A Zoroastrian Educational Institute



HomeArticlesAuthorsBook ReviewCommunityLibraryProminentsRegisterStoreArticle SubmissionAbout Us




Maneckji Limji Hataria in Iran


















[Reprinted from K. R. Cama Oriental Institute Golden Jubilee Volume]
Bombay, 1969

Despite the written exchanges which took place between A.D. 1478 and 1768 between the Parsis of Gujarat and the dasturs of Persia, and despite too a flourishing sea-borne trade between Gujarat and the Persian Gulf, there is little record of secular contact between the two Zoroastrian communities before the 19th century. Occasionally, however, exceptional hardships drove individual Iranians to risk the dangers of flight overseas along the Muslim-dominated trade routes. (These dangers were very real for Zoroastrians, and sometimes the infrequent letters, which passed between the communities, had to be entrusted to Muslim bearers. [1]) In his Asia (published in London in 1673) John Ogilby states that after the original Parsi settlements in Gujarat, "many Persians have since settled themselves along the sea-shore, where they have lived quietly among the Natives"; [2] but in the 18th century it seems that "few Iranians came to India". [3]

The death of Karim Khan Zand in 1779 threw Iran into turmoil. At that time two Zoroastrian families who succeeded in escaping from trouble-torn Kerman made their way to Yazd. Among them was a certain Kai Khusrau-i Yazdyar, to whom was born a very beautiful daughter named Gulistan-Banu, In time Gulistan became an object of desire to a wealthy Muslim of Yazd; and to save her from abduction her father fled again, and managed in 1796 to bring her to the kindly haven of distant Bombay. There they were befriended by a benevolent Parsi family, that of Edulji Dorabji Lashkari In due course Gulistan was married to a Parsi, Framji Bhikaji Panday, and as "Gulbai the foreigner" (Gulbai Velatan) she became a well-loved member of the Bombay community, being as good as she was beautiful. She inspired in her husband and children, [4]  a desire to help her fellow-countrymen, who now began to make their way to Bombay in greater numbers. (Her father himself, helped by his Parsi hosts, returned thrice to Yazd and succeeded in bringing his whole family to Gujarat.) Framji Bhikaji aided "with body, mind and money" those Iranians who reached Bombay, and it is said that he earned the right to be called "the father of the Irani Parsis". [5] In 1834 his eldest son, Burjorji Framji Panday, started a fund to help these fugitives [6]; and twenty years later his third son, Meherwanji, began a second fund to aid the Iranian Zoroastrians in their own land, and became one of the founders of the Society for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Zoroastrians in Persia (of which Khurshedji Nasarvanji Kama was honorary treasurer from its inception). [7] It was as the first emissary of this Society that the valiant "Manekji, son of the late blesses Limji Hushang Hataria of Hindustan [8] landed at in the Persian Gulf in April 1854.

Manekji was born at the village of Mora Sumali near Surat in A.D. 1813; [9] and as he himself tells, earned his own bread from of fifteen, traveling widely as a commercial agent in India. [10] By the time of his appointment, he was already experienced, self-reliant and resourceful, and his choice by the Society proved a wholly admirable one. His memory remains green among the Zoroastrians of Iran, for whom he was to labor, with only one brief intermission from then until his death in 1890. [11] Physically Manekji was a compact and sturdy man, able to endure the rough conditions of life and travel then prevailing; and to devotion to his faith and community he added admirable innate qualities; charity, honesty, adaptability, tact and patience in negotiation, and what was of prime importance, both moral and physical courage. He had some protection, it is true, from his British citizenship; but the efficacy of this was not always great, especially in remote districts. He and his son Hormuzdiar were both on occasion threatened with death; [12] and although yet he says, in many places he traveled well armed, [13] yet, he says, many places had "to part with goods to save (his) life". [14]

Despite all dangers, and to the foreigner, Manekji set himself promptly and tirelessly to improve the lot of the small Zoroastrian community, shrunk in numbers, as he sadly records, so as to be no more than a pebble in the great heap of Muslim wheat; [15] a people in the main of scanty means and little or no education [16], of whom "hardly one or two in a hundred have any position", and of whom the villagers in particular were "helpless in the affairs of life”. [17] He labored both on the spot, in Yazd and Kerman, and at the distant center of power, Tehran; and by 1864 he was able to say, of the Tehranis at least, that though "the Muslims according to their creed looked upon a person of a different faith with the eye of contempt … now they have abandoned this evil fashion, and have shown kindness and love towards this humble traveller". [18] Even in less readily placable Yazd and Kerman, he had won the help of some of the great, and had persuaded them to a slightly more benevolent attitude towards the "heathen Gabr".

Manekji was not, however, the man to spend himself solely in patient diplomacy while practical tasks needed urgently to be done. His concern was with the spiritual as well as the physical welfare of the Zoroastrian community; and the inscription in the old Atash-Bahram building at Yazd. dated 1855, shows that one of the First tasks which he undertook was the repair of this ancient sanctuary. [19] The Muslims often forbade the Zoroastrians to buildings; [20] and it is characteristic of the resourceful Manekji that, less than a year after his landing, he somehow managed not only to restore but even to enlarge [21] this very important fire temple. The Atash-Bahram at Kerman was built two years later, in 1857, through, as the inscription there records, Manekji's agency and "the charitable gift of those endowed community of the Zoroastrians of India". Manekji also had repaired the village Adarans at Qanat-ghesan, near Kerman, and Khorramshah, outside Yazd. The prosperity which later came to the Zoroastrian community has led to these were restored by Manekji being replaced by newer, handsomer ones; and his inscriptions may therefore disappear in time with the crumbling of the mud-brick walls in which they are set. [22]

Manekji was also concerned with what he held to be the inadequacy of the dakhmas in use in Persia; [23] and by 1864 he had had new ones built at Yazd and Kerman (both of which are still in use), and at Sharifabad-i Ardekan-i Yazd. Here a new dakhma has been built in 1963, and an outer wall erected round Manekji's, preserve it from Muslim desecration. In 1865 Manekji had a small dakhma built at Qanat-ghesan. This is now abandoned, and the stone of his inscription is damaged, but can still be read. These dakhmas replaced older ones, and were a part of Manekji's work of preserving or restoring tradition. He repaired other subsidiary buildings, and also subsequently acted as the agent for individual Parsi benefactors who had shelters erected for pilgrims, and water-tanks made, at the mountain-shrines of Banu-Pars and Pir-i Sabz.

It was not the repair and erection of buildings which chiefly engaged Manekji's energies, however, but, its his commission required, the amelioration of the daily lot of the Persian Zoroastrians. The worst instrument of their oppression was the annual exaction of the jazia or poll-tax. However defensible this may be historically (as an equitable tax on non-Muslims, who were necessarily exempt from military service), in practice and in the hands of unscrupulous tax-farmers it became ti harsh tool for exaction, brutality, and forced conversion. By 1857 Manekji had begun his campaign against it, which he carried on doggedly directly and indirectly, in Tehran, Bombay and the capitals of Europe, involving many others with him in the cause. He himself obtained an audience of the Shah, Nasiru'd-Din Qajar, after which, as a result of his skilful advocacy, the total sum due from the community was slightly reduced. Manekji devoted a part of the Society's funds to meeting the tax still exacted for those unable to pay [24]; but it was not until 1882, after it quarter of century of arduous campaigning, that the tax was finally abolished by royal firman, the Shah decreeing moreover that "in levying tithes and assessments on water and landed property, and all trade-dues, the Zoroastrians must be treated in the same manner as our other subjects". [25] Although many persons, ambassadors, statesmen, merchants, scholars and philanthropists, contributed to achieving this triumph, the Persian Zoroastrians firmly give the whole credit to Manekji ; and indeed, as Karaka wrote in 1884 : "Nothing could surpass the zeal, courage and persistency displayed by Mr. Manekji’s Antaria [26] … but for his increasing efforts … the obnoxious and extortionate jazia would still have been in existence."

These long negotiations necessitated Manekji's being much in Tehran; and there he became a well-known figure both in Persian society and among the foreign community. His British citizenship gave him especial ties with Rawlinson, the English ambassador. He was also on cordial terms with the French ambassador, de Gobineau, who speaks of him as “a learned Parsi from Bombay”, who had accomplished the task entrusted to him in Persia “with a zeal and intelligence which do honor in the highest degree to himself, and to his people with him”. [27]  Manekji furnished de Gobineau with material for a short account of the Zoroastrians in Persia, which includes a precise census of their numbers at that time, place by place. [28] The American ambassador S.G.W. Benjamin, who was in Persia in 1882-85, knew Manekji then as "the head of the Guebres in Persia", and "a very respectable and intelligent old gentleman"; [29] and the English scholar E.G. Browne, traveling in Persia in 1887-88, collected several pieces of information about Manekji, including a detailed anecdote about his arrival in Persia. [30] Browne states that the tolerance shown by some at least of the Zoroastrians towards the Babis may well have been encouraged by "the marked predilection towards the Babis displayed by Manakji …, at whose instigation the Tarikh-i-Jadid, or ‘New History’ of the Bab's ‘Manifestation’ was written”. [31] It is impossible to believe, however, that Manekji ever wished to encourage an interest in Babism to the point of apostasies among his own community; and his predilection was presumably a manifestation of his natural intellectual curiosity, combined with a general interest in religion proper to one born and bred in India.

From his headquarters in Tehran Manekji continued to be active down the years in Yazd and Kerman. One of his endeavors, usually frustrated, was to bring to justice those who assailed individual Zoroastrians. There is only occasionally a record of his attempts. Thus Napier Malcolm [32] mentions that about 1870 Manekji persuaded the governor of Yazd (who either dared not or would not himself proceed against them) to let him take two ruffians to Tehran, who had killed one Zoroastrian and brutally wounded another, having tried to hack off his head; but in Tehran they merely received the bastinado, since no Muslim could suffer death for killing an infidel. When Manekji inquired whether it were true that the blood-price of a Zoroastrian would be set at merely 7 tumans, he was kindly assured that it would be just slightly more. Manekji himself writes that during his first 10 years in Persia, despite an improvement in the community's lot, 5 Zoroastrians were murdered, 7 wounded and tortured, some 30 to 40 severely assaulted, over 100 plundered in their homes, and others robbed along the way. [33]

As well as struggling for legal redress against robbers and as able, through the funds of the Society, to of the immediate distresses due to poverty. The old and sick were furnished with food, clothing and medicine. Daughters of the very poor (who were particularly exposed to abduction and forced conversion) were given dowries and marriages arranged for them. [34] Manekji adds ruefully, however, that of these girls were too proud to be dowered with "charity-money", and preferred, in his eyes wrongly, to remain unwed. [35] The spirit and resolution which had led the Zoroastrians of Persia withstand over 1,000 years of persecution were to be found in their women as well as in their men, and sometimes baffled the kind philanthropist.

A few Zoroastrians who were heavily cumbered with debt were helped to escape to Bombay, where they were enabled to find work and thereby gradually to collect the money to pay off their debts. This measure had to be carried out secretly, however, for Zoroastrians were not then allowed to travel, and Manekji was himself in trouble for abetting them. [36]

By such acts relieving distress, Manekji helped individuals; but another achievement of his, second only in importance to the abolition of the jazia, provided a means for the whole community to escape from their lowly and dependent state. This was the founding of schools. Education had been forbidden to the Zoroastrians, and most of the laity were of necessity illiterate. The establishing of schools aroused resentment and active opposition on the part of Muslims, who saw no reason for the despised "Gabrs" to become educated; and again one can only wonder at Menekji's achievement in setting up boys' schools in both Yazd and Kerman by 1857,  [37] only three years after his arrival. The Kermani school was in the precinct of the Atash-Bahram; and though the school, which continues to flourish, has since moved to new quarters, Manekji's still stand, single storied, modest, but airy and convenient.

Manekji was an enlightened and ardent advocate of more and more schools for the Zoroastrians, seeking earnestly to help "our Irani brothers with the medicine of education"; [38] and he enlisted support wherever he could in Persia and India. In 1860 he bought a house in Tehran, and sought to persuade the Parsis to let him open a boarding school in it. This desire of his was achieved some years later; and by 1882 there were 12 Zoroastrian schools in Persia (in Tehran, Kerman, Yazd and its villages). [39] Two of the first teachers in Tehran were Parsis, persuaded by Manekji to come to help their Persian kinsmen; and the education offered was a modern secular one, based on reading, writing and arithmetic. Foreign missionaries at about this time were starting one or two modern schools in Tehran which were attended by Muslim boys; but in the main, thanks to Manekji's wisdom and Parsi philanthropy, the Zoroastrians of Persia received a modern education before the Muslims, and it is largely due to this, which gave their innate qualities scope, that they made such swif progress in attaining position and wealth. From Tehran, the Parsi taught pupils, becoming teachers in their turn, went to the Yazdi and Kermani schools. The setting up of village schools, though often fraught with difficulty, went on after Manakji's death, until by the first decades of the present century there were schools in all the dominantly Zoroastrian villages, and literacy among Zoroastrian men was almost universal. [40]

In another matter also Manekji took steps which led, though much more gradually and indirectly, to a radical change in the community's life; he gave help and encouragement to the tiny group of Zoroastrians settled in Tehran. It is estimated that there were fewer than 100 Zoroastrians living in the capital when he arrived in Persia [41]; others came there for seasonal work. As well as the new school, Manekji had a dakhma built on a mountain ridge to the south of the city. [42] His desire to build an Adaran fire-temple and a hospital was not achieved; but he had a lodging-house established (a mehman-khane or dharmshala) so that "behdins who come there in flight from other places, may stay there to work". [43] Manekji's own presence in Tehran, and the greater kindness he had won there for Zoroastrians, must have increased the number of such refugees from the harsher conditions of the provinces. Now, A century later, most of the Zoroastrians of Persia live in the capital, and the old Zoroastrians quarter of Yazd is curiously silent and empty, the great merchant-families having almost all removed to Tehran.

Every good work has its Ahrimanic opposition, Manekji labored tirelessly to bring the Iranian Zoroastrians education, freedom of opportunity, and security of life; and this he did through the generosity of Parsi philanthropy. There seems therefore ingratitude in the words of an if an old Yazdi priest, who said to me sadly: "It was the ruin of our people, when the way was opened to Bombay". His meaning however is plain, and will have the sympathetic understanding of many Parsis. Bombay (like, later, Tehran) has meant very much that is good to the Iranis: freedom of worship and work, personal dignity, opportunities for education and advancement. But the wealth earned there, and the sophistications of urban life, have weakenecl the old close community ties. Harassed and persecuted though the Iranian Zoroastrians were, by their courage and endurance they maintained what was in some ways, for all its harsh restrictions, a good life, filled with devotion to their religion, family and kin, and spent among the fields, so carefully tilled, in the beautiful setting of their much loved motherland. [44] The simplicity of their lives left room also for gaiety and laughter, and there was much beauty in their worship, as is proper to the Good Religion. [45] Something of this old way of life still survives in one or two of the remoter villages, notably in Sharifabad; but in general the urban influences of Bombay and Tehran have slowly weakened religious observances, loosened old tier, and brought in new ambitions to create cleavages and discontents. Although this is perceived and lamented by some, even they would not therefore reproach their benefactor Manekji. The twentieth century was inevitable; and had the Iranians not been able to enter it educated and equipped, their tiny community might have been crushed out of existence altogether.

The speed and quality of the material progress made by the Iranian community in the last century is astonishing, and is evidence of the reserves of intelligence and initiative among those who had been so long restricted. Even before Manekji's coming the "one or two in a hundred had succeeded in raising themselves up a little; but they might at any moment be cast down again. There was no security in Iran for any Zoroastrian before Manekji's advent, and indeed, despite all his toil, security remained precarious until the era of the present Pahlavi dynasty, which came to power in 1925. The foundations of the present prosperity were however, laid by Manekji, and he is gratefully remembered. There is only one piece of modern Zoroastrians sculpture in Iran, and that is a fine bust of Manekji Limji Hataria, set on a pedestal outside the Atash-Bahram of Yazd. This catches well his air of benevolent but sturdy intrepidity. Behind it is the stately brick building of the new fire-temple, set high in a garden. In front of it, across a broad metalled road, are the spacious modern houses of wealthy Zoroastrians. The scene would be wholly strange to Manekji, but with its air of tranquil security, very pleasing, a testimony in itself to the effectiveness of his life's work.

[1] See M. R. Unvala, Darab Hormazyar's Rivayat (Bombay, 1922), I. pp. 126-27; B. N. Dhabhar. The Persian Rivayats of Homazyar Framars (Bombay. 1932), p. xxxiii with n. 1.
[2] K. M. Seervai and B. B. Patel in their "Gujarat Parsis" (Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency IX ii, 1899) cite Ogilby in the following terms 188): "According to Ogilby ... in the beginning of the fifteenth century many strangers from Parsia landed in Gujarat and settling quietly along the coast made known to the Gujarat Parsis their forgotten descent, instructed them in their religion, and taught them to serve God". This is however not said by Ogilby who on the contrary dates that the Parsis were acqainted with their traditions by thefr co-religionists living in Persia. (This he plainly deriver from Henry Lord A Display of two forraigne sects ... (London, 1630 p. 4). Moreover, Ogilby gives no date for the unobtrusive settlements.
[3] M. K. Hataria, Ishar-i siyahat-i iran (Bombay 1865), Ch. 22, p. 160. I am much Indebted to Ervad Dr. P. K. Anklesaria for his kindness in giving me a copy of an English translation be has had made of this book (which is Manekji's report on his first decade's work in Iran); and further for supplying for references in the present article the page-numbers of the Gujarati text. The difficulties for the Irani Zoroastrians daring these centuries are illustrated by the story of Firoze, wife of the valiant Rastamji Dorabji (who held Bombay for the English in 1692). Her Irani parents were forcibly converted to Islam. Unable themselves to escape, they sought to save their two daughters from this fate; and this they managed by entrusting them to a German traveler, who succeeded in bringing them safely to their coreligionists in Bombay (see D. F. Karaka, History of the Parsis (London, 1884), Vol. II, p. 52 n.).
[4] Hataria, op. cit., p. 162 f. gives the names of Gulistan's 5 sons and 4 daughters. The Firoze of the preceding note was sheltered, before her marriage to Rastamji, by "a respectable Parsi shopkeeper, Bhikhaji Beramji Panday", evidently the father of Gulistan's husband.
[5] Op. cit., Ch. 10, p. 58.
[6] Op. cit., p. 163.
[7] See op. cit., p. 164; op. cit., I. pp . 72, 89; M. M. Murzban, The Parsis in India (Bombay , 1917), I p. 132. Manekji himself often speaks with gratitude and respect of Meherwanji for his philanthropy and active work on behalf of the Society.
[8] This is the description Manekji given of himself in the inscription he set up in the restored Atash-Bahram of Kerman; see Acta Orientalia XXX (1966), p. 66.
[9] See Hataria, Persian ms. No. 142, p. 516, where the date is as A.H. 1230 (= A. Y. 1184). The collection of Hataria's Persian papers is now housed at the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute; and I am indebted to Dr. Anklesaria for his kindness and patience in extracting additional material about Manekji from them and from the volumes of the Parses Prakash.
[10] Thus in 1845 he was acting as agent for Jehangirji Nusserwanji (Jussawalla) Co., which took him to Bind and other parts of India (see his obituary in Parsee Prakash III, p. 327).
[11] Be returned to India in 1864, but remained these for only eighteen months.
[12] Hataria, op. cit., ch. 6, p. 9. (Where he speaks of some of the murders and assaults on Persian Zoroastrians during the years 1854-64).
[13] Murzban, op. cit., I p. 184, reproduces a photograph of Manekji, travel-girt, with an impressive pistol and knife thrust into his kamarband.
[14] Hataria, op. cit., Ch. 16, p. 86.
[15] ibid., ch. 5. p. 10.
[16] ibid., oh. 5. p. 7.
[17] ibid., ch. 19, p. 108.
[18] ibid., ch. 4, p. 6.
[19] See further Acta Orientalia XXX, p. 57.
[20] See, e.g., E. G. Browne, A Year Amongst the Persians 1887-1888 (Cambridge, 1926), p. 408.
[21] Hataria, op. cit., Ch. 9. p. 53. It w a s to this building, restored by Hataria, that A. V. Williams Jackson was admitted, see his Persia Past & Present (New York, 1909), p. 366 f.
[22] The dar-i mihr at Khorramshah has been subsequently rebuilt, and there is no Hataria inscription there; but his inscriptions survive in the abandoned old buildings of the other three fire temples just mentioned.
[23] It is hoped to write elsewhere of these older Persian dakhmas, which are still standing.
[24] See Hataria, op. cit., ch. 9. p. 54.
[25] English translations of the firman ere given both by Karaka, op. cit., I pp. 90-81, end Murzban, op. cit., I p. 184 n. 146.
[26] Manekji's last name occurs in a number of forms. Karaka used that cited above. In the Parsee Prakash, Dr. Anklesaria informs me, the name always appears as Hantaira, but in Manekji's own book it is given as Hataria, which is how he spells it in the various inscriptions, which he set up in Persia. E. G. Browne (op. cit. p. 344n.) to him as Hataryari, evidently an adaptation of this form on Persian lips. Williams Jackson (op. cit. , pp. 397, 408) calls him Hantaria; and Murzban (op. cit., II., index p. xxxv) gives his name as Hataria or Hantaria or Attaria. In Iran he war in fact usually known as Manekji Sahib or Manekji Limji Sahib.
[27] A. de Gobineau, Trois Ans en Asie ( P a r i s , 1859), p. 374,
[28] See ibid., p. 378. Father J. de Manasce tells me that the Persian documents in the Gobineau archives in the University Library of Strasbourg include letters from Manekji to Gobineau. There is also a letter from the Parsi Panchayat, thanking Gobineau for his intervention on behalf of the Irani Zoroastrians, which he had evidently made at Manekji's instance.
[29] See his Persia and the Persians (London, 1887), p. 357.
[30] See op. cit., pp. 190.94.
[31] ibid., p. 431, and cf. p. 478.
[32] Five years in a Persian Town (London, 1905), p. 60.
[33] op. cit., Ch. 6, pp. 8-9. It must be remembered that robbery of Muslim by Muslim was also oommon in those days; but the Zoroastrians were peculiarly exposed, and lacking in redress. The pillaging of their bomea was frequent, and prevented any accumulation of money and possessions. This insecurity gradually improved from the time of Manekji's endeavors, but more than one leading Zoroastrian was killed in the decades following his death. I was however regrettably in error when I stated (Acta Orientalia XXX, p. 70) that Arbab Kai Khusrau, the second Zoroastrian Member of Parliament under Reza Shah Pahlavi, met death through Muslim violence. The Zoroastrians had come to enjoy security of life by this period; and in fact, Arbab Kai Khusrau died peacefully, an honored member of the Persian community at large. This distinguished gentleman, who in his turn did so much for the Iranian Zoroastrian community, himself traced descent from Kai Khusrau i Yazdyar of Kerman, the father of Gulistan-Banu, see the introduction to the Dinshah Irani Memorial Vol. (Bombay, 1943) p. vii.
[34] Hataria, op. cit., Ch. 9. p. 54.
[35] ibid., Ch. 14, p. 68.
[36] ibid., Appendix, p. 146.
[37] see Murzban, op. cit., I p. 136.
[38] Hataria, op. cit., Ch. 14, p. 72.
[39] Murzban, op. cit., I p. 135 n. 147.
[40] Muslim oppoaition to schools for girls, even for Zoroastrian girls, was very fierce. Nevertheless Arbab Khusrau-i Shah Jehan established a girls' school in Yazd, at the beginning of the present century, largely for the benefit of his only child, Khanom (mother of Arbab Faridun Kayanian, the present bead of the Zoroastrian anjuman of Yazd). Now there are Zoroastrian girls' schools established in both the towns and villages, and the younger generation of women i s in the main also literate.
[41] See Karaka, op. cit., I p. 66.
[42] This dakhma is the one described by Williams Jackson, op. cit., pp. 439-440.
[43] See Hataria's proposal for this building, op. cit., ch. 12, pp. 62, 68.
[44] Some Parsis, hearing how the Iranian community had dwindled, suggested bringing all the survivors to India. Manekji explained that, quite apart from all the practical obstacles, the Iranis would be unwilling to leave Persia, which they held to be the best of lands; see op. cit., appendix, p. 147 f.
[45] Manekji pays ample tribute to the Iranians' courage and endurance; but naturally tributes to qualities of intelligence, humor and gaiety had no part in reports of a philanthropist who was continually seeking financial help to relieve distress, and necessarily therefore dwelt mainly on the dark side of things.