Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Young Parsis toil to make agiaries shine

Do not be alarmed if you see a group of masked youngsters armed with brooms and mops entering a fire temple on a Sunday morning.


By Mahafreed Irani / TNN

Mumbai: They belong to a voluntary gang of bravehearts on their way to scrub the agiary inners. College students Ronisha Chinoy, Sharmin Damania and Dalzin Ghadoiwala have started a movement to clean the 40 fire temples in the city, all of which are Grade 2A heritage structures.
It all started when the trio, who live in a hostel, realised that most of Mumbais fire temples needed a hand to make them shine. Usually there is only one old chasniwala (a fire-temple handyman ) designated for every agiary who only manages to swab and sweep the floor, says 23-year-old Chinoy.

It was then that the trio went house-to-house with pamphlets asking for volunteers. After visiting 900 Zoroastrian homes in Captain Colony at Tardeo, Godrej Baug at Nepean Sea Road and Gamadia Colony at Gowalia Tank, they managed to get 25 volunteers.

The group met on two Sundays last month to remove Sandalwood soot stains from the walls of the Seth Jamshedji Jejeebhoy Godavara fire temple at Fort and the Shapoorji Fakirji Jokhi Agiary at Napean Sea Road. These two are the only fire temples owned and managed by the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, so getting permission was easy.

Tasks were delegated according to each persons individual capacity and age. Younger kids were given the small chores while experienced cleaners were made to do tough jobs like climbing ladders to wipe tubelight covers , says Ghadoiwala. Like 8-year-old Parinaz Chichgar and her brother Hoshedar (10) who helped wipe about 100 holy Zend Avestas and pile them neatly.

Guiding them with technical aspects of cleaning different surfaces of the heritage structures was naval architect Nozer Sutaria. He is a member of a national team of volunteers headed by Bomi Mistry that undertakes structural repairs and cleaning of agiaries all over India. We have cleaned one-foot diametered chimneys that get clogged because of the continuous holy fire burning inside, he says.

Mumbais humid climate combined with non-stop fumes of the fire tend to clog the chimneys and cover the walls of the gumbad (inner dome) with sticky gunk. Yellow tiles were actually white and photo frames had piles of dust, says Damania who learnt how to couple Ala bleach with Scotch Brite sponge to remove stubborn stains.

Some volunteers spent the entire day just cleaning and polishing bulky brass frames that line huge portraits and holy depictions on the agiary walls. Ancient copper lamps and chandeliers that hold candles and diyas had to be polished and cleaned. Every agiary has thick carpets for the faithful to kneel down during prayers. These carpets were given a thorough cleaning and airing too. We dont want this to be a one-off movement and hope it sustains itself with more participation, says Chinoy.

Cleanliness is strictly adhered to in fire temples and yet the Italian marble tiles that get yellowed with smoke get overlooked . Parsis are very finicky about every little detail. Footwear has to be removed, a ritual washing of the hands and face is necessary and a special kasti prayer has to be performed before entering the sanctum sanctorum. Despite this, priests who are tied up with the nitty-gritty of daily rituals like maintaining the fire 24/7, keeping the ashes aside and performing various prayer ceremonies are unable to make time for supervising cleaning.

Marzban Giara, author of Global Directory of Zoroastrian Fire Temples says maintenance of fire temples depends on the patronage they seek. In Fort, there are six agiaries within 1 sq km but the number of patrons have reduced drastically as the Parsi population has migrated elsewhere.
Zoroastrian body WAPIZ (World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarothostis), which is financially supporting the group, hopes the initiative will flourish . Anahita Desai from WAPIZ says most volunteers are not from Mumbai. Even the three girls who thought of cleaning the fire temples are from Devlali , Vapi and Valsad.

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