Udvada inspires artist to bring out her best


Out of the ordinary:Maharukh Dastur, a software professional, makes paintings,collages and mosaics from materials of everyday use— Photo: Shantanu Das

Out of the ordinary:Maharukh Dastur, a software professional, makes paintings,collages and mosaics from materials of everyday use— Photo: Shantanu Das

When Maharukh Dastur began making beautiful paintings, collages and mosaics in her spare time two years ago, she never imagined that one day she would be able to showcase her creative work in front of her own Parsi community in her beloved Udvada.

But, as the three-day Iranshah Udvada Utsav, wound up on Sunday, Dastur had sold nearly 50 per cent of the 40-odd artworks on display. The festival was the first such event that brought over 3,000 Parsi community members from across the world to the town that houses the sacred Zoroastrian fire.

Working as a software professional with a leading bank in Mumbai, she began making collages using material of everyday use — the bright red coloured boxes of Red Label tea, the deep brown coloured cake boxes from a cake shop in her neighbourhood, the yellow and green of Amul butter packs, and shiny Toblerone chocolate wrappers.

“Usually, we throw away these things, but I discovered a use for these in my paintings and it looked good. I never had the time when my two sons were small. Now they are old, and I can find time to indulge in my own pursuits. So after I returned from work, and finished dinner, I would sit in the balcony and work on these,” says Dastur speaking to The Hindu at her stall at the Udvada festival.

Dastur searched the Internet, and learnt more techniques which helped her expand her creativity. “I would carry the daily newspaper to office to read, and if I found the right colour shade that could be used to enhance my paintings, I would collect it in different boxes, and work on it. The petals of this yellow flower are from Amul butter packs for example,” she says, showing artwork that resemble paintings, but are actually collages and mosaics using waste paper.

Belonging to a priestly family, Dastur has been a frequent visitor to the Udvada fire temple, but the Iranshah Udvada Utsav gave her the opportunity to showcase her 40-odd artworks for the first time. Encouraged by her husband and two sons, she decided to brand her work “Mahakruti”.

Like many others, Udvada holds a special place in Dastur’s heart. The fire temple, which has for 273 uninterrupted years housed the eternal fire, has no electricity, and the Parsi devotees pray to the sacred fire in pitch darkness.

“It is a completely different experience. One can feel the spiritual vibrations when you are inside. Some of my best artworks have been created in Udvada because you come here to soak in the spirituality and tranquillity of the place,” she says.

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Noshir Dadrawala on Darius Khambata’s Speech


If I were to adapt Mark Antony’s speech in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:  “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”, in contest to the recently concluded ‘Iranshah Udwada Utsav’ I would state: “The controversial or provocative statements that some men make at community events lives long after the event concludes; the good is oft forgotten or interred as footnotes in the chronicles of history.

The ‘Utsav’ was a historic event – one of the largest congregations of Parsi Zoroastrians from all over the world. There was bonding, there was devotion, there was showcasing of talent, there was huge participation of our youth, there was learning, there was networking and much more! But, what has been talked about the most? Former Advocate General, Darius Khambata’s remark about the Zoroastrian religion being a Universal religion and some other un-orthodox views.

In my view, Darius, is not just a brilliant lawyer but, a man of courage harmonized with his gentle demeanor, integrity and above all else a good human-being with strong Zoroastrian values. He had a point of view and which he expressed without fear or favour. Yes, I would agree, that perhaps the time and place for expressing such views was inappropriate. This was not a World Zoroastrian Congress which is generally the platform for debating what many refer to as the ‘burning issues of the community”. This was a festive occasion – an ‘Utsav’ and that too in the Vatican city of the community. A degree of discretion would have been a better part of his known valour.

But, well, now that he has said what he has, have things changed overnight? Are the Agyaris open to all from now on? Let’s get real. Here is one man who has expressed his views and if I may add, at the risk of getting lynched by an enraged orthodox mob waiting in the wings.

Is Darius the first one to express such a view? NO! For almost a century not just leading lawyers but even High Priests like Dasturji Maneckji Dhalla have expressed similar views almost a century back. Have writings and such utterances at public platforms changed anything? NO! And, you may ask why? To put it in Late Dastur Dhalla’s evidence before the Bombay High Court, “the collective conscience of the community” is largely against reforms! Parsis are an ethno-religious community and their fervor to maintain their unique identity overrides all else.

Hence, in my humble opinion, let’s agree to disagree with Darius in an agreeable manner. Let’s not give one more reason to the media to fan the flames of a needless and mindless controversy. He has expressed a point of view – some applauded and some booed! Darius took both in his stride with dignity and grace.

What he has said is nothing new. Read the history of the community over the past one century and you will find that like in most communities we have an orthodox section and a liberal section. What divides both sections is simply belief in being either inclusive or exclusive. But, we forget that the common thread that binds both sections is Zoroastrian values of Truth, of Honesty, of Integrity and above all else, Charity – in thought, word and deed!

Let’s look for, appreciate, value and cherish all that binds us instead stretch, strain and waste ourselves on issues that divide us.

We are barely 70,000 of us left in India. Are we going to fade into oblivion fighting and arguing or living in harmony and finding solutions and common ground?

Noshir H. Dadrawala

“I AM CYRUS”


“I AM CYRUS”
(CYRUS’S CYLINDER)

“O man who ever thou art, from where so ever thou cometh, for I know you shall come for I am Cyrus who founded the Empire of the Persians. Grudge me not, therefore this little  piece of earth that covers my body” (www.wikipedia.com)

 

His cylinder was his diary

Where he inscribed his thoughts

“How one should treat & be treated

Not like a slave who is being humiliated

Poked prodded waiting to be bought”

 

“Every human doesn’t need

To be discriminated because of

Colour Caste Religion or Creed

But with Self Respect Tolerance

Equality as well Dignity

Is what humans need”

 

He was a man with a mission

Who had a very clear vision

Soon realized that too much venom

Of violence & hatred
Was being spewed

Doing nobody any good

Throughout his might

Persian Empire

His vision of Peace

He did enhance

By giving “Peace A Chance”

 

He was just and noble ruler

Though his fame spread

Far and wide

He was a simple down

To earth soul

Without Ego or Pride

 

He built himself a

Magnificent palace

Befitting a king

But when he passed away

He did not want to be

Buried with neither bejeweled robes

Or precious belongings

Nor a marble tomb

With the epitaph

Alas! Instead

“Here lies Cyrus

The Persian King”

A simple clump

Of earth was his covering

 

Farida Bam

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZAGNY Education Scholarships Due Date Soon


zagny
We invite applications for financial assistance (Scholarship Loan) for the academic year 2016-2017 from members who are studying at accredited institutions in the United States.

Applicants should be full-time students. The last date for filing an application isJanuary 15, 2016.

Full details and other information can be downloaded from the Scholarship page on our website.

Additional information can be obtained from the Scholarship Committee Chairperson and ZAGNY Board Member: Kerman Dukandar : kerman@zagny.org

DEYGAN or YALDA ?


Yalda is the only other festival, apart from Now Rooz, that is celebrated by modern day Zarathushtis at its proper time.
All ancient Zarathushti festivals were the celebration of the landmarks in the journey of the earth around the sun and the seasonal events in nature. It shows that they had precise knowledge about the earth and its movement around the sun, thousands of years before Galileo and the western world accepted the truth.
Deygan or Yalda, is the celebration of the winter Solstice and its highlight is the longest night. It is the start of the winter season, which lasts for 88.9 days and is the shortest season.
In Mithraism, this day was celebrated as the birth of the Sun because from the next day, the days get longer and according to them, the sun is growing. They called this day “Zayesh e Mehr” – Birth of Mehr.
The name Yalda is Syrianic translation of the same, coined by the Assyrian Christians who replaced the Sun God with the Son of God. With the genocide of the Zarathushtisii to the point of annihilation and the persecution of the remaining few by Islam, there was neither the disposition nor possibility for festivity and so the significance of most of the ancient festivals was lost.
Yalda lost even its original name and when revived, they adopted the Syrianic name. Those who are not happy with the name call it “Shab e Chella”, because 40 (Chel) days later is the festival of Sadeh.
Logically just as “Tirgan” is the name of the summer Solstice, Deygan must have been the name of the winter Solstice, as both happen on the first day of their respective month, in this case “Dey”.
Scholars, under the influence of documents compiled during the Islamic period, that strive to depict Zarathushtis as dualist and superstitious worshipers of Izad’s, have connected the Zarathushti festivals to the celebration of Izad’s and replaced the science with superstition, which in turn has been believed by modern day Zarathushtis for lack of better information.
Just like in the case of the “Now Rooz Table”  that used to represent the “Seven Eternal Laws” given in the Gathas, has been manipulated to focus on, seven items starting with the letter “S” (of no significance and with superficial philosophy).
Ironically, the Persian name of some of these items does not start with “S” and so their Arabic name is used instead. For that matter even, the Amasha Spenta have been diluted to represent the attributes of a human like God, the “Anthropomorphic God” that Herodotus rightly says the Persians did not believe in.
Zarathushtra, who has so accurately calculated the natural meridian (Mehr Yasht Ha103-104) and named it “Nim Rooz” could not have subsisted with any of the three modern Zarathushti calendars.
The festivals vouch for the accuracy of the ancient Mazdayasni calendar, which divides the year into four unequal but natural parts based on the revolution of the earth around the sun. According to the ancient Mazdayasni calendar , the year starts with the Vernal Equinox – Now Rooz, followed by Tirgan the summer Solstices on the 92.8th day, Mehregan the Autumn Equinox on the 186.4th day and Deygan (Yalda) the winter Solstice on the 276.3rd day.
 Each of these unequal periods individually divided gives us 31 days each for the first 6 months and 30 days for the next five months, with the balance of days before the Vernal Equinox constituting the last month, which could be 29 or 30, whereby the leap year is automatically taken care of with no need for intercalation.
The celebration of Deygan’s long winter night involved the recitation and discussion of the Gathas, which on revival of the festival by the Iranians, was replaced by, the recitation of the 14-century poems of Hafez; today Zarathushtis do the same.
 It is time for all Zarathushtis, to let Mazda (Wisdom) rule, adopt the ancient Mazdayasni calendar, and celebrate the festivals when it happens in nature and let go of the superstitions that have been forced upon them.
 Let the world know that thousands of years before Galileo our ancestors knew of the real relation between the Sun and the Earth. They studied nature, learned from it, celebrated it, respected it and took care of the environment.
May Mazda Prevail.
Fariborz Rahnamoon 

‘Bawaji ni Paltan’ guarded Holy Fire for centuries


Parsis from across the country and globe gathered to celebrate Iranshah Udvada Utsav and offer prayers in the holy town of Udvada, but few know that the holy fire was once protected by the guards of erstwhile state of Baroda. The royal Gaekwad family not just offered support to the Parsi community but also safeguarded the holy fire for centuries together.

“It was in the early 18th century that members of the Parsi community approached Maharaja Pilajirao Gaekwad and sought protection. The Gaekwad family offered them security and since then the holy fire has been guarded by the regiments of erstwhile state of Baroda,” said Jeetendrasingh Gaekwad, who has been conducting research on Relation of Gaekwad State with the Parsi community.
“The royal Gaekwads, in fact, formed four separate contingent named ‘Bawaji ni Paltan’ for protecting the holy fire and the Parsi community. The contingents protected the community and in Navsari, Valsad and even Udvada. Apart from the Marathi community, the Gaekwads also picked up brave Parsis in the contingents as they knew about the Parsi traditions and the importance of the holy fire,” Gaekwad added.
He said that the maximum concentration of Parsis was in Baroda state and Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad had high respect for the community. “Despite facing several battles, the royal Gaekwads never withdrew the guards meant to protect Parsi community that were often harassed by invaders,” Gaekwad said.

The royal Gaekwads offered high posts to Parsis including the likes of distinguished Parsi officer Erach Daboo, who was both an ICS as well as IPS.
Maharaja Sayajirao had once said, ‘The word of promise given by a Parsi is as precious to me as My Own Gaekwari ‘Rupaayaa’ currency. It is bound to be honoured’.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/vadodara/Bawaji-ni-Paltan-guarded-Holy-Fire-for-centuries/articleshow/50348115.cms

IUU – days 2 & 3 and summing up


The second day of the first ever Iranshah Udvada Utsav started with two fun filled participatory activities. The Heritage Walks and The Treasure Hunt had droves of people walking or running through the small lanes of Udvada and give the town the kind of buzz and foot activities seen only once or twice a year during the Iranshah Salgrehs.

Groups of attendees were escorted by architects well versed in Udvada’s history and shown around the various different historical and heritage landmarks.

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The treasure hunt had 38 teams of 5 people each race around the town taking selfies at landmarks, checking off items off their list of to-do’s and hunting for quirky clues and souvenirs. Teams comprised of people of all ages and the hustle bustle it created was very infectious.

The Iranshah itself was abuzz with devotees filing to worship in a steady stream all day.

The formal lectures and events in the main Gymkhana grounds started in the morning. A series of lectures and audio visual presentations were interspersed with some entertainment breaks.

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Notable among the speakers were BPP Trustee and community leader Noshir Dadrewala who spoke about Ancient Iran. His mastery and command of the topic and the lucid presentation brought alive some of the glories of the “MadreVatan” as we refer to Iran today. It made my resolve to visit Iran so much more stronger in the near future.

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Brigadier Behram Panthaki and Zenobia Panthaki spoke about the book they co-authored on Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.

Aapro own Ganesha says…..aka Bejan Daruwalla took to the stage and in his customary manner enthralled the crowd. He also predicted that 2017 is the year when the world will see peace return. Let’s hope for all our sake that his prediction is right.

Firoz Andhyarujina whom I had the chance to hear for the very first time spoke exceedingly well on the role of the Zoroastrian Youth in modern times. Hopefully we will see a recording of his talk online soon.

Dr. Shernaz Cama and the Jiyo Parsi team spoke about the program and presented a video showing the work done by their campaign. More power to them and Babies to our community.

Former Maharashtra Attorney-General Darius Khambata spoke about Zoroastrians and Zoroastrianism today. In his excellent oratory he laid out his case and asked the leaders, priests and community in general to re-think the whole concept of keeping our Agiaries out of bounds to women who marry outside the faith. Darius’ talk was similar to the one he delivered two years ago at the 10th World Zoroastrian Congress in Mumbai in 2013.

And towards the end of his talk one witnessed the only instance of boorish and uncouth behavior from the crowd. Godafrid Aresh who was sitting in the VIP enclosure got up and started shouting at Darius as he finished his talk and made his way off the stage. Mahyar Dastoor the MC requested her to take her seat but she kept on at it shouting and making a scene. She was further egged on by a section of the crowd that booed the speaker and cheered her.

Having a different opinion from the speaker is one thing. However to actually get up and disrupt proceedings is extreme. It took a lot of restraint from the other suave Mahyar Dastoor to ignore her. However the Vada Dasturji had to finally step in and ask her to take her seat. It was the only time one saw Vada Dasturji ruffled up. And rightly so. There is a time and a place and a forum and a method to vent your disagreement. One may not necessarily agree with everything that Darius said, but everyone has a right to their opinion. This disruption of events in front of local and national media was unfortunate and does not show the community in good light.

Stand up comic Neville Bharucha followed this incident and helped cool down the air.

The evening entertainment that day started with the felicitation and welcome of aapro Boman Irani. The amazing actor enthralled the crowd with his presence, and spoke of his immense pride in being a Parsi and a Zarathushti.

The evening entertainment was packed with skits by young children …the Farohars of New Delhi. The girls of Avabai Petit Girls High School sang monajats and the MEJMT Trust performed a fantastic theatrical experience called Tapo Re Iranshah.

A live band brought the evening to an end with Boman Irani jumping in and belting out a couple of songs and strumming the guitar.

The day ended with a sit down dinner.

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Image courtesy Parsi Times via Facebook

The third and final day began on Sunday December 27th with a sense of expectation and euphoria to welcome Ratan Tata, Arun Jaitley and Cyrus Poonawalla.

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Decked out in Daglis and Gara Sarees thousands of folks filled up the Gymkhana grounds and waited patiently for all the dignitaries to arrive.

Finally the three of the made a quick entry. The level of applause reserved for Ratan Tata was ear deafening.

Boman Irani introduced all the three dignitaries before each one of them addressed the crowd. Finance Minister Jaitley spoke of his connections to Parsis from childhood and urged more Parsi businesses and entrepreneurship to happen besides increasing the population.

Ratan Tata spoke about the pride he had in being Parsi and Zarathushti and was totally humbled by the love and admiration the community gave him.

Cyrus Poonawalla spoke of the love and religious fervour his late wife Villoo had for the Iranshah and in who’s memory he had sponsored this Utsav.

All the three dignitaries were also felicitated by the local officials of the town, district and state.

After Jaitley left, other Parsi organizations presented mementos to Ratan Tata and Cyrus Poonawalla. However the organizers were caught totally unawares by the enthusiasm of those who wanted to felicitate the two and the media personalities who were fighting over each other to capture the imagery. That last part showed a certain lack experience on the part of the organizers. Vada Dasturji was seen on stage valiantly requesting some sense of order to no effect.

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FEZANA and ZTFE delegates with Ratan Tata

Some final overall thoughts.

The first ever IUU 2015 was successful overall. And it was great to see Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor announce the next one shall be held from December 2325 2017. Mark your calendars.

The program had a good balance however the sessions were too long. They needed some breaks in the middle.

Evening entertainment on both days was very long. Of course this is a good problem of plenty. But maybe cutting down the choreographed dance items to just one or two would make the entertainment evenings more cohesive.

The capability of the caterer to serve meals with efficiency needs to be revisited. There was lack of manpower in serving such large numbers of people and the organizers should look into streamlining this in the future.

What’s with the fascination of kitsch Persepolis imagery as the backdrop to every big Zoroastrian event in India ? The 10th WZC in 2013 saw it, and the same thing was repeated here. Taking random imagery and pasting it as the backdrop and side wings, shows a lack of creative set design. Let’s have some better artwork that’s more pertinent to the nearly 14 centuries of stay in India and not hark back to the ruins of Persia at all times.

The location of the stalls and vendors was totally wrong. They should have been positioned such that people walking into and out of the auditorium would see them. Tucking them at the very end of the grounds, made it look as an afterthought and the interaction with the crowd was not as effective as it should have been.

Audio visuals are very powerful. However their actual content is very difficult to get right. While the Sands of Time video was great, the other one with a voice over of an English accented girl and video imagery showing white anglo-saxon people does not do any god, even if you stick a Zarathushtra image at the end of it to make it legitimately “Zoroastrian”:)

The volunteers who did yoemen service over three days need a standing ovation. Scouts, Rovers and Guides from the 32nd West Bombay Pioneer Scouts and the 16th East Bombay Scout Group and their Guide Company volunteered their time from 7 in the morning to 2 AM everyday controlling crowds, dealing with boorish devotees at the Iranshah and disgruntled participants who would vent their frustrations on the volunteers. Thank you and more power to each of these volunteers.

The next Utsav should also include more of imparting religious knowledge. Specifically to focussed age groups. This is after all the Iranshah.

All in all, those who attended will always remember the first IUU. The Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, his wife Havovi, Homai Engineer, Dinshaw Tamboly and others did a fantastic job of pulling off such a mega event. This experience of an event at this scale will be stepping stones to even more better and greater success in the years to come. And may the Pak Iranshah continue to burn bright as the beacon of Zarathushti religion for millenia to come.

I would like to end with one profound statement that Boman Irani said in his thank you speech on the evening of the second day when he was felicitated. That for me was the singular take away from this event and something that will always remain in my mind. He said and I paraphrase from memory…. We Parsis should stop saying how great we were and are. It is only when others tell us the same, that it becomes even more meaningful and powerful. That my fellow Zarathushtis should be what we all collectively strive for in 2016.

By arZan on Dec 29, 2015 12:17 am

The post Day 02 and 03: Iranshah Udvada Utsav appeared on Parsi Khabar.

Karachi Parsis – On Turning 100 – KZBM


We would like to present you a souvenir of our Centenary celebrations in which most of you participated with your family and friends.

Going by today’s trend, there is little text and lot of photos. We hope you will find yourselves and your friends there.

The souvenir is printed in colour to capture the vibrancy of the celebrations and the beautiful clothes you all wore at different events. In this we thank the photographers of our community who have preserved these memories for us: photo credits appear at the end of each event. I have tried to place as many different faces as I could because between the various events practically the entire community in Karachi must have been a part. My apologies to those I could not include due to space constraint.

We thank the advertisers for their generous support which has helped in defraying the  major cost of printing.

We received a suggestion to include the list of KZBM members. This appears on pages 18-20. Therefore, if your picture is not in the pages, your name will definitely be there.

Thumbnail history of the Mandal is also included on page 21.

Hope you will enjoy the brochure and keep it.

Sunnu F Golwalla

Click Here to view the  commemorative volume

How architecture of Udvada evolved to protect the Iranshah


The Parsis’ sacred fire, the Iranshah, had an arduous journey before it settled in Udvada. Legend goes that it was consecrated in Sanjan from 16 different sources including a burning corpse and lightning. Many centuries later, Sanjan was besieged by Muslim invaders, and the fire was removed to the Bahrot Caves in Maharashtra. It remained there for over a decade, before being transferred to Gujarat’s Vansda forest for 14 years. It was then taken to Navsari where it remained for three centuries before being shuttled between Surat, Navsari and Valsad. It finally reached Udvada in 1742.
Considering this history of turmoil, it’s little wonder that the architecture of Udvada evolved to protect this holy flame. In a heritage walk during the Iranshah Udvada Utsav, an architect explained how keeping the Iranshah safe from invaders had fashioned the area’s typography. “The buildings around the atash behram are of the same height to camouflage it,” she said. And, the lanes are meandering with nodes or open spaces at regular intervals to retain the element of surprise.

As the Parsis settled in Diu —a Portuguese stronghold—for many years, Udvada’s architecture boasts many Portuguese elements like decorative cornices, elaborately-carved grilles and cantilevered balconies. One bungalow even has a Portuguese-style clock painted on a side wall because the residents probably couldn’t afford a real one.

Another historic relic in the coastal village is a camel tank with a Portuguese inscription dating back to 1714. “Only an animal, the size of a camel, could reach in to drink water,” said architect Delnaaz Kharadi, one of the guides leading the heritage walk. This ruined tank gives credence to the theory that Udvada once housed the summer palace of the Mandvi king at Meriwadi, along with a grazing ground for his camels. Thus, the name could have evolved from ‘Unth Wada’ (camel site). Another theory is that it could be a derivative of the Sanskrit word “Udna-vaas” meaning “partly in sea water”.

Around the 16th century, the Mandvi king signed Udvada over to the Portuguese in a treaty. When the Parsis arrived in 1742, the Marathas had just defeated Maharana Durjansingh of Mandvi, the ruler of Dharampur. The Peshwas deputed the defeated king to fight the Portuguese and when he emerged victorious, his kingdom along with Udvada was returned as reward.

Sadly, Bathela House, which housed the Iranshah when it first arrived in Udvada, has long been razed. Redevelopment is just one of the many threats the town faces. Others include well water being contaminated due to seepage from badly-maintained septic tanks and coastal properties being lashed by the sea.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/How-architecture-of-Udvada-evolved-to-protect-the-Iranshah/articleshow/50346398.cms

A flame endangered


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Parsis participate in the heritage walk.
India’s smallest community is getting even smaller; and the Parsis are worried.

“If 3000 people are sitting in this pandal, then 20 more such pandals can accommodate all the Parsis living on Planet Earth right now. That’s how small a community we are.” Thus spake actor Boman Irani, and the 3000 Parsis packed in under the canvas at the Iranshah Udvada Utsav cheered lustily. In his usual witty way, Irani had captured the serious problem facing the Parsi community today: their dwindling numbers. The 2001 Census pegged the number of Parsis in India at 69,104.

Udvada is a tiny, sleepy village on the western coast of Gujarat, where the first sacred fire of the Parsi Zoroastrians has burned continuously for 273 years. It has a special place in Parsi culture and hearts, the equivalent of a Mecca, a Vatican City or a Varanasi. Quite appropriately, it is the venue of the Iranshah Udvada Utsav (IUU), a three-day festival which has brought the community together for, arguably, the first time since the bulk of the upcoming boomtown of that time, Bombay.

Irani has essayed some memorable roles written by Bollywood’s scriptwriters in recent times, and he quotes his rise as an example of the high esteem this tiny community is held in. Photography was his bread and butter for many years, and he did theatre on the side, until he got his big break as an actor in Hindi cinema with Munnabhai MBBS. During his photographer days, he got prime space at the Russian Consulate in Mumbai for his studio, at a nominal rent; the Consul General in Mumbai merely asked for confirmation that he was really Zoroastrian. “If you are Zoroastrian, that’s good enough,” he says, “That speaks volumes for our identity, and the legacy that we have inherited from our forefathers.” And this makes it incumbent on the community to ensure that the legacy continues. “We are also Indians, and we must excel for our country. When you are smaller, you should be louder: by actions, by deeds, by professionalism. The fewer the numbers, the greater the responsibility on the younger generation.”

Dr Shernaz Cama, who was felicitated at the festival, says that the numbers are projected to decrease further and today we probably have just 59,000 Parsis left. Dr Cama spearheads the community’s effort to increase its numbers, with the Jiyo Parsi Scheme where financial incentives are provided by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

The scheme, Dr Cama told The Hindu, has an advocacy programme that counsels couples to have children when they are younger. “The advocacy has had a snowballing effect within the community, with one couple undergoing counselling bringing in more such couples into the programme. Festivals like IUU will definitely help this initiative as it will help the community mingle together.” Launched in 2013, Jiyo Parsi “is showing positive results. We have had 37 births in 2014, and over 66 couples are currently being counselled under our advocacy programme. Our target is 200 babies in five years. Surrogacy has also been allowed, and that will help as the financial incentive will increase from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10-12 lakh per couple.”

Dr Cama is also curating an event in New Delhi in March next year, which will feature rare manuscripts from British museum, and 27 rare artefacts from Iran. It is an attempt to bring an international spotlight on Zoroastrians.

Though the state of Gujarat has always valued the heritage of Udvada, nothing much had been done to preserve its heritage, until the then-Chief minister Narendra Modi sanctioned funds to build a Zoroastrian Information Centre and Museum, and repair and widen its roads.

Weeks after Mr Modi became India’s Prime Minister, he gave further encouragement to the community. Dinshaw Tamboly (who along with Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastur, the head priest, met the Prime Minister in June 2014) says, “The Udvada Area Development Authority was set up, and Rs 10 crore for 2015-16 and Rs 10 crore for next financial year were sanctioned. Mr Modi was also keen to visit the festival, but due to his diplomatic visits, he is unable to come. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will be present on Sunday.” Mr Jaitley is scheduled to felicitate Ratan Tata at the festival.

The organisers also told The Hindu that the festival would not have been possible without the involvement of Dr Cyrus Poonawala, the Serum Institute of India founder, and a philanthropist. The community’s tradition of philanthropy is strong. The Iranshah Atash Behram, the fire temple dating back to 1742, is maintained with the help of Wadia family.

But Udvada has more precious heritage that needs conservation. Jehangir Bhiwandiwala, who conducts heritage walks in the town, says, “Udvada has a medieval character, which is planned. Having faced attacks and persecution in Iran and later, when the Atash Behram was created, in Sanjan, [Udvada] was planned in such a way that the fire temple was camouflaged. Earlier, the houses of the nine families tending to the sacred fire had the same height and characters of the fire temple to protect it from invaders.” He adds, “Udvada was known for camel grazing, and gets its name from ‘Ut-vada,’ literally a place for camel grazing. Every house has a well within. The toilets in the homes were planned in such a way that they do not interfere with the sacred Parsi rituals. The houses in the town show an amalgamation of Persian, European, and Indian architecture styles.”

Parsis moved to Bombay over generations partly because they were attracted to the opportunities that the metropolis offered. But more recently, other factors have contributed too. Hoshang Havewala, whose family once owned 12,000 acres of farmland near their ancestral village of Nargol, 35 kms away from Udvada, says, “Parsis had large tracts of farmland, but the land reform deprived many of the large landholding, and many moved to cities. It is obviously very hard to preserve old wooden houses,” he says. “Luckily my house is fairly modern, and I have managed to look after it.” Havewala, though, now lives in Mumbai.

Bhiwandiwala says that the festival will help bring greater awareness to the conservation efforts. “The sea levels have been rising, and protection of structures on the coast is a concern. Parsis from Mumbai come in their SUVs and whiz past Udvada within an hour without showing their concern for its heritage. There is a need for sensitising the community and tourists. The drainage system needs an overhaul as the seepage in the soil can contaminate the water in the well which is used for rituals.”

To keep Udvada’s flame burning, the younger generation must, to put it gently, reproduce. But, as Boman Irani says, “Dasturji [the head priest] also asks me, what can we do about the dwindling numbers? What can I say? I can’t go on the honeymoon and supervise! Young girls and boys, get on with it!”

SATISH NANDGAONKAR

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/a-flame-endangered-indias-smallest-community-is-getting-even-smaller/article8033945.ece