Zoroastrianism

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Template:ZoroastrianismTemplate:PortalZoroastrianism (Persian: آيين زرتشت , A'in-e Zærtosht) was once the state religion of Sassanid Persia, and played an important role during the preceding Achaemenid and Parthian eras, while it is considered, by some, to be the oldest monotheistic religion. The religion, still practised today, is also known as Mazdaism by some followers and Zarathustrianism by others.

Zoroastrianism is still practiced in India, in Pakistan, and in Iran.

Contents

Introduction

Zoroastrian areas once stretched from Anatolia as the religion of the Mede in the western part of the Iranian plateau to the Persian Gulf, and its followers once numbered in the millions. Its followers today, located principally in South Asia and Iran, as well as throughout the diaspora, number much less, but the religion is alive and dynamic.

Many traits of this ancient Iranian religion of Aryan origin, which has strong similarities before its reformation to the Hinduism of Northern India and the Viking or Norse religion in Northern Europe, are present in modern Persians, Azerbaijanis, Kurds, and Eurasian peoples. Many traits of the Zoroastrian faith are still present in all Iranian peoples' cultures and traditions from Kurdistan and the Caucausus to Iran and Central Asia.

The origin of the religion is ascribed to the prophet Zarathushtra, who is commonly known in the Western world as Zoroaster, the Greek version of his name. The etymology of his name is disputed and several different explanations exist. The modern Persian form of the prophet's name is Zærtosht (زرتشت).

Zoroaster came to reform ancient Indo-Iranian religious practices (some of which were parallel to the Vedic religion of ancient India).

According to different scholarly histories, Zoroaster lived in the eastern part of Iran or in Bactria. His dates are contested, but were clearly between the 18th and the 11th centuries BCE (although Plato put Zoroaster in the 64th century BCE). Zoroaster is thought to have composed the Gathas, poems which were assiduously preserved by his followers through centuries of oral transmission, before the whole of the Avesta (in which the Gathas are a central portion) were committed to writing in the Parthian or Sassanian periods. The Gathic dialect is similar to the Vedic dialect of the Rg Veda and thus Zoroaster has sometimes been dated as roughly contemporary to the Rg Veda, normally ascribed to c.1500-1250 BCE.

The faith is often claimed to be the earliest monotheistic religion, since Zoroaster requires devotion to the single God Ahura Mazda. However, Zoroastrianism also has a dualistic nature (Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu), with an additional series of six important angel-like entities called the Amesha Spentas. In modern Zoroastrianism they are interpreted as aspects or emanations of Ahura Mazda (the Supreme Being), who form a heptad that is good and constructive. They are opposed to another group of seven who are evil and destructive. It is this persistent conflict between good and evil that distinguishes Zoroastrianism from monotheistic frameworks that have only one power as supreme. By requiring its adherents to have faith and belief in equally opposing powers Zoroastrianism characterizes itself as dualistic.

Zoroastrianism may also be known as Mazdayasna ("Worship of Wisdom") by some of its followers after the Zoroastrian name of God, Ahura Mazda ("Divine Wisdom"). A modern Persian form is Behdin ("Good Religion/Law," see below for the role of daena Law). Zoroastrians may refer to themselves as Zartoshti ("Zoroastrians"), Mazdayasni ("Wisdom-Worshippers") and Behdini ("Followers of the Good Religion"), and Zarathustrian.

The well preserved ancient writings, in the ancient script has enabled the first European Orientalists to learn Middle Persian and to use it to rediscover the still more ancient languages of Iran.


Principal beliefs

Image:Faravahar.png 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. Zoroastrian morality is summed up in the simple phrase, "Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds" (Pendar-e Nik, Goftar-e Nik, Kerdar-e Nik in the present day Persian, Homaato, Hokhto, Hovarasht, in Avestan). Daena (din in modern Persian) 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: it is the correct order of the universe, which humanity naturally must follow through the Kusti "Holy Path" in order to be a Behdini "Follower of the Proper/Good Religion".

Central to Zoroastrianism is the emphasis on moral choice; of life as a battle-ground between moral and immoral forces, represented by Spenta Mainyu and its satanic antithesis Angra Mainyu, the 'good spirit' and 'evil spirit' emanations of Ahura Mazda. This opposition may have emerged from the Indo-Iranian distinction between two forms of spiritual beings, ahuras and daevas. In Zoroastrianism, daevas are portrayed as demonic and destructive while ahuras help to uphold the moral law.

Additionally, there are some 20 abstract terms that are regarded as emanations or aspects of Ahura Mazda. In later Avestan literature they are personified as an archangel retinue of The Wise Lord. Some historians believe that these archangels were reabsorptions of pre-Zoroastrian deities, daevas. There are six that are mentioned more often than the rest. These are: Vohu Mano (Good Mind), Asha (Truth), Khshatra (Good Dominion), Armaiti (Piety), Haurvatat (Perfection), and Ameretat (Immortality).

Specific Zoroastrian concepts

Zoroastrianism teaches many of the concepts found in the major Abrahamic faiths such as Heaven, Hell, the Last Judgment, Satan, prophecy, the coming of the Messiah, angels, and evil spirits.

According to the Gathas humans are free and responsible beings. Predestination is rejected in Zoroastrian teaching. Humans bear responsibility for all situations they are in, and in the way they act to one another. Nothing in the Heavens and Earth has the power to force a being to do evil. Reward, punishment, happiness and grief all depend on how individuals live their life. Good befalls the people who do righteous deeds. Those who do evil have themselves to blame for their evil-doing.

Humans possess a great power. They can improve their way of living and the living conditions of others. This power is called Charitas. After death the person must walk through the Path to Judgement or Chinvat Peretum to bear responsibility for his or her actions when alive. There is a belief in heaven and hell in Zoroastrian cosmology but it is a little different than that of the Christian hell. The evil are sent to hell until the time when evil is finally defeated, at which time they will go through a purgation process, the "ordeal of molten metal", and then join Ahura Mazda and the saints. Thus, Zoroastrianism can be said to be a Universalist religion with respect to salvation.

The Prophet Zoroaster acknowledged devotion to no other god besides Ahura Mazda. The concept of Dualism plays a role when speaking of the Spenta Mainyu ("Holy Spirit") and the Angra Mainyu ("Evil Spirit"). These two have a constant battle, at the end of which the Holy Spirit will prevail by the power of Ahura Mazda.

When it comes to worship metaphysical dualism is rejected in modern orthodox traditions and beliefs. The belief that Good prevails over Evil and God's supremacy over all is similar to that of the Abrahamic faiths, of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in which Satan is in no way the equal of the Abrahamic God and is a creation of God. Yet these faiths differ from Zoroastrianism precisely because they represent the evil force as being another of the supreme being's creations. In contrast, Mardanfarrokh, a Zoroastrian theologian in the 9th century CE, posited "If God is perfect in goodness and wisdom, then ignorance and evil cannot come from Him. If they could come from Him, He would not be perfect; and if He were not perfect, He should not be praised as God and perfectly good..." (117-123 from For students and novices; Complete Pazand and Sanskrit texts published by H.J. Jamasp-Asana and E.W. West; pioneer English translation by E.W. West, SBE. XXIV; transcribed Pazand text with French translation by P.J. de Menasce. From Textual sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism by Mary Boyce. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1984).

The Prophet

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Relatively little is known about the Prophet Zoroaster and even the period in which he lived is disputed. Usually he is placed roughly near 1200 BCE, though others give earlier estimates. Some have attempted to place him in the 6th century BCE, which would make him contemporary to the rise of the first Achaemenides in Iran, but this late date is not generally accepted.

According to tradition, Zoroaster was the son of Pourushaspa' and Dugdhova, and was special since birth. Pliny the Elder relates that the prophet was born smiling. His head shook uncontrollably to the point where he would slip out of the hands of his parents, a sign of future wisdom. Before he was six years old he was appointed a wise teacher who would take care of him; little is known about the relation between teacher and student. Many attempts were supposed to have been made to kill the child by enemies who recognised his significance.

According to these narrations, when Zoroaster became seven years old, he was the target of an assassination plot in which men tried to poison him with black magic. As Zoroaster turned fifteen, he gained understanding and determination, and it was then when he chose the Kusti, meaning he voluntarily submitted himself to religion. When Zoroaster turned twenty years of age he left his guardians' house and, according to Dio Chrysostom, spent seven years on a mountain in a cave. During these seven years Zoroaster devoted himself to meditation and religious understanding.

Zoroaster's meditations

It was at this time he struggled with the problems concerning the relations of man and cosmos and came to the conclusion that the following Gathas state:

This I ask Thee, tell me truly, Ahura - whether at the beginning of the Best Existence the recompenses shall bring blessedness to him that meets with them. Surely he, O Right, the holy one, who watches in his spirit the transgression of all, if himself the benefactor of all that lives, O Mazda. (44.2)
This I ask Thee, tell me truly, Ahura. Who upholds the earth beneath and the firmament from falling? Who the waters and the plants? Who yoked swiftness to winds and clouds? Who is, O Mazda, creator of Good Thought? (44.4)
This I ask Thee, tell me truly, Ahura. What artist made light and darkness? What artist made sleep and waking? Who made morning, noon, and night, that call the understanding man to his duty? (44.5)

Zoroaster's preaching

After his seven-year meditation and devotion to worship he had accomplished complete devotion to Ahura Mazda and was enlightened with spiritual knowledge and felt the time was ripe to teach the masses about the righteousness and guidance of Ahura Mazda. At this point the teaching of Zoroaster as a Prophet began. Zoroaster lived in a period of warfare and a society which was corrupt and repressive and where the pre-Zoroastrian powers ruled with an iron fist. He saw a great need for a more intellectual and less ritual-based religious culture:

Which savior will free us from the old (understanding of) scripture, Who with the wisdom, simplicity (of teaching), who with the enlightenment?

Zoroaster proceeded by preaching:

I will speak of that which (He), the Holiest declared to me as the word that is best for mortals to obey; while he said: "they who for my sake render him obedience, shall all attain unto Welfare and Immortality by the actions of the Good Spirit [Spenta Mainyu -JHP]" - (He) Mazda Ahura. (45.5)

His first attempt at reaching the masses was no success; those who heard him ridiculed him by saying: "How can this worthless being save us?" Eventually his family and servants distanced themselves from him, evil powers plotted to silence him; his open revelation brought many enemies who were eager to see his downfall. Nothing however stopped Zoroaster and his determination. The first and favorite convert to Zoroastrianism became his nephew. He was then imprisoned and mysteriously escaped. After escaping from prison he cured the horse of King Vishtaspa. It was then when the very same King that put him in prison converted to the faith along with his wife. After the conversion of the king many in the kingdom followed. Due to repression in the early stages the first group of converts were a defiant military group in order to defend themselves but Zoroastrianism spread at such an incredibly fast pace that soon this was no longer needed.

When the Vizier of the King converted, he gave his daughter Hvogvi to be the wife of Zoroaster and they were married. Jamaspa, brother of king Frashaoshtra, was a devout follower of Zoroaster. This wise adviser and cherisher of the king's riches gave Zoroaster his daughter. Upon the demise of Zoroaster, Jamaspa was appointed his successor.

Holy Book

The Holy Book of Zoroastrianism is called the Zend Avesta. The Zend is the commentary on the teaching and the Avesta is the original teaching in these sacred texts. Only a portion of the Avesta, known as the Gathas (The Hymns) are attributed to the Prophet Zoroaster himself. The Avesta was composed orally, and learned from memory for centuries until it was finally written down in Sassanian Times.

Before the invasion of Alexander and the Islamic conquest of Persia there were a total of 21 Books followed by Zoroastrians called Nasks. Only one of these Nasks remains complete, called the Vendidad. The traditional explanation for the loss of most of the Nasks is persecution of the faith by Alexander, though this is questioned by some historians. The 21 Nasks did not only contain religious literature but also included works on Medicine, Astronomy, Botany and Philosophy. In any case, complete copies of most writings from the ancient world are fairly rare.

Besides the Avesta, the Yashts are smaller books for Prayer, often to a specific being. Other books included are the Afringan, Nyayish, Gah and Sirozah which partially contain some scriptures of the lost 14th and 21st Nasks (Lost books). Other teachings are the Yasna which means sacrifice and contains prayers for sacrificial rituals; the Visperad is a collection of doctrines that are used for exorcism and religious law. The Visperad also includes cosmological, historical and eschatological material.

History

Zoroastrianism was the favored religion of the two great dynasties of ancient Persia, the Achaemenids and Sassanids. However, because we have few contemporary Persian sources, it is difficult to describe ancient Zoroastrianism in detail.

Herodotus's description of Iranian religion includes recognizably Zoroastrian features, including exposure of the dead and divination. The Achaemenid emperors or shahs acknowledge their devotion to Ahura Mazda in inscriptions; however, they maintained local religions in Babylon and Egypt, and helped the Jews to return to Canaan, showing remarkable tolerance. According to later traditions, many of the Zoroastrian sacred texts were lost when Alexander the Great destroyed Persepolis and overthrew the Achaemenids in the 330s BCE. The status of Zoroastrianism under the Seleucids and Parthians is unclear; however, it is widely believed that the Three Wise Men (Magoi in early Greek New Testament manuscripts), said to have come from the Parthian empire bearing gifts for Jesus of Nazareth, were Zoroastrian Magi. It was also during the Parthian period that Mithraism, a Zoroastrian-derived faith particularly focused on the Aryan god of contracts, Mitra, began to become popular within the Roman Empire. The Mithras cult reached the peak of its popularity in the second and third centuries CE, and was particularly popular in the Roman army.

When the Sassanid dynasty came into power in Persia in 228 CE, they aggressively promoted their Zoroastrian religion and in some cases persecuted Christians and Manichaeans. When the Sassanids captured territory from the Romans, 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 Persian Christians loyal to the Patriarchate 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.

Also during the Sassanid era, the belief that Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu were the two sons of the time-god Zurvan became popular.

A form of Zoroastrianism was apparently also the chief religion of pre-Christian Armenia, or at least was prominent there. During periods of Sassanid suzerainty over Armenia, the Persians 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, remained as late as the 1130s, but by the 13th century the religion had faded from prominence in China. However, many scholars assert the influence of Zoroastrianism (as well as later Manicheism, which drew from Zoroastrianism) on elements of Buddhism, especially in terms of light symbolism.

In the 7th century, the Sassanid dynasty was conquered by Muslim Arabs. The Zoroastrian subjects were to pay a special tax, the jizya. Although some Arab commanders destroyed Zoroastrian shrines and prohibited Zoroastrian worship, once Zoroastrians were included as People of the Book, Zoroastrians were allowed to practice their religion freely. Mass conversions to Islam were neither desired nor allowed, in accordance with Islamic law. There was a slow but steady movement 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.

Many Zoroastrians fled Muslim conquests and went to India in large numbers, where they were offered refuge by Jadav Rana, a Hindu king of Sanjan (the modern-day state of Gujarat) on condition that they abstain from missionary activities and marry only in their community. This community came to be known as Parsis, or Parsees. It is not known exactly where these refugees originated from in ancient Persia, although popular lore attributes them to the Persian province of Pars—supposedly the origin of their name. Although these strictures are centuries old, Parsis of the 21st century still do not accept converts and are endogamous (though see below for further discussion). The Parsi Zoroastrians of India speak a dialect of Gujarati as well as English.

The earliest English references to Zoroaster and the Zoroastrian religion occur in the writings of the encyclopaedist Sir Thomas Browne.

Historical importance

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

Zoroaster's writings suggest a metaphysical dualism, but devotional monotheism, requiring adherence to Ahura Mazda. Technically speaking however, "monotheism" is the "doctrine or belief that there is only one God", which would make devotion to one of two Gods something else. Some modern scholars believe that Zoroastrianism had a large influence on Judaism, Manichaeism, and Christianity because of Persia's connections to the Roman Empire and because of its earlier control over Israel under rulers such as Cyrus II the Great, Darius the Great and Xerxes I. Mithraism developed from Zoroastrianism.

The exact time of Zoroaster's life is important for the understanding of the development of Judeo-Christian beliefs. If he lived before 1352 BCE (prior to Akhenaten), he would be the earliest historically verifiable monotheist known in any religion. (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam recognize Abraham, who is said to have lived somewhere between 2166 and 1991 BCE, as the earliest monotheist, but his existence and dates are impossible to verify). (Abraham in Judaism and Abraham in Islam).

Some scholars<ref>See Zoroastrianism: A Shadowy but Powerful Presence in the Judaeo-Christian World, Mary Boyce, London, 1987, Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Matthew Black and H.H. Rowley, ed., Revised edition, Nelson, New York, 1982, section 607b, and Encyclopedia Americana, Danbury, CT, 1988, vol 29, pp. 813-815, article by J. Duchesne-Guillemin.</ref>, however, assert that large portions of the eschatology, angelology, and demonology (see Asmodai) of Judaism, a key influence on Christianity, originated in Zoroastrianism, and were transferred to Judaism during the Babylonian captivity and Persian period, despite the numerous structural differences in the belief systems, crucial to the faiths, as in the issue over whether the evil spirit is a product of the good spirit. Some also believe monotheism to have been a Zoroastrian influence, as Deutero-Isaiah supposedly makes a first monotheistic declaration (Isaiah 45:5-7) during the reign of the Persian Kings, that corresponding to his declaration that Jews were to obey Cyrus, Kouroush in Persian (Isaiah 44 and Isaiah 45). According to Mary Boyce "Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed credal religions, and it has probably had more influence on mankind, directly or indirectly, than any other single faith... some of its leading doctrines were adopted by Judaism, Christianity and Islam". <ref>Boyce, Mary. Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge, London, 1979, p. 1.</ref> Zoroastrianism has been proposed as the source of some of the most important post-Torah aspects of Judaic religious thinking, which emerged after the Babylonian captivity, from which Jews were liberated by Cyrus the Great. This is a view put forward by King and Moore, who wrote in The Gnostics and Their Remains (1887) that "it was from this very creed of Zoroaster that the Jews derived all the angelology of their religion... the belief in a future state; of rewards and punishments, ...the soul's immortality, and the Last Judgment - all of them essential parts of the Zoroastrian scheme." <ref>C. W. King, Gnostics and their Remains Ancient and Mediaeval page?</ref>

Because Zoroastrianism is thought to have emerged from a common Indo-Iranian culture that preceded Vedic Hinduism, scholars use evidence from Zoroastrian texts to reconstruct the unreformed earlier stage of Indo-Iranian beliefs, and therefore to identify the culture that evolved into the Vedic religion. This has also informed attempts to characterise the original Proto-Indo-European religion (e.g. the god Dyeus who became Jupiter, Sabazios, Zeus, and Tyr).

Principles of modern-day Zoroastrianism

Some major Zoroastrian precepts:

  • Equality of all, irrespective of gender, race, or religion.
  • Respect and kindness towards all living things. Condemnation of the oppression of human beings, cruelty against animals and sacrifice of animals.
  • Cleanliness of the environment. 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 wooden cross in Christianity.)
  • Proselytizing and conversion: Zoroastrians do not proselytize. In recent years Zoroastrianism has seen the rise of western converts within a "Gathas only" tradition.
  • 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 Parsi community of Indian Zoroastrians 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 (see also Definition of Parsi), 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 of 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 of 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.

Adherents

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

Zoroastrian temples, as well as community centers (which are more common in the diaspora than temples, because of fire-consecration issues) are also found wherever Zoroastrian communities exist. Zoroastrian centers throughout North America and the world are increasingly finding themselves in need of expanding their physical structures to accommodate growing enthusiasm and interest amongst local Zoroastrian communities.

Zoroastrians in Iran have, like other religious minorities, survived centuries of persecution. Communities exist in Tehran, as well as in Yazd and Kerman, where many still speak an Iranian language distinct from Persian. They call their language Dari (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.

Parsis in India have, by contrast, enjoyed tolerance and even admiration from their Hindu countrymen. While the communities there are socioeconomically diverse, Parsis have gained a reputation for their education and widespread influence in all aspects of society, partly due to the divisive strategy of British colonialism 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 most well known business conglomerates of India are run by people of Parsi descent, including Tata, Godrej, and Wadia families.

There is a growing interest among Iranians, as well as people in various Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, in their ancient Zoroastrian heritage; many people in these countries now consider themselves Zoroastrian. 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.

Until 2002 the worldwide population figures for Zoroastrians had been estimated at anywhere between 180,000 and 250,000. NOTE: diaspora or worldwide population figures include both Parsis and Iranians; there is no way to estimate numbers of Parsis alone except when referring to India and Pakistan. 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 Parsi and Iranian background. Iran's figures of Zoroastrians have ranged widely.

Since 2002 population estimates have been sharply increased. Recent publications of many major encyclopedias and world alamanacs include population estimates of 2 to 3.5 million.

Currently, there is a dynamic and vibrant network of Zoroastrian associations throughout the world, including many major and minor conferences, which link many Zoroastrians of different cultural origins and regional residences.

Famous Zoroastrians

Main article: List of Zoroastrians

Famous Parsis include the founder of Indian Civil Aviation and legendary industrialist J. R. D. Tata, Phirozeshah Mehta, Dadabhai Naoroji, Bhikaiji Cama, symphonic conductor Zubin Mehta, nuclear scientist Homi J. Bhabha, the similarly-named philosopher Homi K. Bhabha, the first field marshall of India Sam Manekshaw, screenwiter Sooni Taraporevala (of the films Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala, both directed by Mira Nair, as well as author of a photography book on the Parsi community entitled Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India: a Photographic Journey), authors Rohinton Mistry, and Bapsi Sidhwa. Indian industrial families Tata family, Godrej family and Wadia family.

The late Freddie Mercury, the frontman of the group Queen, was also a Parsi, and his family gave him a traditional Parsi Zoroastrian funeral after he died on 24 November 1991. Famous Zoroastrians from the more recently arrived Irani community include legendary Bollywood director Ardeshir Irani, the actress Aruna Irani, the cricketer Ronnie Irani, the famous Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and the actress Perizaad Zorabian.

One of the most famous Iranian Zoroastrian is 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.

See also

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Notes

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References

  • Mary Boyce. Textual sources for the study of Zoroastrianism. Manchester: 1984.
  • Peter Clark. Zoroastrianism. An Introduction to an Ancient Faith. Brighton: 1998.
  • Malandra, William W. An Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion. Readings from the Avesta and Achaemenid Inscripitons. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 1983, ISBN 0-8166-1114-9.
  • James Hope Moulton, The Treasure of the Magi: A Study of Modern Zoroastrianism. Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1917.
  • James R. Russell, Zoroastrianism in Armenia, Harvard University Press, Harvard Iranian Series, 1987.
  • Zaehner, Robert C. The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism. Great Britain: Phoenix Press, 1961, ISBN 1-84212-165-0.

External links

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