4,000 Parsis converge for Udvada Utsav

Wednesday 06th January 2016 05:30 EST

“Damn the Tigers, save the Parsis,” quipped Bollywood actor Boman Irani in his satirical take on the community's decreasing number at the first ever Iranshah Udvada Utsav. A cultural meet that attracted over 4,000 Parsis from across the world, the event unfolded on the 25th to 27th December, 2015. The high-octane festival saw Achaemenid wall friezes, treasure hunts, heritage walks, dance performances, comedi acts, historical presentations, Parsi plays and karaoke nights. Guests were also entertained by dance performances by the Hormuzd Khambatta Troupe. Chief guests of the events were India's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Ratan Tata, and Minister for Energy & Petrol-chemicals, Civil Aviation & Tourism, Gujarat, Saurabh Patel.

Billionaire stud owner Dr Cyrus Poonawalla said he extended his support in the honour of his late wife Villoo. Showing immense interest in developing Udvada, he even donated £150,000 for the fest. “I am keeping her flame alive through this festival,” he said. Parsis number under 60,000 in India and a little over a 100,000 across the world.

Marking his presence, Udvada's Vada Dasturji, Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor called the festival Prime Minister Narendra Modi's “brainchild”. Only a couple of weeks after Modi took control of the office in 2014, a delegation of Parsi leaders, including Dastoorji, Homai Engineer, late Jehangir Cama and Dinshaw Tamboly had met him and briefed him on the plans to develop Udvada as a pilgrimage centre. The quaint town became the home of the Iranshah, Parsis' sacred fire, in 1742, and holds religious importance. With the number of members in the community dwindling, Udvada likes almost in ruins as a memento of what once was. What used to house the very first Iranshah, the holy fire is now replaced by a modern house. The Iranshah has been moved to a fire temple. “There was no one who objected to this construction,” rued Jamshed Bhiwandiwala, an architecture professor who has campaigned for Udvada’s conservation. The utsav drew attention to all the neglected facts, like the break ins of the dilapidated, neglected homes. Valsad collector Ravi Arora has promised to install surveillance cameras and, the town just might get its first police station.

Most of the area's 60-odd permanent residents do not remember the town ever being so lively. Dirt streets were paved over, compound walls received new coats of paint, blown-up images of wooden bungalows lined the street and fairy lights and streamers popped across the village. Chief guest Saurabh Patel said, “It's sad that such a lovely community is becoming smaller and smaller. You all must be worried, but so is the rest of Gujarat.” While promoting development, he announced at the festival that no high rise buildings will be allowed in the village any more. Union minister Arun Jaitley felicitated industrialist Ratan Tata on the last day of the fest. Addressing the thrilled crowd, Jaitley said, “I am truly honoured by so much love and respect showered on me today. Everyone in the community has made me very proud of being a Parsi and I cannot ever forget this honour.” He added, “The desire to strive for excellence and producing leaders in every field is a distinction that undoubtedly belongs to the community. At a time of such an adverse global economic situation, we need more of you.” He also had the crowd in splits with anecdotes about his Parsi friends.

Patel announced £2 million for development of Udvada town into a model for unity and harmony. He acknowledged the contribution of the community in development of the country and reiterated government's commitment to preserve Parsi culture and heritage. “Parsi community has a global identity. Settled in India for last 1,300 years, the community has contributed immensely from freedom struggle to industrial development. To preserve its culture, the youth from the community need to come forward,” said Patel in his key note address.

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