Parsis Protest Over Plans To Relocate Ranji Agiarry Fire From Falkland Road Fire Temple To Girgaum Shrine


May 21, 2024

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Suggestion to shut down fire temple comes after former trustee of Bombay Parsi Punchayet wrote in community newspaper that community should sell off some of its 48 fire temples and use money from sales for charity.

Manoj Ramakrishnan | Free Press Journal

Screenshot 2024-05-21 120857

Fire Temple | Manoj Ramakrishnan

Mumbai: Suggestions to shift a 150-year-old holy fire from a fire temple in central Mumbai that has very few visitors and sell it off has incensed a section of Parsis. A Bombay High Court lawyer has sent a legal notice to the chairman of the community’s largest public trust after a newspaper associated with his family discussed the idea.

The Ervad Sorabji Hormusji Ranji Ranji fire temple on Pathe Bapurao Marg, also called Falkland Road, was used by the once-thriving Parsi community that lived in the area. Dinshaw Mehta, a former trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), the community’s largest trust, suggested that the agiary, built in 1867, should be sold and the sale proceeds used for charity.

As holy fires cannot be extinguished, Mehta suggested that the fire should be shifted to another agiary. He said that the area once had at least six buildings with nearly a hundred Parsi families. “There are no Parsis in the area. People have migrated abroad, some have moved to the suburbs, others have died. The flats have been sold to members of other communities. There are no worshippers but as the fire has to be preserved, priests from the Cama Baug agiary come there five times a day to tend to the fire. There is no sense in maintaining the agiary when there are no Parsi worshippers,” said Mehta.

Mehta said the area where the agiary is located has become part of the city’s red-light district. “But we can optimise what we have and use the proceeds for the upkeep of other agiaries,” he said.

When fire temples are planned to be closed, the fire – which forms the centre of worship – is usually shifted to another shrine. These fires are consecrated after elaborate ceremonies and when shrines are closed, their fires are either shifted to other shrines or merged with the fire there. Mehta has suggested that the fire at the Ranji agiary should be shifted to the fire temple at Cama Baug, Girgaon. “I am positive that 90 per cent of the community will agree to the sale; it is only a small group that is protesting,” added Mehta.

However, the plan has angered other Parsis. Rayomand Zaiwalla, an advocate and activist, said that there was no need to shut down the fire temple. “There have been instances earlier where a fire temple in Abu Road (Rajasthan) was planned to be shut down because of lack of funds to maintain it. We created four shops that provided rent for the fire temple’s upkeep. Where there is a will, there is a way,” said Zaiwalla.

About claims that the agiary’s trustees have left a will stating that the holy fire should be shifted to another agiarry, Zaiwala said, “A trustee of a public trust has no power to will away through his will, a 150-year-old public trust agiary of which he is just a trustee since it is not his private property.”

Khushru Zaiwala, another Bombay High Court lawyer and Rayomand’s father has sent a legal notice to BPP chairman Viraf Mehta, son of Dinshaw Mehta. “To advocate the closing down of sacred fire temples, in proportion to rising or falling numbers of the community is not only ridiculous but an act of blasphemy. In no community in the world the sacred temples are advocated to be closed down in equal proportion to the rise or decrease in number of worshippers,” Zaiwala said in the notice.

“I hope and trust that the BPP Chairman will not use its publication for promoting the liquidation of our holy agiaries,” the notice said.

The suggestion to shut down the fire temple comes after Mehta wrote in the community newspaper ‘Parsi Junction’ that the dwindling community should sell off some of its 48 fire temples in Mumbai and use the money from the sales for charity. Mehta had said that the Parsi population in the city has declined by 60% from its peak of nearly one lakh a century ago and the community did not need so many fire temples.