The timeless legacy of Parsis: One photographer’s attempt at preserving the Parsi heritage
An ongoing photo exhibition tries to highlight the rare moments of a fast dwindling Zoroastrian community of India.Updated: Dec 02, 2019 16:10 IST
When documentary photographer Shantanu Das was not allowed to step inside a Parsi fire temple, he thought of photographing its ongoings from afar. “As time passed, I was able to build a network that aided me with shooting their events, parties and other ceremonies,” he says. Eventually, Shantanu’s documentation of the Parsis bore fruit, as he was able to publish a picture book that depicts the culture and traditions of the community.
“In photography and in other art forms as well, I think, one should never be content with their body of work. If they are satisfied, then they will stop evolving,” he says. His works are being exhibited in an ongoing show titled, Parsis — A Timeless Legacy. The exhibition showcases about fifty works, which span over a period of six years. He has not only shot them in Mumbai, but also in places such as Udvada and Surat in Gujarat, and Kolkata (West Bengal).
“These works are symbolic of a day in the life of a Parsi. I want their legacy to live on and not get washed away with time,” he says. While photographing the community, Shantanu learnt that the Parsis are a “bunch of happy people”, who have owned the “live and let live” concept.
Due to migration and intermarriages, there are very few Parsis left in India. A 2016 statistics showed that their numbers are down to 61,000, and dwindling by the day. Another 40,000 are scattered across the world with an even greater struggle to hang on to their distinctive culture and identity. Entrepreneur Parvez Damania, one of the curators of the exhibition, says, “I have always been fascinated by the community, and I am proud, I belong to the same.” Curating the event, he says, was a “personal privilege”. Parvez, who has previously curated an exhibition on Udvada, which is known for its Atash Behram (Zoroastrian fire temple), explains, “Udvada has proven to be vulnerable and nothing of it may remain in the future. The idea was to remind people that Parsis exist and their legacy must live on. In a similar way, this exhibition, too, will help preserve the rich heritage of the people, even if it is only through photographs.”
When asked, what drew him to the community, Shantanu emphasises on how some things change, while others remain the same. “Despite the passage of time, Parsis have maintained their unique identity. They are both progressive and traditional, and historically, they have made an immense contribution to the arts. They are a delightful set of people, and I think their goodwill has rubbed off on me,” he says.