Symbols of the world's religions

               

YOUR SON ... AND THROUGH YOUR SON -- YOU!

Hoshang M. Dadachanji

 
Persia, the land sanctified by Prophet Zarathustra some seven thousand years ago is a province in southern Iran. It is the land of the Aryans and has big deserts and barren mountain ranges. Its land is very fertile and is known for its flowers and trees, carpets and caviar. It has one of the richest and oldest cultures in the world. Among its Masters and poets were Hafiz of Shiraz, Attar, Shams-e-Tabriz, Jalalud'din Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Saa'di and Firdosi.

In this blessed land was born, on 21st March 1853, Jamshedi Navroze day (New Year day heralding Spring), a boy who was destined to become the father of the One recognized and revered by millions around the world as the Avatar of the Age.

The boy was Shahr-yar Moondegar Khorramshahi born to a poor Zoroastrian family in the town of Khorramsha.

FAMILY BACKGROUND AND EARLY CHILDHOOD:

The family followed the Zoroastrian faith and although Zoroastrians were considered kafirs (infidel) by the Muslims and were systematically oppressed, Moondegar and his children were spared the more cruel blows of persecution because he was a devout follower of a Mohammedan saint a Wali-Allah (friend of Allah) in Khorramsha, and was often seen going to this saint.

Moondegar's job was that of a caretaker of a local dakhma — Tower of Silence, the place where the Zoroastrians brought their dead to be exposed to the elements and devoured by vultures and other birds of prey. It was a lowly job, but with his earnings he somehow managed to support his family. Shahr-yar's mother died when he was just five years old. He was brought up in poverty which proved a blessing as it prepared him for the many trials and hardships his life was destined to undergo in years to come.

Deprived of his mother at such a tender age, he was looked after by his older sister Piroja. Shahr-yar did not go to school as the family could not afford it. He would, therefore, accompany his father to the dakhma each day, where he would play alone or muse with the spirits that hovered there. The young boy had a contemplative nature and this was where he would pray and meditate.

HE KNEW NO FEAR:

During the years at the dakhma an intense interest in things spiritual was awakened in Shahr-yar, and he thought deeply and seriously about finding God. He was an intelligent, adventurous boy - not afraid of anything. That characteristic remained with him throughout his life. He never knew fear.

One day when Shahr-yar was just seven years old, his father left to do some work in the town, leaving him alone at the dakhma. Moondegar was delayed in returning and during that evening the corpse of a child was brought. Since the sun had already set and the last rites could be performed only the next day, the funeral party left the corpse outside the wall of the Tower. In that dark, lonely and desolate area hungry vultures hovered over the corpse, but little Shahr-yar threw stones to keep them away. Shahr-yar, determined to protect the child's body from being dragged away by wild animals, tied the child's legs to his own feet and lay down next to the corpse. The vultures' screeches became more furious but not one swept down upon the boy. When Moondegar returned late in the evening he found Shahr-yar sleeping next to the corpse of the child with their legs tied together and he was amazed at the bravery of his small son. After placing the corpse at the proper place for it, Shahr-yar was taken home to bed.

YOUNG WOMAN'S HONOUR SAVED:

Shahr-yar would sit alone every day in peaceful contemplation in the compound of the funeral grounds. He would be immersed in the remembrance of God — Yezdan (One of the 101 names of God from the Avesta, Zoroastrian scriptures). The boy's heart had awakened and he began to long for the sight of Yezdan. One day when he was thus absorbed, he was startled to see a beautiful young woman running toward where he was seated. When the woman, a Zoroastrian, reached him, she was exhausted and in a state of near-collapse. She sobbed fearfully and told Shahr-yar that some Mohammedans were chasing her and begged him to save her from their capture.

Nearby was an oven — a large earthen urn — buried in the ground in which unleavened bread is prepared for the religious ceremony of feeding the poor and others by the relatives of the deceased in the memory of the departed ones. No one had died on that day and so the oven was cold. Shahr-yar quickly guided the trembling woman into it, and hardly had he placed the lid on the top and sat in his usual place of meditation, he heard hooves of galloping horses. They were Mohammedans who demanded, "Boy, did you see anyone pass by a few minutes ago?" Shahr-yar replied, "I have been here for over an hour but I haven't seen a dog pass by." Believing him speaking the truth, which indeed he was, the Mohammedans galloped off. Shahr-yar was happy he had not lied. After waiting till the group rode far, he helped the young woman out of the urn and safely escorted her home, to be received with deep gratitude of her family.

YOUNG DARVISH IS BORN:

'Dar', in Persian means 'a door'. So Darvish literally means 'the one who goes from door to door', similar to mendicant ascetics in Christianity or sadhus in Hinduism or fakirs in Mohammedans, who, in their search for God, rely exclusively on charity to survive. Shahr-yar must have probably met the Mohammedan Wali with his father. His spiritual inclination flourished early, for, from childhood he had a detached outlook toward life and was devoid of any material ambition. When a human corpse would arrive at the dakhma he would think: "Death is inevitable. The happy as well as the miserable die. What is the meaning of life? What is its goal? Everyone departs from this world leaving his or her joys and sorrows behind. So why not give them up while alive?"

Shahr-yar's heart was restless to find answers that would satisfy him and his eyes were thirsting to see his Yezdan. Only God has the ultimate answers and so he decided to go in search of Him. One day in 1865, when he was barely twelve years old, Shahr-yar told his father of his longing, and bidding farewell to his family walked away with just a few items of clothing. He sustained himself on begged food and rested anywhere at night. This young darvish had no support except from God; he relied solely on God. What other help did he need? He had dedicated himself to finding God and with the repetition of Beloved God's name, "Yezdan, Yezdan, Yezdan!" at every step, he searched for Him.

HARDSHIP AND WANDERING:

Shahr-yar was destined to undergo severe hardships during his wanderings, but the young darvish did not lose courage. On the contrary, he gained inner strength through his sufferings since he was coming nearer to God. Darvishes were not always well received in Iran; at times the boy received insults instead of food; at times he was beaten instead of given shelter. But he who discards the world becomes God's. And this was Shahr-yar's destiny.

RECOGNITION AS A SUFI DARVISH:

One day, the boy's roaming brought him to the town of Bafte Badnyan. Shahr-yar, exhausted and hungry, begged for a loaf of bread from a bakery for his evening meal. As the baker was about to give him the bread, an older Muslim ascetic, who daily got his loaf from the shop, arrived.

The baker looking at the emaciated boy with pity told the Muslim ascetic, "Today you will not get bread because I am giving your portion to your little brother." The older ascetic became incensed at being denied his alms and began quarreling with the shopkeeper, "I am a true fakir!" he shouted. "This boy is false. Are you really going to feed this rascal instead of me?"

"You get bread every day," argued the baker. "Why are you grumbling if I give it once to a chance wanderer? He is such a young darvish."

The older fakir gave Shahr-yar a contemptuous glance and then retorted, "You call this brat a darvish? You fool, I am a true fakir! This boy is nothing but a beggar!"

The heated quarrel went on while a crowd began to gather. At last the Muslim said, "If this boy is a real darvish who loves God and is not a hypocrite, I challenge him to answer my questions."

Shahr-yar wanted to avoid a debate, and was ashamed of the fakir's rude behavior; but the shopkeeper and others in the crowd urged him to accept the challenge; so a vigorous debate about God ensued. With sharp wit and keen intelligence, the boy replied to every question the fakir could pose, while the crowd cheered him on. The fakir, who had gotten the worst of it, was thoroughly embarrassed and finally retreated under a barrage of abuse from the crowd, while Shahr-yar was rewarded with a delicious supper. The boy now came to be recognized as a Sufi darvish.

BRAVERY RE-DEMONSTRATED:

There were times when Shahr-yar would travel with other renunciants. Once while walking along with three older darvishes, they took refuge in a dense forest, and sitting around the campfire, the three elders boasted of their travels, courage and wisdom. In their eyes, their little brother was a mere initiate on the spiritual path. When their pride got the better of them one said, "Were a tiger to appear before me, I have the strength to kill it with my bare hands."

The second responded, "I could reduce the beast to ashes with my sight alone."

The last bragged, "I would tame it and ride on its back and journey from place to place."

The boy kept quiet knowing he possessed no such powers. The next day, as they were wandering through the forest, they spotted a python, and the three who had been boasting of their bravery the night before, ran away in fright. Shahr-yar found a rock and fearlessly crushed the head of the large snake.

Even when the head of a snake is crushed, its body continues to coil. Likewise when the boy approached the three men, their pride had not subdued and they said, "Don't think we were afraid of the python — to kill it was so insignificant, we left it to you since you are the youngest." The boy did not rebuke them.

EIGHT YEARS OF FRUITLESS WANDERING:

Shahr-yar's search for the truth of God through wanderings in wilderness led him to visit many shrines, including the tombs of the Sufi poets and Masters Hafiz and Sanai in Shiraz. He also contacted many advanced pilgrims and darvishes in Iran. He underwent the severest of austerities and a penitent type of asceticism but it did not fulfill his aim — that of seeing his Yezdan. Eight years went by and he was as dissatisfied and discontented as when he had left his home.

FROM IRAN TO INDIA:

Frustrated and disappointed in Iran, the young man of twenty, instead of despairing and abandoning his search for God, resolved to leave for India to carry on his search. Around 1874, Shahr-yar, along with his elder brother Khodadad, boarded a steamer headed for the port of Bombay (present-day Mumbai). The families that migrated from Iran to India were known as Iranis and hence he now began to be known as Shahr-yar Moondegar Irani.

In India, Khodadad found work for both of them and Shahr-yar for the first time in his life took employment. He continued with his ascetic ways, maintained strict vegetarian diet and denied himself alcohol and tobacco.

When not at work, he spent most of his time meditating or reciting the name of God, "Yezdan ... Yezdan ... Yezdan." Even while doing his job, his entire attention was directed toward remembering God. He made no show of his piety, but at the same time made no secret of his devout nature. His hair was long and he always wore a long white robe, looking every inch a typical Persian darvish and not one bit an employee in a public shop.

THE SEARCH CONTINUES:

Shahr-yar's employer was a materialistic man who despised Shahr-yar's piety and often scolded him for no reason. Finally, one day when he was accused of dishonesty, Shahr-yar felt he had had enough. He quit his job. Thus after five months of employment, he was once again free to pursue his search for God. From the wages he got, he kept only two rupees with himself with which he purchased a wooden bowl and a staff; the rest he gave away to the poor. With no money on him now, he decided to walk to Karachi, over a thousand miles north. He wandered through Gujarat and Kutch, begging his way through Surat, Wadhwan and Mandvi.

For ten more years Shahr-yar wandered throughout India under circumstances much more trying than those he had already undergone in Iran. The long days of walking severely blistered his feet, yet he did not give up his search. At night, he would find shelter under a tree or anywhere and during the day he would continue walking repeating the name of God, "Yezdan ... Yezdan ... Yezdan ..." He begged only when hungry and if food is offered he would eat; otherwise he would consider it God's wish that he fast. During the course of his darvishi he learnt astrology and palmistry from his fellow ascetics but he never practiced them. His path crossed that of many sadhus, yogis and penitent ascetics and he took refuge at places of pilgrimage. After four months of such rigorous walking he finally reached Karachi. He stayed there for a month and resumed his journey without any fixed destination. He wandered aimlessly in the scorching Sind desert. The hot sand again blistered his feet, his tongue swelled from thirst. He tried desperately to trudge forward but could not move even a step farther for he had grown terribly weak and crying out "Yezdan!" he fainted.

DIVINELY RESCUED AND GUIDED:

There was neither water nor shelter in this part of the desert. Shahr-yar's death seemed imminent. Was this the end of his spiritual search? Had he been wandering all these years in search of God only to die in this cruel way? Is this the destiny of a lover of God to die of thirst in this seemingly God-forsaken place? No, he had a far greater destiny to fulfill. He could not die yet. Slowly he opened his eyes; standing before him were two figures staring at him — an old bearded man and a boy. Each was holding a pakhal (leather water-bag) swung over their shoulders filled with life-giving water.

Shahr-yar struggled to his knees and stretched out his hands for water. The boy poured a little into his palms but Shahr-yar's thirst was not quenched. Extending his hands toward the figures, he silently prayed for more — but no more was given. Both figures turned and walked away. Shahr-yar stared at them until they disappeared, and then with all his strength stood up. Realizing if he stayed where he was he would surely die, he took God's name, "Yezdan," and stumbled onward. But after going a short distance, he again fainted. How could he cross the desert? He had neither water nor food and he was alone in a remote, barren region. Then startled from unconsciousness, he saw the old man and boy again standing before him ready to help. This time they allowed Shahr-yar to drink fully of the cool water. His eyes conveyed his gratitude, yet the old man sternly asked, "Why have you come here? Why do you distress the Almighty with your foolish behaviour?"

Shahr-yar could not answer.

Pointing, the old man instructed, "Take this path. You will come across the hut of a hermit and he will feed you. After you have eaten, if you walk in the opposite direction you will find a town." Shahr-yar listened to the advice with head bowed. He felt revived after drinking the cool water. When he raised his head to thank the old man and boy, there was no one there. Who were they? They were divine messengers — abdals — the spiritual agents of the Perfect Masters. Such abdals rescue endangered persons as they traverse the spiritual path. Shahr-yar was full of love and gratitude and his trust in God's protection was strengthened.

Taking the path shown through the sands, Shahr-yar walked to the hut where an old hermit gave him bread that was offered without his asking. He ate half at the hut and took the other half with him as he walked in silence towards the town. After walking several miles, he came to the banks of a broad, swift river which he could not cross since he did not know how to swim. Fully believing that God would send someone to help him across, he decided to lie down near the banks and wait. He soon fell asleep, but after a short nap was awakened by the sound of tinkling camel bells.

A caravan had arrived and Shahr-yar implored its leader to take him across the river. The man demanded two rupees. Shahr-yar explained that he was a renunciant, a darvish, and had no money, not even a paisa, but the man did not believe him and proceeded to take his caravan across the river, gradually disappearing. Although no one else arrived for a long time, Shahr-yar was not worried. Trusting in God, he was convinced that His mercy would somehow find a way to get him across the river.

As night fell an inner peace came over him. He was enthralled by the splendor of nature's beauty so near to the desolate desert. His heart longed more than ever for the sight of God. He wept out of longing and joy.

Seated on the bank of the river, feeling hungry, he took out the remaining loaf of bread. Schools of fish swam before him, and seeing them, Shahr-yar broke the bread into pieces, tossing them to the fish. His appetite left him in the enjoyment of watching the fish leap out of the water for the crumbs.

Suddenly he heard a harsh voice demanding, "What are you doing here?"

Turning around he faced a tall, burly man who towered over him. "I am waiting to be taken across the river — I cannot swim," he answered. Hearing his reply, the stranger laughed and said, "How do you expect to cross it by sitting here? You don't have to swim. Come with me and I will show you a way." Shahr-yar followed the man to a mud embankment that stretched all the way across the river. He was perplexed to see this natural bridge which he was certain he would have noticed earlier and inwardly he began to praise God for His help.

Reaching the other side, Shahr-yar was about to thank the mysterious guide when the man took his hand in his and said, "There is no need to thank me. Now hold on to my hand, I will take you through a shortcut to the town." The guide swiftly zigzagged through the darkness, talking cheerfully along the way. Shahr-yar felt a strange sensation as he held on, listening to the man's conversation.

After a short time the lights of a town were visible, and before he knew it he was walking in a bustling street. The guide took him to a paan (betel leaf) and tobacco shop and said, "Wait for me here until eleven o'clock." Then he walked away.

It was nearly midnight and there was still no sign of this unknown friend. The shopkeeper was starting to close for the night and Shahr-yar asked him, "How far is it from this town to the river?"

"Sixty miles," replied the shopkeeper casually. Shahr-yar could not believe it. He had covered sixty miles in half an hour. He knew then that God had sent an angel to help him and his heart cried out, "O Yezdan, O Beloved God, You are infinitely loving! You are infinitely merciful! But why don't You allow me to have sight of You? My life is only for You, I love You alone."

THE SEARCH INTENSIFIES:

From the divine help he experienced, his heart now intensely longed to see God and his search for Him became even more intense. He resolved within himself to sacrifice his very life in realization of God and he vowed not to give up this pursuit under any circumstance.

Shahr-yar roamed once more under clouds of austerity and deprivation. Barefooted, bearded, in a darvish robe, he walked through streets, down lanes and alleys to contact saints and advanced pilgrims for help in this search. At night he would rest wherever he could — along a sidewalk of a street, or under a tree in the wilderness, or in a cave. He begged for whatever food he received and, as always, accepted it as God's mercy.

He walked mile after mile, year after year. His feet became raw, cut by rocks and stones, and thorns pierced his wounds. But these wounds were nothing compared to the wound in his heart; a burning love urged him on with the name of "Yezdan ... Yezdan ... Yezdan" ever on his lips.

When Shahr-yar reached Gujarat, he saw a village some miles in the distance beyond a small river. In the middle of the river was an island thick with vegetation. He wanted to go there. The locals who were superstitious warned him, "No one ventures across this river," they said, "because of the soft muddy bottom; brambles are all over the island, and a hideous ghost lives there." But Shahr-yar replied, "I am not afraid of ghosts. If there is a ghost on that island I shall meet him." Not heeding their counsel, he began to wade through the shallow water, and when he reached midstream he stepped into quicksand. His staff sank in the soft mud and the more he struggled to get out, the more he sank. While sinking in the mud he prayed, "O God! If it is Your will that I should die in this way, I am ready. But before I die, allow me to have one glimpse of Your effulgence. For years I have thirsted for Your sight. I have not cared about my life. Give me a glimpse of Your beauty before I die."

Concentrating on repeating God's name, Shahr-yar struggled, somehow pulling himself out the quagmire. When he reached the other side he collapsed, thanking God for rescuing him. After a while, hearing some villagers, Shahr-yar hailed them, "Show me the way to the town," he requested. Seeing this strange, ominous figure rising out of the shadows covered with mud the men ran away shouting, "The ghost! The ghost of the island is after us." A few men, however, cautiously approached him, holding lanterns and clubs in their hands, and when they were reassured that he was indeed only a stranger in need of guidance, they brought him to their village and attended to his needs. In the course of his travels throughout India, Shahr-yar came across different types of yogis, ascetics and penitents. Once in the district of Ratlam he encountered an old woman seated near a lake on the outskirts of the town. She made signs for him to go into the village, which he did. Everything there was spotlessly clean, but not a single living person was around. Amazed, Shahr-yar instantly realized that the village was an apparition — an illusion to be taken as this metaphor:

"Though the house of the heart is pure, it takes ages for God to enter."

He understood what he had seen and returned to the old woman who gave him a loaf of bread as prasad (small gift, usually edible, given by a Master to a devotee which is symbolic of the inner spiritual gift that it conveys.)

After eating, he left without exchanging a word with her.

EIGHTEEN YEARS OF WANDERING WITH NO RESULTS:

It had been eighteen years since he left his home and family in Iran as a young lad of twelve in search of his God, Yezdan. Now at around age thirty he became increasingly despondent of his austere and ascetic ways. Despair and desperation tore at his heart and mind. For the first time he began to doubt if his aim would ever be achieved. He felt hopeless as never before. He knew that with his formidable determination he could venture anywhere, yet he could not accomplish what he wanted — to realize God. Mentally, he was breaking down; his perseverance was turning into bitter frustration. Despair and desperation tore at his heart and mind.

CHILLA-NASHINI — THE LAST RESORT:

Shahr-yar had been chaste, he had lived on alms, he was always scrupulously honest and brave but everything he had done seemed in vain, for he had not found union with God. To return to the world and live in conformity with the society was abhorrent to him. He had reached the point where it had to be either realization of God or death. And so in sheer desperation and as a last resort Shahr-yar wandered to a desolate forest in Gujarat where he decided to perform chilla — a severe penance of staying within a secluded circle for forty days and nights forgoing food, water and sleep and without stepping out of the circle. Nashini is the person who undergoes this severe spiritual penance. If the person is successful he gets fulfillment of any desire but if he is unsuccessful, he usually ends up in madness or death.

Sure of his decision, he drew a circle around himself on the ground, his heart imploring God to be united with him. Slowly time passed. He could not differentiate what day it was. As days and nights rolled by, he would hear horrible screams. Terrible noises roared louder and louder. Suddenly a lion roared, ready to devour him and then disappeared. Later, a ferocious tiger appeared which stalked around the circle for hours. The tiger disappeared. Flames rose out of the ground all around the circle. The flames moved closer and closer toward him. He was convinced he would be burnt alive. But the flames died. Wild screaming giants appeared; they had painted faces like masks of death with blood in their eyes and spears held menacingly. They too eventually disappeared. Many other dreadful visions came and vanished. All possessed the face of horror! But when these visions became continual his mind could take in no more.

Although Shahr-yar held on and remained within the circle for thirty long days and only ten days were left for the completion of the chilla, it became impossible for him to continue even a moment longer. Defeated, disheartened, bewildered and near-dead, Shahr-yar stepped out of the circle and dragging himself away, collapsed near a river and fell unconscious into a deep slumber.

THE DIVINE INJUNCTION:

The Divine Voice spoke,

"He whom you seek, He whom you wish to see, His attainment is not destined for you. Your son, it is your son who will attain it, And through your son — you."

Shahr-yar awakened from his deep slumber with the words echoing, "Your son ... through your son."

He looked around; no one was there. Dazed, he heard its echo fading, "Your son ... your son ... through your son."

He was puzzled and questioned, "Was this the Voice of God? Was God commanding me? ... I have no son, no wife. How can I have a family?"

After a while he thought, "But what is wrong in living a family life if it is God's command? His command means everything to me, so there is no question of right or wrong."

With these thoughts Shahr-yar once again fell asleep and slept soundly for three days. When he awakened he remembered the words, "Your son ... and through your son ...", and not knowing how to fulfill the divine injunction began walking southward toward Poona (present-day Pune.) His face showed indifference and resignation; some power was guiding him to follow its force. He walked more than four hundred miles without feeling any pain.

PROFOUND DILEMMA:

Led safely by this divine force he entered the city of Poona emaciated and tired. He found the house of his sister Piroja who too had by then migrated to India. As Piroja opened the door and saw her brother she was overjoyed for she had lost all hopes of ever seeing him again. Tears of joy welled in her eyes. Both fell into each other's embrace and with deep love and affection she welcomed him into her home. Piroja adored Shahr-yar. She bemoaned the fact that he had renounced the worldly life in search of God. She did not want him to leave home and lose himself again in what she thought was an aimless life. She would often tell Shahr-yar to get a job, marry a nice Zoroastrian lady and settle down with a family, but Shahr-yar's heart was crying for something else. He would keep aloof and spend his time in meditation and quietude. Occasionally, he would cause his sister anxiety by remarking that he was considering resuming his old life as a wandering mendicant.

On the one hand his sister Piroja would persistently bring up the issue of marriage and on the other hand he would constantly be restless to be alone with his heart's Companion under the open sky.

"Beloved God, Yezdan, what is Your will? What is Your will?" Thus Shahr-yar earnestly implored, searching for an answer to his profound dilemma.

THE TURNING POINT:

One morning there was an emotional argument between the brother and sister. Shahr-yar wanted to leave home once again and live the life of a darvish and Piroja was imploring him not to leave, and to get married and settle down in life. As this drama was going on, Shahr-yar's eyes fell upon a very young girl, five years of age, wearing a short white frock and red ijar (loose below-the-knees trousers), with red ribbons at the end of her little pigtail, clutching her writing slate under her arm pass by the door. A sudden thought occurred to him to put an end to these daily torments. He said, "All right, if I ever marry, I will marry that girl; otherwise, I won't marry at all." Shahr-yar could not understand how these words had come out of him, but thought, "What's the harm? Who is going to agree to let a little girl marry a man my age?" Shahr-yar was then thirty.

But Shahr-yar did not know his sister well. Instead of being discouraged with such an impossible and absurd proposition, it stirred her with renewed enthusiasm. She hurried off to her friend Golandoon, whose daughter little Shireen was. She laid bare her heart; got on her knees and implored with folded hands and tears streaming down her face, begging her consent to the marriage saying that that was the only way to save her brother from wandering away once again as an ascetic.

Golandoon's loving heart was touched seeing Piroja's plight and without thinking, she said, "Yes, I promise." Piroja's joy knew no bounds. The two friends embraced each other and Piroja rushed home to convey the 'good news' to Shahr-yar. He accepted all that had happened with complete resignation to the will of God, recalling the Divine Voice, "Your son ... Your son ..."

When Shireen's father Dorabji came home and was informed of the arrangement, he raged and raved. He was furious with his wife for agreeing to such a preposterous arrangement. But nothing could be done now since Golandoon had already given her word and she stood by it. In those times there was an unwritten code that once a word is given, it should be adhered to at all costs. Besides, she admired Shahr-yar as a saintly person and was not worried about marrying her daughter to him. Dorabji could not bring himself to accept it, for, however good or pious Shahr-yar may be, he was not the type of husband he had in mind for his favourite daughter. They quarreled over this matter for a long time. When the marriage was eventually solemnized many years later, Dorabji did not attend the function.

Little Shireen, of course, had no idea of what was going on. She was overjoyed when the 'stranger' put a shiny silver engagement ring on her finger, which she would show off to her playmates and pointing at Shahr-yar tell her friends, "See that big man? He gave me this." Sometimes when she was naughty and if Shahr-yar happened to see her and correct her, she would complain to her mother, "Who is this man to tell me what to do?"

Shahr-yar knew for sure that this radical turn of event in his life was the orchestration of the Divine will of God and he soon adjusted to and acquainted himself with the ways of the world.

After nine years of engagement they were married in 1892. Shahr-yar was thirty-nine and Shireen barely fourteen.

DARVISH TURNED HOUSEHOLDER:

In order to support a wife and family, Shahr-yar found employment. He had good knowledge of trees and flowers. In those days Poona was famous for its glorious gardens and every large residence boasted of a fine garden. He took up employment as a gardener with a rich Parsi family. And what an incredible gardener Shahr-yar proved to be! He soon became head gardener at a number of mansions directing the layout and supervising the care of trees and flowers. Later, when he left gardening his Parsi employer said to him, "Please come once in a while and look at my garden. You don't have to do anything. Just let your gaze fall on the trees and the flowers, and they will flourish." He also served as a cook and then moved on to a more prominent position, that of the manager of a lodge.

He earned the friendship of many who started calling him Sheriar. Respectfully he was addressed as Sheriarji. Thus he abandoned his Persian name Shahr-yar.

SHERIARJI THE BUSINESSMAN:

Sheriarji, out of his savings, first opened a tea shop — a typical venture of the many Iranis who migrated to India from Persia. Later, he bought another shop where he sold cold drinks, sandalwood and incense used by the Zoroastrians in their religious ceremonies. Eventually he entered toddy business which flourished despite his unbusiness-like attitude of being kind and trusting to customers, staff and strangers. He owned several toddy shops in different parts of Poona and at one time had forty three employed servants. He was highly regarded as a person and businessman of great integrity and unquestionable honesty. Vegetarianism to 'Whatever is served':

Sheriarji continued to maintain his strict vegetarian diet even after marriage. Shireen's mother Golandoon foresaw domestic problems because of this, especially after the children were born. Iranis loved their 'meat' and the prospect of the family being vegetarian horrified her. So one day, soon after marriage, she persuaded her daughter Shireen to 'reform' his diet by putting fine pieces of mutton embedded in rice and dal which was served to him. Unsuspectingly Sheriarji ate a few mouthfuls before he realized that there was meat in it. His ascetic vow of a lifetime was broken and with a heavy heart he told Shireen, "Child, may God forgive you, for you do not know what you have done." From that day onward, Sheriarji gave up vegetarianism and ate whatever type of food was served to him.

HOME AND FAMILY:

The family lived in a small house referred to as the 'Bhopla (Pumpkin) House', so named because of a large round stone at a side of the entranceway which resembled a pumpkin. Much later, after Manija, their last daughter was born, they bought a much bigger house almost opposite Pumpkin House which had a well. This house was known as 'house-with-the-well' and is now called "Baba House."

Sheriarji and Shireenmai, as she was latter addressed, were destined to have nine children — seven sons and two daughters.

At home each member had endearing Dari names. Sheriarji and Shireenmai were Shorog and Shireenog to each other. To the children, they were Bobo and Memo. Merwan (Meher Baba) was Merog. Conversations at home were generally in Dari or Gujarati, Sheriarji spoke very little Gujarati and that too with an Irani accent.

Although Merwan was their second son, Shireenmai always considered Him as her 'first-born', since during Jamshed's (their first son) birth her maternal feelings were not awakened at all. Jamshed was adopted by Shireenmai's sister Dowla and her husband Faredoon, and was brought up by them.

Since the conception of the second child, Shireenmai felt a totally different kind of bliss. She felt for the first time a natural joy of an expectant mother. Her maternal instincts had matured. She started having dreams and visions which she would narrate to her mother Golandoon and to Shorog.

Sheriarji, recollecting the Divine Voice, knew who the child is going to be and would tell her, "Shireenog, you have no idea who this child is that is to be born to us." Sheriarji loved Merwan profoundly, as his past mystical experiences had convinced him of his son's spiritual nature.

The third was a daughter, Freiny, who died at age seven in an epidemic. Following her were Jal, Behram and Adi. And last, in 1915 was Manija, so named because during the time of Shireenmai's pregnancy, Sheriarji was reading Shahnamah (historical recounting of Persian history) to her and in the midst of the story of Manija — daughter of King Afrashiav, Shireenmai had to be rushed to the hospital.

Two sons, Shirmund and Jehangir had died at the age of seven months and two years respectively.

BOBO AND MEROG:

Bobo and Merog enjoyed a very unique and profoundly subtle bonding. From early conception Sheriarji felt that this was the child of which the Divine Voice foretold. He treated Merwan not only with love but also with great respect. Seeing Merwan's nature from a very young age as extremely kind, generous and helpful, he would often encourage Merwan's philanthropic activities with monetary assistance in spite of the many protests from Shireenmai.

Later on when Merwan was revered as Meher Baba and recognized as God-incarnate, Sheriarji had a photograph of Baba in his private room. He would light a candle there and worship his Son's photograph. Amazing!

DAWN OF KNOWLEDGE:

Sheriarji taught Persian to Shireenmai, reading beautiful ghazals (poetic composition or an ode, in Persian or Urdu in praise of the Beloved), from the Divan of Hafiz, and the Shahnamah to her, explaining the hidden esoteric meaning. He was a poet and he would occasionally compose monajats (Zoroastrian spiritual songs.) Although he did not get any formal education since he never attended school, he suddenly received the knowledge of reading, writing and speaking Persian, Arabic and Hebrew. Once when Meher Baba was asked how this was possible, He explained, "Knowledge is all inside, hidden behind a curtain. And doesn't it take only a moment to push aside a curtain and reveal what is hidden behind it?" "However," Baba added, "this pushing aside the curtain is a gift from God. It is given only to the very rare ones who have given up everything for Me, as My father did."

INNER RENOUNCEMENT:

'To be in the world, but not of it' is what Sheriarji lived by. It seemed that the worldly life is what he had 'adopted' and that the inner renouncement was fundamental and natural to him. He carried out every worldly duty and responsibility, but remained unattached at all times to the results. Quietly but continuously his lips moved to the name of "Yezdan ... Yezdan ... Yezdan." Whatever befell him or his family, he accepted as God's will. It did not mean that he was never ruffled; but he was endearingly human and inherently good. He never meant any harm to anyone. He was never angry but would seem deeply concerned for others, especially for his wife Shireenog. He was a devoted husband and a good father.

He was witty and humorous. He loved a good joke which was not at the expense of any one and laughed heartily though almost silently. At times one did not know he was laughing till one looked up and saw him red in the face shaking with silent laughter. He had an exceptionally good, kind and generous nature. Even when he was older he had the forbearing qualities of an ascetic. He had not become rich in business but was successful. He would always put aside money to give to the poor, and not only gave money, but also clothing and blankets. If the toddy shop closed unusually late at night, he would sleep there instead of returning home. Having slept many a night in the cold as a wandering darvish, he knew the pain of being homeless and sleeping on the streets. If he saw any poor person shivering in the cold, he would inevitably give away his own blanket to him. This happened so often that it exasperated Shireenmai, and one day she remarked, "If we had collected the amount of new blankets Shorog has given away, instead of a toddy shop we could have opened a blanket shop by now." The remark was taken in good humour.

Sheriarji was a good cook and helped Shireenmai in the upkeep of their home. He loved tending to ceramic pots with delicate vines and enjoyed arranging elegant bottles containing coloured water.

He also enjoyed an occasional glass of liquor or bevda, the common man's drink which he had the art of 'spicing' with currants, raisins and different condiments. Some of his Persian friends would insist on having only Sheriarji treat their bevdas for them.

MAGNANIMITY OF FORGIVENESS:

Sheriarji's deep trust in the inherent goodness of man rebounded on him severely in his old age. Its breach was caused by his partner, Mulog, a young chap he had taken on in his toddy business. During the usual course of taking signatures of the senior partner on official documents concerning business, Sheriarji unsuspectingly signed on the dotted line. This simple act entailed much heartache and hard work for Shireenmai and the losing of the flourishing toddy business for Sheriarji; for he had signed his name to a paper which declared that he had unconditionally gifted his share of the business to his partner. Sheriarji felt cheated but, as always, resigned himself to the will of God. However, Shireenmai, being a no-nonsense realistic woman of the world, took the matter to court and almost single-handedly saw to each detail of the legal procedure. All her sons were staying with Baba at the time and Manija was very young.

Manija reminisces, "There were sad scenes at home; I would hear mother raging over the injustice caused to us by the treachery of 'that pup' (kutra na bachho {ed.}); and my father would try to make her understand the real side of it, which was the spiritual one. I was deeply impressed by this play of opposite natures; he, so patient and understanding and taking the longrange view, she, impatient and practical and thinking of their immediate future. He would say, "We are not the losers, Shireen, what have we to lose? It is poor Mulog I am sorry for, he has gained nothing and will naturally have to suffer for it in many lives to come, just think of that. Can you see now why I am sorry for him? The laws of cause and effect, of sow and reap, is as inexorable as that — the laws of God are finer than the hair of our head." And mother would reply, "But who's going to see that? I will be dead, and if I see him suffering in the next life, I won't know it is Mulog. Besides, what good is his suffering going to do to me, we have lost all the business and whatever is in the bank in cash and jewelry for our children, and their future will all be lost in court expenses."

"This came to pass, materially all was lost (except for our home and a few monetary assets), when one day the court verdict was given in Mulog's favour. It seems the judge was good and said that Mulog was a 'scoundrel' and that the 'old man' had been duped. But the fact remained that the 'old man' did put his signature to that paper, as admitted readily by my father.

"One of the most difficult jobs for our lawyer was to coach my father in what he should not say in court, specifically in favour of Mulog. The attorney told Sheriar to simply tell the court that the signature on the contract was not his, but he refused to lie. The lawyer would plead with my mother to make my father remember that he must not sound sorry for the opposing party, not when he was being questioned in court.

"My poor father had to attend court many a time, and I recall vividly the scene of his leaving home on such occasions. Mother would lay out his most formal suit of clothing, and as he was seated in the tonga (one-horse carriage) his walking stick with him for he could not walk without its aid, he was then 70, she would give him the last minute instructions among them being the practical one, of not letting any snuff, which he used to occasionally take, smudge his coat-front. Father would assure her on all points, and all the while his lips would be moving to the name of 'Yezdan.'

"Eventually when it was all over, father sent a message to Mulog through a friend saying to the effect, 'I forgive you fully. Some day you might want to ask my forgiveness and would not be able to do so for I am an old man and would be dead by then. So remember you will not need my forgiveness, for I have forgiven you completely. It is now simply a matter between you and God.'"

Imagine the understanding, wisdom and the magnanimity of this 'grand old man.' No wonder Sheriarji was the 'chosen one' to father God in human form.

SCOLDING OR BLESSING?

Manija recounts, "My respect for Father was special, I hated to displease him, but when I was arguing with Mother it couldn't be helped! ... Then Father would say in his imperfect Gujarati, "Mani, stop pestering Memo!" and I'd know I was displeasing him. But when he was really displeased, he would add, "Mani, Khodai tara bhala karay." (Mani, may God be good to you). Even his scolding was a blessing!

I would stop immediately, I never overstepped Father's blessing."

THE LAST DAYS AND FINAL MERGING:

On 24th March 1932, Baba was to sail to England from Bombay. Before proceeding to Bombay Baba stopped by the family house in Poona to meet his father who was ailing. Sheriarji met his beloved Son Merog for what was to be their last time together for soon thereafter he was shifted to a hospital in Bombay, and on 30th April 1932 Sheriarji breathed his last, merging eternally in the infinity of his Yezdan. He was seventy-nine. His body was brought back to Poona by train and placed at the Tower of Silence. A telegram was sent by Ramjoo Abdulla, one of Baba's close disciples on 1st May, "Father Sheriarji expired in Bombay last night," Quentin Todd, a British disciple, forwarded the message to Lugano, Switzerland, where Baba was at the time.

In the middle of the night of 30th April, the day Sheriarji died, Baba had suddenly clapped and called Adi Sr. (Adi K. Irani, Baba's disciple and Secretary) to His room. Baba gestured by pointing to His chin and then threw His hands upwards. Adi could not follow Baba's gestures and so was sent away. Only when the telegram arrived could Adi make sense of Baba's gestures. Pointing to the chin signified a beard, Baba's gesture for an old man.

Baba consoled His brothers Behram and Adi Jr. who were with Him, and explained to them about death. "Death is necessary and is like sleep. When a person awakes from sleep, he finds himself as he was. However, after death, a person finds himself in a different atmosphere and in a different body. Both death and birth are dreams. Where is the sense in being merry or miserable for the sake of a dream?

"Bobo's death, however, is not sleep. He has gone beyond it and is awake forever! He is emancipated and has been given mukti — liberation."

Shireenmai was cabled: "Father Sheriarji is near Me. Don't worry. Mind your health. Should I send Adi immediately? Baba."

At the time of their father's demise, Behram and Adi Jr. were with Baba and Jal was with the other mandali in China. Only Shireenmai and Manija were with Sheriarji in Bombay, where he died.

Much later in June 1943, after the demise of Shireenmai, Baba ordered a memorial to be erected on Meherabad Hill next to what was to be His Samadhi. When the memorial was ready, Baba, with His own hands, placed a few of their personal effects in it: Sheriarji's silver snuff box and Shireenmai's eyeglasses. Baba dictated the inscription on their tombstone as follows:

"In eternal memory of Meher Baba's blessed parents, Sheriarji and Shireenmai, who are now merged in Baba's infinity."

And thus was accomplished the prophecy of the Voice, "... Your son ... your son ... and through your son ... you!"

 

SOUVENIR ON BELOVED BABA'S 115TH BIRTHDAY, The Avatar Meher Baba Bombay Centre
Copyright 2009 Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust

               

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