7. THE KISSEH-I-SANJAN
Rural Gujarat is very important for Parsis. It was here that the Zoroastrians first found refuge in India and started a new life after fleeing Iran. One can also see in the old Parsi fire temples, schools, orphanages, orchards, farms and houses all the development that the Parsis brought to this area of India.
When the Zoroastrian king Yazdegird III was defeated in the battle of Nehavand, the Sasanian Empire ended. The Zoroastrians were treated badly. They had to either convert to being Muslim or pay a jizya tax. They had to dress differently, they could not build houses taller than a Muslims, they couldn’t ride horses, they had to bow down to the Muslims, their lands and weapons were confiscated. Some fled to the mountains of Khorasan (Kohistan) and lived there for 100 years. A priest who could foretell the future told them to then leave for India. While traveling to India these few families were caught in a terrible storm. They promised God that if they were saved they would establish an Atash Behram (Fire Temple of the highest grade) in gratitude for their safety. They landed at Diu and stayed there for 19 years after which they sailed for Sanjan, landing, it is said, in 936 A.D. King Jadav Rana was the ruler of Sanjan.
The leader of the Parsis was their priest. He went to the king’s court to ask for refuge. He spoke through an interpreter. The king of Sanjan, Jadav Rana, showed him a bowl of milk filled to the brim to show his country was full. The Dasturji (priest) asked for some sugar. As soon as he received it he carefully stirred a spoonful of sugar into the milk.
He said, “Your majesty, we shall try to be like this bit of sugar mingling in the milk of your human kindness”.
By this symbolic action he showed that the Zoroastrians would mingle into and sweeten the life of the country of their refuge without letting the population overflow.
Pleased with the action of the priest, the king then spoke to the refugee leader.
The king asked “What do you want from us strangers?”
The old priest replied “Freedom to follow our religion, O king.”
This was granted by the king.
The Priest also asked permission to bring up their youth in their own religion and tradition. The king granted a small piece of land for the refugees to cultivate, so that they could be independent and not a burden to their hosts.
The Priest explained the religion and its message to the king, who, pleased with the Dasturjis actions, gave the Zoroastrians permission to settle in Sanjan. The Zoroastrians promised to obey the laws of the land, they would give up their weapons, the women would wear the sari as their costume, they would speak the Gujarati language as their mother tongue, they would hold their wedding processions after dusk and would adapt to the ways of their new homeland. However they would follow their own religion with full freedom. Remembering their promise to God in the storm, a fire temple was established at Sanjan with the permission of the king. It was called the IRANSHAH and was consecrated around 790A.C.
After about 300 years, Sanjan was attacked and sultan Muhammad Begda sent Alaf Khan, his general, to defeat King Karan Vagela. Vagela asked the Parsis to repay their debt of gratitude and Parsi Ardeshir Babekan created a battalion of 1400 soldiers who defeated Alaf Khan. The General swore to return and destroy all the Parsis. He came back with 50,000 soldiers. Babekan went to the Iranshah to pray for guidance. He had a vision, and a spark from the Afarganu (Sacred Fire) reaching the roof of the temple seemed to become an angel in white. The angel told him to take a horse, which took him to secret caves in the mountains. He was told to hide the Iranshah fire there. High priest Dastur Dinyar and Ardeshir’s son were told this story. The priest led the people carrying the Iranshah to these Bahrot caves. The Parsis lost the battle and Ardeshir Babekan was killed. The fire stayed hidden for 12 years. When the enemy tried to attack Bahrot, the Parsis threw down boulders and Shahpur killed Alaf Khan’s son, Mohabat. After this, the enemy fled.
The Iranshah was kept in the central cave of the 6 caves, and some say secret tunnels were built there. The fire was then shifted to Bansda for 14 years from where a good, holy merchant called Changa Asa had it shifted to Navsari in 1419 A.C. After this it traveled to Surat and Valsad. Finally the Sanjan priests took the Iranshah to Udvada where it still stands. Bahman Kaikobad was the great priest of the family called Sanjanas who wrote this whole story, called the Kisseh-i-Sanjan.