A Slice of Parsi Heaven - Udvada

23rd Dec 2017

Kyani & Co, Sodabottleopenerwala, B. Merwan’s Mawa cakes, Raspberry soda, Navjotes….. Parsis or Bawas as they are called, are everywhere in Mumbai. Many people have fond memories of growing up having experienced some slice of Parsi culture, be it those small cafes, which are known for their high quality food, or be it their entertaining parties that one may have attended. Enterprises that Parsis have set up have helped not only Mumbai, but the entire country progress.

Mumbai is synonymous with Parsis. Their stamp on the city is unquestioned. As much as Mumbai would like to claim Parsis as their own, another small and unobtrusive town in Gujarat is the holiest pilgrimage site for Parsis.

Photo of A Slice of Parsi Heaven - Udvada 1/1 by Niyati Mavinkurve
Photo Source: Shantanu Das

Udvada, a town located 230kms of Mumbai, houses the Iranshah Atash Behram, an Agiary where the holy fire has been burning for 1282 years. Parsis from all over the world flock Udvada to pay their respects to the holiest of fires that can be placed in an Agiary.

Parsis landed on the shores of India to avoid religious persecution and conversions that their community faced in Greater Khorastan (modern day Iran). The community requested the local Hindu ruler to grant them asylum and land. Legend has it that the ruler poured a cup of milk in a bowl and extended it to the leader of the Parsis. The bowl represented his land, which was already prosperous and peaceful, and if the Parsis could find place for themselves in their land without disrupting anything, they would be granted asylum. The Parsi leader requested for some sugar and added a spoon in the milk, which dissolved without milk spilling. The king was so impressed with their answer that the Parsis were granted land for their fire temple and also asylum against prosecution. This asylum was not without conditions, the Parsis had to adopt the local language and customs. The community gladly did and since then assimilated seamlessly into the local community.

The local Parsis lived in peace in Sanjan until the Islamic conquest of Gujarat, when the holy fire was shifted to Udvada, where it has remained ever since.

Photo Source: Shantanu Das

Photo of Sanjan, Gujarat, India by Niyati Mavinkurve

A walk into Udvada will instantly transport you into a small hamlet with old style houses and quiet people. The old architecture speaks volumes about the history of the place, and yet the amicable nature of the people. The town is quiet and the houses abandoned, but the spirit of the people keeps the place alive.

Photo Source: Shantanu Das

Photo of A Slice of Parsi Heaven - Udvada by Niyati Mavinkurve

For non Zoroastrians, the hamlet by the sea becomes a weekend escapade, offering quiet solitude and a chance to interact with people whose stories the world doesn’t know. One can be assured of good food here, a true Parsi will never let a visitor go hungry, or feed them sub-standard food. You can trust that the food has been prepared with love for you.

Photo Source: Gujarat Tourism (Iranshah Atash Behram)

Photo of A Slice of Parsi Heaven - Udvada by Niyati Mavinkurve

Udvada also has a beach for those who love the sea. One can take relaxed walks here on the sand and grab some goodies from one of the local bakeries to munch on. There is a relaxed vibe to Udvada, and in its unobtrusive way, it can get even the most harried traveller to relax and quieten down.

Photo Source: Sid The Wanderer

Photo of A Slice of Parsi Heaven - Udvada by Niyati Mavinkurve

The Iranshah Atash Behram is the main attraction in the town. It is one of the few surviving Atash Behrams in the world today. The Holy Fire burning in the temple is said to be made from 16 different fires. The building stands majestic, a testament of its history and the community’s resilience. It is unfortunately, not open for non- Zoroastrians.

Photo Source: The Bawi Bride

Photo of A Slice of Parsi Heaven - Udvada by Niyati Mavinkurve

The town is quiet unless thronged by visitors and the streets empty. Not everyday is a Navroze where people throng the city. But Udvada carries on, waiting with open arms for those who come here armed with their faith.

Source: ParsiKhabar

Photo of A Slice of Parsi Heaven - Udvada by Niyati Mavinkurve

The town’s cultural significance has not gone unnoticed. The Prime Minister himself urged the community to take efforts to maintain the town and preserve the history and paying heed to this call, the Udvada committee organizes the ‘Iranshah Udvada Utsav’ every 2 years. The inaugural edition was held in 2015 and the next one is slated to take place from 23rd to 25th December. For those wanting to do something unique for the weekend, this is the place to go. The registration is reasonable, and includes some delicious Parsi meals with it.

The festival among other activities, has skits, musical performances and short films being screened. There are heritage walks planned and other entertainment. The sleepy town will wake, and if reports of the inaugural festival are to be believed, the festival will be even better this time.

The Schedule for Iranshah Udvada Utsav in 2015 was:

Photo of Udvada, Gujarat, India by Niyati Mavinkurve

The registration fees for this year's Utsav, till October 31st is Rs. 2,000 which includes fees for all the workshops and all meals (Lunch and Dinner)

How to reach Udvada and other Details:

1. Udvada can be reached by Rail, Road and Air.

2. It is 7kms from Udvada Station, and 16kms from Vapi Station

3. Trains from Mumbai halt at Udvada and the journey is covered in 2.5-3.5 hours depending on the train

4. Photos from the previous edition of the Udvada Utsav are available at:

a. Day 1: https://goo.gl/eP1BK8

b. Day 2: https://goo.gl/esSb7i

c. Day 3: https://goo.gl/CMKGs3

5. Hotels to stay in

a. Globe Hotel (Tel: 0260-2345243/474; Tariff: INR 1,600-2,000)

b. Iranshah Apartment (Tel: 2345643; Tariff: INR 2,000 for 4 people)

c. Ashsisvang Hotel (Tel: 2345700/500; Tariff: INR 1,400-1,800 per person, with meals)

6. The link to register for the Iranshah Udvada Utsav is http://www.iuu.net.in