Businessman Parvez Damania’s memories of Udvada in Gujarat are tinged with nostalgia. As a Parsi belonging to one of the nine priestly families of Udvada, he has been visiting the holy town since childhood and is deeply attached to it.
Regarded as the last bastion of Parsi culture in India, Udvada is considered sacred due to the Atash Behram (fire of victory) at the 270 -year-old temple, which is one of the oldest continuously burning fire temples in the world. The town flourished around the fire temple but is slowly deteriorating over time.
Over the years, Damania has also observed the many changes that time has wrought over the town including the dilapidation of buildings, a decrease in the population (down to just 70 people now) and a steady loss of land and structures due to the advancing sea.
To do his bit to preserve heritage, Damania conceptualised a photography exhibition and a coffee table book to document the town, its history, culture and its fading glory in visual format. He collaborated with photographer Shantanu Das and the duo visited Udvada six times over two years. The result is on display at Tao Art Gallery, and a coffee table book is in the pipeline.
“The photographs try to capture the spirit of the town so that the future generation can look at these images and learn about the customs, traditions, costumes, architecture and the general way of life in this centre of pilgrimage,” says Damania, adding that it will be of interest to Parsis and non-Parsis alike as it captures an epoch in history.
The images were shot during the monsoon, winter and summer and capture life in Udvada, along with images from weddings and festivals. Frames of members of the community captured in varied moods — gazing from their balconies, reading their scriptures or even out on walks make for poignant viewing. There are also photographs that capture the simple facets of life including a bunch of chairs stacked in an empty room, as well as the play of light and shade in the kitchens and walls of homes, and of food being cooked on wooden stoves.
For Shantanu Das, the experience of shooting in Udvada was special as it was his first visit to the place: “My first trip was in December 2010… I remember the small railway station from where we headed to the dharamshala. During the trip, I got my first glimpse of the quiet, sleepy town dotted with old bungalows, antique letterboxes in front of homes, quaint furniture and Queen Victoria logos on the balconies. Despite the onset of time, the charm of the place was intact.”
Since non-Parsis are not allowed within the fire temple, Das had to shoot from the outside. “Most people had no objection since we interacted with them before proceeding to shoot at these sites. We have used natural lighting to retain the character,” he adds.
One of his favourite photoraphs depicts an elderly Parsi man sitting with the grandchildren of his Hindu maidservant who looks after him. “The image focuses on the contrast in terms of age, religion and status, which is still not a barrier for these people,” explains Das.
Till: April 7, 11 am to 7 pm
At: Tao Atrium Art Gallery, Sajan Plaza, 165 Annie Besant Road, Worli.