Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee: Jashan at Wadia Atash Behram, 20 June 1897

As I have written in an article recently published in The Hindu, the last time that a diamond jubilee was celebrated by a British monarch–Queen Victoria in 1897–was an especially significant moment in Indian history. The jubilee was marked in a variety of ways by different communities. The Parsi community in Bombay held a public meeting in April 1897 in order to deliver speeches and finalize a congratulatory memorial that was to be dispatched to Victoria.

Almost 115 years to the date, on 20 July 1897, around two-hundred Parsi priests, including some of the most eminent priests of the time, packed into Wadia Atash Behram in Bombay in order to hold a special jashan for the queen. While it is tempting to see this ceremony entirely in light of Parsi Anglophilia of the time, the jashan was not without historical precedence. Monarchy has always been an important institution within Zoroastrianism, and during the ancient Persian empires reverence and loyalty toward the ruling monarch was considered an especially important virtue. Several Parsis in 1897 commented on how the jashan for Victoria was similar to prayers of thanksgiving offered to Persian Zoroastrian monarchs of the past.

Below is an excerpted article from the Times of India for 21 June 1897, covering the jashan at Wadia Atash Behram.

THE PARSEE THANKSGIVING CEREMONY.

In response to invitations of the Trustees to the Parsee Punchayet Funds, over one thousand Parsees, and about 200 Parsee priests among them, assembled yesterday afternoon in the hall of the Wadia Atashbehram at Dhobi Talao, for the purpose of offering special prayers on the occasion of the Queen-Empress’s Diamond Jubilee. Four Dastoors, namely, Jamasji Minocherjee, Peshotanjee Beheramjee, Khorshedjee Bejonjee, and Dossabhoy Sorabjee, (the latter gentleman being a representative of the Meherjirana family of Navsari), officiated at the ceremony, in the celebration of which the whole of the Parsee priests present, and most of the laity, took part. Among those present were:–Sir Dinshaw M. Petit, Bart., Mr. Hormusjee Edaljee Allbless, Shams-ul-Ulma Ervad Jivanjee J. Modi, Mr. D.R. Chichgar, Ervad Edaljee Kersaspjee Antia, Mr. Nowrojee J. Gamadia, Mr. Muncherjee H. Jagose, Mr. B.B. Patel, and Mr. K.R. Cama. After the Jasan ceremony was over, a special prayer in Zend, composed by Dastoor Peshotanjee, was offered, invoking blessings and happiness on her Most Gracious Majesty, the whole of the assembly standing during the time the prayer lasted. Ervad Jivanjee J. Mody, secretary to the Parsee Punchayet, then thanked the assembled gentlemen for having responded to the call of the Trustees of the Punchayet, and next proceeded to exhort the Parsee community in a stirring speech, delivered in Gujarati, for not only their their unflinching loyalty to their august Sovereign Lady the Queen-Empress, but to her representatives in Governments and Administrations, reminding them that, although comparatively speaking the Parsees were  a small community, they have enjoyed unparalleled prosperity and security during the sixty years of the Queen’s reign. These sentiments having been loudly applauded by the assembly, Ervad Jivanjee read the following telegram which will be forwarded in the name of the Parsee community of Bombay by Sir Dinshaw M. Petit, to Lieutenant-Colonel Sir A.J. Briggs, Private Secretary to her Majesty:–“Parsee community of Bombay assembled at their Fire-temple to say thanksgiving prayers on Jubilee Day, humbly beg leave to offer their loyal, heartfelt congratulations to her Majesty. May God bless her Majesty with health and happiness.” The message having been approved of by the whole of the Anjuman assembled in the Jasan, the proceedings were brought to a close amid cheers and demonstrations of joy.