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Do you know that Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions in the world that dates back to the 10th-5th century BCE? The Zoroastrians fled to India to protect their religion during the Arab conquest of Persia and came to be known as Parsis. They first settled in Gujarat and later in the 18th century, Mumbai became the key centre for Parsis. Mumbai today houses the most number of Parsis in the country. 

The community has influenced industry, science, arts, and culture in Mumbai and the country for centuries. Jamsetji Tata, Homi Bhabha, the Wadias, the Godrej family, Madam Bhikaji Cama, and Boman Irani are just some of the renowned Parsis of India.

Interesting facts on fire temples

Zoroastrianism is an interesting religion to know about. Learn some exciting facts about the holy places for Parsis below:

  • Parsis revere fire. Atash Behram or fire of victory is considered the highest grade of fire collected from 16 different sources and passed through about 15,000 hours of consecration rituals. There are 9 Atash Behrams in the world, out of which four are in Mumbai, four in South Gujarat, and one in Iran.
  • Non-Parsis can’t go inside Parsi worship places. If you are a non-Parsi, you can only go inside the external walls of the temple complex and can’t go inside the premises of the Parsi religious places.
  • The Faravahar is a well-known symbol of Zoroastrianism. It represents good words, good thoughts, and good deeds. The circle in the middle symbolises the spirit of Parsis—endless, without any beginning or end. The upward-pointing hand shows that the community has to work hard to prosper. The other hand with the ring denotes faithfulness and loyalty.
  • Navroz is Parsis’ new year. The Parsis visit the fire temple on this auspicious day. Inside the Parsi religious places, a burning fire is kept in the middle surrounded by wheat and water. While the fire here signifies purification, the wheat signifies wealth.
  • Castle-like fire temple of Baku. Built during the 17th and 18th centuries, Ateshgah fire temple in Azerbaijan was worshipped both by the Hindus and Zoroastrians and has Persian and Indian inscriptions. The temple was abandoned after 1883 as the holy fire was extinguished due to the establishment of oil and gas plants in the vicinity.

Fire temples in India

India has 150 Parsi worship places or fire temples. Listed below are some of the top fire temples in the country with a little bit of history: 

  • Seth Banaji Limji Agiary at Banaji Lane, Fort, Mumbai 

The Fort area in Mumbai houses the oldest surviving fire temple in Mumbai—Seth Banaji Limji Agiary. The Zoroastrian fire temple was constructed in 1709 by Limji. There is an interesting story on how the sacred fire of the Parsi worship place came to being. 

Mehrwanji Limji was a successful businessman in Kolkata. In his home, a priest maintained a fire from a lightning strike for two years. Later, Limji transported the fire to Mumbai with Zoroastrian rites to establish the temple and enshrine the sacred fire.

A fire broke out in the Fort area in 1803, which destroyed most of the temple. But the city’s Parsi community rebuilt the temple in 1845. The temple’s architecture resembles that of a fortress and the temple has fire motifs on the front facade. 

  • Maneckji Seth Agiary at Perin Nariman St, Fort, Mumbai 

Constructed in 1735, Maneckji Seth Agiary is the second-oldest fire temple in Mumbai. The architecture of the structure is a mixture of Persian and Greek Revival styles. Two lamassus statues stand outside like they are guarding the temple’s entrance. 

  • Parsi Agiary at MG Road, Hyderabad 

The Dar-e Mehr in Hyderabad is one of the three fire temples in the city. The Parsi religious place caters to close to 1000 Parsis living in Hyderabad. The compounds of the three fire temples house residential flats where 430 families reside.

Seth Jamshedji Edulji Chenoy and his brothers built the agiary in the memory of their late father. The temple was consecrated in 1847 during the reign of Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan. The Parsi population in Hyderabad and Secunderabad is the second largest after Mumbai in India. The fire temple recently became 175 years old.

  •  Iranshah Atash Behram at Udvada, Valsad

 

The Iranshah Atash Behram or Udwada Atash Behram in Udvada, Gujarat is the oldest fire temple in India. Atash Bahram was kindled in 721, a few years after Parsis came to India after taking permission from the Hindu King, Jadav Rana. The ritual devices for consecrating the fire were brought by priests to Sanjan from Eastern Iran by land route. The sacred temple represents the historical religious and cultural links of the community with Iran. 

Among the prime holy places for Parsis, the temple attracts Zoroastrian pilgrims from around the world. The current Persian style temple building housing the sacred fire was constructed in 1742 by Motlibai Wadia. The temple structure houses the Dasturji Koyaji Mirza hall and a museum. 

 

  • Ghandhi Parsi Fire Temple at MG Marg, Prayagraj

 

Situated amidst the calm atmosphere near the Prayagraj High Court, the structure is surrounded by lush green gardens. The foundation stone of the temple was laid by the honourable Burjorjee J Dalal, a high court judge in 1928. A winged human figure of Asho Farohar sits at the roof of the temple. Prayagraj has only about 27 Parsis who visit the temple during festivities like mariages.

 

  • Royapuram fire temple in Royapuram, Chennai

 

The Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar-e Mehr or Royapuram fire temple is a Parsi fire temple at Royapuram in Chennai. Built in 1910 by the philanthropist Phiroj M. Clubwala, it is the only fire temple in Tamil Nadu and the surrounding regions of Puducherry and Kerala. The flame burns continuously in the temple as the priest stokes it five times a day.

Out of about 177 fire temples in the world, India houses 150. And within India, the highest number of fire temples—about 50—are found in Mumbai. Do not miss exploring the beauty of these amazing historic Parsi worship places as and when you get a chance.

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