Sheriar Mundegar Irani

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Sheriar Mundegar Irani or Shahr-yar Moondegar Irani (March 21, 1853 - April 30, 1932) was a mystic and the father of Meher Baba. Sheriar was born into a poor Zoroastrian family in Khuramshah, Khuzestan Province, Iran. His mother died when he was aged five, and he was then raised by his father Mundegar, caretaker of the local Zoroastrian funeral site. The tower of silence (dakhma) was a place where the dead were left exposed to the elements and to birds of prey, and Sheriar was often left in charge in these eerie surroundings while still a boy. Alienated from his peers by his occupation, oppressed by the Muslim majority because of his religion, unschooled and illiterate, Sheriar left his birthplace at the age of 13. For the next 8 years he adopted the life of a solitary wandering dervish, having absorbed elements of both Zoroastrianism and Sufi mysticism from his father, who, unusually, participated in both Mohammedan and Zoroastrian festivals and was a devout follower of a Mohammedan saint – a wali-Allah. In 1874 Sheriar emigrated from Iran with his brother to India, in search of economic opportunities among the long-established Parsi community. After brief employment in Mumbai, he gave away most of the money he had saved and resumed his mystical quest. He wandered through Gujarat and Sindh among other places for another ten years, begging only when he was hungry. Disappointed that nearly two decades of dervishi had not led him to spiritual realization, he returned to Mumbai where his sister now lived. Slowly integrating into conventional life, he reluctantly became betrothed to a young girl, Shireen Khuramshahi, whose family had also immigrated from his birthplace. The marriage took place 8 years later in 1892 when Shireen came of age: she was 14 and Sheriar 39. To support his new lifestyle he became first a gardener and later the owner of a successful palm wine business in Poona (present-day Pune) where the couple moved in 1893. There they had four sons and one daughter.

In his spare time he learned to read and write his native Persian, as well as the Gujarati, Arabic and Marathi languages. This allowed him to continue his mystical studies in the textual realm, where he became recognized as an able scholar. He has been linked with the ishraqi tradition of Iranian illuminationist philosophy, as mediated by the 16th-century Iranian Zoroastrian sage Azar Kayvan (Shepherd 1988). The circle of savants associated with Kayvan combined Zoroastrian, Sufi, neo-Platonic and other gnostic beliefs with a nonsectarian approach to the study of comparative religion. Sheriar taught the odes of Hafez to his second (and 'favorite') son Merwan, later Meher Baba, but a possible connection between his Kaivani–ishraqi interests and Merwan's encounters with advanced Sufi teachers such as Hazrat Babajan and Shirdi Sai Baba was overlooked by Meher Baba's earlier biographers (e.g. Purdom 1964). More recent scholarship suggests that the polyglot Sheriar provided Merwan with a good education and a command of languages, and an ecumenical approach to mysticism. These advantages, and the unusual position of the Irani family – recently nested within the Parsi community, embedded in turn in the Indian social and religious context – may have prepared the ground for the inclusive syncretic teaching for which Meher Baba later became known.