One of the oldest Zoroastrian temples of Iran – Tappeh Mill (literally – a mill hill), also known as the Bahram fire temple – sits majestically on the hill near Ghal’eh Noe Village not far from the city of Rey. It was named ‘Mil Hill’ due to the distant similarity of the two main structures with the mill.
Category Archives: Agiaries and Atash Behrams
Boi Ceremony And The Chakra Ritual
3 Nov 2019 Top of Form
Courtesy : Burjor Daboo
RITUAL OF ‘BOI-DAADAN’ OR MAACHI OFFERING AT CHANGE OF GEHS IN ATASH-BEHRAMS AND ITS GREAT SIGNIFICANCE
‘In the period of Haavan Geh, Haoma Yazata approached Zarathushtra (who was then) cleansing the fire (stand) from all sides and reciting the Gathas.’ – (Hom Yasht 1, 1)
Note: This chapter is based on our late revered Dasturji Saheb Khurshed S. Dabu’s Gujarati booklet on this subject. Comments within brackets are my own-
(Ahura Mazda is omnipresent and He is mysteriously present in all His Creations, as a Ravaan/Fravashi in each one of us, and as an unseen fire energy instrumental in the creation and renovation of everything. As the ‘Son of Ahura Mazda’ and as his resplendent symbol the enthroned fire is worshipped. It has a soul in addition to its material counterpart and hence it is an independent, conscious entity).
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Courtesy : Burjor Daboo
THE CEREMONY OF CONSECRATION OF ATASH-BEHRAMS
The Sacred Fire is metaphorically spoken of as a King, having a spiritual jurisdiction over the district round about. The stone slab or stand, on which its censer stands, is considered and spoken of as its throne (takht). Its chamber is in the form of a dome, giving an idea of the dome of the heavens. It is just under the center of the dome that the censer stands on the slab. From that center hangs, high above over the fire, a metallic tray which is spoken of as the crown (tap of the Sacred Fire, which is looked at as the symbolic representation or emblem of a spiritual ruler- One or two swords and one or two maces are hanging on the inner walls of its chamber. They serve as symbols of the Church militant, and signify that the faithful should fight against moral evils and vices, just as they would fight against their enemies, and thus make it, in the end, triumphant.
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There was no separate railway station for Udwada on Bombay Baroda B. B. & C .I. Railway. One had to alight at Pardi station and travel eight miles to reach Udwada. Seth Behramji Nusserwanji Seervai (1824-1914) started his business as a railway contractor and carting agent in 1864 for B. B. & C.I. Railway.
Seth Behramji Nusserwanji Seervai wrote a letter to Mr. J. K. Duxbari, the railway company’s agent on 16th October 1868 and stressed the need for building a small station at Udwada where Parsis go on a pilgrimage to the ancient Atash Behram and if the railway company wants he offered to pay the expenses for constructing the station.
On 11th June 1869 Mr. C. Curry, the railway company’s agent replied to Seth Behramji Seervai that a small station will be constructed at Udwada by the railway company but if he or his friends could improve the road from the station to Udwada village.
Seth Behramji on 20th October 1869 wrote a letter to Mr. T. C. Hope, Collector of Surat and offered to pay half the expenses for repairing the road. Mr. Hope accepted the offer by his letter of 8th January 1870 to Seth Behramji and stated “… the Local Fund Committee will undertake hereafter to improve it as far as the means at their disposal will allow.”
Thereafter Seth Behramji on 8th April 1870 deposited Rs.2,000/- in Surat’s Government Treasury for the road to Udwada village. The railway company constructed a small temporary station at Udwada and inaugurated it on 23rd December 1869. The road to the Udwada village was built on 25th May 1870.
Bai Motlabai Jehangirji Wadia contributed Rs.68,000/- ( Rs.38,000/- for constructing the permanent road and Rs, 30,000/- for its repairs)from Udwada station to the Atash Behram. The railway company demolished the 25 year old temporary station and built a permanent station 3/4th mile away and inaugurated it on 1st January 1896.
(Source: Parsee Prakash Vol. Ii Translated from Gujarati into English by Marzban Jamshedji Giara)
Hamaysht ceremony in Surat Atash Behram Saheb
Attached here is a brief explanation of the Hamayasht ceremony being performed in Surat. This ceremony has not been performed for several years and those who can go across to Surat or are the local residents there can consider themselves fortunate to witness such a one-off kriya.
The Hamayasht ceremony is a long-winded ceremony in the Zoroastrian religion similar to the “Mahayagna” of the Hindus. There are 2 types of Hamayasht ceremonies, the “Motti” Hamayasht and “Nani” Hamayasht. On enquiries with High priests and scholars it has been observed that this ceremony has not been performed in India since the past several years. This ceremony comprises of the Yazashne, Vendidad, Baaj and Afringan in reverence of the following Yazatas.
Teshtar Tir Yazad.
Avan Ardivisur Banu.
Farokh Farvardin.(Arda Fravash).
The Surat D. N. Modi Atashbehram is a prominent fire temple for most Pav Mahal ceremonies. Just as the Iranshah Atashbehram at Udwada is popular as the King of fires, and Navsari is termed as “Dharam ni tekri” or Mantle of religion, so also Surat is the preferred place for all Pav Mahal ceremonies. With due permission of the High priest of Surat, Dastur Noshirwan Manchershah the “Motti” Hamayasht ceremony has already commenced on Shenshahi Roj Adar, Mah Dey, i.e. 26th May 2003.
As per the information collected from senior mobed sahebs of the Atashbehram, the “Nani” Hamayasht ceremony had been performed 40 years ago in the memory of Daulatbanoo Jehangirji Gheewala. The “Motti” Hamayasht which is now being performed will comprise of 144 Yazashne, 144 Vendidad, 144 Afringan and 144 Baaj with the kshnuman of each of the 12 fareshtas (Yazatas) listed above. The expenditure for this will run into lakhs of Rupees. This ceremony is being conducted by a chust Bombay based Zarathushtri by the name of Hoshang Bengali in memory of his dear departed wife Homai. This ceremony will last for 70 days ! The Hamayasht requires 5 pairs of Yaozdathregar mobeds with proper Bareshnum Nahn.
The Mobeds selected for this gigantic task are Ervad Farokh B. Turel, Ervad Noshir B. Turel, Ervad Nairyosang J. Turel, Ervad Faredun J. Turel, Ervad Harvespa A. Sanjana, Ervad Adil A. Sanjana, Ervad Dara J. Bharda, Ervad Zubin P. Rabadi, Ervad Burjor F. Aibara, Ervad Kobad J. Bharda, and Ervad Porus S. Zarolia. These mobeds will perform for 70 days continuously with all tarikats of purity.
We hope and are confident that with the performance of this gigantic religious ceremony our Parsi Zarathushtri brothers and sisters will once again live in happiness, peace, unity and unflinching faith towards our deen and wish that the blessings of all the fareshtas descend on us in plenty to eradicate ahrimanic influences now prevalent with the help of the strong manthravani that emanate from this ceremony.
The trustees of the Modi Atashbehram, Vada Dasturji Saheb of Surat, Naib Dasturji Saheb and the 10 yaozdathregar mobed sahibs performing the ceremony cordially invite one and all humdin of Surat and outside towns, cities, countries to witness this kriya and be fortunate enough to receive the blessings of all the fareshtas and Pak Dadar Ahuramazda.
The Udvada Atash Behram, also known as the Iran Shah, “King of Iran”, is a temple in Udvada, Gujarat on the west coast of India. It is one of the eight fire temples of the Zoroastrian religion in the country.
A bold new initiative to safeguard the community’s 150 or so fire temples all overIndia has been launched by a group of traditionalists, old and new. Called rather unimaginatively the Parsi Zoroastrian Guards of the Holy Fire (PZGHF), the trust lists five objectives including collecting data on all the fire temples, looking to their welfare, ensuring a regular supply of firewood and the services of a part-time mobed on a daily basis.
One would normally dismiss such an effort as a wishful endeavor by well meaning individuals. For, how can a shrinking community sustain the numerous institutions that were created for a population double that of today? The former president of the Delhi Parsi Anjuman (DPA) raised this issue in a letter to the editor (see “Of greater import,” page 6). The Mengusi Dharamshala in the DPA agiary complex resolved the issue of low occupancy by allowing non Parsis to avail of their rooms. The agiary is out of bounds to non-Zoroastrians, though the children of interfaith marriages where one parent is a Parsi are permitted.
These are some ways to preserve Parsi institutions but the PZGHF and like minded bodies are unlikely to follow any of these steps. In fact such thinking would be labeled heresy. The very inclusion of the term “Parsi Zoroastrian” in their nomenclature means these are hard core traditionalists.
Doongerwadi is a prime example of inflexibility. The Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) incurs an annual loss of Rs 4.5 crores (USD 6,56,017) or Rs 66,000 per corpse last year (4,50,00,000/675) yet the trustees refuse funerary prayers in their 11 bunglis (most of which lie idle or are rarely used) to those opting for cremation. The BPP is bound by their trust deed to see to the welfare of the living, yet spends the largest amount of their dwindling, financial resources on the dead. Salaries are delayed, while mobed and third child monthly subsidies remain unpaid for sometimes as much as six months. Some trustees justify their lopsided priorities claiming the trust was created to preserve the dakhmas, everything else being secondary. A cursory reading of Sapur Desai’s book The History of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, 1860 to 1960 would dispel this misconception. The book has a foreword by then chairman of the BPP B. K. Boman-Behram, a traditionalist, who noted, “Events compelled the Parsi Punchayet to shed its quasi-traditional character and assume that of a social welfare organization of the community.”
Another former chairman of the BPP was asked about the justification for spending so much on Doongerwadi where less than two bodies are consigned a day to the two or three Towers of Silence in use. He replied, “What do you want us to do?” He noted the trust had to safeguard the 55 acres of the Malabar Hill estate. Property as always is the BPP’s prime priority, beneficiaries come second.
To the traditionalists, a non Parsi intruding in their religious sphere is anathema. A former BPP trustee with mobility problems who was accompanied by his non-Parsi assistant onto the verandah of an atash behram found other worshipers loudly objecting to the presence of a parjat, even at the edge of the portico. In another, earlier incident, a traditionalist called for action against the priest at the Godavara Agiary run by the BPP because he permitted a non-Parsi assistant to wait on the open porch (otla) while her elderly mistress prayed within.
Thus emotions run high on these perceived transgressions and should the Guards make an attempt at any reasonable, logical compromise, they would face the full wrath of the orthodox. As it is the traditionalist World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis received flak for defining a Parsi as a child born of a Parsi father (the legally correct definition) instead of both Parsi parents.
The Guards hopefully will have their priorities right. They have at their helm the astute and efficient lawyer Berjis Desai, who retired as the managing partner of one of the country’s largest legal firms and now engages in a busy private practice. Though he describes himself as an “unsuccessful community activist” he has most of the time succeeded brilliantly. He engineered the scheme for Universal Adult Franchise (UAF) over 10 years ago with the support of the then BPP chairman Minoo Shroff and some of his co-trustees and saw the reform through the legal labyrinths. He subsequently derided UAF alleging decision making was handed over to the masoor pav (lentil and bread) eating Parsis instead of the elite, National Centre for the Performing Arts going types. His legal skills along with that of another traditionalist lawyer, Zerick Dastur persuaded the Bombay High Court to stay for a short time the construction of the Metro underground rail near the two atash behrams and to realign the tunnels by 3.5 meters.
A former liberal turned conservative and a perceptive and highly skilled writer, Desai has straddled both sides of the divide. He will bring his considerable persuasive skills and networking abilities to the task. With him heading the trust, raising a corpus of five crores will be an achievable goal. But whether they will then be able to deliver the goods is a question mark.
Parsiana asked him why the Guards should succeed when other organizations have failed. His reply, “I am determined. (I’ll) dedicate 30-40% of my time… office recruitment (is) in progress.” Other potential trustees named are Jamshed Sukhadwala, Ervads (Drs) Parvez Bajan and Ramiyar Karanjia, Hosi Dastur, Pervin Mistry and Jehangir Bisney.
But even a Berjis Desai with all his skills and with the likes of blogger and Secunderabad-Hyderabad Anjuman trustee Bisney on the trust, the PZGHF will face invincible foes: diminishing numbers, indifference and an obdurate community. Will fire temple trustees share with others their trust deeds, their financial position, number of worshippers, mobeds and also permit an inspection? How many of them even know the answer to some of these questions? Or even care?
Even if the trustees succeed in keeping the flame burning, preserving the physical structure and obtaining the services of a mobed, the dearth of worshipers will remain. The PZGHF has plans to encourage frequent visits to more fire temples but for the elderly, mobility is an issue. Transport and assistance will have to be provided.
We can only wish the Guards well in their endeavor. Any and every attempt to preserve our heritage is to be encouraged. But by being exclusive instead of inclusive, they have limited their slim chances of success.
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.