By Nauzer Bharucha I tnn
Miunbai: For the 45,000 Parsis in Mumbai, Friday is a special day – not only will they celebrate the birthday of fire, considered to be the son of god, but will also observe the 300th anniversary of the city’s oldest fire temple in the Fort area of south Mumbai.
Adar Roz nu Parab, which generally falls around the last week of April, is a day when the community offers thanksgiving prayers to the consecrated and house fires. Fire temples across the city will be filled with the fragrance of sandalwood and worshippers chanting the ancient Avesta prayers. It is also a day when many Parsis will throng the tiny village of Udvada in Gujarat to celebrate the 1,288 anniversary of the highest grade of fire, Iransbah.
In Mumbai, Friday marks the completion of 300 years of the Banaji Limji agiary located in a bylane a short distance away from the landmark Horn-iman Circle in south Mumbai. The fire here was consecrated in 1709.
A Parsi trader established the temple in 1709 and it is officially the oldest surviving fire temple in the city. The temple was established by Seth Banaji Limji, a prosperous Parsi businessman. In those days, Parsi enclaves were located in and around the Fort area. Over a period of time, as many as seven fire temples were built in this locality The Banaji Limji agiary has an outer facade that resembles a fortress.
In 1803, a fire caused considerable damage to the structure and the holy fire was then temporarily shifted to the Soon-aiji agiary at Gowalia Tank. According to Marzban Giara, author of the global directory of fire temples, wealthy Parsi merchants donated huge sums for the reconstruction of the damaged fire temple. The poorer sections of the community contributed eggs and hundreds of toddy mugs.
These ingredients were churned with the construction material as an act of faith to strengthen the foundation. The fire was re-throned in 1845 and the new structure was a place where the Parsi Punchayat used to solve the problems facing the community. Interestingly the second oldest fire temple in Mumbai—located less than a km away in Perin Nari-man street near CST—completes 276 years on Friday
Mumbai has about 47 fire temples, which are an assortment of bungalow-like structures, mansions and huge edifices. Conservation architects rate them among the the most beautiful religious monuments still existing in the city.
Greater Mumbai houses the largest number of Zoroastrian temples in the world (nearly 40%). Four of the 10 highest grades of fire (Atash Behram) in the world are housed in fire temples in Mumbai.
Last year, the BMC put up a proposal to list the city’s 47 fire temples under the protection of heritage laws.