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Delhiwale: The Parsi ‘rest’ house

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Walking through any cemetery is bound to stir feelings.

And perhaps even more so in this secluded graveyard in central Delhi that belongs to the rapidly dwindling Parsi community, descendants of a religiously persecuted people who sought refuge in India more than 1,000 years ago.

Parsis adhere to the ancient Zoroastrian faith, with its own special tenets. Yet although Parsis traditionally opt for last rites in Tower of Silence, quite a few of them — as we can see — opt to be buried.

In any case, Delhi has no such tower, though it does have a Fire Temple near ITO crossing, the only one in North India.

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This Parsi cemetery, called Aramgah or the House of Rest, is akin to a garden with thoughtfully laid out flower beds and benches. Narrow gravel paths run alongside tombs inscribed with the impression of Faravahar, the winged symbol of Zoroastrianism. Most graves are astonishingly well maintained, and many have flowers growing out of them.

According to the website Delhi parsis.com, the National Capital Region has fewer than a thousand Parsis. The graveyard itself has about 300 graves. The newest is still a mound of earth — it came up just last month. The tombstone bearing the departed person’s name is yet to be installed.

Another recent grave — “1930 to 2017” — was dotted with plants.

As always, we started doing what we love most about graveyards — reading the epitaphs.

One grave was inscribed with: “Missed with a grief/Beyond all tears”.

Another had a most heart-touching line across its stone: “You are always in our hearts”.

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As we turn around we spot something almost as rare as a Parsi — a tall bougainvillea tree. And then, a narangi tree in full bloom, its fruit studding all over like colourful stars in the sky.

We also notice another poignant aspect about the cemetery: a substantial part of it is still empty, probably waiting for its share of graves.

After leaving, we walk for 10 minutes and reach a similarly unique place — Delhi’s only Jewish graveyard.

Published on Hindustan Times