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Zoroastrianism was adapted from an earlier, polytheistic faith by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in Persia between 1400 BC and 1200 BC (although, in the absence of written records, some scholars estimate as late as 600 BC). Its alternative name, Mazdaism, comes from the central Zoroastrian deity, Ahura Mazda.
Zoroastrianism combines elements of monotheism and dualism. Many modern scholars believe that Zoroastrianism had a large influence on Judaism, Mithraism and Manichaeism, and thus indirectly influenced Christianity and Islam.
The holy book of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta. Of the Avesta, only the Gathas (the hymns) are attributed to Zoroaster (also known by his Avestan name: Zarathushtra).
Central to Zoroastrianism is the world's constant struggle between Good and Evil. In the beginning of creation, the Supreme God ("Ahura Mazda") created two twin spirits for good ("Spenta Mainyu ") and for evil ("Angra Mainyu" or "Ahriman"). Men are free to choose the path of either spirit. The path of good or righteousness ("Asha ") will lead to happiness ("Ushta "), whereas the path of evil will lead to unhappiness, enmity, and war. Therefore, it's strongly encouraged that one chooses Asha. This philosophy is symbolized in one of the religion's main mottos: "Good thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds." Note that the twin spirits are not regarded as physical beings, but abstract emanations that exist in a person's mind.
With the duality of good and evil comes the concepts of Heaven, Hell and the Final Day. After death, a person's soul crosses a bridge ("Chinvato Peretu ") on which its good deeds are weighed against its bad deeds. The soul reaches heaven or falls to hell based on the outcome. When evil is finally defeated on the Final Day, the world will be purified by a bath of molten metal and the souls of sinners will be released from hell.
By the 6th century, Zoroastrianism had spread to northern China via the Silk Road, gaining official status in a number of Chinese states. Zoroastrian temples still remained in Kaifeng and Zhenjiang as late as the 1130s, but by the 13th century the religion had faded from prominence in China.
In the 7th century, the Zoroastrian Sassanid dynasty was conquered by Muslim Arabs, and Zoroastrians were awarded the status of People of the Book by the Caliph Omar. However, the use of the ancient Avestan as well as Persian languages was prohibited. Islamic conquerors viewed the teachings of Zardusht as being a polytheistic cult.
Arab invasion and the subsequent repression by Islamic authorities left the deepest scar in this ancient monotheistic faith that was once dominant in a region stretching from Anatolia to Persian Gulf and Central Asia. The Persecution of Zoroastrians by Muslim rulers of theocratic Iran continued after the Arabs left; even today, however, one can find Zoroastrian communities living and practicing their faith in Iran.
In the 8th century, Zoroastrians fled to India in large numbers, where they were given refuge by Jadav Rana , a Hindu king of Sanjan (the modern-day province of Gujarat) on condition that they abstain from missionary activities and marry only in their community. Although these strictures are centuries old, Parsis of the 21st century still do not accept converts and are endogamous. The Parsis of India speak a dialect of Gujarati.
The earliest English references http://www.adherents.com/lit/sf_zor.html to Zoroaster and the Zoroastrian religion occur in the writings of the encyclopaedist Sir Thomas Browne.
Unlike most other religions, the Zoroastrian faith has been tolerant and supportive of other faiths, even when holding positions of power.
It is widely believed that the Three Wise Men said to have borne gifts for Jesus of Nazareth were Zoroastrian Magi. The Achaemenid Persian Kings Xerxes and Darius had previously assisted the Jews in rebuilding their temple at Jerusalem.
Principles of Zoroastrianism
Some major Zoroastrian concepts:
- Equality of gender. Men and women are equal in all manners within society.
- Cleanliness of the environment. Nature is central to the practice of Zoroastrianism and many important Zoroastrian annual festivals are in celebration of nature: new year on the first day of spring, the water festival in summer, the autumn festival at the end of the season, and the mid-winter fire festival.
- Hard work and charity. Laziness and sloth are frowned on. Charity is regarded as a good deed, where Zoroastrians part with a little of what would otherwise be their own.
- Condemnation of oppression toward human beings, cruelty against animals and sacrifice of animals. Equality of all humans regardless of race or religion and respect of everything on Earth and in the world is central to the religion.
- The symbol of fire. The energy of the creator is represented in Zoroastrianism by fire and the sun which are both enduring, radiant, pure and life sustaining. Zoroastrians usually pray in front of some form of fire (or any source of light). It's important to note that fire is not worshipped by Zoroastrians, but is used simply as symbology and a point of focus, much like the wooden cross in Christianity.
- Inter-religious marriages and recruiting. Traditionally, Zoroastrians are strongly encouraged to marry others of the same faith. Those who marry followers of other religions are no longer considered Zoroastrians. However, with the globalization of modern society and the dwindling number of Zoroastrians, these rules are being enforced increasingly less often. Furthermore, the only way to become a Zoroastrian is to be born within a Zoroastrian family. This rule is also debated quite often.
- Death and burial. Religious rituals related to death are all concerned with the person's soul and not the body. Upon death, a person's soul leaves the body after three days and the body becomes just an empty shell. In ancient times, Zoroastrians disposed of the dead's body by leaving it in open-topped enclosures where it would be eaten by vultures. This was hygienic and ecologically-sound, and simply the preferred method of disposal at the time, not a religious ritual. Modern Zoroastrians have changed with society and dispose of their dead through burial or cremation, just like in most other religions.
Small Zoroastrian communities survive in Iran and in India (where they are called Parsis or Parsees), totalling approximately 250,000 followers. Zoroastrians in Yazd and Kerman still speak an Iranian language distinct from Persian. They call their language Dari (not to be confused with the Dari of Afghanistan). Their language is also called Gabri or Behdinan. Sometimes their language is named for the cities in which they are spoken, Yazdi or Kermani.
Small but fast growing Zoroastrian communities exist in large cities in the United States, England, Australia, and Canada.
One of the most famous Zoroastrians is the late Freddie Mercury, the frontman of the group Queen. He was given a traditional Zoroastrian funeral after he died of AIDS on the 24th of November, 1991. Famous Indian Parsis include symphonic conductor Zubin Mehta, philosopher and nuclear scientist Homi Bhaba , screenwiter Sooni Taraporevala (author of the films "Salaam Bombay" and Mississippi Masala, as well of a photography book on the Parsi community entitled "Parsis: The Ancient Zoroastrians of India"), author Rohinton Mistry, and the Tata and Godrej industrial families.
- Zoroastrian and Philosophy http://brainmeta.com
- Zoroastrian and Vedic connections http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/zoro.pdf
- Parsi Community of India http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/people/zoroastrians.htm
Last updated: 02-07-2005 03:04:28
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55