Learn more about Zoroastrians, followers of an ancient faith

Zoroastrianism is the world’s oldest revealed religion.

It is believed that it came about around the Iranian Bronze Age (1800-1100 BC). However, the date is not definite as many believe that the prophet Zarathustra (Greeks called him Zoroaster) was born about 10,000 years ago somewhere near the ancient land of Aryana Vaeja – the Russian steppes near the Aral Sea in Central Asia.

 

Zoroastrian Mobedyar Maneck Vhujwala speaks to about 80 people during the 9th Annual Interfaith World Peace Pilgrimage at the ski resort on Mount Baldy, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. (Eric Reed/For The Tribune/SCNG)

The god of Zoroastrianism is Ahura Mazda, which means “the lord of wisdom.” He created this world with the seven Ameshaspendas (archangels). The basic tenets of the religion are good thoughts, good
words and good deeds (manashni, gavashni, kunesti, or humata, hukta, havrasta).

In his 30th year, Zarathustra received his revelation and embarked on bringing Ahura Mazda’s message to the rest of the world. The gathas are the original words that were handed to him by Ahura Mazda. What we have today of the five gathas, which we pray, is not complete. Some of the original words have been destroyed.

One of Zarathustra’s earliest disciples was King Vistaspa of Bactria.

The ancient texts, Bendahishn and Vendidad, were written in two languages: Avesta and Pazand. These texts, together with the Khordeh Avesta, are used by Zoroastrians today for their daily prayers.

Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion for the three great mighty Persian empires, namely the Achaemenians, the Parthians and the Sassanians. The religion spread as far as Rome and Greece, east
into India, north to Russia and south to Egypt, and it had followers in the millions.

The Achaemenians ruled from 559 BC until about 250 BC. Their kingdom was founded by King Cyrus the Great (559 BC). Cyrus was the first to talk about human rights. (There is a wooden cylinder from his time on which many of the human rights are written.) His tomb is still in Iran, and I saw it on a visit there in the year 2000. He also freed the Jews from the Babylonians during his rule. A setback occurred when, in 334 BC,
Alexander of Macedonia destroyed Persepolis, the magnificent seat of Cyrus’ government. Libraries and religious texts were burned and the treasury was plundered. The ruins of Persepolis still exist in Iran and
are a tourist attraction today.

The Parthians (also called Ashknians ) ruled from 250 BC to 227 AD. This is when Christ was born and when Christianity spread in the Middle East. However, the Zoroastrian religion also flourished during the
Sassanian period-226 AD to 651 AD. King Yazdagard the Third was the last ruler for the Sassanians when the Arab Islamic caliphates conquered and brought down the Persians. Many continued the faith, even under hardships, although some did convert to Islam.

Around 936 AD, many left in sailing vessels and landed in a place called Sanjan on the western shores of India. Some came from the city of Pars, and hence Zoroastrians in India are called “Parsis.” The immigrants brought with them the most important aspect of the religion, “the fire.” Later this fire moved to different places and today it is in a place called Udvada (about 100 kilometers from Mumbai) where Zoroastrians visiting India go for prayers.

The Hindu king that welcomed them had some stipulations for the Zoroastrians to stay. One of them was that the marriages should take place after sunset. Hence, Zoroastrian marriages take place after sunset.

Today, many Zoroastrians have settled in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Pakistan and Bangladesh also have some Zoroastrians, and pockets of Zoroastrians have settled in parts of Africa.
Today there are about 200,000 Zoroastrians in the world, according to the FEZANA Journal.

Cowsie Malva lives in Redlands. A retired school teacher, Malva is a member of the Redlands Area Interfaith Council, and a Zoroastrian priest.