The saint

Berjis Desai

The process of the Roman Catholic Church for canonizing a saint is long and arduous. A person must be deemed a "servant of God” having "heroic virtue,” and at least two miracles must be attributed to him. By those standards, after Adarbaad Marespand (who remained unscathed after pouring molten fire on his chest); Mobed Nairyosang Dhaval (who dazzled the ruler of Sanjan by bringing the holy fire from the sky onto the fire altar) and Dastur Azar Kaiwan (a 16th century mystic in Patna before whom Emperor Akbar bowed), only one Zoroastrian has qualified for sainthood during the last 500 years.
Born in 1831, as Jamshed Sorab Kukadaru in Surat, he was posthumously titled ‘Dastur’ at his uthamna ceremony in Bombay in 1900 by the high priests. Today he is the only household name amongst devout Parsis, many of whom believe that just reverentially uttering "Dastur Jamshed Ervad Sorab” dispels gloom forthwith. His kind, bearded, bespectacled visage peers at one from every fire temple wall, and adorns every photo frame alongwith that of the Prophet and the legendary mystic king Shah-e-Faridoon.
One of the primary causes for Parsi indifference to their religion is the absence of devotional fervor. People are indifferent to solemn rituals, however uplifting. They want miracles and predictions to spice up the faith. Kukadaru almost single-handedly brings that color to the Zoroastrian faith. He also remains a living saint, 120 years after his death. Many swear that his divine presence, at a particular spot in the Anjumanna Atash Behram, can still palpably be felt. Not surprising, considering that his greatest claim to fame relates to this Atash Behram.

  Illustration by Farzana Cooper


Amidst great controversy, this was the last Atash Behram to be consecrated in India. Fund gathering was not an easy affair, since several prominent Parsis were vigorously opposed to it. As the building neared completion, there was a cash deficit of Rs 8,500 (present equivalent, around one-and-a-half crores) which was sought to be bridged by the organizers approaching the ageing Kukadaru who already had a formidable reputation in the community as a miracle man.
As head priest of the Kappawala Agiary at Tardeo for over four decades, Kukadaru was a simple, frugal priest with no means. "I only have this,” Kukadaru told the organizers, pointing to a large brick, "but come tomorrow and Ahura Mazda may be kind.” Twenty-four hours later, the befuddled organizers were given the brick wrapped in cloth, and instructed to sell it. When the cloth was untied, the brick, now of solid gold, fetched Rs 8,500. Acknowledged as one of the largest contributors, a hall in the Atash Behram bears Kukadaru’s name. The Church would have surely accepted this as Miracle No. 1.
Since times immemorial, mystical literature abounds in mention of alchemy, the art and science of transforming base matter into gold. Even for a noble cause, the alchemist has to pay a price for upsetting the balance of nature. Kukadaru, a highly gifted psychic, clairvoyant and astrologer, certainly knew the perils of alchemy. Yet he transformed the brick into gold. Within weeks, his young son perished after a mysterious fever.
Kukudaru led a life of penance and constant prayer. Food was a single meal of khichdi and ghee, heated in a vessel exposed to intense sunlight while reciting a potent Manthric prayer. A lifelong vegetarian and teetotaler, like his spiritual guru Dastur Azar Kaiwan (a Master from Daemavand Koh, according to the Ilm-e-Khshnoomists), Kukadaru himself drew water from the Agiary well and washed his own clothes. His handwritten letters, in the archives of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), establish his advanced knowledge of astrology. He had publicly predicted that Queen Victoria would die months after his own death. Prophecies unwittingly spewed from his mouth and invariably came true.
However, he was no stranger to controversy. On June 26, 1882, he performed the navjotes of 11 adults between the ages of 35 to 77, all impoverished workers in the Mazgaon Docks whose fathers were Parsis. The Mazgaon Navjotes have been quietly shelved by the ultra orthodox who otherwise lyrically worship Kukadaru. In the celebrated case of Petit vs Jeejeebhoy, the Mazgaon Navjotes were cited as evidence of universal acceptance in Zoroastrianism. Kukadaru engaged in theological discussions with Vedic scholars and Muslim pirs (the latter in the compound of the Bandra Jama Masjid).
It is on record that even a saint had to protest against the manner of the BPP’s working. Kukadaru, a Pahlavi scholar and a teacher at the athornan madressas, embarked upon the task of translating the Dinkard (ancient religious text) into Gujarati, and felt shortchanged by the BPP’s attitude in not supporting his venture.
Following his spiritual mentor, he too formulated nirangs (short potent prayers to bring relief during distress). Like the Gathas and other core Avestan prayers, nirangs are structured to produce vibrations and effects on different planes of existence, when correctly intoned with a pure mind. Shah-e-Faridoon’s longish nirangs to cure evil and illness contain powerful magical formulae like:
"Fe namé yazad, / bâ farmané yazad, / Bâ namé nik, / Faridoon-e-gaav dayé.”
Many decades after his transition, during the 1970s and 80s, Kukadaru began "communicating” to his devotees through his disciple, Ervad Nadarsha Aibara, himself a psychic since the age of seven. Like Joan of Arc, a voice spoke to Aibara. Finally, he had a live vision of Dasturji in the Sodawaterwala Agiary during daylight. No one doubted the sincerity and genuineness of Aibara, a pious priest with oodles of compassion. Aibara made the following prayer of Kukadaru famous:
"Ya noor-e-dastagir, ya dastagir-e-noor / Karam kar Karimar, / Raham karo Parvardigaar, / Madad Karo Ya Nabi / Zarthost tari Padshahi.”
The efficacy of these nirangs greatly depends upon correctly pronouncing the carefully arranged words. Kukadaru’s counsel was frequently sought whenever a difference arose on pronunciation or ritual purity or liturgical issues.
Like Francis Bacon, Dasturji Kukadaru was a man of many parts. Healer, astrologer, psychic, alchemist, scholar, writer, ritual priest and community activist. Above all, was his ability to constantly see Ahura Mazda in every living being. The Roman Catholic Church would have loved to expedite his sainthood. Berjis M. Desai is a lawyer in private practice and a part-time writer. He considers himself an unsuccessful community activist. The BPP did not care less.

This instalment brings to an end Desai’s current column "Unforgettable Bawas” that is now available as a book, The Bawaji: Chronicles of a Vanishing Community. His new column is expected to commence from January 7, 2020.