On Saturday (July l0), there will be celebrated in Royapuram the centenary of the consecration of the only Parsi Fire Temple in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala. Gracing the commemoration of the establishment of the Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar-e-Meher will be former President of India Abdul Kalam.
Reported in The Hindu
The first Parsis arrived in Madras in 1795. To meet the needs of the community, the Madras Parsi Panchayat began collecting monthly contributions from members for a Mobed Fund from 1887; the fund was intended as much for maintaining a priest (mobed) as for eventually establishing a place of worship. A significant contribution towards this was made by Sir Dinshaw Petit of Bombay in 1896 and this enabled the purchase of a plot of land in Royapuram where the community had established itself. However, plans to build a temple in this plot were slow in taking off.
In February 1906, the small community sadly lost one of its members, 13-year-old Jal Phiroj Clubwala. With almost no facilities in Madras to enable the family to carry out the obligatory religious ceremonies in the case of a death, the boy’s father, Phiroj Muncherji Clubwala, decided to do something about it. He created a corpus that would enable Madras to avail the services of a mobed. The first mobed was Ervad Dosabhai Pavri.
The next year, Phiroj Muncherji Clubwala, after noting the slow progress of collections for the Mobed Fund and for a new fund which a committee of six was making efforts to swell, decided to gift the Madras Parsi Zarthosti Anjuman (the successor of the Panchayat) land on West Mada Church Street in Royapuram, near the earlier earmarked site, and build a fully equipped Agiari on it, provided the community raised Rs.30,000 to maintain the temple. With the community raising the money in short order, Phiroj Muncherji Clubwala built the temple and the Anjuman agreed to name it the Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar-e-Meher in memory of the donor’s son.
The foundation stone was laid for the Agiari on February 9, 1909 by Hormusji Nowroji, the President of the Anjuman. Nowroji, a civil engineer, also designed the temple and supervised its building. And on August 7, 1910 the temple was consecrated as the Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar-e-Meher. Shortly before the consecration, Dosabhai Pavri had retired and Ervad Hormasji Adarji Gai was appointed priest in his place. With the consecration of the temple, he became its first pathank (priest-in-charge). For the priests to live in, Phiroj Muncherji Clubwala gifted the Anjuman a block of land adjacent to the temple and raised a house for their accommodation.
Over the years, members of the community have contributed to maintaining the Agiari complex in good order. They also got together not long after Phiroj Muncherji Clubwala passed away in August 1927 to take steps to honour his memory. The Phiroj Clubwala Memorial Hall was declared open by his widow Srinibai on August 14, 1930. The celebratory function on the 7th will be held in this hall, now completely renovated and air-conditioned.
Before a reader or two raises the question, let me state that on December 30, 1926, Mary Rustomji Patel of Ooty married Nogi (Khushru) Clubwala, the son of Phiroj and Srinibai. It is recorded that “the entire Parsi Community in Madras was feasted for four days on the occasion.” Mary Clubwala later, after Nogi passed away, married Jadhav and became a legend in Indian social welfare circles.