In Search of an Ancient Hindu Temple in Azerbaijan

By way of Coming Anarchy, I happened upon this very interesting account of a Zoroastrian (Parsee) account of the search for a fire temple that leads to the remains of an ancient Hindu temple in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Baku's Fire Temple

Turns out the search for a Parsee fire temple led to a Hindu temple, where they worshipped the fire. The fire was kept lit by the natural gas emanating from the ground. How the Hindus got there is a different story – back in the past, in the days of silk-route trade, a lot of Indians used to travel far and wide, and some of them must have ended up in Baku, and set up the temple there. The “Jwalaajee” in Baku is supplemented by another, minor, jwala:

When I visited the Kangra Valley in the Himalaya Mountains some 25 years ago (1900 A. D.), I was told that the current Aatash Kadeh was considered as a Hindu Temple by the Hindu friends I met there. In the year 1900 A. D., I was not well from the after effects of the Cholera I contracted years ago. Hence, I traveled with my relative, Jamshedjee Eruchjee Modi, to the hill town of Dharamshalla in Punjab as guests of his relatives Faraamroj and his brother Naadirshaw Khajooree, for rest and change of climate. After a few days of rest and relaxation, we visited the valleys of Kangra and Kulu by the way of Paalanpoor and Baeznaath. That time I heard that there is a village called Jwaalaajee where at one place natural gas emits from earth, night and day, and the Hindu worshippers throw clarified butter (Ghee) on it so that the fire lights up like a huge fire ball. I went there after hearing about it and saw the place of this burning substance (Jwaalaajee). Talking to the Hindus there, they call this Small Jwaalaajee and stated that their Big Jwaalaajee is in Baku, Aazerbaizaan.

Also, from the story we learn that the name Azerbaijan might have derived from Parsee words:

The origin of this country’s name, Azerbaijan, is from our own word “Aazar” or “Aatar” meaning fire, because in ancient times, there were a number of Aatash Kadehs in this country similar to the natural gas fire in Baku and in other places.

It saddens me greatly that the Parsee religion and way of life is slowly being lost to the world, they are fascinating.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on Baku calls the same temple structure the “Maiden Tower“, and has no mention of it having been a Hindu temple, or a Fire temple in the past. How could it be lost on everyone, especially seeing as the inscriptions in Sankrit/Devanagiri over the entrance? However, the Maiden Tower is widely known in Azerbaijan as a national symbol – found on Currency Notes and other official papers.