Hyderabad: MG Road fire temple clocks 175 years
Hyderabad: The small, but thriving Parsi community of Hyderabad is buzzing with excitement as the Seth Viccaji-Seth Pestonji Meherji Parsi Fire Temple at Secunderabad turns 175 on July 31. The members, who are fewer than 1,000 in the city, are gearing up for an intimate but significant gathering to mark the anniversary of the fire temple located next to Cherma’s.
To make up for the lost time, the community has planned a Jashan (prayer) led by head priest Vada Dasturji Saheb Keki C Ravji Meherjirana in the morning and an event in the evening that will witness dignitaries such as Justice Shahrukh J Kathawalla (retd. judge of the Bombay High Court), Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major (retd.), Maj. Gen. Cyrus K Pithawalla (Ashok Chakra), Dinshaw K Tamboly (chairman, World Zoroastrian Trust), Kersi K Deboo (vice-chairperson of National Commission of Minorities), Bachi Karkaria (senior journalist), Piruz A Khambatta (chairman and MD, Rasna Pvt. Ltd.) and Zerick Dastur (advocate).
“The fire temple was built by brothers Seth Viccaji Meherji and Seth Pestonji Meherji from Tarapore and is the oldest in South India. The brothers also bought the land and Colonel Haffkine’s bungalow adjacent to the temple and donated it for the maintenance of the Agiary. The holy fire was enthroned and consecrated on September 12, 1847,” says Arnaz Bisney, a community member.
The temple is managed by a trust that comprises the descendants of Viccaji and Pestonji, among others. The current president is Kayarmin Pestonji, owner of Cherma’s.
Tale of two brothers
The history of Viccaji and Pestonji is interesting. Although from humble origins, the enterprising brothers went on to become agriculturists of large provinces in northern and southern Konkan, Poona (now Pune), Sholapur, Ahmednagar and part of Khandesh. According to Parsi history books, they can be called the pioneers of the cotton trade between the Nizam’s Dominion and Bombay Presidency. Using bullock carts, they imported Berar cotton to Bombay (now Mumbai) around 1835, which was a great success.
“As word spread about the two brothers, they were invited by Raja Chandulal, Prime Minister of Hyderabad, to open banking firms in the city and the entire State in 1830. Through the ‘Pestonji Viccaji’ banking house, they loaned money to the government for State purposes which included the expenditure on military forces. At one point, the revenue of Berars and Aurangabad were mortgaged to them by the Nizam,” says Arnaz.
Pestonshahi Sicca’s origins
Seth Pestonji Meherji obtained a licence from Diwan Chandulal to strike coins in the Aurangabad Mint during the rule of the Nizam-IV, Nasir-ud-Daula. The coins carried the Nizam’s initials, i.e. the Persian alphabet Noon (N) for Nasir-ud-Daula. The family later was allowed to have its own initials on the national coins. They featured the initials of Viccaji’s younger brother Pestonji Meherji. The coins minted by him featured a ‘resplendent sun’. The motif and the number of rays of the sun varied and there was no formula behind it.
Over a crore of Pestonshahi Siccas in silver and copper were struck at the Aurangabad Mint between 1832 and 1842 . They were legal tender until the beginning of the 20th century. Four of them are on display in the British Museum in London.