Adil Writer

SIMIN RISHAHR spends two days in the quaint town of Pondicherry, and visits the studio of architect-turned-ceramist, ADIL WRITER in Auroville. She saw an image of a Farohar sculpture of his on a webpage, which led her to this meeting. Discovering that he has visited Iran led to this interview.


S. Tell us about the Zoroastrian symbology in your ceramics.

A. At Mandala Pottery in Auroville where I have my studio, some of the production pieces we make are panels with images of religious icons…. Ganesha, Krishna, Buddha. To this range I added the Farohar some years ago. These are straightforward interpretations. The Farohar in my work took on a sculptural turn when in 2005, at a show in a Parsi owned gallery in Bangalore where I showcased abstractions of the Farohar motif. And boy! This imagery connected well with the bawaji crowd! So I decided to delve further into this aesthetic.

S. Your Farohar (or as we call it in Iran, Faravahar) sculptures clearly take liberties with the original. Have you come across any negative reactions from purists?

A. Surprisingly, not. When I was touring Iran in 2005, one of the first things that hit me was the presence of the Farohar motif everywhere. In the midst of an Islamic country, with a religion that denounces symbology, this was interesting. As our tour group sauntered the streets of Tehran, it was amusing to see our entire group zero in on small jewellery shops and swoop down on the few tiny farohars they had in stock!

S. I have noticed this when I was in Bombay. Such is the power of this imagery to Parsis in India….

A. Such is faith. As most of us now know, the Farohar as a symbol is represented in cultures more ancient than Zoroastrianism; we see similar symbols in Egyptian, Sassanian and Assyrian empires.  But once the Winged Disc had been adopted as a symbol of Zoroastrianism, it entered into the community not only as a graphic symbol but as a folk motif…. and has stayed.

S. Yes, I remember the controversy that was created when Oliver Stone used the Farohar look-alike as a backdrop in his advertisement campaigns for his movie “Alexander” (see inset). What is your strongest memory of the trip to Iran?

A. Instant recognition. A very déjà-vu feeling…. that I had been here before. It also helps that a huge majority of Iranians look like they have sauntered into Iran from Dadar Parsi Colony… when in reality, it is obviously the other way around! Don’t misunderstand, the language barriers are huge. It was as intimidating here as it was in subsequent trips to Egypt, Israel and China. Of Iran, I fondly remember the warmth and hospitality extended to us by all – by not just the “Zarthost” community that was hosting us, but by all in Iran…. Whether one was in a metropolis like Tehran, or in small dusty village on the outskirts of Yazd.

S. As an architect, what did you think of the architecture in Iran?

A. Architecture is a field in which Persia made its greatest contribution to world culture, where most of the buildings were built for a religious purpose, pre or post Islam. Esfahan’s Imam Square is a jewel studded with architectural marvels. On the other hand, the Persepolis, the star of the Achaemenid Empire just takes your breath away… establishing that, to reach this level of perfection in the arts, this was an empire at its zenith. Here too, the Farohar motif is everywhere. Every direction you look, you see it…. facing left, facing right, in front elevation, in side elevation. This put paid to one thing for sure. I was not going to be constricted by some “puritan’s” views that the Farohar has to face only this direction, or should not be represented only in this way. The beautifully weathered Farohars, cracks, holes, flaws included, were magnificent. I left a part of me there on the steps of the plateau of the Persepolis.

S. I notice a red dot on some of your farohar sculptures.

A. Yes. The red dot appears in a lot of my current work. I started working with the “Red Dot Series” a year ago when I was invited to Australia for an international ceramic convention. My ceramic aesthetic is quite contemporary, someone has called it “boundary-less”; but to take to a “foreign” show, I wanted to carry with me a bit of India in my work. This led to a study of street architecture and way-side shrines of south India, where one of the predominant motifs is the red dot, the tikka, the puttu, …what we parsis call the “tilo”. I did not see “our tilo” anywhere in Iran. I guess we have borrowed this symbol of auspiciousness, of the third eye, from Indian culture, and made it our own. Just like I have, adding the red dot to some of my work.

S. So, do you consider the farohar impression a holy piece, or just sculpture?

A. This I leave to the beholder. Faith, for me, is a very personal feeling. And I am not one to pass judgment on this. I am just happy when someone takes one of these works to their home. To their personal shrine. The fact that they connect with a part of me is a special bond.



Simin Rishahr is a free-lance journalist, born in Ardakhan, Iran in 1972. She abandoned her pursuit of a Ph.D. at the University of Tehran.

This interview was recorded in Auroville, India, in 2008.



Adil Writer divides his time between his studio in the international township of Auroville in south India, and his residence in Bombay.



Oliver Stone’s ‘Alexander’ Stirs Up Controversy

January 28, 2005

By Golnaz Esfandiari

American director Oliver Stone’s latest movie, “Alexander,” has been met with negative reviews from critics in the U.S. and Europe. The three-hour-long epic, which cost an estimated 150 million dollars to make, purports to show the life of Alexander the Great, who in less than a decade conquered much of the ancient world. But some complain the movie is riddled with historical inaccuracies….

Prague, 28 January 2004 (RFE/RL) — Even before its release, Oliver Stone’s film “Alexander” sparked controversy.
Zoroastrian communities in the United States and Parsis in India got upset for different reasons. They noticed that in promos for the movie, the winged Zoroastrian symbol of Farohar or Fravahar was used in the background. Zoroastrians know Alexander as “the Accursed” because during his conquest of the Persian Empire he burned Zoroastrian holy texts and scriptures.

Kaveh Farrokh is an expert on the history and linguistics of Persia, particularly in the pre-Islamic era.”One of the reasons we don’t know many aspects of Zoroastrian teachings is that people wrongly blamed it on the Arab invasion of the 7th century. In reality, we have to go back and look at Alexander’s invasion, which was extremely destructive, and many of the ‘magis,’ the Zoroastrians priests, were killed,” Farrokh says.
Maneck Bhujwala, a Zoroastrian priest based in the United States, told RFE/RL in an e-mail that Zubin Mehta — an internationally renowned conductor of classical music and a member of India’s Parsi community — was able to talk directly with Stone and was able to get an agreement from Stone to stop the commercial.


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