With vultures having vanished from the Indian skies, disposal of corpses placed in the ‘dokhmas’ (towers of silence) has not been as effective and rapid as it was decades earlier.
Many Parsi Irani Zoroastrian residents of Mumbai, concerned that the remains of their loved ones were not being speedily disposed but were putrefying, began clamouring for alternate systems of disposal – burial or cremation.The first seeds for a Prayer Hall where Parsi-Irani Zoroastrians could opt for alternate modes of disposal and be assured of obsequies being performed were planted many years earlier in the nineteen eighties, when Jamsheed Kanga, then Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai was approached by the late J. R. D. Tata enquiring which of the crematoriums at Mumbai would be appropriate for the obsequies and funeral of his brother D. R. D. Tata who had passed away, as many dignitaries were expected to attend. At that time, some of the crematoriums were closed as they were being upgraded, whilst others were very shabby.
To tide over the situation, the crematorium at Dadar was tidied up, and when Jamsheed went to condole JRD, he was informed that Mumbai deserved better facilities.
From amongst the many crematoriums at Mumbai, the one at Worli had a lot of space and was conveniently located for South Bombay. Jamsheed planned to set up a prayer hall there but unfortunately, before the matter could be proceeded with, he was transferred and the project was shelved.
At the turn of the century with the state of affairs within the Towers of Silence at Mumbai becoming public knowledge, many Parsis began considering options for alternate modes of disposal.
For more than a decade, during my tenure as a Trustee of BPP (November 1996 to October 2008) we debated the need for allowing funerary prayers to be performed at Doongerwadi and thereafter permit family members to dispose of the corpse through an alternate system of disposal – cremation or burial. With some Trustees being in favour and some not, pressures from the clergy and vociferous sections of traditional Parsis did not allow this issue to move forward.
A majority of the BPP Trustees and others professing the traditional mind set maintained that those intending to consider alternate systems of disposal should not expect BPP to approve of their proposal to allow any of the bunglis at Doongerwadi to be made available, but they should go ahead and make their own arrangements. Thanks to this sagacious advice, the seeds that were sown nearly four decades earlier began to sprout in 2014.
The creation of the Prayer Hall has been the result of cohesive team work but the main credit undoubtedly belongs to our two mentors, Jamsheed Kanga and Homi Khusrokhan, the two champions who successfully took on the BPP in the ‘Ban on Mobeds’ issue and undertook the process of communicating and collaborating with the Municipal Corporation and their various executives. Without their involvement the prayer hall would not be a reality today. Ms. Silloo Billimoria, Ex Law Officer, Consultant Legal, of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai was also most helpful in drawing up the necessary documents.
Our architects firm ‘Epicons Consultants’ , our building contractor Mr. Ashok Punjabi of AP Enterprises, associated with the House of Godrej, have all worked as a well-knit, dedicated and committed team and brought the project to its fruition in very good time.
We initially circulated an appeal to various individuals; some of us Trustees also dug into our own pockets. We also discussed the proposal with the Trustees of A. H. Wadia Trust and requested their support, in response to which they sanctioned a munificent donation of Rs.15,000,000 (Rupees fifteen million). Without their generous donation it would not have been possible to complete the construction of the facility within 16 months.
We were extremely fortunate to receive excellent cooperation from Executives and various departments of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, with two Addl Municipal Commissioners taking active interest. Our mentor Jamsheed Kanga has left behind a huge reservoir of goodwill since his tenure as Municipal Commissioner.
Thanks to the support of Mr. Jamshyd Godrej and personnel of his company, a beautiful garden is being created at the site. The Godrej family has been most supportive in not only creating the garden, but also in providing the services of its personnel in supervising the construction. Mr. Maneck Engineer had been keeping a watchful eye on the work.
With two new halls now having been constructed and the existing small hall attached to the crematorium, there will be adequate place for obsequies of Parsi-Irani Zoroastrians to be performed at all times.