Udvada

 

Parsi man selling sandalwood sticks in Udvada, Gujarat
Parsi man selling sandalwood sticks in Udvada, Gujarat
Parsi man selling sandalwood sticks in Udvada, Gujarat
Parsi man selling sandalwood sticks in Udvada, Gujarat

Udvada is something of a one-horse town — it gets over almost as soon as it starts. The economy of the town however revolves around the Atash Behram, the oldest and the holiest fire temple of the Zoroastrians.

There are of course few (sprawling) private residences in Udvada, some of which belong to the local priests or dasturs. However business comes to the town through the hotels that often offer Spartan accommodation but lip-smacking meals.

Few Parsis I know of own properties in Udvada, though it has been a feasible option for many, especially in the new apartment blocks that have been constructed no more than a kilometre away from the Atash Behram.

Interestingly, Udvada would’ve almost missed its tryst with history.

After landing on the shores of Sanjan in Gujarat and successfully persuading the local king Jadav Rana to grant them asylum (more on that story here), the Zoroastrians made it their home.

According to some versions of the story, they even fought side by side with the rulers to fight invaders (it is unclear as to how they did this since one of Rana’s conditions for the asylum was that they lay down their arms) and lived a life of relative peace and prosperity for at least a few centuries.

Around the late 14th century however, Sanjan fell to the might of the Delhi Sultanate and the Parsis were in flight again. They sought refuge in the caves of the nearby Barhot hills, south of Sanjan carrying with them their sacred fire.

A few years later, the fire was installed at Navsari near Surat.

However around the 18th century, they decided to return to the place from where they had first started and the flame began its journey back to Sanjan.

Along the way the priests developed an inexplicable liking for Udvada and therefore decided to consecrate the fire there in 1742.

It is believed that the fire has been burning at the place ever since.

Just across the road from the fire temple this gentleman sells sandalwood that is used to keep the fire burning. When he isn’t selling his wares, he spends his time on his favourite beach chair, obliging curious photographers for pictures but not necessarily entertaining their questions.

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