Today is Navroze, the Parsi (and indeed Persian) New Year. And I had the privilege of celebrating the occasion at a community dinner which also marked the inauguration of the new Parsi pavilion in Chennai.
Most of Chennai's Parsis were there - along with friends and well-wishers - for a sit down meal on banana leaf featuring an array of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. The pavilion used to be a down-at-heel badminton court. Now, along with the adjoining community hall, it can be used for social occasions as well as bringing in revenue from its use for Muslim weddings.
This was not my first Parsi meal of the week - on Monday I had an excellent breakfast in the grounds of the Parsi dharamsala, just up the street from the community hall and pavilion. In the photo, there's (on the left) Darius and Tehnaz Bahadurji, the leading figures in the community, along with Mahiar Shroff, who manages the dharamsala, and his wife Zavera, who cooked the breakfast.
The centrepiece of the assembly of Parsi buildings in the Royapuram area of north Chennai is the fire temple. It was built by the Clubwala family and dates from 1910. There's a full-time priest and an assistant. The temple is wonderfully well kept and, as is customary, non-Parsis are not allowed to enter.
Royapuram is near Chennai's docks, which came under Japanese attack during the Second World War. The area was evacuated, but the Zoroastrian priest at the time refused to leave - insisting that he would ensure that the fire in the temple didn't die out.
There's never been a tower of silence in Chennai, and the burial ground is a small but, again, well kept plot in the grounds of the dharamsala. As you can see, there have been a number of interments in recent months; the last Parsi wedding in Chennai was almost six years ago.
The Parsi community in Chennai numbers a little over two-hundred - two-thirds aged seventy and over. But the community here has not suffered the sharp diminution of numbers witnessed in some other Indian cities.
There are about 55,000 Parsis across India, mainly in Mumbai and Pune. That number is shrinking - the community has a low birth rate and, by and large, is reluctant to accept those with only one Parsi parent as a full member.
Apart from their cuisine (and their relative wealth), Parsis are noted for their philanthropy, towards their own and more widely. The dharamsala in Chennai (below) is, like the temple, more than a century old - a place to stay for Parsi travellers and those without a home. And on the adjoining land the community has a number of apartments available for young Parsi incomers, to give them a helping hand in a new city and to seek to fortify the community's future in Chennai.
The community has well-attended monthly get-togethers and prides itself on its common purpose when (so I hear) many other Parsi communities, some much smaller, are prone to factions and feuding.
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