Clamber on for a tour of three Parsi landmarks in the heart of SoBo, each with an interesting story to tell. Mithila Mehta gets you the details
Cusrow baug and its interiors
community in the city is famed for its trademark dhansaak-rice, liberal use of the word dikra, and of course, steel tycoon Ratan Tata. Yes, news of the community’s alarming decline does make headlines. But what they lack in pure numbers, they make up in visibility. Scattered across SoBo are various Parsi-established schools, hospitals, fire temples and residential colonies. Here’s a glimpse of some of them.
Banaji Limji Agiary
Nestled away in a sleepy by-lane off Fort, the Banaji Limji Agiary is a history lesson in itself. “It was built it 1709, making it the oldest surviving agiary in the city”, shares Parsi historian Marzaban Giara. The fire temple was destroyed in the great fire of 1803, but was rebuilt in 1845. “The rich donated money, while others heaped eggs and toddy over the building’s lime foundation to strengthen it — possibly the reason why the agiary is still standing so many years later,” laughs Giara. The Banaji Limji Agiary is maintained by its trustees, and was last renovated in the year 2000.
The Fort area is home to a total of six historic Zoroastrian fire temples, all clustered within an area of one kilometre. These include the city’s second oldest fire temple, the Manekji Sett Agiary (built in 1733). “The region where a majority of the Parsi population originally lived,” reveals Giara.
Bhika Behram well
Bhika Behram Well
Another famous Zoroastrian landmark in SoBo’s pulsating business district is the Bhika Behram Well. “This sweet water well was dug in 1725 by a Parsi named Bhikaji. It is considered sacred, because the presence of fresh water so close to the sea is miraculous,” explains Colaba-based Yazdi Malu, who frequents the site. Visitors place their heads against the stone rim of the well and pray. “It is believed that if you light a lamp by the well, your wish will be granted,” reveals Zenobia Panthaky from Dhobi Talao.
A rather forgettable moment in the well’s extensive history came when it was recently attacked by vandals. “Some priceless stained glass panes were destroyed,” recalls Giara. Even so, the Bhika Behram Well is an oasis in this maniacal metropolis.
Colaba Causeway is home to the burgeoning street side market, bargaining shoppers and of course, one of the Parsi community’s best known colonies. Tucked away behind an imposing arched gateway is the famous Cusrow Baug, one of the 22 Parsi colonies in the city. “Cusrow Baug was built in 1934, it took them two years to construct it,” shares M Mistry, a resident since 55 years. This huge Baug is built over an area of 84,000 square yards and is home to about 518 families.
It is completely self sufficient, and is maintained by a trust. Families may not sell the flats in the colony either, as they are all on a rental basis. Additionally, Cusrow Baug epitomises community living—it is one big happily family! “We have cultural activities and celebrate festivals together,” smiles Boman Irani, who has lived at Cusrow Baug all his life. The weddings are also a cause of great celebrations. In fact, marrying the girl next door is a distinct possibility at Cusrow Baug. “Very often, we have neighbours falling in love and getting married to each other,” smiles Mistry.
Of course, the decline in the Parsi community has hit Cusrow Baug hard. “There are not many youngsters here,” rues Irani. He adds, “Many from the new generation have also migrated abroad or married outside the community, causing receding numbers.” Still, Cusrow Baug is an address like no other. “I can never even think of living anywhere else!” signs off Neville Shroff, a resident since birth.
Truly, the Parsi community are making their presence well felt in SoBo.