Religions: Zoroastrianism

Avestan Geography: some topographical aspects


By: Farrokh Jal Vajifdar

Research fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society

CAIS at SOAS Lecture - 1998


As known to the ancient Indo-Iranian world, geography was a compilation of myth, legend, reminiscence and actuality. For the Avestan people, i.e., those who lay claim to Avestic texts as the basis of their religion, culture field and value system, their geography resided inviolate amidst their sacred literature and commentaries. To this heady mix we shall add a little mythico-history to enliven our narrative. Our purpose is, of course, entirely serious.

The earliest document from the ancient Iranian world is the group of sixteen hymns of the Philosopher-Prophet Zarathushtra of the Spitama clan. This small collection, known as the Gāthās, divulges the barest view of the world known to him and his venerable tradition. There he refers to the būmyĺ haptaiθē: the seven climes or continents of the earth (Yasna 32.3c). He did not feel it necessary to enlighten us further, for he was concerned not so much with physical geography but with the mapping of the human psyche. He does, however, mention a distinguished personage from Indo-Iranian lore in a less than complimentary manner -- Yimā, the Indic Yamā, Pahlavi Jam, modern Persian Jamshid, the ruler of the entire world. (The reason for Zarathushtra's less than flattering reference to Yimā does not concern us here, but we will retain this proto-historic figure for a while yet). The text may be dated from the 7th century BCE at the latest.

Yimā surfaces in all his glory (the term is used here advisedly!) in the later Avestic text of the Vīaēvo.dāta, commonly known, as the Vendīdād. What he does there is of interest for the most ancient period of Avestan geography. He is the central figure, indeed the causator of the Golden Age of mankind. Under his beneficent rule the entire world prospered without sickness or death. In these idyllic conditions both mankind and livestock flourished and proliferated so much so that he had to provide more living space for these burgeoning populations. Starting out from what mythico-geography would have us believe are the north temperate regions of southern Russia, Yimā struck out southwards, ever towards the noonday sun, expanding the habitable earth by three thirdly instalments. The frame story is in the Vendidād's second chapter. As to what regionally constituted at least part of those three thirds, we move back to its first chapter where sixteen lands are painstakingly enumerated by Ahura Mazda to an enthusiastic Zarathushtra. We shall not attempt a reassessment, of the work of generations of brilliant scholars who have so bravely tackled this very difficult chapter. There can be little doubt that most of these lands can be located onto present-day maps, but some still elude identification.

The search for the Urheimat or original homeland of the Aryan peoples is thought to be a chimerical exercise. One has to locate Airyana Vaējō, thought to mean Aryan living-space, in connexion with the River Veh-dāitya or River of the Good Law/Religion. These sparse indications lead us to, some vague formulations: south central Russia, south Siberia, the western steppes and north-eastern Europe. The Indians would have us look no further than the northern areas of the subcontinent itself from where, they firmly but unconvincingly maintain, the original Aryans spread out northwards and westwards. The climate indications were severe -- ten months of winter with its attendant discomforts, and two summer months. Was this from some ancient reminiscence? Did it hark back to an emergence from a post-glacial era? The Yimā story ends with the construction of a subterranean shelter designed to protect the best of mankind and every f it living species from the onslaught of a terrible hundred-year freeze which, could reflect such a climatic catastrophe. It will be recalled that the Old Testament account of the world-consuming Flood (Genesis, 68), common also to other Near East cultures, is considered to be the aftermath of the last glacial period when the memory of the harshest climatic conditions were retained in human recollection. Yimā thereafter disappears from view.

The exact extent of the habitable lands was unknown to the early Avestan geographers, and certainly the traditional oral transmission of the ancient texts left room for emendations, transpositions, additions and removals of various place names over the generations. Of the sixteen lands which today may be identified with any certainty, ten may be assured with reference to satrapal lists of the Achaemenians, and their equivalents in the works of Greek geographers. The Zoroastrians are interested in the main with places and regions which hold religious significance with somewhat tenuous historical connections to back up universalist claims. The number seven has a long held magicomystical fascination for all Near Eastern peoples and the Zoroastrian world-view embraces it in the number of the (so-called) archangels, the planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Dark Sun and Dark Moon), and the continents or climes.

These seven continents are conceived as a hexad arranged around the central clime of Xvanīrāθa (Pahlavi Xwaniras). Commencing clockwise from the Eastern clime of Arzah, there are the South-eastern Fradadafš , the South-western Wīdadafš, the Western Sāwah, the North-western Wōrūbaršt, and the North-eastern Wōrūjaršt. The very important calendrical chapter in the Bundahišn, a 9th/10th century CE Pahlavi text, has transposed E and W, making Sāvah the eastern clime and Arzah the western. This illustrates our point about the switching or transference of vague toponyms.

From the concentric arrangement of continents we proceed to the shape of the earth as visualized by the Avestan peoples. This speaker/writer finds it difficult to understand why scholarly opinions lend themselves to a flat earth theory for the ancient Iranians. Their schematic arrangement shows a central massif from which flow the two easterly and westerly rivers, the whole founded upon a saucer-shaped terrain ringed by impenetrable mountain chains -- a facile set of notions based upon a quite tendentious reading of the textual evidence. Our 9th/10th century CE Pahlavi texts contain some clear references to a spherical earth around which the sky equidistantly extends all around. The priestly brothers Manuščihr (modern Persian Manouchehr) and Zādspram, both theologians, had no difficulty with the Avestic sources on which they had based their teachings and commentaries, The former (Dādestān-i Dēnīg, 90) believed the sky to be round and wide and high and its interior, within which our earth is placed, is equally extended like an egg! This egg-shape, xāyag-dēs, is utilized also by Zādspram ( Vizīdagīhā, 34.20) who is most explicit: ud dudīgar ka-m zamī-g vīnārd miyānag ī āsmān ka ō kadār-iz-ē nēmag nē nazdīktar būd homānāgīh ī zardag ī xāyag miyān ī xāyag -- "and secondly when I fixed the earth in the middle of the sky such that no side of it was closer, like the yolk of an egg within its centre". That sky, also spherical, is outlined with precision in the Bundahišn or Book of Primal Creation as having its width equal to its length, its length to its height and its height to its depth, all wholly equal (ch.I.43).

From the Indo-Iranian, if not Indo-European, period it was postulated that a stone sky vaulted this saucershaped earth, whereas the indications point to a diamantine or even ruby (the dawn), or steely sky over-arching an earth with mountain-ringed (curved) horizons. The Bundahišn, IX.6. speaks of ausandan kof i ān az xwan-ahēn kē gohr i asmān... Certainly the idea of a central clime or inhabitable region would have suggested itself to a populace whose means of travel and communication were hampered by some very inhospitable terrain of deserts, marshes and forests with formidable mountain chains straddling the far horizons all around. These physical difficulties posed by the natural barriers gave rise to the myth of the prohibition of travel across to the surrounding continents whose peoples, if any, were hostile to those of this central region. Thence came the “saucer".

These people were certainly known to exist, as is evidenced in the Fravardin Yašt, §§2.1,. 37 and 38; in §§143-144 are listed the inhabitants of all the known lands as well as from those unnamed regions. The Vendidād lands-list has been equated with modern-day locations to the east and north-east of Iran proper. That work has been convincingly dealt with by the percipient Italian scholar Gherardo Gnoli in a book which has every sound claim to becoming a modern classic -- his Zoroaster's Time and Homeland. Some of the non-Aryan peoples named in the Fravardin Yašt are the Turanians, the Sairimians, the Sainians and the Dahians. But were these necessarily those who lived in the continents beyond the bounds of the central, Aryan, one of Xvanirāθa?

Two geographical entities call for attention here. One is the very last land, the sixteenth from the Vendīdād's first chapter: Raηha. Gnoli has tentatively suggested the region south of the confluence of the Kabul and Indus rivers, and who is to say he cannot be right? An alternative does, however, suggest itself -- one quite dramatic, and it is necessary that a story be woven from the disconnected strands of information which may be teased out from our Avestic texts -- specifically the Ābān Yašt, the Hymn of Praise to the goddess of the Waters, and the Vendīdād.

Let our story have an anti-hero, one Paurva or Parva, described (§61) as vifra navāza, or wave-tossed navigator.. This is therefore a sailor's yarn which may well stretch belief, but one which will bear close attention if we are to elicit our promised topographical result:

Paurva was an explorer and navigator, an indefatigable traveller. In the course of his journeys he encountered the cult hero θraētaona (the later Persian Freydoun), smiter of demonic forces and the first physician and healer. Paurva somehow managed to upset this demon-smiter (in Zoroastrianism all demon-smiters are by definition heroes) who, through his magical powers, changed the unfortunate traveller into a vulture, flung him into the upper atmosphere, and set him speeding towards his house a full three day-and-nights' flying time journey. The terrified Paurva, unable to control or quit his enforced trajectory, called out to the goddess of the Waters, Anāhitā, for help in ending his nightmarish travel and bring him safely down onto terra firma before his house on the banks of the river Raηha -- for that was where he resided when not on his travels. Of course, all invoked divine beings expect compensation for their intervention by certain set sacrifices, and Paurva, still hurtling along helplessly, promised her in return a thousand ritually prepared libations in her honour. She hastened to his assistance, and seizing him by the arm, arrested his involuntary headlong flight and brought him safely to earth, alighting just outside his house, precisely on the bank of the river Raηha. The grateful and relieved Paurva promptly set about fulfilling his vow, and the whole nerve-racking episode was thereupon happily concluded.

This Yašt to Ābān, in praise of the goddess Anāhitā, is at some pains to describe her person adequately and with dignity. Among such descriptions (§§7, 64, 78 and 126-129) we find one, of crucial importance to our argument, of her haute couture: "She is clothed with garments of beaver ... with the skins of thirty beavers which each have borne four young, for those are the finest kinds of beaver skins ... which when timely worked present to the eye the glistening resplendence of silver and gold." Point one to be retained.

Point two: θraētaona was born in Varena, the fourteenth land of Vendīdād I, §18, which recent scholarship has located in the Upper Indus valley. His terrified victim Paurva was resident on the banks of the Raηha, a. full three days', and nights', distance -- as the vulture flies. If, as Gnoli suggests, Raηha is in the present-day Kohat and Peshawar region of the North-West Frontier Province (Pakistan), then this distance would suggest a much more far-away place than the adjacent Varena to its north. The ancient name of the Volga River was Rha (Cf. E.H. Minns, Scythians and Greeks, 1913, Index I.11 n.l, 30 n.1), known even today as Rau to the Finns. In Vedic Sanskrit rasa is also "the flowing one" when applied to a river name, both mythical and historical (Gnoli, o.c., p.52), but where should this be located?

We are presented with a further hint in the very late Avestic text, Āfrīn Paiγambar Zartūšt (its Pahlavi title), "Benediction of Prophet Zartūšt", which includes "Mayest thou be able to reach the Rangha, whose shores lie afar, as Vafra Navāza was! " and translated from the Vīštāsp Yašt as " Mayest thou have strength to reach the Rangha, whose way lies afar, as Vafra Navāza did". Plainly the memories of the river in question was one with a many channelled wide delta which hardly conforms to the narrower tributaries debauching into the Upper Indus of northern Pakistan. The present-day Volga empties itself into the Caspian through several dozen channels forming its one hundred mile (150Km) wide delta mouth.

 The goddess Anāhita comes to our rescue also. This time it is her wardrobe. The distinguished French archaeologist Roman Ghirshman has pointed out that the beaver (Avestic bawra-) never existed on the Oxus and Yaxartes rivers with which our river goddess was specially associated, but on the Volga, the ancient Rha. The early Iranian composers of the Yašt to Anāhita would have encountered this vegetarian amphibian there and, in turn, our intrepid explorer kept his part of the solemn bargain on its banks and duly offered up the thousand stipulated libations. The Oxus and Yaxartes rivers, respectively the Amu and Syr Daryas, or, also the Jeyhun/Jīhūn and Seyhun/Sīhūn, empty into the land-locked Ara1 Sea. More about their physical characteristics shortly.

The mighty Volga debauches into the north-west Caspian Sea. To the ancient Iranians this vast inland lake was known as the zraya vour.Kaša, understood to mean "Sea of Wide Bays" which indeed the Caspian encloses. Two of these features are of, immediate interest to us: imagine the Caspian's configuration like a swollen and rounded letter F. To the right of the lower part of the vertical spreads Balkhan Bay which, like the rest of that sea's surface is today some 26 metres or 85 feet below Mean Sea Level. During former times a sizeable branch of the Oxus had shunned the Aral Sea and flowed westwards along the Uzboi and into the Caspian through this Balkhan Bay, In much earlier times the Caspian's surface stood higher and the exposed low-lying areas to the north and east were beneath that level.

Also on the eastern coastline and to the north of the Balkhan lies a most curious feature -- the Kara-boghaz Gol or Black Maw Gulf, which is separated from the Caspian by a narrow sand bar. An inlet of from 100 to 150 metres lets in the waters of the parent sea to fill this shallow (10m or 35ft maximum depth) gulf. The curiosity lies in the fact that the level of the water in the Kara-boghaz is maintained at some 4 metres (13ft. ) below the Caspian, Since this gulf has no outlet, the level difference can only be explained by the extremely rapid rate of evaporation which exceeds the- rate of inflow from the Caspian through the above-mentioned 100-metre wide strait. The bleakly inhospitable terrain, swept by the desiccating north-easterly gales which blow from the Kara-kum or Black Sands desert does not support life; the waters edge within this greedy gulf is lined in winter with the white incrustation of crystalline mirabilite (sodium sulphate decahydrate), which contrasts sharply with the leaden grey of the surface, whose concentrated salinity of some 35% ensures an absence of marine life. The point of interest to us is that, in combination with the hydrogen sulphide present, the dead water emits a steady sulphurous stench. Why this should hold any interest would now be made clear with reference to the Avestic Vendīdād and a backward glance at the Abān Yašt where we had earlier sympathised with the errant Paurva.

Chapters 5-12 of the Vendīdād deal with the disposal of the dead and the pollution arising from contact with nasu or dead matter. In Zoroastrianism, the most expeditious, hygienic, and therefore the safest, method was exposure to the elements and rapacious birds within purpose-built enclosures which isolated corpses from earth, water and fire.

This last element was considered most sacred to the followers of Zarathushtra, and there could be no question of this divinely endowed element being put to the demonic use of cremation of physical remains. The enclosures to which these earthly remains are taken and laid out for exposure and dissolution are called dakhma-s. In chapter 5, Zarathushtra asks Ahura Mazda, the supreme and unique deity, all manner of questions relating to the disposal of the dead §§15-20 deals with Zarathushtra's concern over rainwater which sheds itself over dead remains, its contamination and how it is purified before returning to the sea. Ahura Mazda's response is instructive for our argument that the sea in question is the Caspian (zraya vouru-kaša) and that the purifying sea is in fact the Kara-boghaz. The mythologisers had before them the model of this forbidding sea and its parent when composing this interlocution. Here we offer a paraphrase:

Z.: Is it true that you send down the rainwaters from the vouru-kaša sea with the wind and clouds? That you make them rain over the unclean remains in the dakhma-s? That you thereafter make them flow back unseen [subterranean flow], back to the sea Pūītika [zrauō pūitikєm]?

[Pūītika has been consistently translated to mean "the cleansing one", we here propose the meaning of stench-laden or "the stinking one", basing ourselves on the √pu-, "to become foul; to stink", whence the Pahlavi pūtag, "foul; rotten; stinking". and our English putrid, putrefy, the French puer, puant, from the Latin pūtor, pūtōris. We shall justify our very divergent reading with reference to the continuing dialogue].

A. M. : You are very right, Z. , I do so send such waters down! I make them fall upon the corpses in the dakhma-s; thereafter I cause them to flow back unseen to the Sea Pūītika where the still waters in its middle boil up and., when cleansed, they flow back to the Vouru-kaša Sea ….”.

The dialogue on this topic ends here. In the 9th/10th century Pahlavi geographical sections of the Bundahišn is a description of the Sea Pūītika (ch. 10) among the three main salty seas which later without further explanation was confidently equated with the Persian Gulf. Our encyclopaedic text, however, suggests a very different location, and does so with some precision: it has a flow and ebb (tidal? seasonal?); it is on the same side as the wide-formed ocean/large sea to which it is joined! (The Bundahišn compilers would have relied on the memory, of an early Caspian geography viewed from the east or southeast)

It further elaborates: on the Pūdīg (Pūītika) side lies the Satavēs enclosure (var i sadwēs) , the earlier mentioned Balkhan. Now we see the character of the Pūītika derived from observation -- the stench-laden wind from its intense saltiness [35% measured in the summer!] is driven by an easterly wind [from the Kara Kum desert] towards the expanse of the wide-formed (parent) sea over which, purified and cleansed, it falls back, From there [i.e., from the Caspian] it flows back a second time to the Pūdīg! The process of vapour circulation becomes quite clear, and the wind and weather patterns even today would repeat this cycle. The Zoroastrian priestly authors, faithfully adhering to this ancient physical geography would, over the millennium and a half, have transposed it to the level of a mythico-geography which was made to corroborate their religious perspectives. (Well after this speaker/writer had formulated his theory, he was most gratified to discover that the learned annotators of a century ago had themselves, in the course of time, shifted their earlier suggested location from the southern Persian Gulf regions to the Caspian in the north without fully realizing the justice and accuracy of their later modifications.).

And what of Paurva? We enlist his aid in assembling an essential tailpiece to our Pūītika story. It used to be thought that the Oxus flowed into the Caspian along the Sarykamish depression which until very recently still carried the surplus water of the Uzboi. This was when the level of the Caspian stood much higher than it is today. Palaeo-geography has indicated this as. the break-up of the surface mass of the vast Sarmatic "ocean" which had once submerged the extensive terrain of what is modern-day Kazakhstan and the south Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. The rate of flow of the Oxus/Amu Darya too was greater; the combination of decreased flow and increased demands for irrigation of the oases settlements with fertile sedimented soil along its banks, had resulted in the diverting of the main courses towards the Aral Sea. (Today the much depleted volume of Oxus water caused by the general dessication of Central Asia coupled with irrigational demands made upon it, ensures that the weakened flow along the water courses barely reaches the greatly shrunken Aral Sea) . Additionally it is noted that the lower Oxus water-course has steadily shifted its direction towards the north-east, just as the other great river, the Yaxartes/Syr Darya, swings towards the south-west. Both still struggle to enter the depleted Aral basin.

It used to be thought that the Oxus last flowed into the Caspian in the late Holocene period. It has been proven that in fact it last followed that westerly route between the 13th and 16th centuries of our Common Era. Similar earlier switches of outflow probably occurred in the mythical times of our ancient traveller Paurva who,. when traversing the Uzboi water-course, following the line of infrequent wells and rain-water pools in the, Sarykamish, may have uncharacteristically lost his way and stumbled upon the south-west shore-line of the Pūītika/Kara-boghaz. The utter desolation of its jagged escarpments and abrupt declivities, coupled with the eerie nature of the stenchladen lifeless water expanse could have generated yet another explorer's tale of terror and fortitude. Just the sort of adventure story with which to regale his anxiously awaiting fellows by the banks of the mighty Raηha/Volga. We have worked Paurva perhaps a little too hard in the course of this paper, and it is only too right that we release the tired old wanderer into the pious memories of the priestly composers of the Ābān Yašt -- the Hymn of Praise to the mighty goddess of the Waters, the revered Ardvī Sūra Anāhīta.
It is time to speak of Fire-temples. The three great Fire-temples of antiquity were each dedicated to one of the three divisions of ancient Iranian tripartite society. Thus for the priests there existed the Ādar-xwarrah/Farrbay, for the warriors the Ādar-gušnasp, and for the commonly occupied the Ādar-burzēnmihr. We shall here concentrate upon the chief Fire of the social class of the royalty and the warriors -- for that is the only one of the three whose location is assured. The sacrality of the site identified for it was suggested from old by its unusual environment. The Sasanians had certainly built grandly there, but it had been a sacred precinct for the Parthian and Achaemenid kings before them. In this paper one can only summarise some salient points from the short but well-illustrated chapter by Georgina Herrmann in her excellent survey, The Iranian Revival (1977), dealing with the Parthian and Sasanian periods whose careful study is much recommended.

The Fire-temple complex was located on the north side of an unusual water feature -- a lake, thought to be bottomless, formed by upwelling mineral waters in an area long known for geothermic and seismic activity. Known popularly today as the Takht-i Sulaiman (Solomon's Throne), and in Sasanian times as Shiz/Ganzak, it is an area of great archaeological interest and an austere beauty. For the Zoroastrians the interest is again religious, for Fire and its physical House -- wherever located, form the focus of worship. The Takht long ceased to be of religious importance since the advent of Islam, but the ancient sacred texts and their commentaries require a revisitation.

The peculiarity of the lake lies in the deposit of its mineral content along its sides which are like some stony basin with 40-metre (1 30 ft. ) sheer drops. Its over flow has in turn carved out stony runnels down the sides of the hill upon which the vast site is impressively built. Whilst the ground-plan may be faithfully reconstructed, the destruction of the stone buildings and re-use of its materials for on-the-spot or nearby squatter housing leaves many an architectural puzzle still to be satisfactorily solved. Systematic work on the site stopped over twenty years ago and the present state of research, if any, is not known to this writer. What does bear comment, however, is that whilst the locations of the Fires of the Priests and of the Peasants have been lost to us, this Ādar-gušnasp site has been authenticated by the discovery of clay labels impressed with seals confirming it was truly the Royal Fire of the Sasanians. The nearby shrine at the Zendan-i Sulaiman (Solomon's Prison) located beside a volcanic cone had also contained a lake of mineral-rich waters which long since had burst through its stony container and emptied itself over its sides. Natural phenomena when thus displayed always attracted a mystery around them.. and for the resurfaced nature worship of the Zoroastrians these would have become the centres for worshipful pilgrimages. Here Spandarmad and Anahita may have been the foci for common veneration.

From the rediscovery in modern times of a major Fire-temple, we move to a site far removed from Median Adharbaijan -- where a Fire-temple had once existed and whose memory is perpetuated through legend and epic narrative. In Khorasan, the region of the East, claim was made that Zarathushtra/Zardūšt had converted his first royal patron Vištāspa there, at Kashmar or Kishmar in the district of Turshīz. The story is best told by the immortal Ferdowsi who had learned of it from earlier Persian and Arabic authors and repeated by later ones (e.g. Mustauf i, Kazvini, as-Sami , in the Burhān-i Qāt’, the Farhang-i Jahangiri and the Dabistan). To commemorate this glorious event, the zealous disseminator of the new faith had a Fire-temple consecrated and, further, planted a cypress tree near it. The location of this richly endowed Fire-temple with its marvellous tree became the focus of great reverence: indeed it obtained grand status as the site of the Burzīn-Mihr Fire of the commoners. At Kashmar, then, this tree gained height and girth to legendary proportions, and a pairi-daeza or enclosed park was created around it. This hugely impressive cypress or sarv-e Kašmar was ordered to be cut down by the Abbasid Khalifa al-Mutawakkil so as to destroy the especial sanctity it lent to the religion of the Gabars, as the conquering Muslims chose to insultingly refer to it. Others say that the Khalifa was anxious to see it for himself , but, unwilling to make the journey, ordered it to be cut down, sawn into transportable lengths and taken to Baghdad where he could inspect it in person. Whatever the reason, the Zoroastrian populace was horrified at this ill news, and recalled to the Khaiifa that there was an ancient prophecy that whoever would destroy that sanctified tree would himself be hewn down. Despite their collective pleas that this noble tree should not be so injured, the ruler's agents cut it down amidst great lamentation and grief of the Zoroastrians. The giant trunk and huge boughs were sawn up and transported by an enormous camel train to Baghdad in the year 861 CE. A further omen occurred at that time of destruction -- the very earth shook and the surrounding buildings were wrecked. One thousand.three hundred camels were said to have transported its remains to Baghdad; but just before it reached the Khalifa's palace, he himself was hacked to death by his own trusted servants on the instructions of his eldest son. The sacred tree was reckoned to be 1450 years of age; the miserable wretch who had ordered its dismemberment was but 50. A note should be registered to the effect that the village of Kashmar, south-west of Mashhad, though situated in a region where earthquakes are common, yet itself never suffered one until the felling of the great cypress. Of the Fire-temple itself, there is no note in the Pahlavi texts which were composed shortly after that inauspicious time, although a very striking 100ft. (30m) high 10th century minaret was still to be seen amongst the historic buildings at Kashmar in the early 1900's. Giant cypresses have been associated with the sacred sites of other Zoroastrian Fire-temples in Balkh and Abarkuh.

It is Sistan which has deep religious significance for early Zoroastrianism. There are to be found the holy lakes of Kāsaoya (Hamun-i Hilmand) and Frazdanu (Gaud-i Zirra). The Sistani traditions hold that Vištāspa was converted by Zarathushtra on the Frazdanu's shores and that the Kāsaoya keeps hidden the miraculously preserved seed of the Prophet from which the three future millennial saviours are to be born.

Reading List

H.W. Bailey, Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-century Books (Oxford 1943, repr. 1971),,

M. Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism Vols. I and II (Brill , Leiden, 1975, 1982)

The Cambridge History of Iran -- Vol.2: The Median and Achaemenian Periods (ed, Ilya Gershevitch) (C.U.P. 1985)

Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (ed. Denis Sinor, C,U.P.. Cambridge, 1990)

J. Duchesne-Guillemin, The Western Response to Zoroaster (Oxford 1958, repr. 1973)

G. Gnoli, Zoroaster's Time and Homeland (AION, Naples 1980)

W.B. Henning, Zoroaster: Politician or Witch~doctor? (Oxford 1951)

G. Herrmann, The Iranian Revival (Elsevier-Phaidon, 1977)

History of Civilizations of Central Asia -- Vol.II: The Development of sedentary and nomadic civilizations: 700 B.C. to A.D.250 (edd. J. Harmatta, B.N. Puri and G.F. Etemadi). (UNESCO Publishing, Paris, 1994)

A.V.W. Jackson, Zoroastrian Studies -- Iranian Religion and

Various Monographs (Columbia University, New York, 1928; AMS repr. 1965)
R. Kent, Old Persian: Grarnmar, Texts, Lexicon (Second Edition, American Oriental Society, New Haven, 1953)
A.T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (Chicago University Press, Chicago 1948. repr.1960 and later)
Sacred Books of the East: Vol. IV (1 887): VendTdad; Vol. XXI I I (1882): Yashts, etc. Both J. Darmesteter and both still useful. Vol.V (1880): Pahlavi Texts, incl. the shorter Bundahign. Translated by E,.W. West (with several very useful notes -- but to be used with caution!)
P. Sykes, A History of Persia -- Vol. I (3rd edition, London 1930. repr. RKP London 1969)
R.C. Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (Weidenfeld, London, 1961.





Farrokh Jal Vajifdar was born in Bombay, India, into a high priestly family. Navjoted at nine, he has settled in London since sixteen. Took no interest whatever in Zoroastrianism initially, but instead studied and taught modern languages. Converted from Parsiism to Zoroastrianism at age 19, and has not ceased studying Indo-Iranian civilizations since. Specializes in the history, languages, literatures, and religions of Ancient Iran. Writes, translates, lectures, and occasionally broadcasts on foreign and national radio and television.

Reluctant midwife to some aspiring Parsi authors, and collaborator with noted non-Zoroastrian scholars on translations, articles and books. Recent co-editor for the commemoration volume 'Mash-a dorun" ("The Fire Within') for the Iranian scholar Jamshid Soroushian, and "Orientalia Romana - 7", being essays from the World Zoroastrian Organisation's 1996 London Conference on Zoroastrian Literature. Occasional contributor to the and CAIS-SOAS websites. Categorizes himself as independent researcher.

He is a Fellow (and former Vice-President and Fellow-in-Council) of the Royal Asiatic Society, and a review contributor to its Journal. Farrokh is happily out-married to the same wife for some 39 years, having the same son for some 36 years, the cutest grand-daughter of some 16 months, and a wildly affectionate dog of some 5 years.