Category Archives: News

Trust events and news

Jal Edulji Amrolia’s gift to the Library

We were sad to hear last week of the death on 12 May of Jal Amrolia, a long-standing friend of the Ancient India and Iran Trust. Jal Edulji Amrolia was born in Zanzibar on 22nd August 1929 to Tehmina and Edulji Amrolia, one of three siblings with two sisters Khurshed and Sheru. He went to boarding school in Nargol, Gujarat, and then to Technical College in Surat where he met his future wife Banoo (Armin) whom he married in 1955. He returned to Dar-es Salam and got a job in the Tanganyika Electrical Supply Company with postings in Mwanza and Kigoma. In 1961 he came to the UK and worked for the Central Electricity Generating Board with postings at Brunswick Wharf, Hackney and finally as Charge Engineer at Battersea Power Station.

In his spare time Jal studied Avestan with Nicholas Sims-Williams at SOAS and took up silversmithing, specialising in reproductions of Achaemenid and Sassanian works of art. Two of his most successful works were exhibited in the exhibition Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination held first at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, in 2013 and more recently at the National Museum Delhi.

Amrolia rhytonA modern reproduction of a gold rhyton found in Hamadan (Ecbatana) in the 5th century BC now in the National Museum Tehran. Collection Z. Amrolia

Amrolia bowlA modern reproduction of a gold Achaemenid bowl found in Hamadan (Ecbatana), engraved with the name of the Persian king Xerxes I, c. 4th-5th century BC now in the National Museum, Tehran. Collection Z. Amrolia

We also benefited from his generosity at the Trust where he donated several books. The most interesting of these is a Gujarati translation of the story of the Zoroastrian hero Arda Viraz (‘the righteous Virazʼ), or Viraf as he is called in Persian and Gujarati. Originally written in Pahlavi (pre-Islamic Persian) in the early Islamic period, the story was translated into Persian verse at the end of the 13th century by Zartosht Bahram Pazhdu. The Gujarati version we now have thanks to Jal’s generosity, is a very rare book. It was printed in Bombay in 1871 using – as we are told in the introduction – an earlier published translation of Zartosht Bahram’s poem, but with the addition of 59 drawings copied directly from an unspecified Persian manuscript.

AVliesdown_2000Arda Viraf lies in a trance while his soul travels to the world of the dead. Public domain

heroes_2000Arda Viraf sees the souls of warriors in Heaven. Public domain

evildeana_2000Arda Viraf sees the soul of a male sinner as he meets his ‘daena‘, a female personification of his evil deeds on earth. Public domain. Public domain

slackers_2000The souls in Hell of those who were slack in carrying out the rules of the religion. Public domain

Jal Amrolia is survived by his two sons Zarathustra born in 1963 and Persis in 1964.

I am grateful to Malcolm Deboo for supplying biographical information.

Ursula Sims-Williams ©

‘The Multimedia Yasna’ research project awarded European Research Council grant

Good news for Zoroastrian and Avesta studies! AIIT trustee Almut Hintze, Zartoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism at SOAS University of London, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Investigator Grant of just under €2.5 million (ca. £2 million) for a project on the Yasna, the core ritual of one of the most ancient and influential living religions, Zoroastrianism.

Andheri Yazishn Gah 03The yazishn-gah (‘place of worship’), where the Yasna ritual will be filmed. Andheri Athornan Institute, Mumbai. Photo: Almut Hintze

‘The Multimedia Yasna’ (MUYA) focusses on the interpretation and ritual of the Yasna which dates from between the mid to late second millennium BC and  includes the oldest part of the Zoroastrian sacred texts. Composed in the ancient Iranian language Avestan, the texts were transmitted orally and not written down until the fifth or sixth century AD. The oral tradition continues to be central to the religion and the daily Yasna ceremony, the most important of all the rituals, is recited from memory by Zoroastrian priests. The interpretation of the Yasna has long been hampered by out-dated editions and translations of the text and until now there has been no documentation and study of the performance of the full ritual. The project will examine both the written and oral traditions. It will film a performance of the Yasna ritual and create a critical edition of the recitation text examining the Yasna both as a performance and as a text attested in manuscripts. The two approaches will be integrated to answer questions about the meaning and function of the Yasna in a historical perspective.

Mss Ave 17_f127vA 16th-century manuscript copy of the Yasna sadah (Yasna ceremony) copied in India (British Library MSS Avestan 17, ff. 127v–128r, Yasna 43.4–7). Public domain

Arundel 54
A 17th-century Yasna Sadeh from Iran showing the beginning of Yasna 44 in which Ahura Mazda, the supreme God , is questioned about the creation (British Library Arundel Or 54, f.97r). Public domain

Combining models and methodologies from digital humanities, philology and linguistics, the project will produce a subtitled, interactive film of the Yasna ritual, an online platform of transcribed manuscripts and editorial tools together with print editions, translations and commentaries of the Avestan Yasna. Information which was formerly restricted to students of Iranian philology and practicing Zoroastrians will now be accessible to a wider audience through digital humanities.

Pupils practising  recitation of the sacred texts at a priestly school in Mumbhai. Photo: Almut Hintze

The project, based at SOAS, will run from October 2016 to September 2021. Headed by Almut Hintze with an international team of researchers in the UK, Germany, India and Iran, it will provide positions for three full-time and one part-time postdoctoral researchers, in addition to three fully funded PhD scholarships.

AIIT’s Flavour of the month…

When the trust was invited by Alan Alder, one of the regular presenters on Cambridge105’s Saturday food programme Flavour, to participate in a feature on food-related books in Cambridge libraries, we thought why not.

Although we are not known for our gastronomical collections, it was interesting to note how many books we discovered that were not just cookery books, but also included content on the social and cultural aspects of food in Indian, Zoroastrian and Central Asian life and history.

AIIT food books
From the collection of two of our founding trustees, Raymond and Bridget Allchin, there are cookery books such as Punjabi Cooking (Gill, P.T., 1984), and South Indian Recipes (Neela, Miss R., 1950); small volumes, mostly un-illustrated (with the exception of The Dalda Cookbook / Dalda Advisory Service, Bombay, 196?, see photo below) and densely packed with everyday recipes for roti, rice, dals, pickles, koftas and halwas; as well as many vegetarian and meat recipes for more substantial meals, including one for ‘curried partridge’ (p.67, Punjabi Cooking / P.T. Gill).

Dalda cookbook
Less unusual titles from the collection of two eminent archaeologists, are those on ancient food gatherers, hunters and farmers in ancient India, including; Food and Drinks in Ancient India (Prakash, Om, 1961, N F32B 12) and From Hunting and Food Gathering to Domestication of Plants and Animals: Beginnings of Agriculture (Sharma, G.R. et al, 1980, N F31E 15), which illustrate the story of subsistence from the earliest civilisations of the Indian subcontinent up to 1200 A.D.

Our collection from another archaeologist, Gregory Possehl, also includes both archaeological and anthropological books with themes that include: ancient farming and food-production, in Farming in Prehistory (Bender, B., 1975, FP592); cultural comparisions of the development of culinary practices around the world in Cooking, Cuisine and Class: a study in comparative sociology (Goody, J, 1982, FP771); studies of the development of food production in Aspects in South Asian Food Systems: Food, Society and Culture (Khare, R.S. & Rao, M.S.A., eds., 1986, FP599) and the superbly titled Human Evolution Cookbook (Dibble, Harold L., Williamson, D. & Evans, B.M., 2003, FP975), which claims to combine “…a dash of prehistory, a sprinkle of recipes, and a generous helping of humor…” and includes tempting recipes such as ‘Serengeti Scavenged Stew’ (see photo below), ‘Neanderthal Nibblers’ and ‘Glacial Gravlax’!

IMG_3425 IMG_3423
Two of the more unusual food-related titles in our collection are from the collection of Mongolian studies material, donated to the trust by Charles Bawden. Published in Cyrillic script, Malyn tsusyg khu̇nsėnd khėrėglėkh nʹ  (translated as ‘Using animal blood in food’) by TS. Gėndėnzhamts (1986, M F28H 18) and Khu̇nsniĭ bu̇tėėgdėkhu̇u̇n khadgalakh mȯsȯn zoorʹ  (translated as ‘Food products [of/in] cold storage’) by N. Lonzhid (1986, M F28H 23) are guides to the processes involving the preservation of blood for use in food, rather than books that contain specific culinary references. Historically, dating back to Genghis Khan, it was seen as taboo in Mongolia to spill or waste blood (see Francis Woodman Cleaves, The Secret History of the Mongols (Cambridge, MA, 1982, A15G 27), 140; also, Marco Polo, The Description of the World, eds. Moule & Pelliot (London, 1938, F44F 2) I, 199-200;) and thus publications that instruct on the preservation and use of blood do not seem that unusual in the reference collection of a Mongolian scholar.

Within the trust’s Persian collection are many references to Parsi food. There are guidelines in the Videvdad (Vendidad), within the sacred texts of the Avesta (B8A 60), emphasizing that people should eat and drink well so as to prevent their bodies from becoming weak and diseases to develop. Two articles on ‘The eating habits of the Parsis’ (Chalo, Jamva, pp 521-534) and ‘Parsi cuisine in the villages of Gujarat’ Dalal, Katy, pp 535-539), in A Zoroastrian Tapestry: art, religion & culture (eds. Godrej, Pheroze J. & Mistree, Firoza Punthakey, 2002, B8A 61). Both articles are illustrated and include some wonderful photographs of ‘…early twentieth century advertisements of the well known Irani bakeries and cafes in Bombay.’ (529, photo below).

parsi bakers ads final
The selection of books discussed on the programme ranged from Indian cookery books of the 1950s (all filled with recipes and nutritional advice); to Mongolian practical guides on how to store blood for cooking; to Parsi cuisine and the contrast between advice in the ancient Zoroastrian Videvdad texts and an online book of Zoroastrian recipes for feasts, celebrations and religious ceremonies, entitle Eat, Live, Pray. This recent publication included a feature on wine, which reminded us that Shiraz is a city in southwest Persia, and the grape was exported from there to countries around the world. It also has a recipe for Chai Creme Brulee, stating that it is also known as ‘Trinity Cream’ or Cambridge Burnt Cream, after the college where it debuted – something we thought was well worth a mention!

That the discoveries we made, whilst researching for this feature, were so diverse and not all scholarly in content highlights that when we accept collections of books into our library they can be eclectic and go well beyond the realm of the subject specialism, or that academic’s area of expertise.

For those of you who haven’t already tuned in to Flavour, it is aired fortnightly on Cambridge105 at 12pm and you can listen to a podcast of the edition that featured Alan’s conversation with our librarian, Jo Salisbury, which aired on Saturday 14th May.

Jo Salisbury


The Bactrian Archives… Upcoming lecture at the RAS by AIIT Chair Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams

The Bactrian archives: Reconstructing the lost history of Ancient Afghanistan

Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams (SOAS) and Chairman of the Ancient India and Iran Trust.

May 12th, 6-7pm at the Royal Asiatic Society, 14 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HD

Anniversary General Meeting and presentation of the Denis Sinor Medal 2015


AIIT Cambridge: Easter Term Lecture Programme

6 MAY: Special event for Friends of the Trust
Geoff Hales: Kipling in India – a dramatised talk

20 MAY: Katherine Schofield (King’s College, London)
Music, art, and affective power between 16C North India and the Deccan

3 JUNE: AIIT Honorary Fellow Lecture 2016
Anna Dallapiccola: South Indian mural paintings (16th to 18th centuries)

Lectures begin at 5.30pm. Refreshments from 5pm. All welcome.

Ancient India & Iran Trust , 23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8BG

If you wish to attend the Friends’ event on 6th May or would like a Friends’ application form, please contact the Administrator on or tel. 01223 356841



Raymond Mercier: Calendars in India and a problem with eclipses in Orissa – AIIT Cambridge, 18th March, 5.30pm


Raymond Mercier

Calendars in India and a problem with eclipses in Orissa

Scholar and author Raymond Mercier will explain something of the variety of calendars used in mediaeval India. Each calendar counts years from a certain epoch, and while most epoch years have been established there has remained one, that of the Ganga Era of Orissa, that is still to be fixed…..

This talk is part of the Cambridge Science Festival. Booking advisable but we will endeavour to accommodate all.

Refreshments from 5pm.

Friday 18th March 2016, 5.30pm
Ancient India & Iran Trust
23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8BG

Tel: 01223 356841. E-mail:

Arthur Dudney – What Language Did Kiyomars Speak? Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Theories on the Origins of Persian – AIIT Cambridge, 19 February 5.30pm


Friday 19th February 5.30pm.

Arthur Dudney will speak on

What Language Did Kiyomars Speak? Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Theories on the Origins of Persian

Theories of linguistic origins before modern times were full of mythical people and semi-mythical societies. These could be dismissed out of hand as historical curiosities but this talk argues that pre-modern theories of where Persian came from are worth our attention because even if the conclusions are wildly at odds with our current understanding in historical linguistics, the tools used to reach them were remarkably intricate.

Dr. Arthur D. Dudney is currently Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge.

Refreshments from 5pm. All welcome.

Ancient India & Iran Trust
23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8BG
Tel: +44 (0)1223 356841

REMINDER: Michelle Quay – Female Heroism in Sufi Hagiographical Texts – AIIT Cambridge – Friday 12th February 5.30pm.


Friday 12th February 5.30pm.

Michelle Quay will speak on

Female Heroism in Sufi Hagiographical Texts – From Sulami (d. 1021) to ‘Attar (d. ca. 1221)

Michelle Quay’s research in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge, focuses on the treatment of gender in Pre-modern Persian mystical poetry, particularly the poetry of the 12th century poet Farid al-Din ‘Attar. In this talk she presents a re-reading of premodern Persian and Arabic Sufi hagiographical texts from the 11th – 13th centuries through the lens of gender and the body.

Refreshments from 5pm. All welcome.

Ancient India & Iran Trust
23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8BG
Tel: +44 (0)1223 356841

AIIT Lent Term Lectures 2016

Friday evening lectures: Lent Term 2016, Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge.

Lectures begin at 5.30pm. Refreshments from 5pm. All welcome.

12 February: Michelle Quay (Cambridge)
Female Heroism in Sufi Hagiographical Texts – from Sulami (d. 1021) to ‘Attar (d. ca. 1221)

19 February: Arthur Dudney (Cambridge)
What Language Did Kiyomars Speak? Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Theories on the Origins of Persian

26 February: Special event for Friends of the Trust
T. Richard Blurton (British Museum)
Krishna in the Garden of Assam

18 March: Raymond Mercier (Cambridge)
(Part of the Cambridge Science Festival – booking required.
Booking opens on 8 February: or tel.01223 356841)
Calendars in India and a problem with eclipses in Orissa

If you wish to attend the Friends’ event on 26 February or would like a Friends’ application form, please contact the Administrator on or tel. 01223 356841



REMINDER: Bailey Lecture 2015: Amélie Kuhrt, Friday 11th December, 5.30pm at FAMES, Cambridge


The Harold Bailey Lecture 2015

Friday 11th December, 5.30pm at FAMES, Cambridge

Professor Amélie Kuhrt, FBAThe King Speaks: The Persians and their Empire

The Achaemenid empire was created in the space of less than thirty years and dominated, with considerable success, a region stretching from Central Asia to the Aegean for around 200 years. How did the Persian kings and ruling elite visualise their immense power? How was that vision expressed? In this talk, Amélie Kuhrt, Professor Emeritus at University College London, aims to present an outline of the Persian image of their domain, concentrating on monuments and inscriptions from the royal centres and leaving aside the stories of outsiders, such as Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Jews.

The lecture will begin promptly at 5.30pm, followed by a reception.
Admission free. Booking not required.

Venue: Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Sidgwick Avenue,Cambridge CB3 9DA

Enquiries: tel. 01223 356841

Harold Bailey lecture_Dec2015_FAMES