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THE INSTITUTIONALIZED ZOROASTRIANISM
This booklet provides the answers to these questions and more. It is
hoped that it will illuminate the subject and open the way to an increasing
study of mâńthra, the
thought-provoking message of Zarathushtra. They are embodied in the Gathas,
his ever-fresh divine songs of guidance.
The restoration of the religion to its pristine position provides prudent
answers to a world bewildered by what tradition-tied teachings say and what
progressive science proves, a world perplexed by the primeval past, the
practical present, and the promising future. The Good Religion has all the three
times within it. It is timeless. The booklet shows how ultra-modern the
Zarathushtrian religion is in its eternal guideline for a good life on this good
earth and beyond.
Farvardin 3729 Z.R.E
26 March 1991 CE
* * * * * *
religion founded by Zarathushtra is known by several names. He himself called it
Daęnâ Vańuhi, meaning the
"Good Conscience," or
freely rendered, the "Good Religion."
His disciples chose to add
Zarathushtri, Zarathushtrian, to show that it was founded by Zarathushtra.
To express its true source of inspiration, it is also called Âhuiri,
belonging to Ahura, divine. A
little later, they coined a new befitting term,
Mazda-yasna, to make it clear that they regarded their only god as Mazdâ,
the "Supreme Intellect," a Wise Being quite unique and above the
human-conceived, human-natured deities known as daęvas,
whose cult came to be called daęva-yasna.
The name Zarathushtra has been
contracted into Zartosht in Persian
and Zarathusht or Zarthusht
in Gujarati. Daęnâ Vańuhi is Dîn-e
Behi or Behdîni in Persian.
Zoroaster is the Anglicized form of a Greek mispronunciation of the name
Zarathushtra. And since the 19th century CE, "the Institutionalized
Zoroastrianism" means the final institutionalized version of the Good
With all the forms in view, a follower of the Good Religion is a
Zarathushtrian, Zarathushti, Zartoshti, Zoroastrian, Mazdayasni, or Behdin. The
two forms of Zarathushtrian and Zartoshti have been preferred by the
This book distinguishes between the pristine form of the Good Religion
and the evolved, transformed, and transmuted state of the religion.
The Zarathushtrian Religion
is the religion taught and practiced by Zarathushtra and his generating
followers for centuries. It is
based only on the Gâthâs,
the very Teachings of the Teacher. The
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism is the massing shape it has taken over
the last 2,500 years. Some call it the "Traditional" Zoroastrian
The pristine state and the evolving form will be explained under the
subtitles of Source Scriptures, History, Zarathushtra, Institutionalization,
Doctrine, Rituals, Outside Influence, Present and Future, Changing Attitudes,
the Zarathushtrian Assembly, and Conclusion.
The Good Religion:
practiced, taught, and preached his Divine Doctrine for a full forty-seven
years. Finally, he reduced his teachings in seventeen songs as the all-time
guidelines for "all the living beings" to come. Later the songs were
called Gathas, meaning "sacred
songs," His immediate followers, adhering fast to his teachings, wove more
songs and composed several pieces to supplement the Gathas: They are Haptańhâiti
(Seven-chapters in poetry), Hadhaokhta
(a short piece advising people to listen to seraosha,
the inner-voice expounding the divine message of Zarathushtra), Fshusho-mâńthra
(another short piece on one preparing oneself to serve the progressive cause in
thoughts, words, and deeds), Yeńhe
Hâtâm (a paraphrase of a Gathic verse in veneration of men and women), and
Fravarti (a section on Initiation in
which one renounces one’s superstitious beliefs and cultic practices and
chooses the Good Religion). They are all in the same dialect, now termed Gathic.
The entire collection of a total of 312 stanzas or approximately 7,600
words, is called Staota Yesnya,
reverential praises, by Zarathushtra’s followers.
It is also known by its Pahlavized form of Stot
Yasn. It is homogeneous in doctrine and very inspiring and stimulating.
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism was quite rich in scriptures. In
addition to the Staota Yesnya texts,
it had compositions going back to pre-Zarathushtrian eras and writings ending as
late as 1773 CE in three languages of Avesta, Pahlavi, and Persian over a span
of more than 4,000 years. It was rich in subjects also: theology, myth, legends,
history, geography, agriculture, animal care, medicine, pollution and purity
laws, prayer preparations, elaborate rituals, potent spells, and commentaries of
the Gathas, all en masse, of course, around the Staota Yesnya. The canonized
collection, duly selected and collated by the priestly authorities of the
Sassanian order, was completed in about 550 CE It consisted of 21 volumes. Only
one volume, called Stot Yasn,
contained the Gathas and its supplements. The remaining volumes were
commentaries, interpretations, later liturgies, religious epics, administrative
and social laws, or miscellaneous subjects of day-to-day life of the Sassanian
The Arab conquest and the subsequent conversions dealt a heavy blow to
the 21-volume collection. Most of
the collection was lost and less than one third of the volumes was salvaged and
re-arranged into six volumes: the Yasna
containing the Staota Yesnya and later liturgical compositions; the Vispered
on the Gâhânbâr seasonal
festivals; the Yasht, praises in
honor of Ahura Mazda and his "assisting" deities; the Vendidâd,
mainly concerning pollution and purification laws; the Khordeh
Avesta, a handy popularized late collection of mostly non-Gathic daily
prayers in Avesta and Middle Persian; and lastly, the collection of Avestan and
Pahlavi fragments of various lengths on various subjects.
Fresh compositions appeared in Pahlavi during the 9th century in order to
make some good of the loss. Avesta
was a dead language long before and Pahlavi died a consequent death to produce
modern Persian. Persian writings, written in Arabic script, began from the 15th
century and lasted until the close of the 18th century.
Further writings, in Persian, Sanskrit, Gujarati, and English, have been
solely based on this comparatively vast literature.
Only a comprehensive study of this literature could project the full form
of the Institutionalized Zoroastrianism. This booklet is, therefore, confined to
the main points of the subject. A better presentation is made in the author’s The
Zarathushtrian Religion, a chronological perspective.
Zarathushtra was born, according to a conventional reckoning, 3,757 years
ago. His family raised cattle and
horses. They belonged to an
Indo-European people who called themselves
Aryans, meaning "noble." They
were polytheists and believed in superstitions and magic. The greedy priests put
on a good show of bloody sacrifices, instant intoxicants, and loud chants to
please the gods and repel magic, and exploit the simple laity. The people were
also exploited by their ruling princes.
Zarathushtra, an inquisitive person, looked at the Aryan cult with doubt
at the tender age of seven. His doubts increased when the priests could not
satisfy him with their dubious answers. They,
in their frustration, boycotted him. He
left them to discover the truth by himself.
His questioning search into the contrast between social disorder
and natural order led him to a discovery: the Being whose supreme wisdom
created the order which prevails throughout the universe.
His discovery of, and communion with the "Being of Supreme
Intellect," Ahura Mazdâ, gave
him a message he conveyed to others. Zarathushtra founded a religion based on
the "Primal Principles of Life" he had divinely discovered. He
publicly proclaimed his divine message at the age of thirty with the sole aim of
leading the entire human society to an ever-fresh spiritual and material
The priests and princes, realized the threat to their vested interests,
vehemently opposed him, and forced him and his few friends to leave home.
Zarathushtra left home, only to go to the court of Vishtaspa, the leading
ruler in the region. They had a two-year long discussion, and Zarathushtra
converted Vishtaspa and his sagacious companions of men and women.
They became fervent peaceful preachers of the new religion, and it spread
fast, far, and wide.
A thousand years passed and the Good Religion was accepted by all the
Aryan and Aryanized people on the Iranian Plateau through the peaceful, but
zealous propagation of its devotees. About
2,500 years ago, Cyrus the Persian founded the first world empire, known as the Achaemenian
empire, based on the Zarathushtrian doctrine of freedom, benevolence,
tolerance, and progress. It extended from Libya to the Pamirs and the Indus. It
lasted 220 years (550-330 BCE). After
a short rule by alien Macedonians and Greeks, the Zoroastrian Parthians took
over and ruled a shrunk empire, mostly confined to the Iranian Plateau, for 478
years (254 BCE-224 CE) with the same spirit of benevolence and tolerance.
It was taken over by the Sassanians who turned the empire into a tight
theocratic state of one sect. Other
Zoroastrian sects were condemned as heretics.
Theocracy means total dependence of religion’s sustenance on the ruling
power, consequently causing the religion to weaken much.
It turns it into a parasite which depends more on the theocratic
government than on its own potentiality, and therefore, the fall of government
proves disastrous for the religion.
Meanwhile, Christianity, the religion of the Byzantine Empire west of the
Sassanians, posed as a rival. The
two empires fought several wars over a period of several centuries.
Both were badly weakened and were not able to stop the rise of Islam in
the Arabian Peninsula. Zealous
Muslim warriors defeated both, and completely overthrew the Sassanian dynasty
and overran the vast Iranian empire within a short span of twenty years— 532
to 652 CE
With the empire gone, Zoroastrian survival has been at stake. Conversion
to Islam through force, persecution, propagation, and concession has drastically
reduced the number of Zoroastrians in Iran.
Outside Iran, only one group of Iranian emigrants has survived. They are
the Parsis of the Indian
sub-continent. All other pockets,
Iranian or not, have disappeared without leaving any noticeable trace.
In the Good Religion
Zarathushtra is a human being who, in his persistent search for truth,
discovered and realized the Supreme Entity; called it Ahura
Mazda, the Wise God; renounced and discarded the old cultic beliefs and
practices; communed with his God; was inspired to convey the Divine Message he
had realized, to all men and women of all climes and times; and founded an
entirely new universal religion. He is the foremost Ahu
(Lord), Ratu (Leader), and Mâńthran
(Thought-provoker); in fact, the primal mental and material, spiritual and
physical Guide of a righteous life for every person and for ever.
In the Institutionalized
Zoroastrianism Zarathushtra is more of a reformer than a founder of an
ancient Iranian religion which had deviated from its path. He cleansed the
religion of its daeva worship and
superstitions but perpetuated all the "good" old beliefs and rituals.
He is the "Prophet" of an ethnic community, at present represented by
Iranis and Parsis. Yet some Zoroastrians consider him a Divine Being of
supernatural knowledge and power.
Zarathushtra was to be followed by three saviors, known as Saoshyants,
meaning "benefactors," who were to be miraculously born of virgin
mothers, each a thousand years after the other, to renovate the deteriorating
world. Although approximately three thousand years have passed since
Zarathushtra passed away, so far the Institutionalized Zoroastrianism has
recognized no one as a Saoshyant. Many Zoroastrians are now eagerly awaiting the
appearance of Bahrâm Varjâvand. This
person is not mentioned, even casually, in the Avesta or Pahlavi writings. He
appears more in Persian and oral tradition. Some historian scholars say that he
could be Bahram Chobin, a defiant Sassanian chief who left Iran for India and
China to form an army and return to expel the invading Arabs. He was never heard
of but people, looking for a savior, waited for his return. The waiting has
grown into the Bahram Varjavand legend.
The Good Religion:
Zarathushtra founded an altogether new religion on the basis of his
divine realization. He eliminated
every rite and ritual that was performed to appease false gods, enrich priests,
and exploit people. He cleansed
minds of superstitions. He taught a
very sublime and strong doctrine.
His meaningful prayers make the soul divinely soar high but his simple
rituals hardly distract one’s mind to ceremonial performances.
His doctrine is based on the "Primal Principles of Life" on
this good earth, but does not set up do’s and don’ts to govern one’s every
mental thought and physical movement. His
highly philosophical teachings are not commandments to govern minute details of
every day life. It is a progressive
doctrine that wants its adherents to wisely progress with time and adjust their
lives accordingly. The motto is:
Continuous renovation and refreshing of life.
Zarathushtra is ahu, an
improving lord and a ratu, a true
guide "chosen" by the people for his righteous actions.
He is a manthran, a
thought-provoker. He has put his
entire doctrine in seventeen songs of a total 241 stanzas or less than 6,000
words—the Gathas—enough to guide
humanity of all ages to wholeness, immortality and God without depriving them of
their mental and physical freedom and choice.
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism: But the Aryan cult was a
well-formalized establishment with an orthodox hierarchy, colorful rituals, and
a detailed way of life. When the leaders of the cult joined the spreading
religion, many of them wanted to save and perpetuate their leading profession.
They very cleverly reintroduced many old beliefs and rituals, and
reinstated many gods and animated more from Gathic conceptions and thus created
a large pantheon of deities under the godhead of Ahura Mazda.
First the elaborate Haoma
ritual was introduced. However, the
original intoxicant drink was substituted by an ephedraic drink. The ritual was
blended in with the Staota Yesnya
recitation. It was followed by
personifying some of the Gathic abstractions under the term of amesha
spenta, conventionally rendered as " Incremental Immortals" and
yazata, adorables. Seraosha, the
inner-voice, was turned into a warrior deity, and then some of the prominent
"heroically helping" gods and goddesses of the pre-Zarathushtrian era—Mithra,
god of tribal contract; Verethraghna,
god of war and victory; Tishtrya, god
of rain; Anâhitâ, goddess of
waters; Vayu, god of wind; Drvaspa,
goddess of animal health, and many more—were re-introduced as yazatas.
Bloody sacrifices accompanied the heroic gods.
Still later sun, moon, stars, earth, and other objects had their
presiding deities. And still later, the Gathic personifications, called amesha
spentas, lost much of their Gathic concepts and were given the task of
guarding over cattle, fire, metal, earth, trees, and waters without infringing
upon the authority of pre-Zarathushtrian deities presiding over the same
The priestly hierarchy, now firmly established, was at the head of two or
occasionally three lower classes of warriors, professional producers, and
artisans. At present, Zoroastrians
are divided into two classes only—The Priests known either as Mobeds
or Athornâns (misreading of Avestan/Pahlavi
âthravan/âsravan or âsron)
and the Laity called Behdins
(meaning" [of] the Good Religion").
The Good Religion:
Zarathushtra presents a progressive monotheism.
Ahura Mazda, literally "the Being
[of] Supreme Intellect, " is the "continuous" creator,
sustainer, and promoter of the universe. Ahura
Mazda is the "most progressive." He is also transcendental and
impersonal, and therefore without any pantheon at all.
Yet he is so close, that one can easily commune with him without any
Ahura Mazda has created and creates the universe by his progressive
mentality (spenta mainyu).
It is a good creation. Among
his creations, he has fashioned the "joy-bringing" living world of
ours on the earth. It is guided by
the "Primal Principles of Life."
The Gathas present them in a beautifully intertwined, inseparable pattern
to provide one with a well-blended, progressive way of life. Here they are given
separately with the sole view of giving a glimpse of
the most important of them:
Vohu Manah, good mind, good
thinking. It stands for the
discerning wisdom and thorough thinking required for leading a useful life.
Asha stands for "truth,
order, righteousness." It is
the universal law of righteous precision. It may best be explained by stating
that it means "to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right
place, and with the right means in order to attain the right result."
It should result in constructive and loving good not only for oneself but
also for one’s fellow creatures and for God. It is the positive, beneficial
and unselfish precision par excellence.
Khshathra denotes the
"power" to settle in peace. Used
with the adjective of vohu, good, or vairya,
to be chosen, it stands for benevolent power, good rule, and the chosen order.
It is chosen by free and wise people as their ideal order in spirit and
matter. It is the divine dominion.
"tranquility, stability and serenity." It
is peace and prosperity. When
used with the adjective spenta, it
means the "ever-increasing serene peace" achieved by adhering to the
Primal Principles of Life.
"listening" to the divine voice within us to guide us on the right
path. It means inspiration, divine
enlightenment, communion with God.
Daęnâ is a person’s
inner-perception, the conscience. It
also stands for one’s chosen religion. Zarathushtra
named the religion he founded as the "Good Conscience."
All the above and more Primal Principles of Life given in the Gathas,
when followed precisely, lead to:
Haurvatât, wholeness and
completion. It is the perfecting
process and final completion of our material and spiritual evolution.
"deathlessness" and "immortality."
Together with Haurvatât, it
is the ultimate goal and represents the completion of our evolutionary
development and the final achievement of our life on the earth.
In short, the Primal Principles lead one and all to become
"godlike" and to live with God in an eternal bliss. The blissful state
is called garo demâna, the abode of
songs, or one may as well call it "the house of music."
The Gathas speak about urvan, soul,
and its final destiny to "live where the Wise God lives." but there
exists no fanciful eschatology. All it says is that the soul of a wrongful
person "returns" to stay in the "house of wrong" or
"house of the worst mind" until it realizes the truth to progress to
wholeness and immortality. Yet, this "return" does not feed one with
the elaborate doctrine of "reincarnation" and "transmigration of
soul" as is found in other religions and beliefs. It is a fair deduction
that a soul must evolve to become righteous to continue to live in bliss.
Ahura Mazda has endowed mankind with a powerful mentality—one which can
discriminate between good and evil. Human
beings are free to choose between a better or more progressive mentality (vahya
or spanya mainyu) and an evil or
retarding mentality (aka or angra
mainyu). The reward for the
choice of the better mentality is eternal bliss, and the consequence of choosing
the evil mentality is a long suffering by the soul until it is refined to
achieve wholeness and immortality. Every person receives the reward for every
righteous act or suffers the bad consequence for every wrong deed one does. The
dualism of the Good Conscience is purely ethical and confined to human behavior
Everything in nature, the entire environment, is a good creation and
should be looked upon as such. Light and darkness, day and night, water and
plants, in fact, the very world alive with life, should be promoted according to
asha, the universal law of nature.
Mankind is not on the earth to interfere in its evolution to perfection but
being creative and "godlike," he and she should increase its pace to
progress. The Gathic doctrine is a progressively ecological order.
Zarathushtra stands high in protecting and promoting the environment in a happy
Man and woman enjoy equal status. The
religion of Zarathushtra is a universal religion which knows no sex, race,
color, or national barriers. It is
historically the first missionary movement, a moderate movement.
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism has a well-balanced pantheon of deities
and demons. Ahura Mazda has created
the six amesha spentas (Vohu Manah,
Asha, Khshathra, Aramaiti, Haurvatat, and Ameretat), numerous yazatas
(adorables consisting of Gathic concepts and pre-Zarathushtrian deities),
innumerable fravashis (conventionally
rendered as Guardian Spirits), and righteous human beings to assist Him in the
continuous cosmic fight with His Adversary, Ańhra
Mainyu (the Evil Spirit), the horde of daevas
(demons) created by him, and evil human beings who follow him.
In contrast to the ethical dualism of the Gathas, the Institutionalized
Zoroastrianism is a cosmical dualistic religion in which all that is
"termed" as good has been created by Ahura Mazda, and every
"bad" event and object, from natural disasters to disease and death,
and to the so-called "noxious" creatures, are the creations of the
Evil Spirit. Life on this earth and
the cosmos is a continuous fight against Anghra Mainyu, the so-called Evil
The Gathic doctrine of harmony with nature was partially maintained. Air,
water, plants, earth, and minerals were, and are, held in high regard. But
ecology was not as protected as it should have been according to the Gathic
doctrine. Good animals and plants were promoted and improved.
"Noxious" animals, particularly ants and frogs,
and "evil" plants were meritoriously destroyed. The destruction
of the "evil creation" is at present much reduced because of the
prevailing circumstances, but the belief in fighting it in mind and matter
The fight has made the scriptural doctrine to cover every walk of life
from birth to death. The Evil Spirit has created the all-spreading pollution,
and rites of purification are elaborate and complex. Life in the
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism means a constant watch against devilish moves.
It is patterned upon the directives given in the holy scriptures.
They include, among a multiple of old and new subjects:
priestly duties, kingship, judiciary, religious festivals, ownership,
inheritance, agriculture, pastures, animal care, animal slaughter, medicine,
prophecy, apostasy, charity, begging, initiation, marriage, polygamy, adultery,
slavery, relations with non-Zoroastrians, religious conversion, warfare,
retribution, punishment, fine, ransom, compensation, theft, murder, assault,
witchcraft, sin, crime, death penalty, carrion, menstruation, and other "do’s
and don’ts" to fight the evil and lead a righteous life.
The canonized text was, and its salvage part is, in the Avestan language,
the translations and added commentaries were, and what remains of them are, in
Pahlavi or Middle Persian.
Many of the directives given in the scriptures are difficult and some of
them are impossible to be followed in a modern world of intercommunicating and
intermingling society. The result
is that only a dwindling number of priests try to follow as many of the
directives as are possible within the prevailing conditions.
The laity have silently abandoned many and are gradually abandoning more.
The eschatology is elaborate and picturesque.
The soul remains for three days and nights beside the dead body on the
earth and ascends on the fourth morning to reach the "Bridge of
Separation," originally a Gathic allegory, now turned into a concrete
construction. There, it is judged by three yazatas—Mithra, Sraosha, and Rashnu.
Here one is not judged separately for each of his or her deeds, but the total of
good acts are placed in one pan and all the evil actions in another pan of the
balance. Those whose good deeds outweigh their evil actions, are declared
righteous and go, according to merits, to one of the four categories of the
Heaven and live a life of bliss, and those whose evil deeds are heavier than
their good actions are wrongful and likewise go to one of the four Hells.
There they are grotesquely tortured, ironically, by the Evil Spirit and
his horde of demons. For those who
have equal weights of good and evil, there is the purgatory (Avesta Misvâna
Gâtu, "mixing place" or Pahlavi Hammistagân,
“place of equal mixing”) to eventually purge them of their evil.
Here the souls are not tortured but made to suffer only from cold and
heat. In spite of these assignments, there is also the bodily resurrection when
the dead will arise. Then souls and
bodies will again be judged and sentenced to bliss or a temporary punishment.
All will eventually be united in the blissful existence. The Evil Spirit
and his creation will be doomed for ever.
The Institutionalized Zoroastrianism has transformed the Gathic
conception of the mental state of enjoying good and suffering evil and the
subsequent achievement of wholeness, immortality, and the eternal divine bliss
into an elaborate eschatology of death, judgement, heaven, hell, purgatory,
bodily resurrection, and salvation, an eschatology which has greatly influenced
other religions, including, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Man and woman continue to enjoy equal status. Yet woman is considered
more prone to pollution because of her monthly menstruation and periodical
childbirth. She has to undergo elaborate and lengthy purification rites to
regain her purity. Many modern
Zoroastrians have, as already said, given up most of the purification rites.
During the Sassanian times, while man could marry more than once and yet keep
his status, woman had several standards. Among them, she was a "royal
wife" if married as maiden with the consent of her parents, a
"self-willed" if she married without her parents' consent, and a
"serving wife" if remarrying as a widow. The husband had an upper hand
in divorcing his spouse. At present, modified laws promulgated by Zoroastrian
associations in Iran and India have restored the equality to a great extent.
Nevertheless, marriage outside the community, generally places the woman
outside the society among orthodox Parsis. Parsi women married to
non-Zoroastrians are fighting for full rights. They are supported by many of
their co-religionists. Iranian women are not faced with such social problems.
The Good Religion:
The Gathas are divine praises and guidance at the same time.
They contain barely any rituals. One
only finds some outlines of simple ceremonies in the Staota
Yesnya texts concerning the Initiation of a person choosing the Good
Religion, meditation for enlightenment, individual prayers, congregational
prayers, marriage, and honoring the living and the dead for their good services—outlines
that give one the virtuous freedom to keep in good tune with the changing times
and climes. The Gathas do not interfere in one’s traditional good
"living." Yet they advocate a happy life of radiating happiness to
others whosoever they may be.
Early non-Gathic Avestan texts show that the Gathas were sung, chanted
and recited by people whenever they were in a mood and urge to do so. They also
gathered around a hearth or fire altar to recite the Gathas and their
supplements in a congregation. Pure priestly "profession" is absent in
the Gathic texts. If required, persons of more knowledge led the prayers. Later
texts show that people celebrated their age-old seasonal changes in their
pastoral and agricultural life. They
are the six Gahanbars celebrated at
the end of each change in activity. Staota
Yesnya was recited and explained to an inquisitive gathering.
It was followed by enjoying a feast collectively prepared by all the
participants. One’s life, mentally and spiritually enriched by the Gathic
doctrine, continued to progress with a higher, sublimer purpose.
The Gathic age did not have priests, professional or otherwise. The
prayers were not led by any particular individual. Persons with greater
knowledge of the doctrine officiated at simple ceremonies and congregational
rituals and in their spare time, taught and preached the religion. In fact,
every person was, in his or her own capacity, a practicing, preaching
on the other hand, has an established hereditary priestly class with intricate
rituals. It has its fire-temples of different grades. While in Iran
non-Zoroastrians are allowed to enter a fire-temple, fire-temples in India and
Pakistan bar any person who is not a "born" Zoroastrian. Zoroastrians
in Europe, North America and Australia do not, to this date, have a
"consecrated" temple. Fire altars in prayer sanctuaries fulfill the
job. A few are gas-fired. With the passage of time, congregational prayers,
which once comprised only of the Gathas and their supplements in the Gathic
texts, have given way to ceremonies in which the Gathas do not constitute the
body of the prayer text but are, in certain longer rituals, a part of a much
longer whole. While seasonal
festivals of Gahanbars gradually have been turned into a feast without Stoata
Yesnya recitation, the reformed calendar, based on days and months named after
deities, have given more festivals. Whenever
the name of the day and the name of the month of the same deity coincides, a
festival (Pahlavi yazishn, Persian jashn,
and Gujarati jashan, [ritual]
veneration) is celebrated in honor of the deity.
The total of such deity-festivals comes to fifteen in a year.
Birth, initiation, marriage, death, disposal of the dead, and memorial
ceremonies each have their
preparations and performances. Pollution
and purification rituals are elaborate and difficult to perform.
Certain laid conditions make some of the rituals almost impossible to be
performed "overseas" on American continents, Australia, and other
island regions outside the Eurasian mainland.
Prayers are recited in Avesta and in a later form of Middle Persian
basically learned by rote. Both the
languages lie beyond the comprehension of the reciting priests and the listening
laypersons. Only a small number of
Zoroastrian scholars know what the prayers mean.
No standard translation of the holy texts exist in English, Persian, or
Gujarati. Most of the available
translations, especially of the Gathas, are by non-Zoroastrian scholars in a
scholarly language that rob the "scriptural" texts of their beauty.
The sublime songs of Zarathushtra lie too philologically analyzed to inspire and
deliver the divine message. The
laity has only one book to be spiritually contented with:
Khordeh Avesta, usually in
Persian, Gujarati, or English script and without a translation. Moreover,
neither the priests nor the laity know the relevance or irrelevance of the
ritual to the texts recited during the performance.
The elaborate ceremonies, some running for hours have done one thing—eclipsed
the Gathas so much so that they are only recited either along with the entire
Yasna text or on the occasion of the last five memorial days, the Muktâd
The Ahunavaiti Gatha, the
first seven songs, are recited during a funeral ceremony.
And it is the officiating priests who do the recitations, not the laity.
It is just a generation that a movement has been generated to turn to the Gathas.
Metaphysical interpretations of the Avestan texts presented by certain
circles satisfy those in search of mysticism, but the common men and women, who
are coming in ever-growing contact with science and other religions whose
scriptures are in intelligible renderings, are looking and asking for good,
The Good Religion, founded
approximately 4,000 years ago, did not prescribe a calendar that would have
become outdated. The Gathas and certain earlier parts of the Avesta show that
the Gathic people continued to adhere to their ancestral luni-solar calendar
with a precise intercalation of 11 days to keep the Gahanbar festivals in line
with the agricultural life. There is no clue as to what were the names of the
months. One can only look at the Gahanbar names and the Vedic months to presume
that they might have been names after seasonal changes and agricultural phases.
The early Achaemenians, more Gathic in practice than the following dynasties,
had a solar calendar of their own with specific names of the months. The days of
the month were numbered the way one does in modern times. That shows that they
found themselves free to change the calendar to suit their times.
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism too
changed later to a purely solar calendar. It, however, had its months named, in
a non-orderly sequence, after the amesha
spentas and yazatas. It also
named the thirty days of the month, here in a more or less, orderly sequence,
after the amesha spentas and yazatas. The last five days were dedicated to the
five Gathas to provide a 365-day year. Intercalations of one day every four
years or one month every 120 years kept the calendar in its place.
But the downfall of the Sassanians deprived the community of a single
calendarical authority. The Indian pocket was cut off from the Iranian
community. Leap years were observed
only for few centuries and then were given up for good. As a result, until
recently, there were two calendars, the Qadimi
(Old) followed by the Iranian Zoroastrians and the Shâhanshâhi
(Royal) by the Parsis, both drifting months from the vernal equinox. At present,
the Qadimi year begins in July and the Shahanshahi begins one full month later.
A few decades ago, some rose to reform it into a solar year of 365 days with its
leap year. It begins with the vernal equinox and is called Fasli
(seasonal) by many.
Meanwhile, Iran and Afghanistan have changed to the precise solar year of
365.2422 days. It has the first six months of 31 days each, the following five
months of 30 days each, and the last month either of 29 or 30 days. It is the
most correct current calendar. It is very practical. The Iranian months carry
Zoroastrian names and the Afghan months have Zodiacal terms. The days have their
numbers—1 to 31.
stands pure and pristine and is based upon the Gathic guidelines with no alien
religious influence. Zarathushtra
"renounced" the old cult after he discovered the truth and was
divinely enlightened. He did not
have any contacts with any of the then existing cults and religions.
Furthermore, the Good Religion is firmly based on the Primal Principles
of Life and that is sufficient to lead a wise, righteous, and practical life of
usefulness to the living world. As already stated, the Gathas did not, and do
not, interfere in one’s good mode of living. They guide and inspire one to
lead a better life.
Orthodox Christianity came into close contact with the
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism during the Sassanian period.
Its confession of sins has been instrumental in creating numerous Patets,
penitence pieces in late Middle Persian, in which all the possible sins are
listed and repentance is expressed for each of them in daily prayers faithfully
recited by many. Even children, who
definitely lie outside the scope of adult "sins," are made to recite
them on certain occasions.
Islamic influence on the
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism in Iran may be seen in the number of
Zoroastrian shrines and the unconscious ascribing of every event, good or bad,
to God. While the later Avesta
would begin an act with Khshnaothra
Ahurahe Mazdâo (for the pleasure of Ahura Mazda), post-Sassanian prayers in
Zoroastrian Persian begin with be nâm-e
Îzad bakshâyande-ye bakhshâyeshgar-e mehrabân (In the name of God, the
compassionate, merciful, and kind), an echo of Bismillâhi
al-Rahmân al-Rahîm. The same
holds true about Peimân-e Dîn or Dîn-no
Kalmo. It follows the Islamic
profession of faith Shahâdah, also
known as Kalema-e Dîn among
Indo-Iranian Muslims. In fact, Din-no Kalmo is a mere Gujarati rendering of
Kalema-e Din. One may also see a
response to 99 names of Allah in the much popularized 101 names of
"Hormazd." These names have, with a few exceptions, no roots in the
Avesta and Pahlavi writings. They even lie outside the Hormazd Yasht, a late
Avestan composition in which God enumerates His names and speaks about their
potentials. Furthermore, the Muslim dominance has, for the past 1,400 years,
made the Iranian Zoroastrians behave very protectively.
Hindu influence on the Zoroastrians of the Indian sub-continent may be
found in the growing number of persons attracted to Hindu saints, gurus,
sâińs, bâbâs, mâtâs, and shrines and other pilgrimage centers.
Turning the community into a closed, caste-like society, prostration
before the fire altar, tinting the forehead with ashes, and many social customs
are perhaps among older influences. Once
very strong, the attraction of the Theosophical order is on the decline.
Finally, the Good
Religion is a universal, progressive, and modernizing religion meant for the
humanity at large. The
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism, in its present traditional form, is an
ethnical, static, and closed religion of a specific community The two stand
apart in their outlook..
The present, with the drastic changes in social orders, the discoveries
by science and the rapid progress of technology, challenges every religion, old
and new. Many of the religious
rules and regulations appear to many a modern person as outdated, obsolete, and
impractical. It is mostly the
simple or blind faith, strengthened by interpretations, some of them esoteric,
which is keeping many religious dogmas in place.
Meanwhile, Zoroastrians are no more confined to certain specific cities
within their enclosed residential areas in Iran, India, and Pakistan.
They are fanning out of their old strongholds and thinning into far-flung
cities in which they can find a better and safer place to live.
Estimates put the present number of Zoroastrians in North American cities
at 10,000 persons. The number is
But the story in India and Pakistan is different.
There the number is fast decreasing because of more deaths and less
emigration and excommunication of persons marrying outside the community are
also eroding the numbers. Experts
on demography are warning of the day, not far, when the community will
disappear. The faithful adherents
of ethnical the Institutionalized Zoroastrianism express their confidence that
it will never be so. Zealous
inbreeding, they confidently predict, will keep the community alive and
expanding. Some are awaiting the appearance of Bahram
Varjavand to see the balance totally tilted in their favor.
While many are alarmed at the dwindling number of "born"
Zoroastrians, non-Zoroastrian Iranians are showing ever-greater interest in
their ancestral religion. A jump of
60,000 persons in the recent census of Zoroastrians in Iran has surprised many.
The number of persons approaching Zoroastrians and Zoroastrian
associations in North America and Europe to seek knowledge with a view to join
the community is increasing. Enjoying
the relative freedom, some educated Tajiks, people of Iranian stock in the
Soviet Central Asia, are also anxious to join the fold.
Even some Armenians have made inquiries.
Moreover, as more and more Americans and Europeans are getting acquainted
with the name of Zarathushtra and his teachings, the number of inquiries is
showing a steady rise. A few have declared themselves Zarathushtrians and others
have expressed a desire to do so.
Zoroastrians today see other religious orders in their neighborhood. They
establish friendship with their adherents. They stand fully exposed to
non-Zoroastrian environments. Mixed-marriages between Zoroastrians and
non-Zoroastrians have become a common feature, and the figures of
mixed-marriages are showing a steady rise at the loss of inter-community
So far excommunication of persons marrying outside the community has been
the usual reaction by the self-styled "traditionalists" and
"orthodox" who consider themselves as the ultimate authority.
But the action does not seem to be working in face of new challenges
thrown by the fast changing circumstances wherever the Zoroastrians live, in
good old India and Pakistan, or in new permanent residential countries of
Europe, America, and Australia. All
these challenges cannot be brushed aside or taken lightly.
Conditions show that threats, intimidation, condemnation, boycott,
excommunication, refusal to recognize a so-called convert as Zarathushtrian,
blasphemy and abusive language do not work. On the contrary, they turn many to
become increasingly curious to know the truth.
The matter warrants serious consideration, both for the traditionalists
and the liberals.
Attitudes are undergoing a change since Western scholars began taking an increasing interest in the Institutionalized Zoroastrianism almost 200 years ago. They have, with their translations and interpretations, brought the mute Avestan and Pahlavi texts to speak for themselves. The Gathas, once outranked by daily Avesta/Pazend recitation, are the subject of much discussion now.
The reformist movement started by those trained in Western schools has
gained much strength during the last century.
It has made, and continues to make, even the staunch traditionalists
to reform without acknowledging the change.
Gathic studies have helped some to believe that if the Good Religion is
restored to its pristine purity, it can well meet the challenge of social
changes, scientific progress and technological advances.
It can also live in friendly relations with other religions.
One of the subjects brought up by the movement has been
conversion/acceptance. It has been vehemently opposed by the traditionalists,
and condemned by their high priests in India.
Nevertheless, the process of accepting spouses is gaining favor.
First, many began supporting the idea that the children of a
mixed-marriage in which the father is Zoroastrian should be initiated into the
religion. Now, those who stand for
equality of the sexes are pressing for the admittance of the children of a
Zoroastrian wife. This opinion is
strong in Europe and North America and it appears that Zoroastrians of these two
continents will eventually admit both. Initiations of children of Zoroastrian
wives and non-Zoroastrian fathers are more common than occasional.
The number of Zoroastrians who believe in accepting converts is also
increasing. The Iranian Mobeds
Councils in Iran and North America have given a green light to acceptance but
are not, for obvious reasons, making any special efforts to propagate and win
converts. If a
"qualified" candidate, generally one marrying into a Zoroastrian
family, comes forward, he or she is quietly initiated
into the religion. There are
several associations in North America who hold the same opinion and occasionally
follow the same policy. Against
this, the traditionalists in America are already protesting against the move and
are quite vociferous in their protest. The
number of those in favor of acceptance in India and Pakistan is considerable but
so far no one has dared to come in open except a few.
It means prompt condemnation by the orthodox who wield the power in the
society. A bold step by a few in future may change the silent supporters of
acceptance and consequently change the balance.
Among the Zoroastrians in North America and Europe, differences of
opinion have divided the immigrants and their children into two main camps: the
orthodox and liberals. Although met with stiff opposition, echoed louder in
remote India than in North America and Europe, so far the odds have been in
favor of the liberals. They have
been successful in most of the unorthodox actions they have dared to take.
The orthodox, although never admitting, are yielding but very, very
slowly. The question now is:
how far the orthodox are going to stretch themselves to meet the changes
brought in by the liberals, especially by their own children who are growing
in a typically open western society?
The fear of a split, expressed mostly by the orthodox, may come true
because of the stand taken by the orthodox themselves. It
is they who alienate others by their condemnations, excommunications and
boycotts. Once alienated, a person
cannot join a traditional association, attend a ritual performed by a
traditional priest, enter a fire-temple in the Indian sub-continent, or receive
a Zoroastrian funerary end. Such
persons have two alternatives: go and get lost, as has been the case so far, and
as a result, further aggravate the present decline in population, or form their
own establishment. The alienated
and excommunicated persons, each feeling isolated and rejected, have never made
an effort to come together to find a solution to their isolation.
However, there are faint signs that some are thinking about the need for
a united action to solve the problem in open.
But apart from the divided community, a number of prominent Zartoshtis,
each in his or her city, have seriously been thinking of establishing a
well-organized body in North America and Europe to promote the religion of
Zarathushtra. They have been
consulting each other but so far no concrete steps have been taken to form
groups and start it. Only one group has felt encouraged to come forward and
establish an independent organization. The
Zarathushtrian Assembly is a non-profit, non-political religious corporation
established in 1990 in Los Angeles. It declared its existence while celebrating
Nowruz and Zarathushtra’s Birthday on 22 March 1991.
It is the first of its kind. It
is unique. Contrary to what happens
in reformative movements, the establishment of the Assembly is not a protestant,
sectarian, or denominational one, a separatist move to split apart from an
existing body. It has been formed
as an outside organization, an organization which does not identify
itself with the Institutionalized
Zoroastrianism as an ethnic entity or with any of its associations,
institutions, and other sacerdotal, sanctified, social, financial, charitable,
singular or federated establishments. It
lies outside the closed communal religious fold of traditionalist and orthodox
Zoroastrians. It does not seek any
recognition by any authority/authorities of the traditional Zoroastrian
community. In fact, it is not interested at all in any of the
traditional/orthodox activities of keeping their identity, maintaining their
rituals and ceremonies, safeguarding their culture, opposing
conversion/acceptance, excommunicating persons of mixed marriages, and
inbreeding to increase their number.
Nevertheless, the Zarathushtrian Assembly is a Zarathushtrian
organization. It has, in theory and practice, restored the religion of Good
Conscience to its Gathic purity and Zarathushtrian universality.
It reserves the right to call itself and its members by the name
"Zarathushtrian" and any of its variants—Zarathushti, Zartoshti,
Zoroastrian, Mazdayasni, and Behdin. Based on the Gathic Doctrine, it considers
itself the Authority to follow its course.
Membership of the Zarathushtrian Assembly is open to all those who, of
their own individual accord and after full consideration and conviction, choose
the Good Religion and wish to belong to its World Fellowship.
The Zarathushtrian Assembly belongs to the knowledgeable persons who are
sincerely committed to the good, Gathic religion of the Manthran,
the thought-provoker, Righteous Zarathushtra. The Gathas are the only guide in
life for the members of the Assembly. Other Gathic texts are of explanatory
importance. Its ceremonies are
based on the Gathic texts. All
other parts of the Avesta and Pahlavi have only their moral, historical,
geographical, and anthropological values and therefore there is a placid place
for them outside the doctrinal scripture-the Staota
The Assembly teaches, preaches, and practices the religion of Good
Conscience. It does not convert
people simply because the Good Religion is a religion of personal choice and
does not indulge in persuaded, pursued, and pushed conversion.
It is opposed to such conversions. Any person who is a Zarathushtrian,
either by free choice or by birth and upbringing, and has knowledgeably
performed his or her initiation (navjote/sadreh-pűshi),
can apply for the membership of the Zarathushtrian Assembly, and upon the
approval of the application become a member and enjoy all the rights provided by
the Constitution and Bylaws of The Assembly.
Those who are interested in the Good Religion, and those who, for certain
reasons, are not in a position to get themselves initiated, may associate
themselves with The Assembly by becoming "friends."
Friends can participate in all Assembly activities with the exception of
elections and being elected to administrative positions. Assembly activities are
open to all. Even administrative meetings may be attended by any person brought
in by a member or with a prior request.
A common problem faced by followers of the Institutionalized
Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Islam and Sikhism, all of them comparatively recent
immigrants, in Europe and North America, is adaptation to an entirely new
environment. Western culture and
social orders are very different in these countries.
While the first generation of immigrants wants to preserve intact the
ways of life as they were in the old world, an impossible task in the long run,
the new generation looks at America and Europe as its homeland and its culture
as its own.
Meanwhile, the spiritual world is witnessing increased religious
activities. Inter-faith movements
are working to bring most of the existing religions closer in reciprocally
respectful meetings. It is gaining
popularity. Parallel to this
movement, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Mormons, Baha'is, and
even Jews are preaching and are out to win people to their respective religions
by peaceful means. Conversion is
the order of the day.
Institutionalized Zoroastrianism has its own stand: Safeguard and
continue the identity and culture it has acquired through the ages of its
existence, no matter what the conditions prevail in the homeland or the acquired
homes. It has, however, a growing
group of its members who are concerned. They
favor a reform, some fast and fundamental, others slow and surface.
Only time, now moving fast, will prove as to who is right and who is
As far as the Good Religion
of Zarathushtra is concerned, the restoration has given it a new impetus.
With the eternal "Primal Principles of Life" taught by
Zarathushtra approximately 4,000 years ago as its motive and goal, it stands
modern and progressive. It has
entered the peaceful competition and is determined to spread the Zarathushtrian
Message far and wide. After all,
every Zartoshti, orthodox or liberal, understanding or just chanting, has been
wishing in his or her daily prayers: "May
the religion of Good Conscience spread all over the seven regions of the
earth." Their prayers, clear signs show, have been answered.
Atha jamyât yatha afrinâmahi.
Recommended for Further Information
1. Irach J.S. Taraporewala, The
Divine Songs of Zarathushtra, Bombay, 1951.
2. S. Insler, The Gathas of
Zarathustra, Leiden, 1975.
3. Ali A. Jafarey, The Gathas, Our
Guide, Cypress, California, 1989.
Avesta, Pahlavi and Persian:
1. Sacred Books of the East,
ed. F. Maxmuller, volumes IV,XXIII, and XXXI for Avesta texts and volumes V,
XVIII, XXIV, and XXXVI for Pahlavi texts, Oxford, 1895, reprinted by Motilal
Banarasidas, Delhi, 1970.
2. The Persian Rivayats of
Hormezdyar Framarz and others, Ervad B.N. Dhabar, Bombay, 1932.
1. Dastur Maneckji Nusservanji Dhalla, History
of Zoroastrianism, New York, 1938. (The
best and most comprehensive book to read on the chronological development
of the Good Religion and the Institutionalized Zoroastrianism.)
2. Rustom Masani,
The Religion of the Good Life, London, 1954
3. Dastur Hormazyar K. Mirza, Outlines
of Parsi History, Bombay, 1974.
4. Prof. Mary Boyce, A History of
Zoroastrianism, three volumes, Leiden, 1975-91.
5. ................, Zaroastrians,
Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, London, 1979.
6. Erach J.S. Taraporewala, The
Religion of Zarathushtra, Bombay, 1980.
7. Homi B. Minocher Homji, O
Wither Parsis? Placate and Perish
or Reform and Flourish, Karachi, 1978.
8. ......................, Zoroastrianism,
contemporary perception of ancient wisdom, a search for the true meaning and
scope of zarathushtra’s gathas, Toronto, 1989.
9. Cyrus R. Pangborn, Zoroastrianism,
A Beleaguered Faith, 1982.
10. Ali A. Jafarey, The
Zarathushtrian Religion, a chronological perspective, 1992.
1. Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, The
Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees, Bombay, reprint 1986.
2. Mobed Ardeshir Azargoshasb, Marasem-e
Mazhabi va Adab-e Zarthoshtian (Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the
Zoroastrians) (Persian), Tehran, 2nd ed. 1979.
3. Ali A. Jafarey, Fravarane, I
choose for myself the Zoroastrian Religion, a guide for the initiation ceremony,
Westminster, California, 1988.
4. .............., Zarathushtrian
Ceremonies based on the Gathas, Cypress, California, 1992.
Note: The author has, in his research essays in English and Persian, discussed at length many of the points which are but briefly mentioned in this book. If requested, copies of the original essays will be provided at the cost price.
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