Category Archives: Agiaries and Atash Behrams
Trustees of the Seth Vicajee Seth Pestonji Meherji Agiyari at Secunderabad celebrated the 175th Anniversary on July 31, 2022 where Dinshaw Tamboly and a few others were invited and asked to share their thoughts with around 500+ Zoroastrians who attended the celebrations.
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.
The Parsi Fire Temple
Though a small community with a few thousand at its peak population, which has shrunk to around 200 now, the Parsi community has still left an impact on the history and culture of Madras. They shot films, built theatres, had tea shops and even fashioned the water supply of Madras. Parsis first arrived in Madras around 1800 but it took a century before they built a fire temple for themselves. Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar E Meher, popularly known as the Royapuram fire temple, is located on Arathoon Road.
Sir Dinshaw Petit of Bombay (whose granddaughter was Jinnah’s wife) donated a large sum. Phiroj Muncherji Clubwala donated another large corpus and land after he was bereaved. The grateful Parsis named the temple after Clubwala’s son.
Only Parsis and Zoroastrian Iranis are admitted into the sanctum sanctorum. The fire at the temple has never been extinguished since the construction of the temple (for over a century now). Priests tend to the fire five times a day during prayers, once even at midnight. When the German ship Emden bombed the neighbourhood, the Arathoon road became empty except for the priest who maintained the fire.
Astad Clubwala writes:
This book, a visual delight is another first of its kind. It has a foreword by Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, High Priest, Iranshah Atash Behram and a message by Mr. Dinshaw Tamboly, Chairman, The WZO Trust Funds. The pictures of our institutions as also Dasturjis of Udvada are eye catching. It will be released on Roz Adar, Mah Adar 1391 Y.Z. Thursday 21st April 2022 at Iranshah Atash Behram, Udvada.
This informative book is in two parts – Part I is a reprint of the book The History of Holy Fire Iranshah by Ervad Faramroze Phiroze Mirza. Part II is about Udvada Gam and its Parsi institutions. It also has Gujarati songs on Udvada and Iranshah transliterated into English, reminiscences about Udvada, some tips for Parsi Zoroastrian pilgrims as also for priests/dharamshala managers. A map of Udvada Gam and a bibliography adds to the usefulness of this book.
Those visiting Udvada can collect a complimentary copy from Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor at his residence opp. Iranshah Atash Behram dasturji firstname.lastname@example.org. A complimentary copy can also be collected from the offices of WZO Trust Funds at Bombay and Navsari.
Those interested in obtaining complimentary copies until stocks last may contact The WZO Trust Funds
Mumbai Office Navsari office:
C-1, Hermes House, WZO Senior Citizens Centre
3rd floor, Pinjara street,
Mama Parmanand Marg, Juna Thana
Opera House, Navsari Pin 396445
Mumbai 400004 Tel. 91-2637-246073/
Tel. 91-22-23584452/53 245402
Email: email@example.com e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Marzban Jamshedji Giara
144 pages, richly illustrated, hard bound
Sponsored by The WZO Trust Funds
- Hoshang Havewala – 98200 41374
- Khushroo Daboo – 98204 52434
- Rohinton Dadachanji – 89760 00982
The Iranshah Atash Behram building in Udwada, Gujarat has housed the revered Iranshah fire since 31st October 1894. With the passage of time, the main building and other structures in the complex had deteriorated, necessitating extensive restoration and conservation work.
Today is an auspicious day – Hormaz Roj Amardad Mah, when our Iranshah Atash Behram reopens. The Iranshah Atash Behram building in Udvada, which was constructed nearly 130 years ago in 1894, and the other structures in the complex required extensive restoration and conservation work. Shapoorji Pallonji And Company Pvt. Ltd. undertook the restoration.
The Shapoorji Pallonji team acted as an anchor for the restoration project. A detailed examination was conducted for vulnerabilities on the structures, by a team of experts from various fields. It was discovered that the Atash Behram building and other structures in the complex had undergone many changes over the last century, which were not part of the original architectural intent.
A meticulous restoration plan was then prepared to strengthen the structural stability and restore the architectural intent of the buildings in the Atash Behram complex as originally envisaged.
The Iranshah Atash Behram, which housed the revered Iranshah since October 31, 1894, was constructed originally with the generous contribution of Bai Motlibai Manockjee Wadia, daughter of late Jehangirjee Nasserwanjee Wadia, in memory of her husband, late Manockjee Naorojee Wadia.
May Iranshah’s blessings be upon us!
- Jehangir Bisney
– Jehangir Bisney