Asho Zarathushtra is universally regarded as the First Prophet. He was the first to receive Ahura Mazda’s message and yet, there is so little, we, his followers who call ourselves Zoroastrian or Zarathushti know about him. Quite often, we don’t even spell or pronounce his name correctly. Many do not know the names of his parents. His teachings are often over simplified. Ask the average Parsi and he/she will blurt out the stereotype, “Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds”. But, there is much more to Zaroastrianism than this. This article is for those who are thirsting to know more and for those who believe there is more to Zarathushtrianism than, ‘Humata, Hukta, Huvrashta’.
The Persian word for ‘Prophet’ is Paigamber or Wakhshur (derived from the Pahlavi word Wakshwar which means, ‘One who carries the Word of God’). The Avestan term for Prophet is Manthrano or ‘One with the tongue of the Manthra (Holy Word)’ or ‘One who brings the Holy word from God’. In Zarathushtrian tradition, Zarathushtra is recognized as Yazata – a Divine Being. Little wonder there is Khshnuman (dedicatory formula) in his honour. Scholars have interpreted the name ‘Zarathushtra’ in many ways. According to one popular interpretation, Zaratha = golden and Ushtra = Light (from Ush – to shine). Therefore, ‘Zarathushtra’ means, ‘Golden Light’ or ‘Golden Star’.
The period of Zarathushtra’s birth is shrouded in mystery. Greek sources place him as far back as 6,000 to 7,000 B.C. Modern scholars place his birth around 1,500 to 1,800 B.C. When Zarathushtra was born, Shah Lohrasp Bin Arvand (a saintly king whose image adorns the walls of several Parsi homes and places of worship) was the king of Iran. The Governor of Rae (the city where Zarathushtra is believed to have been born) was the evil Durasrun. Zarathushtra belonged to the family of ‘Spitama’ (Spitama = very Holy). His Father’s name was Pourushasp and his mother’s name was Dogdo. His paternal grand father was Peterasp while his maternal grandfather was Framirava. His lineage goes back to Shah Faridoon – a saintly king of Peshdadian Iran, who according to folklore, enchained the very epitome of evil, Zohak, to mount Damavand.
The life and miracles associated with Zarathushtra’s birth are narrated in a Pahlavi work known as ‘Zarthosht Nama’. Zarathushtra is said to have laughed instead of cry at birth. It was a sign of his Divinity and indicates that at birth he was neither confused nor scared. As many as seven attempts were made on the life of this Divine child by the evil Durasrun. He first tried to stab the child. But instead his arm got twisted backward. When thrown to the flames, the hot coals turned into a bed of roses. When put in the path of a herd of cattle and horses, a cow and a mare respectively stood over the holy child to protect him from harm. When thrown in a den of hungry wolves, the animals found their jaws sealed. Attempts to poison him and throw an evil spell also failed miserably.
Zarathushtra remained engrossed in prayers from the age of 15 to 30 years. He left his father’s home at the age of 30 in search of the Truth. According to the ‘Dadestan-i-denig’, Zarathushtra had his first vision of Ahura Mazda on Roj Dae-pa-Meher, Mah Ardibehest. His first question to Ahura Mazda was, “who is the best man among all people in this world?” In Ahura Mazda’s response to this very first query, one finds a summary of the Zarathushtrian ethic of living. Ahura Mazda is believed to have said, “The best man among all people in this world is one who walks the right path; who is charitable; who is just, reveres fire, reveres the waters and is kind to animals”.
Zarathushtra is said to have received the Revelation for ten years and had seven ‘conferences’ with Ahura Mazda. All the mysteries and secrets of the universe were revealed to him. When the revelation was complete, the Amesha Spentas showered special blessings on the Prophet and each one of them asked Zarathushtra to carry a special message…
- Bahman Ameshaspand urged that his followers should be kind to animals;
- Ardibehest Ameshaspand urged that fire should be revered;
- Shehrevar Ameshaspand desired that metals should be used wisely;
- Spendarmad Ameshaspand desired that earth should be protected and revered;
- Khordad Ameshaspand wanted the waters to be kept pure and revered while;
- Amerdad Ameshaspand wanted the plant kingdom to be cared for and protected.
In the message of the Amesha Spentas we have the entire concept of what we recognize today as ‘striking the ecological balance’ and ‘living in harmony with Nature’. Think about it – issues so relevant to us today were addressed by Asho Zarathushtra many thousand years ago, in pre-historic times.
According to the Sharestan, Zarathushtra received from Ahura Mazda the following gifts:
- Twenty-One Nasks (volumes): each titled according to the twenty-one words of the Ahunavar (or the Yatha Ahu Vairyo) and loaded with all the wisdom and secrets of the universe;
- The Spiritual Fire of Adar Buzin which burned without fuel and did not emit any smoke;
- A Cypress tree.
By the time Zarathushtra received the revelation and was ready to begin his spiritual work, Shah Lohrasp had stepped down from the throne to devote his life to prayer and meditation. Kae Vistasp had succeeded Shah Lohrasp. Zarathushtra came to the court of Kae Vistasp, blessed the king and declared that he was a Messenger of Ahura Mazda. Kae Vistasp was initially hesitant to accept Zarathushtra’s statement. However, Zarathushtra held discussions with the wise men of the court for three days and satisfied all their queries. He then gave the Fire of Adar Burzin to Kae Vistasp to hold in his bare hands. He also gave him the cypress tree (each leaf of the cypress tree is believed to have said, “Vistasp accept the word of Zarathushtra”.)
The grand seer Jamasp is said to have tested Zarathushtra even further by pouring molten bronze four times on Zarathushtra’s chest. Zarathushtra passed this ordeal without any harm to himself. Zarathushtra was hereafter accepted as a true Messenger of Ahura Mazda.
One day, Kae Vistasp asked Zarathushtra for four boons:
- To see and know more about the other (spiritual) world;
- To live forever;
- To become invincible in battle;
- To be able to see into the future.
Zarathushtra explained to Kae Vistasp that all four boons cannot be granted to any one individual. Hence, he proceeded to perform the dron ceremony consecrating Wine, Milk, Flowers and Pomegranate. Zarathushtra gave the consecrated wine to Kae Vistasp to drink and the latter’s soul traveled to the other world and saw his place in it. The consecrated milk was given to Peshotan who on consuming it became immortal. When Jamasp was asked to smell the flowers, he became a clairvoyant and could look into the future. The Jamaspi is said to be the work of this sage. Asfandiar ate the consecrated pomegranate and he became bronze bodied (Rooyintan) and thus virtually invincible in battle.
It is said Kae Vistasp built 24,000 Atash Behrams all over lran. According to the Dasatir, wise men from far away lands also came to meet and test Zarathushtra. It is said when the sages from lndia, Changraghacha and Vyas came to the Royal Court, Zarathushtra answered their questions even before they could put forth their query. Tutianus of Greece concluded, “This man (Zarathushtra) cannot be a speaker of falsehood”.
Zarathushtra’s teachings are essentially embodied in the Five Gathas – which form seventeen of the seventy-two chapters of the Yasna – Ahunavad (Possessing the Divine and Creative power of the Ahunavar); Ustavad (Possessing Divine Happiness); Spentomad (Possessing Piety/ Devotion); Vohu Kshtra (Possessing Good Power); and Vahishtoist (Possessing Best Spiritual Riches). So holy are the Gatha that Yasna 55.2 asserts: “The Gatha are the Lords of our soul, protectors and providers of spiritual food and clothing”.
Zarathushtra essentially saw life as a struggle between the forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Man’s duty is that of a spiritual warrior always being on the side of good and fighting evil at the physical, social, ethical and metaphysical level.
If one were to sum up Zarathushtra’s teachings in just one word it would be Asha. Asha at its most simplistic level stands for Truth (as opposed to falsehood). It also stands for Righteous Conduct. At a more universal level it stands for ‘Divine Order’ (and man’s duty to live in ‘harmony’ with that Divine Order). It also stands for ‘Purity’ (in thought, word and deed).
The colophon to the Yasna asserts “Aevo pantao yo Ashahe, Vispe anyaesham apantam.” (There is but one Path, that of Asha. All other paths are false).
In the Hoshbam we pray: “Through the Best Asha, through the highest Asha, may we catch sight of Thee (Ahura Mazda). May we approach Thee, may we be in perfect union with Thee”.
Finally, Zarathushtra’s message is of happiness. We pray in the Ushtavaiti Gatha, “Ushta ahmai yahmai ushta Kahmai chit” – Happiness (be) to him through whom happiness (is caused) to another!
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A wonderful and uplifting article that should be read by everyone, including those not familiar with the Zoroastrian faith.
A very well thought out and noteworthy article. It’s always a good thing to learn more about the guiding principles of our religion. Good for the sake of doing doing is what everyone must strive for.
Mr. Dadrawala continues to display his vast knowledge of Zoroastrian scripture and concepts. I sincerely hope more of our youth are guided by the principles of this religion. Simplicity and righteousness will do all of us some good in this day and age.
It is a pleasure to read the above article on Zarathushtra. Mr. Dadrawala uses such simple language that we love to read it, instead of bombastic words and stupid logic used by other “scholars”.
Does Mr. Dadrawala have a web site which can be easily accessed, and how can I correspond with him on email please ?