From a time when all the prominent institutions in Agra were run by Parsis in the early 20th century — right from manning the Central Bank to starting city’s iconic hotel Cecil Mansion and entirely controlling the liquor trade here, the number of Parsis in the city has come to just six today.
“Most of the members of the Parsi community have left the city for better living standards”, says Porus Debara (54), President of the Agra Parsi Anjuman and member of the executive body of Federation of Zoroastrian Anjumans of India.
Talking about the consistent fall in their number, Porus says, “The Parsi community in India is deteriorating because most Parsis do not marry and those who do marry do so in their thirties or forties and rarely have more than one child. Intermarriage is another problem amongst us. If a girl marries outside the Parsi community, her children are not welcomed into the community.” The Parsi community has a long history in Agra and its zenith was in the early 20th century when several families arrived in the city as employees of the railways. Over the next few decades, they left their mark on various aspects of the city.
“Parsis first came to Agra more than a century ago as employees of the railways. Some of us also started off with menial jobs such as drivers and guards, but slowly established businesses in the city. The liquor trade was entirely owned by us. Almost all employees of the Central Bank were Parsis. The first hotel in Agra, Cecil Mansion, was started by us. Most prominent lawyers of the city were also Parsis,” says Debara.
In the 1960s, there were still 25 families left, but the numbers have been plummeting in the past few years, and at present there are just six members living in the city.
“In 1969 when we moved to the city, there were almost 25 families in the city. With time, the number has now reduced to just two families. However, there has never been any bias against us in the people of Agra. We have always seen as a peace loving community,” says Daulat Debara, mother of Porus.
“Many of them were engineers in John’s Mill, Jeoni Mandi, were Parsis. The community produced some of the best ginning engineers in the country. Since the factory closed down, almost all of them have left the city,” says Dr Rati Khambatta, the treasurer of the community and doctor at S N Medical College. To keep the spirit of the Parsi community alive in the city, the community keeps meeting on a regular basis. They meet regularly at their dharamshala located in Pratapura. They even have functions at Aaram Garh, their graveyard located in front of the GIC ground.
“We meet as a congregation regularly and even celebrate together during the festivals,” Khambatta says. “The Parsi community has many festivals. Jamshed-i Nouroz is celebrated in March. Pateti, the last day of the year, and Nouruz, the first day of the year, is celebrated in August. Khordad Sal, which celebrates the birth anniversary of the Prophet Zoroaster, is celebrated on March 26,” she says.
Porus says, “Agra has no fire temple. We are only 6 people and it’s not possible to maintain a fire temple amongst us. The running cost of a fire temple is around Rs 70,000-80,000 a month. A priest has to stay at the temple at all time to ensure that the fire never gets extinguished.”
“We usually go to the temples in Delhi. When we’re at home, we pray among ourselves,” adds Daulat.