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An arduous journey, a worthy destination

Friday, November 18, 2011

On Sanjan Day, Shernaz Baji Avari recapitulates what the Stambh means to Parsees all over the world

The Sanjan Memorial Pillar known as the Sanjan Stambh, was erected in the year 748 AD, about 1,250 years ago to commemorate the historic advent of  the Parsis in India. On this special day, community members from Maharashtra, Gujarat, all over India and even abroad, come in large numbers to converge at Sanjan to pay their respects at the Sthambh Naturally, today (Friday, November 18, 2011), as Sanjan Memorial day, holds a special place of pride for the Parsi-Irani Zoroastrians.

Our ancestors, who were ardently devoted to the Zoroastrian religion and faith, fled their motherland Iran due to religious persecution, to save the Holy Fire, safeguard their religion and preserve the purity and continuity of their lineage centuries back. The sacrifices and hardships they faced to escape religious conversions and intolerance, to finally land at Sanjan in Gujarat, is indeed an inspiring tale of bravery, courage and utter devotion to our faith. In reverence, the Memorial Column at Sanjan was erected 91 years ago to venerate that day as Sanjan Day.

It's a festive time for the community members who meet and greet each other in a spirit of camaraderie, just as if it is a mini  `mela’. Parsis tie garlands around the Stambh and take several rounds around it, praying devotedly and in thanksgiving for the several boons bestowed upon them. Several Parsi artifacts are sold along with favourite snacking items like `bhakhra’ `batasa’ and `khatai’.  After the community Jashan, a free community lunch is enjoyed by one and all. On this special day every year and as a mark of respect for our miniscule community which has enriched the nation, the Western Railay has given special permission to the Gujarat Express and Flying Ranee to halt at Sanjan.

Buses ply from various Baugs in Mumbai to facilitate enthusiastic devotees to visit Sanjan. The largesse of our community is well-known. Donations are sent to Mrs Bapsy Rohinton Daviervala in favour of `Sanjan Memorial Column Local Committee at Khan Bahadur’s Bungalow, Sanjan (WR) 396150.

How did we land in Sanjan? It was a triumphant journey by our ancestors, a journey so awesome, fascinating, full of hardship and pitfalls yet full of courage, determination and faith to preserve the sanctity of our religion. After the fall of the Sassanian Dynasty, the Zoroastrians scattered in jungles and mountains to preserve our noble religion. Under the guidance of the Madhav Sahebs of Paak Demavand Koh, an Abed Saheb Nairyosang Dhawala was chosen to lead the Zoroastrians to a safer place where they could worship their religion with sanctity.

An arrangement for 11 ships was made. Nairyosang Saheb asked the Zoroastrians to recite the Atash Niyayesh 9 times before the Holy Atash preserved in their homes and bring a part of it to him. After the chosen Zoroastrians brought such fires, he consecrated Atash Aderan.  Out of 11 ships, 6 were occupied by women, 4 by men and one ship had Abed Sahed Nairyosang, Paak Atash Aderan and a few mobeds. Thus, Zoroastrians numbering 1,305 sailed towards India. After a journey of 6 months before they landed on the Indian shores (present Port Diu), due to severe thunder storms with waves rising to amazing heights, the ships were thrown out of control. Nairyosang Saheb asked the Zoroastrians to pray and seek the help of BEHRAMl YAZAD and also recite the divine prayers of ATHA AHU VAIRYO. Miraculously, their prayers were answered and the ships reached  Sanjan safely.

When Jadi Rana, the ruler of Sanjan, came to know about the landing of the tall well-built Zoroastrians on his land, he sent a vessel full of milk thereby indicating that his Kingdom was overpopulated. The story goes that Nairyosang Saheb sensed the message and  slipped his ring into the milk to convey that they would stay with his subjects, without spilling over just as the ring does. Another legendary story is that a tablespoon of sugar was added to the milk without a drop overflowing indicating that we would make his land as sweet as the milk and contribute to its peace and well-being. The King was impressed, welcomed the Zoroastrians and introduced them to his Court. The Court was apprised of their good characterisetics  and recognised them as patriots of their faith. An agreement was signed wherein the Zoroastrians would abide by the law of the land and stay within their fold.

When Jadi Rana’s daughter fell seriously ill, he promised a big reward to anyone who could cure her. Nairyosang Dhawal offered his services and told the King to give the juice of white leaves which grew in his garden. After consuming the juice, the King's daughter was cured within 4 days. The joyous King gifted 3 miles of land where Abed Saheb Nairyosang could consecrate the sacred Fire along with 4 more villages of babulwood for the Fire Temple.

On Roj `Adar’, Mah Adar, Yezdegardi Year 90 on November 24, 721 AD  on a tall hill in Sanjan, a big round log of sandalwood was placed in an Afarganyu and at the commencement of Havan Geh, Abed Saheb Hairyosang took  his position. With a spear in one hand, he began reciting the sacred hymns of Atash Niyayesh. The clear winter sky suddenly blackened, clouds rushed with an imposing roar, lightning struck the glistening point of the spear held by him. The Fire passed through the body of Nairyosang Dhawal into the metal spatula held by the right hand and the sandlewood log started burning. Thus descended on earth Paak Iran Shah, the fire of the highest cadre, to offer protection not only to Zoroastrians but to the entire humanity.

After the Jashan ceremony, he addressed the august gathering of Zoroastrians saying, “Unto this auspicious day, with the grace of Dadar Ahura Mazda, I have installed the Ataah Padshah. You will seek its help for all your desires and troubles. Paak Iran Shah will respond to your prayers and since we as a community are here without our motherland (Iran) and Shah (King), this sacred Fire is named Paak Iran Shah.”

The generous King Jadi Rana was thanked, congratulated and informed that Fire being the son of Ahura Mazda would now bestow a gift upon him. Since the King had no heir, he would have a son whose descendants would rule over the whole of India. The following year, a son was born to the King. The Zoroastrians flourished and prospered and lived in peace and harmony at Sanjan for the next 500 to 700 years and even stayed in adjoining cities like Navsari and Surat. 

Sanjan was then the religious centre.  The Pillar of Sanjan stands in all its glory as an eternal memorial to our glorious ancestors. Today the Paak Iran Shah rests at Udwada, a resplendant place of pilgrimage and the highest spiritual abode of the Parsis and Iranis throughout the world.

The placing of the Time Capsule was done on November 20, 2002 at Sanjan. This day was called Sanjan Day. The Time Capsule was immersed with recitation of Avesta prayers by prominent priests along with a large gathering of Parsi Irani Zoroastrians who visited Sanjan on this auspicious occasion.

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