Category Archives: History

Behramji Malabari—Parsi activist who fought widowhood, child marriage in Hindu society

Shedding scrutiny on his ‘anglicised’ Parsi roots, Malabari emerged as the force behind the Age of Consent Bill that helped end ‘matrimonial slavery’.

Could a Parsi activist call for reforms of a regressive Hindu practice of ‘matrimonial slavery’? These days the answer might be a simple yes, but back in late 19th century Western India it wasn’t. Behramji Malabari, a journalist and a poet, was faced not just against those who believed in upholding these ‘traditions’, but also personalities such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who opposed it.

Malabari’s presence in the chapters of the Indian reform movement might have disappeared, but his legacy lives on. Often criticised for being a ‘western reformer’, he was the force behind the passage of The Age of Consent Act in 1891, which redefined the institution of marriage—a subject that continues to make the news to date.

In the Notes on Child Marriage and Widow Remarriage, he wrote: “Even though still an infant, her life is a social failure. In most things, she is at the mercy of others because the average Hindu widow is not able to appreciate and protect her rights as a member of society… To many, it is a wonder that the world hears so little of the results of such social inequality. I believe that is so because woman is the sufferer. It is not in her nature to publish her wrongs, however great”.

Despite his contribution to the rights of Hindu women, Malabari’s ‘heavily anglicised’ Parsi identity was a cause of distrust for many. The efforts of the ‘Luther of rose and lavender’ to reform Hindu society irked even legendary freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who claimed that “No one but a Hindu can possess that intimate knowledge of the Hindu Shastras, and the daily observances enjoined therein which is essential in any writer who attempts to prepare papers on the questions now placed before the government”.  


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New book – The History of Holy Fire Iranshah and Udvada Gam

This book, a visual delight is another first of its kind. It has a foreword by Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, High Priest, Iranshah Atash Behram and a message by Mr. Dinshaw Tamboly, Chairman, The WZO Trust Funds. The pictures of our institutions as also Dasturjis of Udvada are eye catching. It will be released on Roz Adar, Mah Adar 1391 Y.Z.  Thursday 21st April 2022 at Iranshah Atash Behram, Udvada.

This informative book is in two parts – Part I is a reprint of the book The History of Holy Fire Iranshah by Ervad Faramroze Phiroze Mirza. Part II is about Udvada Gam and its Parsi institutions. It also has Gujarati songs on Udvada and Iranshah transliterated into English, reminiscences about Udvada, some tips for Parsi Zoroastrian pilgrims as also for priests/dharamshala managers. A map of Udvada Gam and a bibliography adds to the usefulness of this book.

Those visiting Udvada can collect a complimentary copy from Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor at his residence opp. Iranshah Atash Behram dasturji A complimentary copy can also be collected from the offices of WZO Trust Funds at Bombay and Navsari.

Those interested in obtaining complimentary copies until stocks last may contact The WZO Trust Funds

Mumbai Office                       Navsari office:

C-1, Hermes House,              WZO Senior Citizens Centre

3rd floor,                                 Pinjara street,

Mama Parmanand Marg,        Juna Thana

Opera House,                        Navsari Pin 396445

Mumbai 400004                     Tel. 91-2637-246073/

Tel. 91-22-23584452/53                 245402

Email:    e-mail:



Marzban Jamshedji Giara

144 pages, richly illustrated, hard bound

Sponsored by The WZO Trust Funds


When the British asked the French to jail Madame Cama

When the British asked the French to jail Madame Cama, the ‘mother of Indian revolution’

For decades, the British government surveilled the Parsi freedom fighter.




A postal stamp depicting Bhikhaiji Cama. | India Post/ Government of India/ Wikimedia Commons

The struggle for Indian independence from British rule was not only carried on in India but was eagerly pursued by Indian activists and revolutionaries across the world, particularly in Europe and America. The India Office Records contains some fascinating files on one such activist, Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama, more often known as Madame Cama.

Born in 1861 into a wealthy Parsi family in Bombay, Madame Cama was educated at the Alexandra Parsi Girls School in Bombay, and later married Rustom Cama, a lawyer and son of the prominent Parsi reformer KR Cama. With her health suffering due to her work as a social worker during the 1897 plague epidemic in Bombay, Madame Cama travelled to Britain in 1901.

She would spend the next three decades working tirelessly for Indian freedom from British rule, becoming known as the “Mother of Indian Revolution”. In 1907, Madame Cama moved to Paris, where she was at the centre of a small group of Indian nationalists. That year she also travelled to Stuttgart for the International Socialist Conference, where she spoke of the poverty of the Indian people due to British rule, and unfurled the national flag of India “amid loud cheers” as reported in the Manchester Courier.

The India Office was greatly concerned at the influence of Indian activists abroad, and through the intelligence services kept a close eye on their activities. In 1915, the India Office received a copy of a letter sent to the Foreign Office from the British Political Officer in Basra, along with a specimen of Bande Mataram, the pamphlet published by Madame Cama, found in an Indian soldier’s kit.

In his letter, he asked: “In view of the existing conditions of war and of close alliance with France, could the French Government be got to arrest Madame Cama and put her away somewhere?” A note in the file suggested such a move would do more harm than good and pointed out: “The lady is under close observation, and is not now in a position to tamper with Indian troops.”

By February 1917 more direct action had been taken, with the newspaper Call reporting that “Madame B Cama, editor of the ‘Bande Mataram’, a Hindu paper published in Paris, is one of the most important women who have been denied their liberty. She was interned in Paris at the special request of the British Government.”


Intelligence Report on Indian Communists. Photo credit: British Library India Office Records

In the 1920s and 1930s, surveillance of Indian activists continued. Madame Cama appears in several of the files of Indian Political Intelligence, the branch of British Intelligence responsible for monitoring Indian nationalists in the United Kingdom, Europe and America, and some examples are given below in the suggestions for further reading.


Intelligence Report on Indians in Europe. Photo credit: British Library India Office Records

Madame Cama’s health had never fully recovered from her social work in 1897, and her work, combined with continual government hostility, strained it further. As she wrote to the Russian political activist Maxim Gorky in 1912: “All my time and energy are devoted to my country and her struggle”. In November 1935, she returned to India and died shortly afterwards in August 1936.

This article first appeared on the British Library’s Untold Lives Blog.

Article by John O’Brien


Further Reading:
Pamphlets published by Madame Cama of a seditious nature and names of four Indians implicated in sedition, April-May 1915, shelfmark IOR/L/PS/11/91, P 1667/1915.

Indian agitators abroad; containing short accounts of the more important Indian political agitators who have visited Europe and America in recent years, and their sympathisers, compiled in the Criminal Intelligence Office, 1st edition, November 1911 (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1911), shelfmark IOR/V/27/262/1.

Chowdhury, Bulu Roy, Madame Cama: a short life-sketch (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1977), shelfmark Mss Eur F341/108.

Indian Political Intelligence files at British Library:
IOR/L/PJ/12/49: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1923-1924 – Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 134 and 187-190.
IOR/L/PJ/12/50: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1924-1925 – Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 12-16.
IOR/L/PJ/12/174: Activities and passport application of Mandayam P Tirumal Acharya, 1926-1933 – Madame Cama is mentioned at folio 12.
IOR/L/PJ/12/219: Activities of Indians and Afghans in Paris: activities, 1924-1925 – Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 10, 11 and 18.
IOR/L/PJ/12/667: M.I.5. B[lack].L[ist]. Volume XXI (Indian Volume), 1921 – Madame Cama is mentioned in the entry for Sirdar Singhji Revabhai Ranna on page 57.

Foreign Office papers regarding Madame Cama can be found at the UK National Archives, references FO 800/56B.

British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast):
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 23 August 1907.
India, 30 August 1907.
The Call (London), 01 February 1917.

The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’.

Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, Rozina Visram (London: Pluto Press, 2002).


First Parsi and Zoroastrian museum opens in Rochor

Parsi artifacts like Lamassu/Godha featured; DIVO a lamp symbolize light that dispels darkness and SES auspicious tray holding ceremonial utensils. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE – Singaporeans now have a chance to learn more about the Parsi community, numbering about 350 here, with the opening of a museum on Monday (March 14).

Based in Zoroastrian House in Desker Road in Rochor, it is a showcase of the Parsis’ history, traditions and Zoroastrianism, one of 10 recognised religions here.

The two-floor permanent exhibition, titled The Joyous Flame, tells its story mostly through illustrated panels. There are some objects that the Parsis use in their everyday life – a silver fish decorative object used to store sugar, and apparel worn during the Navjote ceremony, an initiation service for children aged between seven and nine, are highlights.

Originating from ancient Persia, the Parsis fled to western India in the seventh century to avoid religious persecution. They trace their history in Singapore back to Mr Muncherjee, a supposed convict who was the first Parsi in recorded history to arrive here 200 years ago.

“We have never had this (museum) before, but as our numbers grew in the last few decades, the need was increasingly felt,” said Parsi Zoroastrian Association of South East Asia (PZAS) president Homiyar Vasania.

“We also felt this was important for our own community members to know more about their history and culture. We consider ourselves an important intangible culture heritage in Singapore, and hope this museum is an important window to look into and understand us.”

The exhibition is co-curated by PZAS with the Parzor Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that focuses on Parsi-Zoroastrianism heritage.

Since the first Parsis arrived, the community has become a wealthy and influential segment of society despite their small number.

They are well known for their philanthropy and business activities. Among the most notable Parsis in Singapore are entrepreneur Navroji Mistri, who donated $1 million to build Singapore General Hospital’s children wing in 1952, and the Cursetjees.

The latter were the original partners of John Little, who set up the now defunct but well-known department store of the same name here.

Mr Homiyar said many schools, museums, organisations and researchers have approached PZAS, headquartered here, to learn more about the Parsis and their traditions in recent years, and work began on the museum a few months before Covid-19 started.

The community faces a continued struggle to maintain a “critical mass” in numbers, he added.

For instance, it has no full-time priest for religious activities and there is no Zoroastrian fire temple in Singapore, unlike in India where flames – representing Ahura Mazda, their supreme deity – are kept burning 24/7.

Zoroastrianism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, and was among the first historically to preach concepts like heaven, hell, angels and demons.

Its prophet and founder, Zarathustra, began teaching Zoroastrian tenets some time between the 18th and 16th century BC, and has become a widely studied figure for students of religion, history and philosophy.

Perhaps Zoroastrians’ most well-known practice is the Tower of Silence, where their human dead is placed in an open circular, raised structure and exposed to the elements and carrion birds in a process of decay that they believe avoids contaminating the soil.

Three Parsis embroidered fabric border which are a unique part of India’s diverse textile heritage. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

They also claim the oldest human rights charter, the Cyrus Cylinder, placed by Persian king Cyrus the Great in Babylon after he captured the city in the 6th century BC.

It states that “I freed its citizens from the yoke of servitude, I allowed no one to harass or terrorise, I set them free to worship their gods whose abodes I raised from ruins”.

The original is now held in the British Museum and its message of freedom of religion and tolerance has led to the display of a replica at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York.

A replica scale model of a Dokhmenashini, a system of sky burials that relies on the sun and carrion birds to dispose of bodies. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong was at the opening ceremony on Monday, and said the Parsis are a very important part of Singapore.

“Despite relatively small numbers, the Parsi community has always been an active participant in Singapore’s rich social fabric. It is a community both of deep roots and tall branches.”

He added that the museum will open the Parsi community up to the rest of Singaporeans. “Understanding and knowing is the first step to accepting (a different culture) which then becomes embracing and being a part of,” he noted.

Entry to the museum is free but visitors are advised to make an appointment with PZAS at before going.

Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji. (1862 – 1937)

This great man amassed a fortune; from very scanty sources. It appears he had a huge labour force in the Bombay dockyards, and probably other businesses, as his colorful and lavish lifestyle attests to a considerably huge fortune.

In his later years, with some back problems, he is said to have ordered a custom built Rolls Royce with a high roof, so he could get in without bending! At a charity even in UK, he became the highest bidder for the donation sought from the wealthy persons gathered there, and got to plant a kiss on the forehead of the famous actress Greta Garbo!

The statue of a famous British general at the entrance of Edinburg Castle in Scotland, one Earl Haig, was erected there from his donation. He was obviously a well-known donor then, both in India and abroad, but little is now known because he never organised his charities. But Parsis seem to have forgotten his greatest singularly exemplary service to the Parsi community at a time of crisis. It makes for interesting reading:

When King George V visited India, (Dec. 1911) the Parsis, much against the general declaration by a majority of Indians to boycott the event, went to welcome the King. This caused great anger amongst people in Bombay, and started a riot against the Parsi community.The riot lasted for several days, and angry crowds threatened to forcibly enter various Fire temples to cause damage, and knowing the Parsis do not allow entry to others. Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji rose to the occasion and ordered his dockyard labour force along with all those Zoroastrians, especially those Parsis then engaged in manual jobs, thus tough men, to protect the temples from looting and desecration. He provided them with necessary arms allowed to civilians then, probably bamboo sticks and other defensive items, and food and provisions to stand guard at the various Fire Temple entrances.

He would personally tour all the temples throughout Bombay, at night, taking along the Police Commissioner with him. The temples were safeguarded and no fire or damages by rioting crowds on account of the arrangements made by this great man. Today, very few Parsis’ remember him.*

When the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne) landed in Bombay on 17th November, 1921. At that time Mahatma Gandhi had given a call to boycott all official functions connected with the Prince’s visit. This was one time that Hindu and Muslims were together!

Over the centuries after we landed in India, the Parsis believed in owing their allegiance to who ever were in power. Accordingly, they believed it was their moral obligation to welcome the Prince.

Boy Scout groups were in vanguard and Parsi ladies also took

Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji & Lady Dhunjibhoy Bomanji leading part in welcoming the monarch. Naturally, this was not

palatable with the satyagrahis and they began targeting Parsi Institutions and businesses.

Since they believed that the most sacred institutions to the Parsis were their Fire Temple’s; they started attacking them! At that time there were about six Parsi crorepathis (very rich person) and all of them fled Bombay to their summer homes at Khandala, Lonavla, and Mahableshwar etc. But, in stepped a saviour who thought it was his duty to save our Fire Temples as also the Parsi community.

Dhunjibhoy was well known in the Bombay social circle at that time, so he immediately requested the Police Commissioner to provide armed police personnel to guard our Fire Temples. The Police Commissioner declined saying the full Police Force were on Bandobast duty for the Prince’s visit. He however agreed to provide for arms and amunation. Ultimately, Dhunjibhoy took up on himself to the task to arrange for providing security at Fire Temples, especially in the Grant Road area. Old timers recall that in the Dhobi Talao area were all our Atash Behrams were situated, he had arranged with the Irani restaurant owners (i.e. Alfred, Kyani, and Bastani) to provide food to all Parsi stalwarts who were stationed at the Atash Behrams with arms, at his own expense. A few Parsis were killed. These were the last major riots where Parsis were participants. It is one chapter in Parsi history that the community has chosen to forget. Mahatma Gandhi was ashamed of the action of the people and went on a fast.

A valiant hero of the Parsi community has passed into history unsung. Today, whatever we Parsis are is because of Dhanjibhoy’s courage & gallantry.

Sir Dhunjibhoy Bomanji. (1862 – 1937)

Let us celebrate Now Ruz the ZOROASTRIAN WAY

For the last 1401 years, our brethren in the homeland of Zarathustra have been under pressure. To be able to celebrate their ancient festivals they have at times de-Zoroastrianized it and at other times camouflaged it.

A 21st-century example is the celebration of the Espandegan festival see poster attached. It is common knowledge that when the name of the Day and the name of the Month coincide that day is celebrated as a festival. So Espandegan should be celebrated in the Month of Espand on the Day of Espand. According to the attached poster it is celebrated in the month of Bahman ۲۹ بهمن.  Ignoring the customs under duress is understandable and is not the question here. The point here is, those of us who live in the free world let us not copy them but do what is right, celebrate the Festivals in the Zoroastrian way. Therefore  

  1. Let us NOT CELEBRATE the 1401 or the 1371st year of the fall of the Persian Empire 
  2. Let us instead celebrate the 3760 years of the teaching of Zarathushtra
  3. Let us spread the Now Ruz table that reminds us of the teaching of Zarathushtra as in the Gathas not the medical qualities of Garlic (Seer) Apple (Seeb) etc. 
  4. Let us learn about and honour the HEROES who fought for the honour of our sisters and children.



With Regards

Fariborz Rahnamoon


Songs of late Homi B Doctor

Hormazd B Doctor was famous in the Parsee community for his stage shows. Old people of the 50s would surely remember. Famous people like learned Noshirwan H Jhabwalla, Vistasp A. Bulsara used to respect his knowledge of over 100 Ragas. He received his formal training under Agra Gharana and through various other Ustaad’s of that Era. In the recording which was done in 1998 all famous Ustaad’s have played the instruments. A noted famous female playback singer was to sing the duet songs but after the recording Homi fell ill and thereafter passed away, so our community and Gazal lovers could not have access to his album which consist of Eight songs.

The songs, lyrics, composition and voice are the ownership and copyrighted by late H B Doctor. His son Boorjis Doctor has kindly consented to have them published on for the benefit of the community at large. Thank you Boorjis.


Captain Hormusji FJ Manekshaw, IMS and Mrs Hilla H Manekshaw.

This rare photograph is of very proud parents who gave India a very famous son and another decorated less well known son, too.
They had six children. The gentleman was a Doctor who served in the (British Indian Armed Forces’) Indian Military Service.
Captain Hormusji FJ Manekshaw, IMS and Mrs Hilla H Manekshaw.
Parents of Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, MC. And Air Vice Marshal Jimmy HFJ Manekshaw.
Hormusji, was born in Balsar (Valsad) and became a doctor. He was married to Hilla, a Parsi girl from Bombay whom he had met while studying medicine at the Grant Medical College.
Hormusji began practising in Bombay but later moved to Amritsar, where there were fewer doctors and better prospects for setting up a medical practice.
During World War I, he served in Mesopotamia and Egypt and was given the rank of a Captain in the Medical Services.
Hormusji and Hilla had six children, who were all born in Amritsar.
The eldest, Fali, joined Stewarts and Lloyds in Calcutta after getting his engineering degree from England.
Silla, the second child, was a lovable girl with a jest for life and sense of humour, qualities that endeared her to everyone in the family, especially her nephews and nieces.
Jan, the second son, followed his elder brother and studied engineering in England. He joined Calender Cables (later Indian Cables), from where he retired as Director.
The next was Sehra, who was considered the beauty of the family. She got married and settled in Bombay.
Sam was the fifth child, followed by Jimmy, the only one who followed his father and became a doctor. He joined the Air Force and was the first Indian to get his air surgeon’s wings from Pensacola, USA. Jimmy went on to become an AVM- Air Vice Marshal Jimmy H.F.J. Manekshaw .
Sam was initially given the name Cyrus, but one of his aunts changed it to Sam, because she had heard that a Parsi called Cyrus had been sent to jail, and she considered the name would prove unlucky for her nephew.
Sam’s eldest brother Fali did his schooling in Bombay, but the others boys – Jan, Sam and Jimmy were all sent to Sherwood College, Nainital for their education. His two sisters went to the Convent in Murree.
Hormusji was fond of music and gardening and all his children inherited these interests in some measure. Hilla was known for her cooking, and spent a lot of time in the kitchen especially when her ravenous brood was at home. She was an expert at Parsi dishes, and her speciality was chokha ni rotli (rice chapatti).
Her son Jimmy’s wife Bhikoo Manekshaw recalls that a pile of a hundred rotli cooked by her mother-in-law would be no higher than two inches, and if a silver rupee coin was placed on top, it would sink to the bottom.
We owe them eternal respect and a debt of gratitude from a nation. 🙏
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