Category Archives: History

The Appeal and Influence of Parsi Theater

Nichola Pais explores the Parsi theater, a highly influential movement in the realm of modern Indian theatre, and its impact on cinema.

 

What is Parsi theatre?
Parsi theatre’s aesthetics and strategies greatly influenced the concept, organisation and production of modern Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu theatres in India. It had absorbed several features of eastern traditional or folk performing arts, such as music, mime, and comic interludes.
While theatre in India may be traced back to Sanskrit dramatist Kalidasa’s plays, it was with Parsi natak mandalis that drama developed in colonial times. Focusing on entertainment with a social message, Parsi theatre was a highly influential movement in the realm of modem Indian theatre. A professional theatre movement, it was sponsored by the Parsis and the Zoroastrian traders who migrated in the 17th century from Pars in Iran to India, to settle in Gujarat’s coastal areas, before many chose to move to nearby Bombay for trade and commerce. A rich and prominent business community in the city, the Parsis had predominantly adopted English ways of living. They went on to develop theatre both for their personal amusement and commercial purposes. Flourishing between the 1850s up until the 1930s, Parsi theatre was the result of the blending of European techniques and local folk forms of Indian theatre. It marked the beginning of a new tradition in Indian theatrical culture; before this, the only kind of Indian theatrical practice in existence was folk theatre performances. Popularising proscenium-style theatre in regional languages, Parsi theatre was melodramatic and entertaining in nature, with the plays incorporating humour, melodious songs and music, sensationalism and stagecraft.. success led to the development of bhasha theatre in regional languages. Parsi theatre’s aesthetics and strategies greatly influenced the concept, organisation and production of modem Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu theatre in India. It had absorbed several features of eastern traditional or folk performing arts, such as music, mime, and comic interludes. Thus, Parsi theatre plays were not a mere imitation of western theatre but a blend of Eastern and Western dramatic techniques. Neither purely based on Western theatre nor on eastern theatre, it was a hybrid which was successful in garnering the attention of audiences, as its influence quickly spread across India.

 

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Unique elements
Commercial Parsi theatrical productions had a number of unique and interesting elements. Three actors would chant a prayer before the drama began, after which one actor would deliver the prologue. In marked similarity to the Bengali indigenous dramatic production, Jatra, music played a significant part in Parsi theatre. The end of a play would see an actor come forward to offer a vote of thanks, ending with a farewell song. Parsi theatre was also rooted in community identity, with community members sharing a sense of oneness with the theatrical productions, and fostering identity and community culture. Communicating in the local languages like Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu, it used European-style proscenium with richly painted backdrop curtains and trick stage effects. It also depended on spectacle and melodrama to appeal to its audiences. It ushered in the conventions and techniques of realism, as it marked the transition from stylised open-air presentations to a new urban drama.

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Novel dramatic devices
Plays mixed elements of realism with fantasy, music, dance, narrative and spectacle, dialogue and ingenuity of stage presentation, within a dramatic discourse of melodrama.
A predominant feature of Parsi theatre was the alternation of deep and shallow scenes. While the deep scenes contained serious subject matter, the shallow scenes were largely comic in nature, to amuse the audience. The shallow scenes would be mostly presented on the front stage and the deep scenes in the deeper part of the stage. While the shallow scenes ran at the foreground of the stage with a painted curtain generally depicting a street as backdrop, the deep scenes would be prepared during this time. The shallow scenes, enacted by the ‘lower class’ characters, served as links in the development of the plot Their main purpose however w. to keep the audience engaged while the deep scenes, which showed interior of palaces, royals parks, and other such visually opulent sets, were being changed or decorated. While important characters rarely appeared in the street scenes, the comic characters kept their place in the deep scenes. The characteristics of shallow scene of Parsi theatre have evidently come from Shakespeare, where the technique was used for ‘comic relief’ in his tragedies. However, while Shakespeare used comic relief as mental comfort for the audience just after the blood-shed on stage, Parsi theatre used shallow scenes for the passing of time when the scene preparation was in progress for the deep scene. Shallow scene incorporated comic dialogues, romantic scenes, highly dramatic actions, and some risque scenes. Parsi theatre always used back and middle curtains to change the location or scene. The painted curtain dropped from pulleys was used for the changing of scenes rather than using props on the stage. Parsi theatre also directly presented melodrama on the stage like death and blood-shed, thus producing aesthetic pleasure in the audience’s mind. Plays mixed elements of realism with fantasy, music, dance, narrative and spectacle, dialogue and ingenuity of stage presentation, within a dramatic discourse of melodrama. Additionally, special kind of language was used for special kinds of characters, in another similarity with Shakespeare’s use of language in his plays. Thus, characters in the play spoke according to their social status, with the higher class speaking in figurative and beautiful language while the lower class used prose or communicative language. With the audience for Parsi theatre largely hailing from the middle and lower working class, there were wide usage of songs, metrical and rhythmic lines. Background music was also used in order to produce aesthetic pleasure or Rasa in the play, even as it helped the director create the illusion, reality on stage. Interestingly, the usage of music was borrowed from Indian folk theatre. Parsi theatre was thus a new and experimental movement on various levels, opening a hitherto unseen way of presenting a play on the Indian stage. In a nutshell, it promoted the use of both deep and shallow scenes, introduced secularism in content, and enabled the performance of plays in proscenium theatres.

Read the full interesting article at https://www.cinemaazi.com/feature/chalo-natak-the-appeal-and-influence-of-parsi-theatre

ZANZIBAR REVOLUTION DAY & FREDDIE MERCURY

January 12, was Zanzibar Revolution day – a day to remember for a story of a country’s freedom and also the story of a forgotten genocide. A thread on Zanzibar Revolution, Parsees of Gujarat and a flamboyant rockstar we’ve all heard about.
For centuries, Zanzibar – a Tanzanian archipelago – was ruled by Muslim Sultanate and a hot destination for Indian traders. Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, had their families established within a flourishing community until one dark day arrived.
On this day back in 1964 a violent coup by African allied parties, fueled by ethnic pride & anger over slavery in the past, not only ended 200 years of Muslim rule but also murdered and expelled thousands of Arabs and Indian civilians in broad daylight.
The Indians, who were settled there, were mostly wealthy merchants and traders from Northwestern India. One of them was Bomi Bulsara, a Persian cashier from Western India.
Bomi was originally a Parsi from the Gujarat region of the Bombay Presidency in Colonial India. His family name was derived from the Bulsar or Valsad – a town in Gujarat from where they were originated.
There is a very interesting legend about how the Zoroastrians fled from their Persian homeland to Gujarat to escape religious prosecution. As per the epic poem Qissa-i Sanjan when they arrived in Gujarat, they met Jadi Rana, the local King.
The King sent a vessel of milk filled to the very brim to the newly arrived Persis signifying his kingdom is already full and couldn’t accept refugees.
In response, they returned the vessel adding a pinch of sugar indicating Persis would only make their life sweeter.
When Bomi moved to Zanzibar as a cashier at a British Colonial Court he was fairly young. He was said to work at ‘House of Wonders’ – a landmark building in famous Stone Town. It was so named as it was the 1st building in Zanzibar with electricity.
A few years later Bomi married another Persian girl Jer from India and a few years later their son Farrokh Bulsara was born on 5th September 1946 in Zanzibar Government Hospital.
Farrokh was sent for schooling in India and when he came back in 1963, the bloody Zanzibar Revolution was impending. On the fated day, over 20,000 Arabs had been murdered, along with thousands of Indians. Rest fled the country.
This is possibly the only genocide that was entirely filmed live and made as a documentary. ( refer ‘Africa Addio’) There is apparently no memorial for the victims even today.
Among the Indians who were fortunate enough to escape Zanzibar before the revolution started were Bomi and Jer Bulsara, and their children, Farrokh and Kashmira.
Bomi was able to escape the situation in time and flee to England before the genocide began. Today we know Farrokh as Freddie Mercury – the iconic lead vocalist of the rock band Queen.
If the Bulsara family had failed to flee to England escaping the genocide, the world would have probably never known Freddie Mercury and you would possibly never heard of Bohemian Rhapsody!

Courtesy : Jehangir Bisney

Rast Goftar – the first Parsi newspaper

Dadabhai Naoroji was its editor…
This is the front page of the Parsi newspaper ‘Rast Goftar’ of February 1861. Did you know about it? I didn’t. And I have been a newspaperman and an editor all my working life. ‘Rast Goftar’ meant ‘The Truth Teller’. This was an Anglo-Gujarati daily first published in Bombay in 1854 by Dadabhai Naoroji and Kharshedji Cama to champion social reform among Parsis in India.
The story, according to Wikipedia, is that a riot between Parsis and Muslims over the printing of a picture of Prophet Mohammed in 1851 was the immediate cause of the founding of ‘Rast Goftar’. As riots in Bombay flared up alarmingly, Parsis reportedly became disillusioned with their leaders, and Dadabhai Naoroji started the paper with the purpose of voicing the grievances of his people.
Back in the day postal rates tended to limit the circulation of newspapers to local or nearby areas. But sometimes enthusiasm for a cause led the managers of a paper to distribute several copies of each issue free. Thus, the founders of the ‘Rast Goftar’ lost some 10,000 rupees by distributing the first issues of the paper free, impatient at the state of Parsi society, obviously in a hurry to reform it.
In 1857 the proprietors in Bombay converted their property into a joint-stock concern so that Nasarvanji Cama, who had financed the paper from the beginning, would not be the sole loss-bearer. K. R. Cama, Sorabji Shapoorji Bengalee and Navrozji Fardunji all became proprietors. The local governments subsidized it by subscribing to a certain fixed number of copies of the journal.
In 1858, circulation rose from 432 to 852, a number then unheard of for native journalism. The content widened from exclusively Parsi topics to larger questions of Indian politics. During the Rebellion of 1857, the paper remained loyal to the British, and even began the first English columns, mostly written by Navrozji Fardunji, a 19th century reformer, academic, activist and freedom fighter.
By the 1870s ‘Rast Goftar’ was one of the four daily newspapers operating in Bombay, and it was not only vigorous in itself, but was also the cause of vigor in other journals either by way of antagonism or support. That’s about all I can tell you about the ‘Rast Goftar’. I don’t know when it ceased publication and why. If any Parsi can come up with this delectable slice of history, I would be grateful.

MARK MANUEL

“Cyrus The Great” Monument In Sydney, Australia.

“Cyrus the Great” is believed to have lived from 600 BC to 530 BC.

The third photo shows the Cyrus Cylinder, which is presently located in the British Museum in London, England.

Wikipedia:

The Cyrus Cylinder or Cyrus Charter (Persian: استوانه کوروش‎) is an ancient clay cylinder, now broken into several pieces, on which is written a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of Persia’s Achaemenid King Cyrus the Great. It dates from the 6th century BC and was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in 1879. It is currently in the possession of the British Museum, which sponsored the expedition that discovered the cylinder. It was created and used as a foundation deposit following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, when the Neo-Babylonian Empire was invaded by Cyrus and incorporated into his Persian Empire. The text on the Cylinder praises Cyrus, sets out his genealogy and portrays him as a King from a line of Kings.

It is believed to be the first-ever documented evidence of the “Charter of Human Rights”.

 

 

Zoroastrians in Patna

The city of Patna is a place of reverence not only for the Sikhs but closely associated with the Parsi community in India, as well. The great Zoroastrian saint Dastur Azar Kaiwan of the 16th century, lived and spent the major part of his life in Patna.
From a well researched treatise of Ervad Dr. Jivanji Modi, it is gathered that Dastur Azar Kaiwan was born around 1533 in Iran in an illustrious family of priests who traced their genealogy right upto the Mai Abad dynasty. Azar Kaiwan was drawn to things spiritual right from early childhood and it is said that he reduced his food and sleep from the age of five and started practicing severe spiritual experiments and penances. One of the strict rigours he undertook at a very early age was to live within a “khumb” or large earthen vase or pot for a period of 28 years.
Dastur Ajar Kaiwan, voluntarily left his abode in Mount Demavand in Iran and came to Patna, India along with a group of close disciples. A saintly soul, he chose Patna as his spiritual centre. Dastur Azar Kaiwan, was well known in his time. Both Dastur Azar Kaiwan and his disciples were believed to possess enormous spiritual powers and various miracles and near-impossible feats were attributed to them. News of his spiritual prowess reached the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605), who invited Dastur Azar Kaiwan to his court. The Dastur however refused to appear in front of him and finally it was Akbar who travelled to Punjab to meet hime.
His teachings were universal in nature and open for all to follow. People of all religion respected him. He instructed his followers to remain faithful to their religion. He advised his followers to follow the threefold path of Asha (Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds) . He urged his followers that:
* The best way of keeping one’s soul aligned with God is by helping others and by spreading happiness;
* The spiritual equality and duty of men and women are alike;
* Being good for the sake of goodness and without the hope of reward.
He had a large following, and was renowned throughout Asia. Dastur Azar Kaiwan died around 1618 at the age of 85, and was buried in Patna itself. His relics are preserved in a Dargah near Patthar ki Masjid and worshipped by the people of all religion. This is the brief, but remarkable outline of the life of this extraordinary Master.
Till recently the Parsi community in India, though knowing that Ajar Kaiwan is buried somewhere in Patna did not know it’s exact location. On the request of some Parsi friends from Mumbai, SKILL Foundation did extensive research and reconnaissance and finally located the holy shrine of this renowned Parsi saint. So now Skill Foundation regularly organises and host the visit of Parsi outstation guests. The students enjoy and learn while taking the guests out on a historical walk to the holy shrine.
A few days back a group of Parsi guests from Mumbai came to pay their homage at this holy shrine of this great Zoroastrian saint. Sharing some snapshots of the recent visit of these Parsi guests from Mumbai.

JAMSHEDJI JEEJEEBHOYS LETTER TO THE PARSEE COMMUNITY ON HIS BEING PRESENTED KNIGHTHOOD

VOLUME 2 BY DOSABHAI FRAMJI KARAKA.
[CHAP. II. PG 93-95
BY THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND THE DEED OF SETTLEMENT MADE BY HIM FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE “PARSEES” ( “a person or persons following the religion of Zoroaster”)
“MY DEAR FRIENDS-I feel deeply gratified to you for the address which you have just presented to me. So distinguished a mark of the esteem of my fellow-countrymen is an honour of which I, and those who are most dear to me, may justly be proud.
“To have been selected by my Sovereign as the native through whom she was graciously pleased to extend the order of knighthood to her Indian subjects was, and ever must be, a source of deep personal gratification to myself. But to receive the congratulations of my fellow-countrymen in a manner at once so kind and flattering, -to have this auspicious event commemorated by the creation of a charity, to be connected with my name, and in the objects of which I so cordially concur, is a source of inward pride and satisfaction, which, rising higher than the gratification of mere worldly titles, will live with me to my dying day.
“Your too kind and favourable mention of my acts of charity has much affected me. The only merit I have a right to claim for them is that they proceeded from a pure and heartfelt desire, out of the abundance with which Providence has blessed me, to ameliorate the condition of my fellow-creatures. With this no unworthy motive was mixed; I sought neither public honours nor private applause, and, conscious of a singleness of purpose, I have long since had my reward. When, therefore, Her Majesty’s most gracious intentions were communicated to me, I felt deeply gratified that I had unconsciously been the means of eliciting so signal a mark of the good feelings of England towards the people of India, and it is in this light that I prefer to consider the distinguished honour Her Majesty has conferred upon me, and that also which I have received at your hands this day.
“Nothing could please me more than the purposes to which you propose to devote the funds that have been submitted. I shall ever wish my name to be connected with every endeavour to diffuse knowledge amongst our people; and the surest way to incite them to elevate and improve themselves, to fit them to appreciate the blessings of the Government under which they live, and to deserve those honours which have now for the first time been extended to India, is to spread far and wide amongst them, gratuitously or in a cheap form, translations into our own language of the most approved authors.
Connected with this subject is a scheme that I have long contemplated for relieving the distresses of the Parsi poor of Bombay, Surat, and its neighbourhood. You know full well the state of misery in which many of our people are living, and the hopeless ignorance in which their children are permitted to grow up. My object is to create a fund, the interest of which shall be applied towards relieving the indigent of our people and the education of their children, and I now propose to invest the sum of Rs. 300,000 in the public securities, and place it at the disposal of trustees, who with the interest shall carry out the object I have mentioned; and this trust I hope you will take under your care. “And now, my dear friends, let me once again thank you for your kindness. There is nothing I value so highly as the good opinion of my countrymen, nor anything I more anxiously desire than their welfare and happiness.”
The patent of knighthood was publicly presented to Sir Jamshedji Jijibhai by Sir George Anderson, Governor of Bombay at the time, in the following appropriate terms. He said : “SIR JAMSHEDJI JIJIBHAI-Her most Gracious Majesty the Queen having been graciously pleased to confer upon you the dignity of knighthood of the United Kingdom, the patent has been transmitted to me to present to you; and both Lord Fitzgerald, the President of the Board of Control, and the Honourable the Court of Directors, in transmitting this instrument to me for this purpose, have expressed their high gratification at your having received this distinguished honour.
“The dignity of knighthood has ever, amongst the natives of Europe, been considered as most honourable. To attain this distinction has continually been the ambition of the highest minds and noblest spirits, either by deeds of most daring valour or by the exercise of the most eminent talent.”

 

THE DEED OF SETTLEMENT OF SIR JAMSHETJI JEEJEEBHOYS PARSI BENEVOLENT FUND.
FOR RELIEVING THE POOR AND NEEDY OF OUR PEOPLE AND THE EDUCATION OF THEIR CHILDREN.
“IN ORDER TO OBVIATE ALL DOUBTS RESPECTING THE MEANING OF THE WORD PARSEE IN THIS INDENTURE, IT IS HEREBY DECLARED THAT THE WORD PARSEE MEANS IN THIS INDENTURE THROUGHOUT A PERSON OR PERSONS PROFESSING THE RELIGION OF ZOROASTER.” (Fourth line from the bottom of the page.)

Zoroastrianism: the Religion of Fire that inspired the Hebrew Bible

Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. Founded by the prophet Zoroaster in ancient Iran almost 3,500 years ago, for 1,000 of those years, it was the most powerful religion in the world.

It was the official religion of the ever-expanding Persia for over a millennia, from 600 BC to 650 AD. Nowadays it is one of the smallest active religions, with fewer than 90,000 followers.

This small enclave is all that survives of one of the greatest, and the oldest, religions in the world. How did this come to be?

What is Zoroastrianism?

The Zoroastrian faithful are monotheistic, believing in only one God: Ahura Mazda (meaning “wise lord”) and that it was He that created the world. Those who believe in Zoroastrianism typically pray several times a day and worship communally in a fire temple (known as an Agiary).

This does not mean that the Zoroastrians are fire worshipers, which might imply a more primitive religion. Instead they believe that the fire is a representation of Ahura Mazda’s light, or wisdom.

Their holy book is called the Avesta and, similarly to the Christian Bible, can be split into two sections. The oldest and core part of the scripture is mostly made up of Gathas, 17 hymns thought to be composed by the Prophet.

The Younger Avesta was written much later and is a reflection of the earlier sections. It offers a commentary on myths, stories, and detailed ritual observances.

History of Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster. The exact date of its founding is uncertain, however linguistic comparisons with the Hindu text, the Rig Veda of 1200-1500 BC, together with archaeological evidence, allows for an approximate dating.

Ahura Mazda as He is commonly depicted (A.Davey / CC BY 2.0)

Zoroaster was born somewhere in northeast Iran or southwest Afghanistan. He was born during the Bronze Age, a time when polytheistic religions were predominant.

His name is a Greek rendering of the name Zarathustra, also called Zarathusti in Persian, or Zaratosht in Gujarati. A few details survive of his life: for example, we know he was born into the Spitama clan and worked as a priest. He married and had three sons and three daughters.

Zoroaster rejected the polytheistic religion of the time, claiming that it was a tool of oppression and that the many gods were false. He opposed animal sacrifices and rejected the use of the Haoma plant, used in rituals to create hallucinogenic visions.

His Divine Vision

When Zoroaster was 30 he had a divine vision of the God Ahura Mazda and his Amesha Spentas, the seven Holy Immortals that emanate from Him. Zoroaster was able to ask questions and received many answers from the vision, giving him his doctrinal foundation for the religion.

His entire worldview was converted from one of polytheism to monotheism. In fact, he turned on his old religion believing they were evil spirits, calling them minions of Angra Mainyu, a destructive spirit and Ahura Mazda’s rival.

It was not an easy task for Zoroaster to bring his conversion to the public. The local religious authorities, then as now recognizing the threat of a dissenting voice and new ideas to the orthodoxy, rejected it.

Zoroaster in the famous School of Athens fresco at the Vatican. Raphael chose to paint himself next to the ancient prophet, looking at us (Raphael / Public Domain)

Zoroaster was cast out from the priesthood, forced to leave his home and relocate to somewhere more open to new ideas. He eventually found such a place in Bactria, ruled by King Vishtaspa and Queen Hutosa. They debated Zoroaster’s ideas, and then accepted them for their kingdom.

Zoroaster died in his late 70s, but the religion he founded would continue throughout the centuries.

Whispering in Abraham’s Ear

Despite the religion’s obscure beginnings, Zoroastrianism grew to become the state religion of three major Persian dynasties, at a time when the Persian empire was the largest in the world. Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, was a devout follower and the under him the expansionist Persians spread of the religion through conquest and trade across Asia.

Possibly the most significant moment in this expansion came with the conquest of Babylon by the Persians in 539BC. In conquering the city, Cyrus freed the Babylonian Jews who had been captured after the fall of Jerusalem over 60 years earlier.

The descendants of these exiled Jews would go on to compile the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and they carried the Zoroastrian influence into their religion. Through this interaction, Zoroastrianism became a key source for the major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Cyrus the Great conquers Babylon (Unknown Author / CC BY 4.0)

These influences are easy to spot. The Zoroastrian monotheism, opposition to false idols, demonology and belief in a judgement day, are all carried through to these later religions. Although such ideas likely predate even Zoroaster, his religion was the conduit through which these ideas arrived in the Bible and the Quran.

Muslim Conquest and the Fall

However, this influence was not to last. After almost 1,000 years as the state religion of Persia, it all came crashing down between 633 and 651 AD. Persia was conquered and fell before an expansionist, rapid and massively successful Muslim invasion.

The Arab conquerors charged Zoroastrians living in Persia extra taxes for retaining their religious practices. Laws were created and implemented to make life difficult for the Zoroastrians, forcing them to either convert or pay expensive taxes.

It was from here that Zoroastrianism became a minority religion in Iran and across the old Persian empire. The religion, reduced to a minor status, suffered was diminished further with the Mongol invasions, where many more of the religious texts were destroyed.

Zoroastrian Beliefs

The elements play a large part in the Zoroastrian religion. Fire is seen as a symbol of purity, as is water. With fire being the most prominent element, Zoroastrian temples, following the ancient example of the mythical three temples that came directly from Azura Mazda at the beginning of time, contain an altar with an eternal flame that burns continuously.

To honor their dead, Zoroastrians gave “sky burials.” Circular, flat-topped towers were constructed on which the dead were left exposed to the elements and animals until the bones were picked clean.

The bones that remained were then deposited in a lime pit, called an ossuary. This practice continued throughout history, right up until the 1970s in Iran, when it was finally made illegal.

Zoroastrianism Today

Today, this ancient religion is dying. There is little evidence of this religion continuing en-masse and it is suspected that there are only 80,000 to 90,000 Zoroastrians that remain. Yet despite this small number, the legacy of Zoroastrianism in the west looms much larger.

Perhaps the most famous practicing Zoroastrian in modern history was Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen. The name of the God Ahura Mazda is most likely familiar as the namesake for the Japanese car company.

Fire temple ruins in Esfahan (Ivan Mlinaric / CC BY 2.0)

The Game of Thrones HBO series featured the god Azor Ahai believed to have been inspired by Ahura Mazda. Azor Ahai emphasizes the cleansing purity of fire and seeks to defeat darkness.

You may not have heard of the religion itself, but the importance of Zoroastrianism cannot be denied. It was influence on one of the largest and greatest ancient empires, as well as many modern religions. Although largely forgotten today, its impact cannot be overstated.

Top Image: the fire temple at Baku Ateshgah. Source: saiko3p / Adobe Stock.

By Bipin Dimri.

References

BBC. 2009. Zoroastrianism. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian/

Duschesne-Guillemin, J. 2020. Zoroastrianism. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Zoroastrianism

Hintze, A. 2016. Who are the Zoroastrians? Available at: https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/publishing/review/28/who-are-zoroastrians/

Hintze, A. 2019. An Introduction to Zoroastrianism. Available at: https://www.bl.uk/sacred-texts/articles/an-introduction-to-zoroastrianism

History.com Editors. 2019. Zoroastrianism. Available at: https://www.history.com/topics/religion/zoroastrianism

Hodsdon, E. 2021. Zoroastrianism And Persian Mythology: The Foundation Of Belief. Available at: https://www.thecollector.com/zoroastrianism-persian-mythology/

Walker, S. 2020. The last of the Zoroastrians. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/06/last-of-the-zoroastrians-parsis-mumbai-india-ancient-religion

Author : BIPIN DIMRI

A Tribute To Mrs. Meherbano Marker

Dr. Shahida Jaffrey reminisces her relationship with the esteemed Mrs. Meherbano Marker who formed the Quetta Girl Guide and All Pakistan Women Association (APWA) Quetta Wing and worked till her last breath at the age of 103 for the betterment of the underprivileged women. 

Quetta, 2001

Mrs Meherbano Marker

Mrs. Arnaz Marker, the wife of Mr. Jamsheed Marker, called me from Karachi saying:

“Will you plant 100 Chinar trees somewhere in Quetta to commemorate Mama’s 100th birthday? We will pay for all costs”.

Mama was Mrs. Meherbano Kekobad Marker, wife of Mr. Kekobad Marker, and mother of Mr. Jamsheed Marker, Mr. Khursheed Marker and Mr. Minocher (Minoo) Marker.

Mrs. Marker turned 100 years in the month of  August 2001.

Mrs. Marker had dedicated her entire life working for the poor and underprivileged people of Quetta, “The trees will provide shade to the people and also keep the land, and environment of the city
clean and healthy”, said Arnaz.

The Story

Sikandar Jamali, my husband, was appointed Chief Secretary Balochistan and later was Federal Secretary Environment. It was the month of August 2001, and Quetta was very hot and dry.

On Arnaz’s request, Sikandar arranged for one Chinar tree through Balochistan Forest and Environment department and a simple ceremony was arranged in the Askari Park, Airport Road Quetta. Mrs. Marker arrived in her chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz accompanied by her granddaughter, Mrs. Meher Marker Noshirwani, and her nurse. She was in her wheelchair.

All of us – Sikandar Jamali, Director Environment, his staff and I were present.

The tree was planted, photographs taken and prayers said. Unfortunately,  the tree soon died: it did not survive Quetta’s August dry heat. Mrs. Marker left for Karachi beginning of winter that year, as was her routine, but was unable to return to Quetta due to illness.

She passed away in her Karachi home in 2004 at the age of 103, with her loving family beside her.

Brief on Kekobad and Meherbano

“Kekobad was the son of Ardeshir, born on February 25, 1896, in the house of his maternal grandfather Mr. Jamshedji Eduljee Chinoy in Secunderabad, Deccan, India.

“He married Meherbano, daughter of Aimai and Dadabhoy Ferozshah Pestonji, on March 28, 1921, at Secunderabad, and Meherbano accompanied her husband to Quetta. The newly married couple settled in an annex specially built for them in the compound of the Marker Cottage on Lytton Road and they have been in Quetta since.

“They lived in a very beautiful house on what was Lytton Road, which was also known as the ‘Thandi Sarak’, (the cool road) as it was lined with huge Chinar trees. A Boot House was built in the compound by Kekobad Marker for his granddaughter Aban in 1958. The unique structure is visible from the main road and is affectionately referred to as the ‘Joote Walla Ghar’.

 

The Marker home was and has always been very socially active; with classy lunches, garden parties, and dinners attended by the renowned Quetta families.

Mrs Meherbano Marker

It was also a home where Mrs. Marker hosted and held discussions and consultations with her workers and project beneficiaries, women and men who worked on numerous projects, that she personally funded and supervised, under the umbrella of All Pakistan Women’s Association,  APWA Balochistan.

APWA Balochistan and Girls Guide Balochistan were established by her at Pakistan Independence, 1947, and she was Life Time President of both.

Initially, some funding was received from small donors, later, all projects were funded by her personal and family monies. Wives of well to do and affluent Quetta families were very actively involved with these organisations,  and gave their all. Numerous institutions were established and run; large and small free schools; free health and family planning centers; and many income generation activities.

I remember, once accompanying her to a small mud building, a girls school in Killi  Ismail – a small village, on the outskirts of Quetta, with a sparkle in her eyes she said:

“One day some of these girls will become teachers, nurses, and LHVs. I will be very happy.”

Thousands of poor girls have gone through those small schools improving and changing their lives.

Another area she felt strongly about was population planning and always worried about the population growth in the country. Her great contribution was the establishment of the Idara -e- Niswaan, the APWA hand embroidery center, that was the first of its kind, that introduced Balochistan embroideries as a cottage industry.

Prior to that, local exquisite embroideries were created by women for personal and family use only, and there was no concept of selling their embroidery work.

Idara-e-Niswan created table linen of top quality that adorned the homes of upper-class customers and provided income to needy skilled women artisans, trained by APWA. Currently, Quetta markets are loaded with hand-embroidered different products providing income to poor skilled rural women.

Chinar Trees

I would often remember Arnaz Marker’s request of planting 100 Chinar trees and felt guilty, as I failed to fulfill her request.

The opportunity came when in 2004, I was appointed by Governor Balochistan/Chancellor, Engineer Owais Ahmed Ghani, the Vice-Chancellor of the newly established university for women, the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, SBKWU, at Quetta. The old TB hospital, Sardar Bahadur Khan Sanatorium with beautiful English style buildings spread over 45  acres of the mountain on Brewery Road, the property of Pakistan Railways, was given to me to establish a university.

Students at SKBWU Campus

As the Vice-Chancellor I was able to execute Arnaz Marker’s tree plantation request.

She had asked me to arrange to plant the Chinar trees and the family will pay all costs of tree procurement, maintenance and care.

The sanatorium and its land were once rich with vegetation: pine groves,  fruit orchards, and beautiful flower gardens. Hazara pine trees were brought by the then Medical Superintendent, Dr. Saeed Hai from Abbottabad. Gardens and orchards were watered with fresh water from there on the premises tube wells. After Dr. Saeed Hai left the hospital and Quetta, and the tube wells dried, the area became a sad desert.

The university was able to recharge and sink new tube wells, very good water from the aquifers watered the land, and the soil was very rich. During Spring 2005, I took my personal old Toyota Prado, from Islamabad to a Haripur plant nursery, and purchased 110 young Chinar plants. I was amazed to see, the nursery owner had set aside 1000 Chinar plants to be taken to Afghanistan.

I took my trees to Quetta by road, about 1000 km, and planted them on the campus grounds.

The trees did remarkably well and all survived and flourished in rich healthy soil, abundant clean groundwater, and particularly, attention and care of the team of a university dedicated staff and gardeners.

In a span of three years, the trees grew fast, their tops touching the roofs of the buildings, and today 16 years later, the old hospital buildings are camouflaged by the thick Chinar jungle – trees having wide trunks and their thick foliage provides oxygen, cool shade to the over eleven thousand students, faculty and staff and it is a  pollution-free mountain island!

Chinar trees have grown over the years

Chinar on campus, autumn colours

The SBKWU gifted and dedicated the trees, their maintenance, and upkeep to the memory of Mrs. Marker who gave so much to the women and children of Balochistan.

As was my commitment to the Markers, I organized another tree plantation ceremony on campus grounds. The Markers, graciously attended, Mr. Jamsheed Marker, Mr. Khursheed Marker, and Mrs. Arnaz Marker, who specially came to Quetta on my invitation, and planted one ceremonial Chinar tree. Sikandar Jamali too was present.

Planting a Chinar tree: Jamsheed Marker, Khursheed Marker and Arnaz Marker

Prayers after the tree plantation

When the Markers arrived for the tree plantation ceremony

As the Vice-Chancellor, I lived in a very beautiful house occupied by the Medical Superintendent, Dr.Saeed Hai, which was once a fruit orchard that too had dried.

Author at Chinar Cottage

I planted more than a dozen Chinars and gave the cottage the name “Chinar Cottage”.

Marble Plaque and Inscription

A marble plaque was created by the granddaughter, Mrs. Aban Marker Kabraji and family, and sent from Karachi to Quetta, which was erected at a strategic location in the grounds  of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University campus where 110 Chinaar trees were planted in 2005 – with this inscription:

These trees were planted  in memory of

Mrs. Meher Bano Kekobad Marker

August 1901-January 2004 who did her utmost to improve the lives of the poor and unfortunate.

Her spirit remains in the mountains and in the Quetta valley which she loved and with its people.

 

Marble Plaque erected on SBKWU campus

As Arnaz had wished,  “Young women will enjoy the shade of the trees, and Mama will be very happy.”

Arnaz’s wish was fulfilled.

Allah blessed mama with a few more years, and she passed away in January 2004 at the age of 103 – constantly saying, “I miss my work and I miss my Quetta”.

The mantlepiece of her Karachi home often displayed vases full of fresh-cut flowers brought from her Quetta home.

Mrs. Marker taught me a lesson, that I often quote: “When does one stop working?”  She worked and devoted her full time to it,  till she passed away at 103, even when she was unable to be in Quetta.

Mr Khursheed Marker

She directed Baji Razia, her Quetta based supervisor/employee on the phone, and knew all that was happening, she was fully in control.

She is a role model not only to her family but to all of us.

Mr. Jamsheed Marker passed away, June 21, 2018, And Mr. Khursheed Marker passed away, 11 December 2010.

When Arnaz made the request to plant 100 trees, Sikandar Jamali, commented:

“This noble family thinks and works for humanity. By their request for planting 100 trees to celebrate Mrs. Marker’s birthday, they are thinking of humanity, environment, and the trees will benefit and provide shade and comfort to thousands of people and for several generations; not many people think like this”.

Author planting a tree 

 

 

And since I executed this project, I wished to document and share with the world, the humanitarian and noble face of the Marker family.

Mr Jamsheed Marker

Ms Arnaz Marker

Dr. Shahida Jaffrey was the first woman Vice Chancellor and founder of the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University in Balochistan. She holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Punjab Lahore and PhD in Education from the University of Philippines. She is the Chairperson of Behbud, Balochistan, which provides preventive healthcare to underprivileged women in the rural area of District Mastung. She has also served as the Chief Executive of the largest Rural Support Programme in Balochistan, the Balochistan Rural Support Programme.

$4.7 million allocated to UNESCO-designated Pasargadae

A budget of 200 billion rials has been allocated to Pasargadae after President Ebrahim Raisi visited the Achaemenid site earlier in October, a senior tourism official, Javad Vahedi, said on Friday.

“The Pasargadae complex, as a magnificent World Heritage site, has a high tourism potential in the field of cultural and historical tourism, and we must plan to attract more tourists,” the official explained.

Situated about 50 km north of Persepolis, Pasargadae was the first dynastic capital of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus II the Great, in Pars, the homeland of the Persians, in the 6th century BC.

Its palaces, gardens, and the mausoleum of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization.

The UNESCO World Heritage site is also home to a complex water supply system for the time that comprises cisterns, tunnels, underground canals, and ducts, which are locally known as qanats.

It is believed that the development of qanats began about 2,500 or 3,000 years ago in Persia (Iran), and the technology spread eastward to Afghanistan and westward to Egypt. Although new qanats are seldom built today, many old qanats are still used in Iran and Afghanistan, chiefly for irrigation.

The 160-ha archaeological site of Pasargadae presents some of the earliest manifestations of Persian art and architecture. It includes, among other monuments, the compact limestone tomb on the Morgab plain that once held Cyrus the Great’s gilded sarcophagus; Tall-e Takht (“Solomon’s Throne”), a great fortified platform built on a hill and later incorporated into a sprawling citadel with substantial mud-brick defenses; and the royal ensemble, which consists of several palaces originally located within a garden layout (the so-called “Four Gardens”). Pasargadae became a prototype for the Persian Garden concept of four quadrants formally divided by waterways or pathways, its architecture characterized by refined details and slender verticality.

Pasargadae stands as an exceptional witness to the Achaemenid civilization. The vast Achaemenid Empire, which extended from the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to the Hindus River in India, is considered the first empire to be characterized by a respect for the cultural diversity of its peoples. This respect was reflected in the royal Achaemenid architecture, which became a synthesized representation of the empire’s different cultures. Pasargadae represents the first phase of this development into a specifically Persian architecture which later found its full expression in the city of Persepolis.

https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/466456/4-7-million-allocated-to-UNESCO-designated-Pasargadae

Lesser known facts about the Father of India’s Nuclear Programme – Homi Bhabha

Homi Jehangir Bhabha Birth Anniversary: Lesser known facts about the Father of India’s Nuclear Programme

Homi Jehangir Bhabha is considered to be the ‘Father of the Indian nuclear programme’

Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born on October 30, 1909, in Mumbai. He was an Indian nuclear physicist, founding director, and professor of physics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

His contribution towards India’s growth has been impeccable. He had a great visionary ability which resulted in impactful development for the country. TIFR and AEET were the cornerstone of Indian development of nuclear weapons under the direction of Homi Bhabha.

Homi Jehangir Bhabha is considered to be the ‘’Father of the Indian nuclear programme’.

Here are some interesting facts about the legend:

Homi Jehangir Bhabha was born into a prominent wealthy Parsi family. He completed his education at Bombay’s Cathedral and John Connon School and entered Elphinstone College, before joining Caius College of Cambridge University.

His immense love and interest for mathematics never stopped and in 1932, he obtained first-class on his Mathematical Tripos. He was awarded the Rouse Ball travelling studentship in mathematics.

His first scientific paper, “The Absorption of Cosmic radiation” received a lot of appreciation.

Homi Bhabha served as the Reader in the Physics Department of the Indian Institute of Science in 1939.

Homi Bhabha understood the need of better research schools. He made up his mind and in March 1944, he sent a proposal to the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust for establishing ‘a vigorous school of research in fundamental physics’.

The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, was inaugurated in 1945.

Homi Bhabha represented India in the International Atomic Energy Forums as President of the United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, in Geneva, Switzerland in 1955. He was also elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958.

Bhabha believed in vast thorium reserves rather than its meagre uranium reserves. His strategic objective became India’s three stage nuclear power programme.

Homi Bhabha was awarded the Adams Prize in 1942, and Padma Bhushan 1954. He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1951 and 1953–1956.

Bhabha died in a plane crash near Mont Blanc on 24 January 1966. Many believed that it was an assassination.

https://www.freepressjournal.in/india/homi-jehangir-bhabha-birth-anniversary-lesser-known-facts-about-the-father-of-indias-nuclear-programme

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