Parsis vow to fight Mumbai Metro to save fire temples

Parsis say the Mumbai Metro Line 3 under Princess Street in Colaba would desecrate two of their fire temples and possibly dry up the wells in their premises.

fire-temple-kHGI--621x414@LiveMintMumbai: As Mumbai Metro’s tunnel boring machines drill beneath and approach South Mumbai’s Princess Street, the city’s Parsi community that has created some of India’s best-known businessmen and philanthropists is up in arms, alarmed that Metro Line 3 would desecrate two of their holy fire temples along its alignment.

About 1,000 members of the Parsi/Irani Zoroastrian community gathered in Patkar Hall near Churchgate on 8 June 2018 where they extended support to pursue a lawsuit against Mumbai Metro Rail Corp. Ltd (MMRCL). The tunnels, they say, would desecrate the fire temples and possibly dry up the wells in their premises.

After gentle methods failed to persuade authorities to change the course of the Metro Line 3, members of the community—numbering about 70,000 across the country, of which 40,000 is believed to be in Mumbai—moved the Bombay high court to realign the tunnels.

On 23 May, the Bombay high court in its ad-interim order asked MMRCL to hear the concerns and suggestions of the petitioners and the architect nominated by them along with the trustees of the two fire-temples and their high priests. The court also accepted MMRCL’s undertaking that it shall not carry out drilling work beyond the boundaries of the two Atash Behrams, the highest grade of fire temples in Zoroastrianism, until 14 June 2018, when the court will hear the matter again. Mint has a copy of the order.

“The matter is sub-judice; so, I can’t comment. But the meeting did take place. The committee will soon be submitting its report to the court,” said Ashwini Bhide, managing director, MMRCL.

MMRCL, a joint venture of the state and central governments, is building Mumbai Metro Line 3 that would connect Colaba in South Mumbai via Bandra to Seepz, a special economic zone in the northern part of the city.

Leading the community in its fight to protect the fire temples is Jamshed Sukhadwalla, a 72-year-old Zoroastrian, a structural engineer, who along with four other petitioners, filed the petition in the high court. Community members present at Friday’s public meeting say if the tunnel is bored beneath the fire temples, it will desecrate the holy fires in the Atash Behrams. Sukhadwalla explains that as per Zoroastrian scriptures, a fire temple’s holy fire must be at the ground level and its connection with the core of the earth is “absolutely necessary for the sustenance of the holy fire”.

“If the metro tunnels go beneath our fire temples, then that connection will be broken,” says advocate Berjis Desai, one of the petitioners. Experts in Zoroastrianism say constructing another fire temple in these days is impossible due to shortage of trained priests and the highly complex nature of consecrating a new holy fire.

“We are not against Metro Line 3. We simply want the tunnels to be realigned slightly so that it avoids going underneath the fire temples”, adds Desai. He said that at Friday’s meeting with MMRCL, the delegation stressed upon the community’s fundamental rights to pursue their faith.

That apart, the community fears wells in the two fire temples, could dry up if tunnels are dug nearby. “The water drawn from these wells/running springs is used for our rituals as water drawn from pipes is not permitted”, says Sukhadwalla.

“From the very beginning they (MMRCL authorities) have been saying that realignment is not possible. Now, at least, their attitude has changed”, Sukhadwalla told the community members at the meeting held on Friday. “The community is speaking in one voice and after Friday’s meeting with MMRCL, we are hopeful”, says Zerick Dastur, the petitioners’ advocate.

Published on Live Mint

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