Birth of Zoroastrianism
About 5000 years ago, i.e. around 3000 BCE, a group of people called the
Proto Indo-Iranians lived on the South Russian Steppes to the east of the river
Volga [Boyce]. The Proto Indo-Iranians believed in a primitive concept
of order (called rta in Sanskrit). They knew that order existed in the
universe because night followed day, the moon waxed and waned and each year the
seasons followed one another. They believed that divinities or gods called
Asuras, among which Varuna and Mithra were most popular, guarded this law. The
Proto Indo-Iranians worshiped instinctively and often, through fear. For
example, when they saw lightning and heard thunder they thought that the gods
were angry with them. For every natural phenomenon such as an earthquake,
snowstorm or hurricane they would make sacrifices of animals, plants and food to
their deities in order to appease them.
About a thousand years later i.e. ~2000 BCE, the Proto Indo-Iranians split into two groups. One group migrated westwards and came to be known as the Iranians while the other group went east and was known as the Vedic Indians or Vedic Aryans. Because of this common root the early religious scriptures of the Indian and the Iranian have some similarities but after the split each of them developed separately.
The Iranians were mostly nomads, they did not have a fixed place to live, for they herded cattle and would keep moving around in search of fresh pasture and water. Since they lived in the open they worshiped nature and they had a god or goddess for each of the elements of nature, i.e. they believed that one god looked after the sky (Asman), another took care of the Earth (Zam), the third looked after the Moon (Mah) and a goddess called Anahita looked after the waters. They called this whole pantheon of gods and goddesses as Ahuras. The word Ahura comes from the root Ah meaning, "to be", so Ahura can be derived as the Being. The Iranians believed their Ahuras to be very powerful and their ritualistic priests called Karapans had many rituals and made sacrifices of animals and plant food to fire and water. Their Ahuras were similar to Asuras of the Proto Indo-Iranians and of the Rig Vedas.
Several hundred years later the Iranians learned the use of bronze and developed horse drawn chariots. Some Iranians abandoned the task of herding cattle and became warriors and they would go from place to place raiding cattle. These lawless people worshiped the gods of war and were called Daevas. Their priests were called Kavis who were very shrewd and practiced black magic.
It was during this time somewhere around 1400 BCE that Zarathushtra was born. As a young boy he was interested in nature and wanted to know as to how the world was created. His search for creation and the creator lead him to God with whom he communed after several years of meditation. When he was 30 years old, he introduced a religion known today as Zoroastrianism. The ancient Greeks knew Zarathushtra as Zoroaster and hence his followers are called Zoroastrians. Some followers who live in India prefer to be called Zarathustis.
Tenets of Zoroastrianism
Zarathushtra was the first to introduce a novel way of thinking and a completely new philosophy of life. He taught that there is only ONE God whom he called Ahura Mazda. This compound term consists of two Avestan (a language used during the time of Zarathushtra) words, Ahura and Mazda. Ahura has a masculine gender while Mazda is feminine. The first word Ahura(s) (Asuras in the Vedas of Hinduism) was already used by the pre-Zoroastrians for their God(s) and Zarathushtra introduced the concept of God as the creator who infused life into the physical world. Ahura has been associated with ah meaning being or existence and angh meaning life, and this is probably why Ahura, the life giving force, has been translated as Lord of Life. The new word, Mazda, that Zarathutra introduced means super-intellect or supreme wisdom. Mazda can also mean Great or Maximum Knowledge, as well as Great or Maximum Giver. Zarathushtra seems to be the first to use the word Mazda and also the first to make one deity the only deity. By using the term Ahura Mazda, a compound of a male and female name, Zarathushtra wished to convey both the equality of the males and females before the Creator and, also, the fact that the deity was beyond one particular sexual designation. Many scholars have translated Ahura Mazda as Lord of Wisdom.
(GE had named their light bulb Mazda to honor the God of Light, probably in the misconception that Mazda means light. The Japanese cars were named after light bulbs; so whoever drives a Mazda drives a "wise" car).
Zarathushtra communed with Ahura Mazda and his dialogues are composed into hymns or songs called the Gathas. The term Ahura Mazda, as well as the separate terms Ahura and Mazda, appear several times in the Gathas. Zarathushtra has used the term Mazda 164 times, Ahura 131 times, Mazda Ahura 50 times and Ahura Mazda 8 times in his Gathas. It is imperative to note that prior to Zarathushtra the Gods and Goddesses were known for their power and strength while Zarathushtra laid the stress on Ahura Mazda's creative ability and wisdom.
According to Zarathushtra, Ahura Mazda conceived the idea of creating the universe and not only let it evolve into the inanimate objects such as the Sun, the Moon, the stars and the Earth but also the living species such as the plants, animals and human beings i.e. he infused life into his creations. Ahura Mazda is not a static God who has finished his creations for he his dynamic and progressive and a continuous creator. In his Gathas, Zarathushtra refers to Ahura Mazda as Tashô (Yasna 31-11). This word stems from the root tash meaning to cut, to shape [Dhalla]. When a tailor cuts a cloth he designs it into a garment, so the word Tashô signifies a designer and conveys the idea of improvement, progress and evolution. According to Zarathushtra, Ahura Mazda is the creator of life in this universe, he is omniscient, he is super intelligent, he is the wisest and he knows everything. He knows that at this very moment we are discussing him. He has supreme wisdom and he is kind, friendly and loving. Ahura Mazda is omnipresent for he is everywhere at the same time.
We, Zoroastrians, usually start our prayers with the words Kshnotra Ahurai Mazdao, which means glory be to Ahura Mazda. We praise Ahura Mazda for creating this world, for creating the Sun that gives us light and heat, for creating the air that we need to breathe, for creating the water that we need to survive and for creating the animals, birds, plants, fruits and flowers that bring us joy and happiness. We believe that Ahura Mazda has no form, shape of color attributed to him. This is why Zoroastrians never worship idols. We do not build some shape from clay or wood or metal and call it Ahura Mazda because, to us, Ahura Mazda is ever glowing eternal light from which emanates bounty and goodness.
Zarathushtra also taught that Ahura Mazda regulates the universe through ASHA, the law of precision. At the physical level Asha represents the laws in the universe. Scientists try to understand these laws, such as the laws of gravity and electric and magnetic fields. On the psychological level Asha is the powerful force of truth while at the spiritual level Asha is the fusion of order and truth leading us to the path of righteousness. Truth or righteousness is doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right place with the right means to achieve the right purpose [Dhalla]. Righteousness is the universal law that stands for order, evolution, progress and projection.
Zarathushtra taught that Ahura Mazda has given every human being a Vohu
Manoh (Good Mind) in order to help us follow this path of righteousness.
The Human Mind is the best gift that Ahara Mazda has bestowed upon us. With our
Vohu Manoh we can not only think but we can reason and articulate and this is
what makes us so unique from all other living species on this planet. We have a
mind that can help us differentiate and distinguish between right and wrong,
good and evil.
ahura Mazda is in accord with Asha and he wants us to promote this path of asha, ashoi and ashem. According to this law good deeds produce good rewards and evil deeds have bad consequences. A scientist working in a lab, a mathematician solving a formula, a mother caring for her family, a student struggling with his homework, a musician composing or creating beautiful music and a person counseling the needy are all implementing Asha in their lives, if they act with truth and integrity. We know that if we do not live in harmony with nature it would lead to catastrophic consequences. Hence, in order to make this world a better place, not only for this generation but for generations to come, we must follow the path of Asha. Human beings are co-workers of Ahura Mazda, but we are not his slaves. We are not forced into doing something or being someone that we don't want to be. Zoroastrians do not believe that good things in life are detrimental to the spiritual life or that we should denigrate the material world.
Zarathushtra composed the Ashem Vohu prayer, which is the main motto of our religion. This prayer contains 12 words and the first and the last words are the same. The prayer (in red) and a word to word translation [Rustomjee] are as follows:
Ashem Vohu Vahistem asti Ushta asti
Righteousness (is Good) Best it is Radiant it is
Usta ahamaai hyat ashaai vahistai ashem
Radiant (comes) to for the sake of virtue (is) virtuous (which is)
Happiness the one (who) itself best
The first line tells us that the path of righteousness, truth, asha or Ashoi is good and it is the best. It is (Ushta) radiant happiness because only truth can bring us everlasting happiness. The second line tells us that righteousness is for the sake of the best righteousness alone. There is no goodness in forced goodness. We have to speak the truth, be honest, and help others because only such virtues can bring happiness and contentment in this world. We don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that lying, cheating and hurting others by being mean, nasty and greedy is harmful and cannot bring happiness to anyone. Our main mission in this life is to promote Asha for that will bring happiness to all and it will make this place a much better place not only for the present generation but for generations to come.
It has been enjoined that every morning as soon as we take our first step out of bed, we should pray one Ashem Vohu and pledge that we will do good deeds for the sake of righteousness and will do our best to make this world a better place not only for ourselves but for everyone around us. Spiritual truth, scientific truth, philosophical truth, social truth are the various manifestations of Asha. At Ahura Mazda's level truth and righteousness may be objective but at our finite, human level, it is subjective.
Zarathushtra's religion does not provide a fact-specific code of behavior but a timeless system that requires each succeeding generation to use their minds, to strengthen the horizons of their knowledge, to ascertain truth and right in the context of their world and to implement it in their lives.
"Zoroastrians, Their Religious Beliefs and Practices" by Mary Boyce, published by Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., London, UK, 1979.
"Daily Prayers of the Zoroastrians" by Framroz Rustomjee, published by Parsi Zoroastrian Association, Calcutta, India, 1957.
"History of Zoroastrianism" by Maneckji K. Dhalla, published by K.R. Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, India, 1963.
To find the Roj and Mah for any day of the Gregorian Calendar see the link provided at the end of this article.
The early progenitors of today's Zoroastrian community were nomads who had a keen perception of the seasonal changes and a deep respect for the elements of Nature. In their innate wisdom they chose to start the New Year on the day of Vernal Equinox (March 21), which marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Also, on this day the sun enters the constellation Aries and is directly over the equator making the day and night equal.
Ancient Zoroastrians observed a 360 days Calendar of 12 months with each month comprising of 30 days. The months were named after seasonal festivals but the days of each month were merely numbered from one to thirty. New Year was celebrated on the day of Vernal Equinox and to keep the 360 days Calendar in harmony with the seasons, a thirteenth month was intercalated every six years. Since each year the spring season brings the resurgence of life in Nature, the first day of Spring was deemed to be the day of renewal, hope and joy and was celebrated as Noruz (New Day).
These days were: day 1 Roz Hormuzd first day of the month dedicated to the Creator day 8 Dae-pe-Adar day (prior to Roz Adar) dedicated to the Creator day 15 Dae-pe-Meher day (prior to Roz Meher) dedicated to the Creator day 23 Dae-pe-Din day (prior to Roz Din) dedicated to the Creator
Da in the prefix Dae is the root of the word Datar (Dadvah), which means Creator. There were also six seasonal festivals, known as the Gahambars. These were associated with the agricultural seasons and to this day, we celebrate each Gahambar by performing a Jashan and thanking Ahura Mazda for the seasons and the beautiful creations.
Since the Achamenians, along with the Babylonians, followed a 360 days Calendar, they had to intercalate one month every six years. However, the Egyptians of that era had a Calendar based upon a 365 days solar cycle. In 46 CE (Common Era) the Romans adopted the Egyptian Calendar but the Persians kept on following the 360 days Calendar until the middle of the third century CE .
The earth revolves around the sun in exactly 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. The 365 days Calendar lost almost a 1/4 day each year and in order to compensate this loss, the Roman Emperor, Julius Ceasar, adopted to intercalate one day every four years and called that year a leap year. This procedure created an opposite effect of increasing 11 minutes and 14 seconds per year, which amounted to 7 days in 1000 years. In order to bring the Julian Calendar closer to the natural solar year, in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII, on the advice of astronomer Christoph Clavius, promulgated in 1582 that no centennial year should be leap year unless exactly divisible by 400. Thus 1700, 1800, 1900 were not leap years but the year 2000 was a leap year. While most of Europe accepted the reformed calendar in 1582, England and its colonies (including USA) only adopted the new calendar in 1752 and till that time the year was calculated from Vernal Equinox to Vernal Equinox and March was the first month. In 1752 the New Year day in England was shifted from the Vernal Equinox (which fell on Mar 25 according to the old calendar) to Jan 1. Thus they broke with the time-honored custom of celebrating the New Year Day on the Vernal Equinox and this Calendar, which is followed to this day is called Gregorian.
A major revival of the Zoroastrian religion took place in 226 CE when the first Sassanian King Ardeshir came to the Persian throne. He changed the old 360 days Calendar to 365 days by adding five extra days, which were piously dedicated to the five Gathas of Zarathushtra. Ardeshir's Calendar reforms had a far-reaching effect on his people who initially rejected his new Calendar as it affected their religious sentiments. This resulted in two Calendars, one decreed by the king and the other, older one, followed by the majority of the people in the kingdom.
Traditionally, the Fravashis (select "Fravashi" in the left column, to find more details) were welcomed to the physical world on the last day of the old year, when the festival of FRAVARDIGAN (Muktad) was observed. After spending the night and receiving the veneration of the descendants the Fravashis were bid farewell on the following dawn, and at sunrise the New Year (Noruz) was brought in. At the end of the first year, the king's new Calendar fell behind the people's older Calendar by five days. The Muktad days had to be extended because it was believed that the Fravashis could not return to their spiritual world until the dawn of the Noruz. The king celebrated Noruz on the sixth day of the people's Calendar. This day was called KHORDAD SAL, meaning Greater Noruz. At the end of the second year the King declared that Noruz must be celebrated only at the end of 365 days and so the people were made to add 5 more days to their old Calendar. This created more confusion with some people observing the Muktad for 5 days while others for 10 days. Later on a compromise was reached and it was decided to synchronize the two Calendars by maintaining the festival of Fravadigan for 10 days; however, some traditionalist extended the Muktad period to 18 days.
The change, from 360 to 365 days, in the Persian Calendar reduced the difference of 5 1/4 days from the natural solar year to less than a 1/4 day each year. The traditional intercalation of a thirteenth month every six years was no longer warranted. However, to account for the loss of a 1/4 day each year it was necessary to intercalate one month every 120 years. This was completely ignored and the day of Noruz was left to recede from the day of Vernal Equinox. By the end of the 6th century CE it had slipped away to July instead of occurring in Spring.
One of the Zoroastrian Calendars, called the Shenshai Calendar, dates back from the year 631 CE when the last Zoroastrian King, Yazdazard III, ascended the throne. After his defeat in the battle of Nehavand in 641 CE, the Zoroastrian Empire was conquered by the Arabs and within a few centuries the Zoroastrian community gradually got disintegrated. A group of Zoroastrians migrated to India and came to be known as Parsees.
In the year 1006 CE the roaming Noruz day again coincided with the day of the Vernal Equinox. There was great rejoicing both in Iran and India. It was resolved that Zoroastrians must add an extra month every 120 years. Between 1126 and 1129 CE, the Parsees in India remembered and added a 13th month called the 2nd Spendamad but the Zoroastrian in Iran forgot. The intercalation made by the Indian Zoroastrian Community, put the Calendar of the Iranian Zoroastrians ahead by one month. This difference between the two Calendars went unnoticed until a learned Kermani priest, Dastur Jamasp Vilayat, visited India in 1720 and brought it to the attention of the Parsi community. Long after the Dastur had left, the Zoroastrians in India continued to debate the issue of the two Calendars. In 1746, a group of Zoroastrians in India decided to adopt the Iranian Calendar as that of the "old time". They separated and formed a new group called Qadimi (Kadmi) but the majority of Parsees continued to follow their traditional Calendar and called themselves Shenshais (Royalist). No intercalations have been made since 1130 CE.
The Shenshai and Qadimi Calendars do not have any means of intercalation built into them. Consequently, in both these Calendars, Noruz recedes from the day of Vernal Equinox and the Gahambars, the seasonal festivals, are celebrated at the wrong time of the year.
According to tradition, Noruz has been associated with King Jamshed who, it is said, ruled the world during a "golden age" which will once again be restored at the end of time. The prefix Jamshed was added to the word Noruz in the late nineteenth century and since then the festival of the first day of Spring has been called Jamshedi Noruz by the Parsees..
In the early twentieth century, Khurshedji Cama, a well-known Zarathosthi of Mumbai attempted to tackle the problem of unifying the Zoroastrian Calendars. He was convinced that the original Zoroastrian Calendar was created to be in harmony with the seasons. In 1906, he formed the Zarathosthi Fasli Sal Mandal (Zoroastrian seasonal-year society), which celebrated Noruz on the day of Spring Equinox. Every four years a day called Avardad-sal-gah was added to the last month, Mah Spendamad. This move was expected to bring unification in the community and revert the rift between the Shenshais and Qadimis. Ironically, it led to the formation of a new group, which came to be known as the Faslis, who followed the Calendar of the seasons. Thus, the Zoroastrians have three Calendars, Shenshai, Qadimi (Kadmi) and Fasli. However, the Fasli Calendar is the only Zoroastrian Calendar by which Noruz and the feasts of Gahambars are retained in synchronization with the seasons and the solar year.
In Iran a group of prominent Zoroastrians were favourably impressed with the Fasli movement and they launched a campaign in 1930 to persuade the Iranian Zoroastrians to adopt the fixed Calendar of the seasons. They strengthened their case by calling it Bastani, meaning ancient. About the same time Reza Shah Pahlavi, the then monarch of Iran, adopted a National Calendar, which began on the day of the Vernal Equinox. He also chose Zoroastrian names for the months of his Calendar. The majority of Zoroastrians in Iran adopted the fixed seasonal Calendar however, in Yazd, the Yazdi community resisted and to this day follow the Qadimi Calendar.
On Noruz day, Rapithaven, the Yazata of Noon, is believed to re-emerge from the earth in order that life may re-surge with the advent of Spring. We celebrate this event by performing a Jashan in honour of this Yazata. From Noruz (Roz Hormuzd, Mah Fravadin), the Rapithaven Gah (noon to 3 p.m.) is recited until Roz Hormuzd, Mah Ava, when Rapithavan goes back into the earth. It is believed that for the next five months he protects the roots of all vegetation until his re-emergence at Noruz. During his absence the recitation of the Rapithaven Gah is discontinued and instead an additional Havan Gah, is recited.
On the first day of Spring in 1992, i.e. on Mar. 21, 1992, Roz Hormazd of all three Calendars overlapped. That day initiated Mah Ava, Adar and Fravardin of the Shenshai, Qadimi and Fasli Calendars respectively. This overlap of the first Roz occurs only once every 120 years. Many zoroastrian organizations, such as Fezana, proposed a unification of all three Calendars and suggested that zoroastrians all over the world should follow only the Fasli Calendar. In response to this many zoroastrians have adopted the Fasli Calendar, which is in harmony with the seasons. The Kankash-e-Mobedan (Council of Iranian Mobeds) has also agreed to follow the Fasli Calendar. However, there are some mobeds from India who feel that if they changed their Calendar then they would be disloyal to the Agiary or Atash Behram where they were ordained, while others have raised the issue that the "alaats" (religious implements) used in the ceremonies in the Adarans and Atash Behrams would require re-consecration at very high expense. Whatever the reasons may be, the Calendar changes cannot be imposed on anyone for Zarathushtra in the Ahunavaiti Gatha (Yasna 30.2) says, "Each person has his or her choice to select according to his or her own unbiased illumined mind."
The following website by Arzan Lalis provides all three (Shenshai, Kadmi and Fasli) calendars and can find the Roj and Mah for a any day of the Gregorian Calendar.
The word Jashan means an important occasion or an important event and the
communal ceremony performed to commemorate or celebrate this occasion is also
called Jashan. During this ceremony we praise Ahura Mazda and invoke the Amesha
Spentas and the Fravashis.
Types of Jashans
1. Zinderavan This Jashan is performed at seasonal festivals such as Gahambars, auspicious occasions such as birthdays and historical events such as Meherigan. 2. Rawan This Jashan is performed to commemorate sad historical events (Zarthost no Diso), death anniversaries of family members and during Mukhtad. Implements Required for the Jashan
Fruits, nuts and malido (wheat pudding), placed in metallic trays, are used in this ceremony. The fruits are washed and partially cut so that the Fravashis from the spiritual world may sample their essence. A beaker of water, a pot of milk, a glass of wine and flowers are also used. The ceremony is performed on a white sheet spread on the floor. A Divo (oil-lamp) and an Afarganyu (Fire-vase) in which a fire is kept burning with Sukhad (sandlewood) and Loban (incense, frankincense) are employed in this ceremony. Chipyo (metallic tongs) and Chamach (metallic ladel) are used to tend the fire.
During the Jashan ceremony we also invoke the Amesha Spentas. To understand this term, Amesha Spenta, we have to refer to the Gathas, which are the hyms or songs composed by Zarathustra. In his Gathas Zarathustra describes certain attributes, characteristics, qualities of Ahura Mazda and hundreds of years after Zarathustra’s time these attributes were personified and believed to be Divine Beings called Amesha Spentas. Western scholars have translated the term Amesha Spentas as Bounteous Immortals. These Amesha Spentas were later linked to some of the creations of Ahura Mazda and believed to be the guardian of these creations. During the Jashan, the Amesha Spentas and the creations are symbolically represented by the implements used in the ceremony as follows:
Order Creation Amesha Spenta Represented by 1. Sky Khshathra Vairya metallic implements 2. Water Hauravatat water in a beaker 3. Earth Spenta Armaiti place of ceremony 4. Plants Ameretat flowers and fruits 5. Cattle Vohu Manoh the milk in the pot 6. Man Spenta Mainyu the performers 7. Fire Asha fire in afarganyu
This Jashan ceremony can be performed by priests or laity and is generally
performed by two to four persons. The principal performer of the ceremony is
called ZOATAR. All other performers are called RASPI i.e. assistant from the
Avestan root "rac", to help; or "Rathwi", i.e. an offerer from the root "ra", to
give. The term "Atravakshi" meaning one who feeds (vaksh) the fire (Atar) is
also used because during the ceremony this performer sits near the Afarganyu and
feeds the fire.
The following prayers are recited during the Jashan ceremony: A. Atash Nyaish and Doa-Nam Satayashne B. Afringans and Afrins C. Doa Tan Doroshti
The Zoatar recites all the prayers while the Raspi recites parts A and C and only certain sections of part B.
This prayer is recited in front of the Fire. In his Gathas Zarathustra describes Ahura Mazda as Raęvatô Kharenanguhatô and “Ahura Mazdao Raęvatô Kharenanguhatô” is recited 9 times during the Jashan ceremony. The Avestan word Raęvatô means splendid and Kharenanguhatô means glorious. We Zoroastrians do not attribute any form, shape or color to Ahura Mazda. We do not make any images (idols) from clay, wood or metal to represent Ahura Mazda because, to us, Ahura Mazda is an ever glowing eternal light from which flows (emanates) goodness and wisdom.
When we pray in front of a fire we are not praying to the Fire but we believe that we are standing in the presence of the radiating power of Ahura Mazda. Fire is the provider of heat and light which are the very source of life and growth. We know that without heat and light life cannot exists on this planet. (When we pray before a fire we pay homage to the creation that represents life and the inherent nature of Ahura Mazda -- total goodness.)
In the Avesta, which is the collection of all our religious scriptures, FIRE expresses multi-dimensional ideas such as the fire of inspiration, the fire of love, the fire of emotion, the fire of compassion, the fire of devotion, the fire of the life that burns within all of us.
Fire is also linked to Asha i.e. truth and righteousness. On the psychological level Asha is the powerful force of truth; while, at the physical level, Asha represents order, evolution, and progress. Asha has been defined as the spiritual truth, scientific truth, philosophical truth, social truth.
Our mission in this life is not to seek fame and fortune or other superfluous material values but to promote Asha (Righteousness) for only that will bring happiness to ourseleves and all around us and it will make this world a much better place not only for the present generation but for generations to come.
The nمm (name) setâyashne (praise) is a prayer in praise of Ahura Mazda, also known as Ohormaz in the Pahalavi language. The prayer starts with the words:
pa nمm i azad i baxshâyaٌdęh i baxshâyashgar i meherbمn, nمm setâyashne ôi hôrmazd hamâ bűt u hamâ hast u hamâ bęt. In his name, who is the greatest, who is the wisest who is the best dispenser of justice, we praise Ohrmazd, who always was, always is and always will be, ie Ahura Mazda is the creator but he himself was never created. After praising Ahura Mazda the prayer ends with the words: setâishne i dâdâr hôrmazd i harvasp- âgâh u tavânâ u tavaٌgar, haft amshâspaٌd u bęhrمm azadi pîrôzgar dushman-zadâr ama hutâshte bę rasât. All praise to the creator Ohrmazd, the omniscient, omnipotent (invincible, unstoppable), and powerful, and to the seven Amahraspands, to the victorious Yazad Warharan, the vanquisher of foes, and to the well-shapen (Yazad) Ama (strength). (May all these) come (to my help).
Occasion Afringan celebration Dadar Hormazd Gahambar Gahambar Mukhtad Ardafravash Death anniversary Ardafravash
The second and third Afringans are usually Dahm and Sarosh respectively. Each Afringan consists of the Pazend (the re- writing of the Pahalavi text into Avestan script) Dibache and the Afringan proper in Avestan language. The word Dibache is Persian and means preface. In the Dibache the reciter first announces the name of the Divine Being who is to be invoked during the Afringan. Then the Fravashis of the dead are invoked and famous Zoroastrians of the past are propitiated. Finally, the names of persons who directed (farmayashne) the performance of the ceremony are announced. Each dibache is followed by the Afringan proper during which the appropriate formula praising that particular Divine Being and its attributes is recited. Some parts of this prayer are taken from the Siroza Yasht.
The general rule in reciting the Avesta prayers is that all portions in Pazend or in later Persian language, whenever they occur at the beginning or the end of the Avestan prayers, are to be recited in a loud tone. But when they occur in the midst of Avestan prayers or an aggregate of prayers, they are to be intoned in a suppressed voice called the Baj. Thus during the Jashan ceremony only the Dibache of the first Afringan is recited aloud. The dibaches of the second (Dahm) and the third (Sarosh) Afringans are recited in Baj.
At least 24 flowers or petals are required for the ceremony. During each
Afringan the Zoatar takes 8 flowers and lays them in two columns as shown in the
Figure below. Flowers numbered 3 to 8 face each other while flowers 1 and 2 are
placed parallel to one another.
The Figure is taken from: "Zoroastrianism: An Ethnic Perspective" by Khojeste Mistree
After reciting the Dibache, the Zoatar and the Raspi together pray the Fravarane (articles of faith) followed by the appropriate Gah and Khshuman (invocation). Then reciting three Ashem Vohus the Zoatar picks the first two flowers (1 & 2 in the Fig.) and then gives one to the Raspi who now stands up to receive them. The Raspi while receiving the flower receites the words "Ahurahe Mazdao Raevato Khareanghato" (Ahura Mazda Glorious and Brillant) and is joined by the Zoatar on the word "Afrinami" (Bless).
The performers now begin to pray a portion from the Afringan of Burjog (pious begins, co-workers). Upon completion of this prayer they exchange the two flowers. In his book,"The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees", Dastoor Dr. Jivanji Modi says that this gesture symbolizes the exchange of lives between this world physical and the next spiritual world.
Both priests then recite a verse from Yasna 35:
humatanمm hűxtanمm hvarshtanمm yadacâ anyadacâ verezyamnanمmcâ vâverezananمmcâ mahî aibî-jaretârô naęnaęstârô athanâ vohunمm mahî We praise good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, performed here and elsewhere, now and in the past. Thus we glorify and invoke all that is good.
Again, according to Dastoor Dr. Jivanji Modi this process symbolizes that a soul has to come down to this physical world, move about in this world and then pass away to the next spiritual world with the triad of good thoughts, good words and good deeds.
Making sure that the chamach is touching the Afarganyu the Raspi transfers the chamach from one hand to the other and thus completes the circuit between himself and the fire. The Zoatar holds the chipyo (tongs) in his right hand with which he touches the Afarganyu and simultaneously with his left hand he touches the tray of fruits. The ritual circuit is completed by both participants touching the Afarganyu upon which burns the fire. At this point the Zoatar represents the pillar of doctrine while the Raspi represents the pillar of practice. The prayers are then intoned in a suppressed voice i.e. recited in Baj.
After completing the Baj both performers recite aloud one Yatho Vairyo as the Zoatar touches the four points of the water beaker with his chipyo, in an up-down, right-left motion, then touches the other implements and finally the Afarganyu to complete the circuit. Next, they recite one Ashem Vohu as the Zoatar touches the same water beaker with the chipyo at four other points, NE, NW, SE,SW, the implements, and finally the Afarganyu. The symbolism of this gesture is to generate spiritual energy from the water and it is believed that through this gesture the spirits bless the food offerings which are consumed by the members of the congregation at the end of the ceremony.
The Raspi hands back the seven flowers to the Zoatar as they recite two Yatho Vairyos. The Raspi does a ritual handshake with the Zoatar while reciting, in Baj, the words, "Hamazor Bead Hamo Asho Bead" which means let us be one in strength (Righteousness). In olden days the Raspi would then exchange this greeting with a member of the congregation and the greeting was generally exchanged among those present. The Raspi then sits down and the performers recite a section from Yasna 35 to end the first Afringan.
As mentioned earlier, the dibaches of the next Afringans are prayed in Baj because these are in Pazend and they occur between two Avestan prayers. However, the structure and the rituals for these Afringans remain the same as the first, except the words in some portions of these prayers vary accordingly, The exchange of flowers (using the next set of eight) is repeated during each Afringan.
After the completion of the Afringans, the Zoatar alone recites the Afrins. The word Afrin literally means benediction or blessing. In the first section of the Afrin the worshipper prays that the spiritual strength of the ceremony and ritual may reach all. The following words are repeated several times throughout the Afrin:
Pa ganje Dadar Ahura Mazda rayomand khorehmand (For the treasury of creator Ahura Mazda (who is) radiant and glorious).
This means that the prayers of the worshippers are to go to the treasury (ganje) of Ahura Mazda from which they may be distributed to all. This suggests that the influence of even one worshipper is far reaching because his prayers are not for his own self but for all fellow human beings.
Finally, the Doa Tan Doroshti is recited for the health, happiness and prosperity of those who had the ceremony performed and for the well being of the community and mankind.
The following articles have been published in the web journal Vohuman:
The Avesta is a compilation of all Zoroastrian prayers, which were composed over several centuries, some dating back to more than 3000 years. The Avesta, also known as the Holy Book or the Prayer Book of the Zoroastrians, was committed to writing in the mid-first millennium CE (Common Era). Before this time it had been transmitted orally from one generation to the next.
The Avesta is composed in two languages: Avestan and Pahalavi. Avestan is a very ancient language and is similar to Sanskrit, the language of the Rigveda, one of the religious books of the Hindus. The similarity between Avestan and Vedic Sanskrit is due to a common heritage. More than 4000 years ago, i.e. before 2000 BCE (Before Common Era), the Indo-Iranians used to live together in the Southern Steppes of Asia. Around 2000 BCE a tribe called Aryans split into two groups: one group went southwest towards modern day Iran and came to be known as the Iranians and the other group went southeast towards India and came to be known as the Vedic Indians. The Indians developed the Sanskrit language while the Iranians independently developed the Avestan language but because of the common Indo-Iranian root many words in the two languages are quiet similar.
The parts of the Avesta in Avestan language can be seperated into texts in "Old Avestan" and "Young(er) Avestan". Old Avestan is a language closely akin to the oldest Indic language found in the oldest part of the Rigveda, and on archeological and linguistic grounds could be dated to the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. Young Avestan represents a changed form of the language, linguistically close to Old Persion which was spoken by Iranian tribes, who called themselves Parswa (Persian) and lived in northwestern Iran from 9th century BCE.
Hundreds of years later, the language of the Iranians again changed and Pahalavi became the religious language of Persia. Pahalavi is a Middle Persian language and many prayers in the Avesta, composed after the 5th century CE, are in Pahalavi. The term Pazend has also been mentioned as one of the languages of the Zoroastrian religious scriptures; however, Pazend is not a language and this term will be explained later. Over the centuries, many Zoroastrian scriptures were destroyed due to the invasion of Persia by the Greeks, Arabs and Mongols. However, all the original teachings of Zarathushtra (called Gathas, which literally means "songs") have survived because they were memorized by each generation of Zoroastrian Priests and transmitted orally from one generation to the next, for thousands of years.
Prior to Zarathushtra, the Indo-Iranians used to worship many Gods, called Ahuras in Avestan and Asuras in Vedic Sanskrit. Both words come from the root Asu, which means vital force or the life giving force. Zarathushtra taught that there is only one God whom he called Ahura Mazda or Mazda Ahura. Since Mazda means the wise one, many scholars have translated the term Ahura Mazda as Lord of Wisdom.
The Gathas contain about 6000 words and are incorporated into 17 chapters,
called hâitis. These 17 hâitis contain 241 verses. Almost two thousand years
after Zarathushtra, the 17 haitis of the Gathas were compiled into 5 parts and
each part was named after its opening word. The names of the 5 Gathas are:
(1) Ahunavaiti Gatha, the song containing the Ahuna Vairya (a prayer)
(2) Ushtavaiti Gatha, the song containing wishes
(3) Spentamainyu Gatha, the song of the Life-giving Inspiration
(4) Vohukhshathra Gatha, the song of the Good Command
(5) Vahishtoishti Gatha, the song of the Best Ritual.
Each of the 5 Gathas, as we know them today, starts with a Khshnuman, an
introduction, composed in Pahalavi language, and also ends with a few additional
sections in Pahalavi. In the first Ahunavaiti Gatha, Zarathushtra starts his
prayers with the words:
In humble adoration, with hands outstretched I pray to You, O Mazda!
Three paragraphs in the Atash Nyaish prayer, a liturgy to Fire, are from the
Ahunavaiti Gatha and the first paragraph starts with the words:
The first paragraph of the Kemna Mazda, recited during the Kusti prayer, is
from the 2nd Ushtavaiti Gatha. It starts with the words:
In the 5th Gatha, Zarathushtra addresses her youngest daughter Pourachista during her marriage and tells her to be dedicated to the divine law of Asha and lead a life of righteousness.
A dialect is a regional and temporal variation of a language. The Gathas, composed in Older (or Gathic) Avestan, have a dialect that is different to the prayers composed in Younger Avestan. The difference between Gathic and Younger Avestan is similar to what we notice today between British English and American English and, the Gujerati language spoken by the Parsis as compared to the Shuddh Gujerati spoken by the people of Gujerat in India.
Over the centuries as more prayers were composed, the 5 Gathas were made part of a longer prayer called the Yasna, which means Reverence or Veneration. The Yasna is one of the longest prayers in the Avesta and has 72 haitis. The kusti is made of 72 threads to represent the 72 haitis of the Yasna. The Parsis call the Yasna, Ijashne, and this ceremony is performed practically every day in Atash Behrams and Agairies.
Of the 72 haitis of the Yasna prayer, Haitis 1 to 27 are in Younger Avestan language. These prayers are not in poetic but in prose form and were not composed by Zarathushtra but hundreds of years later by others, most likely by priests of that era. Haitis 28 to 34 contain the first Gatha of Zarathushtra, Haitis 35 to 41 contain a prayer called the Haptanghâiti and Haiti 42 has a prayer called Yanghe Hatam, Both of these prayers are also in Older Avestan. Haitis 43-51 contain Gathas 2, 3 and 4 composed by Zarathushtra, Haiti 52 is another prayer, Haiti 53 contains the 5th Gatha of Zarathushtra and Haiti 54 has a prayer called Airyama Isho. Haitis 55 to 72 are in Younger Avestan language and prose form and were not composed by Zarathushtra.
The prayers in Haitis 28 to 54, in Older Avestan, are called Staota Yasna, which means words of Praise and Wisdom. The Stoata Yasna includes the 5 Gathas of Zarathushtra, the Yatha, Ashem, Yenghe Hatam, Airyama Isho and the Haptanghâitighâiti prayers. The rest of the Haitis and the other prayers in Avesta are in Younger Avestan since they were composed several centuries after Zarathushtra's time.
Yasna Haptanghâiti, the Yasna of Seven Chapters, Haitis 35 to 41, is in Older Avestan and was perhaps composed by one or more of Zarathushtra's close companions. Yasna Haptanghâiti has short songs of prayers and has been given the second highest position (after the Gathas) in the Avesta. It is between the Five Gathas of Zarathushtra, inside which it has been allotted a placid place. According to Dr. Almut Hintze, Lecturer in Zoaroastrianism at SOAS, UK, Yasna Haptanghâiti is a poetic text like the Gathas. While the poetic form of the Gathas is governed by the rhythm of the syllables, that of Haptanghâiti is governed by the rhythm of the words. In this prayer, the following three terms appear for the first time, Amesha Spentas (Bounteous Immortals), Yazamaidi (Bless) and Fravashi (active presence of Ahura Mazda in every being).
A paragraph from Haptanghâiti is recited during the flower ritual in the Jashan ceremony, and its words are:
We revere Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds
done and to be done,
Now and henceforth.
We are, accordingly, the praisers
And invokers of all that is good.
(Haptanghâiti: Yasna 35-2)
The Haptanghâiti prayer tells us that we, Humans are responsible for what we have done in the past and for what we will do in the future and we esteem all that is good in the Divine Creation.
The words of this prayers are:
The meaning of the prayer is:
Indeed Mazda Ahura, the Wise God, knows all the righteousness people i.e. persons who serve the living world in which we all live. We, on our part, venerate all such men and women.
This prayer which appears for the first time in Yasna 4-26 is repeated
several times at the end of many haitis. In the 'Vohukhshathra' Gatha, Yasna
51-62, Asho Zarathushtra praises such persons in almost the same words:
"Mazda Ahura knoweth among all that have been and are, as one to whom in accordance with Right the best portion falls for his prayer, these will I reverence by their own names and go before them with honor" (Translation by Dr. Irach J.S. Taraporewala).
This extraordinary love and respect shown by Zarathushtra initiated the beautiful tradition of commemorating outstanding men and women for their services on the Farvardegân or Muktâd, at the end of the year. The Farvardin Yasht, an early post-Gathic text in the Avesta, venerates the names of some 250 men and women who joined Asho Zarathushtra in his divine mission and served the cause of the Good Religion during the initial period of its establishment. It also venerates the 'conviction' in the Good Religion of all men and women of the world.
Other prayers composed in Younger Avestan, several centuries after
Zarthushtra, are the Visperad, Vendidad and Yashts.
This is a prayer in praise of all spiritual leaders (vispeh-Ratu) and is recited during thanksgiving ceremonies and feasts during the Gahambars. Vispered has 23 fragards, a later Pahlavi term meaning “chapter,” and approximately 4,000 words.
Yashts (The Revered)
These prayers in Younger Avestan are either fully poetical or prose-poetry pieces in praise of divinities worthy of worship (Yazatas). They were composed around 7th or 6th century BCE i.e. about 2700 years ago. There are 23 Yashts and a few of these are in honour of Ahura Mazda and certain Gathic concepts such as Sraosha and Ashi, which were personified. Many Yashts are in honour of pre-Zarathushtrian Aryan divinities, such as the water diety Anahita, plant deity Haoma, contract diety Mithra, sun diety Hvare, rain diety Tishtrya, victory diety Verethraghna, and wind diety Vayu. These and a few others were reintroduced into the religion under the new term of yazatas (venerable). The Yashts have a total of about 35,800 words.
Vendidad (Vi-Daeva Dâta)
The Vendidad (Law against the Daevas [evil deities]) has mostly rules and regulations governing pollution and purification. This composition in Younger Avestan dates back to the 3rd or 4th century BCE. Originally intended as a guide for priesthood, agriculturists and pastoralists, it had its major redaction under Khusrow I Anoshiravan of the Sassasian Dynasty. It has a total of 24 fragards (chapters) with a few chapters on legends, history, geography, and animals, and a total of 19,000 words.
Herbadistan and Nirangistan.
These books for Priests and Rites, guide people in learning to become a priest and in performing and/or leading rituals. The contents show that the books were compiled at an early age when the Staota Yesnya constituted the only “canon” and rituals were not fully institutionalized. The two as twins have, in their salvaged shape, 17 brief parts and approximately 3,000 words. They have an elaborate Pahlavi commentary which reflects the gradual ascendancy of the hereditary priestly class.
The Pahalavi language probably started during the Parthian period in the 2nd century BCE and was further developed during the Sassanian times in the 3rd century CE and had an alphabet of only 14 letters. The priests of that time started to write the Avestan prayers for the very first time in the Pahalavi script. The priests did a word-to-word translation of the Avestan prayers into Pahalavi because by that time the Avestan language was hardly understood. But a word-to-word translation cannot clearly express the meaning of the original texts, so the priests also wrote down explanations and commentaries of all the Avestan text. This interpretation of the Avesta is called the Zand. The words Zand and Avesta were spoken in one phrase called Zand-Avesta and many authors referred to our religious book as Zand-Avesta. However, the correct term for our religious book is the Avesta.
Since Pahalavi had only 14 letters it was extremely difficult to transliterate the Avestan prayers, so after a few centuries, somewhere in the 6th century CE, the Avestan alphabet was invented. This alphabet had 46 letters and all prayers were now transcribed into the Avestan script. Many new prayers composed in Pahalavi language were also written down in Avestan script, which was much easier to write than the ambiguous Pahalavi script. This combination of writing one spoken language, the Pahalavi language, into the script of another language, the Avestan script, is called Pazand. So Pazend is not a language for it has neither the grammer, nor the phonology, morphology or syntax of its own. Just for the sake of convenience, Pazend continues to be referred as a language.
After the invention of the Avestan Script the Persian priests recorded, in the late Sassanian Period, every surviving Avestan text and formed the Great Avesta. This was compiled into 21 nasks (books) to correspond to the 21 words of the Ahunavar (Yatha Ahu Vairyo) prayer. Copies of these books were placed in the fire temples, libraries and treasuries but during the Islamic reign were destroyed through successive conquests by Arabs, Turks and Mongols and not a single copy survived. We only know of its existence from a later book, called the Denkard.
The Pahalavi texts form an important link between early Zoroastrian thought and its subsequent development through ages. Among these are:
It was composed in the 4th century CE and gives an account of the life and times of the legendary (fictitious) Peshdadian and Kayanian dynasties. This book was transcribed by four Zoroastrian priests into Arabic in the 10th century and became the source of Firdausi’s epic the Shahaname (975 to 1010 CE).
Bundahishn meaning creation, deals with cosmology (purpose of the universe) but also with the nature of the divine beings and legendary history of ancient Iranians. It was compiled in the 6th century CE.
Zandaspram deals with similar subjects and also includes legends regarding Zarathushtra and his family, the nature of the evil spirit and the renovation of the world at the end of time. It was compiled in the 9th century CE.
Denkard (Acts of Religion)
This is the longest Pahalavi work, contains very diverse material and also a list of the 21 books of the Great Avesta. It was compiled in the 9th century CE.
Khordeh Avesta (Smaller Avesta)
This is the popular book of daily prayers and has selected prayers from the nasks of the Great Avesta. It is believed to have been compiled by the Head Priest, Ardubad Maharaspand, of the Sassanian era. Its gradual popularity, especially among the laity, has made it the only prayer book so much so that many of the faithful believe it to be the Avesta as revealed by Zarathushtra! Originally consisting of no more than 4,000 words, it may, in its augmented editions, contain as many as 20,000 words. It is, indeed, a very non-Gathic selection from the Great Avesta for all it has are 183 words from the Gathas of 6,000 words. Ashem Vohu and Yatha Ahu are repeated so often that one loses their dynamic, thought-provoking message. Moreover, Khordeh Avesta has many of its Avestan prayers supplemented by late Middle Persian pieces. It is, therefore, a bilingual prayer book and of a recent compilation.
From the 15th to the 18th centuries Irani and Parsi priets corresponded sporadically on matters of religious rituals. The Iranis answers to Parsi queries are preserved as Rivayets (Rules and Regulations).
From the mid-19th century there is considerable Parsi literature in Gujerati and English concerned with doctrines and observances. Many Parsi works are influenced by Hindu, Occult and Theosophical teachings.
So what should we pray? Should we only pray the Gathas that were composed by Zarathushtra or should we pray the Yashts, Nyaishes and Gahas composed by others? Some Parsis say that the recitation of the Avesta prayers create electromagnetic vibrations; but, sound waves are not electromagnetic. Others say that it is important to understand the meaning of our prayers and then there are those who say that the rituals performed during the prayers are the most important. We can derive immense spiritual satisfaction by praying but it really does not matter what we pray, when we pray, and where we pray. Thinking good thoughts is a prayer, speaking good and kind words is a prayer and the most important part is performing good deeds for our family, for our community, for our nation, and for humanity at large.
When we have difficulties we pray to Ahura Mazda but we do not realize that Ahara Mazda has gifted us with certain potentialities that can be used to overcome every type of adversity. Take for example the first paragraph of kęm-nâ mazdâ prayer which is recited during the kusti ritual. It is from the Ushtavaiti Gatha (Yasna 46-7) of Zarathushtra:
When we are faced with difficulty we usually turn to Ahura Mazda for help. But the kęm-nâ mazdâ prayer tells us that Mazda has already granted us two potentialities: âthrascâ, the Divine Fire which gives light, warmth, and strength to our spirit, and mananghascâ, a Good Mind which makes us think clearly. One lights the way and the other makes us think of a stragegy that would lead us to safety. The two potentialities give us confidence to perform good acts that serve Ahura Mazda and the creations. The prayer teaches us to have faith and think bright for "God helps those who help themselves."
However, faith cannot be blind. In the Ahunavaiti Gatha Yasna 30.2 Zarathushtra tells us to listen with our ears to what he has to say and to reflect, contemplate, ponder on his teachings with an open, illumined mind. Only after we have convinced ourselves of the truth in his teachings should we choose to follow Him.
So we don’t have to blindly follow what someone says until we have convinced ourselves that the person is telling the truth. For example, if we are told that in order to achieve something all we have to do is just pray, then, we can keep praying till eternity but we won’t be able to achieve our goals. Prayers help us to realize the divinity that resides in us but we must accomplish with our body, mind and soul the goals that we establish. We must not simply recite a prayer without contemplating and meditating on it. Mere murmuring of a few formulas or performing rituals without any devotion or reverence are not true prayers. Every time we perform the Kusti we tie the knot on the word shayaothananam, of the Yatha Vairyo prayer. The word shayaothananam means work and action and it reminds us that we have to use our energy and mind to be progressive, creative, constructive, and promote Asha, the right order of the cosmos.
Our mission in this life is not to acquire fame or fortune or be selfish and not bother with the rest of the world. Our purpose in this life is to promote ASHA, which is Truth and Righteousness. Asha also represents social truth, scientific truth, spiritual truth and philosophical truth. By following the path of Asha, the path of Ashoi, the path of Ashem we will not only bring happiness to ourselves, but also to the present generation and to the generations to come.