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Zoroastrian - Symbols and concepts - Fire 03



Type of Spiritual Experience


Legendary Great Fires

Apart from the fires in the fire temples, three were said to derive directly from Ahura Mazda, thus making them the most important in Zoroastrian tradition. These were the "Great Fires" or "Royal Fires" of

  • Adur Burzen-Mihr,
  • Adur Farnbag, and
  • Adur Gushnasp.

The legends of the Great Fires are probably of antiquity, for by the 3rd century CE, miracles were said to happen at the sites, and the fires were popularly associated with other legends such as those of the folktale heroes Fereydun, Jamshid and Rustam.

The Bundahishn, an encyclopædiaic collection of Zoroastrian cosmogony and cosmology written in Book Pahlavi, states that the Great Fires had existed ‘since creation’ and had been brought forth on the back of the ox Srishok to propagate the faith, dispel doubt, and protect all humankind. In this account therefore the literal meaning of a fire is not being used.  It is alluding to the idea that a number of extremely important Intelligences were sent to help humans.  But, this does not mean that a more literal interpretation – a sacred geography was not used to remind people of this event.

The priests of these respective "Royal Fires" are said to have competed with each other to draw pilgrims by promoting the legends and miracles that were purported to have occurred at their respective sites. Each of the three is also said to have mirrored social and feudal divisions: "The fire which is Farnbag has made its place among the priests; ... the fire which is Gūshnasp has made its place among the warriors; ... the fire which is Būrzīn-Mitrō has made its place among agriculturists" (Denkard, 6.293). These divisions, from an archaeological and sociological point of view, are revealing because they make clear that, since from at least the 1st century BCE onwards, society was divided into four, not three, feudal estates.

It also helps to clarify the move to temples, as again it links to the four pillars of society – the divisions in society that ensure stability – justice, defenders of the faith, the spiritual teachers and in this case ordinary folk – the ones who do the work and keep everything going on a day to day basis.

  • The Farnbag fire  - translated as 'the fire Glory-Given' by Darmesteter,  was considered the most venerated of the three because it was seen as the earthly representative of the Atar Spenishta, 'Holiest Fire' of Yasna 17.11, and it is described in a Zend commentary on that verse as "the one burning in Paradise in the presence of Ohrmazd."  Atar is Fire and thus this is the Intelligence of Fire – Agni in Hindu cosmology.
    The Indian (lesser) Bundahishn records the Farnbag fire having been "on the glory-having mountain which is in Khwarezm" but later moved "upon the shining mountain in the district of Kavul just as it there even now remains" (IBd 17.6). That the temple once stood in Khwarezm is also supported by the Greater (Iranian) Bundahishn and by the texts of Zadsparam (11.9). However, according to the Greater Bundahishn, it was moved "upon the shining mountain of Kavarvand in the Kar district" (the rest of the passage is identical to the Indian edition). Darmesteter identified this "celebrated for its sacred fire which has been transported there from Khvarazm as reported by Masudi" (Jackson, 1921:89). If this identification is correct, the temple of the Farnbag fire then lay 10 miles southwest of Juwun, midway between Jahrom and Lar. (28°1′N 53°1′E)
  • The Gushnasp  fire - In the early 20th century, A. V. Jackson identified the remains at Takht-i-Suleiman, midway between Urumieh and Hamadan, as the temple of Adur Gushnasp.
  • The Burzen-Mihr fire - The location of the Mithra fire, i.e. that of Burzen-Mihr, Jackson "identified with reasonable certainty" as being near the village of Mihr half-way between Miandasht and Sabzevar on the Khorasan road to Nishapur (Jackson, 1921:82).

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