Our lives have changed with Covid-19 and I suspect this applies to most of humankind. All our lives, memories and experiences are now most likely going to be divided as Pre Lockdown and Post Lockdown. Today I’m sharing one of my favourite Pre Lockdown Memories. This one was on my bucket list for a long time and finally made it happen in June 2017. Alongwith the chefs of SodaBottleOpenerWala, I biked it down to Udvada from Bombay. The Parsi Holy town, a 5 hour ride.
The experience was fantastic and for me was life-changing. Never knew biking in the rain would be so much fun. We all have our in-built fears. We can choose to live with them or take them head on. It probably takes more than once to conquer a certain fear and one must keep trying. The ride to Udvada was wonderful, but the moment I stepped into the town I fell in love with it. I haven’t really seen many heritage towns that are so well preserved.
The Parsi Fire Temple at Udvada
Udvada is the where the biggest and holiest Parsi Fire Temple is situated. The Parsi religion, Zoroastrianism is one the world’s oldest surviving religions. The religion is based on three principles – Humata, Huxta, Huvarshta (Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds) Fire is sacred to Parsis and their temples are called Fire Temples. One thing I wasn’t aware about till my visit to Udvada, was that there were different kinds (grades) of Fire Temples.
To explain this in layman terms, there are three types of Parsi Temples – Aatesh Behram, Agiary and Dar-e-Mehr. Each temple will have one of the three types of fire mentioned below and get named and graded according to the fire they house. The three kinds of fires are – Atash Behram is considered to be the holiest of the three. The Atash Behram in Udvada is also called Iranshah. It is said that when the Parsis landed in India, they sent back a few priests to get the holy fire from Iran.
The Types of Holy Fires
Atash Behram is associated with kings and literally translates as Victory fire. It’s supposed to be collected from 16 different sources including lightning. The second grade of fire is called Atash Adaran or Fire of Fires and is usually housed in an Agiary. The third is Atesh Dadgah, the fire for celebrations and in homes. Also at times in a Dar-e-Meher, but this can also vary from place to place.
There are a total of 9 Atash Behram, of which 8 are in India and one in Iran. Parsis were the rulers of Persia at one time. Till they lost the war to the Arabs and fled to India around a 1000 years ago. They landed in Sanjan in Gujarat and that’s where their India story began. Udvada is a wonderful place for both Parsi food and culture and there are many initiatives to preserve the culture and heritage of Parsis.
Doodh na Puff at Udvada
I had many standout experiences in Udvada but will talk about two in this post. The Doodh na Puff and the Mawa Cake at Irani Bakery. The Doodh na Puff can be found across India by different names. Milk is boiled and cooled and hung out at night in the balcony to absorb the early morning dew. It’s churned in the morning and the froth from the top is served as Doodh na Puff. Some also flavour this with rose essence. It’s a very sexy breakfast dish. The Mawa Cake is my favourite Indian cake. The Mawa (khoya) gives it a wonderful richness and flavour. My first Mawa Cake experience was at B Merwan in Bombay, famous for its Mawa Cake. The Irani Bakery in Udvada does an excellent version of this.
The Mawa Cake
I find a lot of people critical about the Mawa Cakes that one now gets in Irani Cafés and Bakeries in Bombay. I think it’s unfair to expect the moon when you’re paying ₹10 or ₹15 for a Mawa Cake. Most of the remaining Irani Cafés in Bombay are relics of the past (not many left now) and struggle with shrinking customer bases, maintaining costs and quality, while serving to clientele who are not willing to pay more for their products. I also wanted to make a point about the modern versions of the Mawa Cake which everyone now seems to be doing as these fancy Cupcakes.
The two factors that set the Mawa Cake apart are its richness and it gooeyness. The traditional oblong shape retains the moisture and gooeyness, whereas most Mawa cupcakes I’ve had, dry out and that’s why never taste as good.
It’s important to stay safe but also equally important to stay happy