The city’s heritage Fort district is globally famous for its majestic colonial buildings. But few know that it also has seven ancient Zoroastrian Parsi Fire Temples in this enclave. The oldest fire temple in Mumbai, the Banaji Limji Agiary in Fort—entered its 309th year on Saturday.
Article by Nauzer Bharucha | Times of India
The Banaji Limji Agiary is tucked away in a side lane called Banaji Lane behind Flora Fountain; the ancient fire was consecrated in 1709 by Seth Banaji Limji, a Parsi businessman.
The second oldest agiary—Manekji Sett agiary— is also located less than a kilometre away in Perin Nariman street near CST. It completed 284 years on Saturday (1733).
Mumbai’s fire temples were established after the Parsis started migrating from Surat and other parts of Gujarat about five centuries ago.
Portuguese physician Garcia da Orta reports of a few of them as residents of Mumbai, mostly working as clerks in the Bassien jurisdiction. The English came in the late 1600s and shifted part of their commercial activities from Surat to Bombay and many Parsis came with them in large numbers.
In 1780, the Parsi population in Mumbai was 3,000; this subsequently rose to 10,000 in 1810. As their numbers grew in the city, so did the fire templesthere are over four dozen in Greater Mumbai today, and most of them came up in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The fortress-like structure of the Limji agiary gives a faint glimpse of how the old Fort area may have looked like a few centuries ago.
In 1803, a fire caused considerable damage to the building. Wealthy Parsi merchants donated huge sums for the reconstruction of the damaged fire temple and the poorer sections of the community contributed eggs and hundreds of toddy mugs.
These ingredients were churned along with the construction material as an act of faith, to strengthen the foundation.
The Manekji Sett fire temple is one of the best embellished fire temples and represents a period when the Parsis were flourishing and well-settled.