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Zoroastrian tapestry

STATELY MONUMENT The first Fire Temple that was built in 1847 was recently renovated in strict accordance to religious norms

STATELY MONUMENT The first Fire Temple that was built in 1847 was recently renovated in strict accordance to religious norms  

On the occasion of Navroz, it is only right to remember that Parsis have been an integral part of Hyderabad's history writes, PADMINI B. PATELL

The Parsi community has been intricately woven into Hyderabad's history for over two centuries now. Mullah Kaus Bin Rustom Jalal was amongst the earliest travellers, who came from Iran to Bombay and then to Hyderabad where he became a close confidante of Nizam Ali Khan, the second Nizam. Most of the other families migrated from Bombay, Surat, Navsari and Bharuch during the reign of the sixth and seventh Nizams.

"Parsis served their rulers and the State with such unswerving loyalty and dedication that they attained some of the highest offices in the land. They had two great advantages: one was their familiarity with the English language, so that communication between the natives of the state and outsiders was entrusted to them, the other was their knowledge of Persian which made it possible for them to carry out the administration of the state," says Dr. Polly N. Chenoy.

In the 1920's a majority of the Parsis were in the service of the Nizam's government. They were prominent in the departments of customs, survey and settlements, police, land revenue and general administration. By the 1950's Parsis owned flourishing private business houses, ice factories, hotels and stores. Old timers will remember landmarks such as Rustamfaram & Co., Manickshaw Departmental Store, Viccaji Hotel, Fram & Co., Dastoor Optometrists, Westend Watch Co. and the famous Dr. Nania's clinic.

When the first Fire Temple was built, residences for the priest were constructed in Macleodguda. Later, most of the Parsi colonies sprung up around the Fire Temples or as a result of them. The main Parsi locales remain at Bapu Bagh, M.G. Road, Balamrai, Sorab Manzil, Shapurbagh and Tilak Road. There are three Parsi Fire Temples in the twin cities and the earliest built by Seth Viccajee and Pestonji Meherji in 1847 is located at M.G. Road. It was recently renovated for Navroze or the Parsi New Year's day which is preceded by Papeti the tenth day of the annual muktad or prayers for departed souls.

Fire is a physical representation of the illumined mind, light and truth and is symbolic of righteousness and knowledge. The agiari or Fire Temple is the place of worship where Zoroastrian rituals and prayers are solemnized in the presence of a consecrated fire. This fire is scrupulously tended with sandalwood and frankincense and kept perpetually burning in an afarganyu (fire-vase) in the inner sanctum of every Zoroastrian temple.

Since the sacred fire that is worshipped has to be present at all times, the renovation of a Fire Temple is done according to certain religious norms and practices. "An ante-room within the Temple premises is thoroughly washed, cleaned and sanctified with taro or sacred bull's urine. Special prayers are recited here for three consecutive days. After midnight on the third day the fire is shifted by the dasturs or priests in the absence of any artificial lighting to its temporary place in the ante-room.

Once the renovation is completed a similar process of sanctification takes place. The fire is then brought back to its original place and to mark this occasion a jashan or prayer service is held. Members of the community fund the renovation, help with cleaning and rearranging of the Temple premises," said Ervad Kaikobad Dastoor. Today about 1,300 Parsis live in the twin cities and 40 per cent of this population resides in colonies built at various locations by philanthropic members of the community.

Community living has always been actively promoted and inter-generational co-existence encouraged.

"While the young have ample company, they assimilate values and religious practices from the elders. In the later years finding a match from within the community poses less of a problem. The older generation finds the proximity to their place of worship a great advantage and are able to help each other in times of need. Trust funds are made available to the needy for education and medical purposes. Equipment such as wheelchairs, hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, walkers etc donated by well- wishers are circulated within the community. We also have a library and a bungli or hall for performing obsequies," says Jehangir D. Batliwalla, CEO, Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad.

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