Monday, September 16, 2013

The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination

One of the world’s oldest religions, Zoroastrianism originated amongst Iranian tribes in Central Asia during the second millennium BCE and spread to Iran where it became the principal faith until the advent of Islam. Central to the religion is the belief in a sole creator god, Ahura Mazda, his agent Zarathustra (Zoroaster) and the dichotomy between good and evil.

The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination to be held at the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, is the first exhibition of it’s kind to provide a visual narrative of the history of Zoroastrianism, its rich cultural heritage and the influence it has had on the major world religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

A journey

The exhibition takes you on a journey from the earliest days to its emergence as the foremost religion of the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sasanian empires of imperial Iran.

Prof. Paul Webley, director of SOAS says “is very proud indeed both of the distinguished researchers and teachers of Zoroastrianism who have been members of the school in the past and of its continuing commitment to the study of Zoroastrianism. We have an endowed chair in Zoroastrianism and a lectureship in Zoroastrianism, which represents a wonderful pool of expertise.

We are also very grateful for the generous support we have received from the Zoroastrian community to continue this work. So it is a real pleasure that we will be hosting at our Brunei Gallery an exhibition on the history of Zoroastrianism – there is no better location for this and I am looking forward greatly to the opening of the exhibition.”


Ten stories within the overall historical narrative explore the fascinating ways in which Zoroastrianism has been imagined through the art, iconography and literature of non-Zoroastrians down the ages. 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. . From Iran to India the textiles, paintings, jewellery and furnishings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries bear witness to the role of Parsis in the China trade that included opium, silk and tea.

A collection of photographs and maps illustrate the wider diaspora in Hong Kong, Singapore, Britain and the United States.

Key Installations

The exhibition transforms areas of the gallery with spectacular installations. A walk- in fire temple, consisting of a prayer room, inner sanctum and ritual precinct offers a unique opportunity for visitors who are not permitted to enter the fire temples of India and Pakistan. 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 at SOAS will take place at the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre on the 11th and 12th October 2013.


The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication published by IB Tauris including essays by leading academics in the field of Zoroastrian Studies.

Past Horizons. 2013. “The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination”. Past Horizons. Posted: August 6, 2013. Available online:

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