6. QA about FIRE & FIRE TEMPLES

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Why is fire considered the most important creation in Zoroastrian religion?

1. There are several reasons why Zoroastrian religion consider fire as the most important creation. It is figuratively regarded as the ‘son’ of Ahura Mazda and is given a central position is that, among all creations, it most resembles Ahura Mazda in its functions and attributes.

2. Like Ahura Mazda, fire is a store house of khoreh (divine energy) and the sustainer of life. It is present everywhere in the form of motion and energy and has the potentiality of fighting physical, mental and spiritual negativities.

3. Fire is the closest to humans among all other creations. Man shares many similarities with fire. Just to name a few, both need food and oxygen, are warm when alive but cold when dead, and are created to fight negativities and increase goodness.

4. People have offered various reasons to justify the exalted position of fire in Zoroastrian religion. One of the best reasons for the importance of fire in Zoroastrianism is found in the Shahnameh: “Fire is the nur (radiance) of Ahura Mazda. He who is wise shall revere it.”

Did prophet Zarathushtra start the veneration of fire in Zoroastrian religion?

1. The veneration of fire was an established practice of the Mazdayasnis much before prophet Zarathushtra. It had been venerated not only as a symbol of the divine, but it also had a divinity of its own.

2. King Hoshang of the Peshdadian dynasty started the reverence to fire, centuries before the advent of prophet Zarathushtra. While hunting, he accidentally came across the brilliance of fire when he tried to kill a huge snake. Regarding this, Firdausi says, “Nushad mār Koshtah valiken zarāz, azān tab-e-sang ātash āmad farāz “The snake did not die, but from the latent energy of the stone fire came out.” He asked the Mazdayasnis to make a Kebla (focus of worship) of fire and pray before it.

3. In the Shahnameh, Firdausi says, ke urā kurughī chunin hadayah dād, hamīn ātesh ān gāh kebleh nehād, be goftā kurughīst in izadi, parastī be āyad agar bekhardi. “Godbestowed on Hoshang the gift of light, and he immediately made a Keblā of that fire. He said, “This is the nur (light) of God, he who is wise shall venerate (parastesh) it.”  This fire was then established as Adar Khurdad. It was the first fire to be established. Then King Hoshang celebrated Jashane Sadeh to commemorate the discovery of divinity in fire.

4. King Jamshed established Adar Farnbagh on Mount Khorehmand. He specially created a section of society called Athravans “one who tends fire” to look after it. This fire prevented Zohak from taking over the Khoreh (divine energy) of king Jamshed.

5. The fire Adar Gushnasp helped Kayanian king Kae Khushru to become the king. Later he established this celestial fire on Mout Asnavant.

6. Prophet Zarathushtra himself was a priest (āthravan) and used to pray facing the fire. Later as one of the proofs of his being a prophet, Zarathushtra gifted the special fire Adar Burzin Meher to king Kae Gushtasp. About this fire, Firdausi says Ke bi khāko ābesh bar āvarde ham, negeh kun bud ātash chun kardeh ham; Ke ān meher-burzin bi dud bud, munavvar ne az hizmo az ud dud. “This fire was made without physical elements or water, the Adar Burzin Meher fire is without fumes, and it does not require fuel or incense.” Later Kae Gushtasp established this fire on Mount Raevant.

6. When prophet Zarathushtra established the Mazdayasni Zarthosti religion, he accepted fire as the living emblem of Ahura Mazda and the Mazdayasni Zarthoshti religion. He extended the understanding of fire to embrace the idea of physical and spiritual energies. In his religion, Asha Vahishta, that is, Ardibahesht Ameshāspand, became the guardian of fires and energies.

Are Zoroastrian fire worshippers?

1. One of myths prevalent about the Zoroastrian religion is that Zoroastrians ‘worship’ fire. The word ‘worship’ is generally used to indicate reverence to a deity and hence, it is wrongly understood that Zoroastrians consider fire as a deity, which is not correct. Zoroastrians do not regard fire as a personified deity, and neither do they worship it as an object.

2. In fire, Zoroastrians see the qualities of their God Ahura Mazda. Hence they focus their worship on fire as a representative of the one Supreme God Ahura Mazda, who is invisible, shapeless and formless.

3. In Zoroastrian religion fire is seen as the omnipresent energy of Ahura Mazda. It is regarded as a living entity, invariable for spiritual evolution. It is considered an agent which takes the prayers of the humans to the spiritual world and brings divine energy (Khoreh) to humans. 

4. The myth about Zoroastrians being fire worshippers was propagated out of ignorance, mainly by Westerners, since they saw Zoroastrians giving a central position to the fire in their devotional life. They wrongly believed that Zoroastrians venerated fire because it was a useful tool and weapon, cooked food, and gave heat. They also postulated that primitive man was afraid of fire and hence worshipped it.

5. However, great men like Firdausi Toosi, Bishop Murin and G.R.Mackay have maintained that Zoroastrians never worshipped fire. Firdausi in the Shahnameh, cautions people against calling the Parsees Fire-worshippers in the following words: Ma gui ke ātash parastā budand, Parastande-e pāk yazdān budand. “Do not call them fire worshippers, as they are worshippers of God through fire.”

Why should I go to the Fire temple?

1. Fire temples (Agyari or Atash Behram) are places where there are good energies and hence the presence of divine beings like Ameshāspands, Yazads and Fravashis.

2. Zoroastrians need to nurture the sacred fire with the spiritual food of prayer, especially the Atash Nyash.

3. Zoroastrians need to care for the sacred fire – which is referred to in the Atash Nyash as the ‘sitting friend,’ by offering it fuel of sandalwood and kathi (babool wood) as physical food.

4. Fire temples are brimming with divine energy, on account of the countless rituals performed there, and hence it is an ideal place to recite prayers.

5. A worshipper in the fire temple is steeped in divine energy of the sacred fire, especially when close to it. This leads to secondary benefits of a calm and relaxed mind and a healthy body.

When going to a Fire Temple, which fire should be visited first – the fire of the higher grade or lower grade?

1. Every Agyari has 2 grades of fires – the Ādarān and the Dādgāh. Every Atash Behram has at least 2 grades of fire, Atash Behram and Dadgah. Some Atash behrams also have the Ādarān fire.

2. There is a general perception in the community that there has to be a particular order of paying respects to the different grades of fire, either ascending – that is Dadgah, Adaran and Atash Behram, or descending, that is, Atash Behram, Adaran and Dadgah.

3. In our religious texts, there is no indication about following any order while approaching sacred fires. From personal perception most people believe that one should pay respect to the higher fire first or else it may take offence (like some egotistical humans).

4. My personal contention is that we have to prepare and elevate ourselves more to be more receptive to absorb the blessings of the higher grades of fires. The greater time we spend in a holy place and the more prayers we do, the more receptive we become to the energy of the higher grades of the fire. Hence first we should visit the fires of the lower grades, and then move on to the higher grades of fire.

5. There is no hard and fast rule to be observed. People may decide the order of offering their salutations to the sacred fires as per their perception and conviction.

Why can only Zoroastrians enter a fire-temple?

1. The fire temple is a consecrated (Guj. ijāila) place of worship which houses the consecrated sacred fire. The process of consecration of the fire involves the performance of several high rituals to elevate the fire, a normal physical creation, to an exalted status, whereby it can perform the divine work of receiving prayers, being a store-house of divine energies, give blessings, and protect against evil.

2. The sacred fires in the fire temples are established after prolonged ritual consecrations. Several rules and regulations have to be observed to maintain the consecration of the sacred fire. Their consecration needs to be safeguarded. Any act that may disturb, invalidate or annul their consecrations has to be avoided at all costs.

3. The first rule to maintain the consecration is to be in a ritually pure state when one is near it. That means that the person has to invariably do the kasti on the Verandah before entering the fire temple. Moreover, if a person has visited any ritually unclean place like being near a dead body or a dakhma, a graveyard, a barber’s salon, having the hair and nail clipped or after a seminal discharge they could not approach it without having a head bath. Ladies cannot go in the fire temple during menstruation.

4. In this imperfect world, the sacred fires in fire temples are powerful, but not all powerful. Hence they have to be protected and their sanctity needs to be safeguarded, so that they can perform the lofty tasks for which they are consecrated.

5. If the rules of ritual segregation are faithfully followed, the power of the fire is maintained, the presence of divine beings augmented and the fire’s ability to draw divine energy enhanced.

What are the different words for a Zoroastrian fire temple?

1. A Zoroastrian fire temple principally houses a sacred consecrated fire, which could be either of the three grades of Dādgāh, Ādarān or Atash Behram. 

2. The fire temple housing only the first grade of fire (dādgāh) as the focal point of worship is referred to as the Agyari. The fire temple housing the second grade of fire (adaran) as the central focal point of worship is referred to as the Agyari or an Adaran. The word Agyari means “house of fire” and is the shortened form of the Sanskrit word agnyālaya.

4. The fire temple housing the highest grade of fire as the central focal point of worship is referred to as the Atash Behram.

5. Another word for fire temple is Dar-e-meher, which literally means “The house of Meher Yazad.” In the olden times, a Dar-e-meher was a place where there was no permanently burning fire, and where only rituals were performed. Nowadays, since almost all rituals are performed in a fire-temple, an Agyari or an Ādarān is also referred to as a Dar-e-meher.

4. In the Western diaspora, Zoroastrian places of worship without permanently burning fires, are also referred to as a Dar-e-meher or a Darbe-meher, the latter being a Persianised or Anglicized form of Dar-e-meher.

5. In Iran, fire temples are generally referred to as Atash-kadeh, which simply means “house of fire.” In colloquial usage a fire temple in Iran is also called a Darbe-meher.

Why do we refer to the sacred fire as a Pādshāh, that is, “a king”?

1. In Zoroastrian religion, sacred fires are specially consecrated. Such fires are given the title and position of a Pādshāh, that is, a king. This is not just figurative, as will be seen from the following description of the exalted status of fire.

2. The sacred fire is taken in a procession for the enthronement, just like a king walks in a procession for his enthronement. Priests in their full priestly regalia follow the sacred fire with swords, gurz (mace) and spears in hand, much as soldiers would follow their king.

3. The process of establishment of a fire is referred to as takhtanashini which literally means “sitting on the throne.” The ‘hindhorā’ which is the stone pedestal of the fire, is the sacred fire’s throne. The dome (Gumbaj) of the sanctum sanctorum (Keblā) signifies the sky, which is the jurisdiction of the sacred fire. The metallic canopy hanging above the fire is its crown.

4. Much like a king, the consecrated fire has a body and consciousness. It has its own eyes and ears. It is capable of bestowing gifts and rewards to the good and retributions to the guilty.

5. One of the first tasks performed by the Zoroastrians after coming from Iran to India and settling in Sanjan was to consecrate an Atash Behram, which was later referred to as Iranshah “the king of Iran.”  The name Iranshah was given so that the Parsis can feel that though they are staying away from their original motherland Iran, they are looked after by a spiritual king from Iran.

6. Whenever a few Parsi families used to settle at any place, they would first establish an Atash Behram or Atash Ādarān, so that they have a ‘sacred king’ to look after them.

How is an Agyari consecrated? 1. An Agyari is a fire temple which generally houses the second grade of fire, that is, the Ādarān fire. Very rarely the Dādgāh fire is the main sacred fire in an Agyari. The consecration of an Atash Ādarān can be divided in six stages:

i. Fire is collected from hearths of four professional groups: the priests (athornān), the warriors (ratheshtār), the farmer (vastryosh) and the artisan (hutokhsh).

ii. The 4 fires are then purified by a special process.

iii. Each of these fires are consecrated separately, by the performance of a Yasna and Vendidad for three days.

iv. On the fourth day, the fires are amalgamated and Yasna service is performed over it.

v. Now the romm where the sacred fire is to be kept, that is the keblā “sanctum sanctorum” and the agyari building are cleaned and consecrated by the performance of Yasna and Vendidad rituals.

vi. Finally the consecrated fire is brought in a procession to the Fire temple building and enthroned.

2. To have a consecrated Dadgah Fire, it is not necessary to collect fire from different sources, nor is it necessary to perform elaborate rituals over the fire. At the most, a Baj or Yasna is performed over it.

3. The process of consecration (Guj: Ijvanu) unites the physical fire to its original source in the spiritual world which is with Ahura Mazda’s Khvarenah “divine energy” from where it draws divine energy. The consecrated fire has consciousness. It carries prayers to the divine world and brings blessings to the material world.

4. Zoroastrians are required to stay in vicinity of a fire temple and visit it regularly. Not only are these power houses of divine energy, but they are also regularly visited by divine beings.

How is an Atash Behram consecrated?

1. An Atash Behram is a fire temple which houses the highest grade of fire, the Atash Behram fire. The consecration of an Atash Behram generally follows the samesix stages as that of an Adaran fire. However the main difference is that in an Atash Behram, fire from 16 different sources are gathered, over which more than a thousand Yasna and Vendidad are performed, spanning a period of more than a year.

2. A description of these 16 fires can be found in the eight chapter of the Vendidad as well as the Rivayat of Kamdin Shapur.  These 16 fires are from: Burning corpse, Dyer, Public bath, Potter, Brick maker, Bronze maker, Goldsmith, Mint, Blacksmith, Weapon maker, Baker’s oven, Brewer, Army camp, Shepherd, House of a Zoroastrian and Lightening. The number of purifications and consecration over each individual fire ranges from 30 to 91.

3. Between the Agyari and the Atash Behram, there is a vast difference in the process of offering Boi, the number of Atash Nyash recited, the number of bells rung, the offering of Machi, and the preparation by the priests for performance of Boi ritual.

Why is an Atash Behram Fire higher than an Agyari fire?

1. Our fire-temples have three grades of fires – that of Dadgah, Adaran and Atash Behram. The Dadgah fire is consecrated with the simplest and minimum rituals, the Adaran fire is consecrated by collecting fire from 4 different sources over which Yazashne and Vendidad rituals are performed.

2. The Atash Behram fire is of the highest grade of fire consecrated after collecting fire from 16 different sources which are purified and over which collectively more than a thousand Yasna and Vendidad rituals are performed over a period of more than a year by 8 to 10 pairs of highly qualified priests under the supervision of a Vada Dasturji.

3. The oldest Atash Behram in India is the Iranshah at Udvada, consecrated about 1280 years ago and the last Atash Behram consecrated is the Anjuman Atash Behram in Mumbai, about 112 years back.

4. Care of the Atash Behram fire is more intricate and elaborate than the consecrated fires of the other two grades.  It is done in a special manner by highly qualified priests having higher ritual power, praying more Atash Nyash per boi ritual and always placing a Machi over the sacred fire at the time of boi.

Why should we offer Sukhad “sandalwood” to the sacred fires?

1. It is the religious duty of every Zoroastrian to care for, protect and provide food and fuel to the sacred fires, as the fire cannot move about to get its own food.

2. In the Atash Nyash, fire is considered a friend of the humans who expects fuel from them. Humans are asked to carry dry, clean wood to the fire, bought from honestly earned money, and which should be offered to the sacred fire by a righteous and mature priest.

3. The sacred fire is kept alive by offering dry and clean logs of wood (kathi) especially from trees with low water content, like the babul tree. At special occasions fragrant wood and incense is offered.

4. In the Vendidad, Zoroastrians are asked to offer fragrant wood to the fire. For this purpose, four different types of trees are mentioned which are not presently identifiable. In India one of the most fragrant woods, with the least water content is sukhad “sandalwood.”

5. Fire is man’s greatest and best ally, especially in the battle between good and evil. It looks after man’s spiritual sustenance and blesses him with happiness, prosperity and longevity. Devotees need to look after the physical and spiritual needs and requirements of fire.

Why do we offer Boi and Machi to the sacred fire in the Fire temples?

1. There are three grades of consecrated fires – Atash Behram, Atash Adaran and Atash Dadgah.

2. In the first two grades of fires, the Boi ritual is performed five times a day, after the turn of every Gah.

3. In the Boi ritual, the Mobed Saheb recites the Atash Nyash, rings the bell on the words dushmata duzukhta duzvarshta “bad thoughts, bad words bad deeds” to remove evils and negativities. He feeds the fire with logs of dried wood (Kāthi), especially of the Babul tree and also offers the fragrant sandal wood to the fire. Fragrance is referred to as boi in Pahlavi and hence this ritual is referred to as the Boi ritual.

4. There is no religious requirement to stand when the bells are rung while the boi ritual is taking place. The rationale behind the striking of bells indicates that it is to drive away negativities and evil, and not to give respect to any divine being.

5. Machi means a throne. A throne shaped formation of 6 to 9 large sandalwood sticks, about 8 to 10 inches long, is offered to the sacred fire in this ritual. Machi is the name given to the boi ritual which has some extra prayers and extra pieces of sandalwood offered to the sacred fire.

Why is the boi ritual different in fire temples?

1. The boi ritual is performed at the commencement of each of the five watches (geh) of the day to feed fuel and fragrant wood to the sacred fires along with the recitation of prayers and ringing of bells. This ritual is referred to as bui dādan in Persian and boi devi in Gujarati. The word boi means “fragrance.”

2. The boi ritual differs for the three different grades of fire – Atash Dadgah, Atash Ādarān and Atash Behram. For the Dadgah fire the boi ritual has to be performed at least once a day.

3. The boi ritual in an Atash Behram consists of feeding fuel – wood or sandal wood to the fire, washing the stone platform, reciting Atash Nyash, ringing the bells and drawing of furrows (karshas) on the Afarganyu whilst the prayers are being recited. 

4. For the three grades of fire, priests with different levels of qualifications are required and different numbers of Atash Nyash are recited.

5. A Machi is a special offering of fuel of 6 to 9 large sandalwood sticks, arranged in a special way, during the boi for the Dadgah or Ādarān fire. For an Atash Behram, it is mandatory to offer a Machi of 6, 7 or 9 pieces daily in every geh.

6. There is no specific injunction regarding whether one should stand or sit when the bells are tolled at the time of the boi ritual. Since, generally the bells are struck on the words Dushmata, Duzhukhta and Duzhvarshta “bad thoughts, bad words and bad deeds”, it is believed that the purpose of tolling the bells is to drive away the negativities and hence it is not necessary to stand while the bells are rung.

Why do some people stand while bells are rung during the boi ritual?

1. The boi ritual is performed at the change of each of the 5 gehs for an Ādarān and Atash Behram. The ritual is to assist and strengthen the sacred fire in its work of being a ratheshtār “warrior” against negative forces, by offering it physical food like kāthi “logs of wood” and sandal wood as well as spiritual food like prayers and good, positive thoughts.

2. Three or nine bells are rung on the words dushmata, duzukhta and duzvarshta “bad thoughts, bad words and bad deeds” during the boi ritual. The sound of the bells, the words of the prayer and the thoughts of the priests and congregated members help drive away negativities.

3. It is not necessary to stand up when the bells are rung. The ritual and the words in no way suggest any need to stand up at the time when bells are rung.

4. Some priests advise standing up at the time when bells are rung as a mark of respect to the fire, or as an act of solidarity with the priest, which does not seem necessary.

5. Priests in the fire temple performing other rituals, continue their prayers when the bells are rung. Devotees in the Agyari may pause their prayer when the bells are rung and mentally join the priest in thinking thoughts of banishing negativities.

Why should there be a dress code for fire temples?

1. Most official places like schools, colleges, offices and sometimes even clubs require their patrons to have a certain dress code.

2. When Zoroastrians visit the fire temple, they are entering the house of God, where they are expected to dress in a decent and appropriate manner in consonance with the lofty stature of the place.

3. The colour, fitting, length and comfort of the clothes may also alter the levels of concentration, of the devotee himself as well as other devotees at the fire temple.

4. It is necessary that decorum is maintained in a house of worship. This is mandatory for all places of worship.

5. In many of the places of worship of other religions too, all those who go in, including celebrities and heads of state, are asked to maintain the decorum and have a particular dress code when they enter.

Why are statues of Godhā “the winged bull” placed at the entrance of some fire temples?

1. A Godhā “winged bull” is the Zoroastrian symbol of gāvyodād, the first created animal, and hence also of Bahman Ameshāspand, who looks after animals.

2. As Bahman Ameshāspand presides over the mind, the winged bull is also a symbol for the mind. Since it is the mind which can make us happy or sad, takes us to heaven or hell, it is a very important religious symbol.

3. The winged bull stands for the 3 levels of the mind – the animal body represents the elementary and involuntary functions controlled by the sub-conscious mind, the human face corresponds to the humane and ethical functions which are managed by the conscious mind, and the wings indicate the potential divine and evolutionary levels of the mind, contolled by the highest level of the mind.

4. In ancient Iran and Assyria, such or similar symbols were kept at palace gates, apparently to tell the subjects to purify their mind before they approach the great monarch.

5. The winged bulls outside our fire temples are minor replicas of the huge winged bull figures which stand at the entrance gates of the palaces of king Darius and Xerxes at Persepolis. This gate is referred to as the Gate of all nations.

6. Nowadays, in the absence of a monarch, the sacred Fire is the Padshah “king” – looking after our physical and spiritual well-being. The Godhā “winged bulls” outside the fire temples remind one to purify the minds and be prepared to attune it to a divine purpose, before entering the sacred precincts.

Why should we not kiss photographs and umbar “threshold” in Fire Temples?

1. Kissing is a symbolic expression of love and affection. However, from a religious point of view, kissing involves the transmission of saliva onto an object. As long as saliva is in the mouth, it is not Nasu “source of putrefaction”, but once out of the mouth, it is Nasu and has the power to contaminate. Thus kissing religious objects is not right.

2. When one kisses the umbar “threshold” or a photograph in the Agyari, what one is technically doing is leaving traces of one’s saliva, where other people may touch their hands or place their fore-heads, thus coming into contact with the saliva. This is religiously unacceptable, as well as scientifically unhygienic.

3. In traditional Gujarati terms, any act where the saliva touches something, like biting into something, sipping with lips touching the glass or taking objects or fingers in the mouth, is called ajithu. In Zoroastrians tradition one is advised not to bite, but break or cut and eat, as also sip from above, whenever possible, especially if one is sharing a food or glass with others.

5. Thus, if one kisses the umbar “threshold” or a photograph in the Agyari, one is making the sanctified environment of the FireTemple polluted by leaving one’s saliva there.

Why do we apply Rakhyā?

1. The word Rakhyā comes from the gujarati word ‘rākh’ which means “ash.” Rakhyā is the sacred ash from the consecrated fires. Rakhyā is considered sacred, as it is a remnant of the consecrated fire.

2. A few grains of Rakhyā taken on a finger-tip has to be reverently applied to the forehead, the place symbolic of wisdom and divinity. It is believed that the sacred ash applied on this spiritual centre helps towards spiritual evolution.

3. The Rakhyā should be rubbed off before leaving the fire temple premises. This is so because the rakhya is the ash of the consecrated fire and hence the ash too is sacred. In fact Rakhyā of Atash Behram is also used for titual purposes. Anything sacred should not be desecrated. Since we are not sure of the purity of people in the outside world, it is best that we rub it off, so that we may not inadvertently desecrate the ash of the sacred fire.

4. Rakhyā reminds us of the adage: “dust thou art to dust returneth” which is the final fate for all. This teaching helps us to keep away from false pride and vanity as well as a wrong sense of superiority.

5. Rakhyā also reminds us about the virtue of service. Just as sandalwood burns to ash in order to provide heat, light and fragrance, we should utilize our life so that we exude goodness whenever possible, before turning into dust.

6. Some people wrongly apply Rakhyā on other parts of the body like the neck, stomach and arms. Some also take it in a handkerchief, and a very few are known to put it in the mouth, all of which are wrong practices.

How did the Iranshah Atash Behram, established in Sanjan, come to Udwada?

1. Zoroastrians from Iran reached the shores of Sanjan around the middle of the 8th century in several boats. Within five years of settling there, they established the first Atash Behram, which later came to be known as Iranshah “the King of Iran.”

2. The sacred fire was consecrated under the guidance of Mobed Nairyosang Dhawal, the ālāt “ritual implements” for which were brought by priests from Khorasan (Eastern Iran) by land route.

3. The sacred fire stayed in Sanjan for about 700 years till about the end of 14th century, when the army of Sultan Mahmad, under Alaf Khan defeated the Hindu king. In the course of its existence, this fire had to be shifted several times when a danger was perceived to its existence.

4. The sacred fire was first shifted to the caves on the Bahrot mountain, where it stayed for 12 years from 1392 to 1405. The priests found it very difficult to go up and down the mountains for their daily necessities. However they toiled very hard and kept the holy fire safe over there during difficult times.

5. After the risk of attackers dissipated, the holy fire was brought down from the Bahrot mountains and taken to the forested village of Bānsdā where it stayed for 14 years.

6. Chāngā Āsā, a wealthy Parsi, felt that the sacred fire was not well patronized in the village and so at his instance, it was taken to his native place Navsari, then a thriving township, with a bigger Parsi settlement, in 1419 AC, where it stayed till 1740 A.C.

7. In between, for three years from 1733 to 1736, the holy fire was taken to Surat on account of the fear of attacks of the Pindhārās “nomadic robbers.”

8. In Navsari, there was an understanding that only priests from Sanjan would tend the Holy fire.  On this account quarrels arose with local priests and it was decided to shift the fire back to Sanjan or somewhere nearby. Amidst great hostility, a “royal permit” was obtained from Damaji Gaekwad in 1740, and the Holy fire was taken to Valsad where it remained for 2 years from 1740 to 1742.

9. From Valsad, it was taken to Udwada on 28th October 1742, where it is burning to date. The Sanjana priests of Udwada comprise of nine families. They risked their lives and limbs to protect and safeguard the sacred fire for hundreds of years, and hence today only they have the right to look after the holy Iranshah.

10. These nine families are: Andhyarujina, Bhādha, Bhāijina, Dastur, Katila, Mirza, Patel, Sidhwa, and Unwala. They work under the leadership and guidance of the two high priests of Udwada: Dasturji Khurshed Dastur Kekobad Dastoor and Dasturji Peshotan Dastur Hormazdyar Mirza. The Udwada Athornan Anjuman is the custodian and guardian of this sacred fire.

(PS: As of now, that is 2018, on account of the sad demise of Dasturji Peshotan Mirza, Udwada has only one high priest, Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor.)

How did Udwada get its name?

1. The most sacred and oldest fire of the Zoroastrians, the Iranshah, burns at Udwada since 1742. For this reason Udwada is considered the holiest of holy places for Parsi Zoroastrians all over the world.

2. When the Iranshah was in Valsad (Bulsar) for 2 years from 1740 to 1742, its care-taker priests were looking for a place where the Iranshah could be permanently and independently settled. They liked the nearby coastal village of Udwada which belonged to Maharana Durjansingh, the king of Mandvi.

3. This village, initially under the kings of Mandvi, had gone to the Portuguese and then again come back in the hands of the rulers of Mandvi. Heavy Portuguese influences can be seen in the old houses of Udwada even today.

4. Since the king of Mandvi was in awe of the sacred Iransah, on being requested, he happily gave the village as a gift to permanently house Iranshah. The holy fire was brought to this coastal village on 28th October 1742, where it is burning to date. The sacred fire was first kept in the Bhathela House, which is no longer present, when it first arrived in Udwada. 

5. This village had the palace of the king of Mandvi at Meriwadi and the camel grazing site of the king nearby, known as Unt-wada “the camel grazing ground.” From this word was derived the name Udwada. To further prove this point, a historic site in the form of a camel tank with a Portuguese inscription dating back to 1714 still stands in the village.

What are Flying fires?

1. In Zoroastrian religion the word fire is referred not just to burning fires, but to all types of energies in nature like the heat energy resulting from combustion, the energy in the atmosphere manifested in lightening and the heat produced by motion. Visible fires too are of different categories, statures and grades, like the Dadgah, Ādarān and Atash Behram.

2. Over and above these fires, there are three spiritual fires created by Ahura Mazda at the beginning of creations which were sent to King Jamshed, King Kaekhushru and King Gushtasp as Adar Froba, Adar Gushasp and Adar Burzin-Meher respectively.

3. In Iran, there is yet another type of fire called Flying fires. These are special fires, which are somewhere between the physical and spiritual fires. They may appear as an ordinary fire, but have a very strong consciousness of their own. 

4. There are a few such special fires in Iran. No one knows the origins of these fires except that they appear to a family, not necessarily that of a priest, and that family thereafter becomes the caretaker of these fires. Thus these fires are more or less private fires and not for community worship.

5. The unique characteristic of these fires is that they consume very little fuel and have a very strong consciousness by which they take decisions for their own safety.

6. The name ‘Flying fire’ often applied to these special fires, has given a very wrong impression about them, as if they were flying all the time. This is not so. The term ‘flying’ only indicates that they may fly away at their will if something untoward happens or if rules of ritual purity are not maintained. The ‘flying’ happens very rarely and hardly anybody in recent times has seen it. r

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