Zoroastrianism or Parsism finds its origin in Persia and is considered to be around 2600 years old, being founded by Spenta Zarathustra (Zoroaster) who is regarded as the Prophet by the Parsis. Prophet Zarathustra expounded a dualistic philosophy based on the opposite forces of the good and the evil. He preached the oneness of God, represented by the ‘Ahura Mazda’, who is formless and has six great aspects (‘Amesha-Spentas’), which are ‘Ardibehest’, ‘Bahman’, ‘Shahrivar’, ‘Spendarmad’, ‘Khordad’ and ‘Amardad’. He can be worshipped in any one of these forms. The Parsis believe that there is an eternal conflict between the ‘Ahura Mazda’ and ‘Angra Mainyu’ (‘Ahirman’), who represents the evil force. Man is free to associate either with good or evil, but once he dies, he can go to Heaven and or Hell depending on his deeds. The Parsis believe in the coming of the ‘Saoshyant’ (Saviour) to the earth to defeat the evil and promote righteousness (‘Ashoi’). Once the evil is destroyed, the dead would be resurrected (‘Ristakhiz’) and the Final Judgement of all souls will begin at the hands of ‘Ahura Mazda’.
The Parsi place of worship is known as the ‘Fire Temple’. The Parsis consider fire as the son of Ahura Mazda and a symbol of truth, righteousness and order. The five daily prayers, usually hymns or Gathas uttered by Prophet Zarathustra, are said in the home or the temple before the fire. Parsis consider the rituals of ‘Yasna’ as sacred, such as the ‘Nirang-din’ ceremony, which creates the Holy ‘Nirang’. In Zoroastrianism, the corpses are disposed off by putting in stone-enclosed ‘Dakhma’ and placing them at the disposal of flesh-eating birds such as vultures (‘Dakhma-nashini’).
Religious Scriptures of Zoroastrians :
Zenda Avestha is the religious scripture of the Parsis. It contains the teachings, sermons and prayers composed by Prophet Zoroaster as well as his disciples and followers. It is divided into five parts: ‘Yasna’ (worship with ceremony and offerings), ‘Videvdad’ (laws against demons), ‘Yashts’ (worship), ‘Khordeh Avestha’ (book of daily prayers) and the five ‘Gathas’ – ‘Ahunavaiti’, ‘Ushtavaiti’, ‘Spenta-Mainyu’, ‘Vohu-Khshathra’ and ‘Vashishta-Ishti’, which contain the seventeen hymns of God revealed to Prophet Zoroaster. Avestha is also the name of the language in which the Holy Book is composed.
Sects of Zoroastrians :
There are three principle sects among the Parsis – ‘Shahenshai’, ‘Kadmi’ and ‘Fasli’ – depending upon the calendar they follow. Of these, the ‘Faslis’ follow the traditional Persian calendar while the ‘Shahenshais’ calculate their calendar from the last Sassanian king, Yazdegard III and the ‘Kadmis’ claim their calendar to be the oldest and most accurate.
Parsi Reform Movement:
In 1851 the ‘Rehnumai Mazdayasan Sabha’ (Religious Reform Association) was set up by Dababhai Naoroji, Naoroji Furdonji and others to oppose the strict orthodoxy in Zoroastrianism. They laid special emphasis on modernising the Parsis and emancipating the women by educating them and raising their social status.
The first Zoroastrians to enter India arrived on the Gujarat coast in the 10th century and by the 17th century, most of them had settled in Mumbai. Today, there are approximately 70,000 Parsis in India, who are concentrated largely in Mumbai and Gujarat.