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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee



Places of Worship

Early Fire Houses and Temples

Era of No Temples

Advent of Fire Houses and Temples

Fire House Concept

Chahar-Taqi Fire Temple Design

Ani, Armenia, Turkey

Chahar-Taqi Fire Temples in Iran

Surakhani, Baku, Azerbaijan

Surakhani - Hindu or Zoroastrian Temple?

Seven Fires

Modern Fire Temples
Atash Bahram

Grades of Fires and Temples

Atash Bahram / Behram

Iranshah Atash Bahram, Udvada, India

Desai Atash Bahram, Navsari, India

Dadiseth Atash Bahram, Mumbai, India

Modi Atash Bahram, Surat, India

Vakil Atash Bahram, Surat, India

Wadia Atash Bahram, Mumbai, India

Banaji Atash Bahram, Mumbai, India

Anjuman Atash Bahram, Navsari, India

Yazd Atash Bahram, Yazd, Iran

Modern Fire Temples
Agiary, Atashkadeh, Darbe Mehr

Grades of Fires and Temples

Atash Adaran, Agiary, Atashkadeh

Early History of Mumbai's (Bombay's) Fire Temples

Atash Dadgah, Dar-e-Mehr or Darbe Mehr

Suggested prior reading: » Zoroastrian Worship
Suggested further reading: » Zoroastrian Priesthood

Grades of Fires and Temples

Today, there are three grades of fires:
• Atash Bahram (or Atash Behram),
• Atash Adaran, and
• Atash Dadgah.

The three grades of fires have given rise to three principle (and somewhat arbitrary) grades of temples:
• Atash Bahram (or Atash Behram),
• Agiary (in India) or Atashkadeh (in Iran), and
• Darbe Meher/Dar-e-Mehr.

An Atash Bahram and an Agiary (also spelt Agiari) or Atashkadeh have an inner sanctum where the fire is maintained and where ceremonies of the inner circle are conducted. This rectangular sanctuary, demarcated by furrows, is called the pavi. Only ritually purified priests can enter the pavi. The afringan or fire urn, is placed on an elevated marble platform at the south end of the pavi. Towards the north end of the pavi is the ritual instrument table, or alat-khwan.

Atash Adaran, Agiary, Atashkadeh

An Atash Adaran or fire of fires, is the second grade of fire and is generally housed in an Agiari (also spelt Agiary, Agyari, Agiyari - India, Gujerati) or Atashkadeh (Iran, Farsi), both meaning a house of fire.

Agiaries and Atashkadeh do not require a high priest and can be attended by Mobeds.

The fire is built from the hearth fires of representatives from four professions: the asronih (priests), the (r)atheshtarih (soldiers and civil servants), the vastaryoshih (farmers and herdsmen) and the hutokshih (artisans and labourers). The consecration of the Adaran fire requires eight priests and can take between two and three weeks. With some Agiaries, the priest maintains a consecrated fire at home, brings the fire to the Agiary when required, and later takes it back home.

Additional offsite reading:
» Location of Mumbai Agiaries
» List of Mumbai Agiaries

Inside an Agiary - a cut-out graphic
Inside an Agiary - a cut-out graphic
Source: Hindustan Times. Graphics: Swati
Atashkadeh, Tehran, Iran
Atashkadeh, Tehran, Iran
Photo: Wikimap. Photographer Unknown

Early History of Mumbai's (Bombay's) Fire Temples

Seven Islands of Bombay
Seven Islands of Bombay

The history of Bombay /Mumbai's fire temples parallels the history of Parsi settlement in Bombay and indeed the formation of Bombay as a city and the financial hub of India.

Even before the British takeover of the seven islands of Bombay in February 1665 CE, the Parsi Kharshedji Pochaji Panday had provided the original Portuguese possessors with materials and men to build the first fortification on the island of Bom-Bahia (later anglicized to Bombay) meaning good bay in Portuguese - the area of which came to be known as Castle and the Fort district of Bombay.

Catherine of Braganza
Catherine of Braganza

When they took possession of the islands as part of Portuguese Catherine of Braganza's dowry to King Charles II of Britain, the British expressed disappointment their with the territory. However, during the next one hundred and fifty years, the Parsees saw the islands' potential and shaped the islands' early development and physical outline.

The Dorabji family were among the early Parsi inhabitants of Bombay. In 1692, when the British garrison of Bombay had been decimated by a cholera epidemic, Rustamji Dorabji rallied the Koli fisherman and other residents to defend Bombay from an attack by the Muslim Sidi of Janjira. In recognition of his leadership and valour, the British appointed Rustamji with the hereditary title of patel or chief, a position that carried the authority of collecting taxes from the residents. Together with the Patel family, the Banaji and Modi families also rose to prominence in Bombay, and the men of these families were referred to as seth or sett.

The Parsees erected the first tower of silence between 1670 and 1675. During the same period, Hirji Vacha Modi constructed Bombay's first fire temple that housed an Atash Adaran, in the Fort area. Regrettably, the temple did not survive the fire of 1803. In 1709 CE, Banaji Limji built Bombay's second fire temple, also located in the Fort district.

Seth Banaji Limji Agiary, Fort
Seth Banaji Limji Shenshai Agiary
Banaji Street, Fort,
Fire consecrated: Adar day, Adar month, 1078 AY (June 25, 1709)
Oldest surviving fire temple in Mumbai
Photo: Wikimedia. Photographer unknown

In 1730 Manockji (spelt Maneckji today) Nowroji, son of the great international Parsi trader Rustam Monock, arrived in Bombay from Surat and lost no time in purchasing a large tract of land on which he built a fire temple. Beside the fire temple, Manockji also built a wadi or colony for Parsees to accommodate a growing Parsi population, which by 1811, stood at 10,042 in Bombay town and Island. In the Fort area itself had a total population of 10,801 in 1813, out of which the Parsees numbered 5,364.

The Manockji fire temple was badly damaged in the fire of 1803 and its consecrated fire was temporarily moved to the Soonaiji Agiary at Gowalia Tank. Wealthy Parsi merchants of that time donated funds for the repairs while the less well-off, contributed eggs and mugs of toddy that toddy, items that were mixed with the reconstruction mortar. The fire was reinstalled and enthroned in 1845.

The next oldest surviving fire temple, the Maneckji Navroji Sett Shenshai Agiary, is located less than a kilometre away.

Maneckji Navroji Sett Agiary, Fort
Maneckji Navroji Sett Shenshai Agiary
225 Perin Nariman Street, Fort, behind Citi Bank
Fire consecrated: Adar day, Adar month, 1102 AY (June 19, 1733)
Second oldest surviving fire temple in Mumbai
Photo: Paritosh Joshi at Flickr

In 1786 and 1798, Mancherji Jivanji Readymoney and Dadibhai Nusserwanji Dadiseth respectively built private dakhmas for themselves and their families in Bombay.

We include below a photograph of the Seth Jamshedji Dadabhai Amaria Agiary as an example of the architecture of the early Agiaries.

Seth Jamshedji Dadabhai Amaria Agiary, Dhobi Talao
Seth Jamshedji Dadabhai Amaria or Sodawaterwalla, Shenshai Agiary
Anandilal Podar Marg at Maharshi Karve Rd, Dhobi Talao, near Marine Lines Station
Fire consecrated: Farvardin day, Farvardin month, 1254 AY (October 6, 1884)
Photo: Mark Fitch, Bethesda, MD, USA

Resource: The Parsis of India by Jesse S. Palsetia, BRILL, 2001.

Atash Dadgah, Dar-e-Meher or Darbe Mehr

Priest lighting an Atash Dadgah
Priest lighting an Atash Dadgah

The Atash Dadgah, the court fire, is the third grade of fire. Dadgah means court in Persian. For an explanation of the development of this grade, see Dadgah - Courts above. The grade came to include home and heart fires. Today, the Atash Dadgah refers to any fire used in worship that is not consecrated. This grade of fire does not require a priest in attendance and can be attended to by the laity.

For the pragmatic, consecrating the Atash Dadgah is optional. For the orthodox, every fire used in worship is consecrated. If preferred, the fire can be consecrated within the course of a few hours by two priests who take turns reciting the 72 verses of the Yasna (a book of the the Zoroastrian scriptures - the Avesta). Consecration may also include the readings from the Vendidad.

Dar-e-Mehr or Darbe Mehr means the door of kindness and love. The name was used by Fasli Zoroastrians for their temple and by the Iranian Zoroastrians for the Tehran fire temple. The name by itself does not imply the grade of fire used within. However, because it is the name given to the Zoroastrian places of worship financed by an endowment from Arbab Rustam Guiv, and because the fires in these Darbe Mehrs were not necessarily consecrated or attended to by priests, the name Darbe Mehr is frequently associated with the Atash Dadgah grade of fire.

(Location of North American Darbe Mehrs)

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» Early Fire Houses and Temples
» Modern Places of Worship. Atash Bahram (or Atash Behram)

Suggested prior reading: » Zoroastrian Worship
Suggested further reading: » Zoroastrian Priesthood

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