Noilly Prattle: Persian Odyssey: Part XI – Zoroastrianism

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Persian Odyssey: Part XI – Zoroastrianism

gas blowoff in Khuzestan 
The city of Ahwaz is in the center of Iran's oil rich province of Khuzestan. As I headed southeast towards Shiraz I entered the region of the oil fields. Seeing the gas flares that blow off from the wells got me to thinking about fire and energy. [By the way, much of the drama that we are witnessing in the Middle East today is, I believe, associated with the planet's hunger for energy. In my own mind, I think of the ongoing conflicts as the “Energy Wars of the 21st Century”. Whether to attempt to gain control of and/or exploit oil resources--as in Iraq and potentially Iran--or build a pipeline across Afghanistan, the conflicts of the area are directly related to the critical need for the fossil fuel--the "black gold"--that drives our modern energy-dependent lifestyle.]

What I really want to do here, though, is segue into the element of fire. In the desert you are constantly conscious of our great ball of fire—the sun. The top banana in our Solar System (yes, Fundies, it doesn't revolve around us) is not necessarily a friendly source of warmth in the desert, it can be a direct threat of heat stroke if everything isn't up to snuff as my bike sprocket wasn't. So fire was my constant companion on this trip, and the gas flares triggered my awareness of it. With fire on my mind, what should I come across just at this time but the ruins of a Zoroastrian fire temple.

Zarathustra holding the sphere
dome of a fire temple in Esfahan, Iran
You may remember my reference, in an earlier post, to the cuneiform inscriptions at Ganj Nameh in Hamadan praising the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrianism was the religion of Achaemenid Persia. It was founded by a man named Zarathustra most likely sometime around the 11th Century BC.  Fundamentally, he taught that life was a struggle between truth and falsehood. Man should overcome falsehood and find truth through Zarathustra's teachings. Fire and water were used in fire temples for purification rituals during ceremonies. The inner sanctum of the fire temple, accessible only to priests, was a square chamber with four pillars in the corners supporting a domed roof that protected the sacred fire.

my very own fire temple
interior looking in and out
I rode up to the base of the hill upon which the remains of an ancient fire temple stood and climbed to the top. Some care had been taken to preserve what remained of what must have been the inner sanctum—the place of the sacred fire—with a wattle and daub roof--or, more likely but less romantically, corrugated tin. I could almost imagine echoes of the old rituals. But, nothing in the present, no people nor village nor town anywhere in sight, just the silence and emptiness of the surrounding desert.

Climbed back down, checked the tension on the chain. The damaged sprocket didn't look any worse, no broken gear teeth. Put a little more tension on the chain, applied more lubricant (no more signs of my recent close encounter of the unfriendly kind) and continued on southeast towards Shiraz and Persepolis.

PS: Zoroastrianism is still practiced in Iran by a small element of the otherwise mostly Shiite Moslem population. Their main fire temple is in the city of Yazd. There is also a fairly large community of Parsis who practice Zoroastrianism in Mumbai, India.

the modern fire temple in Yazd, Iran
[Photos of Zarathustra, Esfahan and Yazd fire temples courtesy of Wikipedia.]

To be continued...

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