Sleepy Udvada Will Spring to life with first-ever Parsi festival

It’s where history meets hearty Parsi cuisine. Udvada, a coastal town about 200km north of Mumbai and a place of pilgrimage for Zoroastrians, is as beloved for housing the community’s sacred fire or Iranshah as it is for dishing out scrumptious fare like khurchan and kheema pav. Once an ‘uth vada’ or grazing ground for camels, Udvada became the resting place of the holy fire in 1742. Today, less than 100 Parsis remain. Most are retired, senior citizens, who spend their afternoons snoozing on porch swings. But on December 25th, Udvada will be shaken out of its slumber by an influx of 1,000 people, who will congregate for the first-ever ‘Iranshah Udvada Utsav

Article by Nergish Sunavala | Times of India

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The three-day festival, organised by the Foundation for the Development of Udvada and the Udvada Samast Anjuman, includes heritage walks, Parsi skits, religious lectures, youth competitions and a treasure hunt. On the last day, if all goes as planned, business tycoon Ratan Tata will be felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The PM is expected to attend because the festival was his brainchild. “When the prime minister was the chief minister of Gujarat and visited Udvada, he said that there should be a festival to attract Parsis from across the world,” recalls high priest and FDU chairman Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor. “That was his vision because he wanted to portray Udvada as a place of religious harmony and tolerance.”

Much of the focus will be on how Udvada became the home of the Iranshah. The story begins in the 7th century when the Sasanian rulers of Persia were defeated by Arab invaders. To escape religious persecution, about 2,000 Parsis came to India. In 721 AD, some Zoroastrians believe a high priest consecrated the holy fire or Iranshah in Sanjan from 16 different sources including a burning corpse, a potter’s kiln and lightning 1,300 years ago. When Muslim invaders attacked Sanjan 700 years later, the fire was stowed away in the Bahrot caves. It then moved back and forth between Navsari, Surat, and Valsad due to infighting before ending up in Udvada in 1742. At the time, Udvada was ruled by the Peshwas.

During the heritage walk, participants will get to see Portuguese inscriptions dating back to 1714, the redeveloped bungalow which housed the Iranshah before the Atash Behram (Parsi temple) was constructed and the homes of the nine priestly families of Udvada. In the early 2000s, Udvada was declared a heritage precinct because of its 200-odd Gujarati Pol houses, old wells and narrow streets.

Today, most Parsis visit only to pray at the Iranshah and tuck into pulav daar and boi (fish) at the famous Globe Hotel. By late afternoon, families are already on their way back home. Young Parsis have been deprived of the joys of freshly churned doodh nu puff or playing on the rocky beach. Dastoor hopes to reverse this trend. “I want the youth to feel the pulse of the place,” he says.

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