The Jiyo Parsi Heritage Walk of 3 km flagged off with 125 Parsi-Irani Zoroastrians from Bhikha Behram Well at Fort from 9 am onwards on Sunday, January 25 and ended at Kayani Restaurant for tea and snacks by 1 pm.
Article By Dr Shernaz Baji Avari | Afternoon D C
Khojeste Mistree, well-known Parsi religious scholar, narrated all along the walk, interesting stories and episodes of Parsi statues and monuments which are landmarks in history, each with their significant contribution making the community as well as the nation stand tall of its rich cultural heritage and philanthrophy.
Members of the community, young and not-so-young enthusiastically participated in this Parsi Heritage Walk. Incidentally, the Jiyo Parsi Scheme is all about increasing the dwindling numbers of our community with a major back-up from the government of India, ministry of minorities affairs with a funding of Rs 10 crore for a span of four years to Parsi couples seeking fertility treatment and medical expenses. It is a boon to Parsi couples who earlier could not afford expensive fertility treatments. It is the first such government-funded scheme in the world aimed at increasing the demographic numbers as the city’s Parsi population is estimated to be just around 40,000. The community is grateful to Shernaz Cama and her team for implementing this project with a glorious start as every new birth is a matter of joy for the community.
Into the city’s heritage precincts
The Bhikha Behram Well is considered holy by the community due to its miraculous properties. The well was built in thanksgiving by Bhikha Behram (incidentally his third son was born when he was 75 years old – behold Jiyo Parsi) who was captured and released by the Marathas when he showed them his religious identity – the sacred Sudreh and Kasti establishing the fact that he was a Parsi. The Parsis were and even now held in very high esteem by other communities. During plague, when all other wells were shut, the Bhikha Behram Well was the only one whose water was drunk and nobody died. Marzaban Wadia, the Parsi poet composed a song to increase the progeny of the Parsis.
Very close to the well, stands the statue of Sir Hormusjee Cowasjee Dinshaw, the architect of modern Aden followed by the statue of Sir Jamshetjee Jeebhoy, first Baronet, one of the greatest merchant-philanthropist of his times. Mistree also narrated the contribution of the Cambatta family in building the magnificent structure of Eros Cinema way back in 1938 with its grand marble foyer.
The Convocation Hall at the Bombay University was built by Sir Cowasjee Jehangir on a donation of Rs 1 lakh. He also built the Elphinston College.
The statue of Dadabhoy Naoroji which stands opposite the Flora Fountain was considered the Grand Old Man of India and founder member of the Indian National Congress. Very few know the fact that he was considered by Mahatma Gandhi as his mentor. Dadabhoy stood for the rights of women and children long before the term ‘women empowerment’ was coined.
The Central Bank of India was established by Sir Sohrabji Pochkhanawalla. It was the very first Indian bank with a capital of Rs 20 lakh. The HSBC Bank and the Jehangir Art Gallery, famous landmarks – all have Parsi connections.
The J N Petit Library and Reading Room, opposite the Vatcha Gandhi Agiary on D N Road was established in 1891 by the Petit family. The Vatcha Gandhi Agiary with its architectural splendour and the Banaji Limji Agiary in Fort are more than 300 years old.
The J J Benevolent Institution was built by the Jeejeebhoy family in 1872 to educate Parsi children. Today it has become cosmopolitan. The office of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) which is housed on the third floor of the school is the oldest institutions in Asia established in 1681 which is apex body of the Parsi community, controlling most Parsi properties in various baugs. The socio-cultural history of the Parsis, so interestingly laid out by Khojeste Mistree showcasing a tiny community’s gigantic contribution to the city made every Parsi feel proud of his roots.