Category Archives: Avesta and Studies

SOAS awarded £5million gift to create world-leading Institute of Zoroastrian Studies

SOAS University of London has secured a £5 million donation to create the world-leading SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies.

The donation will enable the creation of the SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies, a resource dedicated to enhancing the research, learning and teaching in the field of one of the world’s oldest religions. The institute will be co-chaired by Dr Sarah Stewart, Lecturer in Zoroastrianism, and Professor Almut Hintze FBA, Zartoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism. The donation will secure a long-term endowment for the Shapoorji Pallonji Lectureship in Zoroastrian Studies at SOAS in the Department of the Study of Religion, which will be held by Dr Stewart.

Three Magi in Parthian dress, exhibited at The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination, London 2013, Delhi 2016

SOAS has secured a commitment of £5 million over three years which will also see the creation of Shapoorji Pallonji Scholarships in Zoroastrian Studies as well as enabling a wide range of public engagement.

Baroness Valerie Amos CH, Director of SOAS, said: ‘Based in London, the home of the oldest Zoroastrian diaspora community outside India and Iran, SOAS is the perfect place to be home to an Institute of Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism has been studied at SOAS for nearly 90 years and through this donation we will be able to enhance our research and teaching in Zoroastrian studies and strengthen our relationship with the Zoroastrian Community.’

Mr Shapoor Mistry, Chairman, Shapoorji Pallonji Group, said: ‘Through the creation of the Institute, Lectureship and Scholarships, this donation will ensure that SOAS continues to develop as the world’s leading centre of Zoroastrian Studies, advancing in perpetuity the understanding and appreciation of this ancient religion and its history, culture, languages and peoples.’

Zoroastrianism has been studied at SOAS since 1929 thanks to the Parsi Community’s lectureship, which was held by Sir Harold Walter Bailey and Walter Bruno Henning. Renowned scholar Professor Mary Boyce taught Zoroastrianism from 1947 until 1982. Many other distinguished scholars of Zoroastrianism and Iranian Studies have taught at SOAS, including Professor John Hinnells, Professor A D H Bivar, Professor Philip Kreyenbroek and Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams. SOAS also produced a major international exhibition exploring the cultural history of Zoroastrianism, The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in history and imagination, which was exhibited in SOAS’s Brunei Gallery in 2013 and in the National Museum in Delhi in 2016.

11 July 2017

Meher Davar – The Divine Judge – Noshir H. Dadrawala


In the Zoroastrian Calendar the year comprises twelve Mah (months) with each month noshir-h-dadrawalaaggregating exactly thirty Roj (days) and thus a year of three hundred and sixty days to which are added the stand-alone five days of the Gatha which are not linked to any particular month.

The fifteenth day every month is dedicated to Dae-Meher and the sixteenth day to Meher Yazata. Where the twelve Mah are concerned, the seventh month is dedicated to Meher. Hence, Meher occupies a central position in the monthly and annual time cycle.

Meherangan is celebrated when Roj Meher coincides with Mah Meher. According to folklore this day commemorates the victory of light over the forces of darkness and good over the forces of evil. It is the day when the legendary spiritual King, Shah Faridoon enchains Zohak or Azi Dahak, the epitome of evil to that great spiritual mountain called Damavand in Iran.

According to legend, Zohak (the living embodiment of evil) is still chained to mount Damavand. It is said, every night when darkness grows, the forces of evil gain strength and the chains weaken. However, at the crack of dawn when the cock crows and there is sunlight, the chains are again secured and the evil one is rendered powerless. This is an important truth in nature, wrapped in an easy-to understand legend. Neither darkness nor evil has its own existence. Darkness is merely the absence of light and evil the absence of good. The only way to negate darkness is with light and the only way to dispel evil is through thoughts, words and deeds that are good.

The Avestan name for Meher Yazata is Mithra — the Divinity presiding over all oaths, promises, contracts, bonds, friendship and love. Avestan Mithra finds an echo in the Sanskrit word Mitra which means friend. The equivalent of Mithra in the Hebrew tradition would be Micha-el or the later Archangel Michal of the New Testament who leads God’s army in war against the forces of Satan.

The Romans too were so inspired with Mithra (Mithras to the Greeks) that Mithraism was practiced as a religion across the mighty Roman Empire between the first and the fourth century A.D. The temples of Mithras were always an underground cave, featuring a relief of Mithras killing the bull. Many scholars believe that this is related to cosmic astronomy, where the bull represents the constellation of Taurus.

In the Zoroastrian tradition Meher is referred to as Meher Davar or Judge who presides over the trial of the soul on the chahrom or fourth day after death.

Meher is also depicted as light or more specifically sunlight. Therefore, the Khurshed and Meher Niyaish go together hand in hand and are recommended as daily obligatory (Faraziyat) prayers.

The Meher Yasht is one of the longest of the Avestan Hymns. It embodies invocations for mercy and protection. Mithra being the Divinity of heavenly light is depicted as knower of the truth and one that sees everything. He is therefore the Divine Witness of truth and protector of oaths and promises.

Praying the Meher Niyaesh together with the Khurshed Niyaesh or the much more elaborate Meher Yasht is considered spiritually beneficial. It dispels the darkness of ignorance and untruth and strengthens the devotee with a high sense of truth, justice and commitment.

Meher Yazata is also the presiding deity over all rituals and ritual spaces and therefore Zoroastrian places of worship, especially in Iran are referred to as Dar-e-Meher or Darb=e-Meher which means ‘House of Meher Yazata’ or the ‘House of Light’.

The name Meher is popular among Parsis and though Mithra or Meher is a male Divinity, the name is commonly used by both gender. There are also other name variants. For example among the male — Mehernosh and Meherzad and among female Mehernaz and Meherangis!



Zoroastrian Studies Program at Stanford University

We would like to bring to your attention the Zoroastrian Studies Program at Stanford University. Stanford is one of the most prestigious universities in North America, ranked in the top 5 by U.S. News and World Report. For the last eight years along with Stanford, we have had a community effort led by Farrokh Billimoria of Redwood City, California to help create and sustain a program on Zoroastrian Studies at Stanford.

What started out as a lecture series between 2005 and 2009 is now a Lectureship with 4 courses offered during each academic year. The current faculty is Dr. Yuhan Sohrab-Dinshaw Vevaina (Ph.D., Harvard University) who has been a fulltime faculty for Zoroastrian studies at Stanford University since winter quarter of 2010-2011.

We as a community have sustained this program by major contributions from individuals in India, Hong Kong, FEZANA and contributions from various North American Associations and personal contributions from many North American Zoroastrians.

We are extremely happy that Dr. Vevaina is a fantastic teacher; his reviews at Stanford from his colleagues and his students are at the top of the review scale. Students love and enjoy his courses, and through him a lot of students at Stanford at both the undergraduate and graduate levels have been introduced to Zoroastrianism. He has taught 8 distinct courses related to Zoroastrianism, Ancient Iran, or Parsis in the four plus years he has been at Stanford which represents the broadest and most diversified teaching curriculum for Zoroastrian Studies. In addition, he has taught 18 independent studies (1-on-1 designer courses) to undergraduate and graduate students, including Parsi and Iranian students. One of his former undergraduates has just been accepted to do a Ph.D. in Late Antique Iranian History at The University of Chicago.

Here is what Professor Hester Gelber, Former Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford had to say about Dr. Vevaina: “His classes continue to get rave reviews from the students, and he has participated very actively in the life of the department. A first year graduate student who has joined us from Iran has worked with him this year, and he has also taught an extra-curricular course in the Persian language. Of his four regular courses for 2011-12: ‘Priests, Prophets, and Kings: Religion and Society in Late Antique Iran,’ and ‘Emperor, Explorer, and God: Alexander the Great in the Global Imagination,’ taught in the fall, each helped cement ties with our Classics Department. In the Winter he taught ‘Sugar in the Milk: Modern Zoroastrianism as Race, Religion, and Ethnicity,’ which he marketed to South Asian Studies, Anthropology, and the Program on Race and Ethnicity as well as to students interested in Religious Studies. In the spring, he taught ‘The Sun Also Shines on the Wicked: The Problem of Evil in Religious Thought,’ which he hoped would be of interest to students in philosophy and the Ethics in Society Program.”

In addition to his teaching, Dr. Vevaina has recently published as a co-editor with Michael Stausberg, The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism (2015), which is the largest single volume reference work on Zoroastrianism ever published with articles by 30 plus world authorities from 10 countries totaling almost 700 pages.

Dr. Vevaina presented the FEZANA, Jungalwala Lecture at the 16th North American Zarathushti Congress in New York in 2012, the topic was: “Thinking with Zoroastrianism in the 21st Century” and he spoke at the 10th World Zoroastrian Congress in Mumbai in Dec. 2013 where his topic was: “Can You Recommend a Good Book? Studying Zoroastrianism in the 21st Century.” He also spoke at The 17th North American Zoroastrian Congress in Los Angeles in Dec. 2014 where his theme was “Wisdom from the Ancients in the Age of the Moderns.” In addition, he has spoken to Zoroastrian communities at centers in San Jose, Houston, Westminster, CA, Mumbai, and London.

This undergraduate and graduate teaching program is jointly funded by the community and Stanford University. Stanford is bearing 34% of the program costs. After 2 generous donations, we are still $15,000 short. FEZANA has committed $5,000/yr., which leaves us with a shortfall of $10,000/yr.

At the last FEZANA AGM in Valley Forge, PA, FEZANA enthusiastically voted to support the program for another three years with a contribution of $5000/yr., and a number of Associations present also showed a willingness to individually support the program. We would like every FEZANA member Association to contribute $1,000/yr. for the next three years so that we can continue this program. We will also look for a major donor who can sustain this program perpetually and have their name associated with the program. The idea would be to have eventually a named, chaired professorship in Zoroastrian Studies.

We would like to hear from you on your Association’s contribution as soon as possible (latest by September 30, 2015), since there is urgency with regard to Stanford deciding to continue the program for the next three years.


Katayun Kapadia,

President, FEZANA

Lovji Cama,

Chair, Education, Scholarship and Conference Committee, FEZANA

Parsi priest earns doctorate in ancient Avesta Pahlavi script

Rustom House in Grant Road is home to an elderly priest who is a veritable storehouse of Iranian history. Ervad Parvez Bajan has six cupboards for books on Irani and Persian culture and just one for his personal effects. He can pick out unerringly the volume in the vast cache which contains a particular detail he is seeking.

His earnestness has served him well. At age 65, Parvez Bajan has earned a doctorate in a rare subject, Avesta-Pahlavi, the language of the Zoroastrian scriptures. His guide was Dasturji Dr Kaikhushroo JamaspAsa, an acclaimed scholar of international repute. Barely a handful of priests have taken a doctorate in this subject before, and a proud Bajan has requisitioned new visiting cards that qualify his name with his new degree.

Ervad Bajan is a sixth-generation priest and serves as head priest of the Seth B M Mevawala Fire Temple at Byculla, which has been managed by his family since the enthronement of the fire in 1851. He trained at the Dadar Parsi madressa (seminary) from 1958-1963 and worked with Union Bank for 23 years, where he says he became the first employee to secure leave for religious study. Having become the first graduate in his family, the spirited gentleman went on to take a postgraduate degree in law. Ervad Bajan has continued learning through his 65 years, despite family and priestly responsibilities.

He carefully extracts the original text which has earned him his doctorate. It reportedly dates back 450 years, so the leaves must be handled with extreme care. Curiously, it is written in a mix of Avesta, Pahlavi and old Gujarati in a manner that requires one to turn the book upside down to decipher each alternating script.

“It tells the story of a little boy who asks his father to explain the significance of tying the ‘kusti’ (sacred thread) during the thread ceremony or Navjote,” Bajan says. “Pahlavi is a complex script with 14 characters in the alphabet and no punctuation, so one must decipher the letters and the meaning.”

Most ancient Iranian languages like Avestan, Pahlavi and Pazand are not spoken tongues anymore, he says, yet community youngsters show interest in studying them at Mumbai University. “We are witnessing renewed interest in Zoroastrian history as well. Each year Noshir Dadrawala and I conduct tours to Iran on behalf of a Pune institute, where we guide Indians and expats through the holy sites of the faith. The warm feedback we receive is a sign that we are on the right track,” he says.

His own son who studied at St Mary’s ICSE, Mazgaon, holds a corporate job, yet is committed to wearing the priestly mantle when the need arises.

Today is Bahman Roj of Bahman Mah : Noshir Dadrawalla

There is greater significance to this day than just abstaining from meat today or through this Holy month.

About 5 years ago I wrote an article titled: “Bahman – Bestows Divine Wisdom” and which was published in Jam-e-Jamshed.

It’s a bit long, but you may like reading it.

In the Zoroastrian calendar, the second day of every month as well as the eleventh month of every year is dedicated to Bahman Amshaspand.

Bahman is the Persian form of the Pahlavi word Wahman and the original Avestan – Vohu Manah, a term which most scholars translate as the ‘Good Mind’, though there are more esoteric interpretations as well.

In the pantheon of Zoroastrian Divinities, Bahman Amshaspand ranks next to Ahura Mazda Himself. Bahman is an Amshaspand or Amesha Spenta (variously translated as Bountiful Immortal or Arch Angel) who is the guardian of Ahura Mazda’s Good Creation of Animals – particularly Goshpands like cow, goat, sheep etc. It is for this reason that devout Parsis abstain from eating meat throughout the entire month of Bahman. Even those who do not observe fasting from meat for the whole month try to avoid eating meat on Bahman Roj of Bahman Mah and the days dedicated to Bahman’s Hamkara (co-workers) – Mohor, Gosh and Ram.
Since at a moral and ethical level Bahman represents the Good Mind, abstaining from eating meat on every Bahman Roj as also Roj Mohor, Gosh and Ram is considered not just as an act of pleasing the Guardian Divinities of all Goshpands, but, also an act of spiritual merit to acquire spiritual wisdom through internal cleansing and exercising non-violence towards a Good Creation of Ahura Mazda.

Strictly speaking, throughout the month of Bahman, a Zoroastrian is expected to live on a simple diet of ann, fal & shak or grain, fruit and vegetable. But Parsis, being Parsis, cannot live on what they call ghaas phoos (grass and hay) and therefore most consider eating eggs as quite acceptable and some go even further to believe that eating fish or even fowl would be perfectly legitimate. “Aquatic creatures with fins and two legged fowls are not Goshpand”, it is argued! To each their own! I believe that there is no point observing the month of the Good Mind unless it is observed with faith, humility and understanding.

In the Gatha, Prophet Zarathushtra asserts that the path leading to Ahura Mazda is through Vohu Manah. In other words propitiating Bahman Amshaspand takes one closer to God. Interpreted at a moral and ethical level, exercising the right moral choice with the help of the good mind can only take one closer to Ahura Mazda, who in Zoroastrian theology is seen as the very Lord or Master of Wisdom.

In certain later texts, the Sudreh that every Zoroastrian wears is referred to as Vohu Manah Vastra or the garment of Bahman; just the way the Kushti that is tied around the waist is referred to as the girdle of Sarosh Yazata. It is believed that wearing the Sudreh which is the garment of Bahman Amshaspand gives the wearer wisdom, while tying the kushti over it gives the wearer Sarosh Yazata’s Divine protection.

According to historians, the Achaemenian emperor Artaxerxes II had Vohu Manah as the second part of his throne or court name and which when translated into Greek appeared as ‘Mnemon’.

I have memories of observing Bahman Mah as a child and one of the most vivid is eating just plain khichdi (rice cooked with daal and turmeric) with spicy-tangy Bafenu (a ripe Mango Pickle) or Doru (a tangy-runny concoction made with tamarind). Does any one cook Doru any more? I wonder!

In the Zoroastrian calendar of 365 days there is not a single day for total fasting from food. The only fast that is traditionally observed is the fast from eating meat throughout the month of Bahman. No special prayers or ceremonies are performed during this month. One is only expected to turn to a simple vegetarian diet as an act of spiritual discipline.

There is no Yasht or Niyaesh dedicated to Bahman. There probably was an Avestan Vohu Manah or Bahman Yasht but which is now lost to us with the vicissitudes of time. What we have is a Pahlavi commentary called Zand-e-Vohu Manah Yasna. However, unlike Avesta and Pazand, Pahlavi is not Manthravani or the traditional language of prayer. However, many do pray it. Once again, to each their own article of faith!

Historically, Parsis Zoroastrians have never been a vegetarian community. In fact one of the strongest arguments supporting the non-vegetarian theory is the observance of Bahman Mah. “If Parsis are mandated by religious tradition to be vegetarian all year round, why all the fuss over this month?” is a common refrain! However, the fact is: ‘we are what we eat’ and a vegetarian diet is considered good for spiritual development. Spiritually advanced Zoroastrians like Dasturji Jamshed Kukadaru were all staunch vegetarian.

In the Gatha, Asho Zarathushtra urges us to acquire happiness through wisdom, which in turn can be acquired by reflective thinking and exercising moral choices within an ethical framework. Much later, the Chinese philosopher, Confucius echoed the same thought: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest”.

May Bahman Amshaspand Bless our community with Wisdom!

Noshir H. Dadrawala

BORI, in collaboration with London University, to hold 10-day course in Avestan

Dying Iranian language gets boost

The course, to be held at BORI (Below), is open to all. Avestan is known as the language of Zoroastrian scripture
BORI, in collaboration with London University, to hold 10-day course in Avestan, an ancient language now fading into oblivion.In an attempt to resurrect the ancient Iranian language Avestan, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) is conducting a 10-day course from July 6.

The ancient language, sacred to Zoroastrianism, has few takers and even fewer scholars. “It is the language of Zoroastrian scripture and is close to Vedic Sanskrit. For instance, just as ‘asur’ means ‘powerful’ in Sanskrit, the corresponding Avestan word is ‘ahur’. The course, titled ‘An Introduction to the Avestan Language’ is being held in collaboration with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London,” Dr Shrikant Bahulkar, honorary secretary in charge of BORI, told Mirror.

This course is supported by Unesco Parzor, started for the Preservation of Parsi Zoroastrian Heritage, which has now developed into the Parzor Foundation. The course will be taught by Almut Hintze, Zartosthy Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism from SOAS, one of the very few teachers left from the stream.

“The course is free of charge and we have got a great response, with people coming from as far as Ethiopia and Germany. This could be phase two of the Jiyo Parsi programme. The whole point is to create awareness within the community and across the world about the value of this ancient civilisation and the importance of the language. When a language dies, wisdom too is lost,” said Shernaz Cama, of Unesco Parzor. India has around 60,000 Parsis, though the number is seen to decline by 10 per cent every census. The number of people knowing Avestan is possibly even smaller.

The course will contribute to Oriental studies, Vedic studies and Indian Culture by teaching Avestan from a comparative perspective that takes into account the common Indo-Iranian heritage shared by Vedic and Avestan. It is open to all and there is no eligibility criteria. “The point of the course is to preserve the language and develop people’s interest in it which in turn will lead to more research in the field,” added Dr Bahulkar.

“Avestan is a beautiful script and must be understood in order to understand the wonders of the Zoroastrian faith, a religion older than most. Starting courses is a brilliant initiative to honour the language and will hopefully encourage hundreds to uncover a piece of history. I hope the courses are advertised and promoted well,” said Freyan Bhathena, founder-editor of The Parsi Times. a community newspaper.

Introduction to Avestan: SOAS – BORI Course, Pune


Dear Friends,

UNESCO Parzor is happy to announce the first of the Educational Outreach programmes in collaboration with SOAS, University of London.

Professor Almut Hintze, Zarthoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism, will be offering a 10 day Course at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune this July. Due to a kind donation there is no fee for this course. At the end of an intensive programme the student will have acquired an Introduction to Avestan, with a comparative perspective of the Indo- Iranian heritage shared by Vedic and Avestan.

Therefore this Course is of interest to all those who are students of Vedic Studies and will add to their knowledge.

I will be grateful if you could circulate this information and the attached Course Structure    and Registration Form on your websites and Facebook groups to reach as large an audience as possible at the earliest. Kindly print out the Poster for display at popular sites on your Campus as well. Interested individuals are most welcome as well.

We look forward to a good response.

With warm regards,

Dr. Shernaz Cama,

Director, UNESCO Parzor Project,

Parzor Foundation

Mob. No. +91 9810007717



At 71, this lady did what she always wanted to

Ketty Shroff stood first in her MA in Awesta Pehlavi from Mumbai University

  •  Ketty Shroff, 71, with husband Cyrus at Bhatia hospital in Grant Road. Ketty, who pursued MA in Awesta Pehlavi, language of Zoroastrian scriptures, and stood first, suffered a heart attack after the convocation

As a young girl, Grant Road resident Ketty Shroff, 71, always wanted to be a post graduate. However, she could not fulfill her dreams because of financial constrains. But she did not lose heart and 50 years after her graduation, Ketty fulfilled her dream by doing what she desperately wanted to do — getting apost-graduate degree.

In fact, Ketty stood first among 2,342 students who appeared for MA in Awesta Pehlavi — the language of the Zorastrian scriptures — this year from the Institute of Distance Open Learning (IDOL), Mumbai University. She was felicitated on the occasion of the convocation ceremony in the university.

After graduating from Navsari in Gujarat Ketty moved to Mumbai. She served the Central Bank of India for 35 years and retired as a manager. Ketty had decided to do her MA in 2011.

After the convocation day, Ketty suffered a heart attack on February 3. She was immediately admitted in an ICU of a nearby hospital.

Recuperating in the general ward of the hospital now, Ketty shared her experience with this reporter. She said, “My financial condition was not that stable. I completed my schooling and graduation with scholarships. I did my graduation in Economics from SB Garda College in 1964 at the age of 21.”

Talking about her life after graduation, Ketty said, “Since I got married and had kids, I could not do my masters. But I learnt the basics of Zorastrian language for five years. After that I took admission for MA in Awesta Pehlavi. It was a big task in getting admission here because I am a graduate from Gujarat. However, I managed to get provisional admission for the first year and in the second, my admission was confirmed only a day before my MA Part II final exam.”

During her Part I exam, Ketty’s husband Cyrus, 80, was getting operated in a hospital. Cyrus, said: “I clearly instructed Ketty not to worry and to go and attend her exam for which she worked so hard for a year. It is her dedication that led her to pursue her dream.”

“I am grateful to the IDOL authorities that they cooperated with me and helped me to complete my post graduation in the subject I was interested in. I felt like a celebrity when during the convocation students came to get photographed with me. May be, I could not digest this excitement and landed up in hospital the next,” said Ketty with a smile.

Saturday, 7 February 2015 – 6:20am IST | Agency: dna | From the print edition
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