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Zoroastriansim is the first revealed monotheistic religion of the world. The date of its founding is lost in antiquity, but general consensus places it between 2000 to 1800 BCE. It’s founder, Zarathustra or Zoroaster (as called by the Greeks), flourished on the East Iranian plateau. Zarathustra saw the God (Ahura Mazda – the Wise Lord), felt conscious of His presence, and heard His words, which are recorded in the five Songs or Poems he composed. These are called the Gathas. One easily understands Zarathustra by seeing the Prophet’s zeal in the Gathas and the visible manifestations of his meeting the God.
Zoroastrians believe in the One Supreme, Omnipotent, Omniscient God, called Ahura Mazda. He is to be understood through his six divine attributes: Vohu Mana (Good Mind), Asha (Truth, Righteousnes), Spenta Armaity (Correct Thinking, Piety), Xsthra Vairya (Divine Domain), Haurvatat (Perfection, Integrity), and Ameratat (Immortality). His attributes are also found in each and every human being who must work as a co-worker of god to defeat evil and bring the world to perfection. This can be achieved by good thought, good words, and good deeds.
Angels, known as the Yazatas, work endlessly to aid humans in bringing the world to perfection. All the natural elements like air, water, and lands are to be kept pure. Their pollutions are to be prevented at all cost. This makes Zoroastrianism the first true ecological religion in the world. After death, the immortal soul of the departed person is judged according to all the good deeds done by him or her in this world; the soul then enjoys the pleasures of paradise or undergoes the tortures of hell.
There is also the belief in the appearance of the last savior, called Sosayant, and of the final day of judgment with the resurrections of all who have died (these last two are later beliefs).
The primary source is the Gathas of the Prophet; this is followed by Hapatan Haiti, the seven chapters written by the Prophet’s disciples. These scriptures are called Old Avesta as their language differs from the later scriptures, called the Younger Avesta. Together they are known as the Avestan. The Younger Avesta consists of the Yasna (without the Gathas, containing seventy-two chapter), Vispered, Vendidad, and the Yasts. The original Avestan scriptures were written in twenty-one books called the Nasks, from which only one complete Nask – Vandidad – Has survived the ravages of time. The Gathas and the rest of the scriptures survived because they formed part of the long Yasna liturgical ceremony, which was passed from generation to generation by oral tradition.
The most important ritual which every Zoroastrian has to undergo is the Navzote or Sudraposhi Ceremony, which is for new initiates (ages seven to fifteen years) entering the religion. Generally the rituals are divided into two classes: 1) those like the Yasna ceremony, to be performed in the Zoroastrian Fire-Temples; and 2) those to be performed anywhere outside the Zoroastrian Temples, like Jashan (thanksgiving) ceremony.
The word “fire-temple” is a misnomer as the Zoroastrians do not worship the fire. The fire is kept as a symbol of purity, acting as the focal point (like the Kebla of the religion of Islam) for prayers.
The Zoroastrians are the smallest minority of all religions, having undergone the severest persecutions for centuries in Iran at the hands of its conquerors, after the fall of the last Sassanian Zoroastrian Empire. At one time the number of the community ran into millions (650 BCE). A small band of the community migrated to India (between the 9th and 10th centuries CE) to avoid harassment and persecution; called the Parsees, these now number fewer than 60,000 in India and 2,500 in Pakistan. Still fewer have survived in Iran (10,000), and some have settled in the West, mostly in North America (12,000) and in Europe (7,000); there may be 3,000 in other parts of the world. With such a small total number of the community there are no fixed denominations as such, although the Iranian Zoroastrians and the Parsee have different cultures and mother tongues, which developed due to long separation.
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