#MumbaiList: The Revered Fire Burns Bright In Mumbai’s Heritage Agiaries

0

‘Agni’ or Fire is considered to be the son of God and has always held a sacred position in our country. Fire in various forms continues to adorn places of worship and its history can be traced back to the Indo – European period. It holds a place of significance in many religions, prominent among them being Hindus and Zoroastrians.

Iranshah Atash Behram. Image by panoramio.com.

Zoroastrianism
A ‘Parsi’ is an ethnic Persian member of the larger of the two Zoroastrian communities in India and Pakistan. Zoroastrians revere fire in any form and their place of worship is called a ‘Fire temple’ or ‘Agiary’ or ‘Dar-e-Meher’. In Zoroastrianism, water and fire are agents of ritual purity and both water and fire are represented within the precinct of a fire temple. The ‘Iranshah Atash Behram’ situated in Udvada, Gujarat is the most sacred of the Zoroastrian fire temples in India and the oldest continuously burning fire-temple fire in the world.

Making Mumbai their home
Mumbai is home to approximately 50 fire Temples built by the Zoroastrian community that made India their home several years ago. After the defeat of the last Sassanian King, a group of Zoroastrians from the Iranian province of Khorasan decided to leave Iran because of religious persecution. They sailed from Iran and landed on an island known today as Diu, near the west coast of India. They lived on that Island for 19 years, after which, they set sail once again to reach mainland India.

Dadabhai Naoroji. Image by iloveindia.com

Meanwhile, Bombay became a British possession in 1661 and the East India Company set out to make it the most flourishing port of India. This brought in a steady flow of Parsi settlers. The first record of a Parsi, settling in Bombay dates from 1640. The Dorabji family was among the early Parsi inhabitants of Bombay. The connection between Parsis and Mumbai goes back a long way in history. Be it the cotton boom, oldest newspaper – “Bombay Samachar”, stalwarts like Dadabhai Naoroji and Pherozeshah Mehta or one of the leading industrial houses founded by Jamshedji Tata; Parsis have played a vital role in the history of the city and the country.

Birth of Fire Temples in Mumbai
In 1780, the Parsi population in Mumbai was 3,000, which subsequently rose to 10,000 in 1810. As their numbers grew in the city, so did the fire temples and most of them came up in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Worshipping Fire. Image by indianetzone.com

‘Dar-e-mehers’ were established in 1672 by Hirji Waccha, in 1709 by Banaji Limji and the second Adaran of India was founded in 1735 by Maneckji Seth. Fire temples are built to serve the fire within them, and are classified and named according to the grade of fire housed within them. There are three grades of fires.  The Atash Dadgah is the lowest grade of sacred fire while the next highest grade is the Atash Adaran, the “Fire of fires”. An Atash Behram (Fire of Victory) is the highest grade of a fire that can be placed in a Zoroastrian fire temple. There are 9 Atash Behrams in India out of which Mumbai has four which include Dadiseth Atash Behram, Wadia Atash Behram, Banaji Atash Behram and Anjuman Atash Behram.

The fire temples in Mumbai are amongst the most beautiful religious monuments still existing in the city. They have been included in the city’s heritage list which will safeguard the heritage of these stunning structures. While fire temples are spread out over the city, they are concentrated in certain areas such as South Mumbai, its vicinity and Dadar.

We take you on a journey through some of the city’s oldest and venerated Agiaries.

Banaji Limji Agiary. Image by skydrive.live.com

Seth Banaji Limji Agiary: This is the city’s oldest existing fire temple. Located in Fort in South Mumbai, the temple was established in 1709. It was built by Seth Banaji Limji, a prosperous Parsi businessman. The sacred fire arrived from Kolkata on June 25 1709 and was consecrated here. The agiary was badly gutted in a fire that ravaged Fort in around 1803 but resurrected with the generous help of members of the community. The fire in the temple was reinstalled and enthroned in 1845. The outer facade of the agiary resembles a fortress. It has a dome over and on top of the holy fire. The 300th anniversary of the agiary was celebrated in 2009.
Where: Banaji Street, Fort

Dadiseth Atash Behram. Image by ahuramazda.com

Dadiseth Atash Behram: This is the first of the Atash Bahram’s in Mumbai. It was built by Dadibhai Noshirwanji Dadyseth (also spelt as Dadiseth) in 1771. The fire of the Dadiseth Atash Bahram was consecrated September 29, 1783. Dadibhai Noshirwanji was a distinguished Parsi philanthropist. A wealthy merchant, he made several important religious benefactions to the community the agiary being the first of them.
Where:Fanaswadi, Dhobi Talao

Maneckji Nowroji Seth Agiary. Images by oldphotosbombay.in

Maneckji Nowroji Seth Agiary: Over 275 years old, this is the second oldest agiary. It was built in 1733 by Maneckji, son of a great Parsi trader Rustam Manockji (Spelt Maneckji today). The Maneckji Nowroji Seth fire temple is one of the best embellished fire temples in the city and symbolizes a period when the Parsis were flourishing.
Where:  Perin Nariman Street, Fort

Wadia Atash Behram. Image by mumbai.nmapworld.com.

Wadia Atash Behram – The Wadias, an affluent business family, built many fire temples including the most significant, Wadiaji Atash Behram. The fire of the temple located at Dhobi Talao was consecrated November 17, 1830. This was built in 1805 but consecrated in 1830 as the first Shenshai Atash Behram.  The consecration ceremony is said to have been truly illustrious as thousands of Parsis gathered from around the country to see the holy fire.
Where – Princess St, Dhobi Talao

Anjuman Atash Behram. Image by hakontandberg.com

Anjuman Atash Behram – It is one of the four Atash Behrams established in the city. The fire of the Zartoshti Anjuman Atash Behram in Dhobi Talao at Mumbai was consecrated October 17, 1897. The making of this temple has an interesting miracle associated with it. Dastur Jamshed Ervad Sohrab Kukadaru Saheb, a pious Parsi priest was instrumental in the establishment of the Anjuman Atash Behram. He miraculously transformed an ordinary brick into a large bar of gold by praying the ancient Avestan prayers thus helping the devotees who were falling short of funds while making this temple.
Where: Dhobi Talao, Marine Lines

Bai Soonabai Hirji Agiary. Image by playingwithmemories.com

Bai Soonabai Hirji Agiary: Located near August Kranti Maidan, this over 200 year old agiary has been catering to the religious needs of the Parsi community in the area. The first agiary on the premises was smaller, built by Ervad Dorabji Hormusji Ranji in 1812 with funds contributed by him and Bai Soonaiji (Daughter of the late Seth Hirji Jivanji Readymoney). Bai Soonaiji purchased the estate along with the agiary in 1821-22. In September 1842, Bai Soonaiji had built a new Daremeher in her estate and had an Atash Adaran consecrated. In April 1925, the agiary had been virtually rebuilt once again, renovated with financial aid from Sir Cowasjee Jehangir, son of Seth Jehangir Readymoney who was the elder son of Bai Soonabai. The façade of the building has a mix of Persian architecture.
Where:August Kranti Marg, Gowalia Tank

Seth Pirojsha Ardeshir Patel Agiary. Image by parsikhabar.net

Seth Pirojsha Ardeshir Patel Dar-e-meher – The Patel agiary in Andheri celebrated its centenary in 2008. Seth Ardeshir Bikaji Patel had built this Dar-e-Meher in memory of his younger son Pirojsha who died at the tender age of 8. The Agyari is named after him. The agiary was opened for devotees in 1908.  The building is adorned with classical Roman architecture bearing Corinthian capitals. In 1909 Ardeshir built a building by the side of the Dar-e-Meher to house low income community families.
Where: Swami Vivekanand Rd, Andheri West

Rustom Farmna Agiary. Image by dellatecnica.com.

Rustom Faramna Agiary: The agiary was built by philanthropist Rustom Faramna, a hotelier when he moved to Mumbai. He realized that the largest housing colony for his community which was located in Dadar, did not have a place of worship. And that is how the Rustom Faramna Agiary was consecrated in 1929. After his death, the management of the temple passed to his brother-in-law, whose descendant, Rusi Jussawalla, is now the managing trustee. Jimmy Mistry, Principal Designer & Managing Director, Della Tecnica Architects and Interior Designers, adopted the Rustom Framna Agiary at Dadar and restored it. The agiary is over 75 years old and is always full of devotees, considering that the Dadar Parsi Colony has the largest number of Parsi residents.
Where: Dadar Parsi Colony

The Parsi community, although smaller in number than several other communities, take pride in continuing the tradition and culture established by their forefathers. The carefully maintained, beautiful agiaries and other cultural edifices in the city bear testimony to this. Any famous Agiaries that ought to be added to this list? Write to us at story@mumbaimag.com or comment below.

Post By Esha Verma (33 Posts)

Writing is a passion I discovered a little late. But better late than never. When not penning my thoughts, you'll find me sniffing around for good food - trying out every new restaurant in town is a hobby. I swear by Hindi films and when doing nothing of the above you'll find me troubling my pet pooch.

Connect

Esha Verma

Esha Verma
Writing is a passion I discovered a little late. But better late than never. When not penning my thoughts, you'll find me sniffing around for good food - trying out every new restaurant in town is a hobby. I swear by Hindi films and when doing nothing of the above you'll find me troubling my pet pooch.