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Volume IV No.11


January-February 2004: Mah Behman Fasal Sal 1372   


At the start of the year 2004 we wish your world would be poor in loneliness,

and rich in caring, compassion, charity, courage, hope, love and peace,

and blessed with health and happiness.


Humatanām hukhtanām hvarshtanām,

yadachā anyadachā verezyamnanāmchā vāverezananāmchā,

mahi aibi-jaretāro naenaestāro, yathanān vohunām mahi. 

Good thoughts, good words and good deeds

here and elsewhere of those who are performing them,

of those who have performed them.

We are glorifiers and meditators as we are for good. 

[Haptan Yasht Karda I, Para 2]  


      9 IN THEIR FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS: Aparita Bhandari 


MARTIN HAUG – Biographical Sketch: by E.P. Evans

January 30, 2004 marks 177th Birth Anniversary of Martin Haug –An Avestan Scholar 

“He was the first to bring to the notice of the Parsis that the leading idea of the Gathas was monotheism. Ahura Mazda, he declared was the supreme godhead, and saved the Gathas from the stain of dualism.”  [“History of Zoroastrianism”: Dastur M.N. Dhalla]  


ARTIN HAUGH was a native of Ostdorf, an obscure Würtemberg village, situated not far from the famous castle of Hohenzolleren, in the picturesque and fertile region extending between the Neckar and the Danube, from the chalk-hills of the Swabian Alps to the fir-clad hills and romantic valleys of the Black Forest1  He was born January 30 1827, the eldest of six children.  His father was a simple peasant of more than average intelligence, and in quite comfortable circumstances for a person of his class, and was especially proud of being able to trace his pedigree for many generations through an unbroken line of sturdy, and, for the most part, solid peasant ancestry.  It was this feeling that caused him to deprecate the extraordinary love of study which was shown at an early age by his first-born, and which threatened to divert the youth from the hereditary agricultural occupations and obligations strictly imposed upon him by primogeniture.  That the heir to a few acres of arable land should freely renounce his birthright, and willfully refuse to spend his days in guiding the plough and swinging the ox-goad, was, to a German Stockbauer (cattle-farmer), a matter of no less astonishment than if a prince “apparent to the crown” should reject the round and top of sovereignty and refuse to wield the scepter of his forefathers.  

      Fortunately, however, the usual tastes and talents of the boy were appreciated by his maternal grand-uncle, the village bailiff (Schultheiss), a man who was remarkable for his liberal opinions, his sound judgment, and the strict rectitude and even-handed justice with which he discharged his official duties, and whom Auerbach might have taken for the prototype of “Lucifer” in the “Black Forest Village Tales”.  These noble qualities left upon the boy’s mind an impression which was never effaced, and exerted a decisive influence upon the formation of his character by inspiring him with the unimpeachable integrity and disinterested devotion to truth for which he was distinguished.  In the sixth year of his age Martin was sent to school, and one of the teachers, observing his zeal and ability, offered, for a hundred florins (eight pounds) a year, to take the entire charge of his education and to prepare him for the schoolmaster’s career.   This proposal did not suit the wishes of the father, and still less those of the mother, who, with the narrow prejudices and religious concern of a pious Bauerfrau (country woman), expressed her solicitude lest through much learning her son should become “as great a heretic as Strauss”. But the intervention of the grand-uncle decided the question in opposition to the parents, and in 1838 the boy became Schulincipient (prep-school pupil), and received the extra instruction in branches pertaining to his future calling.  

      When scarcely twelve years old, although physically delicate, his enthusiasm was such that he often studied during the greater part of the night.  His father complained of this waste of oil, and, taking his lamp away, drove him to bed; but he quietly rose again and continued his studies, so far as possible, by moonlight.  Even at his meals he could not divest his thoughts from his all-absorbing pursuits; his eagerness for knowledge seemed to blunt every lower appetite; he always kept a book by his plate, and was more anxious to feed his mind than his body.  He was particularly desirous of learning Latin and Greek; the schoolmaster encouraged him in this purpose, but could not assist him, and he therefore applied for aid to the pastor of his native village.  This clerical gentleman, who, like Pfarrer Stollbein in Heinrich Stillings Jünglings-Jahre, “loved humility in other people uncommonly,” not only refused to help him, but sternly rebuked the peasant’s son for his unseemly ambition, discoursed to him about the sin of arrogance, ridiculed him for trying to get out of his sphere, and, finally, insinuated with sarcastic sneer that perhaps the Bauerbub (peasant-boy) would “even have the presumption to think of studying theology.”  

      It is a noteworthy and significant fact, that of the clergyman with whom Haug came in contact during his long and severe struggle to get an education, and from whom, as university men, he would naturally expect sympathy and advice, not one deigned to cheer him by a single word of encouragement or friendly counsel.  The best that he can say of any of them is, that “Pastor B---- was a humane man, and did not lay many obstacles in my way.”  Surely no extraordinary merit attaches to a virtue so purely negative and a humanity so cold and colorless as that, which animated the bosom of this exceptionally good shepherd.  Fortunately, the young student, in addition to good pluck, was endowed with a remarkably tenacious memory, and soon mastered the Latin Grammar and Dictionary, and read such texts as he could get hold of.  Before he was fourteen years old, he began also to study Hebrew, his earliest instructors being Jew boys, who visited Ostdorf as rag-buyers and dealers in second-hand clothes; the honorarium for this tuition he paid in old linen and other scraps purloined from the family ragbag.  The mother, as a thrifty housewife, mourned over the loss of her Lumpen (rags/scrap), but the father, now for the first time, showed some interest in his son’s studies, since he regarded the desire to read the Holy Scriptures in the original as a thing well pleasing to God, and accordingly bought him Gasenius’ Hebrew Grammar, and permitted him to take three lessons a week in Hebrew from a candidate of theology in the neighboring town of Bolingen.  He paid six kreutzers (twopence) a lesson; and, owing to this “great expense” his father soon compelled him to reduce the number of lessons to one a week. 

      In May 1841 Haug passed a public examination for admission into the Schulstand, i.e., into the class of officially recognized and certified teachers.  For two years he performed intermittingly the duties of schoolmaster in his native village; and in November 1843 was appointed assistant teacher at Unterensingen, where he had about a hundred children under his charge, and was confined to the school room from five to six hours daily.  In compensation fort his services he received forty florins (three guineas) a year, with board and lodging.  His sleeping and study room had no fireplace, and could not be heated, and he suffered severely from the cold as soon as the winter set in.  The headmaster was a dull pedagogue, and the village parson a coarse and arrogant person.  Neither of these men had the least sympathy with Haug’s nobler aims and aspirations.  Indeed, the person having received an intimation that the new assistant was engaged in reading Latin, Greek and Hebrew, warned him to desist, and threatened him with dismissal in case of persistency.  Haug gave no heed to these admonitions, and only continued, his pursuit of knowledge with increased energy and stricter privacy; and as Vesalius investigated the laws of organic structure and the principles of anatomy by stealthily dissecting the human body with the constant fear of the Inquisition before his eyes, so Haug analyzed Hebrew forms and phrases in secret, and cautiously kept his daily acquisitions in learning out of the sight of his pastoral and pedagogical overseers.  For this purpose he took refuge in the garret of a gristmill belonging to a distant relative, and there read Tacitus, Plato, and Isaiah, in what was anything but “the still air of delightful studies.”  Occasionally, too, the miller’s daughters discovered him in his retreat, but these apsarasas (nymphs/seductress) had no power to turn away the young muni from his austere devotion to science.  Only for a short time did one rustic beauty threaten to prove the fatal Menakâ (one of the nymphs) capable of diverting his ardor to herself, and thus blighting by her fascinations the fruits of his past efforts, and destroying the prospect of still greater achievements in the future; but he soon saw the folly of his passion, and returned with all the fervor of undivided affection to his first love---Philologia.  

      At this period Haug began to take a lively interest in religion, or rather in religions, their origin and development. He even discoursed on Sunday afternoons on these topics to the inhabitants of Hardthof, a cluster of farmhouses where he was employed as schoolmaster to about thirty children.  It is quite characteristics of him that, on these occasions, he was not content with Luther’s translation, but read the Bible from the original text.  No doubt the young preacher of sixteen had to aim very low in order not to shoot over the heads of this rustic auditors; but he spoke from the fullness of his heart, and his sermons seem to have won in general approbation, although a few of his hearers, who were of a more rigidly theological and dogmatic turn of mind, or more distinctly pietistic in sentiment, complained that he was too historical, and laid too little stress on the cardinal doctrines.  What more adequate exegesis of specifically Christian truth could be expected from one who had already learned to look at all sacred scriptures and traditional creeds from a comparative standpoint?  Although, in preparing for the university, he was obliged to devote special attention to classical philology, he still kept up his Oriental studies.  He procured a copy of Bopp’s edition of Nala and Damayanti, containing the Sanskrit text with a literal Latin translation.  By comparing the proper names in the translation with the corresponding combinations of signs in the original, he succeeded in gradually constructing for himself the Sanskrit alphabet and acquiring a knowledge of the grammatical forms, and thus learned to read and interpret the text by the same laborious process that was used by scholars in deciphering the cuneiform inscriptions of Western Asia and restoring the lost language of Akkad.  Subsequently he procured Rosen’s Radiccs Sanscritæ (Sanskrit roots), Bopp’s Kritische Grammatik der Sanskrita-Sprache (Analytical Grammar of Sanskrit language), and Ewald’s Ausführliches Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Sprache (Complete Manual of the Hebrews).  The last-mentioned work, on account of its rational system and comparative method, had peculiar attractions for him; and in order to impress it more indelibly on his mind, he read it through, section by section, and wrote it out from memory.  He often studied all night, bathing his head occasionally to cool his heated brain; and during the heat of summer he was accustomed to refresh his jaded nerves and ward off sleep by keeping his feet in a tub of cold water. 

      With impatient and almost feverish longing, Haug read each new list of lectures of Tübingen University published semi-annually in the Swabian Mercury, and fixed his eyes particularly on Ewald’s announcements.  His highest ideal of human happiness, he tells us, was to sit at the feet of this great teacher and to learn of him.  Once, in passing through Tübingen, he could not resist the temptation of dropping into one of Ewald’s lectures on Hebrew antiquities. He drank in with avidity every word, and the excitement produced such a wonderful tension of his faculties and put him into such a state of intellectual exaltation, that on leaving the auditorium he repeated the entire lecture verbatim.  Shortly afterwards (in April 1847) he addressed a letter to Ewald, expressing his high esteem and admiration, and stating his own aims and desires.  A very friendly and cheering reply, which was soon received, determined him to free himself without further delay from the galling yoke and intolerable thralldom of pedagogy.  It was one of the noble traits in the character of Ewald, himself the son of a poor weaver, that he never forgot the poverty of his birth and the severe struggles of his early life, and never failed to extend his hearty sympathy and helping hand to those who were in like circumstances. 

      In the autumn of 1847 Haug signified to the school inspector his intention of trying for the university, whereupon that official flew into a towering rage, and upbraided him for his conceit in imagining himself to be “too good for a schoolmaster.”  This outburst of impotent anger, so far from deterring Haug from his purpose, only served to strengthen him in it. Fearing lest, in a moment of dejection or weakness, he might prove untrue to himself and return to his old servitude, he resolved to render such a relapse impossible by not only ceasing to teach, but by divesting himself also of the public character and legal status of a teacher.  He felt that he had undertaken a desperate enterprise, from which he must cut off all hope of retreat by burning every bridge behind him.  By this step he severed himself from a source of sure though sour bread; but he had faith and foresight to cast aside all pennywise prudence and bondage to the rule of three, and to follow the calling that was his character and not in his circumstances.  He was already Oriental enough to trust something to his star and to the power of fate, believing that with the necessity would come also the ability to work the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. 

      Immediately, therefore, on recovering from a dangerous illness caused by over-study, he surrendered his certificate, and laying down for ever his rod of office, the birchen scepter, with only two florins (forty pence) in his pocket, entered, in March 1848, the Gymnasium at Stuttgart, where he also had access to the treasures of the Royal Library.  He rented a small room in a garret for two florins a month, and supported himself chiefly by giving private lessons in Hebrew.  In the seclusion of this poor attic he worked on with a diligence and cheerfulness, which no destitution could depress, and by his earnestness and efficiency soon won the recognition of his instructors, among them he often mentioned Professors Zeigler and Klaiber with the warmest expressions of gratitude. 

      In the autumn of 1848 Haug was matriculated at the University of Tübingen as candidate of philology.  Ewald, to the young student’s intense regret, had just accepted a call to Göttingen; but he attended the lectures of Walz, Jeuffel, and Schwegler on classical philology, and read Sanskrit, Zend, and Persian with Ewald’s successor, Rudolph Roth.  In the winter of 1849-50, Haug himself delivered a course of lectures on Isaiah, at the solicitation of some Prussian theological students to whom he had already given private instructions.  He also won, in the summer (August 9, 1851), the prize proposed by the Philosophical Faculty for the best essay “On the Sources used by Plutarch in his Lives” (In fontes quibus Plutarchus in vitis conscribendis usus est inquisatur, published in 1854).  These successes contributed to his fame as well as to his finances, the state of which was soon afterwards further improved by a stipendium procured for him by Professors Schwegler and Keller.  In March 1852 he took the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and a few days later the sudden death of his father recalled him to Ostdorf.  In recognition of his merits as a scholar Haug received from the Würtemberg Government a traveling stipend of three hundred florins (twenty-four pounds), which, with his portion of the family inheritance, enabled him to go to Göttingen (April 1852), whither he was attracted by Benfy (Sanskrit), Herman (classical philology), and especially by Ewald, who gave him private instructions in Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Turkish, and Armenian, and encouraged him in every way to devote his life to Oriental studies.  He was also treated with the greatest kindness by Frau Ewald (a daughter of the illustrious astronomer Gauss), whom he characterizes in his autobiography as “one of the most charming women he ever knew.”  

      On November 9, 1854, Haug habilitated as privatdocent (unsalaried lecturer) in Bonn with a dissertation on “The Religion of Zarathushtra according to the Ancient Hymns of the Zend-Avesta’, which was printed with additional Avestan studies in Die Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (Journal of the German Oriental Institute) for 1855 (vol. ix. pp. 683 sqq.Although surrounded by pleasant friends and occupied with congenial pursuits, he still found himself as an unsalaried tutor lecturing on subjects which from their very nature attracted but few pupils and produced a correspondingly small income from fees, in straitened pecuniary circumstances. From this financial stress he was relieved by an invitation from Baron von Bunsen to remove to Heidleberg as his private secretary and collaborator on his Bibelwerk (Bible studies), duties which he performed for about three years, conjointly with Dr. Kamphausen, afterwards professor of theology in Bonn. His salary of six hundred thalers (ninety pounds) a year sufficed not only to free him from present solicitude as to what he should eat and drink and wherewithal he should be clothed, but enabled him also, during the summers of 1856 and 1857, to visit Paris and London, and make use of manuscript treasures of the Bibliothéque Impériale and the East India Company’s Library.  

      Although the Bibelwrek (Bible studies) claimed nearly all his time and energy, still his industry and facility and goodly store of Sitzfleisch, or power of sedentary endurance, enabled him to continue his researches in the Avesta and prepare the results for publication. He translated and annotated the first Fargard of Vendidad, which, at Bunsen’s urgent request, was incorporated in the third volume of “Egypt’s Place in Universal History.”  He also completed a still more important as well as more difficult work, entitled Die Fünf Gâthâs, oder Sammlungen von Liedern und Sprüchen Zarathushtra’s, seiner Jünger und Nachfolger (The Five Gâthâs or Collections of the Songs and Sayings of Zarathushtra, his Disciples and Successors), which was published in (vol, i in 1858, and vol. ii in 1860), by the German Oriental Society in Leipsic. It consists of a translation of the text, an exact Latin metaphrase, and a freer German version, to which are added copious notes, etymological, exegetical, and historical.  

      In the spring of 1858 an unexpected and most inviting field of labor was opened to Haug by Mr. Howard, Director of Public Instructions of the Bombay Presidency, who, through Dr. Pattison, of Lincoln College, Oxford, offered him the position of superintendent of Sanskrit studies in the Government College at Puna.  He resolved to accept this offer, and immediately dissolved his connection with Bunsen, and, pending further negotiations, resumed his former duties in Bonn.  In June 1859 he married Sophia Speidel of Ofterdingen, to whom he had been betrothed since 1852, and in July left Bonn for England, whence he sat sail for India.  After a voyage of ninety-seven days he landed in Bombay early in November, and before the middle of the month was comfortably settled in his bungalow on the Muta (name of a river), in the ancient capital of the Mahrattas. 

      Haug’s object in going to India was threefold: 1.To acquaint himself with the learning of the Brahmans and Parsis, their theological dogmas and ritual observances; 2. To reform native learning by substituting for the old school of Sanskrit and Zend scholarships the freer and more fruitful methods of European science; 3.To collect manuscripts.  In the first place, he wished to gather up, as far as possible, the threads of tradition, and trace them to their origin in the complicated web and weft of the Brahmanical and Parsi creeds and ceremonies and to ascertain how far they form a part of the ancient texture, or to what extent they must be regarded as later insertions.  Even before leaving Europe he was not satisfied with the theory which is disposed to regard these threads as all thrums, and to discard the whole fabric of native tradition as a worthless thing of shreds and patches in which no scrap or filament of primitive warp and woof remains.  Through his intimate and cordial intercourse with Brahmans and Dasturs he succeeded in obtaining the most extended and accurate information concerning their beliefs, rites, and customs ever vouchsafed to any European. 

      In 1862 he published at Bombay his “Essays on the Sacred Language, Writings, and Religion of the Parsis”. “It is a volume,” wrote Max Müller on its first appearance, “of only three hundred and sixty-eight pages, and sells in England for one guinea.  Nevertheless, to the student of Zend it is one of the cheapest books ever published.”  The second and the third editions of this work, revised and enlarged (chiefly from the author’s posthumous papers) by Dr. E.W. West, are kept by the scholarly editor fully abreast with the rapid progress of Avesta studies. 

      In 1863 Haug published also at Bombay the text and an English translation of the Aitareya Bráhmanam of the Rigveda, embodying in the introduction to the first foot-notes to the second volume a vast amount of rare knowledge concerning the theory of the sacrifice, the manner of its performance, and the special purpose of each rite.  It implies no discredit to European Sanskritists to affirm that such a work could have been written only by a scholar who had lived in India and who by actual autopsy, had learned the real meaning of Brhmanical ritualism. 

      In his efforts to raise the standard and change the character of native scholarship Haug was untiringly assiduous and eminently successful.  He inspired the younger generation of Brahmans and Parsis with an intelligent interest in their sacred writings; and on the eve of his return to Europe he received, among other testimonials and tokens of affection, an address in Sanskrit signed by his native pupils, expressing their deep regret at the departure of their priyaguru (beloved teacher), and their gratitude for the entirely new light which they had derived from his instructions in ancient Sanskrit literature and comparative philosophy.  It is due in no inconsiderable degree to his influence that science in India is now becoming completely secularized, and the old priestly class of pandits, who cultivated grammar as a means of grace and valued phonetics and orthoepy as passports to eternal bliss, is rapidly passing away and will soon be numbered with megatheriums and other extinct mammals. 

      The collection of manuscripts was an object, which Haug had especially set his heart upon and never lost sight of.  For this purpose he made a three months’ tour in Gujarat during the winter of 1863-64.  He was everywhere enthusiastically received, and frequently invited by native gentlemen to lecture on the Vedas and the Avesta.  In one city a marble slab with a laudable inscription marked the place where he sat during his discourse.  He succeeded in procuring a large number of manuscripts, partly in the oldest extant originals, and partly in copies made under his supervision, some of them being very rare even in India, and hitherto altogether unknown in Europe.  The Royal Library of Muich purchased this fine collection after his death.                           

      Towards the close of the year 1865, Haug resigned his place in Puna College and prepared to return to Europe.  On his arrival in India, instead of abating his ardor to suit the debilitating climate, he kept up the habit of close and continuous application to study, which he had formed in Germany, not even resting in the hot season.  His health had become so seriously impaired through this imprudence that he resolved to seek its restoration in the cool and invigorating air of his Swabian fatherland. Spontaneous expressions of sorrow at his departure and esteem for his labors and learning met him on every side of from the native population.  The Brahmans and Parsis of Puna and Bombay attested their appreciation of his services by addresses of thanks and by splendid gifts. 

      On his return to Germany in 1866, Haug settled for a time in Stuttgart, where he edited “An Old Zand-Pahlavi Glossary,” which was published by the Government of Bombay.  In 1868 he accepted a call to the newly established professorship of Sanskrit and comparative philology in the University of Munich, where he soon secured for these hitherto alien and neglected studies a warm welcome and recognition, and affected their complete academical naturalization.  In his lecture-room and library he gathered round him students from different parts of Germany, from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Russia, England, and America, and spread out before them the treasures of his learning with a fullness and freshness, a depth and keenness of insight, that fixed the attention and kindled the ambition of his hearers.  In the Sanskrit address presented to him by his Brahman pupils of Puna, his uniform kindness and affability are particularly praised in contrast with the chilling and estranging reserve usually shown by foreign professors, who “never forget the distance between the guru and the chhâttra (preceptor and pupil), and thus check the spirit of inquiry.”  “To our exceeding good fortune,” they add, “your conduct towards us has been the very reverse of this.  In your manifestations of affection and sympathy, you have realized the character of the good teacher as described in the laws of Manu.”  The same freedom and friendliness and singleness of heart and of purpose, the same lively interest in their progress, marked his intercourse with his pupils in Munich, and bound them to him by like ties of personal attachment.  He possessed, in reality, a frank and kindly nature, although he has been sometimes censured for his over-sensitiveness. ---“The flash and outbreak of a fiery mind.” 

      The works which Haug published during the last few years of his life embraced various and disparate topics and although small in bulk compared with the ordinary opus of the German savant, are great in the erudition they contain and in the results they produced.  They consists, for the most part, of monographs, reviews, and academical dissertations, which took a decidedly critical and polemical character, originating not in any innate contentiousness or love of controversy, but in the incipient and somewhat formless and nebulous state of which these studies are only just emerging.  These publications, often only thin pamphlets, were the results of original researches and contributed more to the advancement of science than many a ponderous tome crammed with second-hand erudition.     

      Coming from the close and enervating atmosphere of India, Haug found the cool and invigorating though raw air of Munch refreshing and strengthening to his relaxed nerves, and expressed his surprise that the climate should have such a bad reputation.  Eventually, however, the tonic proved too harsh and irritating for his lungs and too powerful for his nerves, intensifying the excitability of his ardent temperament and stimulating to intellectual efforts out of proportion to his physical strength.  In the summer of 1875 he made a tour through the Swiss mountains, but over-taxed himself, and returned home sick and exhausted.  During the following winter he was able to lecture only for a few weeks, fell into a rapid decline, and, by the advice of his physician, went to Ragatz in Switzerland, where a few days after his arrival, he expired, June 3, 1876.  There, too, he was buried, a delegation from the University of Munich attending his body to the grave, and paying him the last tribute of respect. ■ 

Note: 1. The events of Haug’s life until the twenty-seventh year of his age, i.e., until his habilitation as privatdocent (unsalaried lecturer) in the University of Bonn in 1854, are narrated in his unpublished autobiography, from which source, supplemented by letters, diaries, and oral communications, the facts of this sketch are chiefly derived. 

Source: “Essays on the Sacred Writings:” pp-xvii- xxxi. Martin Haug (4th Edition by E.W. West: 1971 reprint) 

Acknowledgement: We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Mr. Farokh Vajifdar of London, for providing the photocopy of the article and also for providing the glossary of German words appearing in the article. 


Zaheer and Farhad Bulsara of Toronto entered Zoroastrian priesthood. 


IGH school students Zaheer and Farhad Bulsara’s names are on the class telephone list stuck on the refrigerator in the kitchen.  The brothers’ number is also listed in the local Zoroastrian community handbook – under the heading of priests.  It may not be as cool as getting a bat signal, but a couple of times a month Zaheer, 16, and Farhad 14, are summoned by Zoroastrians in need. Their services as mobeds (priests) are required for anything from house-warming ceremony to performing a Navjote, the Zoroastrian initiation ceremony similar to a bar mitzvah.  The brothers don’t find anything extraordinary in balancing homework, playing basketball and leading a jashan (celebration).  They regard their priesthood as something of a duty, and an opportunity to give back to the community.  

      Toronto boasts several mobeds in the small but slowly growing Zoroastrian community.  However, it’s not all that common to see young men such as Zaheer and Farhad take up priestly robes. The shortage of priests is perhaps one of the more serious issues faced by the Zoroastrian community, as a relatively small number of young men choose to undertake the Navar ceremony required to become a mobed.  The pool from which priests can be drawn is restricted.  Only those belonging to a priestly family ---it has to have at least two generations of priests –- are eligible.  Then there’s the rigorous month-long ceremony, which has to be performed at a fire temple, and so requires traveling to India. 

      However, much like the faith that’s enjoying a bit of rejuvenation, especially in North America, the Zoroastrian community is finding new ways to address the shortage of priests.  For Zaheer and Farhad, the decision to undergo the Navar ceremony was never in question.  Their father is a mobed, and the tradition has been handed down for generations even on their mother’s side. They grew up watching their father perform Jashans and Navjotes 

      “Initially I thought it was boring,” says Zaheeer, a lanky Grade 11 student at Meadowvale Secondary School in Mississauga.  “He just kept on chanting forever. I don’t know what he was doing. I’d just sit there and do my own prayers.”  “I thought the outfit was cool,” says Farhad, the chattier of the two. Farahad is in Grade 9 at the same school.  “The long white jacket and padan (a covering for the mouth).  We use the padan so that we don’t pollute the fire with our spit.   And it helps with the smoke.”   

      In the Zoroastrian faith, fire is sacred, as it is conceived as the incarnation of Ahura Mazda.  Ahura Mazda is God and the creator of the universe in the Zoroastrian faith, regarded by some as the oldest surviving monotheistic religion.  Ahura Mazda means the Lord of Wisdom in Avestan, an ancient Persian language.  Zoroastrianism was the state religion of the vast Persian Empire until 650 A.D. when Arabs invaded Persia.  An unknown number of followers fled to India, where they are concentrated today, and are called Parsis.  This year, Zoroastrians across the globe, in association with UNESCO, are celebrating the 3000th anniversary of the Zoroastrian culture.  Zoroastrianism is based on the Gathas, the teachings of the prophet Zarathushtra.  It’s reasonable to say that the prophet and the Avestan people, inhabited in northern steppes of Central Asia in about 1700-1500 BCE, says Jehan Bagli, a priest and president of the North American Mobed Council.  “Zarathushtrianism is more of a philosophy that became a religion,” says Bagli, 75, who, prefers using Zarathushtrianism instead the more Greek Zoroastrianism.  “It was the first monotheistic religion propounded by anybody”.   

      Due to the vastness of the Persian Empire, Zarathushtrianism came to be influenced by Greek, Babylonian, Egyptian and Asiatic cultures, and gave rise to a syncretic faith. There is currently a debate between the loyalty to the older Gathic scriptures and the later, syncretic Avesta scriptures.  Nevertheless, the essence of the faith can be broken down into three tenets of good thoughts, good words and good deeds.  “The religion is based on the freedom of choice,” explains Bagli.  “According to the Gathic teachings of Zarathushtra, Ahura Mazda created the perfect world. Man who is Ahura Mazda’s supreme creation, can choose the path of righteousness or the path of bad mentality.” 

      For Zaheer and Farhad, their faith is never much of a discussion point, as not many of their friends know about Zarathushtrianism.  “It’s only during gym, when my friends see my sudre and kusti, that they ask” says Farhad.  The sudre is a white, shirt-like garment made out of cotton.  It contains a pouch that’s supposed to be a reservoir of righteous actions of life.  The kusti is a hollow cord made out of 72 woolen threads and is wrapped around the waist three times, a reminder of the tenets of the faith.  A child is invested with the sudre and kusti at the time of Navjote as a mark of identity.  When asked about their faith, the brothers tell their friends about some aspects of it, like their Navjote.  “I tell them it’s kind of like the Jewish bar mitzvah,” says Farhad.  “You’re brought into the religion, you become a man,” “We also tell them some things they might have heard about, like the fall of Persepolis, the kingdom of Cyrus the Great, which was the biggest ever,” adds Zaheer.  Three years ago Zaheer and Frahad traveled to India for their Navar ceremony, or initiation into priesthood.  They spent about a month at a fire temple, sleeping on the floor, eating their meals at stated hours and not touching anything.  “We couldn’t talk until we had said our prayers,” says Farhad.  “And then on the 24th day we had the actual ceremony.  It was three hours long, and we had to sit cross-legged most of the time.  It was painful.” 

      The Navar ceremony has changed somewhat since 1941, when Bagli was initiated into priesthood as a 13-year-old.  “I had to memorize a lot of prayers, but these days the boys can just read them,” says Bagli.  “My father was a priest, and they decided I should do it.  It was never from a professional point of view.”  Besides the eligibility criteria and travel requirements, the small number of priests can also be attributed to ideological differences.  “There are some priests who don’t believe in performing inter-faith ceremonies and a substantial number of marriages in North America are inter-faith,” explains Bagli.  “And then, being a priest is now a voluntary activity.  I never thought I would be a priest.  I’m a medical chemist by profession.  But when I came to Canada and noticed a vacuum, my personal sentiments of continuing the religion came to play.  “In the North American Mobed Council, we have also started a program of training laities to perform certain ceremonies such as jashans and funerals.  We call them mobedyars, or assistant to mobeds.  It’s a move to fulfill the needs of the area where there are no priests. 

      For their part, Zaheer and Farhad are happy to continue the family tradition, sometimes assisting their father, and sometimes leading ceremonies themselves.  “Not everyone gets the opportunity to become a mobed,” says Zaheer.  “It’s something you grow up with it.” Says Farhad.  “You want to continue it” ■  [Courtesy: “Toronto Star” Dec. 6, 2003] 

Zoroastrianism blesses all good things of this world as well as of the other world 



his is how “democracy” is defined by the Webster’s Dictionary: a] A Government by the people, especially rule of the majority. b] A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation involving periodically held free elections. History of democracy, as presented by Western scholars, only goes back to the people of Greek cities of the pre-Christian era.  This is just a part of the story.  The full fact is that regional elected councils are well documented in the Indo-European, particularly the Indo-Iranian societies, and the later Roman city democracies is that “ancient democracies did not presuppose equality of all individuals; the majority of the populace, notably slaves and women, had no political rights.  Athens, the greatest of the city democracies, limited the franchise to native-born citizens.” (Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia.Vol.8 “Democracy”) Nothing surprising.  Women have been granted the right to vote and hold government office in most of the democracies only in the first half of the 20th century! 

      What do the Guiding Gathas of Zarathushtra say?  The very first song begins with “Yatha Ahu”,

the Principle of Choice.  In order to bring peace, prosperity, stability, progress and happiness to the living world, people are to select only competent persons who are able to free the world from mental and physical wrongs, rehabilitate the persons deprived of their rights and lead mankind to truth, precision, progress, wholeness, and immortality. 

      Song 16, the last but one, is particularly dedicated to “Vohû Khshathra Vairya” literally “Good Domain Worthy-of-Choice.”  It elaborates that a good government must be an elected one.  It is then the best gain one can have.  To serve a chosen government means to serve it best with devotion based on righteous deeds.  It is for such a dominion, a world order that Zarathushtra rose to work for us, mankind.  He founded the foremost democracy – mental and physical, spiritual and material.    

      Contrary to the pyramidal structure of the society into professions/casts of a single superior top to the massive inferior bottom of serfs and salves seen in human history of many doctrines, the Gathas profoundly present a doctrine of individual freedom of will and choice equally for all men and women. The Gathic division of the human society is unique.  It begins with the family living in a house that multiplies consequentially into settlements, districts, and lands and finally embraces the entire earth –all based on good thinking and precise procedure.  This makes one realize the true democracy Zarathushtra expounded.  The guiding leaders of all these units must be elected only on account of their competence, and that too by persons with ‘good mind –Vohu Manah’ and in the ‘right –Asha’ procedure. 

      In today’s definition it would mean that each and every person elected must be fully qualified for the office he/she is elected to. It would, in a simpler term, mean competent, coordinating and cooperating persons leading the house, settlement, district, land and the globe. On the governmental level, it would mean that all the candidates for presidency, home affairs, foreign relations, commerce, council, cabinet and all other offices will prove their competence of quality and experience, in order to be elected for their particular posts.  A person elected for every post will be according to his or her competence.  And on the global level, we will have a “united Nations” organization that would lead free, friendly, peaceful, prosperous, healthy, happy, and lovingly united people in a glorious global democracy.   

      A close look at all the democracies in the world would show that mankind has still to work wisely and hard to reach the Gathic principle of “Vohû Khshathra Vairya”.  Zarathushtra prayed for it in the concluding stanza of his Sublime Songs: 

                        May the desired Fellowship come,

                        for the support of the men and the women of Zarathushtra

      Let us join Zarathushtra in the solemn prayer, and seriously and sincerely work to achieve his ideal Vohû Khshathra Vairya”. ■


NOSHIR BYRAMJI MANA said good-bye to relatives and friends and passed on to higher realms on December 26, 2003.  May his pure Fravashi reap the fruits of his virtuous and industrious life, and may his Soul cross into Abode of Songs, there to rest in peace everlasting. Amen! 

      We at Informal Religious Meetings shall remember him with gratitude for his silent and constant encouragement from that day in July 1975 when we met for the first time at the Bhedwar Library to discuss and learn something about the faith.  He was among those first few to join our small group of seekers. He was knowledgeable and willingly shared his knowledge on faith, spirituality and higher powers through a series of talks.  In 1979 we started churning a cyclostyled bulletin, Noshir not only helped us with excellent articles written in his own impeccable style. But gave valuable suggestions to improve the bulletin. Two years later Informal Religious Meetings formed its Trust Fund, and Noshir became one of its trustees.  However, having served in that capacity for a few years, he resigned as he felt that the Trust needed a younger person, but still continued to be involved with IRM’s activities. His profession as a Life Insurance agent gave him a closer look to human nature and its frailties that made him sympathetic towards humanitarian causes for which he silently worked, and where he couldn’t, as a pro bono publico his erudite letters in the local press amply spoke of his concern for the public good. Turning a leaf from the life of the late Jamshed Nuserwanjee, he visited the ailing and prayed for their recovery.  And recognized sacredness in everyday things. For all that he spoke, wrote and selflessly served, he neither sought reward nor fame, but remained content in the belief that the Grace of Ahura Mazda had made it all possible. 

      Though poor in vision, he eagerly ate books as a feast for his lofty thinking.  Prayed and meditated. Lovingly cared for his family.  Showed kindness for four-legged and all the creatures of the earth. And lastly his encouraging letters written to friends in time of their success or sorrow was a thoughtful gift of love. But those who knew Noshir and grew up with him in Karachi’s Parsi Colony will ever remember him, a gentle person who never hurt a soul and wore a winsome smile.  The days given to him raced away and now there is that Long Sleep from which there is no waking. Rest there my friend –and farewell.   



To Victims of Bam Earthquake 

            As well as our ancient civilization.   Future holds

            O! Why this infliction     Words fail to express

            On the people of Bam,    Our deepest sympathies

            Where everything was     And sincere condolences

            So serene, so calm.     May Ahura Mazda help

[Farida Bamji] 


By Jim Muir [BBC correspondent in Bam] 


n hour before dawn last Friday morning (December 26), the oasis city of Bam in south-east Iran was jolted by a massive earthquake.  In the hours and days that followed, it became clear that the city, much of it made of mud-brick, had been largely destroyed.  The death toll is currently estimated at around 30, 000, but it is feared that hundreds of people still lie entombed under the rubble of their own homes. The disaster brought a flood of sympathy and relief from outside world, including from the United States, which has been at odds with the Islamic republic for more than two decades 

      I have been living in Iran for the past four years and was among the first Western journalists to reach the scene of the disaster. 

      Rich History: When visiting friends would ask me where the best places in Iran to go were, I felt obliged, of course, to mention the country’s most obvious glories.  In Isfahan, they would see the glittering, highly-ornate marvels produced by the Safavid dynasty at the height of its flowering about 400 years ago.  At Shiraz, near Persepolis, they would wander around the vast and lordly ruins left by the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th Century BC. 

      But then I would always mention Bam and urge them to go there, because to me, it had something very special and quite different about it. Perhaps it is because it had sprung out of, and survived in, an environment that could not be ignored or resisted.  It is an oasis, with thousands of beautiful palm trees producing dates for which it is famous.  It is set in the desert hundreds of kilometers from anywhere.  In the olden days, it was a vital staging post on the ancient trade routes linking Eastern and Western civilizations.  And it remains so today, astride the main international road from Iran to Pakistan. 

      Pioneering architecture: What was fantastic about it was of course, the city’s heart: the citadel and the walled, largely medieval town, which grew up around it.  With its bastions and crenellated towers, its domes and arches and alleyways, it was the biggest mud brick structure in the world. It was a wonderful place to wander and fantasize about the past.  Its accretions of centuries went back something like 2,000 years, but you felt that here was a place, divorced, neither from its past, nor from its environment: at one, with both time, and place.  It seemed close to the essence of life, growing out of the very soil in which it stood.  And of course, around the old city had grown up the new, housing about 80,000 people.  Most of this, too, was made of mud brick warrens, usually not more than one or two stories high. 

      There had been a strong tremor at around 10 pm the previous evening, making people nervous enough to sleep outside despite the cold.  One survivor we met, Ali, told us how he tricked his own family by telling them there had been a broadcast ordering people to sleep in the open, so they did.  He had a premonition.  He was right.  Just a few hours later, the earthquake struck.  In the space of about 10 seconds, the citadel, the old city, and huge areas of the new quarter of Bam, were reduced to jumbled oceans of dust and rubble.  Ali and his family survived.  But still uncounted thousands of others were simply buried as they slept. The very mud brick that brought life to Bam, now brought it death, and on a massive scale.  Unlike modern reinforced concrete buildings, collapsing mud brick disintegrates into densely packed mounds of rubble: there are no big slabs to create pockets and spaces where people might cling to life. 

      Struggle to survive: So after the first big wave, of survivors were retrieved in the first day or two, the story was one of a diminishing handful of miracle survivals.  Almost always, it was the same grim story of whole families being dug out dead, one-by-one, from where they had been sleeping. And then were re-interned hundreds at a time in trenches being dug at the local cemetery.  One particular moment that got to me, and it was a random one, was watching the limp body of a young girl, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, being pulled from the rubble by relatives.  The men were sobbing and openly, the women wailing inconsolably. I imagined the girl in life, scampering among the palm trees and imagined how I would feel if this were one of my own daughters.  One of the moving things about such horrendous disasters is the human response it brings. Within little more than a day, hundreds of search-and- rescue experts from at least 26 nations were already at work alongside thousands of Iranians to save lives in this remote desert oasis many had never heard of before. 

      As for Bam itself, there are official pledges to rebuild the citadel.  But it will be a reconstruction, and never quite the same thing.  With enough effort and money, the city of Bam can be reconstructed too, along with the lives of the survivors.  But those lives too, all of them deeply touched by this tragedy will also never be the same. ■ [Courtesy: BBC News] 

Published for Informal Religious Meetings Trust Fund, Karachi


Virasp Mehta

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