Parsis fear for city’s first fire temple

Calcutta’s first Parsi fire temple on Ezra Street is hemmed in by later constructions, some of which are allegedly encroachments on the heritage premises (top); (above) the entrance to the decrepit fire temple that is owned by a family-run trust and listed as a Grade 1 heritage structure in the civic records.
Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Calcutta: The death of the last known trustee of Calcutta’s first Parsi fire temple, defunct and decrepit but listed as a Grade I heritage building, has raised concern in the community about land sharks laying their hands on the property.

Cursetjee Manackjee Rustomjee, who died aged 81 on April 10, was a descendant of the family that had built the Ezra Street fire temple. Nobody in the otherwise close-knit community seems to know if Cursetjee shared the trustee rights with someone before his death.

“Cursetjee used to live on the premises of the fire temple, which used to be run by a family trust. But I have no idea who the other members were and who will look after the property in his absence,” said a community member who did not want to be named.

According to an almost blighted plaque outside the building, barely visible from Ezra Street because of ugly constructions all around, the Rustomjee Cowasjee Banajee fire temple was built in 1839.

Rustomjee Cowasjee is acknowledged as the first Parsi to settle in Calcutta with his family. He was a businessman who bought the erstwhile Calcutta Docking Company (now Kidderpore Docks) and also started an insurance firm, a paper mill and a cotton gin.

The temple he built has remained unused for ceremonies since 1989. Portions of the premises now house shops selling mostly lights. A part of the premises has allegedly been encroached on. One of the shopkeepers told Metro that there was an attempted break-in into the room that Cursetjee lived in on the evening of April 10, the day of his death.

Little is known of Cursetjee other than his lineage because he apparently kept to himself and didn’t even attend Parsi community gatherings.

Bahadur Postwalla, one of the older members of the community, said the Parsis of Calcutta were concerned that the property would cease to exist in Cursetjee’s absence. “Since it is a part of Parsi heritage, we wouldn’t want it to be encroached on further. We want its restoration,” he said.

Postwalla’s initiation ( kushti) ceremony was held at the Ezra Street temple in 1948. “It was free of encroachment then. All this started in the 1980s,” he said.

Mohammad Islam Haque, a 63-year-old man who owns a shop on the premises, had been Cursetjee’s companion for nearly four decades. He would depend on Haque to run errands for him.

Haque has written to chief minister Mamata Banerjee and several senior police officers, including the joint commissioner of police (crime), about some people trying to break into Cursetjee’s home.

Haque told Metro that the premises of the fire temple – the plot originally measured a bigha and 18 cottahs – had been gradually encroached on.

The temple stands in the middle of a rectangular plot, with separate structures on four sides that were used by members of the Banajee clan.

“There used to be a library to the east of the premises. It was forcibly occupied in 1989 by some men who assaulted Cursetjee and threw away all items that the library housed. We had reported the incident to police but there was no response. A company now functions out of that room,” said Haque, who had taken Cursetjee to the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Beleghata when he was taken ill.

The fire temple is categorised as a Grade I structure in the Graded List of Heritage Buildings, published by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

The Parsis of Calcutta – only 450 of them are left – visit the fire temple on Metcalfe Street for prayers. That temple is run by a public trust.


Parsis form team to maintain fire temples, look after priests and staff in Mumbai

Most of these Agiaries are managed by private trusts and are not a part of Bombay Parsi Punchayat (BPP).
Most of these Agiaries are managed by private trusts and are not a part of Bombay Parsi Punchayat (BPP). (HT file )

To ensure all Zoroastrian Agiaries and Atash Behrams — two types of fire temples, the second being of the highest order —in Mumbai have enough funds and are well-maintained, a team has been formed under Athornan Mandal to look after the upkeep of fire temples. The Mandal, an organisation which looks after priests in the community, has floated survey forms within religious organisations to compile data.

“We didn’t have a complete data of how many priests are actually working and how much they earn. There are times when some Agiaries do not have funds, as a result a few priests are paid lesser than their counterparts. As the community receives a lot of donation, through this initiative their income could be supplemented,” said Ervad Ramiyar Karanjia, committee member, Athornan Mandal.

Survey forms that have been circulated seeks details such as land area, built-up area of the property, average worshippers visiting the place, details of various rituals conducted, number of Mobeds (priests) and staff employed and the remuneration paid to them and the details of expenditure incurred by the trust.

Most of these Agiaries are managed by private trusts and are not a part of Bombay Parsi Punchayat (BPP), the main caretaker of Parsi-Zoroastrian properties in the city. As a result, doubts were raised within the community about the survey being conducted.

“A part of the community isn’t happy sharing certain details about the Agiary because it feels their rights would be infringed upon. But when the survey form was sent to us, there was a clear mention of what the details have been sought for. When the plan is initiated, it will help maintain our religious places better,” said Anahita Desai, trustee. JD Amaria Sodawaterwala Agiary, Marine Lines.

Dasturji Khurshed K Dastur, president of Athornan Mandal, said that a fund would be set-up eventually for repairs and maintenance of religious places, to provide kathi (wood), remuneration for priests and other support staff and to make the system of Agiaries and priests self-sustaining.

“It has been noted that many Agyaries in India are starved of funds and not able to maintain the property or provide for mobeds and support staff. Some of them also do not have adequate devotees visiting them, as a result of which the profession of clergy becomes unattractive to young Zoroastrians. The final plan, when prepared, will be recommendatory and implemented only if the parties concerned give their approval,” said Dastur.

Yesha Kotak
Hindustan Times

Sacred fire alive for 1,550 years at Iranian Zoroastrian temple

Iran’s central city of Yazd is home to one of the fire temples most sacred to Zoroastrians worldwide with a flame that has been burning for nearly 1,550 years.  The Yazd temple is one of the world’s nine Zoroastrian fire temples which hold the sacred Atash Behram, meaning Fire of Victory.

Zoroastrian Eternal Flame at the Fire Temple in Yazd, Central Iran Photo by Adam Jones (watch related video by Press TV)

Atash Behram is the highest grade of fire in Zoroastrian fire temples and its preparation, which took place several centuries ago, involved an elaborate purification ritual that took almost a year.

The Yazd fire temple was built in the Iranian central city of Yazd in 1934 in the Achaemenid architecture style in brick masonry, similar to fire temples in India. It is located in the middle of a vast garden of pine, cedar and fruit trees with a vast circular water pool in front of it.

The sacred fire of the temple is said to have been burning since 470 AD in the Sassanian Empire. It was originally started in the Pars Karyan fire temple in Larestan County, Fars Province, but it was later transferred to several other temples and secret locations to keep it burning until it was finally consecrated in the Yazd temple in 1934.

The sacred flame is currently preserved inside a bronze vessel visible from behind a glass wall and only Zoroastrians are allowed to go to the sanctum. A person called Hirbod is in charge of keeping the fire burning.

Zoroastrians are required to perform special rituals to enter the temple. Apart from personal cleanliness, the pilgrims have to remove their shoes. Men have to wear white caps and women need to put on white scarves and light color clothes.


Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Yazd, Iran (Yazd Atash Behram)
By Zenith210 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons


In 1999, the Yazd fire temple was registered in Iran’s National Heritage List and some sections of the temple have been open to visit for tourists where they can see the fire behind the glass wall.

Origins of fire temples

Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest known monolithic religions and, contrary to some misperceptions, fire only represents purity and the brightness of God in its belief system. Documents indicate that Zoroastrians initially did not have fire temples and they normally prayed at homes or on top of the hills.

The tradition of fire temples originates from the times when Iranian communities developed fire houses to keep fire burning for everyday uses. In this way, people did not have to make fire separately and could take the fire they needed from fire houses.

The fire houses finally turned into an essential part of Zoroastrian communities called Astash Kadeh or Atashgah and they gradually served multiple community purposes, including as places of worship, courts, educational centers and health clinics.

The construction of fire temples flourished during the Sassanian dynasty (224 to 651 AD) during which Zoroastrianism was announced as the official religion of the Persian Empire.

Nowadays, most of the world’s active fire temples are located in India which is home to the world’s largest Zoroastrian community.

Meanwhile, the Zoroastrians in Iran, who mainly live in the central provinces of Yazd, Esfahan, Tehran and the southern province of Kerman, still have their own fire temples where they perform their religious rituals.

… Payvand News – 04/04/18 … —

Source: Press TV

Parsis in a flame war

Orthodox community members, reformists divided over sanctity of fire in Pune temple
Mumbai: For the reformists who built the newly opened Asha Vahishta Zoroastrian Centre in Pune’s Kondhwa area, the fire it houses is a holy one, kindled after carrying out rituals like a jashn ceremony and recital of the Atash Niyeash prayer. But the orthodox in the community are deriding it is just like “any other bonfire.”

At the root of the heated words is the fact that the centre welcomes Parsi Zoroastrians who have married outside the faith. Parsi Zoroastrians have traditionally not allowed non-Parsi spouses to convert to the faith or even enter agiaries and participate in rituals like funeral ceremonies. Further, children of female members of the community who marry outside are also not considered Parsi.

“The idea of our centre was to welcome all and not differentiate on the basis of religion or gender, “said Vispy Wadia, founder member of the Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism, under which the centre has been built. Around 150 Parsis — including Maharookh and Darius Forbes, Kerbanu and Viraf Pudumjee, Darius Khambata, Cyruz Guzder, and Bapsi and Fali Nariman — and the Pirojsha Godrej Foundation donated funds and the land for the centre was purchased in 2010. Work on its construction began in 2014.

“These religiously ignorant legal persons like Fali Nariman and Darius Khambatta have made a mockery and insult of our glorious religion and they must be prosecuted,” says Yazdi Desai, chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet. “The so-called fire temple in Pune is definitely not consecrated. It is just an ordinary fire, like a scout camp fire, and anyone can pray before it.” Dinshaw Mehta, a former BPP trustee, says there is a whole ritual for consecration of an agiary fire: “The Pune fire is a joke on the donors. Just lighting wood in an afarganu vessel is not consecration.” Medioma Bhada, a retired naval officer, says that he is upset with the centre being referred to as a fire temple. “One can call it a prayer hall but not a fire temple.”

Mr. Wadia retorts, “The fire may not be holy for them, but it is for us.”

Worli precedent

In 2015, reformers had built a prayer hall near the Worli crematorium for community members who chose cremation instead of the tradition of leaving the body in the Tower of Silence to be consumed by scavenger birds. Since they were not allowed to conduct the four day funeral prayers inside the doongerwadi, the idea of alternate prayer hall was executed. “In a way it is good,” Mr. Mehta said. “Just as the Worli prayer hall stopped the demand for a cremate-ni-bungli at doongerwadi, the setting up of this cosmopolitan fire temple will hopefully stop the inter-married ladies from moving courts to demand right of entry.”

Two high profile battles are already being fought in the courts: a woman is fighting for her grandchildren born to a Hindu father to get entry to the only fire temple in Kolkata; and another Parsi woman married to a Hindu is demanding similar rights from the Valsad Anjuman in the Supreme Court.

Jyoti Shelar

Kash of Paak Atash Behram Padshah Saheb

On the joyous occasion of the salgireh of Paak Banaji Atash Behram Saheb, am pleased to share the below article.

The sanctified land, divine edifice and sacred Kash of Paak Atash Behram Padshah Saheb

Disclaimers: 1. The article is a feeble attempt to encapsulate the essence of the key messages as explained in the Purso Pasokh series by the late doyen of Ilm-e-Khshnoom Seth Jehangirji Sohrabji Chiniwala. The Gujarati articles of Seth Jehangirji appeared in Parsi Avaz weekly of 27th February and 6th March 1955 (Vol. 8, Issue 35 & 36). Readers are strongly encouraged to read these beautiful Gujarati articles from the Parsi Avaz weekly in order to gain a fuller and richer understanding of the aforesaid subject.

  1. This article provides glimpses about the mystical knowledge pertaining to Atash Behram Padshah Saheb purely from a Khshnoom point of view and it is hoped that no misunderstanding gets created on account of the same. Certain technical terms in Gujarati have been translated into the most approximate equivalent term in English and readers are requested to bear in mind such limitations of the English vocabulary as also those of the translator.
  2. This article is recommended for reading by true seekers of truths of our religion who have an open, objective and unbiased bent of mind. This article is not for those who are allergic to the divine knowledge of Khshnoom and also not for those who do not have implicit faith in the time-tested tenets and traditions of our pristine religion.

Click to continue reading… Kash of Paak Atash Behram Padshah Saheb

Courtesy : K F Keravala


In a small, air-conditioned room in Hong Kong’s busy Causeway Bay area, behind a framed, larger-than-life portrait of Parsi merchant Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy, there is talk of dhansak.

Homyar Nasirabadwala is speaking of the fortnightly dinners organized on the middle floors of the Zoroastrian Building for the city’s 200-odd-strong Parsi community.

Resident priest Nasirabadwala, 62, explains that there are two chefs from India—one of them Parsi—who live and work in this building. They organize the lavish multi-course dinners dished out. Around 40 or 50 Parsis show up on each occasion.

There are no Parsi restaurants in the city, but here, lagan nu custard, patra ni machchi, and sali boti are all on the menu. “We love to eat and drink,” he says.

Do the chefs make a mean dhansak? “Of course,” he says. “They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.”

Nasirabadwala is that delightful man of god with a devilish sense of humour. A slim gent in a black topi and a collared T-shirt, he is sitting behind a desk that has a copy of the weekly community newspaper, the Jam-e-Jamshed, and a Zoroastrian calendar.

Homyar Nasirabadwala is that delightful man of god with a devilish sense of humour. Photo: Bhavya Dore

Nasirabadwala is a transplant from Mumbai and one of a handful of full-time Parsi priests working outside India—there is one in London and perhaps one or two in Pakistan. The diaspora in other countries, such as the US and Canada, usually has other professionals who help out with priestly duties on a part-time basis.

On the fourth floor hall of this building, bearing a prominent image of the Faravahar, the religion’s symbol, he looks after a fire temple—more a prayer hall really—and attends to other tasks of the Association. He administers to the spiritual needs of the community, oversees religious functions and works on creating a broad awareness about the community in the city.

Nasirabadwala has been here since 2009, when the previous priest left to return to India, taking on the duties of a full-time priest for the first time. He had earlier been ordained as a 12-year-old, working part-time before leaving his corporate job and moving to Hong Kong.

There was an advertisement in the Parsi papers from the Incorporated Trustees of the Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hong Kong, Canton and Macao, seeking a priest for the city. He wrote in and got the job.

Since he arrived, he has officiated at two weddings, four navjotes (a ceremony of induction into the community), two purification ceremonies for new mothers and 10 funeral services.

“This is a big responsibility,” he says. “It requires all my attention and I am on the job 24/7.”

The Parsi community in Hong Kong has always been slight in numbers but massive in impact. Businessman and philanthropist Hormusjee Nowrojee Mody helped found the Kowloon Cricket Club and made an important donation to get the Hong Kong University up and running.

In 1888, Dorabjee Naorjee Mithaiwala founded the major ferry service, the Star Ferry, connecting two of the islands. Two Parsis were part of the original group that helped set up the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.

By some accounts, exchange between the Chinese and Zoroastrians from Persia go back to the sixth century, when Zoroastrian merchants traded with the Chinese empire. There is even some evidence of fire temples having been set up in parts of China.

But modern-day connections came with the advent of the British Empire, and Parsi merchants began arriving in east Asia from India in the 18th century, moving through Canton, Macau and Shanghai and flourishing in the spices, silk, opium and tea trades.

Though there were some that continued to stay in China, almost nothing of the community remains now on the mainland.

In Hong Kong, on the other hand, the dwindling community has managed to keep the spirit of the faith alive. “It all depends on the community and the people,” says Nasirabadwala. “They wanted someone and had the resources.”

In Hong Kong, the Parsis have had their own cemetery since 1852—rather than the traditional method of disposal via the towers of silence—where 194 people have been buried and the first grave goes back to 1858.

Nasirabadwala explains that the rituals he performs are virtually unchanged; the same prayers are uttered, and the body washed. The dog of the cemetery caretaker is pressed into action for “sagdid”, or the ritual of relying on a dog to reconfirm that the body is indeed dead. The only difference is that, here, other Parsis volunteer as pall-bearers in the absence of professional ones.

At navjotes, the tradition of sipping nirang, or consecrated bull’s urine, is not in practice here. Instead, pomegranate juice is given to the children.

The prayer hall has a fire burning all hours of day and night; a slight flame stoked by sandalwood in a room surrounded by portraits of the prophet. It is what is described as an “Atash Dadgah”, since it hosts a “grade three” fire, or one that has not been consecrated (most of the ones outside Iran and the Subcontinent are Atash Dadgahs).

Non-Parsis are allowed in this space. “It is a bit more liberal,” he says.

Like everyone else in the community, Nasirabadwala is also concerned about the declining numbers of Parsis worldwide. “We know it is a worrying factor,” he says. “We are encouraging young people to get married early. There might be a change in later years.”

But whatever happens before that, there will be dhansak. Last month, there were celebrations for the 100th birthday of a Parsi resident of Hong Kong. The twice-monthly dinners will continue.

The bar is stocked and the kitchen staff is busy preparing. “We joke that in the Parsi community there is no fasting, only feasting,” he says. “We go all out.”

When asked about the highlights of his time in Hong Kong and what he will remember when he returns to India, he pauses to think for a minute. “The vibrancy and tolerance of the city,” he says.

Oh, and one other thing: the “dim sums”.

Bhavya Dore is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist.

Comments are welcome at

New Bombay Agiary–An Appeal

Dear Fellow Zarthostis,

The structure of the New Bombay Agiary along with quarters for two Mobeds and 2 community Halls are ready and part occupancy has been obtained from the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation.
The two community Halls are planned similar to the Sethna ni Agiary Halls ( where the Main function takes place on the First Floor and the Ground floor Hall is used as a Dining Hall ), keeping in view that the A.C. Hall on the 2nd floor will serve for the purpose of having Navjotes, Lagans and other Community functions. The 1st floor Hall would be the Dining Hall. On the 1st floor there are also 2 A.C. rooms with self contained bathrooms for purpose of Nahaan and as Dressing rooms for the Bride and Groom. This floor also has common toilets for Ladies and Gentlemen separately. Below the First floor Hall there is an Open Stilt where the Caterer can use the space for cooking purpose.
The Second Floor Hall has been sponsored by Mr. Dara Hansotia of Cusrow Baug, in memory of his dear departed beloved wife Dr. Mehroo Hansotia at a cost of Rs. 85 lakhs. This Hall is called “MEHROO HANSOTIA MEMORIAL HALL”
We are now looking for a Sponsor for our First Floor Hall at a similar cost. We have used part of our Corpus Fund towards building this 1st floor Dining Hall. The question that will come to the minds of all of you is “Why did you build two Halls when you had a Sponsor for one Hall only”. We had to do so as Mr. Hansotia was only keen to Sponsor The Second Floor Hall and had insisted that he will release funds in parts only when we complete the Stilt Area and cast the slab for the First Floor Hall and as per the progress of construction of the First Floor Hall and the columns for the Second Floor Hall, he would release future payments. In view of that we had no option but to construct both the Halls, which are now complete in all respects.
The worst part of this whole situation is that we cannot start our Completely Ready Agiary for want of funds, as starting an Agiary without a proper and sufficient Corpus Fund would be suicidal.
We urge all of you to visit our Agiary Site in New Bombay and see for yourself the work that we have done.
If one single individual is not available as a sponsor, we request each one of you to make some contribution towards our most deserving cause. Hundreds of Parsee Zarthostis are waiting for the Agiary to start at New Bombay.
Contributions are to be made by cheque in favour of “NEW BOMBAY ZOROASTRIAN ASSOCIATION CHARITABLE TRUST”, WHICH WILL BE EXEMPT UNDER SECTION 80G OF THE INCOME TAX ACT and sent to C/o. Sharukh M. Doctor, Plot-179, Lane-F, Sector-8, Vashi, Navi Mumbai 400703.
Thanks and regards
Yours truly,
Sharukh Mahiar Doctor, President/Managing Trustee
P. S. : For site visit you may contact any one of the following:
Noshir D. Parlewalla 98205 06732; Nozer J. Mirza 98201 26411, Pervin M. Umrigar 98338 28347