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Azar Kaivan

Lord Meher Critique

By Azar Kaivan, Bhau Kalchuri, Charles Purdom, Lawrence Reiter, Meher Baba, Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasani Maharaj, Wikipedia
Lord Meher (Meher Prabhu), Reiter edition
Analysis of a lengthy text can be a complex matter. This is certainly true of the multi-volume Lord Meher, a devotional and biographical work on Meher Baba (1894-1969). The title is a translation from the Hindi phrase Meher Prabhu. Partisan claims have described this book in terms of a definitive work by Bhau Kalchuri (1927-2013), one of Meher Baba’s mandali (ashram staff). There are complications for such an attribution.
Kalchuri was only one of the entities involved in the development of Lord Meher, originally in Hindi. A translation into English commenced in 1973. The resulting editorial process was intensive. Early supporters of the Reiter edition (1986-2001) maintained that this was the last word on Meher Baba, fastidiously conveyed by Kalchuri. The American devotee Lawrence Reiter (d.2007) was one of the editors; he undertook publication of seven thousand pages (including many photographs). This is sometimes known as the American edition.
The Meher Baba literature is now substantial. As an independent writer, I produced the first critical bibliography on Meher Baba (Shepherd 1988:248-297). The literature was even then prolific, indeed unusually so. Many years later, the dimensions are far more extensive. Critics complain at the rather lavish devotional titles in evidence. Some idioms are controversial. Assessment of this literature now requires considerable time and commitment. Lord Meher is the major stumbling block to easy overview. Some other complexities should not be understated.
I move at a tangent to the “orthodox” perspective on Lord Meher. Many years ago, I composed an unpublished Life of Meher Baba in four volumes, commencing in 1967. I do not claim any status for this work, which merely facilitated my studies in the subject under consideration. I was able to tap some oral transmission, also accessing much literature. Writing that lengthy biography did serve to underline, in my mind, the scope of detail and interpretation possible.
Meher Baba at Meherabad, 1941
Meher Baba is unusual for the sheer amount of materials available concerning him. His career of some fifty years (depending upon how one dates the inception) is described in numerous books, booklets, diaries, and journals. The presentation is attended by a wide variety of literary styles and modes of reporting. Certain of his deceased followers now have full length books about them (e.g., Fenster 2013).
Lord Meher (LM) is by far the longest work on the subject, attended by some linguistic complexities. Writing in Hindi, Kalchuri is reported to have completed his biography in seven months, working non-stop. His contribution was only a small part of the total text. Mistakes in English translation (and possibly the obscure Kalchuri text) were fairly numerous. The translator was Feram Workingboxwala (1901-1980), a Parsi devotee of Meher Baba. Feram had a limited knowledge of Hindi, and Bhau never read his translation, having some difficulty with English. Some of the extending materials in LM were translated by Feram from Gujarati and Marathi diaries and memoranda.
From 1974 onwards, substantial materials were added to the existing LM text, mainly by David Fenster, including diaries and personal accounts from many Indian and Western devotees. An online edition commenced some years after the Reiter volumes were published, often being cited as authority. The online editor is David Fenster, Kalchuri’s son-in-law, an American devotee strongly involved in the overall editing dating back to the 1970s. Many revisions and additions have occurred in the online version.
The Reiter edition very briefly mentioned the translation and editing process on the copyrights page. Kalchuri’s foreword informed that the secretary Adi K. Irani “placed his office records at my disposal and allowed Feram Workingboxwala to assist me in compiling the material for this book, and translating pertinent documents from Gujarati and Marathi into English.” Kalchuri also acknowledges the oral contributions from Meher Baba’s surviving mandali at Meherazad and Meherabad ashrams. Numerous other devotees are also named in this respect. The identity of sources stops there.
The Reiter edition featured endnotes that do not establish the nature of sources and translations. The online edition has no notes, but does feature pop-up comments. The endnotes in Reiter include some interesting information, but make no attempt to analyse sources, which are not mentioned. The “Kalchuri” text was regarded by Reiter (and others) as needing no explanation in this respect.
The analytical assessor of LM will see the text in terms of undefined sources and translations. The lack of annotations and bibliographies has disconcerted some readers. What source did this statement come from? What was the original language? Who edited the source or translation? What is the degree of accuracy involved? These are some of the questions relevant to any full discussion.
Adi K. Irani, 1962
The office records of Adi K. Irani (secretary to Meher Baba) were almost legendary by the 1960s. These files included diaries and large quantities of correspondence. The languages represented were English, Marathi, and Gujarati. This archive was not on open view, being stored at Khushru Quarters in Ahmednagar. Most devotees of that period were content with general circular information via Adi and Mani S. Irani. I was an exception, wishing to know more about the elusive records.
I was in correspondence with Adi K. Irani during 1965-66. I found him helpful on some points. However, he was reluctant to discuss matters of history that were not already available in published literature. For many years he had been supplying “life circulars” on current events. Adi did not feel inclined to make his archive better known.
I had learned that a vintage diary in English, by Ramju Abdulla, was in existence, being relevant to the early 1920s. I wanted to know more about this document, but met with disappointment. This diary was not published for another thirteen years (Deitrick 1979). That diary was one of those read dismissively by the Yoga enthusiast Paul Brunton almost fifty years before.
Charles B. Purdom
Still a major work on Meher Baba, during the 1970s, was The God-Man (1964). This is skeletal in detail by comparison with the total data now available. The author was Charles Purdom (d.1965), one of the earliest Western followers. I met Purdom (more than once) during the last months of his life. He was a fluent talker and could still lecture. I remember well that he prepared a liberal and non-sectarian paper on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (d.1886), read out at a London meeting by Molly Eve in his absence due to illness. Purdom’s speech was free of the devotional jargon that subsequently increased in the movement, i.e., Beloved and lovers, Avatar of the Age.
It is very difficult to describe Charles Purdom as a devotee. He did not express devotion at all, but instead a muted form of respect. He was averse to exaggerated and repetitive stylisms. His book The God-Man is impersonal in tone, contrasting with many other partisan writings. Purdom had retained the discreet vocabulary and literary style of a 1930s British independent follower of Meher Baba (Purdom 1951). See the index references in Shepherd 2005:315.
Becoming well known was an error in the LM translation of a statement about Azar Kaivan (d.1618). This was originally reported in an annotation to another book (Shepherd 1995:854 note 152). Subsequently, this error (together with the revision supplied by me) was duly mentioned on a Wikipedia page by Simon Kidd, an academic real name editor on the web encyclopaedia. Kidd was no stranger to Kaivan, having studied the Dabistan in Cambridge, under the guidance of a well known scholar. However, his intervention was opposed by a pseudonymous Wikipedia editor claiming that Lord Meher was infallible text. As a consequence of more than one opposition from devotee interests, the revision was excised. However, the opponents lost all reference to their own “infallible” text in the process of Wikipedia editing at the same article. 
The defective Reiter edition has the words: “After that, the last one, Dastur Azer Kaiwan, was false and obtained the sacred seat and started collecting money” (page 1020). This was belatedly reworded in the online Fenster edition as: “But after Dastur Azar Kaivan, a false, deceitful dastur obtained the sacred gaadi and started collecting money” (page 903, accessed 28/11/17). No reference was made anywhere in the Meher Baba literature to the earlier revision which appeared on Wikipedia. The dogmatic mistake had never happened. It is well known that the rendition of a name as Kaivan follows my publications and online articles, in contrast to the Kayvan found on Wikipedia and elsewhere. The online LM editing process might still have to revise the reference to Dastur Azar Kaivan in view of relevant arguments concerning priestly identities. The date of any revision should be duly recorded, and with full references.
Lord Meher, Indian edition 2005
Due analysis of a text, religious or otherwise, must transcend dogmatism. See Meher Prabhu/Lord Meher. There is evidence of a critical attitude to LM amongst a minority of Meher Baba devotees, including  Christopher Ott, an American. He is evidently very familiar with the genesis and development of LM. His contributions include History of Lord Meher. Ott emphasises elsewhere that the history of the editing process is “long and complex.” He makes a striking disclosure: “I have sworn privacy to one witness and am waiting for that person to die before sharing that person’s emails, confirming what more there is to say.”
The same informed commentator reveals the existence of “at least eleven versions of Lord Meher, none of them exactly the same.” One of these versions is the original handwritten Hindi manuscript of Bhau Kalchuri, “never made public.” An elaborated English version was achieved by Workingboxwala, “with additions and corrections inserted and compiled by David Fenster.” This version, dating to the early 1980s, is accessible. A subsequent version was the Reiter edition of 20 volumes (or more realistically, 13 vols in terms of binding). In 2005, an Indian edition of Reiter exhibited “some major changes.” Meanwhile, LM went online in 2002. The current online edition is “redacted monthly,” a process which has involved “drastic and constant changes, with both good corrections and grave new inaccuracies.” All quotes here are from Ott, “Original Lord Meher” (30/06/2017), featuring at Meher Baba Thoughts (formerly open access online). 
Ott makes additional comments of a radical nature. “There is currently no way to systematically ‘fact-check’ the events in any of these [LM] biographies.” The same commentator suggests that future scholars will resort to a new version of LM based directly on the sources, including extant diaries and correspondence.
In contrast, for many years, Western devotees were believing that Kalchuri was the sole author (and even translator) of LM. Ott entitles one of his blog communications in dramatic terms: “The terrible truth about who translated Lord Meher.” Such revelations may encourage a more widespread disposition to analyse LM text.
Many years ago, I wrote the independent work Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (I am now commencing a more intensive biography of an updated nature). Some American devotees maintained that the subject was Indian. Meher Baba was certainly born in India, but his parents were Irani Zoroastrians originating from Yazd. The controversial title was ventured in relation to Irani Zoroastrians who migrated to India, while retaining ethnic and linguistic features distinct from the Parsi population. For instance, Meher Baba and his father (Sheriar Mundegar Irani) spoke Dari.  Another consideration is that Meher Baba was not typical of contemporary Indian gurus like Rajneesh. The tendency to associate him with Hinduism is offset by such details as the Zoroastrian kusti girdle he wore in his early years until 1925 (Fenster 2013, 1:181). Another version, closely associated with Ott, maintains that he wore the kusti all his life; this version is contradicted by a more recently published mandali report informing that Meher Baba discarded the kusti girdle in 1931.
Irani Zoroastrians are descendants of the original population of Iran in pre-Islamic times. To describe them as Iranians is not an error, nor a crime. The title of my book was not intended to be politically evocative, but to grant the subject a due ethnic perspective. The Wikipedia article on Meher Baba is maintained by pseudonymous Western devotees. These partisan editors deleted Iranian Liberal from a list of sources; this annotated book featured the first critical bibliography. Such cordoning gestures have elsewhere been considered insular and arbitrary. I decline to be intimidated by such tactics (including hostile remarks on talk pages). Wikipedia is not a primary source for university academics and researchers.
The informed American devotee Ward Parks refers to the 2005 Hyderabad edition of LM as “a somewhat emended and corrected text.” Both the American and Indian published editions of LM include selections from the 1920s Tiffin Lectures (silent discourses), not well known until recently. Parks informs:

Lord Meher was written primarily as a biographical account of Meher Baba’s life; and while it is rich in quotation from Meher Baba’s words, it was never meant as a critical edition of any of his messages and should not be taken as such…. Bhau does not ordinarily quote from his sources verbatim or with minimal rewrite…. Often he reduces extensive discourses into abridged versions that convey the essence or gist. On other occasions he selects main points from different junctures in a talk and works them together into an integral message that accurately expresses much of Meher Baba’s original thought but cannot be said to follow his verbiage except in patches. (Parks 2017:520)

Shirdi Sai Baba

The first Reiter volume included chapters on the five “masters” of Meher Baba, including the famous Shirdi Sai Baba (d.1918). Those chapters are informative to a degree, though not by any means exhaustive portrayals. Now well known is the eccentric “Kalchuri” statement that Sai Baba smoked “a chilum pipe of opium” (Reiter edn 1986:64). This misleading assertion caused confusions, later being excised from the online edition as an error (David Fenster has stated in an email that the error was caused by faulty editing). Shirdi Sai was far more reliably reported in early Marathi sources (Dabholkar and Dixit) as a smoker of tobacco (Warren 1999:106; Shepherd 2015:114; Shepherd 2017: viii, 65).  Narasimhaswami affords a confirmation of tobacco. The chilum was loosely associated with opium, but also used to smoke other substances, including tobacco.

In 2017, Fenster mentioned adding a note to online LM, suggesting the possibility that a small amount of opium or hashish was at times added to the chilum of Shirdi Sai, for the purpose of alleviating asthma. This suggestion was prompted by a web trawl in November 2017, communicated to Fenster by email. The critic influenced the unwary Fenster on this point. The trawl was presented in terms of “research.” Fenster ignored my email protest at his projected new note, citing as his authority a presumed statement of Meher Baba which makes no reference whatever to the imagined contingency. This statement had been favoured by the critic, who did not bother to read any books on Shirdi Sai. The web trawler explicitly stated to me (by email) that he had no interest in Shirdi Sai, whom he regarded as an illiterate village faqir of minor consequence.

The web trawl, which strongly influenced Fenster, located a recent surmisal that Shirdi Sai smoked a sparing amount of bhang for medicinal purposes. The critic was influenced by a 2015 blog of Shri Datta Swami (a contemporary guru), evidencing a preoccupation with allergy medication, namely Citrazin, Uni-carbozon, and Avil. Bhang was here viewed as the equivalent of pharmaceutical tablets. The alleged act of smoking bhang was supposedly an antidote to “illness based on allergy, which is serious cough.” The scenario here is very conjectural, and does not count as “research.” The convergence of diverse contemporary assumptions about what Shirdi Sai smoked is here obscuring what early sources stated a century ago.

Fenster provided two versions of his new suggestion in separate emails. In the first, he said that “sometimes a small amount of opium or hashish would be added to the chilum to alleviate Sai Baba’s asthmatic condition.” When I objected to this innovation, he modified the phraseology, but would not abandon his contention as to possibility. He showed no familiarity with Shirdi Sai literature. He gave the impression that he would shortly be placing online his innovation. However, Fenster subsequently withdrew his contention when informed of more relevant data.
The web trawler stated in an email to myself (04/12/17): “Shirdi Sai Baba occasionally used a tiny amount of opium or cannabis to alleviate a life-long asthmatic condition.” This was a reference to smoking, effectively relying on the mistaken suggestion of Fenster, who had been influenced by the same insistent trawler. The reciprocal confusion evidenced in these emails was substantial, creating imagined fact from mere surmisal.
The trawler critic subsequently changed his mind, apologising for his error. This was because he read more deeply on the subject of Shirdi Sai Baba, grasping that he had been misled by web features amounting to opinion at best and “fake news” at worst.
The purported statement of Meher Baba, quoted by Fenster (email 27/11/17), reads: “Seekers then used not only wine but also hemp, heroin, hashish and opium; so much so that even sadgurus would indulge in them. Sai Baba used to smoke a chillum and Upasni Maharaj smoked beedies.” This was the version found in the online edition of LM. No source is supplied for the 1929 statement. Furthermore, the same LM “Kalchuri” statement of Meher Baba has variants, e.g., “You have heard stories that Sai Baba used to smoke a chilum pipe and Upasni Maharaj smoked bidis” (Reiter edn:1227). Fenster made no mention of the stories in his online edition.
Extending details are relevant. The same passage, of which the quotation is part, refers to “the ancient past” (Reiter edn:1227). This was when seekers and sadgurus supposedly used the substances specified. The ancient chronology is confirmed by an accompanying reflection of Meher Baba: “Eventually during those times, ordinary people indulged in these intoxicants for the wrong reasons” (ibid). A lengthy period is indicated. Fenster emails (influenced by another party) opted to place the “ancient past” in the early twentieth century at Shirdi. Confusion thus enveloped an early Meher Baba statement, even supposing that the statement is correct in rendition (all details of origin and transmission being absent in LM). Not all statements of Meher Baba were uniformly rendered, or presented accurately, especially when translation was involved from one language to another. The error relating to Azar Kaivan  is a case in point, one which misled readers for nearly thirty years.
Upasani Maharaj at Sakori, 1930s
In the confusing LM passage at issue, the impression was given to unwary readers that Upasani Maharaj (d.1941) smoked a drug substance over a lengthy period. In reality, Upasani smoked bidis (country tobacco cigarettes) for a few weeks only. He did this solely because of a medical insistence that he resort to tobacco for the purpose of assisting bowel motions, at a point of crisis prior to a necessary surgical operation. Upasani himself disliked cigarettes, and had to be persuaded to smoke (Shepherd, Radical Rishi: A Biography of Upasani Maharaj, chapter 53). He was an orthodox brahman in the sense of being opposed to drugs and alcohol, tobacco also not being in favour.
Upasani Maharaj  is a subject closely converging with Meher Baba, though for the most part neglected in the Meher Baba literature. Due analysis of Upasani biography (and teaching) is long overdue. Upasani is also strongly linked with Shirdi Sai Baba, in situations requiring more detail than is customarily supplied.
Generations may elapse before all discrepancies in the lengthy composite work Lord Meher are resolved. Meanwhile, a dogmatic celebration of infallible text is not appropriate.
Deitrick, Ira G., ed., Ramjoo’s Diaries 1922-1929 (Walnut Creek, CA: Sufism Reoriented, 1979).
Fenster, David, Mehera-Meher: A Divine Romance (3 vols, 2003; second edn 2013).
Kalchuri, Bhau, Feram Workingboxwala, David Fenster et al, Lord Meher (Reiter edn, 20 vols, 1986-2001).
Kalchuri et al, Lord Meher (revised edn, 8 vols, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh: Meher Mownavani, 2005). 
Kalchuri et al, Lord Meher online, ed. David Fenster. 
Parks, Ward, and Meherwan B. Jessawala, eds., Meher Baba’s Tiffin Lectures as given in 1926-1927 (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 2017). 
Purdom, Charles B., Life Over Again (London: Dent, 1951). 
——–The God Man: The life, journeys and work of Meher Baba with an interpretation of his silence and spiritual teaching (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964). 
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Meher Baba: An Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988). 
——–Minds and Sociocultures: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995). 
——–Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005). 
——–Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Biographical Investigation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2015). 
——–Sai Baba: Faqir of Shirdi (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2017). 
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma: Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd 
December 2017 (modified 2021)
ENTRY no. 74
Copyright © 2021 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Sheriar Mundegar Irani

By Azar Kaivan, Hazrat Babajan, Iranis and Parsis, Meher Baba, Yazd
Sheriar Mundegar Irani, circa 1893
Sheriar (Shahriyar) Mundegar Irani (1853-1932) was the Zoroastrian father of Meher Baba (1894-1969). His life affords an interesting variant of the substantial Irani emigration from Central Iran to India. This exodus, occurring over generations, was the consequence of oppression afflicting a religious minority.
Irani Zoroastrians were the original Persians, the real Iranians, an ethnic breed quite distinct from the Arabs and Turkic peoples who infiltrated Iran during the Islamic era. Over the centuries, their zone of habitation contracted to the regions of Yazd and Kerman, primarily the former. At Yazd, they lived mainly in villages on the Yazd plain (Boyce 1977). These rural Zoroastrian ghettos existed in the shadow of Shia Islam. Zoroastrians were officially tolerated, but nevertheless subject to harassments and insidious religious discrimination (Amighi 1990).
Zoroastrian dakhma (burial tower), Yazd
Sheriar Mundegar was born at the Yazdi village of Khorramshah. He was the son of Mundegar the salar, meaning the custodian of a local Zoroastrian dakhma (place of burial). At these sites, corpses were disposed of in the traditional manner, being left for vultures to devour. The salar guarded the corpses, while performing basic rites for the dead. Mundegar was very unusual in being the follower of an obscure Muslim saint at Khorramshah (Kalchuri 1986:120). Because of this allegiance, local Muslims were more tolerant of his family than would otherwise have been the case.
Irani Zoroastrians lived in constant fear of abuse. They were known contemptuously as guebres or “fire worshippers.” Restrictions applied to the size of their houses, also their mode of travel. They could not openly trade; their lifestyle was frequently that of agricultural workers. The presiding legists were mullas, a religious party indifferent to infidel complaints. “If a Zoroastrian was murdered, no one was punished” (Anzar 1976:4).
Mistreatment from the local Muslim population and clergy was more severe at Yazd than in the Kerman milieu (Sanasarian 2000:49). Many travellers to Iran commented on the Zoroastrian plight. E. G. Browne referred to the “savage brutality of lutis,” a category described as hooligans (Browne 1893:371; Shepherd 1988a:13-14). While Browne was in Yazd, a Zoroastrian was bastinadoed for accidentally touching with his garment some fruit for sale in the bazaar, rendering this commodity unclean for true believers (Browne 1893:371-2).
The Irani Zoroastrians dreaded attacks on their women. A Zoroastrian girl was raped while carrying farm produce to the city. The Muslim attackers callously claimed that she was drunk, and therefore responsible for the crime. The victim could not endure the stigma imposed upon her, and committed suicide by burning herself (Jahanian 1996). Other girls are reported to have been forcibly converted to Islam.
Young Sheriar himself foiled a molestation when a group of Muslims on horseback were chasing a young and attractive Zoroastrian woman. He concealed this fugitive at the site of the dakhma he tended with his father (Anzar 1974:2). The pursuers had broken into a Zoroastrian house. Other reports confirm that Muslims would kidnap Zoroastrian girls and convert them to Islam via marriage. Converts would be paraded in the Yazd bazaar as a sign of Islamic triumph (Amighi 2014). Another version is that abductors would have the girls “married to Muslims in other areas or sell them as concubines” (Kalchuri 1986:121 endnote). A frequent destination of the victims was Arabia. “In this way the Muslim fanatics reduced the Zoroastrian population” (ibid). In his description of 1850s abuses, the Parsi traveller Maneckji Hataria wrote: “Vagrants have kidnapped their [Irani] women and daughters” (Jahanian 1996). Some abductors seem comparable to slave traders. However, Qajar Iran is much better known for other aspects of the widespread slave trade (Mirzai 2017).
The feared lutis were involved in murders. Circa 1870, two Zoroastrians were attacked outside Yazd by two Muslims. One victim was killed, the other very badly wounded, as the aggressors tried to cut off his head (Malcolm 1908:50). Violence was too often preferred. Oppressive collectors of the jizya tax would tie a man to a dog (a despised Zoroastrian pet) and beat both of the victims until the stipulated money was given, amounting to a labourer’s wage for ten days (ibid:47). Not to be outdone in such excesses, the pious Shia mujtahids (elite clerics) made Zoroastrians stand on one leg inside their (Muslim) houses “until they consented to pay a considerable sum of money” (ibid:48).
The French ambassador to Qajar Iran wrote pessimistically: “A miracle may save them [Irani Zoroastrians] from extinction” (Jahanian 1996). In the mid-nineteenth century, the village of Turkabad, near Yazd, suffered a forced mass conversion of Zoroastrians (Boyce 1977:7; Boyce 1992:158). This event is sometimes described in terms of a massacre. There were apparently less than 7,000 Zoroastrians surviving at Yazd during the 1850s. The Parsi mission of Maneckji Hataria attempted to improve the situation, although meeting opposition from conservative Irani priests (Ringer 2011:152ff). 
The young salar Sheriar Irani departed from Yazd in 1865-66. He was not merely fleeing from harassment. He became a mendicant committed to Yazdan (the Zoroastrian God). He is often referred to as a dervish, a word generally denoting a Muslim mendicant. However, he remained a Zoroastrian. His father’s intimacy with a Muslim saint may have imparted to Sheriar a degree of affinity with mystical Islam. Sheriar grew accustomed to the wilderness, which he regarded as a haven from interference. This was a very tough life, sandstorms being only one of the problems. A strong walker, he learned how to survive, adapting as best he could to the surrounding Muslim society.
After eight years of wandering, he emigrated to India with his brother Khododad. They arrived in Bombay circa 1874, taking employment. Their environment was now that of Parsis, the Zoroastrian community of Western India commencing many centuries earlier (Palsetia 2001). After the British took possession of Bombay in 1662, Parsis converged there in large numbers, flourishing as traders or sethias (Hinnells and Williams 2008:1). See also Bombay communities.  A major influence in this city, during the early nineteenth century, was Sir Jamshetji Jejeebhoy (1783-1859), the Parsi merchant and philanthropist, and the first Indian to be knighted (Palsetia 2015).
Unlike Khododad, Sheriar did not pursue wealth. Instead, he again departed as a mendicant, effectively vanishing during the years 1874-1883. After a severe thirty day fast and vigil (chilla), he returned to the urban sector (in 1883 or 1884), his body emaciated. He had experienced a powerful dream, which conveyed that he could not himself attain God – instead his future son would do so. This intimation caused mental turmoil; his mind was divided between the prospect of a family and his dedication to the renunciate life.
Although seriously weakened from fasting, Sheriar now walked over four hundred miles south from Gujarat. He arrived in Poona (Pune), finding the home of his sister Piroja, who had likewise emigrated from Yazd. She had given up hope of ever seeing Sheriar again. Piroja could not understand his ascetic way of life. She wanted him to marry and settle down. Sheriar reacted, repeatedly telling her that he intended to resume mendicancy. Piroja was upset and wept.
Eventually Sheriar adopted a different tactic. Gazing out of the window, he pointed to the five (or six) year old daughter of an Irani neighbour, saying that if he had to marry, then he would marry this little girl. Sheriar did not believe that his suggestion would be taken seriously. He was astounded when his persistent sister arranged the match (Kalchuri 1986:130-137; Shepherd 1988a:52-57). The marriage was scheduled years in the future.
Sheriar felt obliged to honour his word. The Zoroastrian ethical code stressed truthfulness. A promise was considered irrevocable. This feature of integrity converged with the Zoroastrian religious tenet of “good words” (hukhta), associated with the ancient prophet Zarathushtra (Boyce 1992:90).
He commenced to earn a livelihood, at first working in Poona as a gardener at a Parsi mansion, where plants flourished in his care. Eventually he married Shirin Irani, as he had promised, in 1892. He was then 39, while she was 14 years old. Sheriar became a businessman, in the interests of supporting his growing family of several children. His simple terraced house was near the Poona cantonment, in a locality then known as Butler Moholla. In 1919, he acquired a larger house in the same lane, opposite the earlier home (Irani 1965:23). The ambience was middle class. However, neither of these properties were comparable to the fine mansions of wealthy Parsi celebrities. Sheriar maintained a business because he had to, not because he wanted to. He was eventually the proprietor of a string of toddy shops, employing assistants. At that period, many Parsis in Gujarat made their living from the production of toddy, a mild alcoholic drink.
Meanwhile, during the 1880s, he taught himself to read and write. Not only did he learn Persian, but also Arabic. He spoke with his family in Dari, meaning the Irani language used at Yazd (more specifically, Zoroastrian Dari in the Yazdi dialect was divided into many variants relating to neighbourhood). His daughter says that Sheriar had an imperfect knowledge of Gujarati, which he spoke with an Irani accent (Irani 1993:52). Gujarati was the vernacular language of Parsis, associated with the neighbouring state of Gujarat (Shirin could speak fluent Gujarati, being reared in this language). In contrast, Arabic was a very unusual linguistic interest amongst Zoroastrians. Sheriar became acquainted with both Sufi and Zoroastrian texts. He taught Shirin Persian, reading to her the Shah-Nama and Divan of Hafiz. Sheriar also wrote mystical poetry in Persian.
His daughter Mani later related that he was consulted by a scholar engaged in the translation of a text from Arabic to Persian. She actually saw him “help a well known [Parsi] professor to correct some manuscript in Arabic” (Irani 1993:60). Mani also relayed that her father would talk in Hebrew with a woman who lived in the same lane at Poona. Exactly how Sheriar came to learn Hebrew is not known. “I would hear Father converse in Hebrew with a charming old Jewish lady who wore dozens of bangles” (ibid). A Jewish community had existed at Yazd; however, any early connection of Sheriar with that colony seems unlikely.
Mani wondered how her father could speak these languages so well (in contrast to his more pedestrian Gujarati). She questioned him on this matter. Sheriar was reticent; he merely remarked that the acquisition “came to me suddenly, in a moment” (ibid). Years later, Mani asked her brother Meher Baba how such knowledge could be possible. The cryptic reply is reported as: “Knowledge is all inside, hidden behind a curtain” (ibid). We know that Sheriar was self-taught at Poona; his approach to learning was apparently not typical of either autodidacts or academics.
Arabic had been a strong component of the eclectic tradition known as Kaivani or Sipasi. During the Safavid era, the Zoroastrian mystic Azar Kaivan (d.1618) emigrated to India from his native Iranian territory of Fars. Kaivan’s Zoroastrian circle of disciples included learned speakers of both Arabic and Persian. They were acquainted with the ishraqi tradition of philosophy transmitted by Suhrawardi Maqtul (d.1191). Kaivani texts were studied by nineteenth century Parsis. Sheriar was an independent reader familiar with complexities (Shepherd 1988a:58ff). His son Merwan (alias Meher Baba) is known to have awarded a high rating to Azar Kaivan, describing this figure as a spiritual master
The Dabistan informs that two Jewish rabbis became followers of the Kaivan circle in the early seventeenth century. Hebrew was not necessary for the study of Kaivani texts. However, the inter-religious disposition of that circle must have impressed Sheriar. Relevant works like the Dabistan and Desatir  were well known in literary circles of his time. Like the Kaivanis, Sheriar believed in reincarnation. Many Parsis became Theosophists, unlike Sheriar, who moved in another direction. He may be described as a neo-Kaivani, an independent identity not related to any sect or movement.
Sheriar learned to some degree the local Marathi, but did not assimilate English. However, he had nothing against the British. Zoroastrians benefited from the tolerant colonial regime. For generations until circa 1860, the mercantile activity of Iranis at Yazd had been much restricted, literally occurring underground, operating in cellars of their houses as a consequence of Islamic prohibition (Malcolm 1905:46-47). Now, in India, they were free to prosper alongside the Parsis.
Enterprising Parsis built and ran the Bombay dockyard, were the leading ship owners of India, were pioneers in education and social reform, were leaders in banking, law, and the Indian industrial revolution (Hinnells and Williams 2008a:2). At Poona, some Parsis established factories. The earliest Parsi settlers here were traders, but many became professional people, e.g., lawyers, doctors, academics. Parsi philanthropists made generous donations to educational institutions such as the Deccan College.
Some of the most imposing houses in Poona were owned by Parsis, whose social functions attracted many British officials. Circa 1900, there were 1,900 Parsis in Poona, many of them affluent. In contrast, numerous Iranis arrived as refugees; most of these newcomers were not wealthy (Hinnells 2008b). Iranis were far more at the working class level. Accordingly, Parsis tended to regard themselves as superior. There is a general lack of information about the Iranis in Poona, Sheriar being an exception.
Sheriar Irani at Poona in the 1920s
The education of Parsis generally followed a Westernised model. Sheriar was not a participant in this trend, remaining a mystic who did not study for a career. Some wealthy Parsi families gained many servants. Sheriar’s family had only one servant, a Hindu lady named Chandri, whom they employed in the 1920s. Sheriar was not a gourmet. He maintained a habit of selecting the most imperfect food for himself, for instance, a blemished apple. His daughter Mani says that he would quickly put such items on his plate, not saying a word. “As a child, she [Mani] noticed such selfless acts” (Fenster 2013:230).
The ex-mendicant Irani was not typical of the business sector. His wife Shirin was often exasperated by his lack of interest in mundane acquisitions and savings. Mani related that her mother did not trust Sheriar with money, the reason being that he would so frequently give away cash to beggars and ascetics. The benign Sheriar had exactly the same tendency with blankets. Shirin complained that she could have opened a blanket shop if they had kept all the blankets her husband had so generously gifted (audio source). In this action, Sheriar was similar to Hazrat Babajan (d.1931), the Muslim faqir whose latitude to the poor became famous. Sheriar was an acquaintance of Babajan, who lived nearby in the same area of Poona (Shepherd 2014:49-50). 
Sheriar Irani was constantly muttering “Yazdan, Yazdan,” a Zoroastrian sacred name. This was not an ostentatious exercise, instead scarcely audible, and often completely silent. His daughter informs: “I would look up to catch a glimpse of the tip of his tongue moving up and down as he silently repeated God’s name” (Irani 1993:57).
Silence was a frequent characteristic. Mani relays that a local businessman was deeply impressed with Sheriar, and would visit his home. The two would sit in silence for hours at a time. Shirin would become annoyed, asking the visitor when he was going to leave; she would tell him to come to the point. The visitor is reported to have replied; “I do not come here to talk to Sheriar, I just like to sit in his presence. I feel so peaceful sitting here with him” (audio source).
In another report, Mani writes: “Many a family friend or acquaintance has come into our home to sit for hours beside him [Sheriar] in total silence” (Irani 1993:57). The reason supplied is that the visitors gained peace of mind.
When Mehera J. Irani (along with other visitors) encountered Sheriar in December 1924 (or January 1925), she found that he “would sit away from the others, quietly repeating Yezdan, the Zoroastrian name of God” (Fenster 2013:158). He was still partial to horticulture; Mehera noticed the violets growing in his garden at Butler Moholla.
During the early 1920s, the elderly Sheriar lost his business to a dishonest employee. He was indifferent to the loss of income (Shepherd 1988a:73-75). He maintained his composure, acting as though the outer world was of no consequence by comparison with the inner world.

Some orthodox Parsis of Poona were critics of his son Meher Baba, whom they considered a heretic. This hostile group bribed a policeman who had alcoholic tendencies. The agitators made the policeman drunk, exhorting him to visit Sheriar and administer a beating. The inebriated officer of the law complied with the request, threateningly entering Sheriar’s house. The old man simply gazed at the intruder, who shouted abuse. Sheriar did not react. The interloper failed in his mission; no violence occurred. However, neighbours were outraged by this unseemly event; they made the policeman apologise afterwards to his intended victim (audio source). These neighbours were not Zoroastrians. Their identity is uncertain. Butler Moholla was inhabited by “Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists” (Irani 1993:19).
Another visitor to the home of Sheriar had a deeper comprehension than most others. Sadhu Christian Leik (d. 1929) was an unusual ascetic from Esthonia who became a disciple of Meher Baba in 1928. Mani reported that Leik would sit in silence with Sheriar for hours. Both of these men were contemplatives who did not feel a need for words. 

Bibliographic Note:

The early published account in Purdom 1937:14-16 has some errors, including the mistaken date of 1879 for the marriage of Sheriar and Shirin. Purdom also says that Sheriar “returned to Bombay and went to his sister Piroja’s house – there he stayed.” The traveller did return to Bombay, but quickly moved on to his sister’s home in Poona, a place name omitted by Purdom. This misleading version influenced a Wikipedia article on Sheriar (subsequently deleted), which stated that Piroja lived in Bombay, and that Sheriar and his wife moved to Poona in 1893. This error was mistakenly attributed by the editor to Maud Kennedy. In fact, the Kennedy article correctly identifies Poona as the location, following Jal S. Irani (without supplying any source). Only weeks after Shirin Irani was born at Bombay, her parents moved to Poona in the late 1870s, where her father Dorab Irani opened a tea shop. The date Purdom mistook for the marriage was actually the time when Dorab and his family moved to Poona. The contraction about Bombay is repeated in Purdom 1964:16; however, the date of marriage is duly revised to 1892. The date of Sheriar’s birth here is still unsatisfactory, being five years too late. The article by Sheriar’s son Jal Irani was a basic source for Maud Kennedy, a British devotee of Meher Baba. Both of these articles lack details afforded in subsequent published materials and oral transmission. Jal says that Sheriar left home “when he was barely thirteen years of age” (Irani 1965:16). There are slight differences in the reports. Cf. Kalchuri 1986:122, stating “he was only twelve years old.” Other writers give the age as thirteen. Jal gives no date for the voyage from Iran to Bombay; he says that his father eventually owned “several toddy and tea shops” (Irani 1965:22). Jal informs that Sheriar gained “a scholarly knowledge of the Persian and Arabic languages” (ibid:21), but does not mention the acquisition of Hebrew. The 1976 article by Naosherwan Anzar supplied very relevant material resulting from fieldwork on the Yazd plain. Bhau Kalchuri, and the editorial process of Lord Meher, supplied two chapters on Sheriar and Shirin. Major informants about Sheriar Irani were his children Mani S. Irani and Adi S. Irani. Mani’s version is represented in Lord Meher. She is described as having “authenticated” the relevant chapters. Adi is not represented. He never wrote anything, but did make references in conversation. Adi was acknowledged in Shepherd 1988a:82. “I am indebted to Sheriar’s son Adi S. Irani for certain background data.” My book supplied the longest version of Sheriar’s biography, together with details about the Kaivan circle and their literature. A second edition is planned. Some readers mistakenly assumed that my diachronic association was intended as a sectarian identity; careful reading will dispel this error. Adi was in awe of his father, whom he considered an excelling example of the “be in the world but not of it” ideal. Adi emphasised the unusual extent of Sheriar’s philanthropy, and believed that only Merwan (Meher Baba) was fully conversant with the range of their father’s studies. My earliest version of Sheriar was in the unpublished manuscript Life of Meher Baba, the chapter on Sheriar dating to 1967. See also the index references to Sheriar Irani in Shepherd 1988b:302; Shepherd 2005:310. The details contributed by Mani S. Irani (1918-1996) were partly in oral and audio transmission, the audio materials emerging online. Her written version is Irani 1993:52-61. On Mehera J. Irani (1907-1989), see Fenster 2013. Concerning the phenomenon of Parsi success, “they [Parsis] are now India’s smallest community, yet they are among those who have exercised the greatest influence on the Subcontinent, having been foremost in so many areas all out of proportion to their demographic size” (Hinnells and Williams 2008a:1).
Amighi, Janet Kestenberg, The Zoroastrians of Iran: Conversion, Assimilation, or Persistence (New York: AMS Press, 1990).
———“Kerman xiii. Zoroastrians of 19th Century Yazd and Kerman,” Encyclopaedia Iranica online (2014).
Anzar, Naosherwan, The Beloved: The Life and Work of Meher Baba (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Press, 1974).
———“In Search of God’s Ancestry,” The Glow Quarterly (August 1976) 11(3):3-10.
Boyce, Mary, A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977). 
——–Zoroastrianism: Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 1992). 
Browne, Edward G., A Year Amongst the Persians (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1893).
Eduljee, K. E., Zoroastrian Heritage (2005-17).
Fenster, David, Mehera-Meher Vol. 1 (second edn, Ahmednagar: Meher Nazar, 2013).
Hinnells, John R., The Zoroastrian Diaspora: Religion and Migration (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
——– “Parsi Communities i. Early History,” Encyclopaedia Iranica online (2008). 
Hinnells, John R., and Alan Williams, eds., Parsis in India and the Diaspora (London and New York: Routledge, 2008).
Irani, Jal S., “Biographical Notes on Avatar Meher Baba’s Parents,” Divya Vani (Jan. 1965) 2(1):15-23.
Irani, Mani S., God-Brother: Stories from my Childhood with Meher Baba (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 1993).
Kalchuri, Bhau, Feram Workingboxwala, David Fenster et al, Lord Meher Vol. 1 (North Myrtle Beach, SC: Manifestation, 1986).
Kennedy, Maud, “Sheriarji: The Wandering Dervish,” Glow International (August 1985):11-13.
Malcolm, Napier, Five Years in a Persian Town (London: John Murray, 1908).
Mirzai, Behnaz A., A History of Slavery and Emancipation in Iran 1800-1929 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017).
Palsetia, Jesse S., The Parsis of India: Preservation of Identity in Bombay City (Leiden: Brill, 2001). 
——–Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy of Bombay: Partnership and Public Culture in Empire (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015).
Purdom, Charles, The Perfect Master: The Life of Shri Meher Baba (London: Williams and Norgate, 1937).
———The God-Man (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964).
Ringer, Monica M., Pious Citizens: Reforming Zoroastrianism in India and Iran (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2011).
Sanasarian, Eliz, Religious Minorities in Iran (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., From Oppression to Freedom: A Study of the Kaivani Gnostics (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988a).
———Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988b).
———Investigating the Sai Baba Movement (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005).
———Hazrat Babajan: A Pathan Sufi of Poona (New Delhi: Sterling, 2014).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
November 2017 (modified 2021)

ENTRY no. 73 

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