Origins of the Zoroastrian Priesthood

On the Origins of the Zoroastrian Priesthood


Dear friends,


Some queries have been raised regarding the origin of Priesthood in India and the division of the various ecclesiastical jurisdictions.


All Parsi priests of India draw their origin from Mobed Shahpur Mobed Sheriar, who is believed to be one of the Ashavan level priests [see my earlier posts as to what an Ashavan level person means] who brought the original Parsis to India by boat, the other being Mobed Hormuzdiar Ervad Ramiyar, both under the guidance of Dastur Nairyosangh Dhaval, who was the leader of the contingent of nearly 2000 men women and children.


A few years after the landing in Sanjan (whose date is disputed till today), the Iranshah was consecrated by these Ashavan level priests, along with the help of numerous other priests as well as lay Parsi artisans of various classes. [see earlier post by my friend Kaizad Keravala showing this from the Kisseh-i-Sanjan]. These were the true Priests and authorised servants of the sacred Iranshah Atash Behram and they and their descendants continued with their service for nearly 500 years in Sanjan.


As the Parsi population increased and shifted to nearby villages, the need for Parsi priests in these areas also increased. One of the prominent towns where Parsis settles was the village of Nagamandal, later on named as Navsari by the Parsi inhabitants. The first Parsi Priest to arrive in Navsari was Zarthosht Mobad, along with his son Kamdin Zarthosht in around 1142 AD. [Readers may note that the custom of taking surnames was NOT prevalent at that time, and priests were called along with their father’s name]. Please note that Zarthosht Mobad was a DIRECT DESCENDANT of Mobed Hormuzdiar Ramiyar who had landed in Sanjan about 200 years ago.  [The lineage is Zarthosht – Mobad – Hormuzdiar – Ramiyar.] Zarthosht Mobad continued to serve the Iranshah as per the rotation of duties amongst the priestly families of Sanjan at that time.


Another brother of Zarthosht Mobad, name Mobad [this practice of naming the son after the grandfather is the major cause of confusion in genealogical and historical dates!] also left Sanjan and settled in Bharuch and is the ancestor of all Bharuch descendant priests.


As the Parsi population of Navsari grew, the need for another priest was felt. Accordingly, in 1215 AD, Zarthosht Mobad and his son Kamdin Zarthosht invited another of their colleagues in Sanjan called Hom Bahmaniar to Navsari. Hom Bahmaniar traced his lineage from Dastur Nairyosangh Dhaval in the following manner [Hom – Bahmaniar – Khurshed – Bahmaniar – Khojasta – Khushmasta – Mobad – Nairyosangh – Dhaval]. Another brother of Hom, called Hormuzdiar Bahmaniar continued to stay in Sanjan.


As the workload of these Priests in Navsari increased, they found it difficult to also give Boi to the Iranshah at their designated turns. They hence VOLUNTARILY gave up their right to give Boi at Iranshah, although they were directly descended from the very families of the priests who consecrated Iranshah. Thus the two families of Zarthosht Mobad, along with his son Kamdin, and his son Mobad (again confusion!) on one hand, and Hom Bahmaniar and his son Faredun and grandsons Asa, Mahiar and Chanda formed the bedrock of the Navsari Parsi priesthood. Over a period of time, these formed into 5 specific groups, called POLS, and the work of the entire town was divided amongst the five POLS in a unique and harmonious way such that each family got to perform every ceremony during the entire yearly cycle. The income from all these ceremonies was shared in specific parts (Gujarati ‘Bhag’) by the POLS and hence they became known as BHAGARIAS, i.e. those who share (their earnings).


As the years passed, Sanjan was attacked by the  Muslim army in 1465, the Iranshah was shifted by the descendants of the Sanjan priests (including the families of the descendants of the brother of Hom of Navsari called Hormuzdiar, son of Bahmaniar, who had continued to stay in Sanjan) to Bahrot where it stayed for 14 years till the great Changa Asa of Navsari persuaded the priests of Sanjan staying in utter hardship at Bahrot to bring the Iranshah to Navsari. Accordingly, in around 1475 (dates still not decided) the Iranshah was brought to Navsari by the descendants of Hormuzdiar Bahmaniar, called Khurshed Kamdin (going back as Khurshed – Kamdin – Nagoj – Dhanpal – Hormuzdiar – Bahmaniar) Nagan Ram (going back as Nagan – Ram – Hamjiar – Cama – Hormuzdiar – Bahmaniar) and Chaiya Shaer (going back as Chaiya – Shaer – Hamjiar – Cama – Hormuzdiar – Bahmaniar). These three form the basis for the 9 Udvada families today.


The attached PDF file shows the origin of the Priesthood in great detail. history-of-z-priesthood


As per the agreement between the Bhagaria Mobeds and the three Mobed families accompanying Iranshah, the right to perform ALL CEREMONIES except Boi of Iranshah was THE EXCLUSIVE DOMAIN OF BHAGARIA MOBEDS. Even the ceremonies of the family members of the Iranshah Mobeds were to be performed solely by the Bhagaria Mobeds. Thus for over 200 years, all Bareshnums, Nirangdin ceremonies as well as the very Navar and Maratab ceremonies of all the Sanjan priestly families were performed by Bhagaria Mobeds. In this time period, as the family size of the Sanjana priests increased, they found it difficult to sustain themselves merely on the income of the Boi of Iranshah. They thus broke the sacred agreement their forefather had made with the Bhagaria priests and started performing the ceremonies of their own household by themselves, and thus emboldened, even started doing ceremonies of some Behdins by themselves. This was the germination of the controversies, fights, even murders amongst the Priests and finally the Sanjana Mobeds left with Iranshah to Valsad and thereafter to Udvada.


In short, there is a misrepresentation going around the community that the 9 Udvada families were only involved in the consecration of Iranshah, which as is seen from above is absurd as all the other Panths also draw their origin from the original Sanjana Mobeds who landed in Sanjan and consecrated Iranshah nearly 1300 years ago. The Bhagaria, Surti, Bharucha and other Mobedi tolas ALL owe their origin to the 3 great forefathers – Shahpur Sheriar, Hormuzdiar Ramiyar and Nairyosangh Dhaval from whose descendants they have come out of. No one Mobedi Tola has any superiority over the other as is being claimed today. If anything the 9 Udvada families owe a great debt of gratitude to Changa Asa and the Bhagaria Mobeds for their rescue and stay in Navsari for over 300 years.


 Best regards,


Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

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