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.

Copyright © 2010 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

  • Behram Dhabhar

    So far our young dedicated volunteers managed to clean 3 Agyaris. The volunteer turnout was very poor. In Godrej Baug having 520 flats only one family came forward to help ! Isnt it our duty to preserve and maintain our religious institutions ? Why should we rely only on Chasniwalas to do the job. Its high time we gave up our lazy attitude and join in this splendid task. All the 3 girls are from outside Bombay, still they have taken up the initiative to clean up our Bombay Agyaris.

    Some Panthakys and Trustees of Agyaris were so un co-operative that they were not allowed to even put up notices for securing volunteers. Shameful that they should take up such a stand. Please do register your names with them, you will be called depending on the Agyari location closest to your residence.

  • Arnavaz

    It is indeed very credible to these three young people to have taken such a noble step. Ahuramzada will bless them.

    but it is also very sad that only this few could volunteer.

    This also makes me think that it is a very positive sign that our youngsters are so inclined to our religion and then ….. they say …………….. we will be extinct…………… think again!!!!!!!!!!

  • Wonderful initiative. I really hope it lasts. I myself was a non-Mumbaikar parsi, who lived in mumbai. Sometimes i felt Parsis from mumbai take things for granted, and like most of mumbai, are indifferent to pressing issues around them.

  • Anti – Dhongidox.

    It is creditable initiative but the only question is that do we need so many Agiaries in South Mumbai, whose upkeep and maintenance costs are high with barely half a dozen devotees visiting them.
    What is the Parsee population in Fort area now and how many Agiaries are needed? The remedy lies in amalgamation of Padsha Sahebs or shifting the Holy Fires to suburbs where there is need for Fire Temples due to migration of population.
    To the detriment of the community we have a handful of individuals who misuse the process of law, cite heritage rules and prevent sale/development of the premises instead of ensuring transparency in such dealings. One is saddened by the surroundings of Dadysett Atashbehram. A building for Zorooastrians or even a Senior citizens Home would have been a boon. But there is no remedy for myopia and desire for garnering cheap fame,

  • Behram Dhabhar

    The above is a valid suggestion from Dhongidox and has been put forth by various well meaning Parsis in the past but there is a practical difficulty. All these fires are consecrated fires having different dates (Roj and Mah) of consecration, each represents a living throbbing identity hence they cannot be merged.

    What can possibly be done is have seperate keblas for each of these fires in the same buliding and have a priest / priests perform the 5 geh Bouy ceremony for all of them. Again this is my opinion with whatever little I know, and I maybe wrong. Religious experts have to be consulted before such an excercise is undertaken.

  • MANY Fire Temples were earlier situate elsewhere and shifted to currant location later. One should read the Marble plaques outside Fire Temples like Karani (Cusrow Baug), Jokhi, Aslaji to name just the prominent ones. Are we to believe that in the earlier place the said fires were not consecrated? Of course not. Such Fire Temples observe their Salgrhes on the Roj of enthronement at present place.
    If suppose a Hospice of Five Fires is set up, the consequence would be that if each boi takes about 30 minutes so for 5 bois would take more than two and a half hours thus rendering the bois out of the time Zone.

  • Behram Dhabhar

    All Adarian grade fires are consecrated ones. As far as I know the Karani and Aslaji Agyari fires are situated at their respective locations.

    The Jokhi Agyari fire has been recently transported from Tavdi near Navsari. When this is done, both Salgaris are celebrated. Ofcourse the Jokhi Agyari being new, the enthronement day carries more importance.

    Take the case of the Aden fire which was shifted to the Adenwalla fire temple at Lonavla. Here both Salgaris are celebrated, both are on Behram Roj but the Mah is different. The fire is enthroned in a seperate kebla and not merged with the other Dadgah grade fire of Lonavla

  • sim

    Why cant the holy fire (if deemed to be surplus) be moved to another country like the US or UK or Canada or Australia?

    I understand that there are concerns about transportation by air, but surely it can be arranged by boat. Once on the mainland of NA, it can go anywhere by road.

    And we have the finances to fund something like this, both in the coffers of sending and receiving countrys Z associations and from megarich Parsis like the Godrejs, Tatas, Cobra Beer Guy who ship their consumer products all over the world.

  • Reproduce here below is the exact quote as it appeared on PARSI KHABAR about 159th Salgreh of Karani Agiary
    A report on the anniversary of the Cusrow Baug Agiary filed by Marzban Jamshedji Giara on the TZML email group

    “Seth Nasserwanji .Hirji Karani Agiary located in sylvan surroundings of Cusrow (Khush Raho) Baug at Colaba, Mumbai has the unique distinction of perhaps being THE ONLY AGIARY IN THE WORLD that serves the Parsi Zoroastrian community in more ways than one. Besides being a place of worship and for performing rituals, it serves as a multipurpose community centre. Originally consecrated in 1847 and located at Null Bazar the sacred fire was moved to Cusrow Baug in 1935.”
    It is basic common sense that while the Agiary celebrated 159 th Anniversary, the Baug itself is reportedly built some time in 1934.

  • Behram Dhabhar


    This is a very common question. You could fo through the discussions in the link below to get an answer.

  • Behram Dhabhar

    Voice of Reason,

    I stand corrected on the Karani Agyari consecration date. If you get any info on the Aslaji agyari, do share.

    On your hypothesis of the Boi ceremony for Adarian fires in the same building not getting completed before change of geh, this problem can be avoided by having more than one mobed in the complex. At Lonavla only one mobed attends to the two fires.

  • piloo.

    It is established that Cusrow Baug Agiary fire was earlier enthroned somewhere in Null Bazar.
    As per Marble Takhti in Mehella Patel Agiary, the holy fire was earlier in Bhindi Bazar area and shifted to present location in 1924.
    As such there is nothing irreligious about relocating holy fires depending on the dispersion of devotees.
    Regarding the view to have more than one Mobed in a hospice where 5 or more fires are housed, the main issue is non availability of ordained priests willing to perform priestly duties on full time basis. And looking to the age profile of majority of ordained priests, the task is impossible i.e. to have more than 2 priests in the hospice.

  • Behram Dhabhar

    There is nothing wrong in relocating fires, but there is everything wrong in MERGING fires. That is the subject of discussion.

    The Borivali Parsi Association requires a fire temple in their vicinity and the BPP has assured them that an Adarian grade fire will be allocated to them from within South Bombay so that the fire temple can be visited and sustained by many devotees. Right now findng a suitable place to locate the fire temple is on.

    Contrary to popular belief there are plenty of retired Athravans who have undergone priesthood and would like to take up jobs as full / part time boiwallas.

  • Sixkrez

    OH MY GOD!!! I am so impressed to hear about this it truly brings joy and happiness to my heart. It also brings a sense of guilt and responsibility to my realization, due to the fact that I would have never thought of performing such a magnanimous and pious deed. I live abroad and whenever I visit fire temples I pity their status. When I was in my Navar and Martab Nahns I got an insiders view of how filthy our Agyaris actually are. Honestly, it’s nobody’s fault it’s just our dwindling numbers and lack of a communal spirit and a sense of responsibility. These young good seminarians have touched so many keynotes of our faith such as cleanliness is godliness and the hands that work are more pious then the mouths that pray. I wish these volunteers the best of luck and God Bless! Thank You so much!!!

  • Farsak Ashli