A GLOBAL INITIATIVE TO SUPPORT THE LEGACY OF PAK IRANSHAH ATASHBEHRAM IN UDVADA – OUR PRICELESS AND TIMELESS HERITAGE
TOGETHER Let Us Create An Inner Desire To Support Our Sacred Fire
EDUCATION – INSPIRATION – DONATION
The sleepy village of Udvada is poised for its rightful place on the global map of renowned religious, historical and cultural sites with improved infrastructure, enhanced facilities and better security. This would be in keeping with it’s now officially recognized status of a global heritage village, bestowed by the government of India. The Udvada Atash Bahram is the oldest consecrated fire temple of the highest grade in India; and represents the historical, cultural, spiritual and religious bond with our Motherland Iran.
The divine flame of Iranshah Udvada is one of the oldest and holiest fire that is revered by Zartoshtis across the globe since over a millennium.
Let us join hands together
To keep this flame live and alive
For the benefit of our future generation
Through Education, Inspiration & Donation
To make Udwada the global centre for showcasing OUR Zoroastrian heritage, culture and way of life
To provide a continuous stream of global financial support to perpetuate the Legacy Of Iranshah Udvada – Our Precious And Timeless Heritage
OUR 5-STAR PURPOSE
TO PRESERVE the Sanctity Of Iranshah by honoring, helping and supporting all those who take care of this great spiritual power-house with utmost dedication and selfless commitment – Especially our senior and respected Mobed sahibs who have dedicated their entire lives towards serving OUR Sacred Iranshah with impeccable sincerity, devotion, dignity and integrity.
TO CREATE a monetary incentive for our present Mobed Sahibs and to inspire our future Mobeds to pursue the noble profession of Mobedi as a career. This is of vital importance for the survival and revival of OUR Sacred Iranshah.
A great scholar had once said: “no priest, no religion or religious institution”.
TO KEEP the flame alive by providing firewood (Kathi). The Kathi Fund needs to be increased substantially to meet the rising cost of Kathi.
TO MAINTAIN the structure that houses our holiest fire. OUR Sacred Iranshah, which is over a thousand years old, and the building in which Iranshah is enthroned; requires periodic infrastructure updates as well as major renovations every 10-12 years.
TO PROVIDE round the clock (24/7/365) Security Service for the premises of OUR Sacred Iranshah.
In addition, we also need the voluntary services of devoted and sincere Parsi helpers to keep the premises clean, tidy and presentable for the local, national and global devotees/pilgrims who visit Udvada to pay their homage to OUR Sacred Iranshah.
Together, Let Us Create An Inner Desire, To Support Our Sacred Fire
Udvada Samast Anjuman was proud to co-host the ‘Iranshah Udvada Utsav’ (IUU) with Foundation for Development of Udvada (FDU). Going by responses gathered from all over the world, IUU held on 25th to 27th December 2015, was undoubtedly a stupendous success.
Over the past few weeks, post the Iranshah Udvada Utsav, various write ups, comments and views, both positive as also negative, have appeared in various print & social media channels about hosting of the Utsav. Some have been very encouraging, heart warming, providing suggestions for improvement and some downright negative, discouraging and personally attacking and defaming the IUU, Udvada Anjuman and our Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor.
It is a well known fact that the IUU has received adulation from most quarters, it has resulted in Udvada being poised for infrastructure development and progress that will be of immense benefit to all those who are fortunate to reside and visit Udvada. We shall provide some information on the benefits that shall accrue to Udvada later in this communiqué. However, before we enumerate these benefits, it is essential that we inform the community at large about negative politics that a few from our community have indulged in, post the conclusion of the IUU.
In all communities and societies, there are some individuals with holier than thou mindsets who perceive their word to be the final word on how others should conduct themselves in all walks of life. Our community too has its fair share of individuals who have narrow visions and revel in fomenting discord. These disgruntled elements see a hidden agenda in everything. Their efforts are always to foist their views on everything under the sun and should their views not be adhered to, they are at their vituperative best in criticising and maligning those who have not complied with their viewpoints.
Over the past many years, we have experienced a few individuals/groups, who have made it their mission to malign our Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor in any and every positive initiative that he has taken for Iranshah & Udvada.
This same group of individuals, who have been ventilating their negative views about IUU in the media, both published and social, are well known to have a personal animus against our Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor ever since the FDU was established around 2004. They misguided the community even then as they are doing now. We may add that the FDU has never sought to influence or interfere with the working of our Udvada Anjuman.
Lest such disgruntled individuals misconstrue our silence to be an acceptance of their misguided and mischievous statements, Udvada Samast Anjuman has decided to issue this one and only statement for the information of the community.
Our forefathers, members of the Nine Athornan Families, have over centuries and generations, often at a great sacrifice, have been willingly doing ‘khidmat’ of Shreeji Pak Iranshah with all the necessary ritualistic discipline, maintaining the sanctity and purity of the holy fire and the precinct of Iranshah, which has been continued by us of the present generation and we shall ensure the same will be continued by our future generations.
We put to rest once and for all the controversy created by the speech given by Mr. Darius Khambata. It has already been stated that Mr. Khambata was expressing his personal views, with which our Anjuman & Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor are not in agreement. Neither our Anjuman nor our Dasturjis, Dasturji Khurshed & Dasturji Peshotan have ever encouraged conversion or mixed marriages in any form whatsoever.
The canard spread by these disgruntled elements that other Dasturjis were not invited for the IUU is absolutely false. Dasturji JamaspAsa, Dasturji Kotwal & Dasturji Mirza were not present at the IUU due to their prior commitments (performing Navjote / Wedding ceremonies in Mumbai). It may be noted that Dasturji Kotwal & Dasturji Mirza have, along with Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, willingly contributed learned and informative articles in the souvenir released at IUU. As regards to Dasturji Meherjirana of Navsari, keeping in mind his ill health, it was thought best not to inconvenience him with a visit to Udvada. It must also be mentioned that many members of the Nine Athornan Families of the Udvada Anjuman attended and participated on all the three days of the IUU, thus nailing the mischievous and misleading comments of those who were antagonistic to the holding of the IUU.
It was amusing to read the frequent comments of Ervad Yazdi Unwalla deriding the IUU and Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor. Though being part of the Udvada Anjuman, he has not contributed an iota towards Iranshah nor Udvada and has the audacity and temerity to comment against our Anjuman and our Dasturji only displays his prejudice against the Anjuman and our Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor.
Er. Marzban Hathiram, has recently written an article ‘Sleepless Nights In Udvada’, in which he has mentioned that if a poll by secret ballot was conducted solely of members of the Anjuman, the result would serve as a jolt for both the Dasturjis. All that we can say about Er. Hathiram is that, he himself needs to first introspect before endeavouring to make sanctimonious statements about our Shreeji Pak Iranshah and our Anjuman or trying to drive a wedge between our Anjuman and both our Dasturjis by recalling and remembering what in the first place caused him to leave his Panthak at the Behram Baug Agyari, and come and settle in Udvada for which we do not even need to conduct a poll by secret ballot. Let the healer first heal himself before trying to heal others.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Yazdi Desai, the present chairman of Bombay Parsi Punchayet, sought to issue a loose statement to the media without first verifying the details and facts with either the Anjuman or Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor. It would have been proper had he done so.
Some individuals have commented that rather than organising a mega event such as IUU, the funds should have been more fruitfully utilised for the welfare of underprivileged Zoroastrians at Udvada. Those holding this view point will do well to note that our Anjuman takes good care of the welfare & medical aid of all their practising & retired Mobeds, Goranis, widows of late Mobeds, helpers at the Iranshah and those that carry out duties in other various capacities in the Udvada gaam.
We urge the 185 year old publication, Jam-e-Jamshed and our Parsi journalists reporting in the cosmopolitan media, to act more professional and responsible and to verify the facts either with ourAnjuman or our Dasturjis before reporting inflammatory, fabricated and false propaganda just to sensationalise the issue at the cost of the dignity and reputation of our own community.
By holding the IUU at Udvada, we, the khidmatgars of Iranshah, did not find anything that was incorrect, harmful, amiss or detrimental to our Shreeji Pak Iranshah and its precincts.
In all the ridiculous noise and din created post the Utsav, the fact that hosting the Iranshah Udvada Utsav brought about a lot of POSITIVES for the community, in general and Udvada village in particular, has been lost sight of. We wish to take this opportunity to highlight the tangible benefits that have accrued and share them with the community at large.
The fact that around 4000 Parsi/Irani Zoroastrians from all over India and other parts of the world attended the IUU and participated with enthusiasm and vigour is illustrative of its success.
The below mentioned points are illustrative of the positive results achieved by the IUU: –
It is the formation of FDU and the efforts of our Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor that has been instrumental in getting funds allocated and disbursed to carry out infrastructure development in Udvada.
There are now proper roads across Udvada village, more so around the Iranshah, to avoid congestion near its entrance.
A parking lot has been assigned specifically for the devotees visiting the Iranshah.
Regular supply of electricity is now available and CCTVs are being installed for the safety of our residents.
A local police station is to be established and regular police patrolling to be done in the village.
Refurbishment of the Zoroastrian Information Centre and Dasturji Kayoji Mirza Hall & Library will be undertaken from the funds sanctioned specifically for these purposes, as was announced by Mr. Saurabh Patel, Minister, Gujarat State, at the inauguration of the IUU.
Construction of a Persian Gate, from funds sanctioned by the Government, will shortly be undertaken at the entrance of Udvada village (near Doongerwadi) as was also announced by Mr. Saurabh Patel, Minister, Gujarat State, at the inauguration of the IUU.
Planning for the construction of a concrete wall structure to stop ingress of seawater into our village shores is being done.
Most importantly, Udvada gaam and our Iranshah was saved from the clutches of some individuals who had planned to build an industrial-cum-residential zone on a large stretch of 160 acres of land close to the vicinity of Iranshah Atash Beheram, due to the timely intervention of Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, who took up this matter with the concerned government officials at Gandhinagar and the then Chief Minister, Shri Narendra Modi.
Instructions issued to the local authorities by Mr. Arun Jaitley, Union Minister, and Mr. Saurabh Patel, Minister, Gujarat State, to halt further construction of high-rise buildings in the vicinity of Iranshah will be invaluable to preserve the sanctity of Iranshah and Udvada.
We are confident that FDU & our Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor shall continue to work with the concerned authorities to follow-up and get the above benefits officially documented and implemented.
Udvada Samast Anjuman takes the opportunity, to once again make it explicitly clear to one and all, that it has never interfered in the affairs of other Anjumans / Associations and in turn shall brook no interference in our affairs. It is the bounden duty of our Anjuman to protect and preserve the sanctity of Iranshah & Udvada, which we have done over the centuries and are perfectly capable and committed to do so, now and in future.
To our detractors, we reiterate that Udvada Samast Anjuman and our Dasturjis are not answerable to any outside agencies or small pressure groups and shall not respond to any further communications with regards to our Anjuman or any of our Dasturjis.
Before concluding, the Udvada Samast Anjuman extends its whole-hearted gratitude to our Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor and Team IUU for the hard work put in by them to successfully organise the mega event and assures them of their continued support in future editions of IUU at Udvada that are intended to be held at regular intervals.
We conclude with a prayer and a hope that peace, good sense and serenity may prevail in our community!
Unanimously approved by all the committee members.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 23–25 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.
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.
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!”