Thousands gather to celebrate ancient Zoroastrian fire festival

CHAM, Iran – Thousands of Iranians gathered at dusk against a snowy mountain backdrop to light giant bonfires in an ancient midwinter festival dating back to Iran’s pre-Islamic past that is drawing new interest from Muslims.

539w By Associated Press /

Saturday’s celebration was the first in which the dwindling remnants of Iran’s once plentiful Zoroastrian religious minority were joined by thousands of Muslims, reflecting a growing interest in the strict Islamic society for the country’s ancient traditions.

The festival, known as Sadeh, celebrates the discovery of fire and its ability to banish the cold and dark. It is held in the frigid depths of winter.

Sadeh was the national festival of ancient Persia when Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion, before the conquest by Islam in the seventh century. Now it is mostly celebrated in the homes and temples of Iran’s 60,000 remaining Zoroastrians.

Recently, however, there has been an upsurge of interest among Iranian Muslims – 90 percent of the population – in their ancient heritage, when vast Persian empires held sway over much of central Asia and fought Greek warriors and Roman legions.

Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion predating Christianity and Islam and is believed to have influenced those faiths – and Judaism as well – being one of the first religions with a strong notion of good and evil.

Zoroastrians believe they must fight evil through good deeds, words, and thoughts, including charity and service. Fire plays a central role in worship as a symbol of truth and the spirit of God. Prayer is often performed in front of a fire.

The religion was founded in ancient Persia about 3,000 years ago, according to some scholarly estimates, by Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, whom the faith considers a prophet.

Zoroastrians once numbered in the millions but were persecuted and forced to convert after Muslims rose to power in Iran. According to some estimates, there are only 150,000 Zoroastrians in the world today.

  • rustom jamasji

    I think the Zoroastrians of India should restart this..ofcourse then I am opening myself to ridicule,being labeled orthodox, taliban, nazi , old fashioned etc etc because i wanna reconnect altogether with my roots, preserve Zoroastrianism and Pass it on so it never dies out…(Something every faith, state, community, country does)

    Those who want to end yasnas, zoroastrian systems, rituals, texts etc and call themselves ‘ratus;( an ancient word) are modern!

  • Siloo Kapadia

    It is my understanding that Muslim countries have no statistics as to how many people convert to religions other than Islam (IF they are indeed allowed to do so.) I have heard that even if someone converts the government will not change the person’s religious status on their identification cards, and therefore, regardless of their beliefs they would be counted as “Muslim”.

    So I wonder how many Iranian “Muslims” are not in fact Zoroastrians or those of another religion. Also because of the lack of a lot of social freedom, many converts may not want to openly disclose their religious beliefs for fear of a negative impact to themselves, their jobs, their family members, etc.

    I would not be surprised if the Zoroastrian population in Iran were already in the millions by now. Really, deekras, how do we know what is really going on there?

  • Behram Dhabhar

    It was being performed at the Wadiaji Atashbehram by Dasturji Dr. Firoz Kotwal but has now been discontinued. After the Jashan which was in the Aiwisuthrem geh, he used to give a speech on its significance.

    Now he has it performed in the Karani Agyari, Cusrow Baug.

  • JB Bastani

    I recall a Sadeh ceremony in India over half a century ago as a preteen and the veneration this ceremony was held by my Irani Zoroastrian elders. Unfortunately, it has been corrupted where the sacredness of the cermenony is forgotten and becomes an initiation into manhood by the younger ones. A trip through the local hospital Burns Unit would be enlightening/educational for those who would participate in this ceremony beyond its original sacred intent.

  • Neville Irani from Pune

    In my recent business tour of Iran(Tehran, Yazd, Ishfahan, Shiraz, Abadan) i was a spectator to this wonderful festival. It is worth seeing……… Cheers & all the best!!