The Dadar Athornan Institute was established as a charitable Institute by the Athornan Mandal, an association of priests, on 9th November 1919. Its main aim was to give the children of Parsi priests, especially those residing in mofussil areas, an opportunity to gain systematic scriptural, ritual, religious and secular education, along with boarding, lodging, and allied facilities like medicines, books and stationery absolutely free of costs.

This Institute started with 10 students under Principal Ervad Barjorji Erachji Bajan at the bungalow donated by Mr. Bomanji Hormasji General at Golanji Hill, Parel.
Later a need for a larger premise was felt, and a one storeyed building was constructed in Dadar Parsi Colony through the largesse of Bai Dhunbaiji Pestonji Hakimji, where the Institute was shifted in 1924. A couple of years later a second floor was added by the Athornan Mandal, at a cost of around fifty thousand Rupees.

In 1990 an Annexe Building consisting of a ground and three floors was constructed adjoining the existing Institute building, which houses the Mancherji Joshi Hall, a Library with a collection of books on Indo-Iranian and Zoroastrian subjects, a Medicare centre and a residential staff quarters.

Till 1965, secular education was imparted by in-house teachers, within the Institute premises. From 1966, the Institute students went to the nearby Dadar Parsi Youths Assembly (D.P.YA.) High School to get secular education upto S.S.C. level. Till date this school gives completely free education to all Institute students.

The Institute was closed down on 20th April 1965 due to lack of funds. It restarted on 20th June 1966, after a year, under a new management, with Ervad Rustomji N. Panthaki as the Principal, who with his noble wife Jalamai guided the Institute for almost 30 years and nurtured it to a respectable position in the international Zoroastrian community. Rustomji’s tryst with the Institute started in 1928 as a student and lasted for almost 70 years in various capacities as a student, teacher and finally as its most successful Principal. It was due to his vision and insight that the Institute Annexe building came up in 1990. After him, the author, himself an alumnus of the Institute (1974-1980), took over as the Principal.

Since 1973, college-students were allowed to continue at the Institute. Initially it was mandatory for them to take up the Arts stream and study Avesta-Pahlavi as their main subject. However, since 2005, they are allowed to take up education in any stream they desire and learn Avesta as an additional language. The college students are given free boarding and lodging and are also given college and tuition fees. They perform certain residential duties and serve as assistant teachers.
1. Golden Jubilee…., 1971, p.1
2. Parsi Prakash, Vol. V, p.463
3. Golden Jubilee…., 1971, p.6
4. Golden Jubilee…., 1971, p.7
5. Platinum Jubilee…,1994, p.34
Ervad Barjorji Bajan (1919-1926) was the first Principal of the Institute. He was a competent Athornan, who not only had the command over scriptural recital and performance of rituals, he was also well versed in Zoroastrian religion, Iranian history and Iranian languages. He was also an author of several religious books in Gujarati. He served for eight years. After him, Dinshaji Navroji Minocher-Homji, Ervad (later Dastur) Faramroz Areshir Bode and Ervad Jamshedji Cawasji Katrak served as Principals.

Ervad Edalji Faramji Madan was appointed teacher of Avesta recital, religious knowledge, Iranian history, Avesta and Pahlavi in 1927. Initially he was reluctant to take up the responsibilities of a Principal, as he was visually handicapped. However, from 1934 he became the Principal and served till his demise in 1947. He was an author of religious, Iranian history and scriptural books in Gujarati.

After Ervad Madan’s demise, Mr. Gustadji Bachaji Kotwal, Mr, Hirjibhai Cawasji Driver and Mr. Jamshedji Kharshedji Elavia served till 1965, when the Institute closed down for a period of one year. Mr. Elavia rejoined in 1966 and served as a teacher of secular subjects till 1975.

Ervad Cawas Peshotan Anklesaria was an instructor for priestly studies for about 20 years, till his demise in 1969. A stern but diligent teacher, his students adorn the priestly scene of the Community today.

Ervad Bejonji Fardunji Kanga served from 1929 to –1953. He taught scriptures as well as religion to junior students. He had a good hold over Iranian languages as well as over Mathematics. He was a good scribe, and used to maintain books and records of the Institute.

Other teachers for scriptures include Ervad Pallonji Pirojsha Antia, Ervad Minocheher Rustamji Unwalla, Ervad Erachsha Edalji Karkaria, Ervad Firoze Ratansha Patel, Ervad Hormasji Ratanji Jinia, Ervad Keki Meherwanji Dastur, Ervad Burjorji Ratanji Panthaki and Ervad Hoshang Erachsha Mirza, Ervad Darabsha Bomanji Sidhwa, Ervad Sam Behrmsha Sidhwa.

From 1979 students of the Institute studied Avesta language and appeared in the S.S.C. with Avesta as the second language. Since 1998, on account of change of policy in language studies by the Education Board, this practice has been discontinued. Presently college students of the Institute study the Avesta language as a special subject.
6. Golden Jubilee…., 1971, p.3
7. Golden Jubilee…., 1971, p.4
8. Golden Jubilee…., 1971, p.5
9. Golden Jubilee…., 1971, p.5
There was a big difference in the way education was imparted in this Institute before it closed down in 1965, and after it re-opened. Prior to the closure, students did not attend a High School. Admissions were taken every alternate year. The students stayed at the Institute for a period of six years and basic secular education was imparted along with religious and scriptural training inside the Institute. There were three groups of students and hence only three classes. Education was imparted at three levels. There were an average of about 30 students, thus about 10 students in each group.

In the early days of the Institute, the students woke up at 5:30 a.m. and till noon learnt by rote religious scriptures, along with recital and performance of accompanying rituals. After mid-day secular education was imparted, in which basic knowledge of English, Gujarati, Urdu, Avesta, Pahlavi and Persian languages was given. Religious knowledge (Guj. dharmagnan) and Iranian history (Guj. tavarikh) was also an integral part of the curriculum. Secular subjects like Mathematics, Geography and History were also taught. Games and physical culture were also part of the curriculum.

Students who passed out from here during this old system, generally used to go to the M.F.Cama Athornan Institute, even though they would have completed their priesthood training over here and qualified as full fledged priests. This was done, so that they could complete their Matriculation, as the facility for High School education was not available then at the Dadar Institute.

Education - The new system

Since 1966, when the Institute re-opened under Principal Rustomji N. Panthaki, the study schedule of the Institute changed drastically. Students used to go to the Dadar Parsee Youths Assembly High School for academic education. Till April 1975, the school worked in one shift from 9:00 a.m to 3:00 p.m. From June 1975 the school functioned in two shifts – 7:30 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. for Std. VIII-X and from 1:00 pm to 6:00 p.m. for Std. I–VII.

Apart from going to the DPYA High School for their academic studies, students are given private group tuitions and coaching at the Institute. Primary school students are coached by in-house teachers. External tutors are recruited to coach senior students in specialized subjects like Hindi, Marathi, Science and Maths.

Method of scriptural training

Admissions are given to children of priestly class from Std I to III, either before or after their Navjot.

The Khordeh Avesta is taught in the Gujarati script and later the Yasna is taught in the Avestan script. The student is first assisted to read a passages of prayers, about 4 to 5 lines, word by word. Then the student memorises the passage. After that, the teacher takes up the passage, ensuring that the paragraphs learnt previously are not forgotten.

Regular revision of prayers previously learnt is necessary and forms and integral part of the scriptural study schedule, as texts not revised are easily forgotten within a few months.

The scriptural training is spread over a period of seven years. The main part of the training includes learning by heart the scriptural texts, which include parts of the Khordeh Avesta, the 72 chapters of the Yasna and the 23 chapters of the Visperad. A student praying for about three hours a day for nine months (three months are for vacations) generally requires about 5 years to complete the above memorization. The later two years are for the preparation of Maratab, the higher priesthood initiation.

The seven year scriptural training is spread as follows. The first, and the first half of the second year the student starts with learning the Khordeh Avesta in the Gujarati script., in which they learn the following prayers by heart: Kasti prayers, Din-no-Kalmo, Jamvani Baj, 101 names of God, 30 roz, 12 mah, Hamkaras, Geh, Gahambars, Gathas, Sarosh Baj, Tandarosti, Hoshbam, 5 Geh, Patet Pashemani, 5 Nyaishnas, Vispa Humata, Nam Setayashne, 4 Dishano Namaskar. Stum no Kardo, Sarosh Yasht Vadi, Sarosh Yasht Hadokht, Nani Hom Yasht, Vanant Yasht, Siroza Yasht, Hormazd Yasht & Ardibahesht Yasht.

In the later half of the second year, the student is first taught to read the Avestan script and then the learning of the Yasna starts, which is completed till Yasna Ha (chapter) 10 by the end of the second year. In the third year Yasna Ha 11- 34, in the fourth Year, Yasna Ha 35 –53, and in the fifth year the entire Yasna (till Ha 72); Visparad, supplementary texts, (Bajdharna of Yasna and Visparad); Dron Yasht, Afringans and various Baj (Baj before going to toilet, before meals, before bath etc.) are then taught.

In the sixth year prayers required for daily priestly rituals like Afringans (Ardafravash, Gatha, Gahambar, Daham, Sarosh etc.) and Afrins (Ardafravash, Bozorg, Hamkara, Gahambar etc.) are taught by heart. Reading and ritual of Farokhshi, Performance of Jashan, Afringan, and after death rituals are also taught. In the second half of the sixth year, fluent reading of Vendidad Fragard I – XII is done. In the seventh year the reading of the rest of the Vendidad (Fragard XIII –XXII) and its allied prayers are taught. The student is ready for Maratab by the end of the seventh year.

Every year an external examiner, who is a priest of a high calibre, takes exam of scriptural recital and rituals, after which he gives his report as to the standard of training. Generally an external examiner continues for a period of four to five years to assess the progress and give guidance on a longer term.

Weekly classes are held to teach religious knowledge which includes basic teachings of the religions, meanings of basic prayers, ethics and rituals. Iranian history covers the information of the five Iranian dynasty and the history of the Zoroastrian s in Iran and India during the last millennia, which includes biography of eminent Zoroastrians.

Since its inception, more than 500 students have studied at this Institute. Its alumni include Dasturji Dr. Hormazdyar K. Mirza, Dasturji Kaikobad P. Dastur, Dasturji Khurshed K. Dastur, Dasturji Meherji K. Mehrji Rana, Dasturji Nadirshah P.Unwala, Ervad Rustomji N. Panthaki, Ervad Ratansha R. Motafram and Ervad Parvez M. Bajan.

The Institute has had students from all over India, especially from Broach, Ankleshwar, Baroda, Billimora, Nargol, Udwada, Surat, Navsari, Bulsar, Tarapor, Ahmedabad, Saurashtra, Indore, Raipur, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Poona.

The Golden Jubilee of the Institute was celebrated in 1971 and its Platinum Jubilee in 1994. At both times a souvenir was brought out, covering a brief history of the Institute till that time. On the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee a grand Programme was held and a special First Day Cover was released by the Department of Indian Post to commemorate this event.
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