– Championing The Truth And The Ethics Of Zoroastrianism –
Dr. Maneckji Nusserwanji Dhalla (1875-1956), High Priest of Parsis of India before the Indo-Pak Partition, was born into abject poverty, reared in squalid surroundings, tutored by a harsh pedagogue, and forced by necessity to earn a livelihood at a very young age. Fluent in English, Gujarati, Avesta, Pahlavi, Pazend, Persian, Sanskrit and Cuneiform, Dr. Dhalla rose to become one of the most respected Zoroastrian scholars of his day. The numerous books he authored in English and Gujarati, after acquiring his Doctorate from Columbia University (1909), are regarded among the most authentic works on Zoroastrian religion and grace the syllabus of many leading universities worldwide.
Deeply loved and greatly respected for his encyclopaedic knowledge, deep wisdom and gentle manners, Dr. Dhalla was often called upon by both, Parsis and non-Parsis to mediate between feuding groups. Internationally acclaimed as a speaker who could hold his audience spellbound while discussing the most complex issues, Dr. Armaity Desai, says that he was one of the most charismatic orators of recent times. Though he was felicitated with titles like ‘Samas-ul-Ulmas’, the D. Litt degree from Columbia University and numerous scrolls of honour, he wore his laurels lightly and remained the unpretentious, simple scholar that he deemed himself to be.
Inevitably, he had his detractors who used vituperative language and hurled insults at him for daring to propagate the truth about the Zoroastrian religion. However, with conviction in the correctness of his opinions, in his fascinating autobiography, ‘The Saga of a Soul’, he shares that he remained unruffled and centered in himself as honour did not elate him just as he was not dejected by insults.
As a tribute on his 146th Birth Anniversary, on 27th September 2021, we share the thoughts and sentiments of seven, highly respected community members, which encapsulate the significance of the teachings and the personality that was Dr. Maneckji Nusserwanji Dhalla…
Noshir H. Dadrawala – Zoroastrian Scholar; Trustee – Bombay Parsi Punchayat:
Maneckji Nusserwanji Dhalla was the first and only scholarly priest to be appointed Dastur or High Priest in Karachi, Pakistan. The Avestan term for Dastur is ‘De’ or ‘Deng’, which literally means, ‘one who shows the true path’. The moral and ethical path that Dastur Dhalla showed was faithful to the original teachings of Asho Zarathushtra, as enshrined in the Gatha.
Although liberal in his views, he was sensitive to the feelings of the traditional, and he personally never performed Navjote or Ashirwaad ceremonies, which could offend, what he termed, the ‘collective conscience of the community’. He was not against prayer, rituals or ceremonies, as is often alleged. He simply felt it was meaningless chanting of pious affirmations, without putting what one prayed into action. His emphasis was on walking the path of Asha (Truth, Righteous conduct and Purity of thoughts, words and deeds) and bringing about perfection, in what he called ‘our perfecting world’. As Dastur, he not only showed us the true path of ethical living but practiced what he preached. He was honest and frank in expressing what he believed, but was sensitive enough to not offend those who held contrary views.
Dastur Dhalla’s writings, based on the original teachings of Asho Zarathushtra, inspire us even today to lead a purposeful and meaningful life, by thinking and making the right ethical choices. His teachings remind us that our world is not perfect, but we can all aspire and bring about perfection through the practice of Asha.
Aban Rustomji – Founder Chair, FIRES/ZAH (Zoroastrian Association of Houston) Library:
Dasturji Dr. Maneckji N. Dhalla continues to inspire. A quiet and devout man, and by all accounts a master orator and writer, he authored nine major books and countless papers on Zarathushti religious literature, history and theology. By the sheer depth and richness of his thought and his unmatched knowledge of doctrine, he made our religion a living force and encouraged us to lead a reflective and meaningful life. For his scholarly achievements, he received the title of Shams-ul-Ulema (the Light of Learning).
And then there is a Houston connection. The Dastur M N Dhalla Memorabilia Trust, housed at ZAH Library, was initiated by Karen and Shahrokh Marker in 2000. The Library has received many articles of Dastur Dhalla’s personal possessions. The memorabilia include silver caskets, scrolls from various anjumans and punchayats, keys to the city, trophies, and his Ph.D. degree from Columbia University. A permanent display case was gifted to the library by several members of the Dhalla family, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The most recent addition includes Dr. Dhalla’s handwritten notes, his lectures on the Shahnameh and newspaper articles. These personal objects give us a valuable glimpse into the Dastur Dhalla as a student, a family man, and a beloved and revered community member.
Dr. Coomi S. Vevaina – Ph.D. Literature & Ph.D. Education; Former HOD – English Dept., Mumbai University; globally acclaimed Educator, Education Futurist; Founder Director – Global Tipping Point Summit; TEDx speaker; Literary Critic; Writer; Storyteller… and Dasturji Dhalla’s great-granddaughter:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” With these words, Thoreau urges lonely wayfarers who dare to think and act differently from the masses, to believe in themselves and walk with courage, on ‘the road not taken’. One such savant was Dasturji Dr. Maneckji Nusserwanji Dhalla, whose numerous messages to humankind are more relevant now than ever before.
Perhaps the most important of his messages for the millennium is to be found in ‘Mankind Wither Bound’, in which he writes, “All Prophets of one and the same God should be honoured and loved by all men and women of the world as their own… Righteousness… is universal. So is Truth. Mankind knows many religions, but God the giver of Religion knows only One Religion.” Elaborating on the need to shift from Polarity Consciousness to Unity Consciousness, he boldly asserts, “Not only that my religion is mine, but all religions are mine. I hold not my culture only as my own, but I treasure all cultures as my own. I pride myself not in claiming my race as the first favourite of God, but I hold all races as equally beloved of the Lord. Our earth will then turn into paradise…”
Dr. Karishma Koka, Neuro Scientist, Cambridge University, UK; Founder – Ba Humata:
Dasturji Dr. M. N. Dhalla’s inspirational writings have inspired me since childhood. My mother would read out excerpts from his writings, together with the lines he quoted from the texts. Dasturji wrote in both Gujarati and English. His unique way of transferring wisdom and empowering others to understand and explain the great messages of Asho Zarathushtra, makes his contribution invaluable, through the ages.
The Zarathushti doctrine is encompassed in many great texts. Dasturji Dhalla has made these accessible to us, not just by translating and explaining, but also by quoting relevant verses to give us guidance in times of need. These lines from the Yashts, the Gatha and other references are selected most aptly. The style of writing makes it relevant, irrespective of age and background. The language used is simple and elegant.
‘Homage unto Ahura Mazda’ is an invaluable resource. Its online version inspired me to read it every night – giving solace and strength. In this great book, Dasturji has brought Asho Zarathustra and Ahura Mazda ever so close to my heart and mind. There is always a great thought to appreciate and imbibe – that transforms my thinking and re-kindles the ‘Aatash’ in my mind – giving me a deeper vision into the great messages of Asho Zarathushtra and the Zarathushti Daena.
Dr. Pearl Pastakia, Former HOD – English Dept, St. Xavier’s College:
Dastur Maneckji Nasserwanji Dhalla was the High Priest of the Parsis of Karachi, in the early twentieth century. Hailed as a religious scholar and reformer of the Zoroastrian religious customs, he strove to make religious faith a living force in the community. His voice was effective in ushering in a critical perspective on outworn accretions upon the ancient religious traditions. He led a religious renaissance, enhancing people’s faith and adherence to the creed of Ahura Mazda. Dasturji Dhalla travelled across India and widely toured the world, spreading the word of God, as laid down in the Avesta. In his autobiography, Dasturji Dhalla says that the essence of Prophet Zarathushtra’s message is that we are ordained to evolve and collaborate with the Divine, in taking the universe towards perfection. He also appeals to people to use reason as a guide in religious matters. Still, with prudence, he cautions, “to remain a part of the community and yet to endeavor to effect an alteration that annoys it, is impractical and improper”.
Pervin Firdaus Dastoor, Co-founder, PPCE World Pvt. Ltd.:
In a world of dogmatism, Dr. Dhalla stood tall amongst his peers for his pragmatic approach to religion. He showed the world how to be a good Zoroastrian without being bogged down by complicated rituals. His teachings emphasized the simplicity of Zoroastrianism – no complicated rituals to follow, no rigid doctrine to live by to be a worthy Zoroastrian. He’d beseech Ahura Mazda to bless him that he may ‘think righteousness, speak righteousness, work righteousness and be a righteous one.’ In our world of problems such as the pandemic, job insecurity, political disquiet, Dr. Dhalla’s discourse on ‘Life – A Blend Of Contradictions’, and his take on the comfort and peace from keeping faith in Ahura Mazda, bring immense satisfaction and hope to all. The broadness of his perspective and his forward thinking ensure that the relevance of his teachings will live on for generations.
Rati Dady Wadia, Former Principal, Queen Mary School; WZC Speaker Delegate – Tehran, Houston and Perth:
Dasturji Dr. Maneckji Nusservanji Dhalla’s book, ‘Homage Unto Ahura Mazda’, is a veritable treasure house of simplified translations of our prayers along with references from our texts. He believed in the true spirit of our religion rather than formal rituals. He was against discrimination of all kinds and followed the principle of equality for all, which befits our religion that is based on Truth and Justice. He was revered by many and has left a legacy of ‘a universal religion of love’. We are blessed to have had such a highly evolved soul in our midst.
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