Pune’s Sorabji Ratanji Patel Agiary: Temple of subdued grandeur

Demure and unassuming, Sardar Sorabji Patel Agiary in Nana Peth is quite like the Iranian and Parsi Zoroastrians who worship at this fire temple. And, although the community is arguably among the richest, the temple itself wears an austere look.

The agiary (Gujarati word for house of fire’) was originally built in 1824 by Seth Sorabji Ratanji Patel, an affluent Parsi sardar of the Peshwa regime, who chose Dastur Jamaspji Edulji of Navsari to be the first high priest of the Parsis in the Deccan region. The present-day agiary dates back to 1843 (Roj. Behram, Mah. Adar 1212 Yz).

Following the first high priest’s demise in 1846, his son Dastur Noshirwan Jamaspji officiated for the next 38 years. He rebuilt the agiary at his own expense and also built the Patel Hall, both of which were declared open on June 6, 1867. He was the first member of the Jamasp Dastur family upon whom Lord Napier conferred the hereditary title of Sardar Dastur in 1873, and went on to become a Khan Bahadur in recognition of his service to the community. Several appurtenant halls named after Seth Cowasji Jehangir, Seth Jehangir Ardeshir Wadia, Lady Dhunbai Cowasjee Jehangir, Seth Anklesariya and Heeramai Yahewala, were added subsequently.

 

A large foreground with a cluster of old coconut trees greets the visitor. The structures housing the fire temple and several ancillary prayer halls are predominantly single-storeyed with flat roofs, except for a part of the main temple, which is two-storeyed and has a pitched tiled roof. The walls are painted white and are devoid of any significant ornamentation, except for patterned cornices, floral reliefs, modest capitals atop square pillars, patterned arches resting on fluted pillars, and the recurrent motif of feathered Asho Farohar, a symbolic and talismanic representation of the unborn soul.

The temple has an introverted cortile plan with a well in the centre, next to which is heaped the firewood. At the extreme rear are service appurtenances with a connecting staircase. The most ornate of all halls is the Anklesariya Hall, with a pitched roof, patterned eaves, keystone motifs, decorative arches and quoin flutings. There are rooms above the temple, often used to accommodate priests visiting the temple for muktad (prayers for the dead).

The highlight of the temple building is the voluminous congregation hall adjoining the entrance veranda, adorned with elegant patterned flooring and commemorative tablets. The hall sports opulent ceiling ornamentation, period d?cor, reflecting finishes, light fixtures ranging from simple suspensions to rich chandeliers, and small fans vertically mounted on curvilinear metal brackets, informing richly textured Ashofarohar motif with a human figure astride. The inner chamber, delineated with handsome arches, has carefully worked out chimney outlets in the ceiling.

The temple is looked after by the Sardar Sorabji Ratanji Patel Agiary Trust. While the main temple itself is in fine fettle, barring such stray challenges as capillary action in the walls, the upcoming priests’ quarters, with their sloping metal roofs, may well mean an architectural departure. The Lady Dhunbai Hall has been leased out to a co-operative bank, which has turned the veranda into a dump of broken furniture. Those associated with the temple report an encouraging rise lately in community involvement in the temple’s activities.

Original article here.