Suggested prior reading: » Zoroastrian Worship
|Inside an Agiary - a cut-out graphic|
|Source: Hindustan Times. Graphics: Swati|
|Atashkadeh, Tehran, Iran|
Photo: Wikimap. Photographer Unknown
|Seven Islands of Bombay|
The history of Bombay /Mumbai's fire temples parallels the history of Parsi settlement in Bombay and indeed the formation of Bombay as a city and the financial hub of India.
Even before the British takeover of the seven islands of Bombay in February 1665 CE, the Parsi Kharshedji Pochaji Panday had provided the original Portuguese possessors with materials and men to build the first fortification on the island of Bom-Bahia (later anglicized to Bombay) meaning good bay in Portuguese - the area of which came to be known as Castle and the Fort district of Bombay.
|Catherine of Braganza|
When they took possession of the islands as part of Portuguese Catherine of Braganza's dowry to King Charles II of Britain, the British expressed disappointment their with the territory. However, during the next one hundred and fifty years, the Parsees saw the islands' potential and shaped the islands' early development and physical outline.
The Dorabji family were among the early Parsi inhabitants of Bombay. In 1692, when the British garrison of Bombay had been decimated by a cholera epidemic, Rustamji Dorabji rallied the Koli fisherman and other residents to defend Bombay from an attack by the Muslim Sidi of Janjira. In recognition of his leadership and valour, the British appointed Rustamji with the hereditary title of patel or chief, a position that carried the authority of collecting taxes from the residents. Together with the Patel family, the Banaji and Modi families also rose to prominence in Bombay, and the men of these families were referred to as seth or sett.
The Parsees erected the first tower of silence between 1670 and 1675. During the same period, Hirji Vacha Modi constructed Bombay's first fire temple that housed an Atash Adaran, in the Fort area. Regrettably, the temple did not survive the fire of 1803. In 1709 CE, Banaji Limji built Bombay's second fire temple, also located in the Fort district.
|Seth Banaji Limji Shenshai Agiary|
Banaji Street, Fort,
Fire consecrated: Adar day, Adar month, 1078 AY (June 25, 1709)
Oldest surviving fire temple in Mumbai
Photo: Wikimedia. Photographer unknown
In 1730 Manockji (spelt Maneckji today) Nowroji, son of the great international Parsi trader Rustam Monock, arrived in Bombay from Surat and lost no time in purchasing a large tract of land on which he built a fire temple. Beside the fire temple, Manockji also built a wadi or colony for Parsees to accommodate a growing Parsi population, which by 1811, stood at 10,042 in Bombay town and Island. In the Fort area itself had a total population of 10,801 in 1813, out of which the Parsees numbered 5,364.
The Manockji fire temple was badly damaged in the fire of 1803 and its consecrated fire was temporarily moved to the Soonaiji Agiary at Gowalia Tank. Wealthy Parsi merchants of that time donated funds for the repairs while the less well-off, contributed eggs and mugs of toddy that toddy, items that were mixed with the reconstruction mortar. The fire was reinstalled and enthroned in 1845.
The next oldest surviving fire temple, the Maneckji Navroji Sett Shenshai Agiary, is located less than a kilometre away.
|Maneckji Navroji Sett Shenshai Agiary|
225 Perin Nariman Street, Fort, behind Citi Bank
Fire consecrated: Adar day, Adar month, 1102 AY (June 19, 1733)
Second oldest surviving fire temple in Mumbai
Photo: Paritosh Joshi at Flickr
In 1786 and 1798, Mancherji Jivanji Readymoney and Dadibhai Nusserwanji Dadiseth respectively built private dakhmas for themselves and their families in Bombay.
We include below a photograph of the Seth Jamshedji Dadabhai Amaria Agiary as an example of the architecture of the early Agiaries.
|Seth Jamshedji Dadabhai Amaria or Sodawaterwalla, Shenshai Agiary|
Anandilal Podar Marg at Maharshi Karve Rd, Dhobi Talao, near Marine Lines Station
Fire consecrated: Farvardin day, Farvardin month, 1254 AY (October 6, 1884)
Photo: Mark Fitch, Bethesda, MD, USA
Resource: The Parsis of India by Jesse S. Palsetia, BRILL, 2001.
|Priest lighting an Atash Dadgah|
The Atash Dadgah, the court fire, is the third grade of fire. Dadgah means court in Persian. For an explanation of the development of this grade, see
Dadgah - Courts. The grade came to include home and heart fires. Today, the Atash Dadgah refers to any fire used in worship that is not consecrated. This grade of fire does not require a priest in attendance and can be attended to by the laity.
For the pragmatic, consecrating the Atash Dadgah is optional. For the orthodox, every fire used in worship is consecrated. If preferred, the fire can be consecrated within the course of a few hours by two priests who take turns reciting the 72 verses of the Yasna (a book of the the Zoroastrian scriptures - the Avesta). Consecration may also include the readings from the Vendidad.
Dar-e-Mehr or Darbe Mehr means the door of kindness and love. The name was used by Fasli Zoroastrians for their temple and by the Iranian Zoroastrians for the Tehran fire temple. The name by itself does not imply the grade of fire used within. However, because it is the name given to the Zoroastrian places of worship financed by an endowment from Arbab Rustam Guiv, and because the fires in these Darbe Mehrs were not necessarily consecrated or attended to by priests, the name Darbe Mehr is frequently associated with the Atash Dadgah grade of fire.
(Location of North American Darbe Mehrs)