Hyderabad’s youngest Parsi fire temple turns 100; community numbers only 1000

Yunus Y. Lasania

Hyderabad: When we think of Parsis (Zoroastrians) and their religion, Bombay or Gujarat are probably places that come to mind. However, most people are not aware of the fact that Hyderabad’s connection with both Parsis is over two centuries old. And marking that, one of the city’s three Parsi fire temples on Tuesday turned 100, albeit in sobriety due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Khan Bahadur Edulji Sohrabji Chenai Anjuman Dar-e-Meher fire temple (also called Agiary), situated at MG road in Secunderabad, marked its centenary on Tuesday. This Agiary is in fact situated opposite the Seth Viccajee Meherji & Seth Pestonji Meherji Dar-e-Meher, which is the oldest fire temple in the twin cities.

Photo: Yunus Y. Lasania

July 14, 2020 marks its centenary as per the Zoroastrian Shahenshai calendar, while the corresponding date as per the Gregorian calendar (which is followed) is 8 August. 2020. The Khan Bahadur Edulji Sohrabji Chenoy Anjuman Dar-e-Meher, was built by Seth Jamshedji Edulji Chenoy and his brothers in memory of their late father Khan Bahadur Edulji Sohrabji Chenoy, during the reign of Osman Ali Khan, the last and seventh Nizam of the erstwhile Hyderabad State.

Though numerically totaling only around 1000 only today (430 families),Parsis or the Iranian Zoroastrian community in Hyderabad have immensely contributed to the city’s development, right from the Asaf Jahi (or Nizam; 1724-1948) era. Their arrival in Hyderabad dates back to 1803 (when the third Nizam, Sikdander Jah, became monarch), according to the community.

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One of the prominent families of the twin cities is the Chenoy family. In 1803, Sohrabji Pestonjee Chenoy, son of Pestonjee Maneckjee Chenoy, along with 14 other Parsi gentlemen, arrived in Hyderabad from Jalna, and settled here. Mrs. Gulbanoo Yadgar Chenoy, president of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad, said that the Chenoy family came to the city when the Hyderabad Contingency (army) was transferred from the old cantonment of Jalna to Bolarum in Secunderabad.

It would not be wrong to say that the Chenoy family was closely knit with the history of the erstwhile state of Hyderabad under the Nizams, for over a century and a half. Several generations of the family have occupied key positions in the courts of the Nizams. On Tuesday, the head priest at the Secunderabad Anjuman fire temple held the customary prayers on the occasion.

The community also had many other noted personalities. Among them is PB Chenoy, who was in fact the first Indian Mint Master under British India (during Osman Ali Khan’s time). “After his retirement, the Nizam appointed him as the Controller of Prince Basalth Jah who was the Nizam’s step brother. My grandfather was very meticulous in his dressing. Always in a cotton suit with tie. I never remember having ever seen him in a shirt and trousers,” Mr. Toorkey recalled.  

Parsis originally migrated to India from Iran (Persia) over 1200 years ago, owing to the Arab conquest. They settled in Gujarat (Sanjan) first and later spread to other parts of the country. According to Ervad Mehernosh H. Bharucha, head Priest of the Bai Maneckji Nusserwanji Chenoy Dar-e-Meher at Abids, the primary belief in Zoroastrianism is that everything begins and ends with Ahura Mazda.

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This is the law of Asha, the same as Rita in Sanskrit. The law of Asha means absolute, perfect, unchangeable and uncompromising righteousness. It is the first and foremost law of creation. Asha, according to him, can be summed up in three words, ‘Humata’, ‘Hukta’ and ‘Hvarshta’, meaning ‘Good thoughts, good words and good deeds’.

A fire temple is a place of worship where Parsis veneration to the supreme creator Ahura Mazda and fire is the living symbol of Ahura Mazda on earth. It is therefore worshipped. The other two older fire temples in Hyderabad are at the Seth Viccajee Meherji & Seth Pestonji Meherji Dar-e-Meher, also located at MG Road, Secunderabad and the Bai Maneckji Nusserwanji Chenoy Dar-e-Meher (built in 1904) , located at Tilak Road, Abids.

The Agiary at Abids, it is said, was built to serve Parsis living in that side of the city, due to lack of transport, it is said. The Seth Pestonjee Meherji and Seth Viccajee Meherji Agiary, was built in 1839 and consecrated on 12th September, 1847, making it the oldest of the three fire temples in Hyderabad.

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