Udvada: A town on the verge of being forgotten

The Majestic Hotel at Udvada in Gujarat was a popular destination for tourists until it shut down in the 1990s.

A hub of Parsi merry-making in the 1950s and 1960s, it has become a mere shadow of its glorious past. A photograph by Shantanu Das shows one of its doors with a rusted bolt and chipped painted wooden frame. It tells the story of not just a dilapidated hotel, but also a heritage town that is on the verge of being forgotten.

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Article by Jaideep Deo Bhanj | The Hindu

The photograph is part of an exhibition of photographs titled “Udvada” by Das. The exhibition is part of “The Everlasting Flame Programme” being organised to celebrate and revive Parsi culture.

Udvada, the historic ground for the Parsi community in India, is known for its significance for the Parsi clan. It houses the Atash Behram, the highest grade of ritual fire of the Zoroastrians, in the fire temple located in the town. Udvada is located 200 km north of Mumbai along the Gujrat-Maharashtra border and is believed to house the oldest continuously burning fire-temple fire in the world. The Udvada Atash Behram is one of the nine Atash Behrams worldwide.

The photographer has captured a town that is filled with empty houses, unkempt façades of buildings, overgrown gardens and crumbling interiors. The frames also tell the story of the spirit of its people, mostly senior citizens, who have kept the Parsi way of life alive. Many of the younger inhabitants have left the town, leaving about 100 people belonging to the Parsi community as permanent residents.

Das said he wanted his photographs to depict Udvada’s nostalgia, its semi-urban settings and distinctive heritage in terms of architecture, furniture, lifestyle and its immense need for restoration so that it may live on.

“Its historic importance is getting lost in this fast-paced world. No one has the time to stop and look around this place,” said the photographer, who managed to capture life in the city despite not being allowed to enter the temple as he is not a Parsi.

Through its derelict buildings, Das has both managed to capture how so much has changed in the town, while a lot still remains frozen in time. The homes filled with curios, antique furniture and clocks takes one back in time. A photo of a family returning home on an old Yezdi motorcycle with a sidecar and a man driving a vintage car to pick up a friend from the railway station have been captured recently, but could have well been taken decades ago.

Dhunjishaw Dastur who owns Dastur Cottage, one of those photographed, said: “Udvada was a thriving Parsi town. But now its most striking feature is its cloak of loneliness and its silent lanes that tell stories of a rich cultural history.” It is this feature of the town that shines though in the photographs at the exhibition. The exhibition is on till April 20 between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. at Art Gallery, IIC Annexe, Lodhi Road.