The Parsee population in Hyderabad may not be that large but they indeed have influenced business and culture in Hyderabad, and also the rest of India for centuries.
Two Parsee brothers Seth Viccaji Meherji and Seth Pestonji Meherji, a native of Tarapore village came to Hyderabad state and became the most renowned merchant princes and philanthropists of the community. The two brothers built a small Fire temple (Dadgah) for the use of local Zoroastrians residing in the area and six years later, with true faith, they built a spending heavenly Agiary, the Seth Viccaji, Seth Pestonji Meherji Parsee Fire Temple, the oldest in South India.
The brothers bought the adjoining bungalow on MG Road, Secunderabad, and the land around it for them it in charity to the Agiary. Last week, the small Parsee community celebrated its 175th anniversary.
Parsees are the original inhabitants of Persia or what we call today Iran. They follow one of the world’s oldest religions – Zoroastrians- also called Dar-e Mehr in Persian–the religion of worshippers. The unique aspect of this religion is the use of fire in their temples, which are seen as symbolic of divinity.
The two Meherji brothers who built the fire temple
They faced severe persecution after the Arab conquest of their country in the 7th century. Lakhs of Zoroastrians were killed or forced to convert to Islam; others fled and migrated to India. Those who made India their home are called Parsees, literally meaning from Paras (Persia) and they predominantly live in Gujarat and Bombay.
Famous for their delicious Dhansak, embroidery Gara and their ingrained DNA to do business, the Parsees are still somewhat of an enigma to the rest of India—not least because non-Parsees are not allowed to enter their places of worship. With only 27 fire temples found outside of India, the highest concentration of fire temples can be found in India, especially in Mumbai and Hyderabad.
According to Arnaz Bisney, a Community member, the Atash Adaran (holy fire) was enthroned and consecrated in the fire temple on September 12, 1847. Marble plaques placed inside contain Persian couplets by Khan Bahadur Dastur Noshrwanji Jamshedji Jamaspasa and Rai Girdhari Prasad. These denote the day and date of this Fire Temple, she added.
Arnaz says the two brothers who founded the temple rose from humble beginnings and went on to become major farmers of large provinces such as Northern and Southern Konkan, Poona, Sholapur, Ahmednagar, and part of Khandesh. With their enterprising attitude and tenacity, they became the leading businessmen in the area.
The coins used by Seth meherji Brothers in Banking
From the mere import of cotton in a bullock cart, they went on to import two lakh cart loads of cotton and set up presses at Khangam and other cotton districts.
Seth Viccaji Meherji and Seth Pestonji Meherji constructed cart roads and built bridges for speedy and safe transport of merchandise. They were the pioneers of the cotton trade between the Nizam’s Dominion and the Bombay Presidency, Arnaz Bisney said.
In 1830, Raja Chandulal, the Prime Minister of Hyderabad invited them to open banking firms in Hyderabad and other parts of the State and within no time Pestonji Viccaji became the Principal banking house. They gave loans to Government for expenditure on military forces as well as other State expenditures.
To liquidate the advances made by the firm of Pestonji Vicaji, the Nizam entered into an arrangement whereby the revenue of the Berars and Aurangabad were mortgaged to them. Such was their height of prosperity and influence that they were allowed to retain in their service a small armed force and a Mint at Aurangabad which was entrusted to them. They were even permitted to have their initials and marks engraved on the national coins and a silver coin was struck at the Aurangabad Mint, bearing the initial letters of Viccaji’s younger brother Pestonji Meherji, which was widely known after him as the Pestonshahi Sicca of the Nizam Government.
Coin minting was a crude manual method where a coin blank was hammered against a dye to put an impression on the coin. Machine minting started only in the reign of the sixth Nizam. Over a crore of Pestonshahi Siccas in various denominations, in both silver and copper were struck at the mint in Aurangabad between 1832 and 1842. They were legal tender until the beginning of the 20th century. Only a few original coins remain now and are highly valued. Four of them are on display in the British Museum in London.
The coins used by Seth meherji Brothers in Banking
As the Seth Pestonji Meherji Parsi Fire Temple is celebrating its 175th Anniversary, its Head Priest Vada Dasturji Saheb Keki C Ravji Meherjirana leads the Jashan (prayer) in the morning. The event was witnessed by dignitaries including Justice Shahrukh J Kathawalla (Retd.) (Retired Judge of the Bombay High Court) as the Chief Guest, Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major (Retd.), Maj. Gen. Cyrus K Pithawalla (Ashok Chakra), Dinshaw K Tamboly (Chairman, World Zoroastrian Trust), Kersi K Deboo (Vice Chairperson of National Commission of Minorities), Bachi Karkaria (senior journalist TOI), Piruz A Khambatta (Chairman & Managing Director of Rasna Pvt. Ltd.), Zerick Dastur (Advocate).
Captain Kayarmin Pestonji Family member of the Founders and President, of Old Parsi Fire Temple Trust, said “With the grace of the Almighty and the blessings of members of the community, we celebrate the 175th anniversary of our Fire Temple. I am grateful that this event can be done with a large gathering and dignitaries gracing it. God has been very kind to us and our community and I hope we have a successful celebration on 31st July 2022” he prayed
Hyderabad has three fire temples, informed Arnaz Bisney. This list includes Khan Bahadur Edulji Sohrabji Chenai, Anjuman Dar-e-Meher ,both situated in Secunderabad , and the third Bai Maneckbhai Nusserwanji Chenoy Dar-e-Meher situated at Hyderabad.