Emperor Akbar’s Parsi counsel
Established in 1874, the first Dastoor Meherjirana Library in Navsari is named after the first Parsi high priest of India. The most priceless manuscript at the library is a framed original document deed that states 200 ‘vighas’ of land has been granted to Dastoor Meherji Rana by Emperor Akbar.
The history of Gujarat records that it was in Surat that Akbar first met Meherji. Having set up camp at Gopi Talav with an aim to siege the Surat Castle in 1573, the Emperor was intrigued by the Parsi people and their culture. To feed the Mughal’s natural curiosity to know more about the Iranian religion, his desire to learn the tenets and interpret their customs, the prominent high priest Dastoor Meherji Rana from the neighbouring town of Navsari was requested to have an audience with Akbar.
Historians write that the Emperor and the holy man met at Kankra Khadi at first, and then at the present day Rustompura area. The incident has found mention in the records of French writer and Avestic scholar M.Anquetil du Perron, who stayed in Surat during 1755-61 and gathered further information on the historic events of the earlier centuries.
Apparently, Dastoor Meherji’s discussions had left a deep impact on Akbar. Therefore, when the famous congress of religions was organized in Fatehpur Sikri during 1576-79, Meherji was invited at the Ibadat-I-Khana as an esteemed guest of the Emperor to participate in the religious debates and discussions. Mughal court historian Badayuni has stated, “Fire worshipers from Navsari came to the Mughal capital and proclaimed the religion of Zardusht as the true one.”
J J Modi’s ‘The Parsis in the Court of Akbar and Dastur Meherji Rana’ says, “The influence of the Parsis on the enlightened Emperor was such that Akbar incorporated Zoroastrian motifs, including the veneration of the fire and sun’, along with the visible symbols viz- the sacred shirt and thread. Akbar ordered his vizier Abul Fazl to ensure that the sacred fire be kept burning day and night at the palace and is said to have stated, ‘To light a candle is to commemorate the rising of the sun.'”
Legend goes that during Meherji’s stay at Sikri, a tantrik known as Jagatguru challenged all religious heads and claimed that he would make two suns shine in the sky. He levitated a huge silver plate into the sky and the sun’s reflection on it blinded all. Meherji is said to have performed the holy ‘paydab kusti’ and prayed Mathravani Avesta verses which caused the plate to come crashing down, exposing the sorcerer. Singer Tansen, the gem of Akbar’s court is then said to have composed and sung, “Elahi Parsi padhe so qubool, lambi, lambi dadhee Shah Meherji tere mukh pe barsat noor (The prayers of Parsis are accepted by God, O long bearded one Meherji, your face is blessed with radiance)”.