In pictures: Exhibition traces rich cultural history of Zoroastrianism

  • Danish Raza, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 19, 2016 15:55 IST
Gilded silver dish from Rasht, Gilan. (Photo courtesy: National Museum )

A seventh century terracotta fragment representing six Amesha-Spentas (divine Zoroastrian beings), a 1250 CE enameled reliquary casket adorned with the Biblical Wise Men, a replica of a fire temple...

These are some of the 350 exhibits that will be on display at ‘Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination’, an exhibition at New Delhi’s National Museum that will open on March 19.

Dastur Noshirwan Dastur Kaikhushru Behram Framroz (1822-97). (Photo courtesy: National Museum)

The show, which will explore the richness and complexities of Zoroastrianism through artefacts, literary sources, scriptures and paintings, will take you on a journey from the earliest days of Zoroastrianism to its emergence as the foremost religion of imperial Iran.

Naoroji Rustomji Manek Sett (1622 – 1732). (Photo courtesy: National Museum)

“There are 42 lenders to this exhibition including museums as well as individuals across the world. It was a challenge to get them together. It took us almost a year,” said Joyoti Roy, outreach consultant, National Museum.

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“We have a strange idea of Parsis some of which is drawn from films. This is bound to increase your knowledge regarding their philosophy, religion and culture,” added Roy about the exhibition, which was first held at Brunie Gallery, London in 2013.

Enamelled reliquary casket, from Limoges, France 1250 CE (Photo courtesy: National Museum )

This is the first time that the British Library (UK) and the National Museum of Iran have lent objects to India. Other prominent contributors include the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, Tata Central Archives, Pune, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, Ancient India Iran Trust, UK, and The State Hermitage Museum, Russia.

7th century baked clay Biya-Naiman ossuary fragments from Uzbekistan (Photo courtesy: National Museum)

The oldest object in the exhibition is the cuneiform tablet from the historic Royal Library of Ninevah(Mesopotamia) where the names of gods inscribed on the tablet include an early form of the principle Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda. The tablet belongs to the British Museum.

A Sogdian fragment from the Rostam Cycle, 9th century CE, Discovered at Dunhuang, China (Photo courtesy: National Museum)

Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest world religions, 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.

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Central to the religion is the belief in a sole creator god, Ahura Mazda, his emissary Zarathustra (Zoroaster) and the dichotomy between good and evil.

The execution of Mazdak North India Early 17th century, British Library (Photo courtesy: National Museum)

The narrative of the exhibition is divided into 10 sections including The Ancient World, Sacred Texts, The Silk Road, Central Asia and China, The Judeo-Christian World, and Journey and Early Settlement in India, Parsi Salon and Fire Temple.

The battle of Rostam with Afrasiyab. Lahore 1830 CE (Photo courtesy: National Museum)

These segments encapsulate the journey of Zoroastrians from the shores of Iran to the west coast of India where they came to be known as the Parsis, their growth as an immigrant community under British rule in India, and the later expansions. The exhibition is jointly curated by Sarah Stewart (SOAS), Firoza Punthakey Mistree (Zoroastrian Studies, Mumbai), Ursula Sims-Williams (British Library), Almut Hintze (SOAS), Pheroza Godrej (Independent author and curator), and Shernaz Cama (Unesco Parzor). “Compared to the London edition of the exhibition, we have added exhibits from India,” said Sarah Stewart, one of the curators. The display is part of the programme which will have two more exhibitions later this year. Do visit to get a sense of the contribution of Zoroastrians to Indian and world culture.

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