Zoroastrianism, as one of the oldest religions still in existence and probably the world’s first monotheistic faith, had been the state religion of three Persian dynasties, while shaped one of the ancient world’s largest empires—the mighty Persia Empire, before the Muslim conquest of Persia in the seventh century A.D.
Although it was the dominant religion in Iran, Afghanistan, and central Asia, today Zoroastrians remain primarily in Iran, India, and Pakistan.
To highlight the impact of Zoroastrianism on western thought and the other religions in the world, we conducted an interview with Dr. Philip G. Kreyenbroek, professor and Director of Iranian Studies in Georg-August University of Göttingen (1996-2017).
My name is Anoop Babani and I am a retired journalist. I live in Goa, India with my wife Dr Maria Savia Viegas, who is a retired professor and now a writer and painter. (www.saviaviegas.in).
We have founded and manage Saxtti Films (www.saxttifilms.com) which is a not-for-profit film society, passionate about good cinema and committed to cultivating and nurturing film ethos. We are ourselves avid cyclists too, part of a cycling group in Goa called Xaxti Riders.
In 2018, we organized two of India’s first-ever festivals of international films on the theme of Cycling and Running, named ReelsOnWheels and ReelsOnHeels.
The Cycling Films Festival was inaugurated by Alexi Grewal, only American ever to win an Olympic Gold Medal in Men’s Road Race Cycling, while the Running Films Festival was inaugurated by India’s Track and Field Queen, P T Usha.
During these festivals, we also organized – for the first-time ever in India – a photo exhibition on amazing global journeys of Indians who cycled around the world in 1920s and 1930s – all of them Parsees from Mumbai and in their early-to-mid twenties.
This Exhibition was titled ‘Our Saddles, Our Butts, Their World’.
I have attached pictures, posters and newspaper coverage for your information.
That is the background. And now the request.
I have been able to acquire some pictorial material on two of the three journeys (I am trying to get more material) through the families and friends of the cyclists.
I am now in the process of reaching out to families of the third group of cyclists, which was led Mr Keki Kharas and included Rustam D Ghandhi and Rutton D Shroff.
It is in this context that I request your help in contacting the family of Mr Keki Kharas and/or of the other two cyclists.
I am writing a book on History of Cycling in India, titled ‘Peddling History: Rise, Fall and Rise of Humble Bike’, and these global journeys will be an integral part of this book.
I am sure you will appreciate that these stories need to be told to younger generation of cyclists in particular and preserved for the future ones.
October 15, 1923 was yet another mellow Monday morning in Bombay, but the city’s central district of Grant Road was ablaze with blaring music. The erstwhile Bombay Weightlifting Club had organised a send-off for six of its young members — Adi B Hakim, Gustad G Hathiram, Jal P Bapasola, Keki D Pochkhanawala, Nariman B Kapadia and Rustom B Bhumgara — all of them Parsis in their 20s and readying for their cycling expedition around the world, a first such feat by Indians.
What had inspired them to undertake this seemingly-impossible journey? “It was a public lecture at Bombay’s Oval Maidan in 1920 by a French man who had walked from Europe to India,” reminisces 75-year-old Rohinton Bhumgara. Rohinton is foggy about the name of the world-walker, who eventually died of malaria in Assam, on his way to South-East Asia. Says Jasmine Marshall, granddaughter of Adi Hakim, “There was an extraordinary zeal of adventure in my granddad. ‘Nothing is impossible’, he would often tell me.”
Adi, Jal and Rustom pedalled 71,000 km over four-and-a-half years — at times in 60ºC, for days without food and some days without water, across pirate-infested territories and in swamp lands, through dense jungles and “up 6,600 ft amongst the terrible solitudes of the Alps”, avoiding the sea and traversing over most difficult routes, where no cyclists had been before. “We wanted to know the world more intimately and to acquaint the world with India and Indians,” they noted years later.
Not all six completed the ride, though. Nariman returned home from Tehran “for personal reasons” after giving “us company for 5,000 miles”, and Gustad decided to make the US his home. Disheartened by this, Gustad’s close buddy, Keki sailed home from New York.
On their expedition, the cyclists pedalled through Punjab and Baluchistan, crossing Prospect Point in Ziarat, 11,000 feet above sea level and in snow, reaching Iran and then Baghdad. Braving sandstorms, parched throats, temperatures over 57°C and saved from imminent death by Bedouins, they set a record by crossing the 956-km Mesopotamian desert from Baghdad to Aleppo in Syria, in 23 days.
They sailed to Italy, rode over the Alps, across Europe, finally reaching Britain. Three weeks later, they sailed to New York. The threesome cycled 8,400 km across the East to West Coast over five months and boarded S S Tenyo Maru to Japan, a leisurely cruise after months of grilling rides.
Continuing their journeys, they reached the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ of Korea — the first bikers to do so — and on to Manchuria and China. On their last leg, they cycled through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, North Eastern India, Calcutta and Southern India, returning to Bombay on March 18, 1928. They recalled being “surrounded by people who had come to receive us… and garlanded till we were buried in flowers” and hoped that their city would welcome “Scouter F J Davar, who is shortly due in Bombay on the conclusion of a similar enterprise.”
Framroze Davar, 30, was to return home only in 1931. His was a far more adventurous, lengthier, and in-part, solitary journey for “rational curiosity”, beginning in January 1924, and totalling 1,10,000 km, 52 countries and five continents. The 30-year old did not compress his account in a single volume, as it could be “a book of geography gone mad”. He chronicled his arduous ride over the Andes Mountains in Cycling Over Roof Of The World(1929), risky passage through Sahara in Across The Sahara (1937) and crossing of the Amazon in The Amazon in Reality and Romance (1960).
He had cycled more than 5,000 km entirely on his own, for 11 months! In Vienna, he met Gustav Sztavjanik, his cycling mate for the next seven years. The duo cycled through Western and Eastern Europe, rode over the Alps and Mont Blanc mountain, pedalled through parts of erstwhile Soviet Union, Baltic countries, Poland, and Scandinavia, including Lapland, and returned to France 18 months later, to sail to Algiers in Africa. They tortured themselves through the Sahara, counting 156 camel skeletons along the way, surviving eight sandstorms, and a malaria attack. After cycling through Africa for another six months, they boarded a ship from Dakar to Rio de Janeiro, to take on their next big challenge, riding over the mighty Andes. Six months and 2,700 km later, they reached Argentina from Brazil, and scaled the Andes up to a height of 5,200m.
America was a relief. They got back to their saddles, cycling from the East to West Coast, lecturing and meeting dignitaries, including President Herbert Hoover and tycoon Henry Ford, before sailing to Japan. They sailed to Shanghai, cycled through Hong Kong, Singapore, Sumatra, Burma, Calcutta and Bombay on March 22, 1931.
Luck and the exciting accounts tempted yet one more — and the last — group of cyclists, Keki J Kharas, Rustam D Ghandhi and Rutton D Shroff. “We were all thoroughly and hopelessly afflicted with wanderlust,” they wrote in Across The Highways Of The World (1939). Setting off from Bombay in 1933, they cycled through central and northern India, Punjab, Kashmir, Multan and Baluchistan (then a part of India).
“In Afghanistan, we were marooned in the desert for three successive days and nights without either food or water and traversed on camel and donkey tracks; we were snow-bound in northern Iran; and were suspected as British spies in eastern Turkey,” they wrote in Pedalling Through the Afghan Wilds(1935).
Keki, Rustam and Rutton cycled through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Britain, France, Spain, Switzerland and Italy. They sailed to Alexandria and pedalled “twenty-one months across Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town, a distance of 12,000 miles (nearly 20,000 km). We were fortuitously saved oftener than we can recall.”
In 1937, the trio sailed from South Africa to Argentina and cruised through South and Central America until they reached Mexico and rode into USA from Texas. They spent a year cycling through the ‘New World’ and touching the borders of Canada. From USA, they sailed to Japan and cycled across Japan, China, Australia, Singapore and Burma, before reaching Bombay on January 29, 1942. In slightly less than nine years, Kharas, Ghandhi and Shroff had traversed 84,000 km, spanning five continents.
Our Saddles, Our Butts, Their World is a photo exhibition of the cyclists, to be held in ReelsOnHeels, India’s First-ever International Festival of Films on Running, December 1 and 2, 2018 at Ravindra Bhavan, Margao, Goa, curated by former Mumbai-based journalist and now avid cyclist, Anoop Babani
Tomorrow, Sunday 11th November 2018, is the Centenary of the Armistice of the First World War. Across our country and the Commonwealth we will be remembering all those who served, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the King Emperor and Great Britain. Our patron Lord Karan F Bilimoria CBE DL and myself will have the honour in representing the ZTFE and the Zoroastrian community at the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph, Whitehall. Our Hon Secretary Rohinton F Munshi and our Trustee Rusi K Dalal will have the honour in representing the ZTFE and the Zoroastrians of Harrow at the Harrow Council Service of Remembrance at the War Memorial, Harrow Town Hall. At 11am during the two minutes silence, we will be remembering all our Zoroastrian volunteers who served during WWI, WWII, Korea, Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the King Emperor and Great Britain. One such Zoroastrian volunteer who served the King Emperor and Great Britain during WWI and WWII was Captain Heerajee Jehangir Manockjee Cursetjee DSO. Heerajee was the great grandson of Seth Cursetjee Manockjee Shroff, whose statue stands today between the two flyovers in Byculla, Mumbai, popularly known as “Khada Parsi”. Captain Heerajee Jehangir Manockjee Cursetjee, served as a medical officer with the 14th King George’s Own Ferozepore Sikhs, one of the oldest regiments in the Indian Army today. For his bravery Captain Heerajee J M Cursetjee was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). This British military decoration recognised ‘meritorious and distinguished service’ by officers. During the Second World War, Heerajee J M Cursetjee was promoted to major-general, becoming one of the first Indians to achieve general officer rank in the British Indian Army. Major General Heerajee Jehangir Manockjee Cursetjee’s medals are exhibited at the National Army Museum (NAM), Chelsea, London. I am thankful to Jasdeep Singh, the curator at NAM, and his colleagues for the write up on Major General Heerajee Jehangir Manockjee Cursetjee, which is attached and pasted below. http://ww1.nam.ac.uk/stories/captain-heerajee-cursetjee/
Kindly note: ZTFE being the oldest Asian voluntary faith based organisation in the UK, will be participating in ‘A Nation’s Thank You’ including the bell ringing which will be rung in places of worship across the UK, thus echoing the actions of British citizens 100 years ago. Our resident priest at the Zoroastrian Centre, Ervad Yazad T Bhadha will perform the Thanksgiving Maachi ceremony at 12.30 pm GMT marking the Centenary of the First World War Armistice. All are welcome to join the Zoroastrian Children’s Educational Fun Club in witnessing the Thanksgiving Maachi ceremony. Prior to the Thanksgiving Maachi ceremony, Ervad Yazad will recite the Stum-no kardo when he will invoke the names of the Zoroastrians dead of WWI and WWII. Their names are inscribed on the Zoroastrian War Memorial, Kharaghat Parsi Colony, Mumbai. At 3pm, our Lord Karan F Bilimoria CBE DL, Hon Secretary Rohinton F Munshi, Resident priest at the Zoroastrian Centre, Ervad Yazad T Bhadha and myself will be representing the ZTFE and the Zoroastrian community at, ‘A Service of Thanksgiving and Prayer for Peace to mark the Centenary of the Armistice signalling the end of World War I’ at Southwark Cathedral. At 6pm, I will be representing the ZTFE and the Zoroastrian community at, ‘The National Service of Thanksgiving to commemorate the centenary of the World War I Armistice’ at Westminster Abbey. Kindly inform those who are not accessible to the internet or email. Yours sincerely Malcolm M DebooPresidentMalcolm M DebooPresidentZoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (Incorporated) Oldest Asian Faith Based Voluntary Organisation in the UK; Established 1861Zartoshty Brothers Hall, Zoroastrian Centre, 440 Alexandra Avenue, Harrow, HA2 9TL, UKReligious and Cultural Centre of the Parsi & Irani Zoroastrian CommunityTel: +44 20 8866 0765 Mob: +44 78 2570 5810Email: email@example.com Website: http://www.ztfe.comRegistered Charity No: 277185 Company Limited by Guarantee Reg No: 1403266
Located in Karachi, Jamshed Road was established in 1922. Stretching between M.A. Jinnah Road and Jail Road, most of the houses that once stood on Jamshed Road have been demolished and replaced by high-rise apartment complexes and commercial enterprises, such as auto repair workshops, banks and grocery stores.
Jamshed Road is named after Jamshed Nusserwanjee, a prominent Parsi philanthropist of his time. Fondly known as ‘the Builder of Modern Karachi’ Nusserwanjee was the first mayor of Karachi and the president of Karachi Municipality where he served for 12 years and transformed the city into a great and important metropolis. He also developed a first cooperative housing society (known as Jamshed Quarters) which is located there, catering to the city’s growing middle class. What is more is that he was a close friend of Mr Jinnah.
As you drive down Jamshed Road, you will see remnants of small houses built in classic British colonial architecture. Not only that, once you step off the road, you will see quarter-like houses that were once used by the officers and government employees in the Raj period, one of them is known as 1865, which according to the residents, was used as a storage place for arms and ammunition by the British army .
Jamshed Road is home to a string of desi cuisine, which offers biryani, haleem, nihari as well as samosas and pakorays. A few bakeries are also located there for lovers of all things sweet. Recreational avenues are limited to a few parks. However, if you go to the adjacent M.A. Jinnah Road there you will find several parks, educational institutions, healthcare facilities as well as shopping and recreational avenues, in addition to the well-known iconic Quaid’s mausoleum, Islamia College and TDF Ghar.
Although traffic, hustle bustle and rapid commercialisation can take its toll, Jamshed Road still retains its old-world charm.
The relationship of the Parsi community with the steel city can be dated back to the days when the city was just in its cradle. Tata Steel plant was set up in 1907 and the first group of Parsis arrived in the city around 1908.
With the setting up of the steel plant in Jamshedpur, a large number of Parsis moved to the city and till today have remained an integral part of it.
The first group of Parsis to arrive in the city was Ratansha Rustom Modi, Ratan Barucha and Jamshed Dastur. The trio was working at Hotel Taj in Mumbai, when Sir Dorabji Tata, first chairman of Tata Steel himself appointed them to serve at Tata Steel (then Tisco).
When Ratansha Rustom Modi, Ratan Barucha and Jamshed Dastur arrived they used to stay at tent houses built at Sakchi. The area where today Jamshedpur Eye Hospital is located used to be place where tents were built for residence of the workers.
“The first group of Parsis that arrived in the city used to stay in tents. When my grandfather arrived Ratansha Rustom Modi arrived the area around Sakchi was basically jungles. People used to travel in groups only. But as the company progressed the city also started developing and the community played key role in the progress. The Parsis share a rich long legacy with the Steel City,” recalled Dicky Mody.
Mody, who retired from Tata Steel as head, management development said that his grandfather was first Indian head of the stores department at Tata Steel. He is the third generation to serve in the company. During the 1930s the G-Town Area in Bistupur was a hub of the Parsi community. Senior members of the community in the city recall the days when Parsis dominated a major part of the Tisco quarters from N-road to Q- road in Bistupur. Those were the days when there were over 3,000 Parsees in the city, but today the number has come down to a mere 200 to 250.
Eighty-one year-old KC Wadia said that the members of Parsi community feel proud of their rich legacy. He said that the Parsis from Surat, Navsari, Billimora and Mumbai came and settled here. They have preserved their culture and tradition and Fire Temple is the best example.
“The past two decades have brought about a major change in the demographic pattern of the community in the city. Children started moving out for higher education, and post marriages started settling in metros. However, though few families are left here but still we are proud of our culture and heritage,” he said.
Today, most of the younger lot, born and brought up in Jamshedpur, either live abroad or have moved to Mumbai. The city has a number of Parsi ladies who are serving as leading educationists in the city.
A random survey in the city reveals that most of the Parsis are either retired or in the teaching profession. And those who have stayed back are either working with the Tata group or are here due to business interests in the city.
The community has been central to Jamshedpur’s history and development for over a century. In fact, the Parsi community has been shaping the course of the city.
““In our city (Jamshedpur) the members of the community are left in few numbers since many members have settled in metros or abroad. There was a time when the community was in large number but the times have changed and younger generation is keen for greener pastures.
Though we are less in number but we still follow Zorastrian way of life that believes in “good thoughts, good words, and good deeds,” noted another member of the community who wished not to be quoted.
Sunday, 14 October 2018 | Parvinder Bhatia | Jamshedpur
Right in the heart of Tehran, this populated mega city, there is a street that has a lot to tell you about its history and all the events that it’s seen and been through. Watch our feature to find out why this street takes the pedestrians back in time.
This manuscript comes not from India or Iran, the lands associated today with the Zoroastrian religion, but from Dunhuang in Central China, and is written in Sogdian, a medieval Iranian language.
It contains a short text concerning the prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster in Greek sources) and a phonetic transcription into the Sogdian script of the holy ‘Ashem Vohu’ prayer, composed originally in Avestan, a more ancient Iranian language. Probably dating from the ninth century, this manuscript is some 400 years older than any other surviving Zoroastrian scripture.
Originating in Central Asia, Zoroastrianism teaches the importance of good thoughts, words, and actions, in a world where the forces of the all-knowing Lord Ahura Mazda, are constantly opposed to those of the evil spirit, Angra Mainyu. The oldest scriptures, referred to as the Avesta or Zend, were, however, not written down until around the sixth century AD, many centuries after their composition.
From Central Asia, Zoroastrianism spread southwest to Iran where it was the religion of the Achaemenid kings (550–330 BCE) and their successors until the Arab conquest in the mid-seventh century. Subsequently, Zoroastrian refugees from Iran settled in Gujarat in India, where they are known as Parsis, i.e. ‘Persians’. Today, in addition to the Zoroastrians of Iran and India, there are Parsi communities worldwide.
In Central Asia, Sogdian traders, whose homeland was the area of Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan, carried their religion eastwards to China where it survived for many centuries alongside Buddhism, Manichaeism and Christianity. Sogdian communities developed at staging posts along the trade route, and in Dunhuang, where this manuscript was found, there is written evidence as early as the fourth century for a Zoroastrian temple, which was still flourishing in the early 10th century. The Sogdian language, in which this text was written, died out some time after the 10th century, but a related dialect, Yagnobi, still survives as a minority language spoken in the Yagnob valley north of Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
How was the manuscript discovered?
This manuscript was one of 40,000 or so manuscript scrolls and fragments hidden in one of the ‘Caves of a Thousand Buddhas’ – a cliff wall near the city of Dunhuang honeycombed with 492 grottoes cut from the rock from the fourth century onwards and decorated with religious carvings and paintings. This manuscript was acquired by the archaeologist and explorer Aurel Stein in 1907 during his second expedition to Central Asia.
What does this fragment show?
This manuscript fragment appears to be the top 10 lines of a scroll. Traces of where the next sheet was attached are still visible at the bottom. The text has been written with some care in a large and calligraphic hand, with a ruled margin on the right hand side. To judge from the paper and style of calligraphy, our scribe may also have copied another similar Sogdian fragment preserved in the British Library which tells the story of the Iranian national hero Rustam.
Zoroastrianism is an ancient Iranian religion, founded by Zarthushtra who lived and taught in the first millennia BC, in the east of the Caspian Sea. From his Gathas, we know about his personal history.