“I Wish I’d Been There”
by Zahir Dharsee
This word has all of a sudden in 2010, gained significant prominence as a result of it being the title for the Oscar nominated movie directed by James Cameron. The movie has given the word Avatar mass recognition similar to that of Coca-Cola or Nike!
Avatar is a Sanskrit word that when loosely translated into English means “the manifestation” or “the appearance”. This in turn can have various exoteric and esoteric interpretations – “Who is your Avatar?” – The AVATAR question can be brought down to a simple individual’s soul searching spiritual quest or yearning as to the “meaning or purpose of life”.
In the land of my forefathers, the Kutch Kathiawar district, in the present day State of Gujarat in India, sometime in the 13th and 14th Centuries, the Avatar philosophy and its principles, formed the fundamental basis by which the Pirs or Dais (Ismaili preachers) from Iran, provided proof to my ancestors as to the existence of the Avatar. They expanded on the belief of the Das Avatar. As a result, the word Avatar is recited in many of the hymns (ginans) they composed to entice the new believers into the fold by providing the proof of their point – a famous one is “Eji Anand anand ….diyo … avatar ne, to jeevaro chute”. The Avatar philosophy gave rise to a new community of believers who were given the title of Khojas (honorary converts) and came into the Ismaili fold of the Shia Muslim branch of Islam.
I Wish I had Been There to witness the discourses given by the Pirs and Dais to explain the AVATAR philosophy and concept to the new community!!.
1885: Aga Khan III is Installed as 48th Imam
Toward the end of the 19th Century, in August 1885, a young boy age 7, Sultan Mohamed Shah, assumed the hereditary office of the 48th Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. There is a famous picture taken of this event – the young Imam sitting amongst the leaders of his community. Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah’s Imamat lasted 72 years to July 11, 1957. During his Imamat major social, economic and political changes occurred within and outside the Ismaili community and these set the foundation for its prominent position in the global world of today.
I Wish I’d Been There to witness the investiture of this young Imam at age 7.
1907: Aga Khan III in St. Regis Hotel, New York
In December 1906, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, 48th Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, arrived in San Francisco and started a two month train journey across the United States. He arrived in New York City in January 1907, and stayed at the St. Regis Hotel. In his Memoirs, His Highness gives a vivid description of New York city in the early 1900’s – “the motor car was coming into its own, and was no longer the smelly despised toy it was a decade earlier.”
In August 2005, almost 98 years later, I visited New York City and went to see the St Regis hotel and gave the Manager excerpts of the pages from the Memoirs of the Aga Khan where His Highness refers to his New York City visit!!
I Wish I’d Been There when His Highness and his entourage would have checked in at the St Regis hotel!
About the writer: Zahir Dharsee grew up in East Africa. He spent some of his childhood years in Tanzania and then moved to Nairobi, Kenya, where he completed his high school education. He is a CGA and lives in Toronto, Canada, where he works in the accounting field. He is a keen reader, and takes interest in history.
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