Category Archives: Religion

Zerick Dastur at the Parliament of World Religions

A 6 minute talk by Zerick Dastur at the Parliament of World Religions 2021 on Global Peace and Harmony.

The talk addresses the topic from the point of view of :
1. The Role of an established legal system protecting human rights and the rule of law,
2. The Responsibility of nations and the Indian example and
3. The Role played by organized religion : the philosophy of the Zoroastrian religion in promoting global peace and harmony.

The importance of education to combat ignorance and contributions of individuals across history are also discussed.

Zartosht no-Diso

Zartosht no-Diso, is a commemoration of the death anniversary of the prophet Zoroaster. It is observed on the 11th day (Khorshed) of the 10th month (Dae) of the Fasli Calendar.
Attendance at the fire temple is very high during this occasion. A much higher number of mobeds are brought to pray at the Atash Behrams and Atash Adarans. There is no mourning in the Zoroastrian religion, only remembrance and worship of the Farohars of the departed.
However, Zoroaster’s death is not mentioned in the Avesta. Nonetheless, in the Shahnama, He is said to have been murdered at the altar by the Turanians in the storming of Balkh.

Zoroastrianism: the Religion of Fire that inspired the Hebrew Bible

Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. Founded by the prophet Zoroaster in ancient Iran almost 3,500 years ago, for 1,000 of those years, it was the most powerful religion in the world.

It was the official religion of the ever-expanding Persia for over a millennia, from 600 BC to 650 AD. Nowadays it is one of the smallest active religions, with fewer than 90,000 followers.

This small enclave is all that survives of one of the greatest, and the oldest, religions in the world. How did this come to be?

What is Zoroastrianism?

The Zoroastrian faithful are monotheistic, believing in only one God: Ahura Mazda (meaning “wise lord”) and that it was He that created the world. Those who believe in Zoroastrianism typically pray several times a day and worship communally in a fire temple (known as an Agiary).

This does not mean that the Zoroastrians are fire worshipers, which might imply a more primitive religion. Instead they believe that the fire is a representation of Ahura Mazda’s light, or wisdom.

Their holy book is called the Avesta and, similarly to the Christian Bible, can be split into two sections. The oldest and core part of the scripture is mostly made up of Gathas, 17 hymns thought to be composed by the Prophet.

The Younger Avesta was written much later and is a reflection of the earlier sections. It offers a commentary on myths, stories, and detailed ritual observances.

History of Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster. The exact date of its founding is uncertain, however linguistic comparisons with the Hindu text, the Rig Veda of 1200-1500 BC, together with archaeological evidence, allows for an approximate dating.

Ahura Mazda as He is commonly depicted (A.Davey / CC BY 2.0)

Zoroaster was born somewhere in northeast Iran or southwest Afghanistan. He was born during the Bronze Age, a time when polytheistic religions were predominant.

His name is a Greek rendering of the name Zarathustra, also called Zarathusti in Persian, or Zaratosht in Gujarati. A few details survive of his life: for example, we know he was born into the Spitama clan and worked as a priest. He married and had three sons and three daughters.

Zoroaster rejected the polytheistic religion of the time, claiming that it was a tool of oppression and that the many gods were false. He opposed animal sacrifices and rejected the use of the Haoma plant, used in rituals to create hallucinogenic visions.

His Divine Vision

When Zoroaster was 30 he had a divine vision of the God Ahura Mazda and his Amesha Spentas, the seven Holy Immortals that emanate from Him. Zoroaster was able to ask questions and received many answers from the vision, giving him his doctrinal foundation for the religion.

His entire worldview was converted from one of polytheism to monotheism. In fact, he turned on his old religion believing they were evil spirits, calling them minions of Angra Mainyu, a destructive spirit and Ahura Mazda’s rival.

It was not an easy task for Zoroaster to bring his conversion to the public. The local religious authorities, then as now recognizing the threat of a dissenting voice and new ideas to the orthodoxy, rejected it.

Zoroaster in the famous School of Athens fresco at the Vatican. Raphael chose to paint himself next to the ancient prophet, looking at us (Raphael / Public Domain)

Zoroaster was cast out from the priesthood, forced to leave his home and relocate to somewhere more open to new ideas. He eventually found such a place in Bactria, ruled by King Vishtaspa and Queen Hutosa. They debated Zoroaster’s ideas, and then accepted them for their kingdom.

Zoroaster died in his late 70s, but the religion he founded would continue throughout the centuries.

Whispering in Abraham’s Ear

Despite the religion’s obscure beginnings, Zoroastrianism grew to become the state religion of three major Persian dynasties, at a time when the Persian empire was the largest in the world. Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, was a devout follower and the under him the expansionist Persians spread of the religion through conquest and trade across Asia.

Possibly the most significant moment in this expansion came with the conquest of Babylon by the Persians in 539BC. In conquering the city, Cyrus freed the Babylonian Jews who had been captured after the fall of Jerusalem over 60 years earlier.

The descendants of these exiled Jews would go on to compile the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and they carried the Zoroastrian influence into their religion. Through this interaction, Zoroastrianism became a key source for the major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Cyrus the Great conquers Babylon (Unknown Author / CC BY 4.0)

These influences are easy to spot. The Zoroastrian monotheism, opposition to false idols, demonology and belief in a judgement day, are all carried through to these later religions. Although such ideas likely predate even Zoroaster, his religion was the conduit through which these ideas arrived in the Bible and the Quran.

Muslim Conquest and the Fall

However, this influence was not to last. After almost 1,000 years as the state religion of Persia, it all came crashing down between 633 and 651 AD. Persia was conquered and fell before an expansionist, rapid and massively successful Muslim invasion.

The Arab conquerors charged Zoroastrians living in Persia extra taxes for retaining their religious practices. Laws were created and implemented to make life difficult for the Zoroastrians, forcing them to either convert or pay expensive taxes.

It was from here that Zoroastrianism became a minority religion in Iran and across the old Persian empire. The religion, reduced to a minor status, suffered was diminished further with the Mongol invasions, where many more of the religious texts were destroyed.

Zoroastrian Beliefs

The elements play a large part in the Zoroastrian religion. Fire is seen as a symbol of purity, as is water. With fire being the most prominent element, Zoroastrian temples, following the ancient example of the mythical three temples that came directly from Azura Mazda at the beginning of time, contain an altar with an eternal flame that burns continuously.

To honor their dead, Zoroastrians gave “sky burials.” Circular, flat-topped towers were constructed on which the dead were left exposed to the elements and animals until the bones were picked clean.

The bones that remained were then deposited in a lime pit, called an ossuary. This practice continued throughout history, right up until the 1970s in Iran, when it was finally made illegal.

Zoroastrianism Today

Today, this ancient religion is dying. There is little evidence of this religion continuing en-masse and it is suspected that there are only 80,000 to 90,000 Zoroastrians that remain. Yet despite this small number, the legacy of Zoroastrianism in the west looms much larger.

Perhaps the most famous practicing Zoroastrian in modern history was Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen. The name of the God Ahura Mazda is most likely familiar as the namesake for the Japanese car company.

Fire temple ruins in Esfahan (Ivan Mlinaric / CC BY 2.0)

The Game of Thrones HBO series featured the god Azor Ahai believed to have been inspired by Ahura Mazda. Azor Ahai emphasizes the cleansing purity of fire and seeks to defeat darkness.

You may not have heard of the religion itself, but the importance of Zoroastrianism cannot be denied. It was influence on one of the largest and greatest ancient empires, as well as many modern religions. Although largely forgotten today, its impact cannot be overstated.

Top Image: the fire temple at Baku Ateshgah. Source: saiko3p / Adobe Stock.

By Bipin Dimri.

References

BBC. 2009. Zoroastrianism. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian/

Duschesne-Guillemin, J. 2020. Zoroastrianism. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Zoroastrianism

Hintze, A. 2016. Who are the Zoroastrians? Available at: https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/publishing/review/28/who-are-zoroastrians/

Hintze, A. 2019. An Introduction to Zoroastrianism. Available at: https://www.bl.uk/sacred-texts/articles/an-introduction-to-zoroastrianism

History.com Editors. 2019. Zoroastrianism. Available at: https://www.history.com/topics/religion/zoroastrianism

Hodsdon, E. 2021. Zoroastrianism And Persian Mythology: The Foundation Of Belief. Available at: https://www.thecollector.com/zoroastrianism-persian-mythology/

Walker, S. 2020. The last of the Zoroastrians. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/06/last-of-the-zoroastrians-parsis-mumbai-india-ancient-religion

Author : BIPIN DIMRI

Our Environment from Zoroastrian Perspective

 A talk by Ervad Zarrir Bhandara representing FEZANA – delivered at the Parliament of World Religions on October 16th

There is nothing more important in life than life itself. This does not just refer to human lives but all life forms as the well-being & future of all living beings are intertwined. Today, what we know as ecology, was taught by our prophet Zarathushtra thousand of years ago.

In order to achieve success in preserving, healing, and sustaining our environment for the benefit of our current and future generations, we need to come together and use our good minds to form a collective consciousness.

In Zoroastrianism, there are 7 Amesha Spentas, bounteous immortals, each having a beneficient quality and a responsibility of overlooking each of the wonderful creations of God.

This heptad is also considered as the seven steps or commandments, when followed benefits individuals and collectively to bring about progress in improving ourselves and others in terms of physical and emotional health, to bring about prosperity and happiness.

The first Amesha Spenta is Spenta Mainyu, the beneficent spirit. The quality is innate Wisdom/God’s will and the creation looked after/represents is Human Beings. Hence, it is important that we realize God’s will by connecting ourselves with our superconscious through meditative prayers and caring for each other through wisdom.

The second Amesha Spenta is Vohu Manah – the good mind or the rational mind which helps us to make decisions in our daily life. The creation being looked after is Animals. It is important that we use our good minds to further goodness in this world and also take care of animals. According to Shahnameh, (Book of Kings), it is this tradition, which was introduced to the people first time ever in human history by ABLIS, A PERSONIFIED DEVIL “AHRIMAN” WHICH IS KILLING ANIMALS FOR FOOD.
Surely, we have followed this tradition until this day without realizing, whose tradition we are following? In addition, in what way it affects our environment and us.
The output is in direct proportion to the inputs “Garbage in garbage out” what food you eat affects our (mental and physical health) thinking and disposition to a very great extent.

God gave us dominion over animals to take care of them not harm them. Factory farming of animals creates more fossil fuels, pollutes our environment, and depletes natural resources more than any other industry. Hence, it is important that we transition to a healthy plant-based diet that is good for our health and our environment.

The third Amesha Spenta looks after/represents Fire, which is the purest form of energy that is present in all living beings and the physical manifestation of that energy is the holy fire that we can physically see and also represents the energy that is not visible to the human eye. Possessing the qualities of righteousness, truth, and order. It is important that we use renewable energy from natural and clean sources like Sun and Wind. It is also essential that we follow the path of righteousness by practicing truth and orderliness in our lives to bring about peace & happiness.

The fourth beneficent spirit is Kshthravairya which looks after the sky and metals. The quality possessed is of moral strength, power, and conviction. In this step, we have to take care of our birds who fly in the sky and make the best use of metal objects. A knife in a surgeon’s hands can save a life and in a murderer’s hands can end a life. Kshthravairya helps us not to give up; when you are treading the path of righteousness, you are bound to come across a lot of obstacles and distractions, you need to gather courage, moral strength, and conviction to overcome those obstacles and distractions.

The fifth archangel is Spenta Armaiti, she looks after Mother Earth and has the qualities of holy piety, devotion, and love. Hence, it is extremely important that we take care of our Mother Earth in the most loving way we can, be devoted to the cause of taking care of our environment, and also invest feelings of love in all our work that we do on a daily basis.

When we follow these 5 steps, we arrive at the 6th step Haurvatat or perfection, she looks after the waters. We need to conserve water by reducing our use of natural resources, which are becoming scarce.  Also, we must be mindful to not pollute water by using less plastic and more reusable items. Only about 10% of recyclable items around the world are actually recycled, the rest goes into landfills & eventually makes their way into bodies of water, which is extremely harmful to marine life.

 

The last one in the heptad is Ameretat, she looks after the Plant kingdom and possesses the quality of immortality or long life. And that what is righteous will be remembered for a long time. Thus, we become immortal through thinking good thoughts, speaking good words, and performing good deeds wherever we go. Our thoughts, words, and deeds affect not only ourselves of course, but the whole universe as well. We are as much a part of the universe as the universe is a part of us because God’s energy is present in all living beings and we all are made in the image of God.

Until about 2 years ago, many of us did not realize the importance of the air that we breathe and the fact that Plants give us this life-sustaining force throughout our lives. We took this for granted. Our lives depend on plants, hence we need to grow more plants (mainly trees). Furthermore, we must take care of our environment – with the 7 Ameshaspands in mind, as mentioned before – to revive our planet & secure the future for generations to come.

THE PLEDGE TO MAKE HEAVEN ON EARTH
How about we make a pledge today to learn practice and imbibe the qualities of these Amesha Spentas in our lives namely the Wisdom the higher consciousness, the superintelligence, the righteousness and order, the moral strength, the holy piety/devotion/love, Perfection and good deeds that would be helpful for our future generations and also let us make a sincere effort to take better care of our environment and each other. Thus, we can create Heaven on Earth here and now.

Some Relevant questions and answers:
What is the importance of nature in Zoroastrianism?
Nature is an integral part of our Zoroastrian religion, we revere all the elements of our nature, and what we revere we may use it but we do not misuse it or abuse it. Today what we know as ecology was taught to us by our prophet Zarathushtra thousands of years ago to take care of our environment.

   Are there any prayers or ceremonies dedicated to the environment?

Yes, there are many prayers and rituals dedicated to nature and one of them is a Jashan ceremony. It strengthens that particular element of nature that is prayed upon and it also invokes the blessings of the divinity in charge of that particular element.

 

What is the Jashan ceremony?

Jashan is a Pahlavi (old Persian) word that comes from an Avestan word Yasna, which means religious service. There are many types of Jashans, some are performed on joyful occasions and some are performed on not so joyful occasions. For example, there are Thanksgiving Jashans which are performed six times a year seasonally as Thanksgiving Jashans which are called Gahambar Jashans.

What is the significance of each item placed in the Jashan ceremony?

In the Jashan ceremony, the Representatives of the seven Amesha Spentas the bounteous immortals, the deputies of Dadar Ahura Mazda are present, Spenta Mainyu, who looks after mankind is represented by the priests. Bahman Amshashpand or Vohu Manah the Good Mind who looks after the animal kingdom is represented by milk. Asha Vahishta or Ardibehesht Amshashpand looks after the fire and energy are represented by fire. Kshthra Vairya or Sherevar Amhashpand looks after the sky, and all the minerals and metals are represented by all the metal elements in the ceremony. Spenta Armaiti or Spandarmad Amshashpand who looks after the mother earth is represented by the earth on which we sit and perform the ceremony. Haurvatat or Khordad Amshashpand who looks after the waters is represented by the beaker of water placed in the ceremony. Ameretat or Amardad Amshashpand who looks after the Plant kingdom is represented by the fruits and flowers placed in the Jashan ceremony.

 

What is the importance of fire in Zoroastrianism?

God’s energy is present in all living beings and the physical manifestation of that energy is the holy fire. Fire is a very important element in Zoroastrian religion and it is present in all our ceremonies and rituals, the holy fire is also considered as a receiver and also a transmitter, who receives the energy from the spirit world and transmits to His devotees who are present.

Discover Zoroastrianism – Podcast

Discover Zoroastrianism

Now on Podcast at

http://namcmobeds.org/podcast

 

Zoroastrian Teachings on the Environment

In celebration of the Zoroastrian months of Khordad and Avan, we offer a podcast on Khordad Ameshaspand and Avan Yazad and their importance on Water, Rain and Wind.

“Discover Zoroastrianism” podcast is a channel to communicate Zoroastrian teachings, celebrations, and history.

An initiative of

NAMC Institute of Zoroastrian Studies

Our Very Own Episode 6 – Mr. Hanoz Mistry

Sustaining faith and nurturing pride in our time tested religious tenets, customs, traditions, practices and culture, is the need of the hour for the Parsee community. This can provide the community with the required impetus to persevere in the face of obstacles and succeed.

Host – Ms. Spenta Umrigar

Guest Speaker – Mr. Hanoz Mistry

Location – Mazda Studios

Director of Photography – Rehan S. Daruwalla

Directed by – Aarish S. Daruwalla

Produced by – Sarosh K. Daruwalla ||

Mazda Multimedia.

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