Books and writings
-Temptation of Zarathushtra
me mould and shape my life in Zarathushtra’s likeness
As High Priest of the Parsis of Karachi, Pakistan for over
45 years Dastur Dhalla was a scholar and teacher of rare brilliance, who stood unruffled
through many communal controversies. This article portrays the man behind the
his granddaughter Remembers Bapa.
Bapa was a person to whom birds, animals and children
came on their own. It was as if they felt and knew that he was someone special who would
be a friend to them recalls
Pouruchisti Bharucha about her grandfather. I remember when
our compound was much bigger and we had all sorts of birds in a huge cage in the garden
and animals - dogs, a monkey, a goat, a cow, a horse and a very sweet little deer. After
lunch Bapa would come down and feed the animals and birds that would be waiting for him.
It was not their normal food, but things he had saved for them from his own lunch. He
talked to them as if they were his friends and they seemed to understand what he was
saying. He would then water his plants and talk to them too.
"When we went out with him in the gari
(horse-carriage), he would point out a tree or a cloud or little kids playing or even a
pretty woman - to him, everything had a touch of God and was to be admired."
Bapa was Dasturji Dr. Maneckji Nusserwanji
Dhalla, M.A., Ph.D., whom the Parsis of Karachi (now in Pakistan) had appointed as their
High Priest and which office he served, not only as a ceremonial dastur, but also a
scholar and teacher, for over 45 years until his death in 1956. Bapa was the
public servant and citizen on whom the British goverment had bestowed the exalted title of
"Shams-ul-Ulema" in 1935. Only three Parsis (Dastur Peshotan, Dastur Darab
Sanjana and Ervad Jivanji Mody) had earned this prestigious title before him.
Bapa was the scholar of Avesta, Pahlavi,
Persian, Gujarati and English literature, on whom Columbia University has bestowed the
degree of Litt. D., on the occasion of its 175th anniversary, in 1929.
Bapa was the eminent theologian, who, alone,
could convincingly satisfy the desire of the modem Parsi youth for enlightenment in
matters spiritual. By dint of his profound intellectual powers, unmatched knowledge of the
doctrine, and persuasive rhetoric, he was instrumental in creating a resurgence of
religious awakening among the youth, who flocked by the hundreds to hear his brilliant
Bapa was the orator and speaker eagerly sought
for speaking engagements all over India, UK, and the US; who spoke with flaming enthusiasm
and animation, stirring up religious enthusiasm among his hearers. He taught that religion
is a thing of the heart, not of the head. When he spoke, his countenance radiated light
and his listeners felt that their souls had awakened to a new life!
Bapa was the genius that flowered in his nine
major books and countless papers on Zarathushti religious literature, history and
theology. But, as Pouruchisti remembers, most of all, "Bapa was a very kind and
gentle soul." She adds: "I have never seen him angry with anyone. He enjoyed
doing his own daily work, such as making his bed, dusting his books and washing his wn
He was so highly learned, but he was a simple soul
when it came to matters of money. He would have to turn a coin over to read its worth.
I remember once, he received Rs. 101 ashodad (gift) for performing a
childs navjote, which in those times was a very large sum. He showed me the notes
and said: Pouruchishti, aaprey aatla badha paisa-nu shoo karshu? (What will we do
with so much money?). I am sure my Dina Fui, who looked after Bapas money, was
very pleased with this amount."
Dastur Dhalla was born in 1875
at Surat. His parents lived in a hovel in one of the poorest parts of the city, where his
father and uncle practiced the priesthood. According to the custom of those times,
Maneckji was married at the age of nine to a girl, Cooverbai, from a well-to-do priestly
family of Navsari, who was barely 5 or 6 years old.
Pouruchisti tells a little story about the marriage.
"Bapa and Motamama had their navjote performed in the morning and got married the
same evening. After the wedding Motamama stayed with her family in Navsari. When Mama was
nearly 18 years old, Bapa went to Navsari with his family to bring his bride home. As they
arrived in Navsari, Bapa went out for a walk in the afternoon, to pass the time until the
family went to the brides house that evening. He came upon a well where several
young girls were drawing water. There he saw, and immediately fell in love with one of the
girls. He went back home and told the story to his family - which he had chanced upon a
girl at the well, whom he had fallen in love with at first sight.
"Of course, the family forced him to go to his in-laws
that evening. And to his utter surprise and joy, the dream girl he had fallen
in love with at the well, turned out to be his own wife."
Maneckji was ordained a navar at the age of 12. At 19, in
order to make a living, he took up a clerical job in Karachi, which he held for 8 years.
But all through this period (1894 -1901), Maneckji did not forsake his over-whelming aim
in life to become a scholar. He would get up at 4 am, and devote at least three hours
every morning to reading and writing before proceeding to his office. After work he would
stop by the library, and devote another three hours every day to his studies.
Through his painstaking studies, he had acquired enough
knowledge about the Zarathushti religion, to publish a monthly pamphlet called
Gulshan-e-Danesh at the age of 20. At 22, he published his first book (of 120 pages) on
the religion reflecting his views during this highly orthodox, early period of his life.
During this time, Maneckji was also making his mark as an
erudite and knowledgeable public speaker. On one such occasion, he so impressed an
eminent, visiting theologian, Mr. K. R. Cama, [after whom the renowned K. R. Cama Oriental
Institute of Mumbai is named] that the latter made a fervent appeal to the Parsis in
Karachi to send Maneckji for a training course at the Athoman Madressa in Bombay. With Rs.
25 per month from the Karachi Parsi Anjuman and a matching amount from K. R. Cama himself,
Maneckji came to study at the Madressa. Working hard day and night, with zeal and
diligence, he completed the 5-year course in 3 years.
His teachers at the Madressa had instructed him in
knowledge based on tradition. But "tradition", Dhalla averred "is stagnant,
and knowledge is ever on the move. Besides, tradition is wedded to the time that is dead,
and knowledge looks forward to the time to be born."
Further studies at Columbia.
now filled with a longing to proceed abroad for further studies in Avesta-Pahlavi with
scholars at Oxford, Berlin or Columbia University. With monthly pledges of Rs. 125 from
the benevolent Tata Trust funds, Rs. 50 from the Karachi Anjuman, and additional amounts
from K. R. Cama and Jivanji Mody, Dhalla left the shores of India in 1905, by sea, via
Genoa, to study under Prof. A. V. W. Jackson at Columbia. His wife and (by now) four
children stayed behind in India. At Columbia, Maneckji devoured the writings of the great
thinkers, sages, writers and historians. He got up at 4 am and was the last pupil to leave
the library hall at 11 pm every night. For him there was no delight to compare with
intellectual delights; and moreover, he felt he was in debt to the entire Parsi community,
and wanted to prove worthy of their trust. On his return from Columbia, Dr. Dhalla was a
transformed man. His ideas, views and thinking had undergone a metamorphosis. His studies
at the University gave him a historical perspective, logical reasoning, and critical
acumen. He had sought the truth by coordinating and collating all the philosophies and
sciences, which now gave a different color to the orthodox and staunch views on rituals,
ceremonies, social customs and prayers, that he had held in the past.
Dr. Dhalla later learnt that our religious writings do not
contain the teachings of our Prophet alone. They embody a conglomeration of the beliefs,
rituals, superstitions, allegories, myths and mysticisms prevailing in the post-Prophet
era. Our religious books incorporate both sacred teachings and secular
ideas. With the passage of time, both were recognized as gospel truth, and were
passed down to posterity as religion.'
Dhalla concluded that Prophet Zarathushtra never gave
ceremonies and rituals the predominant position they hold in religion today.
He affirmed that ceremonies as such were not the be-all and end-all of the Zarathushti
religion. Heavenly bliss cannot be gained merely by the performance of death ceremonies.
Only a righteous life, a virtuous life, a helpful life on this earth would open up the
doors to Garothman Behesht' .
In 1909, at the age of 35
years, Dr. Dhalla was installed as the High Priest of Karachi. Blessed with a pleasant and
dignified personality, Dastur Dhalla was a commanding figure in the most august
assemblies. Dressed in the spotless, white cotton robes, cummerbund and turban of the
Zarathushti priest, his shawl denoting the rank of a Dastur, he impressed every gathering
as he acknowledged its respectful homage before taking his seat. When he rose to speak, he
held his audience spellbound. Dastur Dhalla served the community in this office for over
More than just a
ceremonial priest, Dhalla was also a prolific author. Among his earliest works
was Niyaishes or Zoroastrian Litanies, in 1909. In this valuable work, each
Niyaishe is treated, passage by passage, in the transliteration of its five versions:
Avesta, Pahlavi, Sanskrit, Persian and Gujarati, with an English translation by Dr.
His "Zoroastrian Theology" was launched at
Columbia, in 1914 for which he made his second visit to the USA, with his wife,
World War I broke out during their stay in the USA, and their return voyage was fraught
with danger from enemy action on the high seas. While in England on his way back, he
performed Europes first navjote Ceremony. Zoroastrian Theology provides, in one
book, a complete history of Zarathushti religious beliefs from pre-Gathic times to the
In 1921, Dastur Dhalla and Cooverbai once again sailed to
the USA to publish his book Zoroastrian Civilization. " Here he deals with abstract
concepts of the religion in a manner meaningful to the lay person. He reviews, in the
pages of this book, recourse of Zarathushti history, discusses the evolution of the
religion from earliest times to the downfall of re last Zarathushti Empire in 651 LD, the
development of Zarathushti society, and the evolution of the Zarathushti way of life.
In 1929, Dasturji and Cooverbai were invited by Columbia
University to attend celebrations for its 175th anniversary. On this occasion,
Dastur Dhalla was awarded an honorary Litt. D. Degree. He also took the opportunity to
publish Our Perfecting World - Zarathushtra s Way of Life. In this
volume one sees flashes of transcendental beauty and devout fervor. His wisdom, knowledge
based on vast reading and careful observation, and righteousness is reflected in its
During his fifth and last visit to the USA, Dastur Dhalla
published his classic "History of Zoroastrianism." A revised and much enlarged
edition If Zoroastrian Theology, which had long been out of print. Here he surveys the
millennia in six chronologica1 periods: pre-Gathic, Gathic, 4vestan, Pahlavi, a Period of
Decadence, and a Period of Revival.
In his autobiography "Ek Atma-katha", he displays
that as a true Zarathushti, he ungrudgingly acceptetd the fact that in his life there was
a mingling of joy and sorrow, peace and strife, happiness and suffering.
Within four months of the publication of his autobiography, his beloved Cooverbai
passed away, and for Dasturji, life without her comforting presence seemed unbearable.
Bapa and Motamamas love was something so beautiful that it touched everyone
around them," writes Pouruchisti, " There was nothing they would not do for each
other. After Motamama died, Bapa was never a whole person. He missed his other half. Each
time he performed a navjote or wedding, he would take his garland and flowers, place it
near his beloved Cooverbais photo, and talk to her about the ceremony."
If he had been a lesser person, he would have wished
to die with her. But his faith in his God was very strong, and he knew that only God knew
what was best. Dasturji passed away fourteen years later, at the age of 81, in 1956.
Of him was written [l]:
He was a unique genius who passed through this
troubled world like a brilliant comet, radiating light and brilliance everywhere he went,
elevating the thoughts and inspiring the lives of people. He appealed to the loftiest
principles within the hearts of man in general, and Zoroastrians in particular; not only
by the enviable logic of his astute mind, but by the invincible purity of his noble
This article was compiled by Roshan Rivetna from materials
provided by Dastur Dhalla s grand-daughter, Pouruchisti Jamshed Bharucha of Karachi,
and her daughter Vahishta Canteenwalla. Vahishta came to Canada in 1975, and lives with
her husband Iambi and two daughters, Shauna, 17, and Zara, 20, in Mon-treal, Quebec.
Coincidentally,Vahishta and Jambi were married on Dastur Dhalla s 100th year birth
Grateful acknowledgement is also given to the authors of
the following two papers, from which information has been freely taken:
[l] Eruch Kaikhushru Pavri, "Life and Works of Shams-ul-Ulema Das-tur Dr. Maneckjee
N. Dhalla", Pub-lished by Dastur Dr. Dhalla Memorial Institute, Karachi, 1973.
121 Miss Khorshed C. Laskari, Das-tur Dhalla Memorial Essay, "Life and Works of
Shams-ul-Ulema Das-tur Dr. Maneckji Nusserwanji Dhalla", 1973.
Articles by Dastur Dhalla on
Let me mould and shape my life in Zarathushtra’s likeness
Spenta Mainyu in the Gâthâs
- Temptation of Zarathushtra