Iran has a great civilization with a history of seven thousand years and a rich and fruitful culture.
Over the millennia, Iranian tribes all over the Iranian plateau joined hands and founded a magnificent civilization that has remained strong and stable despite the ups and downs of history. Zoroastrian religion has been one of the most important changes in Iranian beliefs. Zoroaster reformed old Iranian beliefs and created a religion that was later named after him, Zoroastrianism. The temporal and spatial scope of Zoroastrian religion extended so widely and deeply so that it mixed with Aryan spirit and culture.
- Zoroastrianism God: Ahura Mazda
- Zoroastrianism Book: Avesta
- Zoroastrianism Beliefs: "Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds"
- Zoroastrianism Symbol: Fire
History of Zoroastrianism
The date of the prophet Zoroaster's (or Zarathustra's) appearance is 1000 to 1400 years before Christ. According to Zoroastrian writings that were written centuries later, Zoroaster's birthplace was probably in the west of Iran, next to Lake Urmia. Due to the opposition of the elders of the old religion, Zoroaster is forced to make a long journey to the east where new people have converted to his religion. With the conversion of Shah Goshtasb (Hystaspes or Vishtaspa) and also one of the tribes of the Medes named Mughan to Zoroastrianism, this religion became widespread and was the main and national religion of Iranians until the Arab invasion and the fall of the Sassanids in the 7th century AD.
The study of the history of Zoroastrians during the time of the Medes dynasty shows that the Zoroastrian religion had not yet reached the capital of the Medes and their main territory, i.e. the western areas of the Iranian plateau. Undoubtedly, until the middle of the Achaemenid era, even though Zoroastrianism was one of the common religions in the eastern regions of the Iranian plateau up to the border of India, it still did not spread much in the western lands of the Achaemenid Empire. "Achaemenid Cyrus" and his son "Cambyses" did not have a specific religion. Religious customs, the way of burying the dead, the type of religious ceremonies, and not mentioning Zoroaster, all indicate the contradictions between the religion of Darius and his successors and the religion of Zoroastrianism.
On the other hand, according to some works of Zoroastrians in the Sassanid period, it is mentioned that the "Old Avesta" was burned by the hand of Alexander the Great in the royal palace or one of the great fire temples; It can be assumed that even if the last Achaemenid kings were not Zoroastrian, they knew it and by this time the fame of Zoroastrianism had reached the west of the Iranian plateau.
In general, it can be considered that due to the deep influence that the Median culture had on the Achaemenians, the first religion of the Achaemenid kings was based on Mazdaism: a branch of the ancient Aryan religion, of which the Mughans were its priests. However, based on the scattered evidence, there is a possibility of the prevalence of Mehr worship among some of the Achaemenid elders. At the end of the Achaemenid period, on the one hand, with the spread of Zoroastrianism in the western areas of the Iranian plateau, some of the Achaemenid kings and princes gradually became familiar with the Zoroastrian religion; and on the other hand, during the encounters between Zoroastrian religion and ancient Iranian religions, the beliefs of Mazda worship were distorted and under the influence of old beliefs, deities such as Mehr and Anahita came close to the position of Ahura Mazda.
The history of Iran entered a new chapter with the defeat of "Darius III of Achaemenid" by Alexander the Great. Since then, Iran has been under the control of the Greek family for less than a century; which was known as "Seleucids". This era was the period of the spread of "Hellenism" as well as the Greek beliefs in Iran. Whereas with the rise of "Arshak" from the Parthian Iranian nation and his efforts for the independence of Iran, along with his brother "Tirdad" who was following his path, this tyranny gradually disappeared and after a while, Iran was freed from the foreign yoke.
The most important event related to the Zoroastrian religion in the five centuries of the Ashkanian (Parthian) rule; according to the contents of Zoroastrian books, was during the reign of king Vologases I of Parthia. At his command, Moobeds (Zoroastrian priests), who had preserved parts of the Avesta and passed them down from generation to generation and from father to son, wrote down their knowledge and memory; and also they collected the scattered leaves of the Avesta that remained in fire temples all over the country and tried to reconstruct the Zoroastrian Avesta to some extent. Although this matter did not come to an end and remained unfinished, it was prevented from forgetting other parts of the Avesta and its contents, and a ground was provided for the Zoroastrian religion to be given more attention and to prevent the destruction of more parts of it.
In general, the Parthians can be called the most secular government in the entire history of Iran. The Parthian royal family and the elders of this dynasty often followed the old Mazda worship, Mehr worship, and in some cases, Zoroastrianism. In every corner of Iran, followers of Aryan religions such as Mithraism and Zurvanism, Semitic (Abrahamic) religions such as Christianity and Judaism, Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Brahmanism, and even Idolatry and Naturalism continued their lives freely and without pressure.
After nearly five centuries, the sun of the prosperity of the Parthian Kingdom finally set with the defeat of "Ardavan IV (Artabanus IV or Artabanus V)" against "Ardashir I (Ardashir Babakan)". Ardashir was the trustee of an "Anahid fire temple" in the city of "Estakhr". He was fanatical about the religion of Zoroastrianism and considered himself a prince from the lineage of ancient kings (Achaemenians). With the establishment of the Sasanian government by Ardashir and the declaration of the Zoroastrian religion as the only official religion of the country, Zoroastrian Behdin with the name of "Mazdisna" entered its most important historical period. The most magnificent Zoroastrian fire temples were built in this period. With the strengthening of the fire temples, the influence of the Zoroastrian clergy reached its highest level, and many superstitions and complex rituals entered Mazdisna.
Great scholars such as "Tansar", "Kartir" and "Adurbad-i Mahraspand" achieved remarkable influence in the court; In such a way that on many occasions, the king made important decisions after consulting with "Moobed-e Moobedan (the great Moobed)". By following up with these priests, a great movement was formed to find various parts of the Avesta from all over Iran; and with the help of priests who lived in the cities and villages of far and near Iran, they collected and reconstructed what was left of the Avesta. During this collection, many of the ancient Iranian religious writings, which were related to various branches of the ancient Aryan religion, inadvertently, entered the new Avesta and were saved from the danger of extinction. Including parts of "Yasht"s, "Yasna" and some of "Vendidad" that have survived to this day.
Furthermore, with the wide changes and heresies that took place in the Zoroastrian religion during the Sassanid period, Mazdisna gained such power that it penetrated even among "Jews" and "Arabs" and enjoyed great respect. At the same time as Mazdisna became stronger, the severity of other religions also reached its peak. The followers of religious minorities were severely harassed and oppressed. Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and followers of the newly emerging religion of Mani and later Mazdak were persecuted and killed and every religion except Zoroastrianism was banned. The Sassanid kings supported Mazdisna all the way and the priests and Moobeds became great powers.
This extraordinary power caused the corruption of the court and the temple in the long run. As a result of excesses in religious practices and strictness in the implementation of unreasonable rulings and heavy tortures for weak believers, both the government and religion were worn out. In such a way that at the end of the Sassanid era, due to the extravagance of the Zoroastrian courtiers, and priests and Moobeds, the country was immersed in extreme social injustice and religious tyranny which caused popular discontent and revolts, such as the Mazdak uprising. Finally, the greed of the court and the fire temple and the people's dissatisfaction with the Sassanids caused the rot of the government from the inside to such an extent that during the attack of the Arabs on the soil of Iran, the thousand-year-old Iranian empire collapsed and disintegrated with a kick.
During the five centuries after the Arab invasion, most Iranian Zoroastrians converted to Islam. It was during this period that many Zoroastrians left Iran forever and migrated to eastern lands such as India. Iranian Zoroastrians had to wear hats, shawls, belts and yellow badges in order for Muslims to identify them easily. Also, Zoroastrians were not allowed to use horses and saddles. With the conversion of Zoroastrians to Islam, the donations and assistance to Zoroastrian religious institutions decreased to such an extent that by the 14th century, many Zoroastrian religious institutions, including fire temples and hirbodestans (institutions for the training of religious leaders of Zoroastrianism), either became mosques and Islamic religious schools, or were abandoned and destroyed.
The Arab attack on Iran also caused the migration of Zoroastrians from Iran, and some of them, especially Sassanid nobles and army members, migrated to China. They were known as Zoroastrians until about the middle of the 14th century AD, but gradually they were completely integrated into the Chinese population. Another group of Iranian Zoroastrians migrated to India between the 7th and 10th centuries AD and formed the Iranian Zoroastrian community on the west coast of India in Gujarat.
Between the 8th century and the 15th century, Zoroastrians lived in a society dominated by Muslim men. In order to preserve their traditions, the Zoroastrian clergy prohibited marriage and any interaction between Zoroastrians and Muslims unless the Zoroastrian's security or livelihood depended on it. On the other hand, Islamic scholars also declared marriage with Zoroastrians haram (forbidden) in the 8th century, unless the Zoroastrians converted to Islam. The limited interaction of Zoroastrians with Muslims, as well as being a minority had faced them with many problems.
Nizam al-Mulk, a Seljuk vizier, declared in the 10th century that Zoroastrians should not be higher than Muslims in society. It was at this time that the payment of the jizya (a type of tax levied from non-Muslims) became obligatory for Zoroastrians. During the time of the Mongols (12th century), the Ilkhans (12th and 13th centuries), and the Timurids (13th to 15th century), violence against the urban Zoroastrians, who lived in their neighborhoods at that time, increased, which caused many of them to avoid these dangers, convert to Islam. Zoroastrians who remained steadfast in their religion migrated to more distant regions such as Fars, Yazd, and Kerman.
During the Safavid era, with the officialization of the Shia religion, Zoroastrians were increasingly subjected to religious violence and were forced to accept Islam. The pressures on the Zoroastrians in the cities of Yazd and Kerman and the surrounding villages were more than in other areas, and in these areas, many Zoroastrians converted to the Shia religion. At this time, in addition to turning fire temples into mosques, crypts (the place where Zoroastrians used to put the dead bodies of Zoroastrians to feed birds and beasts) were insulted and destroyed. During the reign of Shah Abbas in the 17th century, a number of Zoroastrians were transferred from Yazd and Kerman to Isfahan as the labor force.
In rural areas, Zoroastrians were forced to work on Muslim farmlands for very little pay. After Shah Abbas, Shah Sultan Hossein (early 18th century) ordered the forced conversion of Zoroastrians to Islam and the destruction of their temples. Since the Safavid dynasty was in decline at that time, this decree was implemented sporadically, as a result, the population of Zoroastrians did not face a sharp decrease and they maintained their population of 100,000 until the 18th and 19th centuries. During the Afghan attack, the Zoroastrians, who were under a lot of pressure and persecution, cooperated with the Afghans in the attack on Kerman and Yazd, hoping to improve the situation. Cooperation with Afghans at this time led to their killing and forced conversion to Islam during the period of Naser al-Din Shah (mid- 18th century).
In the early Qajar era, one of the main occupations of Zoroastrians was agriculture, and some Zoroastrians were engaged in other occupations such as labor, carpentry, weaving, and trade. During this period, jizya had to be collected by prominent Zoroastrians of each local community and delivered to the Muslim authorities of that region. Zoroastrians were beaten if they did not pay in full on time. At this time, many Zoroastrians migrated to the villages. For example, the number of Zoroastrians in Tehran decreased to only 100 households and in Isfahan to 400 households as well.
The Zoroastrians who lived in Iran in the middle of the 19th century were in danger of the Muslims attacking their homes. In order not to be noticed by Muslims, they had to perform their religious ceremonies inside their homes. Outside the house, they had to mark themselves with yellow clothes, they were not allowed to use umbrellas or glasses, and they were not allowed to ride horses or other cattle in the presence of Muslims because in this case they would be placed higher than Muslims. They did not have the right to touch the items while shopping and the shop owner should have given them the items.
Also, they did not have the right to use public drinking fountains. Since these laws were applied by the Qajar authorities, there was no possibility of suing the king, but the Zoroastrians shared their unfavorable situation with the Indian Persians. The Persians of India, who at that time had an acceptable status and wealth in Indian society, prepared welfare funds to help the Iranian Zoroastrians and sent people to Iran to improve the condition of the Zoroastrian community. Finally, with increasing pressure, Naser al-Din Shah canceled the jizya tax for Zoroastrians in 1882.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Zoroastrians of Tehran, Yazd and Kerman saw an improvement in their lives as a result of the help of the Persian Zoroastrians and the economic opportunities of trade with the Persian Zoroastrians of India. Tehran Zoroastrians with the help of Persian benefactors were able to build a fire temple, hall, public bath and two elementary schools for girls and boys. These schools had a significant impact on the development of Zoroastrians and allowed them to enter the field of international trade due to their relations with the Persians of India. Gradually, the famous Zoroastrians began to interact with Muslim marketers and merchants, which helped to improve the situation of Zoroastrians.
Zoroastrian religion is one of the oldest religions in the world, which is known by the name of Zoroaster, the founder of this religion. Zoroastrian religion is also known as "Beh Din", "Behdini" or "Mazdisna" (Mazda worship). Zoroaster brought various teachings to his new religion, which were in conflict with the rules of the religion older than Zoroastrianism. The Zoroastrian holy book is called "Avesta", the Gathas of which are Zoroastrian poems. What is known as "Avesta" is the texts that were collected after the death of Zoroaster and during the following centuries.
Zoroastrians recognize Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) as the god who is the creator of the universe. They believe that different manifestations of Ahura Mazda created various elements of the universe, but man was created directly by Ahura Mazda himself. Man is the best creation of Ahura Mazda, who has a pure nature. In Zoroastrian thought, man is constantly tempted by the devil and is constantly in a struggle between the two forces of evil and good. However, it is the man who is responsible for his actions with the help of his free will.
Zoroastrians believe in the existence of two forces, evil and good, which are in constant conflict with each other. These two indicate both the existence of evil in the world and the effort to overcome it. It is worth noting that Zoroaster himself does not mention this duality in his works and believes that the whole world was created by Ahura Mazda, who is the creator of the whole universe. Ahura Mazda has created the universe in the most beautiful and luminous form, even though evil and demonic forces cause darkness, poverty and unhappiness in the world. This duality became common in Zoroastrianism after the era of Zoroaster. According to Zoroaster's teachings, the purpose of human life is to be able to use the power of Ahura Mazda and by worshiping it, become an agent for the promotion of goodness and reviving the world. In this view, physical death is the result of the victory of evil and filth forces, but the human soul is exempt from any filth and is evaluated based on the actions it performs in this world. Happiness and redemption lie in promoting good words, deeds and thoughts, and therefore every human being is responsible for his actions.
Zoroastrians, like followers of other religions, are waiting for a promised emergence in the end times; a promised named "Sushyant" means a person who will bring benefits. Sushyant is not only a transcendent human being, but also in Zoroastrian thought, he is a person who leads people in the battle of good against evil. It is worthy of note that, Sushyant is only one of the characters that Zoroastrians are waiting for his emergence. In Zoroastrianism, it refers to the emergence of the three Promised Ones who emerge gradually, but only Sushyant, the third Promised One, will fill the world with light. With the emergence of Sushyant, the forces of good overcome evil.
Zoroastrians also believe in life after death. They believe that a person who leaves this world, if he is pious and virtuous, on the fourth day after death, a young, beautiful girl with a shining face will appear to him and take him to heaven, whereas, if the person was not an honest and pure person in the world, an ugly old woman will drag him to hell. The judge of this day is Zoroaster himself, who orders the dead person to cross a bridge called "Chinot" which is located on a river of molten metal. Good people easily cross that bridge and reach the place of Ahura Mazda, even though, evil people fall into that river and end up in a humble hut. Those whose good and bad deeds are equal to each other will be in Purgatory, which is motionless and calm. Zoroastrians have different rules that they must follow. Part of their rulings are related to purity and are rooted in the doctrine of the duality of good and evil. They consider the diseases and impurities of the world to be caused by the devil's actions. Some of the common rules in the Zoroastrian religion are:
This ceremony is the first religious ceremony in the life of every Zoroastrian and includes the person becoming a Zoroastrian. This ritual is associated with the ceremony of "Sedreh Pushi". The Sedreh Pushi is one of the oldest rituals of Zoroastrians and means rebirth. This rite is also called Nozad (newborn). Today, Zoroastrians hold this ritual for their children between the ages of 7-10, and after that, the child is considered a Zoroastrian person and must perform religious practices, prayers and religious ceremonies. The way of holding this ceremony is that a big table is spread and a lamp or candle is placed in its four corners. The special arrangements of this table, including lamps, candles, trays, vases, rice, thyme, a mixture of nuts and sweets, etc., are a symbol of creation.
The guests and the child's family gather around this table along with a Moobed (Zoroastrian priest), and after taking a bath, he wears a Sedreh (9-piece white shirt made of linen or cotton). A belt named Kushti, which is made of 72 threads, is also tied on the sedreh. In this ceremony, the Mobad recites the Avesta for health in the name of the child and while reciting, they pour thyme, rice, nuts and sweets on the child's head. After the end of the religious ceremony, the parents and family present their gifts while congratulating and the guests are treated with nuts and sweets. This ceremony marks the entry of that child into Zoroastrian society.
Daily prayers (rituals): Reciting 5 prayers in Zoroastrianism is the duty of every Zoroastrian. These prayers are recited to deal with evil, which includes performing certain movements in order to ward off evil and receive enlightenment.
It is the marriage ceremony that is held for the marriage bond between a man and a woman. During the wedding ceremony, the bride wears a green scarf and a green veil covering her face, the groom wears a green hat and a green handkerchief hangs on his right shoulder. In this ceremony, at least 7 people must be present as witnesses of the marriage. The Mobad recites parts of the Avesta and then asks the bride and groom whether they accept each other as wives. Then the Mobad gives some advice for the future life of the bride and groom. At the wedding ceremony, there is a wide table. The arrangements of this table include a mixture of seven types of nuts and sweets, green sugar loaf, sweet pomegranate, silk handkerchief, candles, tulips, kushti (a belt that indicates Zoroastrianism), the Avesta and scissors, egg, rice or barley, thread and needle, rose water, mirror, thyme and rose petals.
In all these ceremonies, fire plays an important role. Fire is a sign of purity and therefore has a symbolic role. In Zoroastrian religion, there are three types of fire, the most important of which is known as Bahram fire, which is made from the combination of sixteen types of fire. This fire must always be lit and not any person can enter its territory. Other fires are made with other ceremonies, one is the "Azaran fire" and the other is the "Dadgah fire", these two types of fire can be kept in the homes of every Zoroastrian.
Language of the Zoroastrians
In addition to Persian, Iranian Zoroastrians often speak the "Behdinan" dialect, which is also known as Zoroastrian Persian or Zoroastrian Dari. This language is different from Dari common in Afghanistan and is passed orally from one generation to another. Today, the use of this language is less common, especially among the younger generation of Zoroastrians, and they often use Persian for conversation. The oldest versions of the Avesta are written in the alphabet that is called "Avestai" today; Only a few Zoroastrians can write in this language. Teaching in Zoroastrian schools is in the Persian language, and only some students in these schools get a little familiar with this alphabet.
The Zoroastrian calendar has 12 thirty-day months, and the names of these 12 months and their order are the same as those used in Iran today, i.e. Farvardin, Ordibehesht, Khordad, etc. The difference between the Zoroastrian calendar and the current Iranian calendar is that the months of this calendar all have 30 days, and not 29 or 31 days. Therefore, the set of days in this calendar is 360 days. The remaining five days, at the end of the year, are called "Panj Ruz-e Panjeh". Furthermore, each day of the month also has a special name, and some of these days are the names of Zoroastrian months. In every month, when the day and the month have the same name, that day is also considered a festival.
For example, the fourth day of each month in the Zoroastrian calendar is called Shahrivar day. Hence, in the month of Shahrivar, the fourth day (which is called Shahrivar) is celebrated. The titles and dates of these monthly celebrations are as follows:
- Farvardingan (Farvardin 19)
- Ordibeheshtgan (Ordibehesht 2 in the current Iranian calendar and Ordibehesht 3 in the Zoroastrian calendar)
- Khordadgan (Khordad 4 in the current Iranian calendar and Khordad 6 in the Zoroastrian calendar)
- Tirgan (Tir 10 in the current Iranian calendar and Tir 13 in the Zoroastrian calendar)
- Amordadgan (Mordad 3 in the current Iranian calendar and Amordad 7 in the Zoroastrian calendar)
- Shahrivargan (Mordad 30 in the current Iranian calendar and Shahrivar 4 in the Zoroastrian calendar)
- Mehrgan (Mehr 10 in current Iranian calendar and Mehr 16 in Zoroastrian calendar)
- Abangan (Aban 4 in the current Iranian calendar and Aban 10 in the Zoroastrian calendar)
- Azargan (Azar 3 in the current Iranian calendar and Azar 9 in the Zoroastrian calendar)
- Deygan (Dey 2, 9 and 17 in the current Iranian calendar and Dey 8, 15 and 23 in the Zoroastrian calendar)
- Bahmangan (Dey 26 in the current Iranian calendar and Bahman 2 in the Zoroastrian calendar)
- Esfandgan (Bahman 29 in the current Iranian calendar and Esfand 5 in Zoroastrian calendar)
Rituals of Zoroastrianism
Gahanbar is one of the Zoroastrian festivals, which is held six times a year and each time for 5 days. This festival is one of the great festivals of Zoroastrians and is considered the "Creation Festival" because, in Zoroastrian beliefs, Ahura Mazda created the world in six times. These times are respectively:
- The 15th of the month of Ordibehesht, the day of the creation of the "sky"
- The 15th of the month of Tir, the day of the creation of the "water"
- The 30th of the month of Shahrivar, the day of the creation of the "Earth"
- The 30th of the month of Mehr, the day of the creation of the "plant"
- The 20th of the month of Dey, the day of the creation of the "animals"
- On the last day of the leap year, the day of the creation of "man"
Zoroastrians gather together in these festivals and praise and thank Ahura Mazda. These festivals were a time for giving, and many Zoroastrians, before they die, dedicate all or part of their wealth to the Gahanbar ceremony. Each of these celebrations lasts for five days, the fifth day of which is more important than the other days and is considered a big celebration. In each of these six Gahanbars, special rituals are held and people celebrate, and poor people must participate in the ceremonies held by others and everyone can benefit from the Gahanbar table. This ritual has been registered in the list of national rituals of Iran by the decision of the Supreme Policy Council of the Registration of Spiritual Heritage.
Eventually, it is worth mentioning that there is a Festival among Zoroastrians which is called "Sadeh" and it is held annually on the day of Aban in the month of Bahman (in the current Iranian calendar is the 10th of Bahman). Moreover, the most striking version of this celebration is held in the city of Kerman; in which a huge fire is lit in a large area and people, not just Zoroastrians, gather around the fire, while some special rituals are performed around the burning fire by Moobeds. Attending this festival will be one the most amazing events that can be experienced.