There are just 250 of them in the city, so it’s no surprise that all members of the Parsi community here have their demographics at their fingertips.
By Kamini Mathai / TNN
No one seems to need to riffle through history books for specifics. For instance, they can tell you offhand that there were no deaths in the community in Chennai in 2009, or all the Parsis in the country would have known. Oldest Parsi in Chennai? Firoz Tarapore, without the bat of an eyelid. He’s 94 years and two months — very important, those two months, because the second oldest is a 94-year-old woman.
Everyone in the community seems to know everyone else by first name. So, when 80 of them gathered at the Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar E Meher (Fire Temple) in Royapuram on Sunday, the second day of a three-day celebration to mark the centenary year of the Temple, it was a morning of gaiety, of excitement, of celebration, of group photos, of a typical Parsi feast of sev, malida (a form of rava kesari), puri, fresh and dried fruit, of women dressed in saris with kor of every kind (kor being a saree border peculiar to the community) and men in daglis (a white kurta embellished with two or three white bow ties) and caps. The ‘jashan’ to invoke the blessings of God was just completed and everyone wanted one group photo "at least"before they dispersed.
Among them was Firoze Tarapore, enjoying his sev at the entrance. He was born here on May 11, 1916, almost a century after the first Parsi came to the city as a representative of the Maharaja of Coorg to meet the British head of state. Tarapore worked until retirement with Godrej and Boyce and has lived in Royapuram all through, as do a number of Parsis.
Tuesday will mark the centenary of the Fire Temple, built in 1910, according to the Parsi calendar. "The Fire Temple was built by Phiroj M Clubwala in memory of his son Jal Phiroj Clubwala. When PM Clubwala, a benefactor of the community lost his son in 1906, he found it difficult to perform the prayers and rituals as there was no fire temple in Chennai. He later bought and donated a piece of land opposite his house to fund the building of a fire temple, donated it to the Madras Parsi Zarthosti Anjuman, and had it named after his son,"says Zarin Mistry, honorary secretary of the Madras Parsi Association, which is organising the celebrations along with the Madras Parsi Zarthosti Anjuman.
"Today, there are 50 Fire Temples in Mumbai, 100 in the rest of India, and 27 in the rest of the world,"says Marzban J Giara, who has compiled a Global directory of Parsi Fire Temples. "The Fire Temple is where members of the community meet on special occasions such as anniversaries, new year, etc. The actual fire in the temple is inside a sanctum sanctorum that only the Parsi priest is allowed to enter. The fire is always burning, and is stoked five times a day by the priest. The fire in this temple has been burning day and night since 1910,"adds Giara.
Sunday night saw a performance by singer Gary Lawyer and on Tuesday, the women have planned a fashion show showcasing their culture and tradition. "It will be a gara fashion show,"says Freni Byranshaw, referring to the traditional Parsi embroidered saree. "In the Parsi language, gara means needle point or embroidery on Chinese silk fabric. Some of the sarees the women will be wearing for the show are heirlooms, rare collector’s items, which have been handed over from generation to generation,"says Freni.
Maharuk Dastur, whose daughter-in-law will be modelling a 150-year-old purple and gold silk gara, says she once got an offer from someone willing to pay a huge sum. "But of course, I did not sell it,"she says. "We look after our garas like they are babies, they have to be handled with love and care,"says Freni, displaying some garas which are over a century old. And adds excitedly, "It’s the first of its kind fashion show for the community."And even Firoz Tarapore can vouch for that.
Another account of the same event and celebrations.
Parsi assn marks Fire Temple anniversary
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On Saturday, the Madras Parsi Association and the members of The Madras Parsi Zarthosti Anjuman, jointly marked the centenary anniversary of Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar E Meher, popularly known as the Fire Temple.
The three-day function was inaugurated by former president APJ Abdul Kalam and will see a medley of rituals and entertainment with a performance by musician Gary Lawyer on Sunday evening.
In his inaugural address, Dr Kalam said he was delighted to participate in the 100th anniversary of the Fire Temple and then went on to speak about the "unique trait of Parsi community, that reflects of entrepreneurship, courage and service to humanity that is envisaged in the thought "What can I give?" "What can I give"." In his address, Kalam spoke about the unique quality of the Parsis – that of courage and urged them to continue to tread the same path.
The Fire Temple at Royapuram was donated to the Madras Parsi Zarthosti Anjuman, by philanthropist Phiroj M Clubwala.
"PM Clubwala was a benefactor of the community and when he lost his son in 1906, he found it difficult to perform the prayers and rituals as we did not have a fire temple in Chennai. He later bought and donated a piece of land opposite his house to fund the building of a fire temple and had it named after his son," says Zarin Mistry, secretary of the Madras Parsi Association.
The Parsi Club, where Lawyer will be performing, was later built in 1930 to honour PM Clubwala.