Followers of the minority Zoroastrian religion in Iran gathered after Sunset on Tuesday to mark Sadeh, an ancient mid-winter feast which dates back to Iran’s pre-Islamic past. Zoroastrian priests recited from the Avesta the holy book of the Zoroastrian before more than 2,000 people while dressed in white to symbolize purity.
Wearing traditional garbs, men and women carried torches and lit a huge bonfire on the outskirts of Tehran as the young people danced. The feast of the creation of fire, or Sadeh as it is called, has been observed since ancient days when Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in the Persian Empire.
The religion lost its dominance after Muslim Arabs invaded and conquered Persia in the seventh century. Most of Iran’s 75 million people today are Shiite Muslims and they are led by clerics who preach a very strict version of Islam.
Many Zoroastrians emigrated to the United States following the 1979 revolution brought in the hard line Islamic religion government where their festivals were strongly discouraged. Only about 20,000 Zoroastrians remain today, down from the 300,000 in the 1970’s. Tuesday’s feast of fire has traditionally been marked by only the Zoroastrians, however many Muslim Iranians joined in this year’s celebrations.
Sohrab Hengami, Zoroastrian priest said; “This festival promotes friendship and happiness. The feast is an opportunity to thank God for the creation of fire. The light and warmth of fire brings affection among communities. That’s the reason we are here.”
Fire plays an integral role in worship as a symbol of truth and the spirit of God. Prayers are often performed in front of the fire and consecrated fires are kept burning continuously in major temples.