Our story begins on the Steppes of Central Asia with the advent ot the Prophet Zarathustra (or Zoroaster, as he was called in the Greek literature). Scholars place Zarathustra at 1768 BC i.e. the time he revealed his divine message.
The faith flourished through the rise and fall of many civilizations. For a thousand years (558 B.C. to 652 A.D.) it was the court religion of three Persian Empires, those of the Achaemenians, the Parthians and the Sassanians, and stretched across Asia from Greece in the west to the Hindu Kush in the east, up into Southern Russia, and down into Egypt. Its followers numbered in the millions. One of Zarathustra's first disciples was King Vistashpa, ruler of Bactria. The religion then spread through Persia, and became the State religion of the Achaemenian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great in 558 BC It suffered a setback during the reign of Darius II, when Alexander conquered Persia in 330 BC. At this time the seat of the Empire at Persepolis was destroyed. After a revival during the Parthian (256 BC to 226 AD) and Sassanian (226 AD to 652 AD) periods, it reeled once again with the Muslim invasion of Persia in 652 AD. At this time, a large number accepted Islam but others remained with theirs old faith going through a lot of troubles. Meanwhile a few shiploads of devotees fled and landed on the western shores of India where the native Hindu ruler gave them refuge. Their descendants, the Parsees, still keep their faith alive, in India.
THE ZOROASTRIAN ETHIC
Zarathustra preached the monotheistic religion of the One Supreme God, Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) His message is a positive, life-affirming, active principled one, which demands not so much belief, as reason and action on the part of every individual. His was not a prescriptive ethic based on obedience, fear or love, but rather, an ethic of personal responsibility. A Zoroastrian is taught to lead an industrious, honest and, above all, charitable life. There is no place for asceticism. The generation of wealth is part of the ethos, as long as it is achieved honestly, and used for charitable purposes. Zarathustra asked his listeners to attend to his teachings, and with care and clear mind, choose a life of intelligent reflection and active benevolence. The quintessence of Zoroaster's teachings are embodied in the triad:
The loftiest ideal for man is to emulate the Amesha Spentas or attributes of Ahura Mazda, which are The Primal Principle of Life.
Vohu Manah is the Good Mind, Good Thinking. It stands for the discerning wisdom and thorough thinking required for leading a useful life. It is the generator of Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds. Zarathustra declared that man must think for himself before he can believe. He is given the freedom to choose between good and evil, and the responsibility to reap the consequences.
Asha is the Divine Law - it embodies Righteousness, Truth, order, Justice and Progress. It is the universal law of righteous precision. Every Zoroastrian strives to follow the Path of Asha in its highest and deepest spiritual sense.
Khshathra denotes the "power" to settle in peace. Used with the adjective of vohu, good, or vairya, to be chosen, it stands for benevolent power, good rule, and the chosen order. It is chosen by free and wise people as their ideal order in spirit and matter. It is the divine dominion. It is democracy in mind and body, in thought, words and deeds in every social activity.
Armaity, means "tranquility, stability and serenity". It is peace and prosperity. When used with the adjective spenta, it means the "ever-increasing serene peace" achieved by adhering to the Primal Principle of Life.
Haurvatat wholeness and completion. It is the perfecting process and final completion of our material and spiritual evolution.
Ameratat means "deathlessness" and "Immortally". Together with Haurvatat, it is the ultimate goal and represents the completion of our evolutionary development and the final achievement of our life on earth.
ZOROASTRIAN VIEW OF THE WORLD
Zarathustra presents a view of the world in which Ahura Mazda originally creates an ideal existence in accordance with the Law of Asha. As the world progresses, there is Conflict between the opposing forces of Good (Spenta Mainyu) and Evil (Angra Mainyu). In this ethical drama, Ahura Mazda gives man not only the freedom to Choose between Good and Evil, but also the responsibility to actively promote Good, vanquish evil, and move not only himself, but the whole world towards frashokereti, the final resurrection, When all will be in a state of perfection and everlasting bliss. This commitment to a life of bringing about a happy, harmonious, morally perfect social order, is what the Prophet offered as the Zoroastrian faith.
RESPECT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Veneration of the elements of nature (Fire, the Sun, the Earth and the Waters) and promoting a mutually beneficial existence with these elements, is central to Zoroastrian thought, placing this ancient religion well ahead of its time.
The scriptures of Zarathustra are contained in the ancient texts, The Avesta, written in the Avestan lanquage. Of these, the divine hymns, the Gathas, are the words of Prophet Zaratustra himself.
THE ETERNAL FLAME
Zoroastrian rituals and prayers are solemnized in the presence of an eternal flame, which is scrupulously tended with sandalwood and frankincense and kept burning in a silver urn in the inner sanctum of every Zoroastrian temple. Fire is revered as a visible symbol of the Inner Light, the inner flame that burns within each person. It is a physical representation of the Illumined Mind, Light and Truth, all highly regarded in the Zoroastrian doctrine. Despite its pre-historic origins, Zoroastrianism has vehemently denounced idolatry in any shape or form.
Sedreh-pushi (Initiation) Ceremony Every Zoroastrian child is officially initiated into the faith with the sedreh-pushi (navjote) ceremony, at which time he or she is invested with the sacred Sedreh and Koshti, accompanied with recitation from the Avesta. The Sedreh is an undershirt of pure white muslin with a small symbolic pocket in front reminding the wearer to fill it every day with Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds. The Koshti, a woolen cord, signifies that the wearer has girded him- or herself to practice the teachings of Zarathustra.
The wedding ceremony is a time of rejoicing. A happily married man and woman with progeny are God's best soldiers on this earth, and held in the highest regard. The wedding is performed by priests who recite passages from the Avesta and bless the couple, showering them with rice and rose petals. The ceremony is followed by a banquet for family and friends.
The Zoroastrian regards the soul of the dead more important than the physical remains and extensive prayers for the dead are an integral part of Zoroastrian rituals. In India the body, after due reverence, is placed in the "Towers of Silence", located on hilltops open to the sky and given free access to birds of prey. The bones are bleached and crumble to dust over time. No monument is erected for it is hoped that the departed will live on in the hearts and prayers of their loved ones. In other parts of the world, burial or cremation is the norm.