The Everlasting Flame : Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination

We are planning to run from October to December 2013 in the Brunei Gallery at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Entitled The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in history and imagination it will provide a visual narrative of the history of Zoroastrianism from its birth in Iran, over 3000 years ago, to its emergence as the religion of three great Persian empires. The story will continue with the journey of Zoroastrians to India and their growth as an immigrant community under British colonial rule. The entrepreneurial success and philanthropic achievements of Parsis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will form a major part of the exhibition.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a conference that will bring experts from all over the world.

The recent interest in Zoroastrianism in the world has created an opportunity to showcase the history, religion and culture of this ancient faith and its shadowy but powerful influence on religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam and its historical reach into Central Asia and China. The enduring ability of the Zoroastrian communities in Iran, India, Pakistan and the wider diaspora to live in harmony in their host countries while maintaining their distinctive religious and cultural identity, often in adverse circumstances, is one of the most powerful messages of this exhibition.

The project has the support of Mrs Pheroza Godrej who will be collaborating with Mrs Firoza Punthakey Mistree – both of whom have agreed to play a curatorial role based in India.

The exhibition also has the support of Professor Frantz Grenet, Professor of Religions of the Ancient Iranian World and recently elected to the Collège de France, Dr Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Curator of Middle Eastern Coins in the British Museum and Dr Ursula Sims-Williams, Curator of Iranian Collections at the British Library. We will be exhibiting antiquities and artefacts pertaining to the ancient Iranian civilization from  the British Museum, the British Library, the Hermitage  The Uzbekistan National Museum and the CSMVS in Mumbai. From the latter institution we hope to have on temporary loan some paintings from the Tata Collection in the Western Gallery.

In addition to obtaining antiquities from India and elsewhere we plan to create certain key exhibits engaging the talent of Indian designers and builders in partnership with our UK-based exhibition designer (Colin Morris Associates). The primary focus of the latter part of the exhibition is the installation of a full scale model of a Walk-in Fire Temple, which will allow visitors to experience what appears to be a continuous and ancient form of worship for over 2000 years.

One of the enduring legacies we envisage which will emerge from this exhibition will be to find a permanent location in Mumbai for this walk-in Fire Temple, allowing people to experience for the first time how the Parsis, who are so well known in Mumbai, celebrate and worship their faith. Such a permanent exhibit will help to clear the mystique surrounding fire temples in India and will be a great learning tool in the study of comparative religion and in the understanding of different faiths.

The second installation is a reproduction of the building inscription of Darius the Great at Persepolis, complete with the magnificent lions and bulls, etched on glass to scale with the facsimile in the British Museum. This would be a unique and visually exciting way of presenting the backdrop to Imperial Iran and the Persian king’s invocation of Ahura Mazda.

It is our intention to donate both the Walk-in Fire Temple and any other created materials to a permanent exhibition space dedicated to Zoroastrianism in the city of Mumbai. I should add here that an exhibition such as ours has never been done before and may also be travelling to the USA where immense interest has been shown for an exhibition on Zoroastrianism.

If you see fit to support our venture then of course you would be acknowledged in the exhibition catalogue and other literature wherever appropriate.

I would like to request that you spend a few minutes looking at the dedicated website which gives a clear idea of how we would like to present the exhibition:

Courtesy : Firoza Punthakey Mistree

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  • The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination

    11th October – 14th December 2012
    Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London

    The exhibition “The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination”
    provides a visual narrative of the history of Zoroastrianism from its ancient Iranian
    roots, to its emergence as the foremost religion of the Achaemenid and Parthian
    empires as well as its consolidation as the state religion under the Sasanians and the
    establishment of the great regnal fires.

    The reach of Zoroastrianism into Central Asia and China and its influence on the
    major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam will also be demonstrated in
    the exhibition. From Iran to the west coast of India the story continues with the
    maritime journey of Zoroastrians and their settlement in India, their growth as an
    immigrant community under British colonial rule, and the later expansion of the
    modern diaspora.

    The exhibition consists of a series of ten stories within the overall historical narrative
    that explores the fascinating ways in which Zoroastrianism has been imagined
    through the art, iconography and literature of non-Zoroastrians down the ages.
    Inside the exhibition artefacts, coins and silverware introduce the ancient and
    imperial periods of Iranian Zoroastrian history. Illustrated texts and manuscripts
    written in Avestan, Pahlavi, Persian and Gujarati languages show how the oral
    tradition was committed to writing during the Sasanian and later periods. The
    economic growth of the Parsi diaspora in India is demonstrated through paintings,
    porcelain, textiles, jewellery and furnishings from the nineteenth century and
    photographic materials will illustrate the grown of the later diaspora in Hong Kong,
    Singapore, the United States and Britain.

    As well as the inclusion of important artefacts, the exhibition transforms areas of
    the gallery with spectacular installations. On approaching the gallery visitors will be
    confronted with a replica of the façade of the Yazd fire temple that will adorn the
    entrance of the building. A walk in fire temple, a central feature of the exhibition
    located on the lower floor of the gallery will consist of a prayer room, inner sanctum
    and ritual precinct where the yasna ceremony is performed. As outsiders are not
    allowed into fire temples in India this will be a unique opportunity for visitors. Other
    signature pieces include a reproduction engraved in glass of the British Museum’s
    10 metre cast of the western staircase from the palace of Darius at Persepolis,
    complete with the magnificent lion and bull motif. Finally, verses from the Gathas of
    Zarathustra will be presented as a series of large calligraphic panels and combined
    with voice recordings of the text to be presented as an audio-visual experience.

    A two day conference titled “Looking Back: The Formation of Zoroastrian Identity
    Through Rediscovery of the Past” and organised by the Centre for Iranian Studies,
    LMEI, SOAS will take place at the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre on the 11 th and
    12th October 2013. Visit for more

    The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication published by IB Tauris
    including essays by Frantz Grenet, Philip Kreyenbroek, Alan Williams and Almut

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