SOAS University of London

‘Living Zoroastrianism' from SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies receives special mention at the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS)

3 April 2020

Living Zoroastrianism poster

Virtual Reality project 'Living Zoroastrianism' from Anna Sowa and Almut Hintze from SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies and Chouette Films has received a Special Mention at the 2020 British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS) awards ceremony in the Best Practice Research Portfolio 2020- Installations and Video Essays Special Mentions (Best Practice Research Portfolio 2020)

The judges said that they “found the piece informative and creative, dealing with ancient cultures and rituals, using new VR technology to evoke both the sense of the place and the experience of strangeness in terms of visiting unknown spaces. The work offers a strong contribution to the field of anthropology too as well as creative practice research. It has a documentary aspect which we found fascinating."

All the nominations are on the BAFTSS website

About the project

This unique interactive exhibition engages the public in the Virtual Reality (VR) experience of a three-thousand years old Zoroastrian ritual in which the viewer will be immersed by means of VR glasses. Originating in ancient pre-Islamic Iran, the ritual was filmed in Mumbai 2017 with cutting edge spherical video technology. Visitors can also experience contemporary Zoroastrian Iran via the digitized oral testimony of over 300 interviewees. Displays of manuscripts, costumes, paintings and artefacts provide additional information about this ancient religion.


About the film 

“Living Zoroastrianism” showcases the performance of the core ritual of the religious tradition of pre-Islamic Iran, Zoroastrianism, whose influence is arguably embedded in Judaism, nascent Christianity and Islam. Being some 3500 years old, this ritual, called Yasna, is a highly endangered human inheritance. Today it is performed only in India by the Zoroastrians, or Parsis, but access is limited to members of the microsophic Zoroastrian community of ca. 120,000 members world-wide. For the first time ever, a full-length performance was filmed in Mumbai 2017 by Chouette Films with cutting edge spherical video technology as part of ongoing Arts and Humanities research at SOAS. Opening up the Yasna as a Virtual Reality (VR) experience to world-wide audiences, this 4.08 minutes film shows key scenes from the 3 hours ritual in a creative format. Viewers are immersed into the performance by means of VR glasses and are led by the voice of a Zoroastrian priest explaining that the Yasna is the story of the human soul travelling through the universe. The ritual begins with the act of fetching water from the well - just as the human soul comes into the world - and ends with the libation being poured back to the well - in the same way as our souls return to where they came from. This film not only opens new horizons to both Zoroastrians and non-Zoroastrians but also documents and preserves a highly endangered human inheritance. Moreover, the VR technique documents visual detail of the ritual never seen before, such as the contents of cups, and allows the viewing of scenes happening simultaneously. The film is thus an invaluable source of information which has never before been available, and preserves it for posterity for both scholars and the general public.