Gujarat’s tourism ministry has sanctioned Rs 20 crore for the development of Udvada, home to the Iranshah Atash Behram, the highest order fire temple for Parsis. The first installment of Rs 10 crore has already been released, and the second installment will be released in the next financial year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also shown keen interest in the project, which has the community thrilled. Modi, it is learnt, will attend the Iranshah Udvada Utsav in December along with eminent Parsis like Ratan Tata.
The development plan for Udvada includes tackling coastline erosion, putting up signage and street furniture, and traffic management near the Iranshah.
“Udvada is the holiest place for Parsis from across the world. It is a heritage town and the aim is to conserve it,“ said Khurshed Dastur, the Parsi high priest. Community members visit Iranshah at least once a year, he said, and developing the village will benefit the villagers as well as the pilgrims.
“It is a typical medieval village where you have to wind through the lanes to find the fire temple. We had already started the conservation of houses within the village way back in 1999 as they are the essence of the heritage,“ said architect Jamshed Bhiwandiwalla, who is working on the destination development project. “Over a period of time the embankment along the 1-km-long coast eroded, which will be tackled. The village has extremely narrow roads that need resurfacing and widening too.“
The 12-point development plan includes installing toilet blocks, garbage segregation units and starting a centre for the women in the village who sell homemade food products like pickles and biscuits. The community members are also looking at a possibility of making the lane near Iranshah one-way, and marking it as a silent zone.
The popularity of Udvada increased after a Zoroastrian Information Centre was started there a few years ago. It is a museum that highlights Parsi history, has a dummy fire temple, and is popular for school visits from Valsad.
“The prime minister had shown keen interest in Udvada even when he was chief minister of Gujarat,“ said Dinshaw Tamboly, managing trustee, Foundation for Development of Udvada.“Soon after swearing in [as prime minister], he had called a few members from the community to take an update on what was happening about the development.“
About 297 km from Mumbai, coastal Udvada is in Gujarat’s Valsad district. The sacred Iranshah fire has been burning there for more than 1,000 years, and is said to have been collected from 16 different sources. The village has a population of about 8,000 people, of which merely 70 are Parsis.