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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Zoroastrianism or Parsiism

This post is a note made from the book ‘A comparative study of Religions’ by Y Masih, Chapter 1 ‘Zoroastrianism or Parsiism’.

It is difficult to ascertain the time of rise of Zoroastrianism, but it is surmised that it has happened to have arisen about 2000 B.C. Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions along with Brahmanism. It is construed from scripts of both the religions that they have a common genesis.

The Iranians and Indo Aryans

Devas and Asura (Ahura), Yajna and Yasna, rita and asha (gatha) are one and the same religious terms. Other linguistic similarity in grammar and words is very great. So it can be said with certitude that both these races had a common origin, but what is not certain is there cause of separation.

One theory suggested by Martin Haug is that that a part of Aryans became agriculturist and settled in Iran and a part remained pastoral. These pastoral Aryans, who later became Indo-Aryans, often strayed into the Agriculturist Iranian Aryans often looting their animals and agricultural products. This led an antagonism between the two. At around 2000 B.C. there was a reformation in the religion of agriculturist Aryans. The agriculturist Iranians reached and preached the doctrine of strict monotheism with a good deal of stress on morality which means inner purity. In contrast, the pastoral Indo Aryans remained polytheistic, ritualistic and believed in efficacy of animal sacrifice. Thus there was a deep rift between the Persian Aryans and Indo Aryans.

According to Martin Haug, in the Zorastrian scripture Zend-Avesta , from the beginning Deva is the general name of an evil spirit and Zorastrianism is against the Devas (vi-daevo). It is a religion of Asura (Ahura) and Ahura Mazda (‘Medha’ meaning wise) is the supreme god. In earliest portions of rig veda, ‘asura’ is used in a good sense. Indra, Varuna, Savitri and Rudra are all called asura which means living for asu (breath). But as time went on in the later Vedic literature Devas were taken as the creatures of light that were at war with Asuras. Thus, Asuras became the demons in later Brahmin literature and in the Zorastrian scripture Asuras remained the object of worship and veneration. Hence , the Indo- Aryans became the deva worshippers with Indra as the supreme war-lord whereas for the Iranians Ahura Mazda remained their only God.

Zoroastrian Scriptures

Parsi’s sacred book is called Gatha. Since it is written in Avesta (Language) and is in the form of Zend (Commentary) it is known as Zend-Avesta. Zend-Avesta is divided into two parts

1) The first part has three sub parts:

a. Vendidad: a compilation of religious laws and stories.

b. Visperad: litanies pertaining to sacrifices

c. Yasna: Litanies and hymns in special dialect

2) ‘Kharda Avesta’ or ‘Small Avesta’ containing prayers.

The modern scholars were unable to decipher the language of Zend-Avesta till very recently. Later it was discovered that The Gatha has great kinship with Sanskrit language. Western scholars were able to decipher Zend by applying the grammar of Panini, Katyanan and Patanjali. This fact made it clear that Iranians of Gatha and Aryans of Vedas formed one single race speaking language akin to Sanskrit. The similarities between Sanskrit and Avesta are apparent. A line in Gathic Persian from Avesta:
"Tem amavangtem zazatem surem damohu sevishtem mithrem zazai zaothrabyo"

Word for word in Sanskrit this would be:

"Tam amavantam yajatam shuram dhamasu shavistam mitram yajai hotrabhyah"

(With Libation will I worship Mithra, that strong and mighty angel, most bountiful to all creatures)

About Zarathustra

It is presumed that Zarathustra or Zoraster, the first prophet, reformed the existing Parsiism and made it strictly monotheistic. Since most researchers dates the oldest of the Vedas to between 1500 and 1200 BC, the Gathas of Zarathustra are unlikely to originate from much later. This suggests that the prophet lived some time around 1200 BC, a period traditionally ascribed to Moses. Some though put him rather with Abraham, between 1700 to 1500 BC.

Zarathustra addressed a nation who venerated fire and worshipped the ancestral deities of the Indo-European, the gods of sky and earth, Asman and Zam, the gods of Sun and Moon, Mithra and Mah,the god of war Indra, and the host of daevas. Zarthustra proclaimed that there is only one God, Ahura Mazda, and he identified the source of all evil in the worlds as the Lie (Druj) – later to be personified as Angra Mainyu or Ahirman. He reduced all other divinities to the status of attributes, mere partial glimpses, of the glorious totality of Ahura Mazda.

Basic Tenets of Zoratrianism

Zarathustra was the first prophet of Parsiism who reformed the preexisting Parsiism belonging to the age of Gathas. According to Martin Haug Zarathustra maintained strict monotheism. With the rise of speculative tendency, Zoroastrianism became dualistic, maintaining the conflict between two primeval forces. Reformed Parsiism has the following features:
• Ahura Mazda is the one and only God

• God is essentially transcendent (i.e. Beyond and outside the ordinary range of human experience or understanding)

• God is immanent (i.e. Of qualities that are spread throughout something) only in a metaphorical or secondary sense in as much as He enters into relation with his worshippers as their father, brother and friend.

• As God is Transcendent, he can be found out through his intermediaries called angels, but above all by his prophet Zarathustra.

• God demands humata (good thought), hukhta (good words) and hvarshta (good deed).

• Zoroastrianism believes in resurrection of dead and day of judgment.

• Every human will have to get across the bridge of Chinvat. Good souls who go across will go to heaven and evil ones who fail pass, into hell.

• Zoroastrianism believes in restoration when the whole universe will be restored to its purity

• Animal sacrifice is eschewed.

• Fire is the symbol of light and purity.

• Zoroastrianism teaches equality and brotherhood of man.

• Zoroastrianism does not favors asceticism and prescribes the life of a house holder

• Later on Dualism entered into Zoroastrianism as its secondary tenet. The evil force is represented by Ahriman and his demons who instill evil thoughts in man and create evil in all other circumstances. Ahura Mazda through his representative Spenta Mainyu and other good Angels are there to fight evil so that the day of restoration is brought nearer.

• Zoroastrianism with its doctrine of angels and demonology teaches that man is to become co-sharer and co-worker in the fight conquest of evil by goodness.


Ahura Mazda is transcendent, immutable and absolute entity. The world is mutable and changeable. How can the two reconcile. Here there is conception of Spenta Mainyu who is the manifestation and projection of creative will and thought of Ahura Mazda. The two are coeval and eternal. Spenta Mainyu is the manifest form of Ahura Mazda. If we draw parallel with Advaitism of Shankara then Ahura Mazda is the Nirgun Brahma and Spenta Mainyu is the Sagun Ishwara.


Ahura Mazda has six cardinal virtues of Vohu Manah (good mind), Asha (righteousness), Khshathra (God’s Kingdom), Armaiti (Devotion), Haurvatat (Perfection), and Ameretat (immortality). The personification of these spiritual attributes became holy angel where Vohu Manah, Asha and Khshathra are male members and Armaiti, Haurvatat and Ameratat are feminine.


Creation is finitization of infinite. Hence, imperfection is the inevitable result of creation. When Spenta Meinyu tried to create good world, its counterpart in the form of Ahirman or Angara Mainyu introduced evil in the world. Drought, famine, pestilence and all sorts of evil in the world are due to ahriman and his associates. Not only Angra Mainyu creates natural calamities but he distorts the mind of human. Ahriman lures man towards evil deeds, lulls his conscience and make the evil appear as good.

Influence of Zoroastrianism on Semitic Religion

Both Islam and Christianity have their origin in Judaism which in turn was influenced by Zoroastrianism. Judaism got influenced when the Jews were taken into exile in Babylonia between 712 – 600 B.C. Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of that time. Judaism before coming into contact of Zoroastrianism was mere a tribal religion. Yahweh was one of the god amongst other gods and was essentially a nature god of thunder and storm. He was appeased by the animal sacrifices of bull and ran. Post exile under the influence of Zoroastrianism, Judaism became strictly monotheistic. It inculcated the doctrine of resurrection and the Day of Judgment, the teaching of Angels, heaven and hell, hatred of idolatry and animal sacrifice. They also began to develop sense of individual responsibilities instead of tribal morality.

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