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Zoroastrianism (Avestan Daēnā Vañuhi the good religion)[1][2] is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings ascribed to the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra, Zartosht). Mazdaism is the religion that acknowledges the divine authority of Ahura Mazda, proclaimed by Zoroaster to be the one uncreated Creator of all (God).

As demonstrated by Zoroastrian creed and articles of faith, the two terms are effectively synonymous. In a declaration of the creed — the Fravarānē — the adherent states: "…I profess myself a devotee of Mazda, a follower of Zarathustra." (Yasna 12.2, 12.8)

Zoroastrianism was once the dominant religion of much of Greater Iran as it was first preached in Balkh, [3] a northern city of Afghanistan. As of 2007 the faith has dwindled to very small numbers; many sources suggest that it is practiced by fewer than 200,000 worldwide,[4] with its largest centers in India and Iran. However, some sources have recently revised their figures and suggest the population may still be as large as 2 million worldwide.[5]


The term "Zoroastrianism" was first attested by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1874 in Archibald Sayce Principles of Comparative Philology. The first surviving reference to Zoroaster in Western scholarship is attributed to Thomas Browne (1605-1682), who briefly refers to the prophet in his 1643 Religio Medici. The OED records 1743 (Warburton, Pope's Essay) as the earliest reference to Zoroaster.

The term "Mazdaism" (International Phonetic Alphabet: /'mæz.də.ɪz.m̩/) is a typical 19th century construct, taking Mazda- from the name Ahura Mazda and adding the suffix "ism" to suggest a belief-system. The March 2001 draft edition of the OED also records an alternate form, 'Mazdeism', perhaps derived from the French Mazdéisme, which first appeared in 1871. The Zoroastrian name of the religion is Mazdayasna, which combines Mazda- with the Avestan language word yasna meaning 'worship, devotion'.

In the English language, an adherent of the faith commonly refers to him- or herself as a 'Zoroastrian' or, less commonly, a 'Zarathustrian'. An older, but still widespread expression is Behdin, meaning "follower of Daena", for which "[Good] Religion" is one translation. In the Zoroastrian liturgy, the term Behdin is also used as a title for an individual who has been formally inducted into the religion (see navjote for details).

Basic beliefs

  1. There is one universal and transcendental God, Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated Creator and to whom all worship is ultimately directed.
  2. Ahura Mazda's creation - evident as asha, truth and order - is the antithesis of chaos, evident as dorugh, falsehood and disorder. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict (see #3 below).
  3. Active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep the chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster's concept of free will, and Zoroastrianism rejects all forms of monasticism.
  4. Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail, at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end (cf: Zoroastrian eschatology). In the final renovation, all of creation - even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to "darkness" - will be (re)united in God.
  5. In Zoroastrian tradition, the malevolent is represented by Angra Mainyu, the "Destructive Principle", while the benevolent is represented through Ahura Mazda's Amesha Spenta, the instrument or "Bounteous Principle" of the act of creation. It is through Spenta Mainyu that Ahura Mazda is immanent in humankind, and through which the Creator interacts with the world. According to Zoroastrian cosmology, in articulating the Ahuna Vairya formula, Ahura Mazda made his ultimate triumph evident to Angra Mainyu.
  6. As expressions and aspects of Creation, Ahura Mazda emanated six "sparks", the Amesha Spentas, "Bounteous Immortals" that are each the hypostasis and representative of one aspect of that Creation. These Amesha Spenta are in turn assisted by a league of lesser principles, the Yazatas, each "Worthy of Worship" and each again a hypostasis of a moral or physical aspect of Creation.


Zoroastrianism dates back to between 1700 BCE to 1000 BCE[6], but it only enters recorded history in the mid-5th century BC. Herodotus's Histories (Herodotus) (completed c. 440BC) includes a description of Greater Iranian society with what may be recognizably Zoroastrian features, including exposure of the dead. (See Towers of Silence).

Perhaps more importantly, The Histories is a primary source of information on the early period of the Achaemenid Empire (648 BCE–330 BCE), in particular with respect to the role of the Magi. According to Herodotus i.101, the "Magi" were the sixth tribe of the Medians (until the unification of the Persian empire under Cyrus the Great, all Iranians were referred to as Mede or Mada by the peoples of the Ancient World), who appear to have been the priestly caste of the Mesopotamian-influenced branch of Zoroastrianism today known as "Zurvanism", and who wielded considerable influence at the courts of the Medes emperors.

Following the unification of the Median and Persian empires in 550 BCE, Cyrus the Great and later his son Cambyses II curtailed the powers of the "Magi" after these had attempted to seed dissent following their loss of influence. In 522 BCE, the "Magi" revolted and set up a rival claimant to the throne. The usurper, pretending to be Cyrus' younger son Smerdis, took power shortly thereafter. Owing to the despotic rule of Cambyses and his long absence in Egypt, "the whole people, Persians, Medes and all the other nations," acknowledged the usurper, especially as he granted a remission of taxes for three years (Herodotus iii. 68).

File:Darius I the Great's inscription.jpg
The Behistun Inscription, carved into a cliffside, gives the same text in three languages, telling the story of Darius I of Persia conquests, with the names of twenty-three provinces subject to him. It is illustrated by life-sized carved images of King Darius with other figures in attendance.

According to the Behistun Inscription, pseudo-Smerdis ruled for seven months before being overthrown by Darius I in 521 BCE. The "Magi", though persecuted, continued to exist, and a year following the death of the first pseudo-Smerdis (named Gaumata), had a second pseudo-Smerdis (named Vahyazdāta) attempt a coup. The coup, though initially successful, failed.

Whether Cyrus II was a Zoroastrian is subject to debate. It did however influence him to the extent that it became the non-imposing religion of his empire, and its beliefs would later allow Cyrus to free the Jews from captivity (and allow them to return to Judea) when the emperor took Babylon in 539 BCE. Whether Darius I, though certainly a devotee of Ahura Mazda (as attested to several times in the Behistun inscription), was a follower of Zoroaster has not been conclusively established, since a devotion to Ahura Mazda was (at the time) not necessarily an indication of an adherence to Zoroaster's teaching.

Darius I and later Achaemenid dynasty, though acknowledging their devotion to Ahura Mazda in inscriptions, appear to have permitted religions to coexist. Nonetheless, it was during the Achaemenid period that Zoroastrianism gained momentum, and a number of the Zoroastrian texts (that today are part of the greater compendium of the Avesta) have been attributed to that period. It was also during the (later) Achaemenid era that many of the divinities and divine concepts of proto-Indo-Iranian religion(s) were incorporated in Zoroastrianism, in particular, those to whom the days of the month of the Zoroastrian calendar are dedicated. That religious calendar, which is still in use today, is itself (to some extent) an Achaemenid-era development. Those divinities, the yazatas, are present-day Zoroastrianism's angels. (Dhalla, 1938).

Almost nothing is known of the status of Zoroastrianism under the Seleucids and Parthians who ruled over Persia following Alexander the Great invasion in 330 BCE. According to later Zoroastrian legend (Denkard, Book of Arda Viraf), many of the Zoroastrian sacred texts were lost when Alexander's troops destroyed the royal library at Persepolis subsequent to the taking of the city. Diodorus Siculus Bibliotheca historia (completed c. 60 BCE), which is to a great extent an encapsulation of earlier works, appears to substantiate Zoroastrian legend (Diod. 17.72.2–17.72.6). According to one archaeological examination, the ruins of the palace of Xerxes I bear traces of having been subjected to fire (Stolze, 1882). Whether a vast collection of (semi-)religious texts "written on parchment in gold ink" as suggested by the Denkard actually existed remains a matter of speculation, but is in all likelihood untrue. Given that many of the Denkards statements-as-fact have since been established as untrue, among scholars, the tale of the library is widely accepted to be a fiction. (Kellens, 2002)

File:Schapur I.jpg
A rock relief at Naqsh-e Rostam, depicting the triumph of Shapur I over three Roman Emperors Valerian, Gordian III and Philip the Arab.

When the Sassanid dynasty came into power in 228, they aggressively promoted the Zurvanite form of Zoroastrianism and in some cases persecuted Christians and Manichaeism. When the Sassanids captured territory, they often built fire temples there to promote their religion. The Sassanids were suspicious of Christians not least because of their perceived ties to the Christian Roman Empire. Thus, those Christians loyal to the List of Patriarchs of Babylon — which had broken with Roman Christianity when the latter condemned Nestorianism — were tolerated and even sometimes favored by the Sassanids. Nestorians lived in large numbers in Mesopotamia and Khuzestan during this period.

A form of Zoroastrianism was apparently also the chief religion of pre-Christian Caucasus region, or at least was prominent there. During periods of Sassanid suzerainty over the Caucasus, the Sassanids made attempts to promote the religion there as well.

Well before the 6th century, Zoroastrianism had spread to northern China via the Silk Road, gaining official status in a number of Chinese states. Remains of Zoroastrian temples have been found in Kaifeng and Zhenjiang, and according to some scholars, Template:Fix remained as late as the 1130s, but by the 13th century the religion had faded from prominence in China. However, many scholars Template:Fix assert the influence of Zoroastrianism (as well as later Manicheism) on elements of Buddhism, especially in terms of light symbolism.

In the 7th century, the Sassanid dynasty was overthrown by the Arabs. Although some of the later rulers had Zoroastrian shrines destroyed, generally Zoroastrians were included as People of the Book and allowed to practice their religion. Mass conversions to Islam were not desired or imposed[citation needed] , in accordance with Islamic law. However, there was a slow but steady movement[citation needed] of the population of Persia toward Islam. The nobility and city-dwellers were the first to convert. Islam spread more slowly among the peasantry and the dihqans, or landed gentry. Later, the jiyza, a poll tax imposed on non-Muslims, probably accelerated the process.

Many Zoroastrians fled, among them several groups who eventually migrated to the western shores of the Indian subcontinent, where they finally settled. According to the Qissa-i Sanjan "Story of Sanjan", the only existing account of the early years of Zoroastrian refugees in India, the immigrants originated from Greater Khorasan. The descendants of those and other settlers, who are today known as the Parsis, founded the Indian cities of Sanjan (Gujarat) and Navsari, which are said to have been named after the cities of their origin: Sanjan (Khorasan) (near Merv, in present-day Turkmenistan) and the eponymous Sari (city) (in modern Mazandaran, Iran). (Kotwal, 2004)

In the centuries following the fall of the Sassanid Empire, Zoroastrianism began to gradually return to the form it had had under the Achaemenids, and no evidence of what is today called the "Zurvan Heresy" exists beyond the 10th century CE. (Boyce, 2002) Ironically, it was Zurvanism and Zurvan-influenced texts that first reached the west, leading to the supposition that Zoroastrianism was a religion with two deities: Zurvan and Ahura Mazda (the latter being opposed by Angra Mainyu).

Today, the number of Zoroastrians is significantly lower than it once was, but the religion is alive and dynamic. Over the centuries, adherents of the faith have dispersed in all directions, but greater concentrations of Zoroastrians may still be found on the Indian subcontinent and in Iran.

Relation to other religions and cultures

Zoroastrianism is uniquely important in the history of religion because of its possible formative links to both Western Abrahamic religions and Eastern Dharmic religions religious traditions.

Some scholars (Boyce, 1987; Black and Rowley, 1987; Duchesne-Guillemin, 1988) assert that key concepts of Zoroastrian eschatology and demonology are evident in the Abrahamic religions, for instance in the Asmodai of Judaism. However, Boyce and other Iranologists also tell us that Zoroastrianism inherited ideas from other belief systems. As such, Zoroastrianism, like other practiced religions, revealed or otherwise, was not immune to syncretism. For example, one of the popular strains within Zoroastrianism considers both good and evil as creations of God. According to some historians, this is a doctrine that influenced Christianity (see Ahura Mazda for additional details), and notwithstanding the great deal of exposition in order to not compromise Zoroaster's otherwise coherent concept of Free Will, has a widespread following.

Many traits of Zoroastrianism can be traced back to the culture and beliefs of the proto-Indo-Iranian period, and Zoroastrianism consequently shares some elements with the historical Vedic religion that also has its origins in that era. However, Zoroastrianism was also strongly affected by the later culture of the Iranian Heroic Age (literary theory) (1500 BCE onwards), an influence that the Indic religions were not subject to. Nonetheless, scholars have used evidence from the texts of both religious systems to reconstruct the earlier stage of Proto-Indo-Iranian religion beliefs and culture. This has also formed attempts to characterise the even earlier Proto-Indo-European religion and so, for example, determine the process by which Dyeus became Jupiter (god), Sabazios, Zeus, and Tyr.

Many aspects of Zoroastrianism are in turn present in the culture and mythologies of the peoples of the Greater Iran, not least because Zoroastrianism, for a thousand years, was a dominant influence on the people of the cultural continent. Even after the rise of Islam and the loss of direct influence, Zoroastrianism remained part of the cultural heritage of the Iranian languages-speaking world, in part as festivals and customs but also because Ferdowsi incorporated a number of the figures and stories from the Avesta in his epic Shahnameh, which in turn is pivotal to Iranian identity.

Religious texts

Main article: Avesta

Primary texts

The Avesta is the collection of the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism. Although some of the texts are very old, the compendium as we know it today is essentially the result of a redaction that is thought to have occurred during the reign of Shapur II of Persia (309-379). However, important sections of the text have been lost since then, especially after the fall of the Persian empire, after which Zoroastrianism was supplanted by Islam. The oldest existing copy of the texts dates to 1288.

The most ancient of the texts of the Avesta are in an old or Gathic Avestan language and are believed to have been transmitted orally for centuries before they found written form. Later texts date from between the 8th century BCE to the Achaemenid Empire (648 BCE–330 BCE) and are in Original Young Avestan and Artificial Young Avestan respectively. In existing copies of the text, the Avestan language words are written in Avestan alphabet script, a Sassanid Empire (226-651) invention.

File:Bodleian J2 fol 175 Y 28 1.jpg
Yasna 28.1, Ahunavaita Gathas (Bodleian MS J2)

The contents of the Avesta are generally divided into five categories. The divisions are topical and are by no means fixed or canonical. Some scholars prefer to place the five categories in two groups, one liturgical and the other general.

  • The Yasna, the primary liturgical collection and comprising of 72 chapters: Yasna 1 to Yasna 72; includes the Gathas, (yasnas 28 to 34, the Ahunavaity Gatha; yasnas 43 to 46, the Ushtavaity Gatha; yasnas 47 to 50, the Spenta Mainyu Gatha; yasna 51, the Vohuxsathra Gatha; and yasna 53, the Vahishta Isti Gatha), which are thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself.
  • The Visparad, a collection of supplements to the Yasna.
  • The Yashts, hymns in honor of the divinities of Zoroastrian angelology.
  • The Vendidād, describes the various forms of evil spirits and ways to confound them.
  • shorter texts and prayers, the five nyaishes "worship, praise", the siroze "thirty days" (see Zoroastrian calendar) and the afringans "blessings".

Secondary works

The texts of the Avesta are complemented by several secondary works of religious or semi-religious nature, which although not sacred and not used as scripture, have a significant influence on Zoroastrian doctrine.

  • The Denkard "Acts of Religion" in Middle Persian
  • The Bundahishn "Original Creation" in Middle Persian
  • The Mēnog-ī Khirad "Spirit of killa zee" in Middle Persian
  • The Arda Wiraf Nāmag "The Book of Zeinu" in Middle Persian
  • The Zartoshtnāme "Book of reapah" in Modern Persian
  • The Saddar "Hundred Doors or Chapters" in Modern Persian
  • The Rivayats or traditional treatises in Modern Persian

Some of these works quote passages that are believed to be from lost sections of the Avesta.

Other texts

The prayers of the Khorda Avesta are in Avestan, which continues to be the Zoroastrian language of prayer even today. The most sacred of these prayers is the Ahuna Vairya (also known as the yatha ahu vairyo), which has been interpreted to be the summation of the belief in Ahura Mazda, "the seed of seeds of the reckoning of the religion." (Dēnkard 8.45.1)
  • Zend (lit: commentaries) fragments.
The use of the expression Zend-Avesta to refer to the Avesta, or the use of Zend as the name of a language or script, are relatively recent and popular mistakes. The word Zend or Zand, meaning "commentary, translation", refers to late middle Persian and Pazend language language supplementaries in Pahlavi script. These commentaries from the early Sassanid dynasty era were not intended for use as theological texts by themselves but for religious instruction of the (by then) non-Avestan-speaking public. In contrast, the texts of the Avesta proper remained sacrosanct and continued to be recited in Avestan - which was considered a sacred language. In a general sense, the secondary texts mentioned above are also included in the Zend rubric since they too often include commentaries on the Avesta and on the religion.

Principal beliefs

Ahura Mazda is the beginning and the end, the creator of everything which can and cannot be seen, the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In the Gathas, the most sacred texts of Zoroastrianism and thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself, the prophet acknowledged devotion to no other divinity besides Ahura Mazda.

Daena (din in modern Persian language) is the eternal Law, whose order was revealed to humanity through the Mathra-Spenta 'Holy Words'. Daena has been used to mean religion, faith, law, even as a translation for the Hindu and Buddhist term Dharma, religious duty, but which can also mean social order, right conduct, or simply virtue. The metaphor of the 'path' of Daena is represented in Zoroastrianism by the muslin undershirt Sudra, the 'Good/Holy Path', and the 72-thread Kushti girdle, the 'Pathfinder'.

Daena should not be confused with the fundamental principle asha (Vedic rta), the equitable law of the universe, which governed the life of the ancient Indo-Iranians. For these, asha was the course of everything observable, the motion of the planets and astral bodies, the progression of the seasons, the pattern of daily nomadic herdsman life, governed by regular metronomic events such as sunrise and sunset. All physical creation (geti) was thus determined to run according to a master plan - inherent to Ahura Mazda - and violations of the order (druj) were violations against creation, and thus violations against Ahura Mazda. This concept of asha versus the druj should not be confused with the good-versus-evil battle evident in western religions, for although both forms of opposition express moral conflict, the asha versus druj concept is more subtle and nuanced, representing, for instance, chaos (that opposes order); or 'uncreation', evident as natural decay (that opposes creation); or more simply 'the lie' (that opposes truth, righteousness). Moreover, in His role as the one uncreated Creator of all, Ahura Mazda is not the creator of 'druj' which is 'nothing', anti-creation, and thus (likewise) uncreated. Thus, in Zoroaster's revelation, Ahura Mazda was perceived to be the creator of only the good (Yasna 31.4), the "supreme benevolent providence" (Yasna 43.11), that will ultimately triumph (Yasna 48.1)

In this schema of asha versus druj, mortal beings (humans and animals both) play a critical role, for they too are created. Here, in their lives, they are active participants in the conflict and it is their duty to defend order, which would decay without counteraction. Throughout the Gathas, Zoroaster emphasizes deeds and actions; and accordingly asceticism is frowned upon in Zoroastrianism. In later Zoroastrianism, this was explained as fleeing from the experiences of life, which was the very purpose that the urvan (most commonly translated as the 'soul') was sent into the mortal world to collect. The avoidance of any aspect of life, which includes the avoidance of the pleasures of life, is a shirking of the responsibility and duty to oneself, one's urvan, and one's family and social obligations.

Thus, central to Zoroastrianism is the emphasis on moral choice, to choose between the responsibility and duty for which one is in the mortal world, or to give up this duty and so facilitate the work of druj. Similarly, predestination is rejected in Zoroastrian teaching. Humans bear responsibility for all situations they are in, and in the way they act to one another. Reward, punishment, happiness and grief all depend on how individuals live their life.

In Zoroastrianism, good transpires for those who do righteous deeds. Those who do evil have themselves to blame for their ruin. Zoroastrian morality is then to be summed up in the simple phrase, "good thoughts, good words, good deeds" (Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta in Avestan), for it is through these that asha is maintained and druj is kept in check.

Through accumulation, several other beliefs were introduced to the religion, that in some instances supersede those expressed in the Gathas. In the late 19th century, the moral and immoral forces came to be represented by Spenta Mainyu and its Satanic antithesis Angra Mainyu, the 'good spirit' and 'evil spirit' emanations of Ahura Mazda respectively. Although the names are old, this opposition is a modern western-influenced development popularized by Martin Haug in the 1880s, and was in effect a realignment of the precepts of Zurvanism (Zurvanite Zoroastrianism), which had invented a third deity, Zurvan, in order to explain a mention of twinship (Yasna 30.3) between the moral and immoral. Although Zurvanism had died out by the 10th century, the critical question of the "twin brothers" mentioned in Yasna 30.3 remained, and Haug's explanation provided a convenient defence against Christian missionaries who disparaged the Parsis (Indian Zoroastrians) for their 'dualism'. Haug's concept was subsequently disseminated as a Parsi interpretation, thus corroborating Haug's theory and the idea became so popular that it is now almost universally accepted as doctrine.

Achaemenid dynasty (648–330 BCE) Zoroastrianism developed the abstract concepts of heaven, hell, personal and final judgement, all of which are only alluded to in the Gathas. Yasna 19 (which has only survived in a Sassanid dynasty (226–650 CE) Zend commentary on the Ahuna Vairya invocation), prescribes a Path to Judgement known as the Chinvat Peretum or Chinvat Bridge (cf: Al-Sirat in Islam), which all souls had to cross, and judgement (over thoughts, words, deeds performed during a lifetime) was passed as they were doing so. However, the Zoroastrian personal judgement is not final. At the end of time, when evil is finally defeated, all souls will be ultimately reunited with their Fravashi. Thus, Zoroastrianism can be said to be a universalist religion with respect to salvation.

In addition, and strongly influenced by Babylonian and Akkadian practices, the Achaemenids popularized shrines and temples, hitherto alien forms of worship. In the wake of Achaemenid expansion, shrines were constructed throughout the empire and particularly influenced the role of Mithra, Aredvi Sura Anahita, Vahram and Tishtrya, all of which, in addition to their original (proto-)Indo-Iranian functions, now also received Perso-Babylonian functions.

Although the worship of images would eventually fall out of favour (and be replaced by the iconoclastic fire temples), the lasting legacy of the Achaemenids was a vast, complex hierarchy of Yazata (modern Zoroastrianism's Angels) that were now not just evident in the religion, but firmly established, not least because the divinities received dedications in the Zoroastrian calendar, thus ensuring that they were frequently invoked. Additionally, the Amesha Spenta, the six originally abstract terms that were regarded as direct emanations or aspects or 'divine sparks' of Ahura Mazda, came to be personified as an archangel retinue.

Some Zoroastrians believe in the future coming of a Messiah-like figure known as the Peshotan. This too is a modern syncretic development, and is frowned upon by more conservative Zoroastrians.

Zoroastrian precepts

File:Ateshkadeh yazd.jpg
The Zoroastrian temple of Yazd.

Some major modern Zoroastrian precepts:

  • Equalism: Equality of all, irrespective of Gender Egalitarianism, race, or religion.
  • Respect and kindness towards all living things. Condemnation of the oppression of human beings, cruelty against animals and sacrifice of animals.
  • Environmentalism: Nature is central to the practice of Zoroastrianism and many important Zoroastrian annual festivals are in celebration of nature: new year on the first day of spring, the water festival in summer, the autumn festival at the end of the season, and the mid-winter fire festival.
  • Hard work and charity: Laziness and sloth are frowned upon. Zoroastrians are encouraged to part with a little of what would otherwise be their own.
  • Loyalty and faithfulness to "family, settlement, tribe, and country."

Other distinguishing characteristics

  • The symbol of fire: The energy of the creator is represented in Zoroastrianism by fire and the sun which are both enduring, radiant, pure and life sustaining. Zoroastrians usually pray in front of some form of fire (or any source of light). (It is important to note that fire is not worshipped by Zoroastrians, but is used simply as symbol and a point of focus, much like the crucifix in Christianity. For details, see Fire temple)
  • Proselytizing and conversion: Parsi Zoroastrians do not proselytism. In recent years, however, Zoroastrian communities in both Iran, Europe and the Americas have been more tolerant towards conversion. While this move has not been supported officially by the priesthood in Mumbai, India, it has been endorsed by the Council of Mobeds in Tehran.
  • Inter-faith marriages: As in many other faiths, Zoroastrians are strongly encouraged to marry others of the same faith, but this is not a requirement of the religion itself.
    • Some members of the Indian Zoroastrian community (the Parsis) contend that a child must have a Parsi father to be eligible for introduction into the faith, but this assertion is considered by most to be a violation of the Zoroastrian tenets of gender equality, and may be a remnant of an old legal definition (since overruled) of Parsi. However, to this day, some priests will not perform the Navjote ceremony - i.e. the rites of admission into the religion - for children of mixed-marriages, irrespective of which parent is a non-Parsi. This issue is a matter of great debate within the Parsi community, but with the increasingly global nature of modern society and the dwindling number of Zoroastrians, such opinions are less vociferous than they previously were.
    • In Iran, due to continuing discrimination against non-Muslims, inter-faith marriage is not encouraged by the government.
  • Death and burial: Religious rituals related to death are all concerned with the person's soul and not the body. Zoroastrians believe that on the fourth day after death, the human soul leaves the body and the body remains as an empty shell. Traditionally, Zoroastrians disposed of their dead by leaving them atop open-topped enclosures, called Towers of Silence, or Dokhmas. Vultures and the weather would clean the flesh off the bones, which were then placed into an ossuary at the center of the Tower. Fire and Earth were considered too sacred for the dead to be placed in them. While this practice is continued in India by some Parsis, it had ended by the beginning of the twentieth century in Iran. In India, burial and cremation are becoming increasingly popular alternatives.


Small Zoroastrian communities are found in India, Pakistan, Iran, as well as major urban areas in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and a worldwide diaspora. Zoroastrian communities comprise two main groups of people: those of Indian Zoroastrian background, who are known as Parsis (or Parsees), and those of Iranian background.

In Iran

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Communities exist in Tehran, as well as in Yazd and Kerman, where many still speak an Iranian language distinct from Persian language. They call their language Dari (Zoroastrian) (not to be confused with the Dari (of Afghanistan)). Their language is also called Gabri or Behdinan (literally "Of the Good Religion"). Sometimes their language is named for the cities in which it is spoken, Yazdi or Kermani. Iranian Zoroastrians were historically derogatorily called Gabar (roughly translated as 'infidel') by Muslim neighbours. The term is still used but has lost much of its derogatory meaning.

In India

Parsi Navjote ceremony (rites of admission into the Zoroastrian faith)
Main article: Parsis, the Zoroastrians of the Indian subcontinent.

Subsequent to the fall of the Persian Empire, after which Zoroastrianism was gradually supplanted by Islam, many Zoroastrians fled to other regions in the hope of preserving their religious tradition. Among them were several groups who migrated to Gujarat, on the western shores of the Indian subcontinent, where they finally settled. The descendants of those refugees are today known as the Parsis.

In contrast to their co-religionists elsewhere, in India the Zoroastrians enjoyed tolerance and even admiration from other religious communities. From the 19th century onward, the Parsis gained a reputation for their education and widespread influence in all aspects of society, partly due to the divisive strategy of British Empire which favored certain minorities. As such, Parsis are generally more affluent than other Indians and are stereotypically viewed as among the most Anglicised and "Westernised" of Indian minority groups. They have also played an instrumental role in the economic development of the country over many decades; several of the best-known business conglomerates of India are run by Parsi-Zoroastrians, including the Tata, Godrej, and Wadia families.

As of the census of 2001, the Parsis numbered 69,601, representing approximately 0.006% of the total population of India, with a concentration in and around the city of Mumbai (previously known as Bombay). Due to a low birth rate and high rate of emigration, demographic trends project that by the year 2020 the Parsis will number only about 23,000 or 0.002% of the total population of India. The Parsis will then cease to be called a community and will be labelled a 'tribe'.

In Central Asia

There is some interest among Iranians, as well as people in various Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, in their ancient Zoroastrian heritage; some people in these countries take notice of their Zoroastrian past. In fact, UNESCO (at the instigation of the government of Tajikistan) declared 2003 a year to celebrate the "3000th Anniversary of Zoroastrian Culture," with special events throughout the world.


In 1996, the number of Zoroastrians worldwide was estimated to be "at most 200,000" (Melton, 1996:837). India's 2001 Census found 69,601 Parsi Zoroastrians. In Pakistan they number 5000, mostly living in Karachi. North America is thought to be home to 18,000–25,000 Zoroastrians of both South Asian and Iranian background. Iran figures of Zoroastrians have ranged widely; the last census (1974) before the Iranian Revolution revealed 21,400 Zoroastrians.

Few (if any) adherents remain in the Central Asian regions that were once considered the traditional stronghold of Zoroastrianism, i.e. Bactria (see also Balkh) which is in Northern Afghanistan, Sogdiana, Margiana, and other areas closest to Zoroaster's homeland.

Fastest growing religion

Percentagewise Zoroastrianism is considered to be the fastest growing religion in the world. The number of adherents increased 2,68% over 1990-2000 while the world's population only increased 1.41%. [7]

Noted Zoroastrians

For a list of Zoroastrians with Wikipedia articles, see List of Zoroastrians and :Category:Zoroastrians.

Noted Parsis include the pioneering Indian industrialist and philanthropist Jamshedji Tata; the industrialist and founder of Indian Civil aviation J. R. D. Tata; Indian freedom fighters Pherozeshah Mehta, Dadabhai Naoroji and Bhikaiji Cama; conductor Zubin Mehta and rock artist Freddie Mercury (Farrokh Bulsara); nuclear scientist Homi J. Bhabha, the similarly named philosopher Homi Bhabha; the first field marshal of India, Sam Manekshaw, author and screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala (of the films Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala), authors Rohinton Mistry and Bapsi Sidhwa. India industrial families Tata family, Godrej family and Wadia family are also of Parsi Zoroastrian background. Noted members of the more recently arrived Irani community include Bollywood director Ardeshir Irani, cricketer Ronnie Irani, comedian-actor Boman Irani, Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and actors Perizaad Zorabian, Nauheed Cyrusi and John Abraham. Ardeshir Cowasjee and Bapsi Sidhwa are among the famous Parsis from Pakistan.

Noted Iranian Zoroastrians include Dr. Farhang Mehr, former deputy prime minister of Iran, Boston University professor emeritus, longtime activist for religious freedom, and subject of the biography "Triumph Over Discrimination" by another Zoroastrian (of Parsi and Haitian descent), Lylah M. Alphonse.

Swedish artist and author Alexander Bard is a convert to Zoroastrianism.

See also

  • Zoroaster
  • Baruch ben Neriah
  • Ahura Mazda
  • Hara Berezaiti
  • Indo-Iranian religion
  • Indo-European religion
  • Jeh
  • Mandaeanism
  • Mazdakism
  • Manichaeism
  • Yazdanism
  • Zoroastrianism in Azerbaijan

Bibliography and references

  1. Jafari, A., The Good Religion and Zoroastrianism, (LINK); accessed March 05, 2007.
  2. CAIS, An Introduction to Daenâ Vanuhi (The Good Religion) of Asho Zarathushtra, (LINK); accessed March 05, 2007.
  3. http://tenets.zoroastrianism.com/padshah33.html
  4. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}
  5. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}
  6. Mary Boyce, History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. I, The early period, Leiden (1996) Chapter one (General); ISBN 90-04-10474-7
  7. http://www.bible.ca/global-religion-statistics-world-christian-encyclopedia.htm
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  • [[{{{authorlink}}}|Stolze, Franz]], Die Achaemenidischen und Sasanidischen Denkmäler und Inschriften von Persepolis, Istakhr, Pasargadae, Shâpûr {{{author}}}, Die Achaemenidischen und Sasanidischen Denkmäler und Inschriften von Persepolis, Istakhr, Pasargadae, Shâpûr, A. Asher, A. Asher, 1882, {{{id}}}.
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  • The Bible. s:Bible%2C_English%2C_King_James%2C_Isaiah#Chapter_44 and Isaiah 45.
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Further reading