Monday, August 23, 2010
THE HOLY FIRE
Fire occupies a special position in our Zarathushtrian faith, both in the spiritual realm as in the material world. The Divine Fire (Atar or Adar) is one of the highest Yazatas. Zarathustra when communicating with Vohu Mano asks :
Unto whom wouldst Thou say,
The most deeply and devoutly shall I pray ?
And answers himself :
Unto Thy Fire reverent homage shall I pay,
With Righteousness, until my dying day. (Gatha Ushtavaiti, Yasna 43.9)
These and other references in the Gathas to the Divine Fire testifies to the reverence in which it is held in the spiritual world. In the Atash Niayesh, it is referred to as the Son of Ahura Mazda (Athro Ahurahe Mazdao Puthra), being the only other entity to be so designated in addition to the Amesha Spenta Vohu Mano.
In the material aspect, fire is described as the seventh and last creation of Ahura Mazda and is under the direct protection of the Amesha Spenta Asha Vahishta (Ardibehesht Ameshaspand). It is integral and an essential part of every religious ceremony as it is considered the living symbol of Ahura Mazda. It is self-illuminating, pure, it purifies and always points upwards to the heavens. It is through His symbol ‘fire’ that a Zarathushtrian reaches out to Ahura Mazda confirming Zarathushtra’s pledge to Vohu Mano to ‘pay homage unto His fire until his dying day’.
The Atash Behram and the Atash Adaran are installed in fire-temples called Atash Behram or Adaran/Agiary. Their consecration and subsequent sustenance are extremely exacting, requiring immense dedication and devotion. The consecration of an Atash Behram is so complicated and intricate that it takes more than 1 year. It consists of 16 different types of fires, including a natural fire produced by lightning striking and igniting grass or wood. The fires thus collected have each to be transferred by re-ignition a number of times ranging from 33 to 91, each such re-ignition acting as a purification process. The total number of such purifications of all the 16 fires totals 1128, i.e. by reciting an equal number of Yasnas and Vendidads by 2 priests, who themselves have first gone through the purification Bareshnum ceremony. If the consecration were to be done by the same 2 priests, it would take 1128 days and nights i.e a little over 3 years. In actual practice a number of 2 priest teams do the consecration so that the process may take a year or so.
The 16 consecrated fires are then united by 2 high priests (Yaozdathragar) with Bareshnum and Khub. For the next 33 days a number of Yasnas and Vendidads are prayed over the united fire and on the 34th day after a special Yasna in honour of Sarosh Yazad, the consecration of the united fire – Atash Behram – is complete.
The final seat of the Sacred Fire (the ‘throne’ as the Fire is now regarded as a spiritual king) is consecrated for 3 days and the Sacred Fire is then enthroned with the ceremony of “takhtnashini”. Thus a tremendous amount of selfless love, faith and reverence has gone into the creation of the Atash Behram or Fire.
I give this detailed description so that every Zarathushtrian can understand and appreciate the unbelievable care, labour and time spent in preparation and purification. He should then appreciate why only a Zarathushtrian can stand and pray in front of it and appreciate the extreme degree of purity of the Fire created for his benefit. This then is the reason why only a Zarathushtrian wearing a Sudreh and Kushti, after a proper bath and Kushti prayer can enter an Atash Behram and offer homage and prayers to it.
In fact even a lay Zarathushtrian is not allowed entry into the Kebla or the Sanctum Sanctorum where the Holy Fire is enthroned. Only ordained priests are allowed to perform rituals and nourish the Fire.
To sum up, as Fire is the living symbol of Ahura Mazda on earth, is said to contain a divine spark, a miniscule part of the Creator Himself and thus forms an important and necessary part of every ritual of the Zarathushtrian religion.