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Patron and Patriot: Dinshah J. Irani and the Revival of Indo-Iranian Culture

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022

Afshin Marashi*
University of Oklahoma


This article examines the life and work of Dinshah Irani, a prominent Parsi scholar, lawyer and philanthropist who was a key intellectual intermediary between the Parsi community of Bombay and the intellectual community of Iranian nationalists during the 1920s and 1930s. The article details the role played by Irani in patronizing the publication of Zoroastrian-themed printed works in Bombay that were intended for export to the reading market in Iran. By focusing on the life and work of Dinshah Irani, the article details the important role the Parsi community of Bombay played in the revival of Iranian antiquity during the early twentieth century. The article also highlights the transnational cultural and intellectual history of Iranian nationalism during the Reza Shah period.

Research Article
Copyright © The International Society for Iranian Studies 2013

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I would like to thank Kathleen Kelly, Houchang Chehabi, Dinyar Patel and Nawaz Mody for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. I would also like to thank Kaikhosrov D. Irani for sharing with me reminiscences of his father.


1 Biographical information for Dinshah Irani can be found in the following sources: Coyajee, Jehangir C. Sir, “A Brief Life-Sketch of the Late Mr. Dinshah Irani,Dinshah Irani Memorial Volume: Papers on Zoroastrian and Iranian Subjects, ed. Coyajee, Jahangir et al. (Bombay, 1943), ixiiiGoogle Scholar; Shahmardan, Rashid, Farzanegan-e Zartoshti (Tehran, 1961), 490–99Google Scholar; Shadravan Dinshah Irani,Andisheh-ye Ma 1, no. 5 (1946): 46Google Scholar; Kaikhosrov D. Irani, “Dinshah J. Irani, 1881–1938,” (accessed 21 November 2011); Kaikhusroo M. Jamaspasa, “Dinshah Jijibhoy Irani,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online version: (accessed 21 November 2011).

2 Coyajee, “A Brief Life-Sketch,” xiii.

3 For the Zoroastrian charitable foundations in Bombay see Dobbin, Christine, “The Parsi Panchayat in Bombay City in the Nineteenth Century,Modern Asian Studies 4, no. 2 (1970): 149–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hinnells, John R., “The Flowering of Zoroastrian Benevolence: Parsi Charities in the 19th and 20th Centuries,Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce, ed. Duchesne-Guillemin, Jacques and Boyce, Mary, (Leiden, 1985), 1: 282–86.Google Scholar On the history of the Iran League I am grateful to Dinyar Patel for sharing with me his unpublished paper, Dinyar Patel, “The Iran League of Bombay: Parsis, Iran, and the Appeal of Iranian Nationalism” (Harvard University, 2008).

4 Iran League Quarterly 9, no. 1 (1938): 1.Google Scholar

5 Coyajee, “A Brief Life-Sketch,” xiii.

6 The Firuz Bahram School was itself built with funds donated by Parsi benefactors. See Shahrokh, Keikhosrow, The Memoirs of Keikhosrow Shahrokh (Lewiston, NY, 1994), 23.Google Scholar

7 Iran League Quarterly 9, no. 2 (1939): 9798.Google Scholar

8 Ringer, Monica, “Reform Transplanted: Parsi Agents of Change amongst Zoroastrians in Nineteenth-Century Iran,Iranian Studies 42 (2009), no. 4: 549–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ringer, Monica, Pious Citizens: Reforming Zoroastrianism in India and Iran (Syracuse, NY, 2011).Google Scholar

9 Tavakoli-Targhi, Mohamad, Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and Historiography (New York, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 For the revival of antiquity and official nationalism in the Reza Shah period see Marashi, Afshin, Nationalizing Iran: Culture, Power, and the State, 1870–1940 (Seattle, 2008).Google Scholar

11 Green, Nile, Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840–1915 (Cambridge, 2011).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 Ibid., 125.

13 Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities (London 1991), 4246.Google Scholar

14 Shahmardan, Farzanegan-e Zartoshti, 498.

15 The total population of Parsis in Bombay, according to the 1872 census, was 44,091, or 6.8 percent of the urban population. See Dobbin, “The Parsi Panchayat,”157. The exact number of “Iranis” is difficult to estimate but likely numbered a few thousand. On Iranian migration to India more generally in the nineteenth century see Hinnells, John R., The Zoroastrian Diaspora: Religion and Migration (Oxford, 2005), 7981CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Amighi, Janet Kestenberg, The Zoroastrians of Iran: Conversion, Assimilation, or Persistence (New York, 1990), 129–37.Google Scholar For a firsthand account of Iranians in nineteenth century Bombay see Safarnameh-ye Haji Muhammad ‘Ali Pirzadeh, ed. Farmanfarmaian, Hafez (Tehran, 1963), 1: 130–33.Google Scholar

16 For the role of the Parsis in the commercial history of Bombay see Dobbin, Christine, “Bombay: Parsi–British Affinity 1661–1940,” in Dobbin, , ed., Asian Entrepreneurial Minorities: Conjoint Communities in the Making of the World-Economy, 1570–1940 (Richmond, Surrey, 1996), 77104.Google Scholar

17 Menant, Delphine, Les Parsis: Histoire des Communautés Zoroastriennes de l'Inde (Paris, 1898), 427–28Google Scholar; Edwardes, S.M., Memoir of Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit, First Baronet (Oxford, 1923), 511.Google Scholar

18 Palsetia, Jesse S., The Parsis of India: Preservation of Identity in Bombay City (Leiden, 2001), 169–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kulke, Eckehard, The Parsees in India: A Minority as Agent of Change (München, 1974), 142–43Google Scholar; Menant, Les Parsis, 44–45.

19 The “Irani” community of Bombay even developed its own migration narrative reminiscent of the Qesseh-ye Sanjan, in which a Kermani Zoroastrian, Kaikhosrow Yazdyar, fled to India with his daughter “Golestan Banu” in the late eighteenth century, who in turn became the founder of the “Irani” community in Bombay. This narrative of “Irani” origins in Bombay came to circulate increasingly from the mid-nineteenth century onwards and may have first found its way into written form in Manekji Limji Hataria's account of his first decade in Iran, written in 1863. See Boyce, Mary, Zoroastrians: Their Beliefs and Practices (London, 1979), 209–12Google Scholar; see also Boyce, Mary, “Manekji Limji Hataria in Iran,K.R. Cama Oriental Institute Golden Jubilee Volume (Bombay, 1969), 20.Google Scholar On the travels of Manekji Limji see also Zia-Ebrahimi, Reza, “An Emissary of the Golden Age: Manekji Limji Hataria and the Charisma of the Archaic in Pre-Nationalist Iran,Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 10, no. 3 (2010): 377–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar For the “Irani” migration narrative see also Shahmardan, Farzanegan, 495–498; Coyajee, “A Brief Life-Sketch,” vii–viii.

20 Irani, “Dinshah J. Irani, 1881–1938”; Jamaspasa, “Dinshah Jijibhoy Irani.” For the importance of Elphinstone College in nineteenth century Bombay see Boyce, Zoroastrians, 196.

21 The gradual decline of Persian as both a vernacular and administrative language began after the 1835 English Education Act, which made English the administrative language of India and the language of instruction in Indian schools. Persian gradually became a literary language studied by “academic specialists” like Dinshah Irani; see Alam, Muzaffar, “The Culture and Politics of Persian in Precolonial Hindustan,” in Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, ed. Pollack, Sheldon (Berkeley, CA, 2003), 188–89.Google Scholar

22 The texts include: Saadi's Odes 1–60: With Persian Text, Full Translation, Exhaustive Introduction and Complete Notes, ed. and trans. Irani, K.B. and Irani, D.J. (Bombay, 1913)Google Scholar; Saadi's Qasayed-i Farsiye: With Persian Text, Full Translation, Exhaustive Introduction and Complete Notes, trans. Irani, K.B. and Irani, D.J. (Bombay, 1914)Google Scholar; Translation of Nizam-ul-Mulk's Siasat-nameh, ed. and trans. Irani, K.B. and Irani, D.J. (Bombay, 1916)Google Scholar; Hafez Odes 1–75, ed. and trans. Irani, K.B. and Irani, D.J. (Bombay, 1917 [rev. 2nd ed., 1925])Google Scholar; Full Translation and Explanation of Anwar-e-Sohaili, chapters II and III, ed. and trans. Irani, K.B. and Irani, D.J. (Bombay, 1917).Google Scholar

23 For the history of this important Parsi institution see A Short History of the Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy Zarthoshti Madressa,” in Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy Madressa Jubilee Volume, ed. Modi, Jivanji Jamshedji (Bombay, 1914), 477–83.Google Scholar

24 For the role of K.R. Cama at the J.J. Zartoshi Madressa see Modi, “A Short History,” 480–481; Kapadia, Dinshah, “Renaissance of Zoroastrian Studies Among the Parsis,” in Sir J.J. Zarthoshti Madressa Centenary Volume (Bombay, 1967), viixviGoogle Scholar. See also James Russell, “Kharshedji Rustamh Cama,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online version: (accessed 30 November 2011).

25 Irani, D.J., Gems from the Divine Songs of Zoroaster (Bombay, 1922), i.Google Scholar

26 Coyajee, “A Brief Life-Sketch,” iii. For these reform groups see Boyce, Zoroastrians, 200; Ringer, Pious Citizens, 72–74, 112–14.

27 Irani, Gems, ii–iii. Two years later in 1924 Irani published another edition of this work for a wider English reading audience in Europe and North America, complete with an introduction by the now internationally famous Indian poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, as Divine Songs of Zarathustra (New York, 1924).Google Scholar Irani experimented with other simplified English translations of the hymns for the remainder of his life. An additional collection of previously unpublished translations were published posthumously in 1999, edited by his son as The Gathas: The Hymns of Zarathustra, trans. Irani, D.J., ed. and intro. Irani, K.D. (Bombay, 1999).Google Scholar

28 Irani, Gems, ii–iii.

29 Ibid.

30 On ‘Eshqi's Rastakhiz see Chehabi, H.E., “From Revolutionary Tasnif to Patriotic Sorud: Music and Nation-Building in Pre-World War II Iran,Iran XXXVII (1999): 145.Google Scholar Chehabi calls the “operetta” more correctly a singspiel. For the importance of ‘Eshqi in the context of Iran's literary modernity see Karimi-Hakkak, Ahmad, Recasting Persian Poetry: Scenarios of Poetic Modernity in Iran (Salt Lake City, 1995), 211–12.Google Scholar For ‘Eshqi and nationalism see Reza Zia-Ebrahimi, “The Emergence of Iranian Nationalism: Modernity and the Politics of Dislocation, 1860–1940” (DPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 2011), 210–13. ‘Eshqi's operetta is also reminiscent of Ernest Renan's “Prière sur l'Acropole” (1865).

31 Ishqi, Syed Mirzadeh, Rastakhiz, trans. Taraporewala, Irach J.S. (Calcutta, 1924), 114Google Scholar; Moshir-Salimi, Ali-Akbar, Kolliyat-e Mosavvar-e Mirzadeh ‘Eshqi (Tehran, 1978), 232–41.Google Scholar

32 Ishqi, Rastakhiz, 13; Moshir-Salimi, Kolliyat, 239.

33 Ishqi, Rastakhiz, 13; Moshir-Salimi, Kolliyat, 239.

34 ‘Eshqi's poem came to the attention of Irani through the notice it received in Persian-language periodicals of the time. On this issue see Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, “Mohammad-Reza Mirzada Esqi,” Encyclopedia Iranica, online version: (accessed 7 December 2011); Moshir-Salimi, Kolliyat, 5; Hashemi, Mohammad Sadr, Tarikh-e Jara'ed va Majallat-e Iran (Isfahan, 1985), 4: 105108.Google Scholar

35 The original 1924 edition of this translation does not appear to be extant. Irani's original English translation of the “Resurrection of the Sovereigns of Iran in the Ruins of Madayen” was reprinted, however, in his Poets of the Pahlavi Regime (Bombay, 1933), 465–83.Google Scholar

36 Irach Taraporewala (1884–1956) was a prolific scholar of Zoroastrianism whose life and work in some ways parallel to that of Dinshah Irani. His monumental 1,100-page free English translation and commentary of the Gathas, published in 1951, was the culmination of Irani's own efforts in making the Gathas available in a readable, yet critical, edition. See Taraporewala, Irach J.S., The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra: A Philological Study of the Gathas of Zarathushtra Containing the Text with Literal Translation into English, a Free English Rendering and Full Critical and Grammatical Notes (Bombay, 1951).Google Scholar

37 The Calcutta Review began publication in 1844 and became a major English-language periodical in colonial India. After 1920 it was published by the University of Calcutta and became a popular monthly. See, “The Calcutta Review,” University of Calcutta Publications, online: (accessed 7 December 2011).

38 Ishqi, Rastakhiz, 2.

39 Ibid., 1–2.

40 For the life and work of Ebrahim Purdavud see Yadnameh-ye Purdavud, ed. Mo'in, Mohammad (Tehran, 1946), 199Google Scholar; Mostafavi, Ali Asghar, Zaman va Zendegi-ye Ostad Purdavud (Tehran, 1992)Google Scholar; Nikuyeh, Mahmud, Purdavud Pazhuhandeh-ye Ruzegar-e Nokhost (Rasht, 1999).Google Scholar

41 For a bibliography of Purdavud's work see, Mostafavi, Zaman, 387–463; Nikuyeh, Purdavud, 65–95.

42 An important exception is Patel, “The Iran League,” 17.

43 Hinnells, The Zoroastrian Diaspora, 80. Purdavud first came into contact with Parsis during his time in Europe before the First World War. These early contacts included Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama, the daughter-in-law of K.R. Cama, whom Purdavud met in Paris sometime around 1914. For the life of Bhikhaiji Cama see Mody, Nawaz B., “Madame Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama: Sentinel of Liberty,” in The Parsis in Western India: 1818–1920, ed. Mody, Nawaz B. (Bombay, 1998), 4679Google Scholar; Tarapore, Jamshed, “Professor Poure Davoud: A Sketch of His Life and Activities,” in Poure Davoud Memorial Volume No. II (Bombay, 1951), 2.Google Scholar Purdavud's connection to Dinshah Irani was facilitated by their mutual friend Muhammad Qazvini; see Tarapore, “Professor Poure Davoud,” 14; Dehbashi, ‘Ali, ed., Yadnameh-ye ‘Alameh Mohammad Qazvini (Tehran, 1999), 348.Google Scholar

44 Hinnells, “Flowering of Zoroastrian Benevolence,” 283.

45 Purdavud, Ebrahim, Iranshah: Tarikhcheh-ye Mohajerat-e Zartoshtian be Hendustan (Bombay, 1926).Google Scholar

46 Ibid., dedication.

47 Ibid., 26.

48 Ibid., 1.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid., 2.

51 Ibid., 2.

52 For a critical analysis of this text see Williams, Alan, The Zoroastrian Myth of Migration from Iran and Settlement in the Indian Diaspora (Leiden, 2009).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

53 Purdavud, Iranshah, 22.

54 Ibid., 4–5.

55 For the larger context of the discovery of Zoroastrian in Iranian nationalism see also, Ringer, Pious Citizens, 163–83.

56 Purdavud, Iranshah, appendix, photos 5–57. For the architectural and aesthetic exchange between Iran and the Parsis see Talinn Grigor, “Parsi Patronage of the Urheimat,” Getty Research Journal no. 2 (2010): 53–68.

57 Irani, Dinshah, Peyk-e Mazdayasnan (Bombay, 1927).Google Scholar

58 Ibid., preface.

59 Ibid., 8.

60 Ibid., 8–9.

61 Boyce, Zoroastrians, 190–91; the shifts in the balance of religious authority between Iranian Zoroastrians and Parsis began as early as the eighteenth century. On this issue see also Ringer, Pious Citizens, 143–47.

62 Irani, Peyk-e Mazdayasnan, 8–9.

63 Ibid., 11.

64 Ibid., 12.

65 Ibid.

66 Another scholarly collaboration between Irani and Purdavud from this period was the publication, edited by Purdavud, and with an English-language introduction by Irani, of Qazvini's, Mohammad, Bist Maqaleh-ye Qazvini (Bombay, 1928)Google Scholar. This publication was also published under the auspices of the Iran League and Iranian Zoroastrian Anjoman of Bombay.

67 Purdavud, Ebrahim, Khorramshah: Konfransha-ye Purdavud dar Hendustan (Bombay, 1927)Google Scholar. As Purdavud notes for his Iranian readers, these short essays were also translated into Gujarati and published in popular Bombay periodicals.

68 Irani, Dinshah, Akhlaq-e Iran-e Bastan (Bombay, 1930).Google Scholar A second edition was published in Tehran in 1932 because the first edition had sold out quickly. See Andisheh-ye Ma, 5.

69 Irani, Dinshah, Falsafeh-ye Iran-e Bastan (Bombay, 1933).Google Scholar Abdolhoseyn Sepanta, the pioneer Iranian filmmaker and resident of Bombay, contributed to the translation. Irani explains that he wrote the Falsafeh as a sequel to the Akhlaq because of “the welcome given to my last book” (Akhlaq-e Iran-e Bastan), see Irani, Falsafeh, preface.

70 Irani, Peyk, 13. The idea of translating the Avestan texts into Persian was also suggested by Ardeshir Reporter (1865–1934), a successor to Manakji Limji Hataria as the Parsi emissary to Iranian Zoroastrians. See Shahmardan, Farzanegan, 363. Kaikhosrow Shahrokh had also suggested a Persian translation of the Avesta, into “pure Persian.” See Shahrokh, Memoirs, 32.

71 Purdavud, E., trans., Gatha: Sorudha-ye Moqadas-e Peyghambar-e Iran (Bombay, 1927)Google Scholar; Purdavud, E., trans., Yashtha: Qesmati az Ketab-e Moqadas-e Avesta (Bombay, 1928).Google Scholar

72 Coyajee, “A Brief Life-Sketch,” i–ii. Coyajee states that Irani personally donated 10,000 rupees of his own money towards the publishing costs of Purdavud's translations. Additional funds were procured from Seth Pestonji Dossbhoy Marker and published under the joint auspices of the Iran League and Iranian Zoroastrian Anjoman as the “P.D. Marker Avestan Series.”

73 Purdavud, Yashtha, II, 24.

74 Ibid.

75 Andisheh-ye Ma, 6.

76 In addition to Purdavud, Irani was in contact with other Iranians who made their way to Bombay, including Sadeq Hedayat. Hedayat mentions brief contacts with Irani in a letter from Bombay to Mojtaba Minovi, dated 2 December 1937. See Katira'I, Mahmud, ed., Ketab-e Sadeq Hedayat (Tehran, 1970), 124–29.Google Scholar For Hedayat's time in India see, Katouzian, Homa, Sadeq Hedayat: The Life and Legend of an Iranian Writer (London, 2002), 5862.Google Scholar Irani was also a collaborator of Abdolhoseyn Sepanta, the pioneer Iranian filmmaker, who also resided in Bombay during this period and worked closely with Irani as a researcher and translator. For Sepanta and Irani, see Naficy, Hamid, A Social History of Iranian Cinema, Volume 1: The Artisanal Era, 1897–1941 (Durham, NC, 2011), 232.Google Scholar Irani also mentions contact with Mahmud Afshar, who had come to Bombay in 1929 for medical treatment; see reference in Irani, Dinshah, “The Renaissance of Persian Poetry,Dr. Modi Memorial Volume, ed. Sanjana, Darab Peshotan et al. (Bombay, 1930), 363.Google Scholar

77 Irani, Dinshah J., Poets of the Pahlavi Regime (Bombay, 1933).Google Scholar

78 Irani, Poets, v.

79 Ibid., 124.

80 Irani states that Abdolhoseyn Sepanta helped with the acquisition and selection of the poems and K.B. Irani helped with the English translations.

81 Irani, Poets, 138–39.

82 Irani's anthology was not the only collection of modern Iranian-Persian poetry to appear in India. Mohammad Eshaq, of the University of Calcutta, also produced an anthology: Sokhanvaran-e Iran dar ‘Asr-e Hazer (Calcutta, 1937).Google Scholar

83 Two further collections of translations by Irani also contributed to this cultural traffic into India. They were the English translations of Ebrahim Purdavud's Purandokht Nameh, published in English as Pure-Davoud, Ibrahim, Pouran-Dokht-Nameh: The Poems of Poure-Davoud, trans. Irani, D.J. (Bombay, 1928)Google Scholar; Qazvini, Aref, The Poems of Aref: With English Translation and Introduction by Dinshah J. Irani (Bombay, 1933).Google Scholar Both of these texts, like the Poets of the Pahlavi Regime anthology, were published under the auspices of a new Parsi publication fund, the Pestonji D. Patel Memorial Iranian Series, for the purpose of publishing works that “promote the studies in the History, Literature and Philosophy of Ancient and Modern Iran.”

84 For Tagore's visit to Iran see Marashi, Afshin, “Imagining Hafez: Rabindranath Tagore in Iran, 1932,Journal of Persianate Studies 3, no. 1 (2010): 4677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

85 Reporter, Ardeshir, “Persia's Re-Iranization,Iran League Quarterly 2, no. 2–3 (January–April 1932): 157.Google Scholar

86 Ibid.

87 Irani, Dinshah, “Regenerated Iran,Iran League Quarterly 2, no. 4 (July 1932): 191.Google Scholar Pathawala is also famous for producing oil paintings that have become some of the defining visual representations of Zoroaster.

88 Coyajee, “A Brief Life-Sketch,” v.

89 Irani, “Regenerated Iran,” 206.

90 Ibid.

91 Ibid.

92 Acquisition of Land in Khuzestan,Iran League Quarterly 2, no. 2–3 (January–April 1932): 175.Google Scholar

93 There is also discussion of establishing a Parsi “colony” in Khuzestan in Shahmardan, Farzanegan-e Zartoshti, 499. The idea was first articulated among the Parsees as early as 1886, according to Kulke. See Kulke, The Parsees, 144.

94 Coyajee et al., eds., Dinshah Irani Memoral Volume. Among those who contributed to the volume were R.P. Masani, P.P. Bharucha, Sohrab J. Bulsara, M. Ishaque, B.T. Anklesaria, Irach J.S. Taraporewala, Ebrahim Purdavud, Mohammad Qazvini, Said Nafisi, Hoseyn Kazemzadeh-Iranshahr, Mojtaba Minovi, Sadeq Rezazadeh Shafaq, Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh and Rashid Yasami.

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