An Introduction to the Zoroastrian Religion
Zoroastrian religion is the oldest revealed religion in the world. It was started in remote antiquity by Prophet Zarathushtra Spitama, the first prophet in the world. He belonged to the Mazdayasni belief system. The origins of Zoroastrian religion is shrouded in antiquity and the probable dates of the prophet range from 1500 BCE to 6500 BCE
The Zoroastrians recognise Ahura Mazda as Almighty God and sole Creator of all creations. Hence they are referred to as Mazdayasni “worshippers of Mazda.” Ahura Mazda means ‘the wise lord of life.’
The Zoroastrians are also referred to as Parsis from the name of a south-western province in Iran from where they originated. The term ‘Parsi’ is an ethno-religious term describing the religion as well as the ethnic origins of the people.
Prophet Zarathushtra, was born in Eastern Iran, near Azarbaizan. He taught for the first time in the history of mankind, that there was only one God –Ahura Mazda – to whom mankind should direct their prayers, petitions and gratitude. He is depicted as a benign, merciful God, who is always willing, eager and ready to help mankind. He does not interfere in the workings of the Laws of nature, which He himself has set in motion. Man was taught to be careful about his thoughts, words and actions, as he was responsible for their consequences.
Highlights of the Religion:
Fire is regarded by Zoroastrians as the living embodiment of Ahura Mazda in the material world, since Ahura Mazda Himself is visualised as light and effulgence. Like Ahura Mazda, fire gives light and life. Among the creations, fire is closest to Ahura Mazda God, not only by virtue of its effulgence, but also due to its intrinsic qualities.
Fire is consecrated and established in fire temples as the living, breathing representative of Ahura Mazda, where it is kept ever burning. In India the Zoroastrians have a consecrated fire continuously burning for the last twelve hundred years, which is now in Udvada in Gujarat. Udvada is the holiest shrine for Zoroastrians in India. These consecrated fires are called fire temples and are the main focus of the devotional life of Zoroastrians. They are referred to as Agyari and Atash Behram in India. There are several such consecrated fires burning in india, some more than two and three centuries old.
Prophet Zarathushtra taught respect and veneration of nature and all natural creations. He explained that though the creations have been created for the use of mankind, its man’s bounden duty to look after them and under no circumstances should he misuse them.
The philosophy of Zoroastrian religion is based on two basic teachings. The first being Monotheism, that is, belief in one supreme Uncreated Force in the Universe, referred to as Ahura Mazda who has no equal or opponent. His is the power and intelligence that governs the whole Universe. The second basic Zoroastrian teaching is the belief in the existence of 2 forces or spirits of Good and Evil – referred to as Spenta and Angra. Prophet Zarathushtra taught people about these diametrically opposing cosmic forces operating at various levels in the world.
Iran was the stronghold of Zoroastrian religion for several millennia. Zoroastrian religion was the state religion of the Achaemenian and Sasanian empires. At one time, two thirds of the world was part of the Iranian empires. After the downfall of the last king of the last Iranian empire in 641 C.E., Zoroastrians migrated out of Iran, chiefly to save themselves from religious persecution. A majority of them went to India, which now has about 60% of the world’s population of about one hundred and thirty thousand Zoroastrians.
The Zoroastrians are a peace loving people. Due to their essential teaching of selflessness, basic ethical teachings of good thoughts, words and deeds, charity, justice and their emphasis on progress and prosperity, Zoroastrians have enjoyed prosperity friendship and acceptance all over the world.
Zoroastrians believe that they have been able to survive and make a mark in almost all spheres all over the world, despite religious persecution for several centuries, and without having a homeland of its own, is only on account of its religious beliefs and teachings.
Zoroastrians are presently spread all around the world, with the majority of them being in India. It is estimated that there are one hundred and forty thousand Zoroastrians in the world, with about 70,000 in India, 30,000 in Iran, 20,000 in North America, 5,000 in Europe and another about 15, 000 spread all over the world, mainly in places like Pakistan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Dubai.
Whereas the ethical, philosophical and spiritual message of Zoroastrianism is universal, the teachings based on a unique world view, and practices based on them, is exclusively for the ethnic and hereditary followers of the religion.