- When we read a Parsi ‘Who’s Who’, we come across personalities connected to politics, military, business, theatre, medicine, science, law, arts and sports. Rarely do we read about a person who has contributed to and changed the religious life of people. In this column, we will see some people who have immensely contributed to the religious life of the Parsis and to whom we Parsis owe a lot, but have forgotten to express our debt of gratitude.
- If we properly understand all our prayers and Avestan texts today, it is largely due to the efforts of late Ervad Kavasji Edalji Kanga and others like him. Er. Kanga was born on 4th June 1839. He practiced for some time as a priest in Navsari. He became one of the greatest indigenous scholar of Avesta, Pahelvi, Persian and Sanskrit languages and was also knowledgeable in some European languages like Latin, English, German and French.
- He studied at Elphinstone Institution and later taught at Elphinstone High School. He studied elementary Indo-Iranian languages under Ervad Erachji Sorabji Meherji Rana and the grammar and philology of Avesta under Mr. Kharshedji Rustomji Cama. He was among the first batch of pupils of Mr. K. R. Cama, along with other stalwarts of his time like Ervads S.D.Bharucha, T.D.Anklesaria, E.K.Antia, J. Nadirsha and K. Kateli.
- In 1863 he joined Mulla Firoz Madressa, an institute teaching Indo-Iranian languages, as a teacher of Avesta and Persian and the very next year he was appointed its Head Master, where he served for 41 years till the end of his life. In 1885 he was appointed a Fellow of the Bombay University, and then was appointed an examiner of Avesta for B.A. and M.A. exams at the University.
- His greatest contribution towards the field of Iranian languages in general and Parsis in particular are his translations of the entire Avestan into Gujarati, most of them word to word, a work which is unparalleled as yet in the history of Avestan studies. Books of his translations, like Khordeh Avesta Ba Maeni, Yasht Ba Maeni and Gatha Ba Maeni are the most sought after books by people who want to understand Avesta prayers, even after more than a hundred years. His translations were totally unbiased, objective and close to the text. Another of his unparalleled contribution are the Avesta grammar book and two dictionaries – Avesta to English in 1900 and English to Avesta in 1909, which are still very actively used.
- In all, he produced 11 invaluable books in Iranian languages. He was by nature humble and an introvert. He carried on his Avesta studies in solitude without any fanfare. Mr. K.R.Cama said about him, “He was one who knew a lot but showed a little. All of his pupils should emulate this quality of his.”
- He donated much of his meagre wealth to his beloved Mulla Firoz Madressa. He passed away at the age of 65 on 10th March 1904. A month after his passing away, Dastur Kaikhushru Jamaspji suggested in the newspapers to all priests to recite his name at all public ceremonies. A public condolence meeting was held for him by his friends, admirers and pupils, on 9th April 1904 under the chairmanship of Mr. K. R. Cama.