Living Zoroastrianism has opened in London’s Brunei Gallery. Part physical and part digital exhibition, the show explores contemporary Zoroastrianism.
The centrepiece of the show is a Virtual Reality recording of an ancient ritual. The ritual was recorded in a training school for young priests in Mumbai. It is normally kept hidden from Non-Zoroastrians due to its high sacredness.
Chouette Films, the ethical documentary company, recorded the ritual in Mumbai 2017 using spherical video technology. Living Zoroastrianism is revolutionary not just in content, but also in the technology used.
There is something exiting about being allowed to watch a three-thousand years old Zoroastrian ritual through contemporary technology.
The recording will remain a valuable resource for Zoroastrians and non-Zoroastrians alike.
The Zoroastrian religion was founded by the prophet Zarathrusta (Zoroaster). His floruit has no consensus. His life has been dated back to 1,500 or 600 BCE. Some ancient Greek scholars even dated him back to 6,000 BCE.
He taught that the one good god Ahura Mazda was in an eternal struggle against evil, a struggle he will win. Other important elements such as heaven and hell, judgement after death and free will first found their expression in the Zoroastrian faith.
The religion become the state religion of the Persian empires. It may have influenced Jewish clerics who came into contact with it.
Herodotus described Zoroastrian rituals such as disposal of the body in sky burials, but does not mention Zoroaster. There may be some valuable kernels in what he writes:
“They hold it unlawful to talk of anything which it is unlawful to do. The most disgraceful thing in the world, they think, is to tell a lie; the next worst, to owe a debt” Herodotus
This similar to the teaching “Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta, which means: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds”
The majority of the world’s Zoroastrians live in India and Iran. In India, they are sometimes called Parsees. During the British Empire many travelled and several emigrated to Zanzibar.
In Iran, they experience an uneasy protection from the Islamic Republic. Their religion is officially recognised and they are automatically allocated one seat in parliament but their sacred temples have been forced open to non-Zoroastrians and images of the Ayatollah have been forcibly put up.
Several Zoroastrians have settled around the world, including London where a vibrant community lives.
The first Zoroastrian to visit the UK came in 1721 to successfully sue the East India Company.
Alongside Virtual Reality, the exhibition shows holy books written in Avestan, a sacramental language closely related to Sanskrit, and clothes worn by Zoroastrians in Iran. There is a slight difference in the costumes of Indian and Iranian Zoroastrians. India Zoroastrians will wear saris, for example. Portraits give some background to the more recent centuries of this ancient millennia old religion.
The exhibition also shows recordings of Zoroastrians living in Iran. You can watch over 300 interviewees.
This exhibition is held in association with the SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies.
Well worth a visit, you will learn something new from this show.