By Laman Ismayilova
Fire both creates and destroys, it can heal or harm. This magical element has always been important to mankind.
Since ancient times, people have considered fire one of the basic elements of the universe, along with water, air, and earth.
In many cultures, fire appears in ancient legends and myths. Numerous stories explain how people first acquired fire.
Azerbaijan is a unique place full of fire, bubbling mud volcanoes and vast amounts of natural reserves and a long history of fire worship.
Due to its burning hillsides caused by gas seeping through fissures in the earth, Azerbaijanis is often called the "Land of Fire."
It is well-known that the majority of the population living on this territory was fire worshipers and professed Zoroastrianism.
Zoroastrianism was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster in ancient Iran approximately 3,500 years ago and revolves around the worship of fire.
Its traces can be found in Baku, Shamakha, Nakhchivan, Mingechaur, Talysh-Mugan areas.
The Absheron Peninsula and Baku were centers of Zoroastrianism in ancient times.
One of the most famous and popular tourist places of the "eternal flame" in Azerbaijan is Yanar Dag.
This magical place is associated with many legends. Since ancient times, fire worshipers from India and Iran have gathered in these places.
Yanar Dag is a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea near Baku.
Unlike mud volcanoes, the Yanar Dag flame burns fairly steadily, as it involves a steady seep of gas from the subsurface.
The flames emanate from vents in sandstone formations and rise to a height of 10 metres.
Today the religion, culture and traditions of Zoroastrianism remain highly respected in Azerbaijan.
Rooted in Zoroastrianism - the oldest of all monotheist religions - Novruz Bayram has been celebrated since ancient times.
Four pre-holiday Tuesdays of Novruz are Su Chershenbesi (Water Tuesday), Od Chershenbesi (Fire Tuesday) Hava Chershenbesi (Wind Tuesday) and Torpaq Chershenbesi (Earth or Last Tuesday), and each them is dedicated to the awakening of one of the natural elements.
Azerbaijan celebrated Od Cershenbesi (Fire Tuesday) on March 5, the second Tuesday before Novruz Holiday.
For Azerbaijani people, fire is the symbol of purity. After Fire Tuesday the sun gradually begins to warm the earth, and the spring is coming.
On Fire Tuesday, people jump over the fire as it is traditionally believed that all troubles and hardships will be left behind, and the new year will be happy and prosperous.
Fire is never put out by water; it burns down by itself. It is very important to light a bonfire in every yard.
For Azerbaijanis, fire was more than just a natural phenomenon. Probably, therefore, in Turkic languages, the word "hearth" (cradle of fire) also means a home, an edge.
A similar honor is also reflected in the rituals of the holiday of Novruz, an integral symbol of which is the fire.
According to the ancient beliefs of Azerbaijanis, once a year the spirits of deceased ancestors visited their families.
This ancient believe is coincided with the last Tuesdays of the year. If the spirits don't see the fire in the hearths, they immediately leave the house.
On Fire Tuesday, Azerbaijani women usually cook pilaf with beans or chicken.
Laman Ismayilova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Lam_Ismayilova
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