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Shams-Ul-Ulama Dr. Sir Ervad Jivanji Jamshedji Modi (1854-1933)


















The lives of great men are the best teachers of humanity. It is a misfortune that the present day younger generation knows so little about the stalwarts of yore. Plutarch was right when he said, “To be ignorant of the lives of the most celebrated men of antiquity is to continue in a state of childhood all our days.”

Jivanji the Man
He was born on 26th October 1854. He married at the age of 11. He was the father of eleven children – five sons and six daughters.

Jivanji had been brought up in the midst of a religious atmosphere of a fire temple – an agiary. His father Ervad Jamshedji Jivanji Modi (1807-1871) was the first panthaki of Seth Jejeebhoy Dadabhoy Agiary at Colaba from 1836 to 1871. Ervad Dr. Sir Jivanji Modi served as a panthaky of Seth Jejeebhoy Dadabhoy Agiary from 1871 to 1910 for nearly forty years.

He grew up as a simple, straightforward innocent man. Science was first love. He was a wonderful disciple of the famous oriental scholar Kharshedji Cama. It was Kharshedji Rustomji Cama who made him take up Iranian Studies as his second love. He was an all rounder, a genius. He had two loves – nature and books.

Jivanji’s principle was simple living and high thinking. He was an unassuming soul. He took to the path of knowledge as a mission. Though he achieved universal fame, he was humble. He remained a student and a researcher all his life. His scholarship encompassed the whole canvas of life.

He was a preacher par excellence. He led an exemplary life. He lived in the world but did not become of the world. He practiced simple living and high thinking. He lived according to the teachings of prophet Zarathushtra and spread happiness by serving humanity.

A gold medal give to Ervad Modi by Sir Jamsetji Jejeebhoy Zaratoshti Madrasa

Honours & Awards
He was perhaps the most decorated priest in history. Awards, academic and meritorious were showered upon him.

B.A. (Bombay University, 1876); Fellow of the University of Bombay (1887); Dip. Litteris et Artibus (Sweden, 1889); Shams-Ul-Ulama (Government of India, 1893); Officier d’Academie (France, 1898); Officier de l’Instruction Publique (France, 1903); Ph.D. (Honoris Causa, Heidelberg, 1912); Honorary Correspondent of the Archaeological Department of the Government of India (1914);   C.I.E. (1917); Campbell Medalist B.B. Royal Asiatic Society (1918); Honorary Member of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (1923); Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur (France, 1925); Officier de Croix de Merit (Hungary 1925); Knighted in 1930; LL.D. (Honoris Causa, Bombay University 1931).

The legion of honor, the badge of an officer given to Ervad Modi

He served as Secretary of the Bombay Parsi Panchayet for 37 years managing estates and funds valued at crores of rupees.

Jivanji as an author and orator
He cultivated his talents for writing and elocution. He had a facile pen and clear expression. Despite being a savant, his language was simple and easily understood by lovers of literature as also those seeking knowledge. He was a prolific writer. It is said that he would not sit down and write but wrote on blank sheets kept on a high stand or scribbling block. He wrote 70 books – 20 in English, 3 in French, 41 in Gujarati and 6 Memorial Volumes. He also wrote innumerable essay, articles and research papers on a wide variety of diverse subjects ranging from anthropology, geography, history, meteorology, nature, wine and Zoroastrianism. The spirit in which he approached all questions was that of a humble and ardent student. A deep tone of piety and reverence marked all his thoughts and words and writings.

His most notable contribution to Oriental scholarship was 127 papers read before the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and Anthropological Society of Bombay. His life and his writings will continue to inspire scholars and fellow men.

Litteris et Artibus: Gold Medal from Sweden

He was an erudite public speaker. He had delivered over 350 lectures within a span of 45 years i.e. between 1888 and 1933. He had a fund of courage and patience to acquire knowledge and to present it appropriately. He kept himself occupied every moment of his life to achieve something for the good of the people.

A world traveler
In 1889 he had visited Europe, America, Burma, Vietnam, China and Japan. In 1907 he visited Vyara Songadh along with scholars Ervad Edulji K. Antia and Pallonji B. Desai. In the same year i.e. at the age of 53 he traveled on foot walking from Navsari to Surat (20 miles) and from Navsari to Gandevi. In 1925 at the age of 71 he visited Egypt, England, Scotland, France, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Russia and Iraq. He was the first Parsi priest to have visited England and Sir George Birdwood considered it a great event when Jivanji dined with him at his house. G. Natesan, author of the book “Famous Parsees” published at Madras in 1930 writes: “Few hard-working travellers would have been at pains of visiting out of the way places and remote nooks and corners as Jivanji did to gather together the scattered threads of history and to unravel the tangled skeins of literary controversies. Everything he saw gave him fresh food for reflection, every person he met, and every place he visited he subjected to his scholarly scrutiny and in that way from day to day his knowledge grew. Such unwearing energy, such immersion in work even during holiday tours, such moral earnestness and such extraordinary versatility of his scholarly tastes and output as was evident in his lectures and addresses filled his friends in Europe and other parts of the world with admiration.”

He took up the suggestion of Miss Mennant and persevered in erecting a Memorial Column at Sanjan to commemorate the landing of our ancestors at Sanjan nearly a thousand years ago. He was the moving spirit behind the erection of the Memorial Column (Stambh) at Sanjan on 15th February 1920.

A special Convocation of the Bombay University was held on 17th August 1931 when Sir Ernest Hotson, the Governor as Chancellor of the University conferred the Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) honorary degree on the following: The Right Hon’ble Sir Dinshaw Fardunji Mulla, Sir C. V. Raman, Sir M. Visveswarayya and Sir Jivanji Jamshedji Modi. Sir D. F. Mulla and Sir Jivanji Modi were the first two Parsis to receive this honour.

Certificate from Sir Jamsetji Jejeebhoy Madrase

The Chancellor said about Sir Jivanji Modi, “In coming to Sir Jivanji Modi, I turn with much pleasure to an old friend of my own, one who has been for nearly half a century, the mainstay of both the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Bombay Anthropological Society, not to mention other learned societies in Bombay. He has long been world famous as a scholar of the Sanskrit, Persian and above all, Avesta tongues, and he is unquestionably the greatest living authority on the ancient history and customs of the Parsis. I doubt if any other Indian scholar can have obtained so many marks of recognition from learned bodies in all parts of the world: few indeed can have traveled so widely or have such a wide circle of acquaintances as our Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and certainly can have equalled Sir Jivanji’s immense output of learned papers and publications. The honour of knighthood which he recently received was a fitting recognition of a long life wholly devoted to the serve of human knowledge, and this city, which has been the home of his activities for 77 years, will welcome his accession today to the highest honour at the disposal of his own University.”

He spent his life delivering useful lectures on religion, history, philosophy, morals and science, spreading knowledge and also writing books in Gujarati, English and French languages. He believed in R. Hall’s words: “Seldom ever knowledge was given to keep but to impart. The grace of the rich jewel is lost on concealment.” He was very fond of traveling. He wrote and published an account of his travels. He was a great walker and cyclist. He rendered assistance to scholars. He was a useful, noble gentleman who brought glory to his community. He led a true Zoroastrian life and possessed all virtues desired in a religious leader. His simplicity was an inspiration to all Zoroastrians.

One of his admirers truly said: “How many souls must have felt refreshed and enlarged by his priestly ministrations and sermons! Every lover of that religion owes him a deep debt of gratitude for the zeal and devotion with which he carried out his noble and ennobling work.”

Like the sun emerging from the clouds he came
To spread the light of knowledge – he fulfilled his aim.

He passed away at the age of 78 on 28th March 1933.

To modern man who often complains of not having enough time, Sir Jivanji’s illustrious and noble life is a shining example of how one man in one life can find the time to pursue his interests and also render public service.


  1. My Travels Outside Bombay