I dream of a day when the breath of the great Prophet
Zarathushtra shall sweep again through His temples,
fanning the ashes on the altars of these ancient fanes, and
every altar shall flash into flame, and again from heaven
the answering flames shall fall making the Iranian religion
once more what it ought to be, a beacon-light for the souls
of men, one of the greatest religions of the world.
The History of Zoroastrians
Founded in Persia around 1200-1600 BC
by the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra),
Zoroastrianism is the world's oldest
continuing monotheistic religion. Some
scholars believe that Zoroastrian
doctrines - those of heaven and hell, the
struggle of good versus evil, and a
redeeming messiah- have deeply
influenced the Jewish and Christian
Who was Zarathustra ?
Zarathustra was born in Iran, probably in the region that
is now part of present-day Russia or Afghanistan. He was
married and had children. His father was Pourushaspa
and his mother was Dughdova. Long before the coming of
Zarathustra the people of Iran followed the "Mazdayasni"
religion, one characterized by the worship of multiple
deities. This caused a good deal of distress to Zarathustra.
To seek a message from God he withdrew himself from
the material world at an early age and spent several years
in solitude. When he knew that he had heard the voice of
God, he set out to preach.
For ten years no one paid any heed to him; in fact, he was
denounced as a heretic and sorcerer. The tide turned when he was
received by King Vishtasp. So impressed was the King by
Zarathustra's message that he publicly embraced the new religion
which spread rapidly throughout Iran and neighboring countries. The
success of the new religion was not liked by his opponents who
succeeded by slander and deception in having him imprisoned on a
charge of sorcery. Undaunted, he continued to spread his faith after
his release from prison. His enemies, however, continued to
persecute him. He died a martyr's death, at the age of seventy-
seven, at the hands of one of his enemies while praying in a temple.
There is controversy about the time when Zarathustra lived. At
one time western scholars believed that he lived around 600 B.C.,
but today some scholars believe that he lived around 1500 B.C. or
even earlier. This would make Zoroastrianism the oldest of the
Who are the Zoroastrians?
Once the state religion of the mighty Iranian empire--which at
one time extended from Africa to China, from the Danube in Europe
to the plains of Judea in the Middle East, and up to the Punjab and
Sindh in India--its followers today number less than 300,000
worldwide. After Iran was conquered by the Moslem Arabs in the
seventh century, those Zoroastrians who refused to convert to Islam
either sought refuge in isolated areas of Iran or fled to India, China,
present-day Afghanistan and Russia, and other countries. The
leaders of the Zoroastrian hierarchy in Bombay, India, are the
current decision making body.
The principal teachings of Zarathustra
The principal characteristics of the religion taught by
Zarathustra are: its stress on ethics, its positive
approach to life, optimism about the future of the
world, its emphasis on free choice and its catholicity.
According to Zarathustra, the world is a battleground
between the forces of good and evil. Ultimately, good
will prevail over evil. Our mission in life is to so conduct
ourselves that this ultimate victory is achieved. He
urged his followers to live a full and useful life in this
world, to appreciate all things that are good and
beautiful in creation, not only to do good and desist
from evil but also to fight evil, and to make others
happy. He assured his followers that the strength of
God would be given to those who fought evil, and
stressed that an evil deed could be offset by a good
one. As for happiness, the way to seek happiness was
by making others happy.
He pointed out that in each of us there is a divine spark. It is up
to us to recognize this divine spark or essence within us, to
understand its capabilities and to try and so conduct ourselves that
we reach the state of perfection in this world. As a practical guide in
daily life, his prescription was very simple:
• Think good thoughts.
• Speak good words.
• Do good deeds.
Zarathustra emphasized free choice. In one his first sermons he
preached: "Ye who seek knowledge, please listen carefully to what I
say, and perceive the truth in the light of reason, because it is
possible for each man to have a separate creed."
He also taught that one should be liberal in thinking and to
respect all that is good, true and beautiful. Here is a passage that
brings home this point: "We reserve and love all good thoughts,
words and deeds that may have been presented here or else-
where, now or at any future period. because we are on the side of
Are Zoroastrians “Fire Worshippers”?
No, they are not. They do not "worship" fire. The fire is a
symbol of the Zoroastrian faith just as the cross is a
symbol of Christianity. In a Zoroastrian temple the only
symbol before which prayers are said is the fire which is
tended by a priest five times a day. The fire stands for a
number of things. It is a symbol of purity, for fire purifies
everything. It also stands for the "inner fire" or divine
spark in a human being. The fire burning in the
Zoroastrian temple or at home is a constant reminder
that we should always keep our "inner fire" alive.
There are three "grades" of temples, depending upon the
process of consecration and who is allowed to tend the
fire. The first and second grades of fire can only be
tended by the priests, whereas the last can be tended
even by laymen.
The most important Zoroastrian values?
Every religion puts more importance on some aspects than
others. It is important to know the values stressed in
Zoroastrianism because these values influence the daily life of
Truth. Zoroastrianism stresses truth more
than anything else. The very first prayer a
Zoroastrian child learns is devoted to truth. A
free translation of that prayer--called Ashem
Vohu--is: "Truth is the greatest virtue. It is
happiness. Happy is who is truthful for the
sake of truth".
According to the Greek historian, Herodotus,
every young man in ancient Iran was
instructed in three things--to ride a horse, to
shoot with bow and arrow, and to speak the
truth. Lying was considered the greatest
It is, therefore, not surprising that the Parsis
of India and the Zoroastrians of Iran have
earned a reputation for honesty.
• Charity. Another cherished value is charity. In the very second prayer a
Zoroastrian child learns--the "Yatha Ahu Vairyo" --there is a line which
says: "He who give assistance to the poor acknowledges the kingdom of
There is so much stress on charity in the Zoroastrian way of life that in
India there is a saying: "Parsi, thy name is charity." This tradition is also to
be found in Iran.
• Purity. Zoroastrianism also puts value on purity--purity of the body as
well as that of the mind.
• Dignity of labor. Zoroastrianism also stresses hard work and dignity of
labor. In the "Gathas" which are a record of the prophet's conversations
with God, we find this passage. To the question: "What is the way of
furthering the Mazdayasni religion?" Ahura Mazda replies: "Incessant
cultivation of corn, O Spitama Zarathustra. Who cultivates corn cultivates
The sacred books of the Zoroastrians
• All the existing scriptures propounded by Zarathustra as well as the
religious writings of his followers are collectively known as the "Avesta."
(Avesta is also the name of the language spoken in Iran at one time.) The
"Avesta" consists of two parts--the older Avesta and the later Avesta (or
"Khordeh Avesta"). The most important part of the scriptures is the
"Gathas" or Divine Songs. These are dialogues between the prophet and
God, and they are ascribed to Zarathustra himself.
• The "Avesta" is written in a number of languages. The "Gathas" were
written in a language that was Pre-Avestan. Later scriptures were written
in the Avesta language and in the Pahlavi and Pazand dialects.
• What exists today is only a fraction of the original scriptures, many of
which were burned when Alexander destroyed Persepolis.
• The Zoroastrians still recite their prayers in the language in which the
scriptures were written. Some reformers argue that they should be recited
in the language of the believer or in English so that the person offering the
prayers can understand what he or she is praying. Others, who want to
continue the old practice, prefer to "keep with tradition."
Do Zoroastrians believe in one God?
They do. There is a mistaken belief among some western scholars
that Zoroastrians believe in two Gods--a God of good and a God of
evil. This is not true. In fact, some scholars claim that Zarathustra
was the first prophet to preach monotheism, the concept of one
God. Zarathustra talked about two opposing forces--the forces of
good personified by 'Hormuzd' and the forces of evil personified by
'Ahriman'. According to Zarathustra the forces of good will
ultimately prevail over the forces of evil, and the purpose of life is
to help this process.
Do they believe in life after death?
They do. Besides one day in each month, the last ten days of the
Zoroastrian calendar are set aside for remembering the dead. There is also
a special day each year when the departed are supposed to visit the earth.
This corresponds to the All Souls Day observed by Christians. It is also
believed that the soul hovers over the dead body for three days after
death. Few scholars have found any evidence of the belief in
reincarnation in Zoroastrian scriptures.
Do they believe in heaven or hell?
They do. In the "Gathas" Zarathustra often refers to life after
death, and to the "Chinwat Bridge" where the good deeds done on
earth are weighed against the evil deeds. Many Zoroastrian
scholars believe that the descriptions of heaven and hell in
Zoroastrian scriptures are purely allegorical, that heaven and hell
are not places but conditions. Some Zoroastrians believe that the
reward or punishment for good or bad deeds is often given in this
world itself rather than in the next.
The Zoroastrian view of the nature of human beings
Zoroastrians do not believe that human beings are born in sin.
They believe that there is potential for good as well as evil in every
human being. There is a divine spark or essence in each of us. We
should recognize it and utilize it to its fullest potential. This divine
spark ("Fravashi" or "Farohar") is depicted in architecture as a bird
with outstretched wings.
A living flame, symbolizing the manifested
presence of God, and the Farohar (Fravashi,
Farahvahar), an emblem of the faith:
The Adar is the sacred fire of the Zoroastrians (Parsis). The
fire symbolizes purity, the essence of life, and the presence of
God. In a Zoroastrian creation story, fire is the last creation, but
brings life to all that came before it. It is a similar concept to the
Ruach ha Elohim, or Holy Spirit in the hebrew scriptures.
A sacred fire is kept burning continuously in Zoroastrian temples,
and Zoroastrians must pray only in the presence of a fire. The
Adar is the origin of the idea of an "eternal flame."
• The Farohar, or faravahar is an emblem of the Zoroastrian
religion. Faravahar means "to choose." The Faravahar is
descended from the Egyptian winged disk, a symbol of
divine kingship. It once represented the Assyrian sun god
Shamash, and may have represented the corona of a solar
eclipse. In the Zoroastrian faith, it represents the human
• The faravahar has several parts:
• A winged disk- the three layers of feathers represent the
three pillars of the Zoroastrian faith: good words, good
thoughts, good deeds. The ring represents eternity.
• Two streamers, representing the duality of good and evil-
left and right, respectively.
• The head of a man, facing left-representing the prophet
Zoroaster, and the choice to live a morally upright life.
Zoroastrians worship and share
communion in a temple, often referred to
as a "fire temple," where an eternal fire
Zoroastrian holidays include No Ruz
(literally, new day), or the New Year,
celebrated at the Spring Equinox, and
Farvardigan, or ten days of the dead,
honoring and remembering Zoroastrians
of the past, and Khordad Sal, Zoroaster's
Required observances, dietary restrictions
Five daily prayers, preceded by ablutions, are required of
every believer above the age of seven. A sacred cord, or
kushti, is retied around the waist with each prayer. Physical
cleanliness is important. An initiation ceremony similar to
the Jewish Bar/Bat mitzvah, called a Navjot, is performed
when a believer comes of age. Zoroastrian dead are not
buried, but placed in the open air in structures called
"towers of silence," to be devoured by vultures.
Zoroastrian View Of Marriage
The Parsi religion takes a similar view of marriage. Marriage is
considered as an institution that finds favor with the mighty God.
Ahura Mazda says:
"O Spitama Zarathushtra: Indeed, I thus recommend here unto
thee, a man with a wife above a magard (i.e., an unmarried man)
who grows up (unmarried), a man with a family above one without
any family, a man with children above one who is without
children" (Vendidad, 4.47).
"That place is happy over which a holy man builds a house, with
fire, cattle, wife, children and good followers " (Vend. 3.2).
The Antiquity of the Marriage
Ceremonies of The Parsis
After the several vicissitudes of fortune that the Parsi
community has passed through, it is difficult to determine how
many, and which, of their marriage customs are originally
Zoroastrian or Persian, and how many, and which, are taken from
their sister communities of India. But, this much can be said, with
well-nigh a certainty, that the strictly solemn, or the religious part
of the ceremony, wherein the priests take part, is more or less
The Bride and the Bridegroom.
The Symbolism of their dress and
The bridegroom's principal ceremonial dress is the Jama-pichori, or
sayah, which is a loose flowing dress full of folds and curls. It is always
white in color (White color is the symbol of purity, innocence, and
faithfulness. The marriage ribbon knots among the ancient Romans were
white). The upper garment (sari) of the bride also is a loose dress full of
folds and curls. The bridegroom holds in his hand a shawl, which is
considered to be, in India, an emblem of respect and greatness. They have
marks of kunkun (red pigment) on their foreheads. The red pigment plays
an important part, as a symbol, on marriage and such other occasions in
India. Formerly, they used to sacrifice animals on such occasions, with the
belief that the sacrifice averted evil from the marrying couple.
To emphasize that belief, they applied the blood of the sacrificed
animal upon the forehead of the couple. So, when the custom of
animal sacrifice ceased to exist, the red pigment seems to have
been substituted as a symbol. The mark on the forehead of the
bridegroom is always long and vertical and that on the bride
round. The long vertical mark symbolized a ray of the sun, who is
the fructifying agent in nature. The mark on the forehead of the
bride is round, and it symbolizes the moon, which shines by the
absorbed rays of the sun, and which therefore is represented as a
Man is in relation to woman, what the sun is in relation to the
moon. Hence, the long and round marks and hence this difference
in the form of the marks on the foreheads of the bridegroom and
the bride -- one like the ray of the sun and the other like the disc
of the moon.
The bridegroom and the bride have garlands
of flowers on their necks. The bridegroom
is called var-raja, i.e., a husband king (lit.
the loving king) and the bride is called
Requirements to join
How one becomes a Zoroastrian is an ongoing
controversy. According to the prevailing view, one must be
born into the faith, of a Zoroastrian father- converts are
unacceptable. However, due to dwindling numbers of
faithful, some believe that converts should be admitted. The
survival of the religion may depend on it.
What did the Zoroastrians achieve in Iran?
• The history of pre-Islamic Iran is usually divided into five
periods--pre Achaemenian, Achaemenian, Greek, Parathion,
• The Achaemenian period (550 B.C. to 330 B.C.) was the
most glorious in the history of Iran. This was the time of
Cyrus and Darius, two of the most illustrious rulers not only
in the history of Iran but also in the history of the world.
This was also the period of the crucial wars between the
Persians and the Greeks. Although Iran lost militarily in the
end, the contacts between the two nations had great
cultural significance. Iran's literary works were translated
into Greek and her culture had a powerful influence on
Greek thought, and through Greece on Western Civilization.
• Cyrus, the founder of the Achaemenian dynasty, is
sometimes called the first world emperor in history for he
united all of West Asia into a vast empire. He is also
remembered for his sense of justice, his humane treatment
of subjugated nations, and his respect for other religions
which were allowed to flourish in his empire. The Jews in
particular have a high regard for Cyrus who is mentioned
several times in the Bible. After conquering Babylon in 538
B.C., he freed the captive Jews and allowed them to return
to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. It is not surprising
that Cyrus as a personal name is to be found not only in the
countries of the Middle East, but also in Europe and North
• Under Darius the Great, the Iranian empire reached its Zenith,
extending from Africa to China, from the Danube in Europe to the
plain of Judaea in the Middle East, and up to Punjab and Sindh in
India. Darius was not only a conqueror. He was also a very able
administrator and a great builder. He is believed to be the first
emperor in history to divide his empire into a number of provinces,
each ruled over by a governor, a general, and a secretary of state,
each of whom was appointed directly from the capital and was
independent of the others. (We see that the doctrine of separation
of powers, such as the one prevailing in the USA, is a very old
one). As a builder, Darius constructed a canal linking Iran with the
Mediterranean and a 1500 mile royal road from Sardis to his
capital at Susa, and built many palaces and cities including
beautiful Persepolis which was burned by Alexander.
• Under Darius, the Iranians controlled a third of the Greek
population. When some of the Greek cities revolted, the Iranians
attacked Greece, but lost. Darius' second son Xerxes, who
succeeded him, began another invasion against Greece but after a
series of battles the Iranians again lost. It is interesting to
speculate that, if the Iranians had won, the Zoroastrian religion
might have spread to Greece and later to much of Europe. That is
why Zoroastrianism is sometimes called "the religion that almost
became the religion of Europe".
• The achievements of the Zoroastrians of Iran are not restricted to
the period of the Iranian empire. Many Zoroastrians have achieved
success in modern Iran also. They have held important positions in
the government, in the armed forces, in education and other fields.
Among them are Dr. Farhang Mehr who was appointed President
of Shiraz University and who also held important posts in the
government, and the late Arab Rustom Guiv who donated
generously to many causes.
“Adar.” 08 October. 2005
“Ancient Sumerian/Semitic Religious images - Zoroaster (Zarathustra).” 10 October. 2005
“Faravahar (fravashi).” 08 October. 2005
“ Farvardyn.” 10 October. 2005 <http://www.farvardyn.com/>.
“ZAMWI.” 27 September. 2005 <http://zamwi.org/>.
“Zoroastrianism (Parsiism).” 08 October. 2005
“Zoroastrian Rituals: Wedding .” 10 October. 2005
• “Adar.” <http://altreligion.about.com/library/glossary/symbols/bldefsadar.htm>.
This site defines the symbol “Adar”. It also links you to some Related Terms Alexemanos, Kalachakra, Cross
and Star of David. Not only that, this site also provides links to religions and symbol glossaries.
• “Ancient Sumerian/Semitic Religious images - Zoroaster (Zarathustra).”
This site helps you find different images of Zoroaster. It also gives some links to
Alternative Religion, Image Gallery, Gods and Goddesses and many other related links such as Zoroastrianism and
Yezidi (The curious Kurdish angel worshippers).
• “Faravahar (fravashi).” <http://altreligion.about.com/library/glossary/symbols/bldefsfaravahar.htm>.
This site gives you a chance to visually get more familiar with different symbols of religions and also it gives you an
analysis of what each part of a symbol stands for. This site also informs you of related resources and links you to
the other related topics, symbols and images. It provides the most popular religious symbols as well.
• “ Farvardyn.”<http://www.farvardyn.com/>.
This is a very vast site that gives you all kinds of information about ancient Persia such as: Language and Dialects,
History and Geography and also the different religions presented in Persia. It also provides different links to
articles, galleries and stories about ancient religions. The other interesting feature at this site is that it encloses
Avesta/Pahlavi texts in different languages. And it also has a kid’s section that presents some information for
Zoroastrian kids in an attractive way.
• “ZAMWI.” <http://zamwi.org/>.
This is a very informative site in a sense that besides providing basic information about Zoroastrians history
and faith, it gives information about the upcoming events and the pictures of past events are also available for the visitors.
The exclusive part of this site is the information about Avesta classes and educational scholarships.
• “Zoroastrianism (Parsiism)”.
This site gives a very good general view of Zoroastrian religion. It has so many sections under different titles about almost all
the aspects of the religion. It gives a brief but satisfactory definition and/or description about the topics that gives you the
juice of the Zoroastrian faith in a glance. This site also links you to the related resources such as:Zoroastrian wedding ritual,
Kusti ritual and No Ruz.
• “Zoroastrian Rituals: Wedding .” <http://www.avesta.org/ritual/zwedding.htm>.
The website is created by Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, B.A. and is about Zoroastrian wedding rituals. It is an amazing site to look
through to get more familiar with the traditional wedding customs. There are detailed information about the wedding
ceremony along with additional notes at the bottom of the page that helps you understand the reasoning behind each symbol,
color of clothing or any other specific ritual that relates to Zoroastrian Wedding.
The reason that I picked this faith for my project was that I was raised
in Iran, sharing so many traditional customs and holidays with the
Zoroastrian followers (such as No Ruz), and having a positive point of view
towards the faith of Zoroastrianism. But, I never got a chance to really
study about it in depth. The other reason was that Zoroastrianism is the
world's oldest religion founded around 1200-1600 BC. and originated from
my country, Persia (Iran). Zoroastrianism was founded by Zarathustra who
was the first prophet to teach a monotheistic faith of one God of light,
In a situation when all the people used to worship so many gods,
Zarathustra talked about one God, Evil and good forces and the free will of
people to choose either paths in their lives. Zoroastrianism was also the
first to teach a savior figure, called the Sayoshant, who is to bring
judgment to sinners.
Zoroastrianism had a great influence on Judaism, Islam, and
Christianity. As we can find so many similarities between these
religions such as:
• Believing in one God only.
• Goodness over coming the Evil at the End.
• A savior who will be born from a virgin and raise the dead.
• We also have the element “fire”, which is of a great respect in
Zoroastrianism, mentioned in the Old Testament story of the
burning bush, where God appears to the prophet Moses as a flame
Unfortunately, although Zoroastrian Faith is the root of so many other
faiths, only a few hundred thousand Zoroastrian believers are left today,
and the majority live in India and Iran. I think the main reason is that
most of the followers have promised not to accept any converts. Under
Indian law, only children of a Zoroastrian father may become members of
the faith. Although I believe that not all the outsiders who want to convert
can deeply understand and respect the Zoroastrian rituals and beliefs, I
think refusing to accept converts may bring an end to the faith.
The other fact that attracts me to this religion is its principals that are so
simple but, so deep as well. And I think the three main Zoroastrian
teachings, Think good thoughts, speak good words and do good deeds, are
also the origin of principals of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. To me
these teachings seem like the juice of life, the core of every faith and the
basis of being a good human as God desires us to be.
One of the interesting parts of my research to me was the Zoroastrian
marriage. I was amazed as I got more familiar with their customs and the
meaning of what they do at a marriage ceremony. For instance, I knew
about the red pigment custom but, never noticed that the dot is in two
different shapes on the bride and groom’s foreheads. It was so interesting
to be informed that the groom gets a long vertical mark symbolizing a ray
of the sun because it is the fructifying agent in nature and the bride’s
round mark symbolizes the moon, which shines by the absorbed rays of
the sun. Wow! Who could have thought of that?!
I really enjoyed my research because besides correcting some
misconceptions that were in my mind about the Zoroastrians worshiping
fire or believing in two Gods, I learned more about an ancient religion
rooted in Iran that may die out in our lifetime. I hope, though, the Fire
will never go out.