Dinshah J. Irani
Dinshah J. Irani was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India on November 4, 1881. His father, Jijibhoy worked as an engineer in a textile mill. His grandfather, Bomes, had migrated from Yazd, Iran, about the middle of the nineteenth century. His mother, Piroja Banoo, was descended on her mother's side from an Iranian, Kaikhosrov Yazdyar, who had migrated from Iran around 1794. When Dinshah and his two younger sisters, Tehmina Banoo and Jer Banoo, were children, their father passed away, a victim of the epidemics of Bombay at that time, and the family was left in relative poverty. However, in time, with the help of prize scholarships, Dinshah graduated with distinction in English and Persian Literature at the University of Bombay.
Shortly thereafter he was appointed to a teaching Fellowship in Persian, later becoming a Lecturer, at St. Xavier's College, Bombay. During his teaching career he wrote, jointly with his friend, Khodabux Irani, a number of commentaries with English translations of the works of classical Persian poets, particularly the works of Hafiz and Saadi.
Since he was the sole support of his family of mother, sisters, and cousins, he decided to prepare for a more lucrative profession. He studied the Law and in the dual system prevailing in legal practice in India, qualified as an attorney as well as an advocate. Soon thereafter he joined the renowned firm of Mulla & Mulla, Attorneys-at-Law, becoming its senior partner in 1936. He specialized in the law of Taxation and Mercantile law.
Alongside his study of law, he studied the Avestan language and the religious literature at the Sir Jamsetji Jeejiebhoy Madressa. His attending the lectures of K.R. Cama, the eminent Parsi religious and linguistic scholar, on the Gathas was probably the most significant influence on his work in Zoroastrian studies for the rest of his life.
Dinshah was deeply involved in trying to improve the social, educational and economic condition of Iranian Zoroastrians in India and Iran. Iranians who had migrated to India in the 1920's found themselves in desperate financial difficulties during the world-wide economic depression of these decades. A group of Iranian Zoroastrians established the Iranian Zoroastrian Anjuman, with Dinshah as President and Col. Merwan Irani as Vice-President, to provide assistance and facilitate communication between Iranian Zoroastrians of India and those in Iran, and to ameliorate their condition as well.
At this time, one Jamshid Irani having settled in the fertile region of Palghar on the Indian West coast developed an orchard. By a lot of hard work he enlarged his property to considerable size. Other neighboring landowners using old land tenure rules, current in the rural provinces, attempted to acquire his lands. He came to Dinshah for legal assistance. The Court held in favor of Jamshid; however, the neighboring landowners were successful on appeal. Dinshah, convinced of the justice of Jamshid's cause, recommended a final appeal to the Privy Council in London. Jamshid, now financially in difficult circumstances, felt he would rid himself of his problems and divest himself of the orchard. But Dinshah prevailed upon him to defend hi right, and arranged to engage the appeal in London at no cost to Jamshid. Jamshid's claim was vindicated in the judgement of the Privy Council. A few years later Jamshid bequeathed the land to the Iranian Zoroastrian Anjuman; and from its substantial revenue many Iranian Zoroastrians received assistance in starting, as well as legally protecting their businesses.
In 1917 Dinshah married Banu Mithibai; daughter of Ardeshir Sethna, a Barrister-at-Law of the High Court of Gujrat. She shared his interest in Persian poetry and history. They had two sons, Kaikhosrow (1922) and Farrokh (1927). The former is now a retired Professor of Philosophy in New York; and the latter, a retired Actuarial Statistician in Bombay.
In spite of a busy legal practice, Dinshah worked toward educating the community, especially the young, in the teachings of Zarathushtra. He wrote several small popular books. But it was his intention to prepare a poetic translation of the Gathas. His friend, and partner in the law firm, Sir Dinshah Mulla, who later became a judge of the Privy Council in London, prevailed upon him to publish whatever Gathic verses he had already translated, and not wait for a complete translation. He received the same advice from his friend, Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet of India. Thus a selection of the Gathic stanzas entitled the Divine songs of Zarathushtra, a translation into English free-verse, with an introductory forward by Rabindranath Tagore, was published in London in 1924.
The small books on the teachings of the faith, some of which he translated into Persian, were well received in Iran. And in the 1920's and 1930's as there appeared an openness toward Zoroastrianism in Iran, he wrote two books in Persian for the Iranian public on the ancient Iranian tradition emerging from the teachings of Zarathushtra:
Akhlagh-e-Iran-e-Bastan (moral characteristics of ancient Iran)
The response to these books led him to the idea of having the Zoroastrian Avestan scriptures reliably translated into Persian. He arranged for the eminent scholar, Pour-e Daoud, then in Berlin, to prepare translations from Avesta into Persian, and fund their printing and publication in Bombay. The translations of the Gathas and the Yashts received better than expected circulation in Iran.
In 1932 he, along with Rabindranath Tagore, was invited by the Shah of Iran, Reza Shah, to visit the land of his forefathers. He was received by the Shah in Tehran, at which time the honor of the "Nishan-e-Elmi" was conferred upon him. There followed many receptions, and he addressed many literary societies and gatherings of Zoroastrian Communities.
Having met many poets in Iran, he decided to arrange for their works to be collectively preserved. Finally he proceeded to collect the leading Persian poets of this century, particularly of the 1920's and 1930's with the assistance of his friend, the Iranian poet, A.H. Spenta. The poems with English translation were published under the title, "Poets of the Pahlavi Regime."
His interest in promulgating the message of the Gathas continued unabated. Between 1935 and 1938 he delivered many lectures to Parsis in Bombay and Poona, and to the interested public in Europe. A series of very introductory talks to high school and college students on the Gathas, have since been edited, many years later, by his son and published under the title, Understanding the Gathas.
The complete poetic translation of the Gathas in English, which he had been working on intermittently for twenty years was almost complete when failing health and pressures of his legal work took its toll. The translations he left behind, including a copy misplaced in the office of the Iranian Zoroastrian Anjuman in Bombay, were edited by his son, Kaikhosrov, and are now published sixty years after they were first prepared.
He passed away at his home in Bombay on November 3rd, 1938.
Ó Kaikhosrov D. Irani, 1999.
This biography of Dinshah J. Irani was written and made available by his son Professor Kaikhosrov D. Irani, Emeritus Professor and retired Dean of Philosophy of City University of New York, a world renowned and eminent scholar, and a student of Albert Einstein..
We gratefully acknowledge Dr. Khosro E. Mehrfar for making this biography available for presentation at this web site.
This page was last updated on Monday, February 14, 2005.