All that we have achieved in life & will in the future, is with the Blessings & Guidance of – AHURA MAZDA
This web site is dedicated to our beloved father
Keki Bejonji Pestonji
Who without saying much, taught us a lot in life
General Information on the Zoroastrian Religion (Parsis in Particular)
Zoroastrians or Parsees are followers of the Prophet Zoroaster or Zarathustra who is regarded by most religious scholars as the first prophet to propagate the religion of a
monoestic God – Ahura Mazda –The All Divine – All-knowing God, to the people of his time in ancient Iran, which today would be the areas around modern Iran, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, etc
His life story also reads a lot like that of other Preachers, but he propagated the law of choice, the right for each person –male or female, to make their own choice for all things on the planet, and results for same will be meted out to you according to the actions and words you take upon the earth. The famous doctrine of -Good Thoughts, Good words & Good deeds was preached by him, to mankind in early times.
The religion developed & spread to vast areas & was of great importance under the various mighty Persian rulers & various Persian dynasties. Mighty warriors and kings like Cyrus, Darayes, Xerxes, Kia-Khushru are well known. At its high point of glory, the Persian Empire covered an area from east Europe to West of India & to the south of China & into Egypt.
Many are the contributions of the early Persians to modern society. Apart from great heights reached in Architecture, astronomy, medicine, mathematics, warfare tactics, tolerant governance, shipbuilding, trade with foreign lands, the ancient Persians also are credited with the founding of the worlds first postal system & courier service, allowing religious tolerance to all captured lands, treating the vanquished people with dignity, as also the first charter of human rights, amongst other great deeds.
The Parsees /Parsis are the followers of this same religion which has survived centuries, through conquerors, great ups and downs in their history & the major shift was around the seventh century AD when a lot of them migrated to India to save their religion from the marauding Arabs of the time, who were converting people to Islam at the tip of the sword. These followers of Zoroastrianism played a very low-key part in the affairs of the Indian peninsular till the advent of the Portuguese and mainly later the British in the 17th century. As they originated from the province of Pars in Iran, they came to be called the Parsees
Since then, they have excelled in every field in India and most people know of some Zoroastrians in India & will certainly vouch for to have touched their life in some way or the other. The names of great stalwart families like the Tata’s, Wadia’s, Petits, Jeejebhoy’s, Godrej s are known to most Indians and taken with reverence. The Zoroastrian’s are at the forefront in every field of human endeavor in India & are renowned for their honesty, philanthropy, fair play, charity, and assistance to everyone
We have innumerable stalwarts in the community in each field, here are a few to make us proud!
- India’s first Field Marshal, Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw
- First Indian owned bank –Central Bank started by Sir Sorabjee Pochkhanawala
- Great Businessman & philanthropist like Jamshedji Jeejebhoy, Petits, Wadia’s, Tatas, Godrejs
- Cricketers like Polly Oomrigar, Nari Contractor, Farokh Engineer, Russy Mody, Rusy Surty etc
- Cricket commentator – A.F.S. Talyarkhan
- Film makers like Ardeshir Wadia & Sohrab Modi etc,
- Indian Defence Forces chiefs – Admiral Jal Cursetji, Air Marshal Engineer, General Major.
- First person to unfurl Indian flag demanding Freedom- in Stuttgart Germany – Madame Bhikajee Cama
- Theatre personalities like Adi Marazban
- Nuclear scientists like Homi J Bhabha & Homi Sethna
- Dadabhoi Naoroji co founder of the Indian Congress party & also First Indian in British parliament with Mancherjee Bhownagree & Shapurji Saklatvala
- Lawmakers like Phirozeshah Mehta, Servai & Nani Palkivala
- Ardeshir & Pirojshah Godrej- the brothers who founded and grew the Godrej empire,
- Architech of the vast Godrej empire – Seth Naval P Godrej
- Jamshedji Tata, Visionary businessman, India’s steelmaker, Philanthropist involved in starting India’s first Hydropower, Nuclear medicine, cancer research etc
- JRD Tata pioneer aviator of India, Father Architect of modern Indian Industry
- Ratan Tata who has carved a name for himself in world business with his Nano car & European company takeovers etc,
- Dr’s Farokh & Tehmton Udwadia & many others
- Music maestro –Zubin Mehta & Queens -Freddy Mercury (Bulsara)
- Eminent writers like Rohinton Mistry, Firdos Kanga, Bacha Karkaria
- Rusi K Karanjia –Editor of Blitz, war correspondent & journalist
- Miss India’s –Persis Khambatta & Meher Mistry
- Shiamak Daver, Indias top Dancer & choreographer & Marzi Pestonji -his protege
- Boman Irani –Bollywood actor
- & many many more – too many to highlight here
And who can forget the Great products like Godrej cupboards & typewriters, Refrigerators & Soaps, Polson & early Amul butters, The Taj hotels, Dukes & Rogers drinks, Yezdi motorcycles, Oliajees of Devka & Dorabjees of Pune, The multitude of Irani restaurants of Bombay, Parsi Dairies sweets & pure milk, Balliwala & Homi Opticians, the Parsi pegs of four fingers high (open fingers) And innumerable other products in the Indian peoples daily life
In fact a list of Imminent Parsis runs like an A to Z list
There is a lot of information on the wide world of the internet and books on Parsis, but a few excerpts from a recently published book, make us all proud to be Zoroastrians
Quotes from a Book, “My Fabulous Religion” by Khushru Nariman Panthaky, published by Mazda Publications, Ahmedabad,
First Edition: May 1986
- “We recognize in Zarathustra a man who was far in advance of his times, who proclaimed already in a remote antiquity a monotheistic religion to the people, who conceived from a philosophical standpoint, the Being of the Godhead, the relation in which man stands to Him, and the origin of evil”.Prof. Geiger (p. 2)
- “The most important of all outstanding facts of Iranian history is the religious reform brought about by Zarathustra. He was the first man we know who gave a definitely moral character and direction to religion and at the same time, preached the doctrine of monotheism which offered an eternal foundation of reality to goodness as an ideal of perfection”.Dr. Rabindranath Tagore (p. 3)
- “Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the prophetic religions. Its history is almost twice as long as that of Christianity”.
John R. Hinnels in “Zoroastrianism and the Parsis” (p. 7)
- “…it is impossible to find in antiquity, so true, so noble, so ideal a belief in the resurrection of the body, the life hereafter, the coming of a savior, the rewards and punishments for the immortal soul”. A.V.W. Jackson (Also quoted by His Imperial Majesty Mohammed Reza Shah Pahalavi, Shahan Shah of Iran in his autobiography ‘Mission for my country’ 1963). pp. 7-8
- The spark of the sacred fire has never been quenched, the holy flame continues to blaze and the religion of Zoroaster still lives on. Yes, and whatever may be the changing fates, it will live on, so long as there are successors worthy to bear the name of the Parsees today, those faithful followers of the Creed of the Prophet of Ancient Iran”.
“Zoroaster the Prophet of Ancient Iran ” by A.W. Williams (p. 8)
- Zoroastrianism has profoundly influenced all the great religions of the world”.
Browne, in “Literary History of Persia ” (p. 15)
- “…several of the principles of the religion of Zarathustra were incorporated in the religion of the Jews, and thence these principles have permeated the other Semitic religions like Christianity and Islam”.
In Aga Poure Davoud (p. 16)
- “Not for nothing is the Parsi community still protected and preserved”.
Mr. C. Jinaradas (p. 27)
- “I honour the Parsi community for the desire to keep up its purity of blood and its tenacious strength and character which have enabled it to live and flourish so long with distinction”.
Pandit Madan Mohan Malavia (p. 27)
- “We have the strongest of guarantees that their (Parsi) children and children’s children, will everlasting uphold the glory of their race, and I hope, their yet to be restored nation in the future, even as did their most famed of famous forefathers in their renowned past, whether of the great Sasanian or yet greater Achaemenian name”.
Sir George Birdwood (p. 27)
- “In fact our religion is well preserved by the orthodox people in its pristine purity. Whether the orthodox Parsees understand or not the meaning of the canons and ceremonial rites of the good Mazdayasni Religion, it is due to their immense faith in the religion that they have been enjoying the divine blessings from time immemorial.”
Ervad Dr. Peshotan Peer (pp. 29-30)
- “The Christian insists upon religion being taught in his schools, the Mussulman has his Mohammedan-Anglo- Oriental College at Aligarh …. The Hindu has the D.G.V. College, the Gurukula Academy and the Central Hindu College and its sister institutions. And the Parsi? What has he got? Nothing. True the Parsi community is small, but it makes up for that in energy and ability. I will not believe that the Parsi parent cares less about the welfare of his child than do the parents of other faiths. And yet he allows him to go to schools in which his faith is set at naught, is ignored, or if mentioned is compared disadvantageously with another religion.
- “Mazda alone knows what untold hardships these persecuted people (the Parsis) underwent for the protection of their ancestral Faith. The whole world is indebted to these zealous devotees whose suffering and sacrifice enable all the nations to hear the exalted voice of the earliest prophet once again. If not for the intrinsic worth of this noble scripture, at least out of grateful remembrance of the anxieties and agonies of his forefathers, the Parsi youth ought to take up the Gatha in his hands. He should not allow this noble treasure, for which his forefathers gave their lives, pass into oblivion by his negligence”.
Jotindra Mohan Chatterji in, ‘The Hymans of Zarathushtra.’ (pp. 36-37)
- “As regards the Parsi, the position is quite different….Racially he does not belong to the larger masses…Biologically he has kept himself aloof from the rest of the country all these 1000 years.….. Socially he has evolved definitely on different lines from the various elements that make up his environment.….. Traditionally he will cherish the memory of his great past and lives up to the ideal as far as possible.….. Numerically he is the tiniest, yet highly intelligent minority not only in India but in the whole world.….. Socio-biologically this community is a wonder. No community so small can ever remain intact after a lapse of some thirty to forty generations in contact with an equally great civilization if not greater. It must break up or disintegrate before the final break-up. The very fact that neither of these two things has happened shows that there is something inherent in it that is worth preserving. It, therefore, behooves not only the community itself to keep out of intermarriage but also the large communities to leave it severely alone in the interests of the world at large and India herself in particular”.
Mr. Shapur Faredun Desai, in ‘A Community at the Crossroads.’ (p. 37)
- “The so-called reformists amongst us are so to say, Zoroastrians in name only. They are all hardboiled materialists who do not believe in anything spiritual perhaps even God, and all that is beyond human vision. The esoteric side of Religion is beyond their mental caliber. That is why they want to do away with temples, rituals, ceremonials for the dead as well as living in short, the Prophet and His Holy Religion.
- A Parsi, though most tolerant, most law-abiding and a member of the microscopic minority of India will not tolerate any attack on his greatest, the most valued heritage of Zoroastrianism and purity of blood, either from within or without. A Parsi is most obliging and friendly as long as he is safe with his noble heritage _ Religion and Blood. Once these two or any one of the two are attacked and put in danger of getting lost, a Parsi will grow not only impatient, disloyal, discourteous, and wild, but even at the risk of his everything, a Parsi youth will come out to fight the heretics”.
Dr. Homi Ratansha Bana, Ph. D., F. P. S., F. C. A. (p. 39)
- “We are against mixed marriages not on the grounds of our assumed superiority but because we emphatically maintain that our religion and culture deserve to survive and not be frivolously frittered away. We maintain that mixed marriages are condemnable for Parsis, calamitous to the very existence of our community, and detrimental to the interests of the Parsi girl, who thoughtlessly embarks on the perilous voyage.
Love is an instinct, and instinct, say the protagonists of mixed marriages, cares not for distinction between Parsis and non-Parsis. Scientifically speaking, love is an instinct in an animal of one sex to seek the society of an animal belonging to the other. The instinct is irresistible in an animal, but in an educated human being it is controlled and guided by reason.
Eating, drinking, and sleeping are also instincts, but reasonable people do not eat like swine, drink like fishes, do not sleep till the sun is high in the heavens. There is no reason why love, though the most powerful and sacred of instincts, should be an exception to this rule. Advocates of mixed marriages have trotted forth the theory that their aim thereby is to bring about world unity and universal brotherhood.
In fact, no greater chimera ever escaped the human brain. World unity is the fulfillment of communal and national life and is not to be attained by the extinction of a community or nation. Mixed marriages are said to be altruistic in their aim. If so, they are a species of senseless, altruism, and misdirected philanthropy. Mixed marriages absorb the small communities, while the goal is left as distant as ever.
The larger communities lose little or nothing by mixed marriages; it is the smaller one that is swamped o overwhelmed, so as to lose its communal identity. Nay, the bigger communities even gain in volume by such marriages, as the ocean gains in bulk by the absorption of the streams while it is the stream that is lost beyond recognition in the process.
The bigger communities can afford to sleep over this matter, which is of vital importance to the Parsis who must ‘Awake, arise or be for ever fallen. What is wanted is an ardent desire to maintain our communal existence; we wish it survives as a community, not to be a thorn in the flesh of other communities. We wish to stand up as a consolidated community, not to serve ourselves but to serve our country and the world”.
“Parsis and Racial Suicide” by Prof. Firoz Davar (p. 49-50)
Below is another very crucial historical information supplied to us by Dimple Bhagat
When ‘Persia’ became ‘Iran’
This article is a part of ‘Persia or Iran’ by Professor Ehsan Yarshater, published in Iranian Studies, Vol. XXII, No.1, 1989. In 1935 the Iranian government requested those countries with which it had diplomatic relations, to call Persia ‘Iran,’ which is the name of the country in Persian. The suggestion for the change is said to have come from the Iranian ambassador to Germany, who came under the influence of the Nazis.
At the time Germany was in the grip of racial fever and cultivated good relations with nations of ‘Aryan’ blood. It is said that some German friends of the ambassador persuaded him that, as with the advent of Reza Shah, Persia had turned a new leaf in its history and had freed itself from the pernicious influences of Britain and Russia, whose interventions in Persian affairs had practically crippled the country under the Qajars, it was only fitting that the country be called by its own name, ‘Iran.’ This would not only signal a new beginning and bring home to the world the new era in Iranian history but would also signify the Aryan race of its population, as ‘Iran’ is a cognate of ‘Aryan’ and derived from it. The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent out a circular to all foreign embassies in Tehran, requesting that the country thenceforth be called ‘Iran.’ Diplomatic courtesy obliged, and by and by the name ‘Iran’ began to appear in official correspondence and news items.
At first ‘Iran’ sounded alien (for non-Iranians), and many failed to recognize its connection with Persia. Some (Westerners) thought that it was perhaps one of the new countries like Iraq and Jordan carved out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, or a country in Africa or Southeast Asia that had just been granted independence; and not a few confused it with Iraq, itself a recent entity.
As time passed and as a number of events, like the Allied invasion of Iran in 1941 and the nationalization of the oil industry under Prime Minster Dr Mohammad Mosaddeq, put the country in the headlines, the name ‘Iran’ became generally accepted, and ‘Persia’ fell into comparative disuse, though more slowly in Britain than in the United States.
The information above hopefully provides a deeper understanding for you our dear reader as you start your journey, to learn more about the Parsis in Jhansi
History of the Zoroastrians / Parsees in Jhansi
Jhansi, the town where we were bought up, holds a special charm that probably can only be felt, by those who have lived in Jhansi. We are a unique community that is always ready for fun, laughter, to face challenges, and willing to assist anyone.
Jhansi is situated in Central India. It adjoins Datia and Gwalior, and the principalities of Orcha, Lalitpur, Banda, Bina, and Shivpuri. The landscape generally is rugged. But as it is blessed with many rivers and their tributaries, it has many
fertile regions where vegetables and fruits grow abundantly. Their taste is the taste of Jhansi, and they are very much in demand all over India
Jhansi is a growing Metropolis. It was a part of the area known as Bundelkhand, after the Bundella warrior kings who ruled here for an extensive period of time. A look at the map of India shows, that Jhansi stretches all the way from Uttar Pradesh into Madhya Pradesh Its place in history can equal that of Agra, Gwalior, and Delhi.
For is it not Jhansi, which produced the fearless queen Rani Laxmi Bai who took on the British single-handedly one hundred and fifty years ago. Her exemplary courage to defend her kingdom and her adopted son from the grave injustice of the British has earned her a unique place in Indian history
Jhansi is at the crossroads of trade and commerce, and it had many skilled craftsmen and traders.
Jhansi has produced many other illustrious people who have contributed considerably to the field of art, poetry, and sport.
Other Little Known Facts of Jhansi
Chandra Shekhar Azad the militant Indian revolutionary (a close colleague of Sardar Bhagat Singh) in the 1940’s when hiding from the British, intermingled with the populace of Jhansi, worked, as an assistant to a motor mechanic for months undercover, unnoticed & then left Jhansi.
Historically the warrior-like people resisted aggressors and people like Chatrasal, Durgavati, Raghunath Rao and in modern times the famous dacoit queen Phoolan Devi, later a politician are all from this area.
Incidentally Jhansi is the place where the renowned famous British lady aviator Amy Johnson, landed during her solo flight on 11 May 1930. She was the first women aviator to fly solo from Britain to Australia departing from Croydon UK on 5 May 1930 flying all alone, without any navigational support to Darwin in Australia where she landed on 24 May 1930. She made landings in various cities on the way, before landing in Karachi, Pakistan (at that time a part of India) then on to Jhansi, where she landed on 11 May 1930.
Not many people even know of this event in Jhansi & not one person in Jhansi has ever mentioned this to me, to date. She did not stay long, was probably only a fuel stop & short rest, as she landed in Calcutta on 12 May 1930, on her way to Australia.
There are many other people like Rashtriya Kavi (National poet) Shree Mathlisharan Gupt, the 1940’s hockey wizards Roop Chand & Dhyan Chand, and his son Ashok Kumar in the 1970’s National Hockey team.
Left: Sohrab Mody
Another connection is that India’s first technicolor movie produced in 1952 was Jhansi ki, Rani. The maker; Sohrab Mody (photo left) was a Parsee. His wife Mehtab played the role of the famous Ranee of Jhansi Victoria Cross, the highest military
award for exemplary bravery in the battlefield, under extreme duress & for demonstrating courage under fire, a great number of these were awarded for soldiers during the Battle of Jhansi, a battle that lasted just a few weeks, but was so ferocious & well managed the British General Rose, opposing the Ranee marveled and exclaimed later the Ranee was the bravest man, of the Indian Rebels.
People who remember the famous Indian historical movie Mughal E Azam may remember Raja Jai Singh (Role played by actor Ajit)the famous Mughal General, who gives shelter to the young prince Jehangir (Played by actor Dilip Kumar) when Jehangir is defeated in battle against his father Akbar. Raja Jai Singh was from the Bundelkhand area. The Raja gave shelter and protection to the Prince and his consort of the time, Anarkali and later died protecting them from the invading Mughal army.
John Masters famous book- “Bhowani Junction”, and later a popular movie may be based on Jhansi & the town mentioned as Bhowani supposedly could be Jhansi. The similarities are too uncanny to go unnoticed & the spy arousing the locals against the British and the Congress party of the time could have been based on the real life character of Freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad, at that time hiding in Jhansi under the guise of a mechanics assistant.
This note would be incomplete if we were not to add –Dhyan Chand the famous son of Jhansi , the Hockey wizard who dazzeled the world in his prime
His quicksilver agility on the field, & as captain of the Indian hockey team became legendary. Such was Dhyan Chand’s reputation that people thought he used a special hockey stick. Olympic officials in Holland took it apart to see if there was a magnet inside. In Japan, they decided he used some sort of super glue. German dictator Adolf Hitler offered to buy Dhyan Chand’s hockey stick & even offered him a very high rank in the German Army if he would migrate to Germany. A Vienna sports club has a statue of Dhyan Chand depicting him with four arms holding four hockey sticks!
Left: Dhyan Chand
Dhyan Chand was a member of the Indian hockey team which won a gold medal in its first appearance in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. He played a stellar role in its win
in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. In the 1936 Berlin Games, Dhyan Chand was the captain and led India to victory over Germany in the final. Out of the 338 goals scored by the Indians in 37 matches in 1932, Dhyan Chand contributed an astounding 133!
It is remarked that once he got control of the hockey ball, no one & no one could prise it off him. The ball was, as if glued to his stick. He kept playing till the mature age of 42 years, and retired from the game in the year 1948. Dhyan Chand met Don Bradman, the Cricket Maestro at Adelaide in the year 1935. After watching him play Hockey, Bradman commented “He scores goals like runs in Cricket.”
His brother Roop Singh also was a brilliant hockey player. The genius of this man was later also visible in his son Ashok Kumar who also represented Indian hockey teams for a while.
I clearly remember that my father used to mention that a lot of the Parsee Zoroastrian used to play with him and his family members when they were young. Unfortunately, Dhyan Singh/Chand was never able to capitalize on his greatness and before his death was not in a secure financial condition. He passed away on 3 December 1979 in Jhansi & the town gave him a farewell never to be seen again. I personally was there at the time and I have never seen a bigger congregation of people in the town before as then. The Government of India honors this son of Jhansi with a celebration of his achievements and life –by celebrating Dhyan Chand’s birthday (29th of August) as National Sports Day.
But this is the story of the Parsis in Jhansi
Let me clarify that this is not a scholarly historical text, just a record of what we have been researching, so some facts may be missing and if you come across something or someone who can add on to this site, it is most welcome. The site is to record and remember the stalwart Parsis of Jhansi and their deeds, their lives, their memories, records for future generations to remember. So kindly assist us to add more detailed information on your family and friends. Above all comes out the great spirit of Zoroastrianism in each one of us, so share your knowledge with others also.
Our Gratitude To…
Our sincere thanks to all the countless people who have contributed to the development of this site, but especially to the following people:
- Mani Bhagat -my aunt, Dimple -my niece & her father, Jimmy Bhagat (my cousin)
- Rony Dick, my cousin brother in law – who is also President of the Jhansi Anjuman
- Farokh K Pestonji, my brother who lives in Jhansi
- Katy Khambatta (nee Kolah) & her children Farzana & Arzan
- Dhanji Anklesaria, Dhanji Billimoria & Behram Icchaporia in Jhansi
- Arnaz Rustomji, Rosy Bhagats daughter for sending us huge data base of photos etc
- Phiroze (Filly) Boyce for his fine & detailed recollection of historical facts of Jhansi
- Behram Cooper, Rahul Singh & specially Jignesh Jaiswal, in Perth who have assisted to develop & modify the site for us
- Mahrukh Pestonji, my wife and children Farzana, Arzan & Shazan who supported our Business, so I could spend time for this site
- Farzana Pestonji, our daughter who has edited & formatted the work on this site
- Stephanie Dick Ellis (Jimmy Dicks daughter ) for amazing photographs and write ups
- Many other people –the list is to long to mention who have contributed & are mentioned with their articles
- And Above all – Thanks to our Beloved Ahura Mazda Khodai Jee for all His guidance & benevolence.
So read on, enjoy the time you spend here, and if you have a connection to Jhansi, you will definitely remember most of the people, we will meet here and their memories
For what is life…
But Memories remembered & Feelings experienced
Firoz Keki Pestonji
Other Related Websites…
Below are links to some other websites that have similar information
Zorastrian Website — By Sarosh Rusi