Iranshah – The (Spiritual) King of Iran – II

As the holy month of Adar (dedicated to the Divinity of Fire) draws to a close, Parsi Times is pleased to carry the story of Iranshah, the very first Atashbehram that our forebears consecrated in India. Why is this fire named Iranshah? Did we bring this fire from Iran? Was it consecrated in Udwada? How old is this fire? These and many other questions have been unraveled here, by Religious Scholar, Noshir Dadrawala, in this second and concluding part.


Sanjan Under Attack: After Iranshah was duly installed, Parsis lived peacefully in Sanjan for about three hundred and twenty four years. However, when Sultan Mahmud (Mahmud Begdo) attacked Sanjan with an army of thirty thousand soldiers led by General Alfkhan, the Governor of Sanjan asked the Parsis to join his army in battle, after annulling the treaty between the Parsis and his ancestor, Vajjadevrai, that they would not bear weapons. One thousand four hundred Parsi men enlisted themselves in the army and General Ardashir led them in battle. They fought for three days and Ardashir emerged victorious in the first round. However, Alfkhan returned with a bigger army and Ardashir and several men in his army were killed. Sanjan fell into the hands of Alfkhan.

From Sanjan To Bahrot: Even as the battle was being fought, the Sanjana Priests, fearing desecration of the Holy Fire, carried Iranshah away to safety in a cave on Mount Bahrot.  For twelve long years the priests kept Iranshah safe and secure from desecration at the hands of the invaders. Where did they get their food and drinking water from? How and where did they cook? Where did they sleep? There is no record of the hardship they endured in the wilderness of this mountain.

From One Mountain To Another: From Bahrot, Iranshah was moved to Ajmalgadh in Vansda for fourteen years. Parsis across Gujarat and Navsari in particular, would pay homage to Iranshah in Vansda. But as Vansda was a forest area and a pilgrimage to Ajmalgadh, it posed enormous hardships and danger. At the request of an influential Behdin, Changa Asa, the Atash Behram was brought to Navsari in 1469. Iranshah remained in Navsari for three hundred and fourteen years. However, growing threats from Pindaras (ruthless bandits), Iranshah was moved to Surat for two years and then back to Navsari for another three. A little later, a major dispute arose between the Sanjana Priests and the Bhagaria priests of Navsari over Panthak or ritual rights. A Panth is an ecclesiastical jurisdiction (followed to this date), within which a clan of priests is entitled to perform religious ceremonies. For example, even today no priest other than one belonging to the nine families of Sanjana priests can offer the Boi ceremony at Iranshah. There are five Panths or ecclesiastical territories divided by major rivers in Western India, from South to North Gujarat:

1) Sanjana from river Dantora to river Par (in Valsad district)
2) Bhagaria from river Par to Tapi (in Surat)
3) Godavara from Tapi to Narmada (in Bharuch)
4) Bharuch from Narmada to river Mahi (Gulf of Khambat)
5) Khambat from river Mahi to river Sabarmati (i.e. up to Rajasthan).


The Journey To Udwada: When the dispute escalating between the Sanjana and Bhagaria priests, the Sanjana priests decided to take Iranshah to Bulsar, where the Iranshah blazed for two years. However, Since Bulsar/Valsad was still within the jurisdiction of Bhagaria priests, they moved Iranshah to Udwada, which many believed was a temporary stop. The Sanjana priests probably wanted to take Iranshah back to Sanjan where the Holy Fire was originally consecrated. However, Udwada (originally Untwada or place of camel grazing) is today regarded as Iranshah’s permanent abode.

Thus, the Holiest of Holy Iranshah was consecrated on Indian soil, at Sanjan, more than a thousand years ago or perhaps twelve hundred years ago, if one goes by the Qissa-e Sanjan. Iranshah is not just the first and oldest consecrated Atash Behram in India but, also a spiritual link with Iran – the spiritual motherland of all Zoroastrians. Historically, Iranshah has been housed in mountain caves, forests and humble abodes of pious priests. It has been moved on a number of occasions to several territories all over South Gujarat and blessed thousands of devotees over a millennium. Today, Iranshah is enthroned in a grand building in Udwada built in 1894 by the pious and philanthropic Bai Motlibai Maneckji Wadia. The majestic gate, Zoroastrian motifs which adorn the exterior facade and grand Achaemenian style columns, all gladden the eye and instill a sense of awe before paying obeisance to the Spiritual King of Kings – the Holy Iranshah!

We conclude our humble tribute to Iranshah with a verse from the Atash Niayesh (litany to the fire):

“Yasnemcha vahmemcha huberetimcha
Ushta-beretimcha, vanta-beretimcha, afrinami,
Tava Atarshputhra AhuraheMazdao, yesnyo
Ahi vahmyo, yesnyo buyao vahmyo
Nmanahumashyakanam ushta buyat
Ahmainaire, yase-thwabadha
Frayazaite, aesmo-zasto, baresmo-zasto
Gao-zasto, havano-zasto.”



O Fire, the purifier (of all things) pertaining to Ahura Mazda!
I praise Thy worship, invocation, good health-giving and friendly gift.
(O Fire), thou art worthy of worship and invocation,
May thou be worthy of worship and invocation in the abodes of the devout!
May there be greatness (or happiness) unto that person
Who shall always worship thee with fuel, Baresman, milk and mortar in hand!


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