This is a very well compiled overview on Zoroastrianism by Khushnaz Bode.
Life before birth of Zarathushtra
Thousands of years ago a race called the Aryans settled near the Middle-Asian Valleys. They were distinguished people as they were different from others in looks and behaviour. One group of these Aryans migrated to a country known as “Aryanam Vaejo” meaning “The Entrance of the Aryans.” Later on it came to be called to be Iran. These Aryans established a new way of life and a new civilization. Their religion was known as “Mazdayasni Din”. In those days the kings were also religious teachers. They were called the benefactors of mankind. At the same time there existed the “Devayasni” Cult who were worshippers of demons and evil powers and offered animal sacrifices to Idols. The Mazdayasni Aryans who had loving devotion to The Almighty feared the devilish broods and the two cults many a times clashed in bloody battles. The Twenty Ninth Gatha describes the terrorist gangs who thrived by plunder and arson throughout Iran, partly through their sinister influence at the royal court. The Aryans therefore prayed to Almighty for “the appointment of a strong valiant hero who would crush the heroes with his superior might.”
The Birth of Zarathushtra
At this time Zarathushtra was an Angelic Being who was immortal. He answered the divine call of the humble Aryans and came to this earth as The Messenger of “The Creator of The Universe”. When the scheming gang came to know about this they resolved to destroy Him even while he was a baby taking advantage of the friendship and intimacy enjoyed by “Durasarun” in the home of “Paurushasp – the father of the divine child.”
Zarathushtra = (Zara means golden, thush means shining, stra means star) actually illuminated the place he was born with His divine aura. There was a smile on His face at birth and the entire nature was jubilant.
He was born in Balkh during the reign of Vishtasp to mother Dogdo and father Paurushasp of priestly family of Spitama, on the day Khurdad that is now celebrated as Khurdad Sal. The Greek historians put the date of His birth between 6400-7000 B.C. He was therefore the First Prophet and Messenger of God.
The enemies and obstacles faced by Zarathushtra
As a child Zarathushtra had enemies who plotted to have Him killed without causing suspicion Durasarun who had free access to Paurushasp’s house attempted to burn the baby on the pyre of burning faggots. Asha Vashishta The Arch Angel caused the ambers to get cold so that mother Dogdo during her search found the son playfully enjoying the strange outdoor bed!
The baby was also placed in a lane frequented by cattle with the intent that it could get trampled to death but Angel Behman inspired a gentle cow Purmaye to stand guard over the child while the other heads passed out of the lane.
Durasaran used the savage wolves to devour the baby in a distant den but the jaws of the wild beast got a severe cramp and the wolf went away into the forest in pain and anguish. The baby would have died of hunger and thirst but angels Meher And Sroasha came to the rescue in the guise of milk goats suckling the baby.
Durasaran now got so frustrated that he decided to strike a dagger into the baby but his hands got permanently paralysed and twisted that thence-forward he could never use them and he ate or drank like wild beasts from plates placed before him.
Zarathushtra gains enlightenment
At the age of twenty-five Zarathushtra retired to a secluded spot for deeper meditation and contemplation of God’s plan He chose a cave near a shepherd’s hut and tried to “hold converse” inwardly with God. The shepherd helped him daily with milk and bread. On one occasion he expressed an ardent desire “to have a clear vision of God and to hold interrogation with the Creator”.
It was then that Sroasha the intermediary at the Court Of God recited the sacred hymns that Zarathushtra later on sang before his congregation. When He received Daena from God about the message he was appointed to preach he left the mountain resort and prepared to visit the royal court and ask for patronage from king Gushtasp.
Zarathushtra receives patronage from the Royal King
King Gushtasp has been depicted in The Gathas as a saintly soul. When Zarathushtra requested the king to help him in the propagation of the new message of God the King put forth conditions before the Divine One. Zarathushtra entered into debates with Apostates and proved that the new message was superior and flawless. He performed miracles and held a wonderful ball of fire, which continued to glow without any fuel, and amazingly did not scorch his palm when he held it. Gushtasp had a dream where the angels requested him to help Zarathushtra in spreading the message of God. Thus the king and his entire family helped Zarathushtra to spread his message far and wide. The new religion received the states patronage. The apostles, the queen, the members of the royal family and others took an active part in spreading the new Gospel.
Zarathushtra dies in a conflict
However there was a neighbouring ruler Arjasp (Turani by clan) who protesting against this movement invaded Iran to force Gushtasp to foreswear his new allegiance. While the armed conflict was raging outside Zarathushtra was absorbed in his devotions within a holy temple. A Turani soldier Turbaratur by name fatally stabbed the Prophet within the shrine. It was the day of: Khurshed of the month Dae when Zarathushtra was seventy-seven years and forty days old. The Turani army was defeated but Iran lost a precious soul. It was then Jamasp succeeded the pontifical throne as “Zarathushtratema” and led the religious movement with the help of the royal court.
Spread of Zarathustrianism
In the reign of King Vishtasp, Zarathushtra gave new teachings to his people that left a permanent mark on the Iranian mind and shed their lustre on all succeeding ages of the world. Zarathushtrianism kept on spreading in eastern Iran further and further till before the sixth century B.C. it had spread all over Persia.
Loss of scriptures
However the Greek invasion and conquest proved to be fatal to the long continued prosperity. Persia and Zarathushtrianism both suffered greatly under the Greek supremacy, which lasted, but for a short time. After his conquest Alexander committed an act, which has been a cause of abiding regret to all succeeding generations. In a drunken frolic he set fire to the magnificent palace of Persepolis in which numerous and priceless volumes of Iranian literature were treasured up. This reckless act caused unquestionable damage and irreparable loss to the Zarathushtrian religion and philosophy and to the world of science and knowledge. However Ardeshir who was the most enthusiastic supporter and upholder of the Zarathustrian religion restored some scriptures.
Opposition to Mithra
Considering that Darius the Great was affiliated with Zoroastrianism, in his petrography is written that Zarathustra praised Ahura Mazda (God) as the creator of heaven and earth. Herodotus, the Greek historian also testifies that the Iranian religion at that time has been monotheism and they had been blaming idolatry. This is a good reason, why Zarathustra, revolted against Mithra that was the Iranian religion before him. Because, in Mithra, the oneness of God was not known to the people, plus the fact that in Mithra, sacrificing animals and also consumption of narcotics and intoxicating beverages (called Haoma) that desist the people from good reflection, were prevalent and Zarathustra was against them. For such reasons Zarathustra, rose against the Mithra belief system.
Zarathushtrians come to India
In the 7th century C.E., the Arabs conquered Iran and many of them settled there and gradually imposed their own religion of Islam. In the early 10th century, a small group of Zoroastrians seeking freedom of worship and economic redress left Iran and sailed towards the warm shores of Western India. They eventually arrived along the Gujarat coastline in 936 C.E. at a place they named Sanjan, some 180 kms north of Bombay. There they flourished and came to be known as the Parsees (Persians). Over the millennium, a small band of faithful Zoroastrians have continued to live in Iran and have tried to preserve their culture and religious traditions as best as possible.
Dual nature of the Universe
Zoroastrianism is based on understanding the dual nature of the universe. We find the dual aspect of everything around us: “Life and Form, Birth and Death, Increase and Decrease, Light and Darkness, Truth and Falsehood, The Permanent and The Transitory, Joy and Sorrow, Health and Disease, Plenty and Famine and so on. In Yasna-60 we pray that the former aspects may win victory over the latter. The universe has Gaeti-minoani that is material or corporal form as well as the spiritual essence. Man has Tani-Rovani that is physical vestures and its inner ensouling life. Behind every moving material form there is life and also consciousness. Man has a mortal body but also an evolving grade of intelligence thus dualitys the general rule in all beings. Zarathushtra has taught man to seek the welfare of the soul. He says that man cannot live by bread alone. There are hopes and aspirations, which need to be fulfilled to regain our lost paradise and to do so the soul has to be nourished. Love, devotion, knowledge, selfless service, courage, patience and other virtues are the sources of spiritual sustenance. A Prophet is a supporting pillar a guide who helps mankind develop and inner vision. Religion is not confined to scriptures alone but it is Daena an inner vision that we also call as the “sixth-sense” that helps us to lead a life nearer to God.
The nature’s law of cause and effect
Zarathusthra seems to have become convinced that all events of the world are based on cause and effects. He has, therefore, based his teachings on three principles: good reflection, good word, and good deed. He was wise enough to recognize that all the motives of human beings are based on action and reaction. Because, the receiver of every good deed in this world will react accordingly with the good behavior. Therefore, in the realm of interaction, if human beings act favorably, they receive favorable reaction and vice versa. In this regard, if a person robs another one, he should not be surprised when some day he will be robbed as well. Zarathustra never imagined praising a God who is a bribe taker. The one, who is bribed by worship and then he rewards his worshiper with a part of paradise. The Almighty God is not a dealer, he is neither a buyer nor a seller, and does not need also to be flattered by his creatures. The almighty God of Zarathustra is the initiator of justice, kindness, and truthfulness and guides his creatures to the same principles. That is why, Zarathustra, has based his philosophy on good reflection, good word, and good deed. In Zarathustra’s philosophy, everybody has the liberty to choose the right way, out of his/her good reflection and since human wisdom is more related to good reflection, thus the followers of Zoroastrianism should precede by each other to the propagation of science and education. In this manner, Zoroastrianism becomes the forerunner of knowledge and enlightenment.
The principles of Zoroastrians
The chief principle of our religion is it is a living force in our life, which permeates our behaviour on all occasions. Some hypocrites may deceive others by assuming a guise of religiosity and outward piety but God cannot be deceived. A truly religious man would be unassuming and humble and would not lead a double life. Blessed are those who are pure and innocent at heart.
According to the historical documents and the surveys of writers, any of the Zarathustra’s principles are confirmed by contemporary ethics, while the other religions have not dealt with them. As an example:
- 1. Equality between men and women are frequently mentioned in Gatha and we know that in the Iranian history, women such as “Pourandokht,” have been reigning in Iran.
- 2. Cleanliness of water, land, air, and fire is one of the chief characteristics of Zarathustra and particularly, Herodotus has alluded to the cleanliness of running water in section 138 of his first book in the ancient Iran.
- 3. There is no mention of inhumane theory and practice of slavery in Zarathustra.
- 4. Another praiseworthy doctrine of Zoroastrians, which is frequently mentioned in Gatha, is denunciation of laziness. Laziness and taking advantage of the products of others toils is strongly reproached as the act of oppression. Everybody should take it upon himself/herself to relieve the oppressed people from exploitation by others. Everybody should subsist by the fruits of his/her own labor.
- 5. Idolatry, litholatry, and human made paces of worship are reproached in Zarathustra. Human beings with mud and stone cannot make “God’s house,” it is the soul and heart of them.
- 6. In Zoroastrianism not only oppression toward human beings is strongly condemned; Gatha frequently reproaches cruelty against animals. Sacrifice of animals by human beings is considered the criminality of mankind against animals.
All these principles convey that Zoroastrians believe in maintaining purity inside their heart and their surrounding indirectly worshipping the forms of nature that God created.
The custom of wearing Sudreh Kushti.
Every Zoroastrian who is introduced into the thread ceremony popularly known as “Navjote” has to wear Sudhre and Kushti regularly. A Zoroastrian is initiated into the Navjote which is the formal entry into the religion and which teaches us about purity and simplicity. It is the rebirth of a son or a boy into this world with eyes open. It is significant because the prayers evoke the sixth sense in the child which guards him from the bad and the evil and directs him to lead a truthful, honest pure and simple life which helps him to move towards his ultimate goal that is to meet God.
The Sudreh is a pure white muslin shirt, which is sacred. The white colour is symbolic to innocence, and the pocket in front of the neck has to be sealed with good thoughts words and deeds. The sealed pocket at the back of the Sudreh reminds us to close the door of our heart and mind to Ahriman. The Kushti is a sacred thread made out of the wool of a lamb, which again signifies innocence and purity. The Parsees face the sun and recite their prayers during the day and before going to sleep with the help of the Sudreh and the Kushti. The significance is from the east we invite all that is good and all that gives shelter warmth and life to us. The Kushti is stroked thrice to get rid of the vices from our surroundings. The Kushti is like a sword, which fights evil and the knots that we tie into it, signifies resolutions about religious and moral thoughts. The performers thus help to keep the surroundings and the society free from evil.
Temples as Houses of God”
God as is all pervading Omnipotent deity and so has no circumscribed location or residence. The whole nature and the universe must indicate His presence. Parsees are nature worshippers and they pay homage to The Creator perceived through observing His creation. In that Namaskar we turn to all the four cardinal points and enumerate His various objects that remind us of His skill and immanence: the mountains, the oceans, the stars and the sun, the forest and the garden and the vast universe that sustain us. In Avesta the Sun is specially mentioned as “the most beautiful body of God.” We needed a symbol which could remind us of his glory: which signified light, heat, energy, vitality, virility, regenerative and productivity and so the Mazdayasni people founded Fire-Temples and called fire as the Son of God and also the Emblem of the most bountiful Creator.
It is an error to consider the hot blowing ambers as the only aspect of fire. Our scriptures point out there are several other invisible aspects like it vitalises and energises each cell and atom in our body like-The Fire of Emotion-The Fire of Quick Decisions and Inspiration-The Fire of Will Power and strangest of all “THE FIRE THAT IS OUR INNER INSTRUCTOR!” It is the true spiritual counterpart in man that is “WE ARE THE TEMPLES WITHIN WHICH IS INSTALLED A SACRED OF DIVINITY”. Our fire temples give out light and heat from the altar but within the shrine is the aura of Almighty, which keeps glowing due to the presence of an invisible Guardian Angel. OUR HOMAGE IS THUS TO THIS OCCULT PRESENCE THAT BLESSED THE VISITORS WHO OFFER THEIR DEVOTIONS.
Worshipping the Divine Creator through Fire
The Archangel “AshaVahishta” is in charge of all luminous orbs and light. He spreads the aura of Purity all around through the consecrated altar. Whoever offers fragrant wood or incense does so with the implied idea, which symbolically says that he is laying his vices on the altar to be reduced to ashes. The very action is autosuggestion of self-reformation.
A throne prepared five times everyday for the installation of the divine presence. A Zoroastrian imagines God as the supreme ruler and performs this ritual. At this time a bell is rung “to dispel all evil thoughts words and deeds from the centre throughout the surrounding locality.” It is a place where the sick and the suffering get consolation, where people seek inspiration through quite contemplation and pour their hearts out in gratitude in providence.
Consecration of the Sacred Fire
A ritual formulated for the consecration of the sacred fire seems to have developed from the eight chapter of Vandidad. It says that the fires used for different purposes and by different tradesmen maybe carried from their place of use business and enshrined in a Dadgaah. The list of are enumerated as follows:
- 1 Fire used in burning a corpse
- 2 Fire used in burning filth
- 3 Fire used in burning dirt
- 4 Fire used by a potter
- 5 Fire used by a glass blower
- 6 Fire used by a coppersmith
- 7 An ironsmith
- 8 A steel smith
- 9 A baker
- 10 A goldsmith
- 11 A silversmith
- 12 A furnace worker
- 13 A tinsmith
- 14 A shepherd
- 15 A military man or a soldier
- 16 And a Zoroastrian neighbour.
These fires are collected in a particular manner. A Zoroastrian after reciting prayers must take a perforated ladle and arrange a little powdered sandalwood and frankincense and such other substances, which may easily ignite. This ladle that he carries at a time to the places mentioned above must not touch the existing fire. The Zoroastrian will only hold the ladle close to the fire in such a manner that the fuel in the perforated ladle gets ignited. This fire is brought from each respective burning ground and is taken and placed on a ground open to wind. By its side in a windward direction is placed a heap of powdered sandalwood, frankincense and such other easily combustible substances. The heat and the blaze of the fire carried by the wind towards the heap ignite it. This fresh fire is fed with fuel. This process is repeated ninety one times. Each preceding fire is allowed to extinguish. The fire ignited for the ninety-first time is considered to be fit for use in a fire temple. All other fifteen fires are similarly collected and purified. The ultimate fire is produced by friction of two pieces of flint and is added to the remaining ones. The rekindled fires are then placed in pits again a perforated ladle containing fuel is placed over these fires and further rekindled. This is repeated ninety-one times. The fire thus produced is said to be purified and fit for consecration. The fire collected and purified and placed in a censer and taken to a place where the religious ceremonies for the consecration are performed. The significance is just like the fire a man who is liable to commit sins and crimes and who is likely to come into contact with hundreds of evils must undergo the process of purity and piety through a sieve of virtuous karma and acquire and exalted position in the next world. So before God like the fire all men are equal provided they pass through the process of purification.
When a Parsee visits a fire temple the priest offers him the ash of a part of the burning fire, which he applies on his forehead. The significance is “dust to dust.” The fire, which was all brilliant shinning and resplendent spread its fragrance around him and at last is reduced to dust and so like the fire a Zoroastrian must also spread the fragrance of charity and good deeds, righteousness and knowledge before he dies. The fire is a perpetual monitor top a Zoroastrian asking him to preserve piety purity humility and brotherhood
This sacred fire is never allowed to extinguish and the officiating priest through his prayers takes care of this sacred fire and gives it the highest grade that is the grade of Almighty.
According to the Avestha the celestial light considered in itself the most important of all the objects of Ahura Mazda. This sublime element through its principle boons of illumination beauty life and sustenance attracts to itself the love of the whole universe and most appropriately has been given the designation of Mithra. In Meher yasht Mithra is represented as the first-born, matchless, the most powerful, the greatest and the fairest creature of Ahura Mazda.
Ahura Mazda created Mithra (SUN) in order that all the beauties of nature are rendered visible. Mithra rising on the eastern mountain throws his rays across and illumines all the seven regions of the earth. His influence is universal. He is the greatest benefactor, the best purifier, the prime cheerer, the preserver and the maintainer of all the creatures of Mazda. He is vivifies and promotes waters on earth. He increases the vegetal and animal kingdoms. He gives men health happiness and joy. He challenges all the off springs of darkness and drives away fear, indolence, evil and anger. He is highly exalted and commands the affection and respect of all humanity. Ahura and Mithra both evoked together and so he represents the Lord himself. Mithra is the principle seat of divinity and therefore is always brilliant, majestic and beautiful. It is not only considered divine but has also won the admiration of scientists and praises of poets. They call it the bloom of colours, the beauty of the world, the smile of heaven, the joy of nature, the image of God, the life of all things, the delight of the eye and the soul and encircling bond of the universe. It is considered to be the first ornament of the world in creation, which dispelled chaotic darkness and disorder on earth and therefore was praised by the Creator himself. Hence we Zoroastrians while praying to Ahura Mazda stand and bow before light whether it is the purer light radiating from the sun, the moon or the stars or it be artificial such as the one that emanates from our own earth. While reciting our prayers we therefore stand facing the sun.
Atar he is the most welcome guest at the hearth of the Zoroastrians who is enjoying feed him with wood inscence and keeping him always alight. He is the universal instrument of all the necessities, conveniences and comforts of life. In Yasna He is described as highly useful, joyful, helpful, powerful and energetic. He gives man abundance of glory, nourishment, an active soul, an expanded mind, lasting virility and long life. He is a great purifier of al sustenance in nature.
Fire is also called ArdiBesht. According to Avestha Atar and Asha are most intimately connected to each other. Asha is maintained through the fire in every spirit. Light according to Avestha is a symbol of truth, heat, love cosmic vital energy, astronomical centre of unity penetrating stirring and shaping all things. The soul itself is said to glance down from heaven as a beam of light and as a beam to return from where it came. The Zoroastrians meant by fire whatever was noblest in personal will; and would not allow that it ever destroyed life even when one was burned to death, it must serve life and not destroy it.
Pyrolatry is common to all religions. No other element so perfectly represents supreme forces as the element of fire. For all tribes from India to Peru, the fire burning on the altar fed by the purest as most vigilant that it may never become extinct is the type of security, immortality and adequate care. Into this holy hearth flame no defiled thing should enter. The Vedic Aryans saw Agni rise from his primitive fire churn to bring down the blessings of God. The Avesthans and their descendants recognised physical lights as only the symbol of truth and purity.
Zarathushtrians therefore at all costs do not defile fire but worship and pray so that it becomes purer by every minute. The month of Adar and the roj of Adar are dedicated to the divinity of fire. Zarathushtrians scrub their kitchens with the fragrance of loban and prepare the stove for the Adar Yazad Parab. They decorate the floor around the stove with ‘chalk’ and garland it with fresh marigolds, they chant the “Atash Nyaish” prayer and thank the divinity of fire which serves them the whole year round. The prayer praises and appreciates the good deeds performed by the fire to help man in his progress and appeals to Ahura Mazda that let men not use this force for warfare and destruction by making firearms and bombs, they appeal to God not to defile the fire at any cost.
In all the portions of the Avestha side by side with the unfolding of the spiritual nature we find references to the various material objects of nature on earth and in the heavens, which are described in glorifying terms and given strong personal epithets. Thus this lay Avestha open to the charge of preaching nature-worship? It would if Nature was presented to a spiritual power and us as a self-subsisting and not in relation to a higher and overruling if the whole creation in all its varieties of working had been viewed without reference to its great Author.
Ahura Mazda refers to the vast extent of the universe and talks about its beauty and order, the Sun, the Moon and the Stars, the phenomena of light, darkness, wind, storm, cloud and rain and the wonders of waters and plants and lastly the mortal nature of man. Among these the most prominent are light (Mithra), fire (a^tar), air (vayu), water (ap) and earth (zen). They are said to be obeying the good law or will of Ahura Mazda the nature receive help & strength from Him and power from Him, as he is the only Creator, Provider and Nourishes. He maintains, preserves and protects them all through His most powerful agents.
Yashts sixth seventh and twentieth are chiefly devoted to “fields” of light mainly The Sun, The Moon, the Stars, Tishtriya, Satavesas, Vanant we are told that they are all everlasting luminous bodies. They move on their path with the velocity of a fiery stead or a flying arrow. They rise, set, increase, and diminish in light and warmth according to their positions in the firmament.
The Avesthan records refer to various species of plants and animals too. They talk of their productive power and their countless benefits, which they confer, on all things on the face of our globe. According to Avestha the earth is the mother (berethri) who provides for animals, men, cattle, wild beasts, insects, birds and fish. It takes great delight in producing plants and vegetables, water and air necessary for their sustenance.
In connection with the atmosphere, which is of essential service in the economy of nature, the Avestha speaks of Vayu – the air in repose and Vata –the air in motion. Vayu is said to be bright and luminous and has a predominant influence over all things in nature good and bad. He is present everywhere and is considered to be good and holy. He is the worker of good for his creator Ahura Mazda. He makes possible an intercourse and communication between different objects. According to Vandidad water goes up and down the aerial way. A large mass of water rise in the shape of vapour from the wide expanse of the sea, they rise up and give birth to rain clouds and returns to the same sea and to the earth from which it has separated itself for a time. This is how Vayu is shown in the Avestha as the separator and the uniter of the Waters.
Vayu is an important source of utility to all animated creatures. He supplies the higher and the lower animals with an unfailing stalk of food, with fresh water and plants and with prolonged life so that men and women can fulfill their desired needs comfortably. Vayu not only contributes to the welfare of man’s body but also to the health of his soul. Under the enlivening and invigorating effects the soul avoids evil and is enable to deliver itself from malignant thoughts and feelings.
Vata is the hot and the cold wind it is good and holy, mighty swift and speedy. It is a powerful element which purifies the atmosphere which otherwise would be unwholesome and dry. It propels the rain clouds to scatter and disperse them and to make them water on earth.
Zoroastrians therefore keep the environment clean, pure and hygienic. The sacred fire is placed in a small vase and is kept lighted throughout the day. The same fire is taken all around the house to purify the air especially during sunset. The custom of putting rangoli is one of the ways by which we can assure that the home environment remains germ and pest free. In the Vandidad chapter no 21 we thank God for creating the Vayu and The Vata and pray that it prevails over the surface for all times to come.
Another most beautiful substance and the most productive force of nature, which attracted the attention of our sacred writers, is water. They tell us that this elementary substance in the constitution of our globe is forever floating between the earths and the heavens. It ascends from the wide seas (Vouru Kasha) in the form of vapour and descends again in showers of rain. The waters come down in large torrents from the great height of mount Hukairya breaking into hundreds and thousands of channels, which flows, into the farms and the fields of the seven Karshvares. Avestha mentions various forms and conditions of water like the rain, clouds, sleet, snow, hail, and running waters that of the rivers and also the fierce rush and foaming and roaring waters of vast seas. Water is also an element, which is good and beneficial. It plays an important in giving existence nourishment and increase to all vegetable and animal life. It is a wholesome drink and most valuable as a remedy to man. It cleanses his body and all the material objects useful to him. It has fertilising and purifying powers, which helps us towards spiritual and material welfare.
All Fire temples have an open well where all Zoroastrians light a lamp and pray to Avan Yazad, to bless mother earth with bountiful of water, the well is covered with a net and we are forbidden to offer flowers or coconuts, as we believe in keeping water holy and pure.
On a particular day- Avan mahino and Avan roj we celebrate the festival of Avan Yazad. It is a sort of a birthday celebration for the Angel who looks after the waters. The Parsees either go to the riverside or the seaside or offer the traditional gift sugar candy and milk. The members stand on the shores and pray the Ava Yasht a prayer glorifying the purifying properties of this Ahuric creation. It is believed that if Avan Yazad is happy with the prayers she grants boons where all wishes come true. We also carry some Holy water to their respective homes and sprinkle it on the threshold of our homes praying that let the waters make our world fresh and sweet.
Avestha is very rich in personifications metaphors and allegories. Lifeless objects as well as abstract conceptions are very frequently spoken as living creatures Vohuman denotes the divine benevolence, pure mindedness; Asha-Vahishta the divine order, truth the utmost righteousness in the faithful or the element fire which serves god and man to destroy the impurities of the world preserve and promote the physical, spiritual order and welfare amongst mankind; Khshatra-vairya, the sovereign power, the kingdom of God, the excellent strength in the faithful, Spenta Armaiti, the bountiful readiness of divine mind which constantly must flourish. Haur-vatat and Aneretat health or welfare and long life and immortality and also represent the waters and the plants which are essential to promote life, health and welfare.
Adar denotes fire, Avan water, Khrshed sun, Mohr the moon, Tir the star Sirius, Gosh the soul of kine, Meher truth or friendship, Sroash obedience, Rashanu truth or justice, farvandin the power in every tends to protect, Behram victory, Ram joy and comfort, Govad wind, Din law of religion, Chisti wisdom, Arshivangh abundance, Ashtad rectitude, Asman the sky, Zamyad earth, Mahraspend the wholly word, Aneran endless lights, Hormazd the health giving plant. This makes the Parsee calendar.
The Guardian Angel
According to tradition, “Faravahar,” is one the symbol of Zoroastrianism.
Briefly, it can be said that “Faravahar,” is the spirit of human being that had been existed before his/her birth and will continue to exist after his/her death. It is important to know that “Faravahar,” should not be confused or replaced by creator or Ahura Mazda.
Explanation of the Faravahar Symbol
1. The Faravahar’s face resembles the face of human being and therefore, indicates its connection to mankind.
2. There are two wings in two sides of the picture, which have three main feathers. These main feathers indicate three symbols of “good reflection,” “good words,” and “good deed,” which is at the same time the motive of flight and advancement.
3. The lower part of the Faravahar consists of three parts, representing “bad reflection,” “bad words,” and “bad deed” which causes misery and misfortune for human beings.
4. There are two loops at the two sides of the Faravahar, which represent “Sepanta Minu,” and “Ankareh Minu.” The former is directed toward the face and the latter is located at the back. This also indicates that we have to proceed toward the good and turn away from bad.
5. There is a circle in the middle of the Faravahar’s trunk. This symbol indicates that our spirit is immortal, having neither a beginning, nor an end.
6. One hand of the Faravahar, points upwards, showing that we have to struggle to thrive.
7. The other hand holds a ring. Some interpreters consider that as the ring of covenant, representing loyalty and faithfulness, which is the basis of Zarathustra’s philosophy.
According to the Zoroastrian texts, Ahura Mazda (Ph. Ohrmazd), through His Omniscience knew of His Own Goodness and His Infinite Self, as well as He was aware of the Hostile Spirit’s limited strength and finite existence. In order to destroy His adversary, Ahura Mazda created an immaculate material world of the seven creations to trap the Hostile Spirit. Ahura Mazda knew that Anghra Mainyu, because of his inherently destructive nature and ignorance, would attack the material world bringing within it disorder, falsehood, wickedness, sorrow, cruelty, disease, suffering and death. Man, Ahura Mazda’s finest creation is believed to be the central figure in this cosmic struggle. The prophet declared that it is during this period of conflict that man, through free will, should choose to fight and vanquish the Hostile Spirit using the ethical paradigm of Goodness, the Good Mind, Truth, Power, Devotion, Perfection and Immortality. These seven qualities collectively came to be known as the Amesha Spentas—"Bounteous Immortals". It is the responsibility of man to imbibe the virtues of these divinities in order to know how to generate the right thoughts, words and actions. Zarathushtra recognized that the use of these principles of righteous living would enable man to bring about the eventual annihilation of evil in this world.
Disposing the dead body without defiling the sources of nature.
According to the Zoroastrian religion earth fire and water are sacred and very useful to mankind and in order to prevent their pollution by contact with putrefying flesh, the Zarathushtra religion strictly enjoins that the dead bodies should not be buried in the grounds or thrown into the seas rivers etc.
In accordance with their religious injunctions the Parsees build their tower of silence on the available tops of hills. No expenses spared in constructing them of the hardest and the best material with a view that they might last for centuries without the possibility of polluting the earth or contaminating any living being dwelling thereon.
The main principle at the bottom of the Parsee custom of disposing the dead is the strict religious ceremony enjoined therewith, is this that the body, when the immortal soul has left it, should preserving all possible respect for the dead be disposed off in a way which is least harmful and least injurious to the living. The Avestha scriptures emphasise here on ideas of sanitation, segregation, purification and cleanliness.
When the pious soul departs the method of carrying the body for disposal from beginning to end is the same for the rich and the poor. After all ceremonies are performed and prayers are recited, the body is kept on an iron bier by nassasalars and carried to the Tower of Silence. Inside the tower the body is kept on a circular platform of the well, which is about 300feet in circumference. The well is entirely paved with large stone steps well cemented and divided into three rows of shallow open receptacles corresponding with the three moral precepts of the Zoroastrian religion “Good Deeds”, “Good Words” and “Good Thoughts”. The clothes wrapped around the corpse are removed and destroyed immediately; they are thrown in a pit outside the tower and are destroyed by the combined action of sulphuric heat and air, after the body is placed in the tower. There are footpaths for copse-bearers to move about. A deep central well known as the Bhandar in the tower about 150 feet in circumference is used in depositing dry bones. The copse is completely stripped off its flesh by vultures within an hour or two and the bones of denuded skeletons when perfectly dried up by atmospheric influences and the powerful heat of the tropical sun are thrown into this well where they gradually crumble to dust chiefly consisting of lime and phosphorous.
There are holes in the inner side of the well through which rainwater is carried into four underground drains at the base of the tower. These drains are connected with four underground wells, the bottom of which is covered with a thick layer of sand. Pieces of charcoal and sandstone are also placed at the end of each drain, which are renewed from time to time. These double sets of filter are provided for purifying the rainwater passing over the bones before it enters the ground- THUS OBSERVING ONE OF THE TENETS OF THE ZOROASTRIAN RELIGION THAT EARTH SHALL NOT BE DEFILED.
The vultures do their work much more expeditiously then millions of insects would do, if dead bodies were buried in the ground. This rapid process most effectually prevents putrefaction with all its concomitant evils. In the compound of the tower there is a small building called Sagri where is sacred fire is kept burning day and night.
On the nassasalars completing their work in the tower and locking the tower notice is given by a clapping of hands to all those who have accompanied the funeral procession to recite the Sroash Baj. They recite a short prayer which say “ We repent of all our sins. Our respects to you oh departed soul and also the spirits of the holy.” They’re after all those who come to pay respects at the funeral return home and compulsorily take a bath before following their ordinary vocations. Thus at the bottom of all religious injunctions and restrictions in connection to the funeral ceremonies and the disposal of the dead body lies the principle of the prevention of contamination and the idea of observing simplicity and equality.
NON ZOROASTRIANS according to tradition are not permitted to witness the funeral rites, these ceremonies and rituals can only be witnessed by the Parsees for the simple reason that non Zoroastrians by the Sudhreh and kushti and are vulnerable to the contaminating Fiendnasu.
A real and a true-life incident that happened in the past talks about a sad irreversible technical error made in a well appointed hospital. A newborn baby declared dead at birth lay in the hospital morgue all night. Next day the grieving parents took the tiny lifeless body home. The pre funeral wash revived the heartbeat for a few minutes and the parents rejoiced. Then the baby gave up its struggle and died. Had the technical error and the night spent in a freezing morgue robbed this infant of its life? What exactly determines the moment of separation of the spirit from the physical form? And was there an infallible way of knowing when a person was dead, thus the rituals of taking a mongrel “char-chashm” dog near the dead body. This dog confirms that the spirit has left the body. The dog also recognises Nasu who is stunned by the dog’s gaze and cannot attack the nervous soul of the deceased or spread its Nasa on to the congregation, as it would like to do.
Zoroastrians also burn a lamp continuously for thirty days and every single day put a small pot of water and fresh flowers in the chamber of the deceased. For three days after death the family abstains from meat and consumes a vegetable diet.
Upon physical death (which is seen as the temporary triumph of evil), the soul will be judged at the Bridge of the Separator, where the soul, it is believed, will receive its reward or punishment, depending upon the life which it has led in this world, based upon the balance of its thoughts, words and deeds. If found righteous, the soul will ascend to the abode of joy and light, whilst if wicked, it will descend into the depths of darkness and gloom. The latter state, however, is a temporary one, as there is no eternal damnation in Zoroastrianism. There is a promise, then, of a series of saviours the Saoshyants, who will appear in the world and complete the triumph of good over evil. Evil will be rendered ineffective and Ahura Mazda, the Infinite One, will finally become truly omnipotent in Endless Light. There will then take place, a general Last Judgement of all the souls awaiting redemption, followed by the Resurrection of the physical body, which will once again meet its spiritual counterpart, the soul. Time, as we know it, will cease to exist and the seven creations of Ahura Mazda will be gathered together in eternal blessedness in the Kingdom of Mazda, where everything, it is believed, will remain in a perfect state of joy and undying ness.
Hazards faced by the Parsees in modern cities.
The customs of disposing the dead is age old where even after death we could contribute an offer our body to the scavengers like the vultures. During those times when science and technology had not yet developed and overpopulation was not a problem this methodology was the most hygienic and scientific where bodies were disposed without harming the environment.
Today’s overpopulated cities and above them the Tower of Silence situated in the heart of the city surrounded by skyscrapers leave no scope for bodies being disposed vultures.
Zorastrianism is thus our spiritual guide who shows the path of a successful life with utter purity. Zarathushtra has vast authority in his own sphere of religion and wisdom. He has been designated an Angel who has influenced the world in spiritual matters which is boundless. His strength lies in His loving mind fit for divine inspiration. God as his friend treats him as He inspires mankind to attain the Kingdom of Heaven.
With the cities growing denser with population, people leading a fast and hard life, there are certain modifications in the way of worship. The Parsees are trying to adapt to the surrounding. It is a very close knitted community and to an extent rigid too.
It is indeed sad to note that Zoroastrians known for their duty of mind and body and respected for their honesty, kindness and intelligence are a dwindling community. And if this happens a Religion- The Oldest and The most Ancient will also die out. It is therefore the duty of every single Zoroastrian to take stringent measures to see that the strength of the community numerically gathers memento. The quality imbibed by the Zoroastrians are appreciated and accepted universally and so I suppose if the number increases they once again will surface at the topmost levels in every nook and corner of the world.
The Religion as I have now understood has touched my heart from the depth of my conscience that every single day I pray to The Creator to let me be born as a Zoroastrian, every time that I have to come to this earth.
The Zarathushtrian Saga Tina Mehta. Zoroastrian Studies Calcutta (1995).
The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the ParseesJ.J Modi B.A, P.H. D, C.I E First Edition- (1922)
Zarathushtra and Zarathushtrianism in The Avestha Rustumji, Edulji Dastoor Peshotan B.A Sanjana(1906)
Zarathushtra and His Teachings Dastoorji Khurshed Shapoorji Dabu. M.A, F.T.S (1966).