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Keepers of the Flame

elderly woman
Iranian woman in the maze of adobe-walled streets
Photo by Nancy Andrews
Washington Post
May 21, 2000 -- Jacki Lyden travels to Yazd, Iran, the spiritual capital of the Zoroastrians. As early as the 7th century BC, the Prophet Zarathustra had millions of adherents in Central Asia and Persia. The religion he inspired spread from there west to Turkey and east to China, and the tenets of Zoroastrianism united his believers until the rise of Islam in the 7th century AD. The Prophet Zarathustra may have been the first person ever to preach of one God, but relatively little is known about him today.

Jacki Lyden
Jacki Lyden going up the Tower of Silence
Photo by Nancy Andrews
Washington Post
Until its Arab conquest in 636 AD, all of Persia was Zoroastrian -- Zarathustra is said to be from a northern province of Iran. The legacy of Zoroastrians is fused with Persian identity -- the country's ancient and most famous Kings at Persepolis, Darius and Cyrus, were Zoroastrian, and even today, Iran's very calendar and most important civil holidays are historically Zoroastrian. Yet, in a county of 60 million Muslims, only 30,000 Zoroastrians remain.

The legacy of Zarathustra is remembered in the fire shrines of Yazd, its eerie funeral towers called the "Towers of Silence" and the songs and prayers of a fragile
Photo by Nancy Andrews
Washington Post
group of people, the remaining Zoroastrians. Zarathustra preached three commandments of universal harmony: good thinking, good speaking, and good deeds. But in the Zoroastrian villages which encircle Yazd, a combination of religious discrimination in Iran and the movement of young people into the cities has meant that only the elderly remain in all-Zoroasatrian towns. "When we are gone," one older woman says, "then the village will be abandoned." With them will go the last vestiges of a way of village life that has existed many millennia, and though Zoroastrianism may live on around the world, this story tells of the last keepers of the flame, trying to keep the religion alive.

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Keepers of the Flame was produced by Davar Ardalan.

Photographs courtesy: The Washington Post.  camera works logo