Two Parsi high priests have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to realign the upcoming Metro III rail project saying it threatens the sanctity of two fire temples in south Mumbai, which would be a “great religious loss” to the community. The two senior-most high priests of the Zoroastrian community, Dastur Firoze Kotwal and Dastur K M Jamaspasa, have written the letter to the prime minister on October 21, to register their protest against the metro tunnel planned underneath or near two Atash Behrams (fire temples) in south Mumbai. T he Metro III tunnel will pass underneath the Wadia Atash Behram, which was consecrated in 1830 at the Princess Road junction and in close proximity to the Anjuman Atash Behram (1897) across the road. These two are among the eight Atash Behrams in India.
“An Atash Behram (fire temple) is a composite whole comprising not just the consecrated fire enthroned in the sanctum sanctorum, but also includes, within this definition, the whole edifice in which the divine fire is housed. During the process of consecration and enthronement, the holy fire is linked spiritually, to the earth below it, from which it draws sustenance,” they said in the letter. “Hence, you will find that our ancestors took great ritual precautions to protect and maintain this connection and sanctity,” the letter read. “The tunnelling process could affect the water tables adversely, and there is a distinct possibility of the Atash Behram will go dry, in which case, none of the high rituals of the Zoroastrian faith can be performed in these Atash Behrams. This would be a great religious loss to our community. This loss is clearly unacceptable to us as high priests of the community,” they said in the letter.
Commenting on the development, Marzban Hathiram, a Parsi priest, said, “Ever since the Metro-III proposal was mooted, we have been raising our concerns, but unfortunately the Metro makers ignored us and went ahead with their plan. First, they kept us in dark and procrastinated in furnishing the details of the project under RTI and by the time they gave the copy of the plan, the construction work for the Metro project had begun.” Before the digging work for the Metro III project started earlier this year, Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor of Udawada, a member of the National Commission for Minorities, had expressed his satisfaction after meeting officials from the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC). However, the two high priests have raised objections over the Metro route.
Hathiram said, “We believe that the fire temple is a unique entity. This complex is a sacred entity, which is to be separated from the normal world. If you are digging under the ground, be it five feet deep of 50 ft, you are disturbing the facial construction and sanctity of the holy premises.”
Hanoz Mistry, editor of The Parsee Voice and a community activist, said that out of all the five high priests of the community in the country, four of them have opined that the tunnel is affecting the very sanctity of the fire temple. A fire temple is not just the fire in the sanctum sanctorum, but a composite whole along with the building in which fire is housed, he said. “There are only eight fire temples in the whole world and Mumbai houses four of them within a periphery of one kilometer. We cannot sit quite and see two of them getting affected,” Mistry said.
He said they have launched an online petition on change.org over this issue and received over 10,000 signatures including from non-Parsi people.
When contacted, a spokesperson from the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRCL) said the alignment of Mumbai Metro III is neither below the sanctum sanctorum of Parsi fire temples nor it would affect them during the construction. “Same is true for all the Parsi wells along the Metro route. Recently, we had an opportunity to meet respected Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoorji of Udawada, during which we gave him a detailed presentation on these issues. Dasturji was convinced that the sanctum sanctorums of the fire temples as well as the wells will not be affected by the construction activity. He expressed his satisfaction over the project,” the official said