Birth of Zoroastrianism

About 5000 years ago, i.e. around 3000 BCE, a group of people called the Proto Indo-Iranians lived on the South Russian Steppes to the east of the river Volga [Boyce]. The Proto Indo-Iranians believed in a primitive concept of order (called rta in Sanskrit). They knew that order existed in the universe because night followed day, the moon waxed and waned and each year the seasons followed one another. They believed that divinities or gods called Asuras, among which Varuna and Mithra were most popular, guarded this law. The Proto Indo-Iranians worshiped instinctively and often, through fear. For example, when they saw lightning and heard thunder they thought that the gods were angry with them. For every natural phenomenon such as an earthquake, snowstorm or hurricane they would make sacrifices of animals, plants and food to their deities in order to appease them.

About a thousand years later i.e. ~2000 BCE, the Proto Indo-Iranians split into two groups. One group migrated westwards and came to be known as the Iranians while the other group went east and was known as the Vedic Indians or Vedic Aryans. Because of this common root the early religious scriptures of the Indian and the Iranian have some similarities but after the split each of them developed separately.

The Iranians were mostly nomads, they did not have a fixed place to live, for they herded cattle and would keep moving around in search of fresh pasture and water. Since they lived in the open they worshiped nature and they had a god or goddess for each of the elements of nature, i.e. they believed that one god looked after the sky (Asman), another took care of the Earth (Zam), another looked after the Moon (Mah) and also a goddess called Anahita looked after the waters. They called this whole pantheon of gods and goddesses as Ahuras. The word Ahura comes from the root Ah meaning, "to be", so Ahura can be derived as the Being. The Iranians believed their Ahuras to be very powerful and their ritualistic priests called Karapans had many rituals and made sacrifices of animals and plant food to fire and water. Their Ahuras were similar to Asuras of the Proto Indo-Iranians and of the Rig Vedas.

Several centuries later the Iranians learned the use of bronze and developed horse drawn chariots. Some Iranians abandoned the task of herding cattle and became warriors and they would go from place to place raiding cattle. These lawless people worshiped the gods of war and were called Daevas. Their priests called Kavis were very shrewd and practiced black magic.

It was during this time somewhere around 1400 BCE that Zarathushtra was born. As a young boy he was interested in nature and wanted to know as to how the world was created. His search for creation and the creator lead him to contemplate on the purpose of life in this world. After several years of meditation he revealed to mankind that there is only ONE GOD (Ahura Mazda), the creator of the universe. During his lifetime he composed his message into what is known today as the Gathas, which literally means Songs. Even after several centuries his Gathas have survived to this day because they were transmitted orally by his followers, from one generation to the next. The ancient Greeks knew Zarathushtra as Zoroaster and hence his followers are called Zoroastrians. Some followers who live in India prefer to be called Zarathushtis.

Tenets of Zoroastrianism

Zarathushtra was the first to introduce a novel way of thinking and a completely new philosophy of life. He was the first to show humans the path of freedom, the freedom of moral choice and freedom from blind obedience to unmeaning sanctions. Zarathushtra introduced the concept of ONE God whom he called Ahura Mazda. This compound term consists of two Avestan words, Ahura and Mazda. Avestan was a language used during the time of Zarathushtra. The word Ahura has a masculine gender while Mazda is feminine. The first word Ahura(s) (Asuras in the Vedas of Hinduism) was already used by the pre-Zoroastrians for their God(s) and Zarathushtra introduced the concept of God as the creator who infused life into the physical world. Ahura has been associated with ah meaning being or existence and angh meaning life, and this is probably why Ahura, the life giving force, has been translated as Lord of Life. The new word, Mazda, coined by Zarathutra means super-intellect or supreme wisdom. Mazda can also mean Great or Maximum Knowledge, as well as Great or Maximum Giver. Zarathushtra seems to be the first to use the word Mazda and also the first to make one deity the only deity. By using the term Ahura Mazda, a compound of a male and female name, Zarathushtra wished to convey both the equality of the males and females before the Creator and, also, the fact that the deity was beyond one particular sexual designation. Many scholars have translated Ahura Mazda as Lord of Wisdom.

(GE had named their light bulb Mazda to honor the God of Light, probably in the misconception that Mazda means light. The Japanese cars were named after light bulbs; so whoever drives a Mazda drives a "wise" car).

The term Ahura Mazda, as well as the separate terms Ahura and Mazda, appear several times in the Gathas which were composed by Zarathushtra. He uses the term Mazda 164 times, Ahura 131 times, Mazda Ahura 50 times and Ahura Mazda 8 times in his Gathas. It is imperative to note that prior to Zarathushtra the Gods and Goddesses were known for their power and strength while Zarathushtra laid the stress on Ahura Mazda's creative ability and wisdom.

According to Zarathushtra, Ahura Mazda conceived the idea of creating the universe and not only let it evolve into the inanimate objects such as the Sun, the Moon, the stars and the Earth but also the living species such as the plants, animals and human beings i.e. he infused life into his creations. Ahura Mazda is not a static God who has finished his creations for he his dynamic and progressive and a continuous creator. In his Gathas, Zarathushtra refers to Ahura Mazda as Tashô (Yasna 31-11). This word stems from the root tash meaning to cut, to shape [Dhalla]. When a tailor cuts a cloth he designs it into a garment, so the word Tashô signifies a designer and conveys the idea of improvement, progress and evolution. According to Zarathushtra, Ahura Mazda is the creator of life in this universe, he is omniscient, he is super intelligent, he is the wisest, he knows everything for he has supreme wisdom and he is kind, friendly and loving. Ahura Mazda is omnipresent for he is everywhere at the same time.

We, Zoroastrians, usually start our prayers with the words Kshnotra Ahurai Mazdao, which means glory be to Ahura Mazda. We praise Ahura Mazda for creating this world, for creating the Sun that gives us light and heat, for creating the air that we need to breathe, for creating the water that we need to survive and for creating the animals, birds, plants, fruits and flowers that bring us joy and happiness. We believe that Ahura Mazda has no form, shape or color attributed to him. This is why Zoroastrians never worship idols. We do not build some shape from clay or wood or metal and call it Ahura Mazda because, to us, Ahura Mazda is ever glowing eternal light from which emanates bounty and goodness.

According to Zarathushtra, Ahura Mazda regulates the universe through ASHA, the law of precision. At the physical level Asha represents the laws in the universe. Scientists try to understand these laws, such as the laws of gravity and electromagnetism. On the psychological level Asha is the powerful force of truth while at the spiritual level Asha is the fusion of order and truth leading us to the path of righteousness. Truth or righteousness is doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right place with the right means to achieve the right purpose [Dhalla]. Righteousness is the universal law that stands for order, evolution, progress and projection.

In his Gathas Zarathushtra mentions that Ahura Mazda who has a Vohu Manoh (Good Mind) has provided every human being with a Mind so that we can follow Asha, the path of righteousness. The Human Mind is the best gift that Ahara Mazda has bestowed upon us because with our mind we can not only think but we can reason and articulate and this is what makes us so unique from all other living species on this planet. We have a mind that can help us differentiate and distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil.

Ahura Mazda is in accord with Asha and he wants us to promote this path of asha, ashoi and ashem. According to this law good deeds produce good rewards and evil deeds have bad consequences. A scientist working in a lab, a mathematician solving a formula, a mother caring for her family, a student struggling with his homework, a musician composing or creating beautiful music and a person counseling the needy are all implementing Asha in their lives, if they act with truth and integrity. We know that if we do not live in harmony with nature it would lead to catastrophic consequences. Hence, in order to make this world a better place, we must follow the path of Asha. Human beings are co-workers of Ahura Mazda, but we are not his slaves. We are not forced into doing something or being someone that we don't want to be. Zoroastrians do not believe that good things in life are detrimental to the spiritual life or that we should denigrate the material world.

Zarathushtra composed the Ashem Vohu prayer, which is the main motto of our religion. This prayer contains 12 words and the first and the last words are the same. The prayer (in red) and a word to word translation [Rustomjee] are as follows:

Ashem 		Vohu 		Vahistem 	asti 	Ushta 		asti
Righteousness is Good it is Best it is Radiant happiness

Usta 		ahamaai 	hyat 		ashaai	   vahistai 	ashem
Radiant Happiness comes to the one who for the sake of virtue itself is virtuous which is the best

The first line tells us that the path of righteousness, truth, asha or Ashoi is good and it is the best. It is (Ushta) radiant happiness because only truth can bring us everlasting happiness. The second line tells us that righteousness is best for the sake of the righteousness alone. There is no goodness in forced goodness. We have to speak the truth, be honest, and help others because only such virtues can bring happiness and contentment in this world. We don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that lying, cheating and hurting others by being mean, nasty and greedy is harmful and cannot bring happiness to anyone. Our main mission in this life is to promote Asha for that will bring happiness to all and it will make this world a better place not only for the present generation but for generations to come.

It has been enjoined that every morning as soon as we take our first step out of bed, we should pray one Ashem Vohu and pledge that we will do good deeds for the sake of righteousness and will do our best to make this world a better place not only for ourselves but for everyone around us. Spiritual truth, scientific truth, philosophical truth and social truth are the various manifestations of Asha. At Ahura Mazda's level truth and righteousness may be objective but at our finite human level, it is subjective.

Zoroastrian religion does not provide a fact-specific code of behavior but a timeless system that requires each succeeding generation to use their minds, to strengthen the horizons of their knowledge, to ascertain truth and right in the context of their world and to implement it in their lives. Zoroastrians refuse any form of blind beliefs and dogmas, and only forge their beliefs in reason and wisdom.

Dr. Khosro Khazai Pardis in his article [Pardis] in the Mah Nameh Journal has said that: "If your purpose on this earth is to live happy and to make others happy, you are a Zoroastrian. If you love and respect animals and plants and wish to contribute to the development of the living beings, humans, animals and plants, you are a Zoroastrian. If you respect the freedom to think and choose for yourself and others, you are a Zoroastrian. If the principle of equality between men and women in rights and duties is the basis of your philosophy of life, you are a Zoroastrian. Without a shadow of a doubt, if you gather all these values, you are a true Zoroastrian, even if you ignore it. If you thought to be a Zoroastrian, you had to be born into a Zoroastrian family, you have understood nothing of Zarathustra’s message and mission."


"Zoroastrians, Their Religious Beliefs and Practices" by Mary Boyce, published by Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., London, UK, 1979.

"Daily Prayers of the Zoroastrians" by Framroz Rustomjee, published by Parsi Zoroastrian Association, Calcutta, India, 1957.

"History of Zoroastrianism" by Maneckji K. Dhalla, published by K.R. Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, India, 1963.

"Millions of Zoroastrians in the world who do not know they are Zoroastrians!" by Khosro Khazai Pardis, published in the Mah Nameh of Sep 2003.

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