Monthly Archives: February 2011

£1 Million Donation Assures Future of Zoroastrian Studies

£1 Million Donation Assures Future of Zoroastrian Studies At SOAS

Signing ceremony for £1M Donation for Zoroastrian Studies

(L to R) Fund trustees Peter Borrie and Alex Ruffel, SOAS Secretary & Registrar Donald Beaton (at rear) and SOAS Director Paul Webley participated in a signing ceremony for the fund.

21 February 2011

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has received a £1 million donation from a charitable fund set up to advance research into and public understanding of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest living religions.
The Zoroastrian Professorship Fund, supported by private donors, will secure a long-term endowment for the Zartoshty Professorship in Zoroastrianism at SOAS in the Department of the Study of Religions.
SOAS is the first university in the world to boast an endowed professorship in Zoroastrianism.
This donation realises the vision of the late Mary Boyce, Professor of Iranian Studies at SOAS from 1947 to 1982. The acclaimed academic championed the founding of an endowed post and achieved significant recognition and support for her work from the Zoroastrian community.  A part-time, later full-time, post was set up in 1997 with generous funding from Zoroastrian philanthropists Faridoon and Mehraban Zartoshty.
This new £1 million donation will be used along with the Zartoshty funds to ensure that the endowment will continue to advance the study and understanding of Zoroastrianism at SOAS in perpetuity. The donation was celebrated at a special ceremony at SOAS on Wednesday 9 February 2011 which was attended by representatives and trustees of the private donors and the current and former presidents of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe.
“There is perhaps no place better suited for this post than SOAS,” said SOAS Director Professor Paul Webley.  “London is home to the oldest Zoroastrian diaspora community outside India and Iran, and SOAS is the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We are delighted to strengthen our relationship with the Zoroastrian community and our long-term commitment to the study and research of this fascinating and influential religion.”
While Zoroastrianism is studied at a small number of other international universities, no other institution has an endowed chair. This gift ensures that the religion will continue to be researched and taught at SOAS in perpetuity.

Zoroastrian Studies at SOAS

Zoroastrianism has been studied at SOAS since 1929 thanks to the Parsee Community’s lectureship, held by Sir Harold Walter Bailey and Walter Bruno Henning.
Professor Mary Boyce taught Zoroastrianism from 1947 until 1982. Many other distinguished scholars of Zoroastrianism and Iranian Studies have taught at SOAS, including Professor John Hinnells from 1993 to 1998, Professor A D H Bivar from 1960 to 1993 and Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams from 1976 to 2004.
SOAS currently has two academics who specialise in Zoroastrianism: the Zartoshty Professor of Zoroastrianism Almut Hintze and Dr Sarah Stewart, a former student of Professor Boyce.

About Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism was founded by the Prophet Zarathushtra (Greek Zoroaster) in Iran approximately 3,500 years ago and has influenced other world religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  It has also influenced works of art and culture throughout the centuries, with Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra and Mozart’s The Magic Flute among the best-known examples. The first Asian member of the UK Houses of Parliament (in 1892-95), Dadabhai Naoroji, was a Zoroastrian, as is the first Asian member of the House of Lords, Baron Karan Bilimoria CBE. Other well known Zoroastrians include the British rock star Freddie Mercury, novelist Rohinton Mistry, conductor Zubin Mehta and international industrialists and entrepreneurs including the Tata and Godrej families.

For further information, contact:

Johannah Flaherty
Communications Manager
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Tel. +44 (0)20 7898 4956

The significance of Rakhya – the sacred Ash


Consecrated fires are very important in our religion and hence the ash coming from these sacred fires is also considered sacred. They have been in direct connection with the sacred fire. This sacred ash is known as Rakhya. This word comes from the Gujarati word Ra-kh “ash.”

We have a tradition of applying Rakhya on the forehead after paying homage to the sacred fire. There are several reasons for this practice. Firstly it is to show humility and submission to the sacred fire, whom we consider the Padshah – our king. Secondly it should remind us to be humble at all times, as everything in the end finally has to turn to dust. It also reminds us to spread fragrance in the world, as the sandalwood does, before it is consumed by the fire.

Certain traditions believe that since the ‘inner eye’ or the ‘third eye’ is situated somewhere in between on the forehead, the Rakhya helps us to remind us of our inner spirituality.

Since the Rakhya are considered sacred, their sanctity has to be maintained. They should not be taken to a polluted environment and hence we have a practice of wiping off the Rakhya before going out of the fire temple lest they fall outside and be trampled upon or be defiled in some other way.

Money – coins or notes, offered to the Atash Padshah should not be kept in the tray with the Rakhya. Money has passed through many hands and may be unclean. They should be deposited in the box which is specially provided for that purpose.

Some people have the practice of applying the Rakhya at several places besides their forehead. Some apply on the throat, some on the face, some on stomach and some on personal belongings. Some even take it home. This is not only unnecessary but sometimes even anti-religious. Rakhya should be preferably taken by the right index finger and apply on the forehead.

The Rakhya is the nearest we can get physically to our beloved sacred fires. It allows us to be in touch with the Atash Padshah. We should treat them with the respect and reverence they deserve.

Courtesy : Farida Dotivala

World Premiere of Niloufar Talebi’s Ātash Sorushān (Fire Angels) at Carnegie Hall

Butterfly Buzz announced today the world premiere of Ātash Sorushān (Fire Angels), a libretto written by writer, theater artist, and award-winning translator, Niloufar Talebi, at Carnegie Hall in New York on March 29, 2011, and the West Coast premiere at Cal Performances in Berkeley on April 3, 2011.

Co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Cal Performances, and Meet the Composer, Ātash Sorushān (Fire Angels) tells a story that builds bridges to greater understanding and invites reflection on a decade following September 11, 2001 – an event which ultimately inspired the creation of this work. The music for Ātash Sorushān is written by Mark Grey, and the soprano Jessica Rivera performs the piece. Conductor Donato Cabrera leads premiere performances.

Click Here for more details

View Niloufar Talebi and Jessica Rivera rehearse Ātash Sorushān (Fire Angels).