Zoroastrianism Ancient China and Central Asia


Discussions with Lin Wishu, Chinese Scholar–Dr.Pallan Ichaporia,Ph.D., D.Phil

(This is copy righted and no parts to be used without the author’s permission)

 

For thousand years Zoroastrianism was widely spread in Khorezm, Sogdiana and Bactria. In the lower reaches of the Amu Darya River, three kilometers off the town of Khojeili, there was found a unique archeological complex – Mizdakhan. The complex stands on three hills. In its eastern part there remained a lot of sepulchral chambers. The complex is what remained of a town that used to be a trade and crafts center of the Khorezm state. One of the branches of the Great Silk Road ran through this town. Not far from Mizdakhan stands Chilpik – a well-preserved ancient Zoroastrian construction. According to the legend it was the place where Zarathushtra composed the first lines of Gathas / Avesta. The strong walls of the fortresses Ayaz-Kala, Toprak-Kala, Kuy-Krilgan-Kala, Burgun-Kala, Dev-Kala are still the integral part of Khorezmian landscapes. While examining these great monuments, the archeologists found the remains of fire temples, household articles, ceramic objects and sculptures – all relating to Zoroastrianism and with Avesta characters. In the interior of Toprak-Kala, for example, there were found fragments of wall paintings and sculptural decor. Some Zoroastrian customs and traditions can be traced in the present life of the local people; for instance, , typical Khorezm dance Lyazgi, which is believed to be the fire-worshippers’ ritual dance around fire..

On Afrasiab hills, which hide the ruins of the ancient Sogdian capital Marakanda, there can still be found statuettes of the Zoroastrian goddess of fertility – Anahita. According to the legend, one of the oldest Bukhara mosques Magoki-Attari was built in the 11th century on the foundations of Zoroasterian fire-temple. The last mention of Zoroaster followers in Samarkand and Bukhara dates back to the period when Islam was spread in the area. After the Mongolian conquest, there probably left no more Zoroastrians here. The Central Asian Jews, or Bukhara Jews, so far have been studied very little, though this very ethnic group has preserved many customs and rites closely connected with Zoroastrianism.

The wall painting of one of the cave temples of the 1st century found in Kara-Tepa (Syr Darya Province, Uzbekistan) depicts Buddha-Mazda, a syncretic character that has the features of both the gods of Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, of Ahura Mazda and Buddha. A big shrine surrounded by a circular corridor was recently excavated by Uzbek archeologists at the site of Kampyr-Tepa, identified with the legendary Alexandria-on-Oks. Such a peculiar lay-out was typical of Zoroastrian temples, where processions of priests performed the main Zoroastrian ritual of walking around the sanctuary

The Sogdians played an important role in propagation of Zoroastrianism throughout Central Asia. The population of the Sogdian colonies, which were founded along the eastern part of the Great Silk Road in the first centuries A.D., practiced Zoroastrianism. This religion was also spread among those who lived in the Bactrian settlements in Eastern Turkestan, where a lot of ossuaries  have been found. According to ancient Chinese texts the first fire temple in Changang was built in 612. In Northern Hengang, near Jang-Defu, there still stands a sixth-century Zoroastrian commemorative pillar built by a local architect in the image and likeness of a Sogdian one. The pillar depicts priests, wearing masks and standing around the altar in a fire temple.
Best wsihes,
Dr. Pallan Ichaporia
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