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Indian Inscriptions on the Fire Temple at Baku — By the
Rev. Justin E. Abbott, D.D., Bombay, India.
Ok his journey to Persia in 1903 Professor A. V. Williams
Jackson visited the Fire Temple at Baku on the Caspian Sea. 1
He kindly forwarded to me for deciphering a photograph of one
of the fifteen inscriptions he noticed on the walls of the temple
and its precincts.
Professor Jackson has since called my attention to three other
undeciphered inscriptions, published in the Royal Asiatic
Society's Journal for 1897, by Colonel C. E. Stewart, Consul
General at Odessa, accompanied with a description of the Fire
Temple as it appeared on his first visit in 1866, and again in
1881. So far as I am aware, none of these fifteen inscriptions
have hitherto been deciphered and I have been entirely success-
ful only with one, Inscr. A. (see below), the photographic repro-
duction of which is very distinct.
Inscription A. The letters of this inscription are clearly cut
and well preserved. The language is Panjabi, and the alpha-
bet is that of the ordinary Panjabi of the present day. 2 It is
inscribed in seven lines.
The first four lines of the text are the opening lines of the
"Japji," one of the sections of the Adi Granth, the great
religious book of the Sikhs. This special verse of the Japji is
one well known and is daily repeated by all faithful Sikhs.
The remaining lines of the text contain the names of Baba
Jagushah and his disciples, builder or builders of the "sacred
place," Dharamki jagah.
1 See "Notes on a Journey to Persia "in the JAOS., Vol. xxv, p. 177.
2 W. St. Clair Tisdall in his Panjabi Grammar calls the language of
the Japji "a mixture of Braj Bhasha and old Panjabi."
J. M Abbott,
&- ^?T3' ^T^ " 7~ >^^77
Om sati nama karata purakhu nirabhau
niravairu akala murati ajuni saibham
gura prasadi | japu | adi sacu jugadi sa
cu hai bhi sacu Kanaka hosi bhi sacu sati gurapra
sadi Baba Jagusah Suba jisaka cela
Bava Tagusah ji(sa) ka cela Bava Bakasah jisaka ce
la Chatasah dharamki jagah banal
Vol. xxix.] Inscriptions on the Fire Temple at Baku. 301
Om. Whose name is Existence, Creator, The Male, Without
Without enmity, Timeless, Unborn, Self-existent,
Favor of the Guru. Repeat this. He is true in the begin-
He is true from eternity; He is true now; Nanak (says) he
will be true in the future. The favour of the true Guru.
Baba Jagushah Suba, whose disciple is Baba Tagiishah, whose
disciple is Bava Bakashah, whose disciple is Chatashah, built
this religious place.
The Sanskrit equivalents for the Panjabi appellations used
above are Sat, Naman, Karata, Purusha, Nirbhaya, Nirvaira,
Akalamtirti, Ajanma Svayambhu.
A word may be added regarding the age of this inscription.
It contains no date. As it, however, mentions Nanak (1469-
1539), and quotes from the Adi Granth, a work ascribed to Baba
Nanak, and as considerable time must'be allowed for the coming
into existence of a feeling of reverence for the Adi Granth,
such as to account for an insertion of a quotation in this inscrip-
tion, it is probable that its age is the same as that of the Nagari
inscription (see Inscr. C. below) Samvat 1802, A.D. 1645.
Inscription B. This inscription may be found reproduced
in the Royal Asiatic Society's Journal for 1897, page 311.
Like Inscription A above, it is in the Panjabi alphabet and
language. It consists of eight lines, with as a rule 15 syllables
in each line. It also begins with the same quotation from the
Japji as Inscr. A above.
1. Om sati nama karata purakhu nirabha
2. u niravairu akala murati ajuni
3. saibham guraprasadi vahu guruji sarai
7. . . . dharamaki jaga banai . . .
302 J. E. Abbott, [1908.
I feel too uncertain of the text to attempt to give it entire.
After the quotation from the Japji appears the words " vahu
Guruji sarai " "offer to the Guru the sarai," resthouse, or
In the fourth line the title Baba is plain, and in the seventh
line " dharamki jaga banai" "built this sacred place." The
name of the builder or builders appear different from those in
the inscription above, but the purpose of the inscription appears
to be the same, that of recording the names of those who erected
perhaps that particular portion of the Dharamsala, or who had
part in the whole sacred edifice.
Inscription C. Reproduced in JRAS. for 1897, page 311.
This inscription is in the Nagari alphabet. It is in five lines and
is placed directly over the inscription in the Persian alphabet
(Inscr. D below). Both are inserted into the wall over a door-
way in the temple enclosure.
I have succeeded in deciphering only a portion of this inscrip-
tion, but as this portion contains the date Samvat 1802, I have
thereby, settled the era of the date 1158 in the inscription in the
Persian alphabet. It is evident that 1158 belongs to the Hijri
era, since Samvat 1802 and Hijri 1158 correspond exactly to
A D. 1745.
I give below only such part of the text as I have satisfactorily
1. Shri Ganeshayanama: Shri Rama ji sati shri
2. . . . Sahab Samvat 1802 . . .
5. . . saphar dhama . . . banaya . . .
By Saphar dhama I understand a travellers resting place,
sap har journey, and dhama, house; banaya, built.
Inscription D. This inscription is directly under Inscription
C (see above). It is in the Persian alphabet. I am unable to
decipher it. It, however, contains a date, 1158, already noticed
by others (see JRAS. 1897, page 311). The fact that this date
corresponds with Samvat 1802, which I discovered in the Nagari
inscription directly above it, may be assumed as also giving the
date of the building of the temple enclosure.
Vol. xxix.] Inscriptions on the Fire Temple at Baku. 303
General Remarks. This Fire Temple is situated on the
Caspian sea in the Trans-Caucasus Province of Russia, at Suru-
khaneh, a few miles from Baku. Surukhaneh is the site of a petro-
leum refinery which uses the natural petroleum gas for its opera-
tions. Whether this phenomenon of burning gas has had at this
place any religious significance in ancient times is a question that
yet remains to be settled. Some travellers have assumed that the
temple has existed from ancient times, but so far as the evidence
of the inscriptions at present available goes, the Fire Temple
is of Indian origin, and the date of its erection A. D. 1745.
A possible difference of date for that of the center shrine and
that for the enclosing precincts has been suggested. Over one
of the archways of the center shrine there is an inscription
which if it were available would doubtless definitely settle the
question whether the shrine in the center was of the same date
or older. Visitors to the temple have found the inscription too
high up for a satisfactory photograph. In the photo-zinco
reproduction of the center shrine illustrating the description by
Colonel Stewart (JRAS. 1897, p. 311) this inscription can be
seen above the archway, but the letters are too minute and
indistinct to yield any result. For the present the only conclu-
sion that can be drawn from the inscriptions is that the temple,
including the present center shrine, is quite modern, dating
A. D. 1745.
It is of course possible that the present temple may be on
the site of an older structure. The accounts of travellers
before A. D. 1745 who may have visited this region might pos-
sibly settle this question. I have, however, had access to only
a few accounts of such travellers, and these have been silent as
regards the existence of any temple there.
As a matter of interest Prof. Jackson has called my attention
to several modern travellers who have visited Baku, and men-
tion the temple.
Morier's reference to the temple (in his Second Journey
Through Persia, 1800-16, Yol. 2, p. 243) is scant, but he men-
tions meeting with a Hindu pilgrim returning from Baku to
John Ussher (Journey from London to Persepolis, London,
1865) appears to have visited Baku in Sept. 1863. The book
304 J. E. Abbott, Inscriptions on the Fire Temple, etc. [.1908.
contains a coloured frontispiece representing the center shrine
lighted up by the natural gas, both within in the center of the
floor and without at the upper four corners.
Baron Thielmann is referred to in Col. Stewart's article as
mentioning the Fire Temple, but I have not had access to his
When Colonel Stewart visited the temple in 1866 one Hindu
priest alone remained to minister to the sacred fire. In 1881,
when he made his second visit, he found the priest gone, the
fire extinguished and the keys of the temple in the hands of the
engineer of the refinery.
I 1 The reference is to Thielmann, Journey in the Caucasus, Persia, etc.,
2. 9-12, London, 1875. — There is a brief anonymous paragraph, with a
photograph of the temple precinct, in Men and Women of India, 1.
695, Bombay, 1905. Moreover, under date Sept. 21, 1904, the Parsi
Priest Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, of Bombay, wrote me a letter saying
that he had a copy of the inscription on the gate of the temple, given
him by the noted traveler, Sven Hedin, and adds that the copy " clearly
shows that the inscription is Hindu. We read therein Shri Ganesh and
Viram, etc. Unfortunately the very portion of the date is not clear."
—In Henry, Baku, an Eventful History , pp. 25-28, London, 1907, will be
found some general references to the natural fire at Baku and also a
picture of the shrine. A. v. w. J.]