Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Pervez Damania In Conversation: ‘Udvada is a microcosm of the Parsi way of life’

Parvez Damania, offers a glimpse into the Parsi community through a photography exhibition in the city.

By Jayeeta Mazumder |  DNA

What prompted you to go on a photographic documentation of the Udvada in the first place?
It’s a heritage place, with enormous historical, cultural and religious significance to India, and all our future generations. I have always believed that we should do all we can to preserve memories like these.

How long did it take to complete the documentation? Would you go along with the photographer?
I have been taking repeated trips, with the photographer for over two years, capturing the town in all its shades and seasons.

Did you personally pick the photos to be exhibited?
The photographer pared them down from the artistic and technical aspect and then both of us pared them down from the historical and cultural aspect. The pictures on display have been put together with an exhibition in mind. They will be part of a far larger collection, which has been assembled for the book, and the entire collection will be digitised for posterity.

What thoughts went into the selection?
For the exhibition: an introduction, a remembrance, a vignette. For the book: a document, a retelling, a perusal. For the collection: records for posterity.

What about the rituals of the Zoroastrians that you love the most?
Zoroastrianism is not a ritualistic religion as such, but the occasion of the visit to the temple itself with the family is an important repeated experience for all Parsis. Besides, like all communities, we have the feasts and festivals, each with their own meaning and flavour. I have the same weakness for Parsi cuisine that anyone who has tasted it develops, so yes, a good Parsi “Bhonu” is a favourite ritual, if I may.

Tell us about the traditions of the Udvada.
Udvada is the home of the oldest burning sacred fire. The flame here is almost 270 years old This is the ‘last stop’ of the flame, so to speak, of a long protective flight that began in Persia. Udvada is a microcosm of the Parsi way of life, in its aesthetics, the culture, the cuisine, the dress, the air around the town. It is one of the very few remaining Parsi mini-worlds.

Are you planning to take this exhibition elsewhere?
Mumbai has the maximum concentration of Parsis, so Mumbai first. After this, it is a matter of opportunity and invitation. The key is making all the photographs available to all of India so that intention will guide us. Bear in mind that this is not a one-time exhibition, and the effort put into it merits a wider showing, so we will see how things develop.