History of Parsi's

mount Damavand Panoramic View


The British took possession of Bombay in 1662 but for the following hundred years Bombay remained relatively marginal to the East India Company’s concerns. For the first seventy years, Portuguese influence remained strong, for example, in the use of their language and currency. Pirates at sea undermined its role as a port; the original seven marshy islands were unhealthy. Gradually the silting up of the port of Surat, the building of the dockyard in Bombay, and the political turmoil of the mainland with the battles between the Marathas and the Muslim powers, as well as European rivalries, led to the emergence of Bombay as the commercial capital of western India in the 19th century. The situation of the Zoroastrians in Bombay has been discussed in another entry; here the focus will be on Zoroastrians in India outside this major emerging city.


Although Sanjān occupied a prominent role in the early history of the Parsis, Navsari was to rise to a position of religious pre-eminence. The first temple is reputed to have been built there in 1142. From approximately 1300 CE and for about two hundred years, there was political oppression and persecution in the Navsari by Muslim rulers from Delhi (Kamerkar and Dhunjisha,). In 1531 Maneck Chāngā, son of Chāngā Āsā, built a daḵ-ma there (Palsetia,). One of the Navsari notables to whom Rivayats were sent was Rana Jesang, who, indeed, was the first named in the sixth and seventh Rivayats (dated 1520 and 1535, respectively). From records of land sales we learn that he purchased substantial properties. He was descended from the first priest to come to Navsari, namely Kamdin Zarthosht, and was himself a learned priest, authoring several books. His son, Meherji Rana, became a pivotal figure in Parsi priestly history. On his father’s death he became the senior priest in Navsari, witnessed by some judgments written in his own hand. In 1573 Emperor Akbar conquered Surat, so acquiring parts of coastal Gujarat, including Navsari (Stiles Maneck,). After his victory he met Meherji Rana and subsequently invited him to the court to give an account of his religion (1577-78). Akbar took an active interest in the religions in his realm and invited the leaders of each to come and inform him about their religion; Meherji Rana was asked to expound on Zoroastrianism. Tradition relates that Akbar was impressed and took the fire as the symbol of holiness in his court. Further, he used the Zoroastrian calendar as an official court calendar. Some Parsi commentaries claim that Akbar was converted and wore the sodra and kosti, but he was a noted syncretist and it seems unlikely he took up Zoroastrianism to any serious extent. Nevertheless, he clearly respected Meherji Rana and rewarded him generously with a grant of land near Navsari. On his return home, he was feted as a hero, formally declared to be the senior dastur, and was given more land. The acclaim he received reinforced Navsari’s standing as the main religious center of the Parsis in the 16th century.

Later, Akbar invited Dastur Ardašir Noširvān Kermāni from Persia to help produce a Persian lexicon. The relative influence of the two Zoroastrians is unknown, but it is said to have been a factor in developing further contacts between Zoroastrians in the two countries, for Dastur Noshirvān Kermāni is said to have written to Dastur Kamdin Padam of Broach encouraging him to visit Persia (Mirza).

Class room

Navsari gradually emerged as the center of Parsi religious authority in 17th-century India. It replaced Sanjān as the base from which priests were sent to Parsi communities elsewhere. For example, in 1543 both the Bhagaria and the Sanjana priests of Navsari sent mobads to work in the region of Damaun and in 1580 to Diu. It was also the location of one of the oldest and most revered agiāris (lit. the place of fire), the Vadi dar-e mehr. Its early history is unknown, but it was rebuilt in 1588, and again in 1795 and 1851.

Navsari is the seat of a senior priestly lineage, the Bhagarias, with Dastur Meherji Rana as their leader. It has long been a center of religious learning. In the 16th century, it had a center where Zoroastrian manuscripts were copied and translations made into Gujarati. The priests were affluent, buying and selling land. In 1627 the priests received copies of the Vištāsp Yašt and Visperadfrom Persia; Dastur Asdin Kaka was one of the early scholars, and in 1693 the ancestor of the JamaspAsa high priestly family was born there.

Dastur Jamasp Asha (b. 1693) had a thirst for knowledge but faced many struggles. He studied Persian, Sanskrit, and astrology from a pundit but he wanted also to learn Zand/ Pahlavi and so he went to Broach to study with Jamshid Kamdin. He had, however, done this against his father’s will and consequently had no funds even to buy oil for lamps to read by. A sympathetic Hindu in Broach allowed him to sit and read while his shop was open before he became well known in Broach literary circles. He read from the Šāh-nāma for the Nawab until a jealous Maulvi (Moslem scholar) condemned the reading of the Šāh-nāma and Dastur Jamasp Asha lost his position. He returned to Navsari in 1719. The leading priests of the time were reluctant to provide the behdins with translations, but he had no such hesitation and produced Gujarati translations of five gāhs and some Yašts. This made him controversial, as did his teaching on laying out the corpse with padān (the mask worn over the mouth by priests to avoid defiling the sacred fire in the sanctuary), and the celebration of the Gatha days (the five Gathic days added to the last month of the year), and his belief thatbehdins should be allowed to study and, if knowledgeable, become dasturs. When Dastur Jamasp Velāyati arrived in Surat in 1721, Dastur Jamaspji and two other dasturs went to study with him. When Dastur Velāyati left, he pronounced Dastur Jamasp Asha to be the most perceptive and presented him with copies of two Pahlavi texts. From that time, he was thought of as senior among Navsari’s dasturs. Several other dasturs, including some from the Sanjana and Meherji Rana families, studied under him. Among those who acclaimed his knowledge were Dastur Mulla Bin Kaus and later Martin Haug. Dastur Jamasp Asha collected a library of manuscripts that his three sons (Dastur Noshirwanji Jamaspji of Poona, Dastur Jamshedji Jamaspji of Bombay, and Dastur Khurshed Jambudji of Mhow) divided between themselves. He died at the age of sixty in 1753.

Parsi Priest

The most scholarly of the sons was Jamshedji Jamaspji. He created some controversy by arguing against the consecration of the Ātaš Bahrām in Navsari after Irān-šāh had been moved to Udwada. He refused to attend the inaugural celebration (jašan) but gave a lecture on fire afterwards, which brought him much acclaim. He was also well regarded by the Gāēkwād, to whom he recited the Šāh-nāma, but court pundits attacked him because he ate meat and drank liquor. They proposed, and the Gāēkwād accepted, that there should be the challenge of a debate, which Dastur Jamaspji won, thereby earning himself recognition as a pundit. In 1781 he traveled on foot to Bombay where he was again held in high esteem, directing the consecration of various agiaris “places for fire” (for example the Maneckji SettAgiāri) as well as daḵmas in the Mofussil. He was content to live in poverty and it is said that when Lowjee Wadia (1700-1774), the builder of the Bombay dockyard, was traveling between Surat and Bombay he saw Dasturji’s hut-like home and left money for him to have a suitable house. On his return, he asked where the new house was, to which tradition relates the Dastur replied “Sir not in this world but in the spiritual”.

The Bombay lineage of the JamaspAsa family became established under Dastur Kurshedji Jamshedji, who, after studying Zand, Pahlavi, Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit, went to Bombay in 1801 where he was the first Shahenshai Dastur, although the Qadmis had a dastur there for the previous eighteen years. He was officially declared dastur on 5 April 1812 and, when the Bombay Parsi Panchayat’s membership was increased from twelve to eighteen in 1818, he became one of the priestly akabars (managers of the panchayat). Until the late 19th century, successive dasturs of this lineage were born and studied Avesta, Pahlavi, and Persian at Navsari before they were appointed to the dastur-ship in Bombay. The first to be born in Bombay was Dastur Kaikhusroo Jamaspji in 1866. In 1898 he performed the first boi ceremony (i.e., ceremony of feeding the sacred fire) of the new Anjuman Ātaš Bahrām.

Several members of the lineages have been the focus of controversy; for example, Dastur Jamshed Rustom was criticized in 1844-45, because he showed the missionary John Wilson various manuscripts and explained some rituals to him. Dastur Kaikhusroo Jamaspji, who was the first dastur of the new Bombay Ātaš Bahrām, performed the naujote (ceremony of investing a person, usually a child, with sacred shirt and cord) of Tata’s French wife. The JamaspAsa lineage (nowadays in Bombay/Mumbai and Poona/Pune) holds what is referred to as the third “chair” among the dasturs of Navsari, the first being held by the Meherji Ranas and the second by Dastur Pahlan’s lineage since 1726.

Although Parsis were generally politically secure and flourished in Navsari, the region was subject to diverse threats during the 17th and 18th centuries: famine in 1630-37 and 1718-19, the plague in 1684 and 1691, floods in 1731-32, and the invasion of the town in 1664 and 1667 by the Mahratta chief Šivāji. In the 1730s the Parsis feared the desecration of Irān-šāh by the invading armies of Pēšwā Bāji Rāo and so took the fire to the home of a Parsi leader in Surat. Parsis, as other communities, faced various external threats as well.

When Irān-šāh was moved to Udwada in 1742, attempts were made to consecrate a new Ātaš Bahrām in Navsari. The story of the consecration of the second Ātaš Bahrām in India, this one for the Bhagarias (Irān-šāh being the responsibility of the Sanjanas), is related in Shapurji M. Sanjana’s Qeṣṣa-ye Zartoštiān-e Hendustān. Although the Qeṣṣa is traditionally depicted as focused on the settlement in Sanjān, the central theme is the history of Irān-šāh Ātaš Bahrām down to the time of Changa Asa. The Qeṣṣa-ye Zartoštiān-e Hendustān is a parallel text dealing with the consecration of the second Ātaš Bahrām at Navsari. The priestly and lay folk of Navsari proposed the consecration of an Ātaš Bahrām, which reportedly was led by the Pious Khorshid. He obtained permission from Akbar and then circulated Parsis in other important settlements all of whom expressed joy and promised support. With a book from Persia to guide them, they duly consecrated the second Ātaš Bahrām in India in 1765 in the presence of a hundred priests “wise, pure of body and of powerful wisdom,” driving the demons and sorcerers into “the darkest hell.” All those who worshipped the Ātaš “became like a flowered garden.” As people assembled to honor the Ātaš “everyone became free from sorrow because of its sight, the wishes were satisfied and the needs diminished”. The celebration of the second Ātaš Bahrām’s consecration became the subject of popular legend in Gujarati oral tradition, which produced a liturgical text of a song performed on auspicious occasions such as naujotes, weddings, and the Ātaš nu git, which awaits full scholarly analysis.

There were, naturally, other religious structures. Daḵmas were constructed there by Changa Asa's son in 1531, by M. N. Sett in 1747, a large 195 pāvi(sacred [making it one of the largest in India]) daḵ-ma in 1796, and a further one in 1823. In 1864 an estimated crowd of 8,000 Parsis assembled from Bombay, Bulsar, and Surat to celebrate the consecration of a new daḵ-ma. Ātaš Bahrām, consecrated in 1765, was installed in a new building in 1810.

The scholarly tradition of Navsari continued in various ways. In 1856 a Zoroastrian school (madrasa) was opened to educate young priests and enable them to withstand the criticisms of Christian missionaries. A major Parsi library, the Dastur Meherji Rana Library, was opened in 1872, which became famous not only for its collection of books but also for its collection of manuscripts of religious texts. Several schools were founded, which educated some of the major leaders of future Parsi society. The earliest one, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, the first Indian to be knighted and then made baronet in recognition of his charitable works; was orphaned at an early age and went to Bombay from Navsari to earn his living in his future father-in-law’s (F. N. Batliwala) business. Batliwala had left Navsari in about 1790 to start a business in collecting and selling empty bottles before he went into the China trade in 1801, where he was again joined by Jeejeebhoy. In his later years, Jeejeebhoy visited Navsari and other Gujarat centers bestowing much largesse, including a dar-e mehr, walls around the sagdi (building for the fire in funeral grounds) and well for lustrations, a hall for the seasonal festivals (gāhambār/gāhānbār) and a school, as well as doles for the poor. He also paid the Gāēkwād 11,907 rupees to save his co-religionists in Navsari from paying the poll tax (jezya). His visit casts an interesting side light on priestly authority of the time. Candidates for nāvar (priesthood initiatory ceremony) had to undergo initiation in Navsari. Now that there was an Ātaš Bahrām in Bombay, Jeejeebhoy conveyed a request that such initiations could henceforth take place in Bombay; but the permission was refused. Other Parsi notables with their roots in Navsari include Dadabhoy Naoroji and the Tata family.

There are a number of episodes pointing to the extent of Parsi prestige in the wider community. Although it was not normal for maharajas to visit and honor priests in their homes, in 1861 Maharaja Khanderas Gāēkwād called on Dastur Meherji Rana in his home and honored him with a shawl and turban; and in 1874 the Maharaja of Baroda called on N. R. Tata in his Navsari home. In 1878 the governor of Bombay, Sir Richard Temple, traveled to Navsari in order to see the Tata daḵ-ma and sagdi. He taken to see them by Dastur H. J. JamaspAsa, before they were consecrated, an event attended by approximately 10,000. They also held prestigious public offices as well. For example, in 1886 Dinshah D. Mullan was appointed public prosecutor in Navsari. Dastur Edulji N. JamaspAsa, as well as officiating as dastur, was also customs officer in the Nizam of Hyderabad’s state in the 1890s, and Burjorji R. Gharda was commissioner of Navsari municipality and was appointed by the Maharaja of Baroda to his State Commission in the same period. Sohrabji J. Taleyarkham (d. 1900) was made a judge in Navsari by the Gāēkwād.

Because of Navsari’s religious importance, its Parsi community has been the focus of considerable charitable work by wealthy Parsis from elsewhere; including the founding of schools, hospitals, maternity homes, charitable dispensaries, science and arts colleges, orphanages, an animal dispensary, roads, as well as religious buildings and the famed Dastur Meherji Rana library. In the 1881 census the Parsi population of Navsari was recorded at 8,118: 4,447 females and 3,671 males. The educational levels were not as high as those in Bombay. In that year, there were 1,934 educated males and only 605 educated females. Navsari, however, also remained a center of priestly conflict with the Bhagaria, Sanjana, and Meherhomji lineages, contesting each other’s rights to perform ceremonies. The disputes lasted into the 20th century.


The port had been important in coastal trade for centuries. It had also developed as an important international port, partly as a stage for the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and also for trade in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and even China. Parsis took part in the growth of this trade. From the 17th century Surat became a major center for the Parsis, overtaking Broach as their main commercial base in the Presidency. The earliest reference in the Prakash to Surat is a call for two mobads to come from Ankleshwar (the base of the Godavra Panthak) in 1616, four more were sent for in 1659. In 1647, Nanabhoy Punjya built a daḵ-ma, but there is reference to an earlier undated one. The cause of the increased importance of Surat was the arrival of European traders in the city. A number of Navsari Parsis moved to Surat following the Maratha raid on Navsari in 1707, for Surat, which had been fortified in 1664 following the raid of Šivāji, gave them greater security.

Dastur Noshirvan Dastur Kaikhosrow Behram Framroz (1822- 1897)

The leading 17th century Surat Parsi trader was Rustom Maneck Seth (1635-1721), who has been the subject of a number of studies, among which the ones carried out by Jivanji Modi (1929), Shapurji Kavasji Hodivala (1931,), and David L. White, apparently the most scholarly one, stand out. There is also the succinct account of Maneck Stiles. The key source materials are “The Qisseh of Rustom” discussed by Modi and the Surat Factory Records (for the Portuguese records see Panduronga Pissurlencar). Rustom’s father had served as a broker to the Portuguese, a position Rustom inherited. He also served the Dutch and finally the British. The history of the East India Company at this time was complex. The Old East India Company, sometimes referred to as the London East India Company, had a monopolistic control of trade between India and Britain and employed the (Hindu) Parekh brothers as brokers, but “interlopers” who had engaged in private trade started the New (or English) East India Company, which employed Rustom Maneck as broker. The result inevitably was confrontation. The situation was made more complicated when parliament dispatched Sir William Norris to the Mughal Court in 1702-03 to negotiate trading privileges for the New East India Company and Rustom was deputed to accompany and assist him. Norris displayed little respect for Awrangzēb, dismissed his conditions for trade, and departed with undiplomatic haste, leaving Rustom to incur a substantial fine, which the company was reluctant to reimburse. Rustom, however, remained in the monarch’s favor and received large gifts of land around Surat, which he gave to his family members, thus creating the three major areas of Surat: Frampura (after Rustom’s elder son, Framji), Nanpura (after his grandson Nanabhoy), and Rustompura after Rustom himself. The last of these consisted of a large garden up the Tapti River, a purchase that later became significant. Rustom amassed a fortune despite being caught up in company and broker feuding. He displayed considerable charity on numerous occasions in building bridges, digging wells, etc. In 1707, he settled in his garden a group of refugee Parsi weavers from Navsari, who were fleeing Maratha incursions. These weavers, and later Parsi groups seeking security in fortified Surat, enabled Rustom to control the means of production, further alienating his rivals and eventually provoking the jealousy of the company, which dismissed him. But he was reinstated and continued in the economically powerful position of East India Company broker until his death in 1721.

A Parsi Lady with a Child

His three sons inherited their father’s position but quickly fell foul of intrigues by their rivals, leading to their imprisonment. One of them, Naoroji, managed to escape and obtained passage aboard ship back to England, where he spent a year persuading the directors of the East India Company of the injustices done to his family (see Commissariat). He obtained full restitution and returned to India a wealthy and powerful figure. He settled in Bombay, where he became prominent in the Bombay Parsi Punchayet and a major charitable donor, although the family retained offices and influence in Surat and were major charitable donors in Surat, Bombay, and Navsari.

The successful appeal of Naoroji Maneck in London has resulted in that family being the focus of attention for writers on Surat Parsis. There were other important families as well, notably the Davar Modi family, who were regarded as the heads of Surat Parsis for centuries. Their ancestor dated from the 17th century. He and his descendents supplied provisions to the British in their early settlement and were therefore known as modis (approximately meaning “house stewards”). They were also recognized as community judges or magistrates (dāvars). Their authority was recognized both by the Nawab of Surat and the British, and some of their descendents continue to live in Surat (Katrak, passim). The family also claimed to speak on behalf of all Mofussil Parsis on major issues. For example, in the 1860s, Modee Rustomjee Khoorsedjee protested against the change in Parsi family law being planned by Bombay Parsis and questioned their right to speak on behalf of all Parsis. In part it would appear that the Mofussil Parsis feared the reforming possibilities of the highly educated urban Parsi leadership. The conflicts between Bhagaria and Sanjana priestly lineages, which started in Navsari, had also an impact on Surat, but Surat was the base of a yet greater controversy in connection with the religious calendar. In 1720, an Iranian Zoroastrian, Mobad Jamasp Velāyati (Jāmāsp Welāyati), arrived in Surat and realized that the Parsi calendar was one month in advance of the one followed in Persia. Being aware of religious disputes in Surat in connection with funeral practices, he hesitated to make the discrepancy public. Instead, he taught Zand/Pahlavi to three bright priests, namely Dastur Dārāb (Kumana Dadaru) of Surat, Dastur JamaspAsa of Navsari, and Dastur Kamdin of Broach. Velāyati visited Bombay before returning to Persia in 1721; his prior stay in Surat is perhaps an indication of the importance of the city at the time, which Jivanji Modi has shown to have been a center of priestly learning in the 17th century. Following Velāyati’s advice a layman, Maneckji Edulji A. Dalal, began praying according to the qadmi (the ancient) calendar, which caused further disputes. Fifteen years later, in 1736, a behdin, Jamshid, came from Persia to Surat and began to explain to Parsis there the differences between the Iranian and the Parsi calendars. Dastur Murzban Kaus Fredun Munajjam of Surat (1717-79) discoursed at length with Jamshid regarding the calendar and concluded that Jamshid Irani was correct and so advised Surat Parsis, thus giving birth to the Qadmi group. Their first Dasturs were Dastur Darab and his cousin Dastur Kaus Darab, who had studied Avestan and Pahlavi with Jamasp. Four years later the latter moved to Bombay, where he spoke extensively about the calendar issue. The ensuing disputes over two decades caused such problems that complaints were made in the durbar “court” at Broach, resulting in the arrest of Dastur Kamdin and others. The Nawab of Broach referred the matter to the Parsi panchayats of Navsari and Surat, and Bombay Parsis were told to follow the judgments of these two panchayats (illustrating the continued authority of the older settlements). Their judgment was communicated to the community in Broach affirming that the old ways should be continued and so most Parsis follow the traditional Shenshais (< Pers. šāhanšāhi, “royal”) calendar.

The importance of Surat’s Parsi community was highlighted by the fact that when Abraham Anquetil du Perron stayed in India to study Zoroastrianism and the Parsis, he stayed not in Bombay but in Surat (1757-60;). In 1754 Anquetil’s interest in the Parsis had been aroused by the sight of some facsimile leaves of the Avesta and by Thomas Hyde’s (q.v.) bookHistoria Religionis, which was based mainly on Persian, Greek, and Latin texts. Avestan was not then understood in Europe. He traveled to India in 1750 and journeyed around the country. His aim was to gain a first hand understanding of Zoroastrianism, knowing that the Parsis possessed much more literature about the religion than could be found in Europe. He also appreciated the importance of studying the cognate language, Sanskrit. In 1757 he settled in Surat, and published his findings in 1771. Anquetil’s account of early Parsi history is based on the Qeṣṣa-ye Sanjān, but he witnessed at first hand the arguments between Sanjana and Bhagaria priests and the calendar dispute. He was taught by Dastur Darab, a pupil of Dastur Jamasp Velayati. He spent most of his time collating various Avestan and Pahlavi manuscripts. Anquetil relates that he persuaded Dastur Darab into allowing him entry into the fire temple, disguised as a Parsi, a claim whose accuracy Modi has questioned. At the very least Modi established that Anquetil dramatized events to the point of distortion to emphasize his own bravery to his countrymen.

Surat had also been the home of Kaus Jalal. A leading businessman in Surat, Dhunjishah Manjishah, became leader of the Qadmis, and in 1768 sent Kaus Jalal with seventy-eight questions concerning the calendar and other issues to the dasturs of Persia. This stimulated the last of the Rivayats, the Ithoter (=78,). His motive was to learn about the consecration of fire temples, specifically Ātaš Bahrāms, because a Qadmi Ātaš Bahrām was planned for Bombay. Kaus Jalal took with him his ten-year old son, Peshotan. They left Surat by ship in 1768 and traveled via Muscat to Bandar ʿAbbās, thence to Yazd, a journey of three and a half months. Kaus left his son in the charge of a priest in Yazd to learn Avestan, and after four years of training he was ordained nāvar (initiated into priesthood). They stayed in Yazd for three years before proceeding to Isfahan, where Peshotan studied Arabic and Persian in a madrasa. After periods in Shiraz (where Kaus Jalal successfully interceded at court for Zoroastrians of Kermān to be released from the jezya) they journeyed to Baghdad, where Peshotan studied Turkish. Tradition relates that the caliph was so impressed with their erudition that he gave the honorific title Mollā to father and son, an honor normally reserved for scholarly Muslims. Thereafter Peshotan was known as “Mulla Feroze.” This is, however, an anachronistic legend, since the Abbasid caliphate at Baghdad had come to an end in 1258.

In 1780, after twelve years of studying in Persia, father and son returned to Surat. They later moved to Bombay, where their teachings on the calendar caused considerable disputes, but under Kaus Jalal’s influence the wealthy businessman funded the consecration of the first Ātaš Bahrām in Bombay, the Qadmi Dadiseth Ātaš Bahrām. Kaus Jalal was hailed as its first dastur in 1783. In 1794 he resigned and moved to Hyderabad, where he became a respected member of court, handing the dastur-ship to Mulla Feroze (Paymaster, 1931a, passim).

The story of Mulla Feroze and the Qabissa controversy highlight the importance of Surat in 18th-century Parsi history. It was also the first place to have more than one Ātaš Bahrām. Plans for each had long been maturing. In 1819 the widow of D. N. Modi sought the Anjuman’s permission to establish an Ātaš Bahrām. At the same time P. K. Vakil planned a Qadmi Ātaš. As there was no precedent for two such temples in one place there was much debate. The Shenshais, being the majority, argued that they had priority. The Supreme Court of Surat said the widow should have her building consecrated first and thereafter Vakil could consecrate his. Some 20,000 people gathered to celebrate the installation of the fire in the Modi Ātaš Bahrām on 19 November 1823. The Surat government closed the courts, the Collector’s office, treasury, and all factories in honor of the occasion. It was estimated that the ašo-dād (remuneration to a priest) expenses amounted to approximately 8,000 rupees, for there was a huge communal feast. Similarly, when the Vakil Ātaš was consecrated on the fifth of December of the same year, priests and behdins from numerous Gujarat villages, as well as from Bombay, congregated and again shared a large communal feast (Patel, pp. 34-38). The agreement that more than one Ātaš Bahrām could exist in one place provided the precedent for Bombay, where the first was the Qadmi Dadyseth Ātaš, then the Qadmi Banaji Ātaš(1845), and finally the Sanjana Wadia Ātaš and the Shahinshahi Anjuman Ātaš, founded in 1830 and 1897, respectively.

Surat was also the birthplace of a new Parsi religious movement, Ilm-i Khshnoom. The founder, Behramshah Nowroji Shroff (1858-1927), was born there and after his visit to Persia and his mystical experiences there and a tour around India returned to Surat (1891-1909), where he remained silent for some time before beginning his teaching, and then moving to Bombay.

Several Surat leaders were major benefactors. For example, Bhikhaji Eduljee (d. 1780), resident of Surat, funded a building for Irān-šāh at Udwada; N. Kohaji (d. 1797), an agent for British ships coming to Surat, built a structure for the sacred fire in Yazd and sent the sacred fire from Surat to Yazd by road and purchased two properties to cover its upkeep. He also funded the consecration of the Goti Adaran just outside the walls of Surat, a much-loved temple where it is believed that miracles had occurred. R. M. Enty, a prominent Surat Shetia and a leading figure in the cotton industry, built a daḵ-ma anddharmsala (building devoted to charitable or religious purposes) in Surat (Patel and Paymaster, I, p. 99). As with Navsari, the Surat community, and the Parsis in surrounding villages, were the focus of considerable charity both from its own members and from descendants who had moved to Bombay. The three main forms of charity were the building of temples, daḵmas and dharmsalas, but there were many others also: schools, sanatoria, technical institutes, orphanages (which also catered for children who were not necessarily orphans from remote villages so they could attend school in Surat), hospitals, old people’s homes, charitable dispensaries, libraries, medical care, and classes for Avestan and Pahlavi. Not all donations were exclusively for Parsis. For example, in 1864 F. S. Parakh donated 25,000 rupees for a dharmsala for travelers of all communities, and C. F. Parakh in the same year gave 15,000 rupees for the renovation of the Hindu-run Panjrapole (place for stray cattle); in 1868 the D. N. Mistry school was opened in Gopipura for children of all castes and creeds.

As in Navsari, leading Parsis in Surat were held in high esteem by the authorities. For example, in 1822, Ferozeshah and Ardashir Dhunjishah were honored by the nawab in a durbar at Surat, returning to their homes in triumphal procession, with the nawab’s retinue of elephants, Ardashir on horseback, two hundred guards from the nawab’s court, mace bearers and finally Ferozeshah, a triumphant procession subsequently repeated for them by the British in 1829. Ardashir Dhunjishah was honored for his work as Kotwal (superintendent of police and magistrate) and for rescuing many from floods and fire. Indeed Bhagwan Swami Narayan, when visiting Surat, called on Ardashir and gave him his turban and portrait as a mark of respect. Ardashir kept them in a place apart in his home, and once each year displayed them for public darshan when Swami Narayan priests visited to do puja. In 1863 R. C. P. Ghadiali of Surat ran the mint for the issue of new coins for the Maharaja of Baroda, and in that year two Parsis were made municipal commissioners. In 1869 Kaikhusroo H. Alpaiwalla was made government pleader in the Surat court, and in 1875 he was made judge of the Surat Small Causes Court.

Surat, like Navsari, suffered persecution from the Delhi sultanate in the 13th and 14th centuries but was more secure under the Gujarat sultanate after 1407. Both were invaded by Šivāji in 1664 and 1667, when the homes of Parsis and non-Parsis alike were looted. Surat also sustained a plague epidemic in the 17th century besides four major fires in the 18th century and six more in the first half of the 19th century. There was a major fire in 1836, two in 1837 followed by four days of flooding, and another one in 1889. These instigated substantial charitable donations while also prompting a number of Parsis to migrate. Most headed south to Bombay, and some traveled north to Karachi. The economy of Surat was weakened by the silting up of the river, which made access for ships more difficult and the conflicts between the various powers in the city resulted in much business transferring to the growing metropolis of Bombay in the 19th century. The 1881 Census recorded 12,593 Parsis in Surat, 5,779 males and 6,814 females, by far the largest number outside Bombay, which by that time had begun to assume pre-eminence among Parsis in India.

Broach / Bharuch

There are various indications that Broach/Bharuch was a more important early center for Parsis than we can currently document. It was an ancient port mentioned in the Periplus Maris Erythraei (ca. CE 80) and by Ptolemy as Barygaza, and perhaps dating back to Harappan times. It is plausible that the Parsi community there was an early trading Diaspora group from Persia as Stausberg has suggested. There are suggestions that there was a Parsi temple in Broach in the 10th century. The first individual Parsis known to have settled there arrived in 1142. In 1309 one Pestonji built a daḵ-ma, because the “old one” had become dilapidated. An agiari is said to have been consecrated there in the 11th or 12th centuries. Broach is said to have been a center for copying Zoroastrian manuscripts from the 16th century. It was from Broach that the first Parsi (Nariman Hōšang) went to Persia, which resulted in the first of the Rivayats, and its leaders were among those directly addressed in that Rivayat. The leader of Broach, Hōšang son of Ram, is identified as “that holy and dear” person in Nariman Hōšang’sRivayat. The township mentioned most frequently in theRivayets was Navsari, but Broach was also important. Broach Parsis were involved in nine of the Rivayats, but what we know of them is mainly due to the travel accounts of W. Geleynssen de Jongh, who was in Broach in 1625.

Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy (1783-1859)

It is difficult to plot a history of the community on the scant information that has reached us. We know that a daḵ-ma was built there in 1654, a dar-e mehr in 1727 and another in, and an Anjuman daḵ-ma was consecrated in 1833 with 5,000-6,000 Parsis having gathered to celebrate. There were violent incidents involving Parsis and Muslims in Broach. In 1702, a Parsi called a Muslim a fakir (mendicant) and the nawab gave the Parsi the choice either to convert to Islam or be executed; he chose death and his memory continues to be honored in prayers in Broach. In 1857 there were Parsi-Muslim riots in Broach. It was alleged that a Parsi (B. S. Bharucha) had entered a mosque; in retaliation two Parsi agiaris were desecrated, and some Parsis were killed, including the panthaki (a senior mobed who allocates priestly duties in his panthak), and the fire was extinguished. Bharucha himself was violently assaulted and then dragged through the streets. Five others were also killed. By way of contrast, the only indication of Parsi-Hindu relations is one Kamdin R. Bhagat (d. 1815), known as Bhagat (pious), because of his singing of Hindu Bhajans. A Hindu officer visited him weekly to venerate a pippal tree in his grounds.

References are made to various charitable donations to Parsi enterprises in Broach in addition to daḵmas and dar-e mehrs and two gardens (baugs) built there. Fardunji Kohiyar established a reading room and a scientific society there in 1831. C. N. Cama funded a Zoroastrian girls’ school in Broach in 1865 and another one was established by J. N. Petit in 1884. There is also a reference to Jeejeebhoy Dadabhoy Zoroastrian School. The main Parsi business was in the cotton industry, which until 1800 was the main item of export to China, and, after 1813, there was a 600 percent increase in export to Britain (1800-50;). In the early 1880s, Rastamji Manakji of Broach invested in a large tract of land to grow cotton, which developed into a flourishing business; in 1892 D. F. Ginwalla and four other Parsis were appointed to a committee of the newly established Cotton Ginning Association, and Darashah R. Dalal, a Parsi of Broach, was director of two mills (d. 1895). B S. Ginwalla, a resident of Broach, opened a ginning factory and also served as a Commissioner of Broach Municipality (d. in 1900). Another Broach leader, Hormusji N. Jambusarwalla (d. 1901), owned two ginning factories at nearby Jambusar. Dosabhai Framji Karaka considered the Parsis of Broach to be second only to those of Bombay in terms of wealth.

A number of Parsis held senior posts in wider Broach society. Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy (not the later Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy) was broker for the British in 1680. Dastur P. A. Kamdin was first-class monṣef (sub-civil judge) in the years 1837-54. He was succeeded in this post in 1877 by his brother, Dinshah P. Kamdin, and in 1864 C. C. Sabavala was made deputy collector and magistrate, as was Khan Bahadur Bomanji E. Modi in 1883. Mancharshah D. Vakil, a leading advocate in Broach, was widely respected in the legal profession, a trustee of Broach Parsi Punchayet, and a delegate of the Surat Matrimonial Court (d. 1896). Edulji M. Contractor was a large landowner and a member of the municipal board and of the district local board (d. 1901;). Clearly the Parsi community in Broach was more important than details in available sources indicate. The 1881 Census recorded the total of 3,042 Parsis in Broach, 1,444 males and 1,598 females.

Other Parsi Centers in Gujarat and Beyond

One of the oldest structures outside the centers already covered was a daḵ-ma at Ankleswar that was consecrated in 1517. A daḵ-ma was built in Cambay in 1534, where a dar-e mehr was also consecrated around this time. A daḵ-ma was built in Damaun in 1697 to replace another one that was said to be a hundred years old. Bulsar was probably a more important settlement than is now apparent. The Parsis there acquired their first priest in 1631, and a daḵ-ma was built in 1645 (Patel and Paymaster, I, pp. 13, 843). In 1731, the Parsis exerted sufficient influence on the Gāēkwād to exempt them from the religious poll tax; a year later, the holy Irān-šāh fire was kept there for two years on its way to Udwada and a second daḵ-ma was opened in 1777 (Patel, p.14). Parsis settled in Thana to the south in 1774, where a daḵ-ma was opened in 1781 (and another in 1841), and C. R. Patel funded there a dar-e mehr, a daḵ-ma, and a nasā-ḵ-āna (lit. house for corpses, where funeral ceremonies took place;).

Religious buildings were erected in many Gujarat towns and villages in the mid 19th century thanks to the wealth earned by Parsis throughout the Bombay Presidency. The opening of a daḵ-ma indicates a sizable population, because the complexity of the structural design and the associated consecration costs require a number of community members resident in the area to justify the time and expenses. Burial grounds cost less but were rarely opened in the Bombay Presidency, only in more distant and smaller settlements. Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownaggree (1851 - 1933) In the period 1770-1895, 120 daḵmas were consecrated, almost all in Gujarat. Twenty-four burial grounds were purchased, with all but one outside the Presidency (e.g., Tellicherry on the Malabar Coast in 1793; Cochin in 1823; Macao in 1829; Delhi, Lahore, Multan, Peshwar, Rawalpindi and Sukkur all in 1842; Colombo 1846). The few daḵmas opened in distant climes were Calcutta (1822) and Aden (1847), two centers with wealthy leaders. A study of the pattern of funeral grounds gives both an indication of periods of financial prosperity for the Parsis and when and to where they migrated for business. Temple building similarly gives an indication of wealth and migration. In the period 1770-1895, 150 temples were built (and a further 19 in the following fifteen years). The first to be built outside the Bombay Presidency were in Deccan Hyderabad and Calcutta in 1839, but no more were built until one in Rajkot in 1875. As many early temples had to be rebuilt, sometimes with new splendid buildings, the extent of charitable donations is even greater than it first appears (Giara). In broad terms the pattern tended to be that communities first made provision for funerals and then built temples and subsequently dharmsalas. In the 1850s, the region was opened up for travel with the introduction of the railways, and so numerous dharmsalas were built. The Great Indian Peninsula railway was opened in 1850 and the Bombay-Thana railway was opened in 1853. Such developments boosted the trade of Bombay and of the hinterland, thereby stimulating much travel. In 1866, for example, with the opening of the Bombay-Baroda railway, new dharmsalas were built at Grant Road in Bombay (given by Rustom Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy), Bandra (Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy), Dahisar (C. F. Pareck), Pardi (Rustom Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy), Udwada (Dowager Lady Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy), Bulsar (B. M. Wadia), Surat (C. F. Parekh), Sion (C. F. Parekh) and Broach (Rustom Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy;).

Grand Old Man of India - Dadabhai Naoroji (1825 - 1917)

The Parsis enjoyed a high public profile throughout the region. Those who became members of the British Parliament made extensive tours of Gujarat on their visits to India: Dadabhoy Naoroji (1886, 1893, and 1906) and Muncherji Bhownaggree in 1896-97. A number held high office in various towns. Dadabhoy Naoroji, for example, before his work in England, was dewan (prime minister) of Baroda in 1874, and Muncherji Bhownaggree had, at the Maharajah’s request, drawn up a new constitution for Bhavnagar in 1887. Saklatvala toured India in 1927 while he was a member of parliament. As Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy (first baronet) had toured Gujarat distributing largesse, so too did others. In 1862, for example, Rustom Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy toured Gujarat starting at the Portuguese settlement of Damaun, where his arrival was greeted with a salvo of thirteen guns; the mayor and people of the town turned out to greet him, and he received similar welcomes at Udwada, Bulsar, Navsari, Baroda and Surat. Various Parsis distributed charitable aid to many centers throughout Gujarat, but their charity was not restricted to Parsis or to areas where they might attract the notice of the British. Their generosity also extended to remote areas far from their own settlements when the need was noticed. Rustom Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy was honored by the king of Portugal for funding an English language school at Damaun with a Portuguese name. He also opened English schools in Navsari, Bulsar, and Billimoria in 1864. Gujarati Parsis gave 164,493 rupees to the Bengal Famine Relief fund in 1866; Readymoney gave 50,000 rupees to a mental asylum in Sind in 1871, and D. M. Petit built a leper hospital at Ratnagiri in 1875. In 1894 the family of J. N. Petit funded a new ward for Matunga Lunatic Asylum. Khan Bahadur Naoroji P. Vakil funded on ophthalmic hospital and dispensary at Ahmedabad, which was run by the government but named after him.

Parsis held important official posts in scattered areas and some of them held senior positions. The brothers Vicaji and Pestonji Meherji oversaw the land and sea revenue collection of the North Konkan in the early 19th century. They cleared jungles and built roads and bridges for the transport of cotton (500 bullock carts of cotton annually) to Bombay and established a mint at Aurangabad, but they finally went bankrupt because the Nizam government failed to repay loans provided by the brothers. PestonjiB Kotwal was first appointed overseer of Surat Municipality, then assistant secretary in Ahmadabad Municipality, then chief police inspector there; he was then made paymaster in Bulsar and finally became police superintendent in Nizam State.


Although there are some hints of earlier Parsis in Poona, the main period of their arrival was post 1818, when the British took control of the city from the Marathi Peshwas following the battles of Kirkee and Yeraoda in 1817 and Koregaon in January 1818. Previously, the Parsis had been suppliers to the British forces in Sirar and moved with them to Poona. One known individual was J. M. Chinoy who had opened a shop at Shirur camp and in Poona in 1814 (d. aged 100 in 1891,), and thus he was an eyewitness to the wars between the Peshwas and the British. At Poona, Parsis started as shopkeepers supplying the Europeans (a then common synonym for British), but one of them, Khursetji Jamsetjee Mody (1755-1815), achieved high office in this early period. Mody joined the service of the British Residency at Poona in 1800, rising to the position of native agent to Colonel Sir Barry Close, Resident at Poona, a position he held for ten years. He came to the attention of the Maratha Peshwa Bajirao II, who made him revenue commissioner of the Carnatac. Mody faced plots from some Marathas who accused him of corruption before the Peshwa. These charges were unsubstantiated, but when Elphinstone was told that Mody was plotting with the Marathas against the British, Elphinstone demanded that he choose between the two positions, and he chose to continue with the British. Fearing for his life, Mody planned to leave Poona, but was poisoned the day before his planned.

Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy (1783-1859)

The first known Parsi edifices in Poona were two daḵmas, one built in 1825 and a larger one built in 1835. From approximately 1835, it became known as the “monsoon capital” of the Presidency, because government and the wealthy spent the monsoon period in the hills, away from the heat and humidity of Bombay. In 1838 Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy funded a dharmsala near Poona for travelers of all communities. In 1840 he had a jašan(celebration with liturgical services) performed in Poona and announced plans to build a dar-e mehr there, though his correspondence suggests he only made his first visit in 1841. In 1843 the Patel dar-e mehr was opened, followed a year later by that of Jamasetji Jeejeebhoys. The Patel Agiari appointed as its first dastur a son of a Navsari dastur, Dastur Jamaspji Edulji (on the Poona branch of the JamaspAsa lineage,). As with the Bombay branch of the lineage, several of them were born and studied in Navsari, although they went on to later to Poona. Dastur Jamaspji Dastur was the high priest of the Deccan and active in the period 1824-46. He was one of the dasturs to whom various anjumans (association, assembly) turned for guidance on the consecration of agiaris and daḵmas.

After Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy’s 1841 visit to Poona, he started planning a scheme for extensive water works (drought rather than monsoon floods were the problem for Poona; there were droughts in the following years, severe droughts indicated by an asterisk, 1823, 1824*, 1825*, 1832-38, 1844-46* 1862-67, 1876-77*, 1896-97*, 1899-1902*). The scheme took ten years to complete because of conflicting advice from different European engineers and the lack of governmental support. Letters in the Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy files in Bombay University Library indicate his growing exasperation, but by 1850 Jamsetjee Jigibhoy speaks of his “annual visit to Poona” and in 1851 his heir, Cursetji Jamsetjee Jigibhoy, refers to his father traveling to Poona more often.

An important early figure among Poona Parsis was Jamshedji Dorabji (Naigumwala), who was contractor for building the railway to Poona, including the stretch over the Ghats, which was opened in 1855. The Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island points out the enormous difficulties involved in laying this line, but does not even mention its Parsi contractor.

Sir Dorabji Tata (1859 - 1932)

Another important early Parsi figure in Poona was Pestonjee Sorabji who started as a shopkeeper but then obtained the lucrative contract for carrying mail, eventually from Poona to Bombay, Aurangabad, and Nagpur. He is said to have kept 500 horses for the mail system. He maintained the mail during the Sepoy Revolt (the first war of Indian Independence) in 1857 and was made Khan Bahadur by the British for his efforts. His two sons, Sardar Dorabjee and Sardar Nowrojee, started the Poona-Deccan Paper Mills Co. Ltd. and built a cotton factory in 1885. Sirdar Dorabjee also started a bank and an ice factory in Poona. He was active in civic affairs and in 1884 was the first elected president of the Poona Municipality, a post he held for several years, and in 1895 obtained a seat in the Bombay Legislative Assembly. The brothers worked together in their business, and when the older brother died, Dorabjee was elected president of Poona Municipality and was also given a place on the Bombay Legislative Council.

The earliest Parsi settlers in Poona were traders, but increasingly more became professionals, lawyers and doctors especially. In part this was because of the educational facilities of Poona that dated back to the early times of Hindu priestly centers there. In the second half of the 19th century, Parsi benefactors donated much to educational institutions. One of the early benefactors was Rustom Jamsetjee Jigibhoy who, for example, in 1863 gave 1,500 rupees to a convent school in Poona, and a further 1,000 rupees for student residences at Poona College; in 1864 Sir Rustam Jamsetjee Jigibhoy gave 100,000 rupees to the Deccan College in Poona; in 1865 C. J. Readymoney funded the building of an engineering college and in 1869 gave money for a science college; in 1878, Behramji Jeejeebhoy founded a medical school in the city; and in 1889 Sir Dinshah M. Petit gave a large plot of land for a bacteriological laboratory as part of the Science College. The Sardar Dastur Noshirvan School for Zoroastrian girls, mainly attracting students from middle class families, started in 1893; Zoroastrianism was included in the syllabus and daily prayers were said. Until 1947, when it had to become inter-communal, it had the reputation of being one of the best schools in the Presidency. It also had boarding facilities for students coming from afar. A school for boys was not opened until 1912, because it had been thought that there were better provisions for boys’ education in the 19th century. This focus on educational charity continued into the 20th century, Sir Ratan Tata (1856 - 1926) when Sir D. J. Tata (1859-1932) and Sir R. J. Tata gave 15,000 rupees for the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Poona and a further 25,000 rupees to the Institute for a Persian and Arabic Department. In 1930 Sir Dorabji Tata Trusts gave 15,000 rupees per annum for five years to establish a Tata section in agricultural economics at the Gokhale Institute for Politics, and two years later Sir Cusrow and Sir Ness Wadia founded the Naoroji Wadia College, which is now a constituent college of Poona University. In 1943, Sir Dorabji Tata Trusts provided funds for a college of commerce, and a year later gave 8,309,000 rupees for a national chemical laboratory . Several Parsis were prominent academics, for example, C. D. Naigumwala, who was made professor of Experimental Physics in 1882 at Poona Science College, and in 1900 became director of the Poona observatory (d. 1938;).

From the mid 19th century, Poona became not just the “Monsoon capital,” but also the center of social life for Bombay’s wealthy families. Some of the most splendid residences were owned by such Parsi families as the Adenwallas, Jeejeebhoys (esp. Rustomji Jeejeebhoy), and the Petit family, where they came for “the season,” away from the monsoon. Functions held in their mansions attracted many high-ranking British officials and other prominent personalities, including the governor of Bombay, Aga Khan, the Nawab of Surat, the Persian consul, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Maharaja of Indore, and the Gāēkwād of Baroda. Parsis had shared a gymnasium (gymkhana) with the “Europeans,” but after disagreements over the use of certain facilities, the Parsi landlord asked the Europeans to leave, and the tennis courts and other sporting facilities were thereafter exclusively used by the Parsis, who also took over the neighboring Fountain Hotel from the Europeans.

Parsi charity in Poona was not confined to education, but, compared with Bombay, it was distributed more inter-communally, partly because of social mixing; and partly because the community itself was mostly affluent with few of its own members in need of charitable aid. In addition to the education benefactions noted above, several Parsis also supported the Albert Education Library Institute in the Cantonment. Dinbai, widow of N. M. Petit funded two leper wards in the David Sassoon Asylum. In 1896, J. H. Mody donated ten cottages for use as a sanatorium at Lonavla, near Poona, and Pestonji Limjibhoy served for 25 years as secretary of the Poona Panjrapole.

Although the dastur-ship in Poona had not had the seniority of that in Navsari, it was nevertheless an important post. Dastur N. J. JamaspAsa was twice honored by the government. In 1867 he was made Khan Bahadur for his work in the “Indian Mutiny” and two years later was awarded a gold medal for his social contributions. In 1867 he had three wells dug in Poona for use by Hindus, Muslims, and Parsis, a major benefit in drought afflicted Poona. He was recognized as the senior priest of all Parsi communities in the Deccan; and was succeeded by Sirdar Khan Bahadur Shams-ul Ulema Dr Hoshang Jamasp. After working in the police department and serving as Dastur at Mhow, he became professor of Oriental languages in the Deccan College, Poona, in 1874, and High Priest of the Deccan in 1884. In 1886, he was given honorary M.A. and Ph.D. degrees by the University of Vienna. For eight years of service in the Municipal Corporation he was made Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire. When he died in 1908, hisuthumnā ceremony (the ceremony of the departure of the soul held on the third day after death) was attended by Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, the Vada Dastur of Navsari, and the deputy (naib) dastur of the Wadia Ātaš Bahrām in Bombay, a reflection of the esteem in which he was held. When later that year Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy died, it was the new Poona Dastur, Kaikobad Aderbad, who proposed the main motion to recognize the new Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy (5 Baronet) as leader of the Parsi community, a role given only to someone highly respected in the community. Another member of the priestly JamaspAsa family, Ervad Meher Hoshang Dastur JamaspAsana, was made Khan Bahadur in 1899. Dastur Sardar Kaikobad Adarbad Dastur Noshirwan presided over the first of the Zoroastrian conferences organized by Dastur Dhalla in 1910. Sir Cowasji Jehangir Readymoney (1812-1878) These annual conferences became associated with reform movements, but at the first one Dhalla was seeking the support of all sections of the community, including the Orthodox. The invitation to preside at the conference may therefore be taken as a marker of widespread respect. In 1911, he was made Shams-ul Ulema at the Delhi Coronation durbar on the visit of the new British monarch, George V, a prestigious religious recognition. He was also a dastur that faced Orthodox anger. In 1911 he and Dastur J. JamaspAsa of Bombay performed the naujote of the second daughter of R. D. Tata and his French wife, and then in 1914 he went to Burma and performed the naujote of Bella, an adopted non-Parsi, which provoked a court case in Burma and then was laid before the Privy Council in London. Faced with an outcry, he made a public promise not to undertake such an act again, but his attitude to intermarriage, indeed conversion, remained unchanged as reflected in a paper that he read at a conference of world religions held in London in 1924. He asserted that Zoroastrianism was the only religion appropriate for all communities in the world and argued that its tenets were applicable to modern times. Before and after him, Poona Parsis had generally been seen as Orthodox, but he appears to have been an exception to the rule. The high priestly lineage continued to display academic interests in this city famed for its scholarship. Naturally, not all members of the lineage became dasturs; some went into business, some worked for the Nizam, while others entered British government service.

A distinctive feature of the Poona community was the number of Iranian Zoroastrians who arrived there as refugees. It is difficult to give many details because most were not wealthy or powerful. Several opened tea-shops and restaurants. They moved from Bombay to avoid the monsoons, but many appear to have faced, if not discrimination, a rather patronizing attitude from Parsis. An exception to the general lack of information on the Iranians in Poona is Aspandyar N. Khairabadi, who died in 1899 at the age of 116. He had been orphaned at an early age and worked in a tailor’s shop before opening his own shop, but then moved into farming. He married at the age of fifty-two in 1837, and migrated to Bombay in 1858 to escape persecution. He moved on to Poona, where he worked at the funeral grounds, Dungerwadi, for sixteen years, a lowly level of employment, but it is said that all Poona Parsis went to his funeral. At the turn of the century there were 1,900 Parsis in Poona.


A daḵ-ma was opened in Karachi for the first time in 1848, a larger Anjuman daḵ-ma was opened in 1875 and this may be taken as evidence of the early stages of a community as opposed to a few individuals who had settled as suppliers to the British forces in Sind. The first temple was opened in 1849 and a second in 1869. One important early settler was Ardashir C. Wadia, who, after he retired as chief engineer of the Bombay dockyard, was appointed chief resident engineer of the Indus Flotilla Company in Karachi in 1861, the start of Pakistan’s major port. Between 1891 and 1894, Parsis in Sind started three newspapers, one of which,Sindh Vartman, was an influential paper. A remarkable feature of early Parsi history in Karachi is the speed with which community institutions, religious and secular alike, were established. Seth Edulji Dinshaw In sixty-one years (1849-1911, by which time numbers had grown to 2,411), they started two daḵmas (1848, 1875), two temples (1849, 1869), two schools (1859, 1880), four housing projects (1854, 1889, 1903, 1911, i.e. establishing homes for the poor and widows long before such moves started in Bombay), two charitable dispensaries (1882, 1887), a dharmsala (1888), a social and sports center (1894), a maternity hospital (1909), and a Young Man’s Zoroastrian Association (1910;). There were two factors at work: first, from the onset of the arrivals there was an intention to establish a community; second, as traders, they had the funds to provide these resources. Initially, they were suppliers in the Afghan wars (q.v.), but later were engaged in other trades, notably liquor. They were instrumental in the development of Karachi as a major trading center. In addition to Wadia’s role at the port, others pioneered the tramway network (Hormusji J. Rustomji in 1884), and the establishment of the Chamber of Commerce (Ardashir and Co in 1860); Edulji Dinshaw and Son were one of the largest firms in Karachi during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A fund was started in 1888 to aid Iranian Zoroastrian refugees, several of whom, as in Poona, opened teashops.

Education was a key focus of Parsi life in Karachi. By the 1880s, the number of boys and girls attending school were approximately equal, evidently a case of gender parity in the educational sphere years ahead of its time. They were also leaders in higher education; for example, in 1885 Edulji Dinshaw, H. J. Rustomji, and J. H. Kothari established the Sind Arts College. It is a tradition that continued into the 20th century with the funding of the Dinshaw Engineering College, which later became a university. Lady Dufferin Hospital Dastur M. N. Dhalla (1875-1956), following his M.A. and then Ph.D. at Columbia University (1904-08), established a religious educational program that, inspired by his own deep devotion, resulted in wider and more comprehensive knowledge and practice of Zoroastrianism among the community at large.

As in other centers, Parsi charity, though primarily donated to communal causes, was also inter-communal. The major figure in this was Edulji Dinshaw, whose main charities were devoted to medical concerns: a women’s hospital in 1891, and especially as the main donor for the establishment of the Lady Dufferin Hospital, Karachi’s largest.