IRANI, DINSHAH JIJIBHOY

IRANI, DINSHAH JIJIBHOY (b. Bombay, 4 November 1881; d. Bombay, 3 November 1938; Figure 1), prominent member of the Zoroastrian community of Bombay. He was trained and worked as a professional lawyer, but at the same time he was also active as a philanthropist and scholar of Zoroastrianism and Persian literature. He became an important cultural intermediary between the Zoroastrian community of Bombay and the intellectual community of Iran during the 1920s and 1930s.

Family background and early life. Dinshah Irani was born to a family of Zoroastrians with relatively shallow roots in India. Unlike the already established Parsi community of western India, which dates its settlement in the subcontinent to the aftermath of the seventh-century Arab conquest of Iran (see PARSI COMMUNITIES i), Irani’s family settled in Bombay as part of a wave of migration that began during the eighteenth century (Šahmardān, pp. 495-97; Coyajee, p. vii). As social and economic conditions in the Iranian Zoroastrian towns of Kerman and Yazd deteriorated during this period, and as contact with Bombay’s more prosperous Zoroastrian community increased, significant numbers of Iranian Zoroastrians began to migrate to India (Amighi, pp. 127-37). The growth of their number gradually led these new Iranian Zoroastrian residents of Bombay to take on the family name “Irani” and become a discernable sub-community within the Parsi community of Bombay.

Irani’s family background can be traced to this history of migration. On the paternal side of his family, it was his grandfather, Bomes, who left his native Yazd in the mid-nineteenth century and set out for India with his son Jijibhoy. The maternal side of his family had roots in Bombay that extended to the late eighteenth century. His mother, Piroja Bānu, was purportedly the granddaughter of Golestān Bānu, who in the genealogical memory of the “Irani” community of Bombay is regarded as one of the original migrants of the late eighteenth century wave of Iranian Zoroastrian migration to India (K. D. Irani; Šahmardān, pp. 495-97). 

By the time of Dinshah Irani’s birth in 1881, the growth of Bombay as an important commercial port city had helped the Zoroastrian community to achieve significant prosperity. This era of prosperity produced not only wealthy Parsi commercial and industrial barons, but also a growing Parsi middle class. Irani’s education and early career was very much tied to the growth of Parsi middle class prosperity in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bombay. 

Education and career. Irani completed his undergraduate education at the University of Bombay’s Elphinstone College in 1901, with degrees of Bachelor of Arts in English and Persian literature. He excelled so rapidly in the study of classical Persian literature that he was appointed as a teaching fellow in Persian at St. Xavier’s College in Bombay the following year, where he began what was a promising, but soon abandoned, academic career. This early stage of his career resulted in the translation of a number of classical Persian literary works into English, including poems of Saʿdi and Ḥāfeẓ, as well as two significant prose works, namely Neẓām-al-Molk’s Siar al-moluk and Ḥosayn Wāʿeẓ Kāšefī’s Anwār-e sohayli

Irani, while pursuing his literary studies to the end his life, was also increasingly drawn toward a civic-minded career. To meet the demands of this public vocation, Irani turned towards the study of law. He completed his legal education with an LL.B. degree in 1904 and embarked on a successful legal career, working primarily as a tax attorney representing the Parsi commercial firms of Bombay (Coyajee, pp. ii; Šahmardān, p. 490). However, he did not let his involvement in legal work prevent him from pursuing his literary and scholarly interests. He studied Avestan and Pahlavi at the Jamshedji Jijibhoy Madresa of Bombay, where he came into contact with the tradition of modern Parsi academic scholarship, in particular the renowned scholar Kharshedji Rustomji Cama (Irani, 1922, p. 1). It was through this influence that Irani began the serious study of Zoroastrianism and became a participant in the modern Parsi reinterpretation of the Zoroastrian tradition. He became an active member of Zoroastrian reform societies such as the “Gāthā Society,” the “Rahnumae Mazdayasnan Sabha,” and the “Faṣli Calendar Reform Movement” (Ringer, pp. 161-62; see CALENDARS iv). 

These reformist and civic interests also led him to co-found two organizations that would come to play important roles in reaching out to the Zoroastrian community of Iran and to the larger intellectual currents inside Iran in the 1920s and 1930s, namely, the Iranian Zoroastrian Anjoman (est. 1918) and the Iran League (est. 1922) in Bombay (Šahmardān, p. 492). Similar to the mission of their nineteenth-century predecessor, the Persian Zoroastrian Amelioration Society (see CHARITABLE FOUNDATIONS ii), the mission of these two organizations was to improve the social and economic conditions of Zoroastrians in Kerman and Yazd, as well as to facilitate the assimilation of newly arrived Iranian Zoroastrians in Bombay. As the co-founder and co-president of the Iran League and the Iranian Zoroastrian Anjoman, Irani raised money for the building of schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other Zoroastrian civic institutions (Ringer, pp. 161-62). 

Intellectual colaboration with Ebrāhim Purdāwud. Irani’s civic activism and literary pursuits ultimately came to coincide through his extensive intellectual collaboration with the Iranian scholar Ebrāhim Purdāwud (1885-1968; Figure 2; see  HISTORIOGRAPHY ix). This intellectual partnership led to the publication of a series of seminal texts in the twentieth-century revival of Iranian antiquity. As the president of the Iran League, Irani invited Purdāwud to Bombay in 1924 in order to engage with the Parsi academic community (Moʿin, pp. 21-29; Masani, pp. 13-15; Hinnells, pp. 79-80). Purdāwud’s already established reputation as a scholar of Avestan and Pahlavi, and his talent as a poet of the Persian language, inspired Irani to recruit him to the cause of translating the Zoroastrian scriptures into New Persian. By the 1920s, the translation of the Zoroastrian scriptures into New Persian had become an increasing preoccupation for Irani and the Parsi community. When Irani discovered that Purdāwud had not only acquired the necessary linguistic skills, but was also an accomplished poet, he realized that Purdāwud would be the ideal translator to make these texts accessible to modern Iranian readers. As a result, Irani and the Iran League recruited Purdāwud and sponsored his three-year stay in India, during which this translation project began. 

The partnership led to the publication of the first editions of the Zoroastrian scriptures rendered in New Persian, initially with the publication of the Gāthā in 1927, accompanied by extensive commentaries provided by Purdāwud. In addition to the Gāthā, the two also collaborated in the publication of a series of other texts. Between 1925 and 1938, the two worked together to edit, write, translate, and solicit funds for the publication of additional texts, including Yašthā, Yasnā, Ḵorda Avesta, Purāndoḵt-nāma, Irānšāh, Aḵlāq-e Irān-e bāstān, Falsafa-ye Irān-e bāstān, Payk-e mazdayasnān, Bist maqāla-ye Qazvini, Ḵorramšāh, and others. All of these books were published in Persian, through the financial sponsorship of the Bombay-based Parsi associations, and they were exported to Iran with the intention of inspiring a renewed interest in Iran’s national history, culture, and literature. 

Later work. Dinshah Irani traveled to Iran on two occasions, initially in 1924 (Masani, pp. 13-15), and again in 1932, accompanying the Nobel laureate philosopher-poet, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who was invited by the state for a four-week tour of the country. Irani had been instrumental in organizing Tagore’s visit to Iran (Marashi, pp. 52; Figure 3); the two had already collaborated on Irani’s widely circulating English-language translation of selections from the Gāthās titled Divine Songs of Zarathustra. During the 1932 visit to Iran, Reżā Shah awarded Irani the Nešān-e ʿelmi (Medal of science) of the first order, in recognition of his services to Iranian culture and literature (Coyajee, pp. iv-v). Irani was once again invited by the state to visit Iran and participate in the 1934 Ferdowsi millennium celebration (jašn-e hazāra-ye Ferdowsi), but his declining health prevented him from making the journey. 

Despite the onset of poor health, Irani still managed to publish his last major work, Poets of the Pahlavi Regime, in 1933. This monumental work is an eclectic, bilingual English-Persian anthology of early twentieth-century Persian poetry; it includes poems that were carefully selected by Irani to reflect the political, cultural, and literary transformations that were characteristic of Iran’s post-constitutional era. Irani had collected the poems through the extensive written correspondence that he had maintained for many years with Iranian poets, writers, and intellectuals. This correspondence does not appear to have survived, but it is clear that Irani maintained regular contact with many of the major literary and scholarly figures of his era, including Saʿid Nafisi, Maḥmud Afšār, Āref Qazvini, Moḥammad Qazvini, Moḥammad-ʿAli Jamālzāda, Ḥosayn Ḳāẓemzāda Irānšahr, Moḥammad-Taqi Bahār, Ṣādeq Hedāyat, Rašid Yāsami, Ṣādeq Reżāzāda Šafaq, and many others (Irani, Poets, pp. v-viii).

Irani died of kidney disease in 1938. He was eulogized by friends and colleagues in both India and Iran (Andiša-ye mā, pp. 4). A memorial service was held in his honor in Tehran at the Firuz Bahrām Zoroastrian School, which drew the attendance of many Iranian scholars, literary figures, and dignitaries (“Dinshah Irani Obituary”). In India a memorial fund was established in his name to perpetuate his legacy of Indian and Iranian intellectual collaboration. The first publication sponsored by this fund was the Dinshah Irani Memorial Volume (Bombay, 1943). This bilingual English-Persian volume included articles from major intellectual figures of India and Iran during the 1920s and 1930s. Today the volume stands as a major source for the intellectual history of Iran and India during this period.

Bibliography:  

Works.

Gems from the Divine Songs of Zoroaster, Bombay, 1922.

The Divine Songs of Zarathustra, New York, 1924.

Payk-e Mazdayasnān, tr. Ebrāhim Purdāwud, Bombay, 1927.

Aḵlāq-e Irān-e bāstān, tr. ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Sepantā, Bombay, 1930. 

Poets of the Pahlavi Regime: soḵanvarān-e dawrān-e Pahlavi, Bombay, 1933.

Falsafa-ye Irān-e Bāstān, tr. ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Sepantā, Bombay, 1933. 

“Firdaisi: A Lecture at the Rotary Club on 9th October, 1934,” in H. T. Ankelsaria, ed., Firdausi: A Monograph in English and Persian, Bombay, 1934, pp. 38-47. 

The Path to Happiness, Or, The Ethical Teachings of Zoroaster, Bombay, 1934.

Our Beautiful Navjote Ceremony, Bombay, 1939.

Understanding the Gathas, The Hymns of Zarathustra: Introductory Lectures on Gathic Themes, ed. Kaikhosrov D. Irani, Womelsdorf, Penn., 1994.

Edited and translated:

Montaḵabāt-i az divān-e Āref Qazvini: The Poems of Aref Qazvini, With English Translation and Introduction, Bombay, 1933.

With Kudabaksh Bahram Irani: Sa’adi’s Badaye, Odes 1-60: With Persian Text, Full Translation, Exhaustive Introduction and Complete Notes, Bombay, 1913.

Sa’adi’s Qasayed-i Farsiye: With Persian Text, Full Translation, Exhaustive Introduction and Complete Notes, Bombay, 1914.

Translation of Nizam-ul-Mulk’s Siasat-name, Bombay, 1916.

Hafez Odes 1-75, Bombay, 1917; rev. 2nd ed., 1925. 

Anwār-e Sohayli of Wāʿeẓ Kāšefi, ed. and tr., as Full Translation and Explanation of Anwar-e-Sohaili, chapters II and III, Bombay, 1917.

In collaboration with Ebrāhim Purdāwud: 

Gāthā: Sorudhā-ye Zartošt, tr. Ebrāhim Purdāwud, Eng. section by Dinshah Irani, Bombay, 1927.

Yašthā, tr. Ebrāhim Purdāwud, Eng. section by Dinshah Irani, 2 vols., Bombay, 1928-31.

Ebrāhim Purdāwud, Purāndoḵt-nāma: Divan-e Purdāwud, with Eng. tr. by Dinshah Irani, Bombay, 1928.

Moḥammad Qazvini, Bist maqāla-ye Qazvini, ed., Ebrāhim Purdāwud, with an Eng. Preface by Dinshah Irani, Bombay, 1928.

Studies.

Janet Kestenberg Amighi, The Zoroastrians of Iran: Conversion, Assimilation, or Persistence, New York, 1990, pp. 129-37. 

Sir Jehangir C. Coyajee, “A Brief Life-Sketch of the Late Mr. Dinshah Irani,” in Jahangir Coyajee et. al,. eds., Dinshah Irani Memoral Volume: Papers on Zoroastrianims and Iranian Subjects, Bombay, 1943, pp. i-xiii.

“Dinshah Irani Obituary,” Iran League Quarterly 9/1, 1938, p. 1. 

John R. Hinnells, The Zoroastrian Diaspora: Religion and Migration, Oxford, 2005, pp. 79-80.

Kaikhosrov D. Irani, “Dinshah J. Irani, 1881-1938,” http://www.zarathushtra.com/z/gatha/dji/dinshah.htm, accessed 1 December 2012.

Afshin Marashi, “Imagining Hafez: Rabindranath Tagore in Iran, 1932,” Journal of Persianate Studies 3/1, 2010, pp. 46-77.

Moḥammad Moʿin, “Purdāwud wa Pārsiān,” in idem, ed., Yād-nāma-ye Purdāwud I, Tehran, 1946, pp. 22-29. 

Rustom Masani et. al., eds., Poure Davoud Memorial Volume II: Papers on Zoroastrian and Iranian Subjects, Bombay, 1951, pp. 13-15.

Monica Ringer, Pious Citizens: Reforming Zoroastrianism in India and Iran, Syracuse, 2011, pp. 161-62.

 “Šādravān Dinšāh Irāni,” Andiša-ye mā 1/5, 1946, pp. 4-6.

Rašid Šahmardān, Farzanagān-e zartošti, Tehran, 1961, pp. 490-99.

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Archived version of the EIr. printed edition

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(Afshin Marashi)

Cite this article:

Afshin Marashi, "IRANI, DINSHAH JIJIBHOY," Encyclopædia Iranicaonline edition, 2015, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/irani-dinshah (accessed on 28 January 2015).