Zoroastrian principles?” Dastur Mulla Kaus and Dastur Mulla Feroze were amongst those few who could hold their head high and reply in the affirmative. The rest of us are destined to hang our heads in shame.
May the Ruvans of Dastur Mulla Kaus Rustam Jalal and Dastur Mulla Feroze bin Kaus Rustam Jalal progress onwards in nature and reach the House of Songs, and may they shower their blessings and guidance on those of us who still remember them.
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram