The Zoroastrian place of worship is called fire temple because they perform their prayers in the presence of fire. In ancient Iran, the head of the family always kept the fire burning, so keeping the fire lit became a tradition. Keeping the flames lit became a divine symbol for worship in Iranian fire temples. In the Zoroastrian fire temples, fire was not worshiped at all, but because of its dynamism, warmth, protection and the nature of transformation, it is mentioned as aspects of divine power.
Fire temple of Yazd, Iran
Philosophy of building a fire temple
The religion of most Iranians was Zoroastrianism before the advent of Islam. Currently, the religion of Zoroastrianism is one of the official religions of Iran and has its own followers. Zoroastrian prophet is Zoroaster, also known as Zaratushtra or “Ashu Zartosht“. According to their holy book called “Avesta“, Zoroastrians consider the four elements of air, earth, water and fire as purifying and valuable elements, and they held them in high esteem. They constructed special temples to honor some of these elements. They tried their best to build fire temples along the rivers, springs or sea to celebrate the four precious elements of fire, soil, air and water.
The Eternal Flame: A Sacred Beacon
The essence of the Fire Temple lies in the eternal flame that flickers within its walls. This flame, ignited centuries ago, continues to burn as a perpetual symbol of the divine. The eternal flame is believed to embody Ahura Mazda, the supreme deity of Zoroastrianism, and serves as a sacred beacon, guiding adherents toward righteousness and enlightenment.
Eternal Life and Immortality
In Zoroastrianism, fire represents eternal life and immortality. The perpetual nature of the sacred flames mirrors the eternal existence of the soul. Just as the flame is never extinguished, the soul is believed to transcend the boundaries of mortality, embarking on an everlasting journey. The Fire Temple, therefore, becomes a sacred space where individuals contemplate the eternal nature of their existence, seeking solace and reassurance in the face of mortality.
Overview of the Zoroastrian fire temples
The architecture of a fire temple consists of a quadrangular building with four arched gates on all four sides. The fire temples were built in such a way that it had a dome and a corridor around it. Some of these domes were made of brick and a row of stone, and their remains still exist today. These building are also known as “Chahar Taghi” meaning four-arched building.
In front of the temple was a pool or basin as a washing place. Around them, sometimes there were other spaces that were used as schools, observatories and hospitals. The temple structure is open from four sides and the sacred fire was kept under the dome, but little by little, this place of fire has moved away from the middle of the building … so that in today’s fire temples, the fire is located in a side room with no corridor around it.
There are different types of fire temples, but their basis and architectural plan of the building are similar to each other. Some fire temples have only a quadrangular section as described, but some of the more important types, such as the Char Qapi fire temple in Qasr-e Shirin, also had all around corridors and enclosed spaces which have collapsed over time, however, traces of it can be seen in some parts.
Since fire is a sacred element for the Zoroastrians, its maintenance and care required special conditions. In Zoroastrian texts, the blowing on fire is highly condemned, and the worshiper should use a kind of mouthpiece when praying so that his breath does not contaminate the fire. Only priests are allowed to take care of the fire and ordinary people do not have the right to enter the fire. In the fire temples of Iran, the fire was in a completely closed space, but in India, Zoroastrians can only respect fire from behind lattice walls. Another issue is the prohibition of sunlight on fire, and for this reason, Zoroastrians build fire temples in such a way that the fire is in a dark place on a fireplace. What were the fire temples made of?
Stone is the main building material used in fire temples. Of course, they also used bricks and mud in places that were difficult to get to. In order for the parts that were made of bricks to have high strength, baked bricks were used on the outside and raw bricks were used on the inside of the building. Some of the one-piece stones used in the construction of fire temples sometimes reached up to seven meters. They used stone or marble to build the columns of the fire temple and stone or wood for the roof according to the available materials.
The Ritual of Fire Temple
Ablutions and Purification: Cleansing the Soul
Before entering the sacred precincts of the Fire Temple, adherents engage in a ritualistic process of ablutions and purification. This physical cleansing mirrors the purification of the soul, preparing individuals to stand in the presence of the divine. Water, symbolizing purity, is used to cleanse the hands, face, and feet, allowing devotees to approach the sacred flame with reverence and spiritual readiness.
The Dance of Offerings: A Tapestry of Devotion
Within the Fire Temple, the faithful participate in the mesmerizing dance of offerings. Adorned in traditional attire, worshippers present various offerings to the eternal flame, including fragrant incense, fresh flowers, and pure sandalwood. This intricate dance is not merely a physical act but an expression of devotion and gratitude, as each offering signifies a connection between the mortal and the divine.
The Chant of Prayer: Harmonizing with the Sacred
As the ethereal flames dance in harmony, prayers resound within the sacred halls of the Fire Temple. The rhythmic chants and invocations echo through the air, carrying the hopes, dreams, and supplications of the faithful. Through these ancient verses, believers seek divine guidance, protection, and enlightenment, establishing a profound spiritual connection with Ahura Mazda and the cosmic forces of good.
History of Zoroastrian fire temples
Beginning date of fire temple construction in Iran is still unknown. Archaeologists have not agreed and it can not be estimated. Famous French archaeologist Andre Godard believes that when Zoroastrianism entered Iran, there used to be religions such as Mazdaism and their fire temples existed in all cities and most scholars agree with this hypothesis.
By the way, the oldest remaining and documented fire temples of Iran were established during the Parthian period (around 200 BC) and most fire temples were established under the Sasanian Empire (224-651 AD).
Read: Religions in Iran
Fire temples of Iran
Before the arrival of Islam in Iran, there were many fire temples all over the country, but after the gradual conversion to Islam, the number of remaining fire temples decreased sharply. In some cases they even built mosques over the ruins of the Zoroastrian fire temples, and the few that were not destroyed experienced serious damage over time and under the influence of natural factors. But we still have beautiful fire temples in Iran that can be visited. Some of these fire temples are Atashgah Fire Temple in Isfahan, Sarmasjed Mosque in Khuzestan, Takht-e Rostam in Tehran, Kirkuk in Sistan & Baluchistan province and Bahram Fire Temple in Yazd, which has been lit by a fire for 1500 years.
Azar Gashnasb Fire Temple
Located in West Azerbaijan Province, about 45 km northeast of Takab, Azar Goshnasb is one of the largest and most famous fire temples in the Iranian plateau. This fire temple is located in the ancient site of Takht-e Soleyman next to a lake, and was one of the most revered fire temples of ancient Iran in Sassanid Era. Zoroastrians believe that it is more than 3000 years old and some sources have mentioned the founder of this building as king Key khosrow, son of Siavash (mythic kings). In the past, there were many magnificent palaces around this fire temple.
Azar Barzin Mehr Fire Temple
located in the city of Sabzevar, Azar Barzin is one of the three most sacred fire temples of Iran. Existing sources date the building to the time of Zoroaster. According to the mythological beliefs of the ancient Iranians, there are five types of holy fires, one of which is Barzin Mehr. The name of this ancient fire temple is mentioned in Persian Poetry book of Shahnameh. It is also mentioned that the fire was brought from Tus city of Khorasan region and placed in the temple.
Atashgah Fire Temple of Isfahan
This fire temple is located in the west of Isfahan on the Isfahan-Najafabad road. The fire temple of Atashgah is adjacent to the Minar Jonban and is located on a high rocky hill. The building has been introduced as one of the seven great fire temples of Iran during the Sassanid era. This building has a large and round fireplace, in which several vents are installed. Its materials include raw clay bricks, mud, pebbles and reeds of Zayandeh rud river coast. The fire temple has large brick foundations and at the top there are strong columns, which in the old days also had rooms on top of it.
There is a round building on the top of the hill, which has eight corners and there is a window in each corner.
Yazd Fire Temple: Atash Bahram
The Yazd Fire Temple, with its historical significance, and spiritual essence, offers a window into the world of Zoroastrianism. This sacred sanctuary in Yazd stands as a testament to the enduring legacy, historical significance, and spiritual essence of Zoroastrianism. It offers a window into the world of Zoroastrianism. The sacred fire within the temple is beveled to have been burning non-stop since 1500 years ago.
Read More: Yazd Fire Temple