Earlier this week I was reminded of a wonderfully tragical romantic episode of history when I was attaching the fabulous new BBC 4 show entitled The Art of Persia. Towards the beginning of the programme they visited a spot that I have long wanted to visit near the Iranian city of Ardakan, a particularly holy Zoroastrian Fire Temple.
I may well do a post on Zoroastrianism one day as in some ways it is my favourite religion and founded by Zoroaster who has also been described as the father of ethics, the first rationalist and the first monotheist (having belief in just one God) as well as the first to articulate the notions of heaven and hell, judgment after death and free will.
Zoroastrianism is in many ways the first global religion that led the way and strongly influenced some of the more popular beliefs today. If you don’t know much about Zoroastrianism then there is likely a very good reason for this. Persia which largely but not wholly corresponds to modern day Iran found itself next to the rising Islamic empire that sprang out of Arabia and after consuming much of Egypt and the Levant headed east.
In fact an old Zoroastrian prediction stated that in centuries to come the then Persian Empire would fall and the ancient true religion would be all but abandoned and forgotten about. It all came terribly true when the Persian Empire having suffered centuries of wars with Greeks and Romans were unfortunate to have a new ruler in the shape of Yazdegerd III just as the first Arab invasions started and Yazdegerd was only 10 years old.
Inevitably after many sieges and battles, Persia was overrun and Yazdegerd fled east. In Zoroastrian belief, Chak Chak is where Nikbanou, second daughter of Yazdegerd was cornered by the invading Arab army. Fearing capture and dreadful repercussions Nikbanou prayed to Ahura Mazda (the creator) to protect her from her enemies. In response to Nikbanou’s pleadings, the mountain miraculously opened up and sheltered her from the invaders.
Inside the mountain is a grotto where there is a continuously dripping spring and it is said that the drips are the tears of grief that the mountain sheds in remembrance of Nikbanou and indeed the end of thousands of years of pre-Islamic Persia. Growing beside the holy spring is an immense and ancient tree said to be Nikbanou’s cane. Legend also has it that a petrified colourful cloth from Nikbanou was also visible in the rocks, although pilgrims have since removed it.
Most Fire Temples were converted to Mosques and over the centuries most Zoroastrians converted to Islam in Iran where sadly many still face persecution for following the original and wholly good beliefs of that ancient land with many others fleeing east to western India where a large community remain along with communities in neighbouring nations such as Azerbaijan and indeed multicultural cities like London.
Chak Chak serves as a pilgrimage point for pious Zoroastrians. Each year from June 14th-18th many thousands of Zoroastrians from Iran, India and other countries flock to the fire temple at Pir-e Sabz. Tradition has it that pilgrims are to stop riding the moment they catch sight of the temple and complete the last leg of their journey on foot.
The actual temple of Chak Chak is a man-made grotto sheltered by two large bronze doors. The shrine enclosure is floored with marble and its walls are darkened by fires kept eternally burning in the sanctuary with some Zoroastrian flames being thousands of years old .
Hopefully I will get to visit one day 🙂 Iran/Persia has such a rich history and culture, it is full of these tales. For another nice tradition you might like my ancient post on the Recording Angels.