PT: Tell us about the sixteen fires which come together to consecrate an Atash Behram?
RK: The 16 fires for the Atash Behram are sourced from different places, mainly where fire is used as a means of vocations by different people, and where it undergoes hardships in various ways. There are no particular names to these 16 types of fires.
PT: What is the source of these fires and the numerous purification rituals? How long does the purification continue until the Atash Behram is consecrated?
RK: The source of each fire is generally the household or the work place from where it is ceremoniously collected. Two very special types of fires, among the sixteen used in the Atash Behram, are the Fire of Lightning and the Fire of a Burning Corpse.
The sixteen fires are first collected from their source. They are not directly taken but wood shavings are ignited on a ladle (chamach) with holes, from the heat of the fire, and that fire is taken. These 16 fires are:
After the above fires are collected they undergo further procedures which include:
Purification: The 16 fires are separately purified thus… Some sandal wood shavings are kept on a ladle with holes, which are ignited from the fire in the Afarganyu (fire vase). Once ignited, this fire is kept on another empty Afarganyu. This process is repeated different number of times for different fires, as mentioned in the table above. Priests mentally recite certain prayers while this process is going on. After this, the fires are consecrated.
Consecration: For consecration, several pairs of priests are involved in performing Yasna and Vendidad rituals, for the requisite number of times, as mentioned in the table above, for each of the 16 fires. It takes several months to completely finish these rituals, depending on the number of priests involved.
For each of the sixteen fires, the first three Yasna and Vendidad are performed with the invocation to the Ameshaspands and Yazads presiding over the first to the sixteenth day of the calendar. The rest of the Yasna and Vendidad are performed with the invocation to each of the 30 days of the month, as many times over as required. The different combinations of the various invocations are too intricate and complicated, after which the fires are amalgamated.
Amalgamation: Once the consecration process is over, the 16 fires are amalgamated and then a Yasna and Vendidad with the invocation to Sarosh Yazad is performed for three days, followed by a Yasna and Vendidad each for the next thirty days, dedicated to the Ameshaspand/Yazad of the day, thus concluding the consecration rituals.
Consecration of the Keblā or the Sanctum Sanctorum and the Building: The Sanctum Sanctorum or the Keblā, where the consecrated fire is kept, as also the building housing the sacred fire, have to be consecrated. The sanctum is in the main prayer hall. It is a special room with a dome (Gumbaj) over it. A metallic canopy, symbolising the crown of the sacred fire, hangs above the fire-vase. This most important part of the fire temple is closed on three sides, and has a big wooden door on the fourth side. On two of the three closed sides there is window each. Generally the south side wall has no window as Zoroastrians are enjoined not to pray facing the North.
Before the consecration of the building and the keblā, the area is swabbed thrice with bull’s urine and then thrice with water. Then for four days, two priests perform a Yasna and Vendidad with the invocation of Sarosh Yazad in the fire temple building and also within the keblā and then perform a special Afringan. The Afarganyu too is consecrated by taking it into the pavi and performing the Bajdharna of Sarosh on it.
Installation of the Consecrated Fire: On the appointed day of installation, one Yasna is done with the invocation to Sarosh Yazad on the amalgamated consecrated fires. Then the sacred fire is ceremoniously taken in a procession by priests in their complete priesthood regalia holding spears, swords and gurz (mace) in their hands for the protection of the sacred fire, which is now referred to as their ‘king’ or pādshah.’ Lay people too follow this procession.
The fire is respectfully enthroned (takhta-nashin) in the sanctum sanctorum (keblā). The ceremoniously enthroned fire has the status of a King, with the stone hindholā as its throne. The dome (gumbaj) of the keblā signifies the sky, which is the jurisdiction of the fire. The metallic canopy hanging above the fire is its crown.
This sacred fire will now be kept continuously burning. Priests offer prayers and fuel to the fire at least five times a day, at the turn of the five gehs, when they perform the Boi ritual.
PT: Which are the four fires required for consecrating an Aadaryan? Is it essential to consecrate an Aadaryaan within the Atash Behram premises?
RK: Atash Adaran requires gathering of hearth fires from representatives of four professional groups: the priests (athornan); the soldiers / warriors / rulers (ratheshtaran); the farmers or herdsmen (vastryoshan); and any of the artisans (hutokhshan) like blacksmith, goldsmith, tinsmith or potter. After gathering, they are kept separately till they undergo the stages of purification, consecration, amalgamation and installation as is done for the Atash Behram. Purification process is repeated four times for the fire from the priest’s house and thrice for the other three fires. Then, four pairs of priests consecrate each of the fires separately. On the first day two Yasnas and a Vendidad are performed. On the second day, a Yasna and a Vendidad is performed. Finally the fires are amalgamated. Two priests perform a Yasna and Vendidad with the invocation to Sarosh Yazad and on the following day a Yasna with the invocation to Dādār Ahura Mazda, which concludes the amalgamation. Thereafter the fire is ceremoniously established. It is not necessary to have an Aadaryan in the Atash Behram premise.
PT: Please explain the significance of the Boi ritual.
RK: The word Boi comes from the Avestan word baodha, Pahlavi boe, both of which mean ‘fragrance’. Hence the boi ritual is to feed the sacred fire with fragrance (sukhad) and fuel (kāthi). A boi ritual is performed over consecrated fires of Adaran and Atash Behram in each of the five watches of the day. For the Dadgah fire a boi is done at least once a day. During the performance of boi rituals for Atash Behram, and in special cases for the Agyari, the priest offers long pieces of sandal-wood referred to as Māchi. The hindhola of the Atash Padshah is ceremoniously washed in certain cases. Varying numbers of Atash Nyash is recited. At the recital of the first Nyash bells are rung, generally, at the words Dushmata, Duzhukhta and Duzhvarshta.
PT: Which prayer can devotees recite in a fire temple? How can we maintain the sanctity of our Pak Atash Padshahs?
RK: The best prayer to recite to maintain the power and sanctity of our Pak Aatash Padshah sahebs is the Atash Nyaish, after doing one’s Farajyat prayers. Zoroastrian Fire Temples are sanctified and consecrated places of worship. Zoroastrians need to be concerned about their sanctity and observe rules of ritual purity before going into these sacred places, in order to maintain their sanctity. That is the main reason why entry into a fire-temple is prohibited for non-Zoroastrians. Fire, especially consecrated fire, is to be approached with dignity and respect. Physical and ritual purity is to be maintained. The rules include taking a bath, wearing appropriate clothes and doing the Kasti before approaching the sacred fire. According to the Atash Nyaish, when approaching a fire, one is expected to take gifts of dry, fragrant and pure wood with honestly earned money. It also tells us how the fire should be venerated, what we can ask from the fire and how the fire gives its devotees blessings of wealth, prosperity, alertness, fluent tongue, brilliant children, health and evolution of the soul.