Parsis were among the first settlers in Mumbai in the 17th century and they started consecrating their fire temples (Agiaries and Atash Behrams) over the next 200 years.
In the past decade, the minuscule community (barely over 40,000 in Mumbai) was relieved when most of these temples were notified under the city’s heritage rules, which protected their lands from the prying eyes of land sharks.
However, the controversial new development plan has failed to mark as many as 24 fire temples as Heritage Grade II A and Grade III A structures, thereby removing the protection that they enjoyed. This is yet another dubious move by the civic planners who prepared the development plan. Earlier, TOI had reported how the plan has shown roads cutting through heritage church properties.
A study done by the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) has shown that the two dozen fire temples not marked on the DP include Seth Hormasji Bomanji Wadia Atash Behram (Shehenshahi) at Dhobi Talao, Seth Jejeebhoy Dadabhoy Agiary at Colaba, Bai Phirozbai Dadabhoy Maneckji Wachha Agiary at Fort, Bai Pirojbai Dadabhoy Maneckji Vactha Agiary at Churchgate and Seth Nasemanji Ratanji Tata Agiary at Bandra.
Pankaj Joshi, executive director of UDRI, said, “The draft DP has deleted 24 Agiary sites from the 2002 notified list of Parsi fire temples in Mumbai. These deletions clubbed with reservations such as reserved open spaces and other amenities on heritage sites will sound the death knell of significant cultural and architectural heritage of Mumbai.”
Conservation architects say fire temples that have existed for centuries are known to form an integral part of the city’s social and cultural fabric.
Architect Vikas Dilawari said it is unclear whether it is an oversight or an omission. “These fire temples, however, were not a part of the existing heritage list of 1995 and were an addition to the notified list. Many a times, these religious places have a higher FSI and therefore it’s even more important that their heritage tag be protected. These places of worship are an integral part of the city,” said Dilawari.
Community members say fire temples have acted like a marker for the existence of the community, which has been in Mumbai for centuries. Author and Parsi historian Firoza Punthakey Mistree said, “These are heritage buildings and much more thought needs to go into the draft DP. These heritage structures have a unique combination of Indian and Iranian architecture and, therefore, add great value to a cosmopolitan city like ours.”
Other community members added that religious sites need to be tagged as they document a community’s growth.
“It forms a very important part of the community’s fabric, which then gets interwoven into the city’s fabric. As these structures are easy to identify, these should be marked,” said Pheroza Godrej.
DP department officials said most structures will be incorporated in the final list once the government notifies them.