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The Ateshgyakh Fire-Worshippers' Temple

 

The Ateshgyakh

Fire-Worshippers' Temple (18th century) is located within Greater Baku in the village

of Surakhany (15 km from Baku). The historical roots of the monument go back to the hoary

past, to the days when Azerbaijan statehood was only taking shape and establishing itself

and Zoroastrianism, the central part in whose ritual is played by fire, was the dominant

religion in the country. The flaming torches of gas escaping from under the ground and

burning in many places all over the Apsheron Peninsula were believed to have miraculous

divine power.

border=1 src="images/fire_temple0.jpg" width="150" height="156">

border=1 src="images/fire_temple3.jpg" width="104" height="150">

People worshipped

fire, seeking its protection against adversity and oppression and begging it for happiness

and well being. These ancient fires are believed to have given Azerbaijan its name, which

is thought by some researchers to mean "a land of fires".

Centuries passed. Islam was adopted as the country's official

religion. Medieval Azerbaijan carried on trade and exchanged cultural values with many

countries. One of them was India. Indian trades- people brought to their home- land, where

fire today is still regarded sacred, the news about the ever-burning Apsheron fires. From

then on the merchant caravans were followed by pilgrims flocking to the "sacred

flames". Merchants, busy about their trade, did not stay long here.

They

paid money to the local ruler for the right to build cells, prayer rooms, stables, and a

guestroom (balakhane) at the temple. Thus it happened that these structures were built one

after another for a century and a half, from the late 17th to the mid-19th century. That

is why the Ateshgyakh Temple looks not unlike a regular town caravanserai - a kind of inn

with a large central court, where caravans stopped for the night.

border=1 src="images/fire_temple5.jpg" width="227" height="150" alt="Gagarin's picture">

As

distinct from caravanserais, however, the temple has the altar in its center with tiny

cells for the temple's attendants - Indian ascetics who devoted themselves to the cult of

fire - and for pilgrims lining the walls.

border=1 src="images/fire_temple4.jpg" width="99" height="150">

border=1 src="images/fire_temple2.jpg" width="195" height="150">

The inscriptions on

stones set in the walls, made in Sanskrit and Hindi, testify to the Indian origin of the

fire-worshippers' temple at Surakhany. In the course of time, the "eternal

fires" of Apsheron ceased to be viewed as divine. The heat they give has been placed

at the service of the people, and today gas serves people economic and every day needs.

And only the place where the fires used to burn still remains in the memory of the people

under the name of Ateshgyakh (home of fire). Today the temple is a unique monument of

world culture.

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