Dastur Nadirshah Pestonji Unvalla
Roj Avan Mah Amardad 1285 Y.Z. 18th January 1917
Roj Adar Mah Tir 1378 Y.Z. 25th November 2008
Dasturji Nadirshah Pestonji Unvalla is one of the eight Parsee Vada Dasturjis of the Parsi Zoroastrian community. He started his career as an Assistant Mobed at The Bai Dhunmai & Cawasji Dadabhai Daremeher, Bangalore, in 1934, under the guidance of his father, Mobed Saheb Pestonji Jamshedji Unvalla, the then Panthaki, of the Bangalore Parsee Zoroastrian Anjuman. He was appointed as the Panthaki in 1965 after the demise of his father and continued to serve the Bangalore Anjuman as Panthaki and Mobed till his retirement in 1996. Though retired as a Panthaki, he still helps in performing ceremonies as and when required. The Anjuman, in its appreciation of his long, selfless and devoted service to the community in Bangalore, bestowed on him the Title of Dastur in 1996.
Bai Manijeh Nadirshah Unvalla
Roj Asman Mah Khordad 1292 Y.Z. 5th December 1922
Roj Sarosh Mah Aspandarmad 1376 Y.Z. 1st August 2007
Married for over six decades to Dasturji Nadirshah, Manijeh was a constant source of strength and inspiration to him and his family. She was there for him all the time, and supported him in all his endeavors and stood solidly behind him through his days of trials and tribulations.
In addition, she helped him in his Panthak duties, such as daily preparation of Darun, Papri, Malido and Stum. On occasions of Navjotes and Weddings, she used to help Members with arrangement of Sesh. At the time of bereavement of any lady in the community, she helped in the Sachkar Ceremonies.
Bai Majijeh was also instrumental in the foundation and forming of The Deaf Aid Society of Bangalore in 1965, which established and run the first School for the Deaf in Bangalore.
Ruh-e-Manijeh Sarosh Yazad Panah Bad
May the sould of Majijeh be under the protection of Sarosh Yazad.
Dastur Nadirshah Pestonji Unvalla
Nadirshah’s parents had eight children 5 daughters and 3 sons. Nadirshah was the eldest son born at Nargol on 18th January 1917, Roj Avan Mah Amardad 1285 Y.Z. His Navjote was performed at the age of nine at Udvada. Soon thereafter his parents enrolled him at the Dadar Athornan Madressa so that he would become a full-fledged Mobed. He joined the Madressa in 1926 as a boarder and learnt the prayers (Yazashne, Visparad, Vendidad) Iranian History, the Avesta & Pahlavi languages.
He became a Naver in 1931 and completed the Maratab and Samel in 1932 (passing through this major test which involved considerable cross-examination by senior mobeds). Only after success in all this can a mobed perform the ‘boi’ and be declared fit by the Udvada Anjuman to perform the Boi ceremony of the Pak Iranshah Atashbehram. Subsequently, Nadirshah was admitted to the Cama Athornan Institute at Andheri in 1932 for further studies. Here he mastered advanced topics in Avesta, Pahlavi and Persian. In those years, this esteemed institute was run by the Principal Dr. Iruch J.S. Taraporewalla who had high hopes for Nadirshah’s progress.
But life took a different turn. Nadirshah’s father Pestonji Unvalla had a big family and was finding it difficult to support them. To save on the salary of an assistant mobed, he withdrew his son from the Institute in 1934 and asked him to assist in running the Panthak.
Heartfelt Devotion to Duty
From August 1934 Nadirshah has actively served the Bangalore Anjuman first as an Assistant Mobed, later as Mobed and then as Panthaki. In the mid–1990’s his frequent requests for retirement were consistently put aside! Finally in June 1996 he retired due to failing health and advanced age. His long, illustrious service of 62 years involved his performing all kinds of religious ceremonies and prayers initially under the guidance of his father.
Nadirshah always prays with meditation and deep thought invoking the blessings of Ahura Mazda, the Amesha Spentas and the Fravashis. His prayers have always been heartfelt and most efficacious. This is evident in the level of development and prosperity witnessed by the Parsi Community of Bangalore.
Later he started giving lectures on important occasions and at community gatherings to impart religious knowledge to the Parsees of Bangalore. Often he organized sessions to inform and educate Parsi children. Nadirshah having obtained the title of a full-fledged mobed performed numerous Yezashne and Vandidads in the Bangalore Agiary to the satisfaction of the Behdins.
During his tenure, the Tower of Silence was established in Bangalore involving much laborious work on the part of his father and great dedication on the part of the Trustees. The Dokhma of Bangalore is the last one built in India and was completed in 1940. There were many conflicts and much opposition to the Dokhma, legal cases too were fought in the Mysore Courts on that score. In all this, Nadirshah’s assistance to the Trustees and legal advisers proved invaluable. After the conflicts subsided, a compromise was reached, a formula was devised and a document was signed by both parties, which bore the signature of Nadirshah.
He was instrumental in the construction of The Lady Jehangir Kothari Memorial Hall Annexe. During his tenure the Bangalore Anjuman celebrated four jubilees of the Agiary – The Silver Jubilee in 1951, Golden in 1976, Diamond in 1986 and Platinum in 2001 each time he galvanized the community from far and near and raised large resources for the community’s benefit. Nadirshah worked closely with all the Trustees, Presidents and Secretaries for the benefit of the Community and always gave advice on religious matters staunchly upholding the faith at all times.
Many problems cropped up in the Bangalore Anjuman involving mixed marriages and Navjotes of the progeny of non-Parsi spouses. Many of these were often solved with his advice.
It was not always that the Parsis were friendly with the Panthaki and mobeds. Despite this, in almost all matters, they turned to Nadirshah for help and advice. They relied heavily on his balanced judgement and opinions.
Through it all Nadirshah kept persevering. During these sixty-two years he has performed over 200 Navjotes, over 100 marriages and over 400 deaths ceremonies in Bangalore. All these were conducted with dignity, sanctity and in the highest of Zoroastrian traditions.There are many cases where he has performed the Navjotes of boys and girls, who have grown up and got married. He has performed their marriage ceremonies and the Navjote of their children too.
Nadirshah has always looked at his calling in life as though through the most wide – angled of lenses. No request went unheard or unattended. He always strained himself to the utmost while performing his religious duties. Of course the liturgical ceremonies take up a large part of his day but despite that he has defined for himself a much larger role as is evident in his all-encompassing commitment to the community. He rushed to the bedside of those ill in hospital. He visits the older , infirm members of the community offering his support. More importantly they have found in him someone who truly cares for them. Many have acknowledged his invaluable assistance by bequeathing large sums to our Anjuman.
There are numerous episodes where he has taken on the mantle of friend, philosopher and guide to the entire Parsi Community. He has been at their service on a round-the-clock basis never thinking of himself even when exhausted after a long day’s work.
A Man of many Parts
Besides this Nadirshah has been a visionary in many ways, always maintaining contact and good relations with Governors, Chief Ministers, the Police and other branches of Administration in Bangalore. All this has proven invaluable to the community in its time of need. Whenever problems have arisen he has been able to use his good offices to help out expeditiously. All this has taken much doing and has often involved extreme exertion, much of it on his personal time, causing him to neglect his duties to his own wife and family!
Nadirshah in Iran
A group of Parsees went to Iran in 1970 in the reign of Shahpur Rezashah Pahlavi to celebrate the 2500th Anniversary of the Sovereignity of Cyrus the Great. 600 dignitaries from all over the world attended this august function, 300 of them came from India. Nadirshah was the only priest in attendance. This was truly a historic occasion for Nadirshah whose religious fervour is well-known through the length and breadth of our country.
To Nadirshah’s delight, he was requested by the Parsees to offer a ‘matchi’ at the Atash Behram at Yazd and at all the other Agiaries that were operational in Iran. When the group visited Pasargade he was requested to perform the jashan ceremony near the monument of Cyrus. What a great honour and privilege this was! This event was televised in Iran [many saw it in Shiraz]. Thereafter, Nadirshah travelled around Iran for 3 weeks absorbing the atmosphere, sights and sounds of our holy land. A few Bangalore Parsees accompanied him on this trip. They were Mr. Behramshaw Sidhwa, Mr. & Mrs. Rustomji Talati and Mr. Phiroze Palia.
Ervad Nadirshah P. Unvalla Performing Jashan Ceremony at Pasargade,
Iran, during the
The Atashbehram in Yazd.
Seen in the picture from left to right: Late Mr. Phiroze E. Palia, Late Mr. Rustomji P. Talati, Trustee of Yazd Atashbehram, Ervad Nadirshah P. Unvalla and Late Mr. Behramsha S. Sidhwa.
The Shephered Heeds his Flock
A listing of the sort of work he has done and challenges faced in the course of his ministering to the Parsee Anjuman are given here:
(1) Stopping of the Indian Airlines Plane to enable the coffin of a Parsi who passed away in Ooty, to be loaded for transport to Bombay.
(2) Helping Parsi Boys and elders in dealing with police when in trouble.
(3) Getting admission for Parsi boys and girls in reputed schools and colleges.
(4) Assisting the Parsi community in general at the time of accidental deaths.
(5) Mediating in family disputes and litigations to bring about a satisfactory compromise.
(6) Ministering to the old and infirm members of the community – even well after he himself suffered acute joint pain and needed a walking stick to move around.
(7) He used to extend his services as a priest to Parsis who were dangerously ill in hospital without accepting anything in cash or kind.
(8) He was the first High Priest to bless the President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, in Delhi.
(9) As the religious head of the Anjuman he has blessed nearly half a dozen Chief Ministers of Karnataka State - Devaraj Urs, Ramakrishna Hegde, Veerendra Patil, Veerappa Moily, H D Deve Gowda, S M Krishna. He has been invited by the Governors of Karnataka to participate in major functions held at the Raj Bhavan.
(10) During his long tenure many non-Zoroastrians from India and abroad visited him to know more about the Zoroastrian religion. He has spent hours imparting knowledge about our religion, its functioning and tenets willingly and in the broader interests of understanding and tolerance.
(11) When in 1943 the then Hon. Treasurer suddenly left Bangalore. Nadirshah looked after the duties of the Treaurer and even wrote the cash book and ledgers of the Anjuman till 1946 when another Treasurer was appointed. These ledgers are lying in the office cupboards for all to see.
All these services and many more were extended to the community. He is truly a leader of many parts and has proved himself a great source of support and guidance. For Nadirshah his priesthood is a holistic avocation not just a limited, narrow-minded job. He has been exceptional, even outstanding in the role God has charted out for him.
Stopping of an Indian Airlines Plane
A memorable episode in Nadirshah’s life as Panthaki of the Bangalore Anjuman involved stopping of an Indian Airlines Plane.
In October 1978, at the time of the Emergency (declared by Indira Gandhi) a group of Parsees from Navroz Bagh, Bombay came on a visit to Karnataka. They arrived by train in a reserved bogie and visited the Agiary at Bangalore before proceeding to Mysore and Ooty in several buses. They were on a sightseeing trip. Unfortunately one of the group, a Mrs. Dalal, expired at Ooty having suffered a heart attack.
The tour conductors obtained the death certificate and a necessary letter for the dean of the St. John’s Medical College & Hospital where a post mortem & embalming was to be undertaken. The body had to be sent for funeral rites to Bombay by air. In those days only one Indian Airlines flight a day operated on the Bangalore-Bombay sector. It arrived from Madras, halted briefly at Bangalore and proceeded onwards to Bombay. The departure time from the Bangalore HAL Airport was 12.30 p.m.
The conductor of the tour and four or five others brought the body in a van to Bangalore at 5.00 a.m. on Sunday morning and knocked at the Agiary gate. Nadirshah immediately opened the gate and inquired about the incident. He was told that the body had to be sent by air to Bombay urgently and requested him to keep the body in the Agiary compound as the plane was to depart only at 12.30 p.m. He advised them that a dead body cannot be brought into the Agiary compound and suggested they take it to the Tower of Silence and keep it there. Besides, the body had to be embalmed so the visitors showed him the letter they had brought addressed to the Dean of St. John’s Hospital. This hospital was rather far from the Agiary. So Nadirshah took them to St. Martha’s Hospital, where they were refused entry. Next they were taken to Victoria Hospital where the doctor was not available finally they took the body to St. John’s. (This episode is being narrated in detail to show how difficult it is to help stranded people and there were many, many over the years).
The Dean of the hospital sent them to the department where embalming was done. To their misfortunate, this being a Sunday, and no other bodies needing attention, the surgeon on duty had left the hospital. The dean was keen to help so he gave a quick note requesting the surgeon to come to the hospital urgently. They were given the address of the surgeon who was staying at the other end of Bangalore in Fraser Town. With great speed Nadirshah rushed the relatives from Koramangala to Fraser Town, found the surgeon, gave him the dean’s note and requested him to go to the hospital by auto-rickshaw. They were then asked to immediately procure a coffin, one bag of sawdust and 50 kilograms of ice. They collected these and made haste to the hospital. Nadirshah took Mr Savak Antia with him because his own small car could not reach quickly enough. Around 11.00 a.m. they reached the hospital and Nadirshah rushed to the department where the embalming was in progress. Mr Antia being nervous refused to enter the room. Nadirshah ventured forth in all earnestness but what a ghastly scene he witnessed! God forbid it should ever happen to a Parsi! He fervently prayed for the soul of the departed. The doctor while carrying on his work told Nadirshah that the coffin he had bought was rather small. Nadirshah asked if it was possible to fetch another given they were fighting against time. The hospital staff managed to fit the body into the coffin after all.
A strict set of rules needs adhering to, the coffin has to be hermitically sealed. Nadirshah and the relatives had taken a long piece of silk cloth, some nails and a hammer to nail down the coffin lid. Then putting the coffin into the van they hastened to the Airport. By now it was 11.30 a.m. the van followed the car up to Mahatma Gandhi Road then Nadirshah told the van driver to go to the airport by asking directions along the way. Nadirshah and Mr Antia sped onward in the Ambassador car to reach the airport earlier and started making arrangements. All along Mr Antia was most disheartening saying that the flight would surely be missed.
Before rushing to the hospital with the coffin Nadirshah had asked Mr Shereyar Vakil (who had been invited to his home for lunch that day) to immediately head to the airport and book five tickets for the relatives (at that time the airfare to Bombay was Rs.500/-). As soon as Nadirshah reached the airport he heard the sound of the aircraft starting. Simultaneously Mr Vakil met him and informed them that he had just given away the tickets as they had all reached very late and the plane was departing.
Dear friends, here Nadirshah’s ingenuity, influence and resourcefulness were all on trial. In those days there were no strict security regulations at airports as there are today. Nadirshah requested the aerodrome officer to stop the plane, he refused to interfere saying that the plane was about to move and was now entirely under the command of the pilot. Nadirshah jumped over the cordon and frantically signaled the pilot to stop the engine. He too refused and started moving the aircraft. Nadirshah kneeled in front of the plane and shouted and pleaded that the plane be stopped. After much persuasion the pilot stopped the aircraft from moving but did not shut off the engine. He told the aerodrome officer to load the body hurriedly.
After stopping the plane Nadirshah came out but the van had not yet arrived. They had to wait for some time before the van arrived. The coffin was immediately removed, weighed and loaded on to the plane. There was no time even to collect the weighment voucher. Again Nadirshah had to plead with the pilot to allow at least three of the relatives to travel along with the body. The pilot finally gave in to the request, charging the fare but saying there were no seats available and the passengers would have to stand in the aircraft all the way to Bombay!
Nadirshah and Mr Antia returned home at about 2.00 p.m. Nadirshah took a full bath with ‘Taro’ and water as he had entered the room of the hospital where the embalming was in progress. He then telephoned Mr Darvish who was in charge of the Doongarwadi at Bombay and told him to take charge of the body as it arrived at Bombay Airport. Finally the body was consigned to the Tower of Silence in Bombay at 5.30 p.m. after Sachkar and Gehsarna in the presence of the relatives of the deceased.
Mr Antia who was with Air India kept harping that by delaying the plane for nearly an hour (and that too, at a time when a National Emergency had been declared) the staff of the Bangalore Airport and the Pilot would lose their jobs. Next day Nadirshah wrote a polite letter to the Chairman & Managing Director of Indian Airlines explaining and apologizing for the delay caused by the above incident. Within a week he got a reply from the Indian Airlines Manager that – “It is our duty to help the people” Nadirshah hopes to remind our readers of the saying “Where there is a will there is a way”.
Conferring the title of Dasturji
Our Trustees and Members of Parsee Anjuman of Bangalore saw it fit to honour their stalwart Panthaki in 1996. This is their official citation:
Respected Dasturji Nadirshah Pestonji Unvalla,
THIS gathering of the Members of the Bangalore Parsee Zoroastrian Anjuman, offers its felicitations and presents this citation and casket to you with great joy and pride.
As you lay down your office as the Panthaki Saheb of the Bai Dhunbai & Seth Cawasji Dadabhoy Dar-e-Meher, we look back with deep sense of gratitude and satisfaction upon the meritorious service rendered by you over the last 62 years. This prompted the Anjuman to confer on you the title and status of Dasturji and we witness with pride your installation to this high office on this auspicious day Roj Behram, Mah Dae, Y.Z. 1365; Friday the 7th June 1996.
You joined our Dar-e-Meher in 1934 as the assistant priest under your late father Ervad Pestonji Unvalla, who was the then First Panthaki of our Dare-e-Meher; having discontinued your religious education, which started at the Dadar Athornan Madresa and later on at the Cama Athornan Institute. You qualified as a full fledged Yozdarthregar with the knowledge to perform sacred prayers of Yazashne, Visparad, Vendidad, besides studying the ancient language of Avesta, Pahelvi, Persian and Sanskrit under eminent scholars like Late Dr. Erach Taraporvala, Burjorji Bajan, Edulji Madan and others. You considered this as your sacred duty, sacrificing your studies and gave your full hearted support to your late father in carrying out the various religious ceremonies of oue Dar-eMeher.
On the demise of your father Pestonji you took over as the Panthaki Saheb in May 1965 and continued to give dedicated service ever since then.
During your 62 years of dedicated service, aside from your religious duties, you have been always available to the Anjuman on all occasions, be it one of sorrow or joy to render a word of sympathy or advice. You have been a guiding light to our members, drawing their attention towards their responsibility as true Zoroastrians, through your various lectures and talks. Your concern towards the good maintenance of our Dar-e-Meher and the welfare of your Assistant Mobeds is recognized and your leading role in raising funds for our Golden Jubilee in 1976 and the Diamond Jubilee in 1986 is recorded herewith the deep gratitude.
You have been a staunch orthodox Zoroastrian and have never compromised your views and principles, and at times even stood up to the anger and criticism of many a member, but in spite of that, your uprightness and honesty and equal treatment to one and all has won our highest respect. You have been a man of all seasons; the first to be beside the ill and infirm and also the first to give advice and guidance on happier occasions. You have also won the respect of the other communities of our City and State and have not lost an opportunity to spread the message of Lord Zarathustra.
You have been a great source of strength and inspiration to the Trustees and have extended your support in advising them on important issues as well as seeking favours from the Government for the benefit of our community in Bangalore. Your involvement in the Anjuman is so multifarious that it is difficult to record everything. However, the Anjuman looks forward to your continued guidance and assistance.
We also wish to record the support and encouragement given to you by your dear wife Manijeh, who has been your source of inspiration and strength. Your brother Jamshed and your sons have stood by you all these years and have rendered yeoman service whenever needed, for which we are ever grateful.
In conclusion it is our prayer that in the twilight of your life, the good Lord Ahura Mazda grant you good health, peace and prosperity with your dear family.
Respectively yours sincerely,
Kali Dinshawji Cawasji – President
Bahadur Jehangir Saher
Dinshaw Navalsha Billimoria
Jamshed Pestomji Unvalla
Cawasji Nussarwanji Dinshaw
Pheroze Burjorji Bharda
Dinshaw Kali Cawasji
Trustees – Bangalore Parsee Zoroastrian Anjuman
Presented on this day of Friday the 7th June 1996, Roj Behram, Mah Dae, Y.Z. 1365.
Dasturji. Nadirshah P. Unvalla being presented with a shawl, on his elevation to “Dastur”, by Ervad. Framroj Sidhwa,
The Secretary of the Udwada Anjuman. Also seen in the photograph is Late Mr. Kali D. Cawasji.
Over the years I kept good health, unlike my father who suffered a stroke and was bed-ridden for the last ten years of his life. I did have to contend with my share of aches and pains and even underwent a hip replacement operation. However, 12th November 2004 was the darkest day of my life.
On that day I had gone to the Agairy to pray for my lifelong friend, Mrs. Villamai Billimoria. My intention was to be present at her ‘masisah’ prayers. Unfortunately, on that day many ceremonies had to be performed, so I suggested that Jamshed Unvalla allow me to conduct these prayers. Around 20 people attended and we invoked God’s blessings for Villamai’s soul through heartfelt prayer. I finished the ceremony and was about to get up from my chair when my robe (jama) caught fire as it accidentally made contact with the ‘batti’. Within seconds I was engulfed in flames. The severity of the accident took everyone by surprise and it was a while before anyone could come to my help and douse the flames. It took over 5 minutes for the fire to be brought under control. By then my life had been severely endangered and I had been scarred for life.
Urgent calls were made to Dr. Merzy Marker who came within half an hour with an ambulance and rushed me to Jain Hospital. Dr. Deepak Shetty, a plastic surgeon and burns specialist was called in to handle my case. I was semi-unconscious through it all as the pain was excruciating. I thought my end was near and prayed to God to spare me this agony and take me away. But God willed otherwise. It was 2 weeks before I could make an effort to speak. Through all this, my sons Adil and Yezdi nursed me painstakingly. For the first few weeks they did not go to work but spent better parts of the day and night attending to me in my miserable condition. Every member of my family rallied around and did much to see me through. Manijeh and Kamal took great pains to send nourishing food for me and Aban helped in being by my side during the day and Neville helped me in bringing my dinner to the hospital. Community members and friends came by frequently. Dinshaw Cawasji was a strong source of comfort and support through it all.
(Nadirshah was incapacitated and in hospital for 5 ½ months. His medical expenses mounted beyond measure. The final tally was Rs. 5.5 lakhs. The Bangalore Parsees were shattered and many found it difficult to accept what had befallen their Dasturji. They not only came in droves to wish him speedy recovery but offered to donate generously towards meeting the costs involved. Eventually the entire bill was paid from their donations).