Yazd Stories and Tips

Feathers and Fire at the Atashkadeh

The Farahar Figure - Symbol of Zorastrianism Photo, Yazd, Iran

Zoroastrians believe that fire is pure and sacred and must be preserved and protected along with water. The place where Zorastrians go to worship is called the Fire Temple or Atashkadeh which means literally the 'House of Fire'. There are nearly 20 fire temples in Yazd but the one on Atashkadeh Alley, off Kashani Street is most popular with tour groups. I've read that this isn't entirely typical of an Atashkadeh because it's less of an active temple and more of a tourist attraction but it's a good place to get an introduction to the religion and its iconography.

Zoroastrianism was the religion of the great Persian emperors including Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great and was the main religion in Iran/Persia until the rise of Islam. It is one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions and has a god called Ahura Mazda who created the world and everything in it and a prophet called Zarathustra (probably more widely known for the theme music to 2001: A Space Odyssey which is Richard Strauss's 'Thus Spake Zarathustra). It's been around for about 3500-4000 years but despite its longevity and great history, today there are believed to be only a quarter of a million worshipers world wide and most of these are either in Iran or India (where they are known as Parsis).

We had just had a fascinating visit to the Towers of Silence on the outskirts of the city before our visit to the Fire Temple so we were having quite an intense morning of Zoroastrian influence. We parked up at the end of the street and walked into the grounds of the Fire Temple where our guide took us through some of the tenets of the religion and explained to us the history of the temple. We were told that the building dated only back to 1934 but the flame inside had been kept constantly lit since 470 AD. In front of the temple there's a pretty courtyard with a large pool. Both fire and water are used for ritual because of their purity.

Standing in front of the temple by the pool we learned about the symbolism of the image of Ahura Mazda as represented above the entrance to the temple. This image is known as the Farohar or Farovahar. He is an elderly (and so wise and experience) man with a long beard and one of his hands is raised towards god. . His face is that of a human which indicates his connection to humankind. He stands inside a circle which represents the universe and holds another ring in his hand which may represent loyalty to the religion. The large circle has two 'legs' which represent good and evil - the good 'leg' is on the side to which the figure is facing representing the choice to follow good and leave evil behind. He has wings with three layers of feathers which represent the three principles that all Zoroastrians should follow : good thoughts, good words and good deeds. Only by following all three principles can a worshiper 'fly' and advance. Beneath the circle of the universe are another three layers of feathers which represent the opposite of the wing feathers - so bad thoughts, bad words and bad actions. (it might help to have a look at my photo in order to understand this better).

We stood quietly listening to the explanation and looking up at the figure standing out against the bluest of November skies before going up the steps and into the temple. Inside we found a few dozen people crowding round a glass wall behind which we could see a large metal urn with fire inside. An elderly man was minding the flames and feeding the fire whilst we stood watching.

Even though tourists are welcomed and encouraged to visit the Fire Temple I did feel a bit uncomfortable as if we were just a bunch of stupid foreigners gawping at this strange religion in a somewhat intrusive way. I'd enjoyed our trip to the Towers of Silence and really felt able to relate to the role of the towers in the religion but the Fire Temple didn't really feel quite real. It was an attractive building with a neat pleasant courtyard and a great place to learn about the symbolism but somehow it didn't 'touch' me in the way that other religious buildings and shrines tend to do.

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