Religion in Museums

When museums and religion collide

Neglected Parsi museum in Mumbai being revamped

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The following article appeared on The Times of India website:

Neglected Parsi museum in Mumbai being revamped

By Nergish Sunavala, 2 Jan 2014

MUMBAI: Though many historians estimate that Parsis took refuge in India as far back as 936CE, most Indians have never ventured inside a fire temple.

Allowing not just non-Parsis but even women, who have married outside the religion , into the holy sanctum has led to heated debates. However in about three years, non-Parsi scholars of Zoroastrianism will be able to see a replica of a fire temple at the revamped F D Alpaiwalla Museum, ensconced in Khareghat Colony on Hughes Road.

The restoration work was started about a year ago and funded by the Bombay Parsi Punchayet to create an enduring Zoroastrian legacy as part of the10th World Zoroastrian Congress, which wrapped up on Monday. On Wednesday, WZC delegates gathered for a “jashan” or traditional Zoroastrian blessing to mark the end of the first phase of the renovation , which involved securing the 80-year-old structure.

“The next phase involves restoring the artifacts (coins, stamps, furniture, porcelain and sculptures) and organising the lighting, display cabinets and temperature control,” said the National Gallery of Modern Art’s advisory committee chairperson Pheroza Godrej , who has been spearheading the project along with Zoroastrian researcher Firoza Punthakey-Mistree , conservation architect Vikas Dilawari, curator Nivedita Mehta and other conservationists .

According to current plans, the refurbished museum will have a section dedicated to ancient Iran with artifacts found in Yazd and Susa, a recreation of the British Museum’s 10-metre cast of the western staircase from Persian King Darius’s palace at Persepolis, a TV to screen documentaries, a museum shop and an outdoor cafe.

A ramp and hydraulic lift will also be installed to make the museum accessible to the differently abled. Few Mumbaikars have ever even heard about the existence of the Alpaiwalla Museum , which opened in the early 1950s as a showcase for Parsi collector Framji Dadabhoy Alpaiwalla’s artifacts and material from Parsi scholar Jamshed Unwalla’s archaeological digs in Iran. The collection included Dadabhai Naoroji’s table, an original firman issued by Emperor Jahangir in 1618 CE to Naoroji’s forefathers, Chinese porcelain and a classic Gandhara Buddha statue.

“People think it is all broken bits and shards of pottery but we have valuable stuff here,” said Godrej. It was only when some of these artifacts were sent for “The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination” , an exhibition organised by SOAS, University of London, that the museum realised that one tiny metal object from a Zoroastrian ‘Tower of Silence’ in Yazd was a “national treasure”

Article from The Times of India website.

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