Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Mumbai Muktad Diaries 2019

During the recent 10 day farvandian/muktad days I posted some observations on social media. Below is a compilation of all the posts. Many of the images were in black and white, but a lot of people requested I also post the color images. So in those cases I have posted both.

Batliwala Agiary, Tardeo, Mumbai

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The muktad prayer days mean a lot of things to all Parsis. It’s the time to remember our dear departed, but also a time to treasure what we have with those we love and are around us.

To me, visiting my agiary for the prayers is like going back in time. The earliest memories of this beautiful agiary are of going there every morning with my mom to pray for my mamaijis muktad. Buying flowers for the vase and being allowed to go to the upper floor, I remember being awe struck at the beauty and Majesty of the space. A dozen and more priests praying, sandalwood fragrant in the air, flowers in beautiful vases all lined up on table after table made me realize that this was a once a year special time.

Today when I return to this place, not much has changed. It’s still the safe place it always was. The same familiar faces, many of them friends who I grew up with, praying as priests today, and everyone collectively sitting waiting for the prayers of their dear departed. But also sharing together the collective commonality that while we all grieve for those who have passed away we also acknowledge the spirit of those who we never knew but now do, as a vase with beautiful flowers on a marble table.

So as we seek blessings of our own loved ones we also are fortunate to receive the blessings of all the loved ones this agiary was home to, and are being prayed for these Muktad days.

Anjuman Atashbehram, Near Princess Street, Mumbai

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One of the four #Atashbehram in #Mumbai, the Anjuman Atashbehram comes alive during Muktad. The entire upper floor is full of row upon row of muktad tables. The hum of priests praying and devotees joining in with their own prayers, makes for a fantastic aural experience. The scent of flowers and of sandalwood and loban (incense) makes one’s non visual senses come alive.

I’ve always wondered as to how our prayer ceremonies are not only visual in experience, but encompass all our senses. The prayers soothe the ears, the sandalwood smoke the nasal passage, the touch of the sandalwood to our fingers ….all of these make it a complete experience. Without any one of these, it would not be complete. The next time you go for Muktad prayers, notice for yourself.

Vaccha Gandhi Agiary, Hughes Road, Mumbai

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Agiaries that are adjacent to or within Parsi colonies get more footfall than those that are not. It was the vision of our forefathers to build infrastructure in that manner. A classic example is the Vatcha Gandhi Agiary opposite the Kharegat Colony at Hughes Road in #Mumbai

Run by two generations and counting of the Dadachanji family, the agiary during Muktad is a beehive of activity. With just about standing room only you see a master class in choreographed movement as a senior Mobed through actions…a mere nod, a pointing of a finger in a direction or a slight tap on the shoulder of a devotee sets in motion a series of prayers. Hardly a word is spoken. The only thing one hears is the hum of prayers. And the touch of sandalwood. And the smell of flowers and loban.

These choreographed actions are honed over decades of practise and adaptation. The priests and the devotees seem to know their own roles and perform them to perfection.

And this differs from Agiary to Agiary. No two agaires do it the same way. But they all seem to do the same thing.

The fluidity of ritual practise has to be seen and observed to be appreciated.

And it cannot just be transplanted. As our faith spreads in the world to new lands and new diaspora emerge from the faithful of the old world settling in new places, these are the type of rituals that need to transcend oceans and continents.

Religion cannot be practised and sustained in a vacuum where prayers are the only thing. Traditions, practises, rituals…or as we call it Reeti Rivaaj are as integral as are the buildings that sustain and nurture them and make them possible. Nowhere so you see this orchestra play better and with more pomp than in Mumbai.

I feel blessed to be an active audience and participant in this year after year. May all these traditions far outlive me and the generations that follow.

Atha Jamyat Yatha Afrinami.

Doongaji Daremehr, Sanpada, New Mumbai

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A new Daremehr in India is a rare event. Unlike North America where 8 have opened just in this decade, in India it’s currently about 1 every decade or two.

The Doongaji Daremehr in Vashi opened in May 2018. A small beautiful building houses the Dadgah fire. Someday soon the Adarain fire from Bharuch will be enthroned here.

The Vashi agiary shows that the expanding population from the old parts of South Bombay have created a need for a Daremehr in New Mumbai.

Besides the Daremehr, a community Hall is being built next door on an adjacent plot. That building will also have homes for Parsi residents.

This Daremehr is at the receiving end of the recent controversy about shifting of the fire from it’s namesake agiary in Bharuch. The Supreme Court of India clesred the way for this to happen. That it has to go all the way to the highest court of the land was a travesty of common sense.

Those who oppose the move selectively pick historical events to justify their claims. However just in Mumbai itself there are at least half a dozen examples of Agiary fires being moved to different localities as the population demographic changed in the 20th century.

May this new Daremehr thrive and draw devotees from all over.

Jashan During the Gatha Days

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As the last Jashan for the day is over and the prayer hall empties at Batliwala Agiary, a sense of calm descends.

The hum of prayers by a dozen Mobeds has subsided. The hustle bustle of the agiary staff putting flowers in vases, giving the satum, afargan or farokshi xhasni to the family members of the dear departed has ceased. The last of the Jashan ceremonies is over and it’s now just the flowers in the vases, the smell of sandalwood and lobaan in the air, and a steady shower outside, that brings to a close one more Muktad days.

The Mobeds and the other agiary staff head home knowing that another day is over and they have done an amazing duty, carrying on a centuries old tradition.

Nowhere is the need of Mobeds more visible than during the muktad days. Of we want our beautiful religion to survive long after we are gone, we need the Mobeds to lead the way. Each one of us can do our bit to make that happen. As the penultimate day of the year dawns today hold that thought and think what you as an individual can do. If you see a Mobed praying at the Muktad, thank him.

Boyce Dhanapatel Agiary, Next to Gamadia Colony, Tardeo, Mumbai

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The Boyce Dhanapatel Agiary is the only agiary in Mumbai and one of a very few in the world that has no electricity in the entire building.

In it’s most recent renovation, there was some murmur about this changing. Thankfully the trustees did no such thing.

The agairy is architecturally fantastic. Skylights bring natural light into the public areas. Oil lamp chandeliers do duty at night. Natural ventilation allows wind circulation, and the stone masonary keeps the heat transfer down from exterior to interior.

Going to this agiary late evening one feels like stepping back in a time machine.

The absence of artificial lights in a fire temple in today’s day and age is mindboggling to me.

Next time you are in South Bombay especially in the evening, do stop by, pay your respects to the Atash Padshah and experience this amazing agiary.

Sethna Agiary, Opp. Bhatia Hospital, Tardeo, Mumbai

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Sethna Agiary at the foot of Forjett Hill across from Zoroastrian Colony (Chikalwadi) and Bhatia Hospital is a popular and busy agiary.

It also has an adjoining hall that in its heydays saw a lot of weddings and navjotes being performed. Even now it’s used for other functions.

The Sethna Agiary has an imposing facade and is prominent from the street.

The Agiary is extremely busy at Muktad time and yesterday at about 9 AM when I visited there was standing room only.

S. H. Ranji Agiary, Foras Road, Mumbai

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The S. H. Ranji Agiary at the intersection of Foras Road and Grant Road is one of the least visited agiary in Mumbai. Once upon a time it was in an area that was thriving with Parsis….from Khetwadi and Grant Road. Today the agiary finds itself amidst Mumbai’s first redlight district.

However the circle of life continues and the area is on a cusp of transformation. Property prices are making this area prime for development.

Through all this the Agiary is barely surviving. A visit inside shows a quaint agiary much in need of TLC. Because of the low footfall there are muktad ceremonies here.

May this agiary one day regain its lost glory as the surrounding changes.

Valavo

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This evening we celebrated the “Valavo” …where we bid adieu to the fravashis of our beloved departed ones. After spending 10 days of muktad with us, the fravashis return to their heavenly homes. The Valavo signals the end of muktad

Till next year…..