The First Dastur Meherji Rana

The below is an article from a newslist. This is a chapter written by Noshir H. Dadrewala. Earlier we errenously mentioned that the author was not known. We apologize for the error.

The first Dastur Meherji Rana was the undisputed spiritual leader of the Parsi community in India during the 16th century. He was renowned not just among the Parsis, but also other communities on account of his piety, vast knowledge and spiritual powers.

Dastur Meherji was born in a priestly family at Navsari, in 1514 A.D. His father’s name was Rana Jesung (thus the name Meherji Rana). India, at that time was under the rule of the Mughals

According to one school of thought, Dastur Meherji was a disciple of the mystic saint, Dastur Azar Kaiwan, whose seat was in Patna. Dastur Azar Kaiwan’s disciples were called yaar (I.e., spiritual friend/ spiritual helper). Thus Dastur Meherji is sometimes referred to as Dastur Mahiyaar (‘Mahi’ being the fish that can see the smallest piece of object even when it is dark).

Dastur Meherji was adopted by his paternal uncle, Vaccha Jesung, as a palak. It is for this reason that in our ceremonies, his name is invoked as ‘Dastur Meherji, Ervad Vaccha’.

It appears the behdins of Navsari presented a piece of land near Piplia Radii in 1573 to Dastur Meherji in recognition of his service to the religion and community.

Dastur Meherji Rana is a renowned name in Parsi history and religions tradition, mainly because of his very positive influence on the Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great. Akbar was born in 1542 and ascended the throne in 1556 at the age of fourteen. Although a Muslim by birth, he was very secular in his outlook and loved to discuss and understand other religious traditions. Hindu, Brahmins and Christian priests would often be invited to his court for religious discussion. It appears, however, that Dastur Meherji had a deep and lasting influence on Akbar.

It is believed Akbar first met Dastur Meherji in 1573 when the former laid siege on Surat. They appear to have met at a place near Kankrakhadi (present day Rustompura in Surat). Impressed with Dastur Meherji’s knowledge and personality, the Emperor invited Dasturji to his court in Delhi. Accordingly, Dastur Meherji appears to have visited the Royal Court of Akbar in Delhi on Roj Hormazd, Mah Khordad 947 Y.Z. (1578 AD). Akbar’s Prime Minister, Abu Fazal, and historian, Badaoni, also have written about Parsi priests from Navsari visiting the Royal Court around 1577-78 AD

The Emperor, pleased with Dastur Meherji’s erudition and piety, gifted 200 bighas of land near Gelkhari in Gujarat, (free of all taxes) for Meherji Rana and his family’s sustenance. It was called Madad-e-Maash.

Akbar was a Sufi at heart and liked to absorb the good traditions and beliefs of all religions. He also attempted to popularize a new faith called Din-e-illahi, drawing from the beliefs and traditions of various faiths, including Zarathushtrianism.

It is said Akbar had a fire burning 24 hours at his court and his Prime Minister, Abu Fazal, was put in charge of maintaining the fire.

Dastur Meherji Rana’s prominence and close affinity to the Emperor gave the Parsis, as a community, national visibility and fame.

In 1579, the priests of Navsari signed a document acknowledging Meherji Rana as their leader and declaring that all religious ceremonies would henceforth be performed only after obtaining his permission. This was the origin of the gaadi (seat) of the High Priest of Navsari. The present high Priest, Meherji Kaikobad Meherji Rana, is the sixteenth heir to this famous gaadi.

Legend has it that during Dastur Meherji’s stay in Delhi, a Hindu tantrik (magician) claimed that with his occult powers, he would make two suns shine in the sky. He challenged all holy men in Akbar’s kingdom to respond to this ‘miracle’. It appears that the magician, with the aid of certain spells, had launched a metal plate in the sky and the sun’s reflection made it appear as it there were two suns in the sky. Nobody was aware of this trick and attempts by various holy men to break the spell, failed.

Dastur Meherji, it is said, performed the Kusti and recited certain prayers from the Avesta. Probably, it was the Vanant Yasht (known for its effectiveness in breaking evil spells) or, perhaps, a very powerful Nirang. To cut a long story short, the metal plate came crashing to the ground and the magician stood exposed and disgraced.

Inspired by the drama that unfolded, the famous musician Tansen, composed a song (in Raag Sarang) which had the line ‘Elahoo Parsee Padhe Sho Kabool’ (I,e,, O God, the prayers of Parsee are accepted). Tansen refers to Dastur Meherji with the words: ‘Lambi lambi dahadee Shah Mehreyari (I.e., Mahiyaar or Meherji) tere mukh par barshat noor’ (I.e., Shah Mehriyar, your beard is long, your face is radiant with fame). Tansen, in his time, was the Sangeet Samrat (King of Classical Music) and one of the gems (ratna) at the Royal Court.

There was no direct historical reference to this encounter Dastur Meherji had with the magician. However, this has been part of the oral tradition for more than four centuries.

Dastur Meherji passed away at a ripe old age on Roj Daepadar, Mah Asfandarmad 960 Y.D. (1591 AD). Today, even after four centuries since his passing away, the priests in Navsari perform his baaj ceremony every year on Roj Daepadar, Mah Asfandarmad.

At the Atash Behram in Navsari, there is a natural formation in the marble slab on the wall facing the Holy Fire, bearing an amazing resemblance to Dastur Meherji. The turban, long beard and uplifted hands are quite clear. Sceptics may dismiss this natural formation as a flight of imagination. For the mystic, however, this is Nature’s imprint of a Zarathushtrian saint who influenced many lives.

It apperas that four years after Dastur Meherji’s passing away, Akbar granted an additional 300 bighas of land to Dastur Meherji’s son, Kaikobad. This was in addition to the 200 bighas of land gifted earlier as Madad-e-Maash.

May Dastur Meherji’s fravashi bless us all with the gift of deeper knowledge, wisdom and spiritual bliss.

  • K Patel

    Though a lot of information is available on Dastur Meherji Rana, there exists very little information about his guru Dasturan Dastur Azar Kayvan except he was a maghav who left Iran and came to India, lived and expired in or near Patna.