CHARITABLE FOUNDATIONS (MPers. ruwānagān lit. “relating to the soul”), pious endow­ments to benefit the souls of the dead, as specified by the individual founders.

i. In the Sasanian period.

ii. Among Zoroastrians in Islamic times.

i. In the Sasanian Period

One of the most striking features of Zoroastrianism is a strong sense of responsibility and concern for the well-being of the souls of the dead. In Sasanian Persia pious foundations could be established by individuals specifi­cally to finance charitable acts for the benefit of the souls of the deceased, as well as to ensure the perfor­mance of religious rituals and ceremonies. As each man was held responsible for the fate of his own soul, it became customary for the individual to designate part of his estate for these purposes. According to the Sasanian law book Hazār dādestān (A thousand judgments; erroneously, but commonly, referred to as Mādayān ī hazār dādestān) inherited property was divided into three categories (Mādayān, pt. 2, p. 21.2-3): “with right of possession” (pad xwēšīh), “in trusteeship” (pad stūrīh), and “for the preservation of the soul” (pad ruwān dāštan). Apparently a considerable portion of each individual’s estate was set apart for preservation, or salvation, of his soul.

The testator could specify the purpose of the fund set­ aside for his soul, called “property of the soul” (xwāstag ī rūwān; Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 71.1-2), by means of a specific formula in his will. If he specified “for religious services for the soul” (ruwān yazišn rāy), the funds could be used only to pay for rites and ceremonies to be performed after his death. If he used the simpler expression “for the soul” (ruwān rāy), on the other hand, the administrator or guardian had the right to use the endowment money in any way he deemed “most beneficial for the soul” (ruwān rāy sūdōmandtar), that is, of the testator (Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 34.3-6): for objects of public utility (roads, bridges, irrigation canals, etc.), as alms for the poor and needy, or for other charitable acts, all of which were considered to benefit the soul. This idea is clearly expressed in an article in which endowment “for the soul” is described as “a righteous gift/charity with regard to the soul” (ahlawdād andar ruwān; Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 34.12-15).

An individual could also establish a foundation for the souls of friends or relations. The declaration could be either verbal or written as part of a will or as a separate document (called pādixšīr in the inscriptions of Šāpūr I and the high priest Kirdīr on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt at Naqš-e Rostām; see Gignoux, pp. 31, 62). In one instance the founder’s declaration provided “for his own soul and for the soul of another person” (ruwān ī xwēš ud anīz kas rāy; Mādayān, pt. 1, pp. 24.17-25.1); in another it provided “for the salvation of his own soul and the soul of Mihrēn” (i.e., “such-and-such a per­son”; pad ruwān ī xwēš ud Mihrēn dāštan rāy; Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 25.2-5). Šāpūr I, in his inscriptions at Naqš-e Rostam, claimed to have founded a fire temple “for our soul’s sake” (pad amāh ruwān) and four fire temples for the souls of members of the royal family (Back, pp. 331­-69).

The declaration of the founder also contained a provision that no person had the right to alienate property dedicated for the salvation of the soul: “Neither Mihrēn [in this instance the trustee of the foundation] nor any other person is authorized to sell or give away that property” (Mihrēn ud anīz kas ān xwāstag frōxt ud be dād nē pādixšāy; Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 35.3-6). In addition, the founder had the right to assign guardianship (sālārīh) or trusteeship (dāštārīh) of the foundation to anyone he chose, whether a member of his family or not, using the formula “I have willed it [to such-and-such a person] "to be held"” (kū-m . . . dāštan rāy framān dād; Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 27.12-14) or “the property I have devised "for the soul" is to be held by Mihrēn” (xwāstag ī-m ruwān rāy paydāg kard Mihrēn ē dārēd; Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 35.3-6). In addition, the founder had the trusteeship of the high priest Kirdīr (Back, pp. 388-93). If the founder did not explicitly assign trusteeship to a particular person, it remained within the family; his son and his relatives were obligated to serve as guardians (Mādayān, pt. 1, pp. 29.9-11, 45.15-17, 46.9).

Little evidence about the requirements that had to be met by the founder himself is to be found in the sources, but it can be assumed that they were similar to those in another legal context, as specified in the Dādestān ī dēnīg (pursišn 56, ms. K35, in Christensen, ed., p. 202): that he had to be of legal age (purnāy, i.e., at least fifteen years old), Zoroastrian (hudēn, lit. “of the good re­ligion”, sane (hōšyār), a “subject of the king of kings” (šāhān šāh bandag), and “not guilty of a capital crime” (nē margarzān). According to the Mādayān (pt. 1, p. 27.15-16; pt. 2, p. 14.1-4), a woman could also es­tablish a pious foundation.

The property set apart by the founder for pious purposes, the “property of the soul” (xwāstag ī ruwān), usually consisted of a principal, or base (bun), and the income, or profit (bar), arising from it. By preference the bun was productive fixed property: cultivated land, vineyards, orchards, and the like. In the inscription of Šāpūr I movable property, specifically cattle, is also mentioned (Back, pp. 336, 344, 346, 367). Only the income from profitable endowments (barōmand) was spent on upkeep, taxes, and remuneration for the trustees and guardians. The principal could not be alienated or encroached upon (Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 35.3-6). Any income that remained after meeting these expenses was used for the pious purposes specified by the founder: offerings, services for the salvation of the soul, and distribution of alms to the needy. The rest of the income was at the disposal of the founder and his family or the beneficiary named in the endowment deed and his heirs, who had the right of usufruct.

There were also foundations that yielded no income (a-bar); in such instances the expenses were met by dividing the founder’s endowment. The principal consisted of what was left after the payment of taxes (this is probably the meaning of harg bār) and after a portion had been set aside for maintenance of the principal (uzēnag ī pad bun) and for payment to the guardians and administrators (ud mizd ad rōzīg ī sālārān; Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 34.2-3). Fire temples, obviously endowments of the a-bar type, were, however, furnished with income-producing property designated as “possession of the fire” (xwēšīh ī ātaxš; Mādayān, pt. 2, p. 39.6), “property of the fire” (xīr ī ātaxš; Mādayān, pt. 2, p. 26.13; 27.1), or simply “for the fires” (ātaxšān, Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 50.3; pt. 2, p. 16.4). In his inscriptions on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt Šāpūr I reported having conveyed property to the five fire temples that he had established as ruwānagān. The extent of this property can be deduced from his instructions for disposition of the surplus, which usually went to the founder or his family; in this instance it consisted of a thousand lambs yearly (Back, pp. 335-38). The fires, which were to burn eternally, were supervised by priests and laymen called “servants of the fire” (bandagān ī ātaxš, ādurān-bandag; Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 101.10, pt. 2, p. 39.9), who were compensated out of the revenues from the attached property.

There is no distinction in Sasanian legal terminology between private endowments of a public character like bridges and fire temples, intended to benefit the com­munity (cf. the Islamic waqf ḵayrī), and family endowments, intended mainly to ensure income for the children and descendants of the founder (cf. waqf ahlī). Evidently Sasanian jurists, different from their Muslim successors, made no distinction between the two types of endowment, although both the foundation of public utility and the family foundation are attested. The ruins of a private foundation built to benefit the community, a bridge financed by the prime minister (wuzurg­framādār) Mihr-Naresh in the 5th century, is still extant in the town of Gōr (modern Fīrūzābād); according to an inscription, “This bridge was built by the order of Mihr-­Narseh, the wuzurg-framādār, for the benefit of his soul (ruwān ī xwēš rāy), at his own expense (az xīr ī xwēš). Whoever comes on this road, let him give blessing to Mihr-Narseh and his sons that he thus bridged this crossinġ . . .” (Henning). The same Mihr-Narseh founded four villages, in which he established fire temples for the salvation of his own soul and the souls of his three sons; he provided them with three gardens, in which he planted date palms, olive trees, and cypresses as “property of the fire.” According to the 4th/10th-century historian Ṭabarī, these villages, with the fire temples and gardens, remained in the hands of Mihr-Narseh’s descendants (I, pp. 869-71; cf. Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 111-12). Furthermore, it is recorded in the Mādayān (pt. 2, p. 40.3-5) that Mihr-Narseh’s wife and children were dedicated by him to the service of the fire (pad ādarwaxšīh ud bandagīḥ . . . be dād). Ṭabarī’s report thus corroborates the evidence of the Mādayān on an essential point: Apart from religious piety, the foremost reason for establishing a foundation was to ensure an income for one’s own or another person’s children and descendants. Pious endowments were usually safe from confiscation by government authorities, and those of the barōmand type provided incomes for the families of the founders. The principal of the foundation remained a distinct part of the property of the founder’s family and was inherited by his descendants, though they had no right of possession (xwēšīh) and were not authorized to change its legal status (Mādayān, pt. 1, pp. 24.16-17, 24.17-25.1, 25.2-5, 46.4-9). If the founder had transferred trusteeship to a person outside his family, the principal of the foundation and the right to its usufruct were transmitted to that person’s descendants (Mādayān, pt. 1, pp. 35.3-6, 24.13-16, 25.2-5, 25.17-26.1, 29.3-6). The founder could also confer guardianship on a woman, for example, his own wife (Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 27.12-14). If she subsequently married, however, then her husband took over the foundation, and his suc­cessors inherited it in accordance with the rules of marital guardianship and the rights of the husband over the property of his wife (Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 25.5-8).

Endowments were registered in a special department, the dīwān ī kardag(ān) (archives for religious insti­tutions), which was also in charge of “property given to fire (temple)s” (xīr ī ātaxšān). According to the Mādayān (pt. 2, pp. 26.17-17.4), the rad (spiritual leader) was responsible for transactions related to the income from the property of the fire, which were registered in the āta(x)š-hamār dibīrīh (account relating to the fire), referred to by Ḵᵛārazmī in his Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm (ātaš hamār dafīra, p. 118).

Ḵᵛārazmī also mentioned a “register of religious foundations” (ruwānakān dafīra, i.e. ruwānagān dibīrīh), rendered into Arabic as “register of waqfs” (ketābat al-awqāf; p. 118), which had led to speculation about the possible Persian origin of the Muslim waqf even before details of the ruwānagān were known (Menasce, p. 62). The correspondences between the legal regulation of the two institutions is, in fact, remarkable, though there are a few differences that may have been introduced by Muslim jurists. In both the principal (bun, Ar. mawqūf) could not be consumed, and the income (bar, Ar. manfaʿa) was used for pious purposes specified by the founder (including, in the waqf ahlī, the right of usufruct to his family). The stipulation of the founder contained the same passage forbidding alienation of the principal. Similarly, the founder had the right to designate a trustee or guardian (Pers. sālār; Ar. nāẓer or motawallī) of his choice. Both the foundation for public benefit (waqfḵayrī) and the family foundation (waqfahlī) had also been known in Sasanian Persia, though not divided into two distinct legal categories as in later Muslim law (see above).

The word ruwānagān was also used by the Mani­cheans to designate the services of the hearers (niyōšāgān, auditors, the lowest level in the Manichean hierarchy, see., e.g., Boyce, Reader, pp. 11-12); these services were regarded as endowments dedicated by the hearers for the benefit of the elect (wizīdagān, electi, the next level up in the hierarchy; Mir. Man. II, p. 317 n. 2).



M. Back, Die sassanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Tehran and Liège, 1978.

M. Boyce, “The Pious Foundations of the Zoroastrians,” BSOAS 31, 1968, pp. 270-89.

A. Christensen, ed., Codices Avestici et Pahlavici Bibliothecae Universitatis Hafniensis, vol. III, Copenhagen, 1934.

P. Gignoux, Glossaire des inscriptions pehlevies et parthes, Corp. Inscr. Iran., Suppl. Ser. 1, London, 1972.

W. B. Henning, “The Inscription of Firuz­abad,” Asia Major 4/1, 1954, pp. 98-102, repr. in Henning, Selected Papers II, Acta Iranica 15, Tehran and Liège, 1977, pp. 431-36.

ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Yūsof Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, ed. G. van Vloten, Leiden, 1895.

J. P. de Menasce, Feux et fondations pieuses dans le droit sasanide, Paris, 1964.

A. Perikhanian, “Chastnye zelevye fondy v drevnem Irane i problema proiskhozhdeniya vakfa” (Private endowment funds in ancient Iran and the origin of the waqf ), VDI 1, 1973, pp. 3-25.

Idem, “Iranian Society and Law,” in Camb. Hist. Iran III/2, pp. 627-80.

(Maria Macuch)


ii. Among Zoroastrians in Islamic Times

The duty to care for one’s fellow man is part of the fundamental teachings of Zoroastrianism, and since helping the poor, and especially the widowed and orphaned, is a virtuous act, charity can compensate for sins committed and so help towards the salvation of one’s own soul. Thus in his vision of heaven the righteous Wirāz saw the souls of the generous exalted above all others in brilliance and perpetual brightness (Ardā Wirāz-nāmag 12.1-4, tr. Gignoux, p. 164). It is said that even if one practices many good deeds but does not give to the poor then it is not possible for the soul to be redeemed (Pursišnīhā 44, tr. JamaspAsa and Hum­bach, I, p. 67).

Zoroastrian charitable work in Islamic Persia. In the Sasanian period endowments of sacred fires and other pious foundations were often through legacies (Boyce, 1968). In Muslim Iran such legacies, then called waqf, were very frequently made by Zoroastrians, for by registering these with the Muslim authorities they were able to circumvent the law by which a single person, by becoming a Muslim, could claim the entire family inheritance. Waqf property was legally inalienable, and those administering it were entitled to part of the endowment income. Such waqfs were often maintained for generations, their commonest form being the en­dowment of gahambārs with, in addition to the religious services, a festive meal being provided for the whole local community, with food being sent to the sick and house-bound. Unconsecrated food was commonly given then to Muslim beggars (Boyce, 1977, pp. 32f.). Often there were endowments also for annual distri­bution to poor Zoroastrians of a thick soup (āš-e ḵayrat), cooked usually in the fire-temple kitchens (ibid., pp. 55-57). A common form of individual charity was paying the expenses for poor children to be initiated into the faith, and acts of charity were regularly undertaken on behalf of those who had died to benefit their souls. These were formally made known on the morning of the fourth day after death.

The history of the community under Islamic rule is poorly recorded, but a rare surviving inscription attests that in 1644 Rustam Bundar built (or more probably rebuilt) a fire temple at his own expense in Kermān (Boyce, 1966, pp. 70f.). In general benefactors’ names and the objects of their charity are only known, apart from family bequests, from the latter half of the 19th century. The community had by then been reduced to deep poverty, but help came from outside through the foundation in Bombay in 1834 of the Society for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Zoroastrians in Persia. This society, a joint undertaking by Parsis and Iranis who had found refuge in India, sent its first agent, Maneckji Limji Hataria, to Iran in 1854 and he worked there until his death in 1890 (Boyce, 1969, pp. 19-31). He labored to improve the lot of the Zoroastrians, partly by leading an arduous campaign to abolish the oppressive jezya (poll tax), which was achieved in 1882, partly by distributing the charitable funds sent from Bombay. He helped to have fire temples and daḵmas repaired or built and established boys’ schools, the first one in the small new community in Tehran in 1860, then, by 1882, eleven others in Kermān and Yazd with its villages. He built a lodging house in Tehran for Zoroastrians who fled to the capital from the harsher conditions of the two old Zoroastrian centers; he sought to allay the worst poverty by providing the old with food, clothing and medicine, the daughters of the very poor with dowries, and work for the able-bodied who were burdened with debt.

Partly through Hataria’s efforts, partly through links with Bombay and the opportunities these offered, some Iranian Zoroastrians were now able to prosper, and as they acquired wealth they too sought to benefit their community, as well as their own souls, through chari­table acts. The first family to do so on any scale was that of Mehrābān Rostam, or “Mehr,” whose seven sons all became wealthy merchants and bankers. Their known charities cover a wide spectrum. In Yazd, Jamšīd and Rašīd built a new fire temple in the priests’ quarter, and Kay Ḵosrow founded a school beside it (visited in 1887, under escort by another brother, Ardašīr, by E. G. Browne, 1893, p. 408). Several more schools were built later in this region. Godarz built a water tank (āb-anbār) on the way from Yazd to the Zoroastrian mountain shrine of Pīr-e Sabz, and a pavilion at the shrine itself to shelter pilgrims. The family owned land in the village of Allāhābād (Ēlābād) and there Rostam built the fire temple, Kay Ḵosrow the daḵma, and Godarz the school and water tank, the latter with access for Muslim as well as Zoroastrian villagers (Boyce, 1977, p. 96). Godarz also gave the ground in Yazd for Christian missionaries to build a hospital. This range of benefactions broadly represents those made by other Zoroastrians of means from then on. They were mostly originally for the bene­fit of their own community but often came (as in the case of schools, hospitals, etc.) to serve others outside it also, and in traditional fashion charity was also at times extended to the poor and distressed without distinction. A notable general benefactor was the hugely wealthy banker Jamšīd Bahman, who lived in Tehran at the end of the 13th/19th century (Jackson, 1909, pp. 426-27), while among leading Yazdi families who followed the charitable example of the house of Mehr were the Jahānīāns. Kay Ḵosrow Šāh-Jahān founded the first girls’ school in Yazd at the beginning of this century, and in the 1920s his sons built there a fire temple with adjacent boys’ school, another girls’ school, a rest house, and a hospital. The imposing gahambār-ḵāna of Yazd was erected in the 1310s Š./1930s by Rostam Ḵosrow Sedāyat, a merchant of priestly family. (This is described by Gropp, pp. 274-77, but under the misapprehension that it was an older building.) In Kermān the Sorūšīāns were notable benefactors, and the founder of the family, Sorūš Šahrīār, followed a lead set by Tehran in giving land, in the 1320s Š./1940s, for a new burial ground, which the family continues to maintain.

Beside the large charities of many individuals (many in relation to the small size of the surviving community), new corporate bodies were created this century to raise or administer charitable funds. In 1918 a second society, The Iranian Zoroastrian Anjoman of Bombay, was formed in India by Iranian emigrants to help those in the mother country, and, as well as continuing to found schools and so on, this society financed the translation of the Avesta into Persian by the scholar Pūr-e Dāwūd (P. P. Bharucha, pp. xxv-xxvii). Among the society’s most munificent supporters was Pestonji Marker of Karachi, founder of the well known boys’ school in Yazd. Later a Marker foundation was established for charitable purposes (Marker, 1984, pp. 163-86), and similarly a Yazdi Zoroastrian, Rustam Guiv (Rostam Gīv), after many individual benefactions, created the Guiv Trust, later the Guiv Foundation. When a consortium of Zoroastrian businessmen developed the new district of Tehrān-Pārs to the east of Tehran, Guiv established there, on land provided at reduced cost by the Areš family (Hūḵt), a Zoroastrian colony, Rostamābād, with fire temple, community halls, library, schools, sports ground, and some 60 houses. It is now encompassed within the boundaries of Tehran. Meantime the anjomans of Yazd and Kermān (established through Hataria’s prompting in the 13th/19th century; see ANJOMAN-E ZARTOŠTĪĀN) and that of Tehran had become administrators of waqf and organizers of communal charitable undertakings. The Tehran anjoman was founded in 1907 under the leadership of Kay Ḵosrow Šāhroḵ [Keikhosrow Shahrokh] of Kermān, the first elected Zoroastrian member of parliament and an active figure in the establishment of funds for a temple burial ground and numerous schools both in Tehran and Kermān (Ošīdārī, pp. 40-42, 86-99). Also in the 1330s Š./1950s a hospital was founded by the Fīrūzgar family, which came under the management of the Ministry of Health.

Zoroastrian charitable work in India. The Parsis, that is, the Zoroastrians of India, acquired wealth and in­fluence much sooner than their coreligionists in Persia and never suffered the same harsh oppression. Their records are accordingly fuller in respect to their chari­table work (See BOMBAY i) and show that their traditional charities were the same as those of their Persian coreligionists, notably in helping the sick and poor, enabling the children of the poor to be initiated into the faith, and founding gahambārs. The earliest known Parsi benefactor is Chānga Āsā, a landowner at Navsari in the 12th-13th/15th-16th centuries. Among other acts to aid his community he succeeded in having them freed from the jezya, but this relief was either local or short-lived, for in the 11th/17th century another Parsi famed for his philanthropy, Rustam Maneck of Surat, himself paid this tax for all the poor Parsis of that town. He had acquired wealth as the first broker to the newly arrived British merchants there and spent it generously not only on poor relief, but also on public works, such as making wells and laying out gardens. A district of Surat, in acknowledgement, is named after him, Rustampura (Modi, pp. 101-232; White). One of the earliest recorded foundations of a gahambār was that made for his own soul’s sake by Lowji Nusserwanji Wadia, born about 1700, the founder of the dynasty of master ship builders of Bombay dockyards. He also, “as was the custom of those days amongst the rich Parsis,” gave money to priests to copy religious manuscripts (Wadia, p. 5; Masani).

It was the collective charity of the Parsis, however, which impressed the western travelers who encountered them, from the 17th century onward (Firby). As one of them recorded, their charities “to such as are infirm and miserable leave no man destitute of relief nor suffer a beggar in all their tribe” (Ovington, p. 218). Others remarked that their charity was extended to those in need beyond their own “tribe”; and in time, when the growth of newspapers made their leaders aware of international affairs, it came to be offered worldwide (Hinnells, 1985a, especially Appendix L).

The first major Parsi charitable foundation was established by the merchant prince, Jamsetji Jijibhoy (1783-1859), who was born in poverty at Navsari but rose to become the first Parsi to receive both a knighthood and a baronetcy, largely for his immense philanthropy (Mody). Among his main benefactions were the founding of eleven schools, three fire temples, India’s first western style hospital (still a major univer­sity teaching hospital), the building of wells and water tanks, roads and bridges, together with a daḵma, rest houses and meeting places (baugs) for his own commun­ity and large donations to relief funds for the victims of fire, famine, and cyclones. He also endowed gahambārs and gave generously for the poor, disabled, and widows. In addition he made many gifts at fourth-day cere­monies for the souls of the dead, and performed other private acts of charity (Wadia, pp. 143-54). His major charitable foundation was the Parsi Benevolent Institute (PBI), established in part to relieve the poverty brought about in his community by the collapse of the Indian weaving industry through the import of British manu­factured goods. The Parsi Benevolent Institute was to provide food and clothes for poor children, pay for marriages and funerals of the poor, support the blind and disabled, but above all extend schooling for Parsi children in Navsari, Surat, Broach, and Bombay. So substantial was the education fund that within twenty years the Parsi Benevolent Institute was running 21 schools with 3,049 pupils (Hinnells, 1978, pp. 49f.). Eventually the institute was amalgamated with the Bombay Parsi Panchayat.

The story of Parsi charity during this period is impressive (for the period up to 1937 see Hinnells, 1985a). Between 1820 and 1940 some 180 fire temples were built and endowed in India (the community having spread out with the building of railways). 170 daḵmas and burial grounds had been made, 40 rest houses for travelers, and 20 meeting places to serve religious and communal needs. Other forms of charity, including hospitals, housing, and poor relief, were generously maintained, many for the needy of any community. Whereas in the 19th century the chief philanthropists were the Jijibhoys, F. C. Banaji, and the Petits, in the 20th century the main names have been those of the Readymoneys, Camas, Tatas, and, more recently, the Godrejs, with the Wadias figuring throughout. There has also been a slight shift in the objects of large benefactions. In the earlier period these tended to be fire temples, schools, and hospitals, in the later one li­braries, housing, and some major bodies associated with education, for example scholarships. The Tatas have especially endowed research institutes for the sciences.

In the 20th century further efforts have been made to coordinate charitable work. In 1919 the Parsi Charitable Organization was founded; and a report on charitable work was commissioned by the Ratan Tata trusts in 1932 (undertaken by S. F. Markham), followed by a survey made for the Bombay Parsi Panchayat by its secretary Jal F. Bulsara. The common conclusion was that, by handing out doles to individuals, benefactors were unwittingly creating a beggar mentality and that money should rather be spent in trying to attack the causes of poverty (see especially, Bulsara). World War II disrupted the work of the emerging planning bodies, but in 1945 a Conference of Trusts was held, and an attempt was made at coordination. This failed, how­ever, as trustees feared that the amalgamation would conflict with their legally binding objectives (Wadia). Other reports and surveys were made, both in Bombay and in rural Gujarat, but with little apparent effect. But in fact charity generally has become more purposeful. Employment bureaus have been established, and manu­facturing bases subsidized where necessary to provide work. Health units have been set up, and support has been given to farmers. Some court applications have enabled funds to be redirected from objects that no longer require them (e.g., a fever hospital) to something of more immediate use, but the old charities continue to serve the purposes for which they were created, especially the maintenance of religious buildings and institutions, and schools.

In the 1970s and 1980s fresh efforts emerged with the establishment in Bombay of the Athravan Trust, whose main purposes was to pay for the training of boys for the priesthood and to supplement the meager incomes of working priests. One of the leading movers in this was Dastur Dr. Firoze M. Kotwal, high priest of the Wadia Ataš Bahram, and the chief executives among the trustees were K. P. Mistree and at first Huzan Kharas, with the support of leading industrialists (Godrejs, Tatas, H. Ranina). A parallel project was launched to support the priests, notably those in the Udwada Atash Bahram, by a priest based in Karachi, P. D. Magol. K. P. Mistree had earlier founded Zoroastrian Studies, an educational body whose main aim is to improve knowledge of the faith in India and overseas but which has also undertaken charitable work, notably among poor priestly families at Udwada, where the oldest Parsi sacred fire burns.

Two other recently formed bodies with charitable concerns are the Federation of Zoroastrian Anjomans of India, which seeks to coordinate the resources and meet the needs of Parsi communities throughout India, and the Zoroastrian Community Development In­stitute. This latter has as its major purpose bringing before the Parsis the state of various trusts, and preparing reports on charitable foundations, such as temples, rest houses, communal housing, many of them published in its newsletter, Astavani, or in separate reports by H. S. Dalal. According to such analyses the problems faced by the different trusts arise in the main from two factors. One is that terms of the trusts and the fabric of the buildings they care for alike often date back to the 19th century and need revision or repair. The other is that as the community declines in numbers, so does the supply of voluntary workers and of benefactions.

Charitable work in the Zoroastrian diaspora. Wher­ever Zoroastrian communities have established them­selves, organized charity has developed with the found­ing of temples (in Karachi, Aden, Zanzibar) or com­munity centers, with prayer rooms (London, Canton, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, and in various American and Canadian cities, for which see below). Money has been given either for a daḵma or for buying burial grounds wherever communities have been established. In some older communities, such as Kara­chi, Lahore, and Nairobi, charitable endowments have funded communal housing. Everywhere funds have been established to help the poor of the community, especially for the poor back in “the old country,” and for education. In 1980 the World Zoroastrian Organi­zation (WZO) was established in London, its stated aim being “the promotion of unity, cooperation, and solidarity among Zoroastrians scattered throughout the world.” In 1983 the World Zarathushtrian Trust Fund was founded. Its three objects are: 1. to advance the Zoroastrian religion generally, 2. to advance education in the field of Zoroastrian religion, and 3. to relieve poverty among peoples of the Zoroastrian religion. Many of the older diaspora centers have clauses in their constitutions about helping not only those in need in India but also local, non-Zoroastrian, good causes. Thus the numerically small (less than 150 persons) Zoroastrian community in Hong Kong gives a fixed proportion of all annual charitable donations to such causes as The Sisters of the Poor founded by Mother Theresa. Centers established more recently rarely make such formal provisions; instead, they commonly circu­late among their members newsletters containing ap­peals for help from India, often for children requiring expensive surgical treatment in the West or for under­-endowed fire temples and priestly seminaries facing hardship. Such causes are often oversubscribed to. These activities are especially characteristic of the 18 Zoroastrian Associations of the USA and Canada (for fuller details see Hinnells, 1985b). The needs of Zoroas­trians in Persia are not forgotten, but aid to them is rarely publicized, a feature characteristic of much Zoroastrian charitable work.

A major charitable foundation in North America was established by Rustam Guiv, founder of Rostamābād in Tehran. In the 1970s he endowed a trust in California for the benefit of his coreligionists in the New World, and in 1980 the Rustam Guiv Foundation in New York was established to dispense the income of this trust “for religious purposes.” It has been used to purchase religious and social meeting centers in New York (1977), Toronto (1980), Los Angeles (1982, with a new building opened in 1987), and Vancouver (1987) and has made substantial contributions to other places, notably Chicago (1983) and, outside North America, Sydney (1987), and has contributed to the extension of the Zoroastrian House in London. Extensive land has been purchased for future use in San Francisco.



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(John R. Hinnells, Mary Boyce, and Shahrokh Shahrokh)

(Maria Macuch; John R. Hinnells, Mary Boyce, and Shahrokh Shahrokh)

Originally Published: December 15, 1991

Last Updated: October 13, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. V, Fasc. 4, pp. 380-385