Zoroastrianism, which is synonymous with Mazdaism, is an Iranian religion which follows the teaching of Prophet Zoroaster. It was once among the world's largest religions but, is now one of the minority religions of the world. For many centuries, Zoroastrianism was recognized as the national/state-religion of Iran. Like other major religions, like Islam and Christianity, Zoroastrians also follow monotheism, submitting themselves to the supremacy of the one and only supreme power, which in this case is Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrianism places more emphasis on the importance of leading an active life by cultivating pure thoughts, using good words and doing good deeds which are necessary to live a peaceful and happy life and in keeping the evil out of the doorstep. The holy book of Zoroastrianism is known as Avesta which consists of a collection of sacred text. Rejecting all forms of monasticism, Zoroastrians are proponents of the concept 'free will'. Though marginalized, Zoroastrians attempts to expand their religion internationally by encouraging various missionary activities with the active support of 'The Zoroastrian Assembly' in Los Angeles and 'International Zoroastrian Centre' in Paris. However, missionary activities in Iran are choked up as proselytizing is banned within the largely Islamic country. Read on to learn more about this religion!
Zoroastrianism was founded by an Iranian prophet/philosopher Zoroaster. The exact date of the birth of Zoroaster is still debatable due of the lack of proper documentation. According to some scholars, Zoroaster was born between 1750 and 500 BCE on the basis of archaeological evidences, while according to some other scholars, he lived either in the 11th or 10thcentury. It is believed that Zoroaster lived either in Northeast Iran or in Southwest Afghanistan. He belonged to a Polytheistic religion, which had close resemblance to Hinduism. In this type of religious practice, animal sacrifice and the use of intoxicants were justified during rituals.
Though there is little information on the birth and early life of Zoroaster, historians have managed to collect some information about his life. He was born into the Spitama clan and worked as a priest. He was married and sired three sons and three daughters. Zoroaster refused to follow his traditional polytheistic religion with its oppressive class structure and the dominance of princes and priests known as Karvis and Karapans, whio governs the commoners. He was also against animal sacrifice and the use of hallucinogenic hanoma during the performance of rituals. Zoroaster had a vision of a new religion with only one god as the Supreme Being. His ideologies were opposed by the local religious authorities as they found it difficult to accept the supremacy of a single deity. So, he left his home to propagate his ideas. After hearing Zoroaster's debate on religion with the religious leaders, King Vishtaspa and Queen Hustosa decided to accept these ideas officially. It was one of the oldest religions in the world and hence it is believed that almost all major religions have assimilated at least some values and philosophies of Zoroastrianism.
Zoroastrianism is said to have originated in the early 2nd millennium BCE. Zoroastrians consider Zoroaster to be a reformer who revered Ahura Mazda, the god of Wisdom, believed that he is a supreme power and creator. He reorganized the existing system by rejecting certain rituals and adhering to a monotheistic philosophy. The earliest recorded evidence of Zoroastrianism is from the mid-fifth century and it received widespread acceptance in ancient Persia and gained great momentum during the reign of the Achaemenid emperors. Because of the invasion of Alexander the great, in 330 BCE, and the subsequent destruction of many sacred text, there are gaps in the history of Zoroastrianism from this period.
Strong Philosophical backing made Zoroastrianism very popular and gradually it started spreading to Northern China via the Silk Route. The 7th century witnessed the expulsion of the Sassanid Empire by the Arabs. The administration of Iran got Islamized by the Arabs immediately after gaining they gained power. The new administrators imposed poll-tax on all the non-Muslim subjects along with various rules and regulations to emphasize their inferior status. Due to the steady economic harassment, Zoroastrians started to convert to Islam, thus, reducing the number of Zoroastrians greatly. Another very important reason for the decrease in the number of Zoroastrianism is that only those who takes birth from a Zoroastrian mother as well as a Zoroastrian Father is considered to be a Zoroastrian.
Though originated in Persia, the largest population of Zoroastrians is found in India. United States of America is home to the second largest population of Zoroastrians. Diaspora Zoroastrians population is also found in Britain, Canada and Australia. There are two types of Zoroastrian communities - South Asian Zoroastrians or Parsis and Central Asian Zoroastrians. Currently there are about 2 lakhs Zoroastrians around the world, with the largest number being in India. Because Zoroastrians do not marry outside their community and with low birth rate, their numbers are steadily on a decline.
Zoroastrians consider marriage as one of the most important concerns of human life. The wedding dress is always white in colour. The Zoroastrian marriage ritual is very simple symbolizing the dissolution of the separation of two individuals, thereby, the union of the bride and the bridegroom. The bride and the bridegroom are made to stand facing each other separated by a curtain that symbolizes the separation between them. This curtain is removed after some simple rituals like tying the marriage knots, joining the hands of the couple, and blessings. After seeking answers to the questions asked to the witness, the marriage is considered to be solemnized and the ceremony ends with Tan-dorosti prayers, a form of benediction. The funeral ceremony of the Zoroastrians is notably different from all the other religions. They never burry or cremate the dead bodies, instead, they leave the dead bodies in the 'Tower of Silence' which are then disposed by vultures.
Originated in Persia, most of the famous Zoroastrian pilgrimage centers are concentrated in Asia. The Fire Temple, with the Iranshah Atash Behram, is a famous Zoroastrian holy spot in India. Iran is home to many holy destinations called pirs, the most familiar ones being located in the province of Yazd. There are traditional Yazdi shrines while there are also new sites which are in the process of getting converted into pilgrimage destinations. Ruins of ancient fire temples are also important holy spots. The ruin of the Sassanian era Azargoshasb Fire Temple in Iran's Azerbaijan province is one such holy spot. Other such sites are Rey, south of the capital Tehran, and the Firuzabad ruins.
Zoroastrianism one of the ancient religions of the world and is currently on a rapid decline. Throughout a long history, Zoroastrians faced persecution but managed to keep their religion and tradition alive because of their tight knit community structure.