Fire, a primordial power has long held a certain fascination for mankind. Anything from its ability to heat early caves, and later homes, and then when fire was confined into gas boilers, we still decorate our homes with candles.

It has also been a topic for religions, often just candles in churches — but more profound for the Zoroastrians — and underneath a gallery in central London, you can find a Zoroastrian temple with its eternal flame burning brightly.

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As it happens, the temple is temporary, as is the fake flame within, for this is an exhibition that seeks to explain some of the mysteries of this truly ancient religion.

Zoroastrianism originated amongst Iranian tribes in Central Asia around 2,000 years before Christ turned up in Galilee and then it spread to Iran where it became the principal faith until the advent of Islam. Central to the religion is the belief in a sole creator god, Ahura Mazda, his agent Zarathustra (Zoroaster) and the dichotomy between good and evil.

And no, they do not worship fire, any more than Christians worship “the Cross”.

The fire is considered a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom is gained, and water is considered the source of that wisdom.

The exhibition doesn’t start with fire though, but relics of its early years and explanations of how the faith converted from an oral tradition to something was was later written down.

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An explanation of the death rites and the astonishing mortuary buildings and some displays of stonework complete the ground floor.

It was not that well signposted, so I suspect that a fair number of visitors wont realise that there is an entire basement to visit.

It is here that a replica of a rather good Zoroastrian temple greets visitors who descend the concrete steps.

It is also down here that you’ll find a selection of paintings of notable people in the history of the religion and samples of traditional clothing. Some furniture has been glossed to the point that looks astonishingly like it would be wet to the touch. But don’t touch.

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A replica of the Cyrus Cylinder has been made for this exhibition — the original usually in the British Museum is currently on loan to the USA.

The religion’s more modern history is covered up the staircase, including a drawing of the moment that Dadabhai Naoroji entered Parliament the first time as an MP — he took his oath as the first Asian MP in the UK, and a Parsi.

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Overall, this is a fascinating insight into a religion that is little understood, and often misunderstood. Anyone with an interest in history, or religion should pay it a visit.

The exhibition is open until the middle of December at the Brunei Gallery just behind the British Museum. Open Tues-Sat with late-night opening on Thursdays.

Entry is free.

Take time to relax in the roof garden while you’re there. If it isn’t raining, as it was on my visit.

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(sorry – had to disable comments as I keep deleting messages prosthelytizing the faith rather than commenting on the exhibition — it’s damn annoying)

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Article last updated on October 26th, 2021 at 08:21 am

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10 comments
  1. Nigel Parker says:

    Thanks for the information. I will definitely try to catch this exhibition. I once met someone who, trying to remember the name of this religion, described it as “Zororastifarianism” which I think would be a fascinating variation!

  2. Adil Furdoonjee Boomla says:

    Wish we could organize something like this in Bombay or Delhi. Preferably in Delhi

  3. Dorab Tata says:

    If this can be exhibited in other relevant parts of the world. the time and efforts spent in creating this, would be more justified, since few people are aware of the finer points of this simple but beautiful religion.

  4. Dr. Navzer D. Sachinvala says:

    Thank you. It is truly beautiful to see a heritage preserved outside its native homeland Iran where the religion is left to die on its own, and its monuments erode with time. Therefore, it continues to be incumbent upon Zoroastrians outside Iran, and the world community to integrate on equal footing; without ethnocentric fetters of fear that dissuade integration; without claiming superiority of one belief system over another; and without prejudice. I feel that it is when we all can pray the other religion’s prayers as our own and accept concepts of the atheist as valid views for understanding phenomena of all life, might we be able to build on strength and bridge differences for harmonious coexistence. After so many wars and suffering, what would it take to make: acceptance, integration, trust with verification, and working without prejudice real? Stay well.
    Best wishes,
    Navzer D. Sachinvala, Ph.D., MBA
    Retired, USDA-ARS
    New Orleans, Louisiana

  5. Kanizehn Patel, Canada says:

    As others mention, it would be great for this, along with the Cyrus cylinder, to be exhibited all over the world and for a longer time where we have a good population of Zoroastrians so that children born in this part of the world can learn more about our heritage.

  6. Zinobia vazifdar says:

    Even I second the thought that such exhibition should be done in Mumbai. Where there are majority of paresis residing

  7. Homi Bilimoria says:

    Thank God there are Zoroastrians in England who still strive to keep our beloved religion alive.. Homi

  8. Satyan says:

    Thanks for sharing this history. If I recall in one of the books of yoga it notes that
    The contribution of Zorostrians to US history is the One Eye on top of the triangle
    On the back of a one dollar bill. The symbol is to note the one eye is the
    Eye of the knowledge, located at the center of the eye brows, was adopted
    From early Zorostrians people who came and settled in USA. That is the center
    Eye of Lord Shiva in Hindu religion. I need to refresh my memory. Any insight
    Into this?

  9. IanVisits says:

    Comments are now CLOSED

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