Friday, April 21, 2006

All’s well that ends well

Permission to reprint this article has to be obtained from The Hindustan Times

The stained glass panels of the Bhikha Behram well have been restored to its old splendour

Shevlin Sebastian

Unless you keep your eyes peeled out, you are bound to miss the Bhikha Behram well, a holy spot for Parsis, because of the overflowing crowds on the sidewalk of Veer Nariman Road. After entering through the small wicker gate, you encounter a row of benches, painted a bright green, a couple of trees with overhanging branches, and the well, which is 280 years old. And, right above, is the stained glass panels, now restored to its former glory.
In March 2004, vandals had entered the well at night and destroyed the panels. No arrests have been made so far. In June last year, the trust decided to restore the panels; a wealthy devotee offered to bear the expenses and the commission was given to Hema Desai, a fusion and original stained glass creator. “We gave her photographs of the images of the original panel and asked her to recreate them,” says Dr. Viraf Kapadia, a trustee of the well.
At her workshop in Sewri, Desai enlarged the photographs on the computer and drew them to scale on a large, white paper. Then artists at her workshop cut the glass according to the image on the paper. “The glass is imported from USA and Germany,” she says. “Between two different glasses, we put in imported copper foil. It is only after that it is welded together.” Because of the danger of vandalism, Desai put a thick glass in front and at the back of the panel.
At the centre of the ceiling, above the well, there was a circular opening. Desai covered it with a glass panel with a painting of the sun. “During the day, the sunlight streams in and lights up the centre of the well,” says Desai. “Since the Parsis worship the sun, I thought this would be nice.”
On the west side of the wall, there is a provision for drinking the well water for members of other communities. “More than 3000 people avail of this facility free of charge,” says Kapadia.
Parsis come in regular intervals to pray at the well. On one of the benches sits Yazdi Daruwala, a businessman from Pakistan. He had heard of the well, even in Pakistan. So, while on a visit to Mumbai, he decided to drop in for a few minutes of prayer. “I did not know it was vandalised,” he says. “The glass panels look wonderful.”

Facts about the well
It is 280 years old.
It is a Grade 1 Heritage structure
It is also used as a wishing well.
Origin: A Parsi gentleman, Bhikaji Behramji, from Broach [present-day Bharuch] had come to Mumbai to seek his fortune in 1715. He was waylaid by some Marathas who were at war with the Muslims. Imprisoned in the Pandeghard fortress, he was set free after he convinced his captors that he was a Parsi, by showing them his sudreh (religious vest) and his kushti (sacred thread). Behramji went on start a business in Angrez Bazaar, now known as Horniman Circle. Being of charitable disposition, in 1725, he sunk a well for the people and it came to be known as the Bhikha Behram well.

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