A Zoroastrian Educational Institute



HomeArticlesAuthorsBook ReviewCommunityLibraryProminentsRegisterStoreArticle SubmissionAbout Us




Persia Past and Present
MacMillan & Co., New York, Published 1906
Abraham Valentine Williams Jackson (1862-1937),
Professor of Indo-Iranian Languages at Columbia University, New York.

Book Review


Damania, Dr. Ardeshir B.

Zoroastrian religious...
Early attempts...


Related Articles:

Related Links:


















Interior of Bazaar at Tabriz

This book includes very interesting pictures photographed by the author himself plus a color map showing the route of his travels and the places he visited. Jackson began his journey to Iran by steamer out of New York. At that time Jackson, a professor of Indo-Iranian languages, had just published a book on the life and teachings of Zarathustra (Jackson, A.V.W. 1899. Zoroaster, the Prophet of Ancient Iran, Columbia University Press, New York). However, he had not visited Iran and was eager to remedy his lack of first-hand knowledge of the land where Zarathustra was born, lived and had made his first convert, his own cousin Mediomah. He was also very interested to meet the Zoroastrians still living in Iran, learn how they manage despite religious persecution and to actually enter a fire-temple.

Jackson wrote about his visit to Isfahan in the year 1903 thus: "I found that, although there were some six of them [Zoroastrians] doing business in the bazaar, only three resided regularly in Isfahan; the rest were Gabars [or Guebres] from Yezd. I have designated them as Gabars after the native fashion, but this term is derogatory, being equivalent to ‘unbelievers’, and is never employed by the Zoroastrians themselves. They designate themselves as Zardustíán, ‘Zoroastrians’, and sometimes as Bah-Dínán, ‘those of the Good Religion’ or Fársís, i.e., ‘from Fars’ or ‘Pars’ of the old province of Persia Proper. As for the name ‘Fire-Worshipper [Atash-Parast]’, the Zoroastrians in Persia as well as in India object to that title."[NB: Jackson had visited Bombay to learn more about the Zoroastrian faith before he left for Iran. It was there that he met young Maneckji Nusserwanji Dhalla (1875-1956) who later went to Columbia University to study under Jackson. Dasturji Dhalla took over, on his return from USA, the post of high priest of the Parsis in Pakistan.]"

As regards their dress, moreover, the Zoroastrians have always been obliged to adopt a style that would distinguish them from the Mohammedans, and it is only within the last ten years that they could wear any color except yellow, gray or brown, and the wearing of white stockings, spectacles or rings was long interdicted. The use of spectacles and eye-glasses, and the privilege of carrying an umbrella, have been allowed only within the same decade, and even now the Gabars are not permitted to ride in the streets or to make use of the public baths.” One cannot imagine how humiliating these compulsions and insults must be to the Zoroastrians.

Zoroastrian religious books destroyed
When Jackson asked the Zoroastrians at Yazd to be shown their religious books, they told him that all remaining important religious books and manuscripts had been sent to Bombay for safekeeping. They ascribed much of the loss of their sacred books to the persecution following the Islamic conquests. Jackson writes "About a century and a half after the Arab conquests, or more accurately in the year 820 AD, there was a Mohammedan governor of Khorasan, named Tahir, who was the founder of the Taharid dynasty and was called Zúl-Yamínein [The Ambi-dextrous]. He was a bigoted tyrant, and his fanaticism against the Zoroastrians and their scriptures knew no bounds. A Musulman, who was originally descended from a Zoroastrian family, made an attempt to reform him [Tahir] and laid before him a copy of the book of good counsel, Andarz-i Buzurg-Mihr, named after the precepts given by Buzurg-Mihr, the prime minister of King Anushirvan The Just (531-579 AD). He asked the governor's permission to translate it into Arabic for his royal master's edification. Tahir exclaimed ‘Do books of the Magians still exist?’ On receiving an affirmative answer, he issued an edict that every Zoroastrian should bring him a man or maund [about 14 pounds or 6½ kgs] of Zoroastrian books, in order that all these books might be burned, and he concluded his mandate with the order that any one who disobeyed should be put to death. As my informant added, it may well be imagined how many Zoroastrians thus lost their lives, and what number of valuable works were lost to the world through this catastrophe", notes Jackson (1906). And yet they did not give up their ancient faith!

The Zoroastrian Anjuman at Yazd; Page 360

Early attempts to improve the lot of the Zoroastrians
"The Zoroastrians who dwell within the city [of Yazd] are largely occupied in trading. This privilege was not accorded to them until about fifty years ago, and they are even now subject to certain restrictions and exactions to which no Mohammedan would be liable. They are not allowed, for instance, to sell food in the bazaars, inasmuch as that would be an abomination in the eyes of the Moslems, who regard them as unbelievers and therefore unclean. Until 1882 they were oppressed by the Jizya tax, a poll tax imposed upon them as non-believers, and this gave an opportunity for grinding them down by extortionate assessments and trading-tolls. The Jizya was finally repealed by Shah Nassir ul-Din, who issued a firman [royal decree] to that effect September 27, 1882.”

The Parsis of Bombay worked through the agency of the Society for the Amelioration of the Zoroastrians in Iran, which they had founded with an endowed fund in 1854, sending at the same time a representative, M.H.L. Hátaría, to Iran to look after the interests of their co-religionists. Up to the time of the Shah's firman, a Zoroastrian was not allowed to build an upper story on his house, or, in fact, erect a dwelling whose height exceeded the up-stretched arm of a Musulman when standing on the ground. Within a year after the firman was issued a Zoroastrian named Rostam Dinyar had to flee for his life because he had ventured to go beyond the traditional limits and add an upper room to his humble abode in one of the villages in the vicinity of Yazd. However, his flight from the village did not mean that the matter was closed. The enraged fanatics killed an innocent Zoroastrian, Tirandaz, instead.

Jackson left Yazd on 13 May 1903 and reached Teheran on 19th May 1903. At Teheran Jackson did extensive research on the ancient Zoroastrian city of Rei [or Ragha], a suburb of Tehran. At Rei stands the ruins of the most ancient dokhmah situated on a hill and constructed according to all the requirements of the Vendidad canon, i.e., that it should be on a hill, far from human habitation, but accessible to corpse-eating birds and animals. As the dokhmah, mentions Jackson, had no door as it was feared that Mohammedan fanatics may desecrate its sanctity, the body was lifted by means of ladders, ropes and chains and lowered gently inside. [NB:- When this reviewer visited the town of Ardakan, Iran in 1992 he was told that the use of the dokmahs, earlier discouraged, was completely banned after the Iranian revolution. Today the dokhmahs at Ardakan (near Yezd) have been desecrated and graffiti painted all over their walls. Inside the central well refuse and some human bones remain.]

Jackson's meeting in Teheran with Ardeshir Edulji Reporter, the Amelioration Society's second agent in Iran is described in his book: "Because of my interests and because of the associations of Zoroaster's name with Rei, the suburb of Teheran, I was anxious to meet the Zoroastrians, and was happy that among the first visits that I received was one from the secretary of the Zoroastrian Amelioration Society, Ardeshir Edulji Reporter, agent in Teheran for the Parsis of Bombay. This gentleman, whose brother I had previously known [in Bombay], gave me excellent opportunities for becoming acquainted with the circumstances of his co-religionists at the capital, and he added material to my stock of information concerning the Zoroastrians throughout Iran. His statistics show that the number of Zoroastrians is increasing slightly and not declining". The figures in 1903 were as follows:-

Yazd and nearby villages

between 8,000 and 8,500


approximately 2,400







Kum (Qom)






Total number of Zoroastrians in Iran in 1903 about 19,329

*N.B. In 1905 Kakhushrow Khan Saheb took over as the agent of the Amelioration Society in Iran.

Mart Mariam Church, Urmiah; Page 101
(Where one of the Magi is said to be buried)

Jackson later continued his journey from Tehran into Central Asia. But that is the subject of another book. Both Browne and Jackson went to Iran because they had heard or read about the most difficult times the Zoroastrians in Iran had to endure. Both wanted to know first-hand about the true status of the Zoroastrians and both describe this aspect eloquently in their books. Perhaps they feared that the Zoroastrians and their religion were being wiped out, leaving them bereft of any first-hand knowledge of the culture and the religion.

The language in Jackson’s book does not seem dated as in Browne’s writings and together with illustrations of black and white pictures it makes very interesting reading. I would recommend both books to anyone searching for his/her Zoroastrians roots and reasons as to why a courageous band of Zoroastrian stalwarts with their families left their madar-vatan [mother country] to look for a new home in India. I specially urge the Zoroastrian youth to read these books for only then they will know of the great sacrifices made by our forefathers to save our religion and culture. Only then they will know of the pain the youth inflict upon their elders when they leave the Zoroastrian fold and marry outside the community. The Zoroastrians of Iran who stuck to their principles and the teachings of Zarathushtra could have very easily converted to Islam and saved themselves a great amount of hardship, injustice and suffering. But they did not! Can we, their descendants and present torch-bearers, aspire to do anything less?