views updated May 21 2018

Atas. Fire, in Zoroastrianism one of the seven Good Creations of Ahura Mazda, the one most commonly bound up with worship. There are many levels to the symbolism. The ritual fire is the focal point of Zoroastrian ceremonies, interpreted by some as radiating the power of God, and by others as the best symbol of ‘He who is himself pure undefiled light’. All Zoroastrians believe that when they stand in purity and in devotion before the sacred fire, they stand in the presence of God. The common label ‘fire-worshipper’ is offensive to them, because they rightly believe it fails to do justice to the richness of the symbolism and the religion.

When the Parsis first settled in India, they maintained only one permanently burning ritual fire for many centuries. In Muslim Iran, many temples were desecrated and destroyed, and mosques were built on the ruins to highlight the Muslim triumph. The home, therefore, continued to be the main setting for much Zoroastrian devotional life.

There are three categories of fire, and two types of fire temple. The different grades of fire are distinguished by the manner of their consecration. The highest, the Bahram fire, involves the bringing together and consecrating of sixteen different types of fire (e.g. fire which has cooked dead matter and has thus been involved in the greatest pollution, goldsmith's fire, a shepherd's fire, and one caused by lightning). The rites are so complex they last a year. Temples housing such fires are sometimes referred to as ‘Cathedral Fire Temples’ because of their status. There are four such temples in Iran, and eight in India (four in Bombay and the oldest of all, which has burnt for over 1,000 years, at Udwada). They are treated as royalty, with a crowning dome, and the wood is laid on them in the shape of a throne.

The second grade of fire, the Adaran fire, is the one which burns in most temples, and its consecration is much less complicated, combining only four types of fire (that of priests, warriors, farmers, and artisans). Like the Atas Bahram it can be tended only by a ritually pure priest. The third grade of fire, the dadgah, may be tended by a lay person in the home, but is also used in the ‘inner’ or ‘higher’ ceremonies in the temple where it is tended by the priest. In both Iran and India, temples are commonly referred to as Dar-i-Mihrs (Gateway or Court of Mithra), or in India by the Gujarati as Agiary, or ‘House of fire’.


views updated May 29 2018

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