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Wednesday, 14 March, 2001, 19:17 GMT
Iranians celebrate Festival of Fire
A couple leap over a bonfire to drive out evil
The Festival of Fire dates back to pre-Islamic times
There have been noisy and in places unruly street celebrations in Iran to mark the annual Festival of Fire, an annual ritual that dates back to pre-Islamic times.

State-run media said at least 15 people had been injured in Tehran alone as people jumped over bonfires and let off fireworks to celebrate Chahar Shanbe Suri, a festival marking the end of the Persian year.

The festival, known as the Festival of Fire, has its origins in the ancient Zoroastrian religion, and Muslim clerics have tried to discourage it.

The Ancient city of Persepolis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Zoroastrians would bring offerings to the Kings at Persepolis
The BBC's Tehran correspondent says some youths let off dangerous home-made explosives, as opposed to the usual fireworks, using the festival as an opportunity to vent their frustration at restrictions on social freedoms. The French news agency, AFP, said 40 people were arrested in Tehran in clashes with police.

Purification

The annual ritual takes place on the last Tuesday before the Persian New Year or Nowruz, on 21 March.

Public bonfires are lit on the streets and people jump over them to "purify" themselves and banish evil spirits ahead of the year to come.

Since the Islamic revolution, the clergy has remained opposed to the popular festival, which it sees as superstitious and anti-Islamic. But the ancient ritual has survived many generations and governments.

Ancient Fire Temple at Isfahan
Zoroastrians built fire temples to fight evil
Before Islam came to Iran in the 7th Century, the main religion was Zoroastrianism, named after its founder Zoroaster (in Greek) or Zarathustra (the old Persian name). Some scholars argue that it was the world's first monotheistic religion.

Fire Temples

The Zoroastrians held seven things to be sacred including the four elements of which fire was considered to be holy.

The inner Chamber of the Fire Temple at Isfahan
The ancient fire temple at Isfahan

The present-day Festival of Fire is rooted in the Zoroastrian cult focusing on the battle against evil and the main symbol in this battle was the sacred element Fire.

The most important places of worship were Fire Temples, ruins of which are scattered across what is now Iran as well as parts of Iraq, India and along the Caspian Sea.

The ancient festival of Nowruz has survived as the main New Year festival in Iran to the present day.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Images of the Persepolis fragment and Fire Temples reproduced with the kind permission of Thomas Rochford of the Anglia Polytechnic University at Cambridge.

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See also:

13 Mar 01 | Middle East
Nine Iranian activists freed
11 Mar 01 | Middle East
Khatami: Iran must have democracy
24 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tibetans celebrate Year of Iron Snake
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