I confess that I have always been intrigued and fascinated; even influenced, by the teachings of ‘Zoroaster’, also known as’ Zarathustra’, ‘Zarathushtra Spitama ‘or ‘Ashu Zarathushtra,’ who was an ancient Iranian Prophet. ‘Zarathustra’ literally means ‘golden camel” in Old Iranian, derived from ‘zarat’ denoting “golden”, combined with ‘ushtra’ meaning “camel”, which was considered as a hallowed being. He founded what is now known as ‘Zoroastrianism.’ ‘Zarathustra’ was born in Bactria (or Aria) in modern day Iran (then Persia) around 628 BCE, possibly, in Rhages, (Iran) .He died
around about 551BCE. He was the son of a not very prominent Nobleman, or, perhaps, a priest, ‘Purushaspa’ (which means “ many horses’) and his wife, ‘Dughdova’, which is “milk-maid.” The family name was ‘Spitama,’ or “white.”
Zarathustra was the third of five brothers. Every child who comes into this world, enters it , crying. But Zarathustra was born smiling . The new born laughed ! This caused a great deal of grief for his parents and himself, as the superstitious locals thought him to be an ill omen and strange .They even made several attempts to kill him.
The family is often called Spitama (in the Avestan language, ‘spit’ mean ‘brilliant’ or ‘white’). Zarathustra had four brothers ; two older and two younger.
Along with’ Ahura Mazda,’ ‘Mithra’ was the most important deity in the ancient Iranian pantheon. In the ‘Achaemenid’ inscriptions,’ Mithra’ was, together with ‘Anahita’ , the only deity specifically mentioned.
There was an individual Sun called ‘Hvar Khshaita’. In the eastern Iranian chronicles , laid out in the ‘Avesta’, ‘Mithra’ also appeared to have a connection to the Sun, especially with the first rays of sunrise, as he drives forward in his chariot. In the western Iranian tradition , ‘Mithra’ was said to be completely associated and synonymous with the Sun and his name, in fact, became the common word for ‘Sun’.
Despite his connection to the Sun , ‘Mithra’ functioned prominently in the ethical sphere. The word ‘Mithra’ was a common noun, meaning “contract, covenant or treaty”. ‘Mithra ‘ was, thus. the god of the Covenant. In this respect , he functioned as a celestial deity, overseeing all solemn agreements made between people. Anyone breaking such agreements, were subjected to severe punishments, including execution, whether the agreements were made between individuals or socio-political entities. ’Mithra’ was depicted as sleepless and having 1,000 ears and 10,000 eyes. He was great warrior, sporting a mace, while driving his chariot into battle. In this capacity, he intervened on behalf of those who were faithful to treaties and subjecting the treaty breakers (Mithra-drug) to panic and defeat.
As an independent deity, ‘Mithra’ carried the standing epithet ‘varu-gavyuti,’ which means “one who presides over wide pasture of lands”. Another of his epithets was ‘payu’, i .e “protector”. He was considered the one who protects the territories of those who worship him and abided by their promises.
‘Mithra’ was the god who gave his name to the religion of ‘Mithraism’, which was, at one point, popular throughout the Roman Empire. The priests of’ Mithra’ demanded animal sacrifices from worshippers and were very corrupt and even lascivious .
Zarathustra’s training for priest-hood to the worship of ‘Mithra’ , probably, began when he was around seven years old. He became a full- fledged priest of ‘Mithra’ at fifteen, and, according to the ‘Gathas’, he gained knowledge also from other teachers and personal experiences from traveling, after he left his parents home at age of twenty. Zarathustra abhorred the cruel and bloody rituals practiced by his fellow ‘Mithra’ priests and he spoke out openly against then, drawing their wrath .
At the age of thirty, Zarathustra experienced a revelation during a spring festival; on the river banks, when he saw a shining Being, who revealed himself as ‘Vohu Manah’ (Good Purpose) and taught him about ‘Ahura Mazda’ (Wise Lord) and five other radiant figures. Zarathustra soon became aware of the existence of two primal Spirits, the second being ‘Angra Mainyu’ (Destructive Spirit/ Disorder), with opposing concepts of ‘Asha ‘(Order) and ‘Druj’ (Deception). Thus, he decided to spend the rest of his life teaching people to seek ‘Asha’. He received further revelations and saw a vision of the seven ‘Amesha Spenta’, and his teachings were collected in the ‘Gathas’ and the ‘Avesta.’ The early
disciples of Zarathustra were centered in Nineveh in Iran.
Eventually, when he was around forty-two, Queen Hutaosa and a ruler named ‘Vishtaspa,’ early adherents of ‘Zoroastrianism’, gave him their unstinted support and ‘Zoroastrianism’ was made the State religion of then Persia.
Zarathustra’s fundamentals are based on the concept of ‘humata; ;hukta; ; huvarshata’, Zoroastrians believe that people are free to choose between good and evil . Preferring good will lead to happiness while opting for evil will lead to unhappiness. Therefore, the motto of the religion is: “Good Thoughts, Good Words , Good Deeds “ . Zarathustra’s teachings were also focused on the resurrection of the body; the Last Judgment and ever-lasting life for the reunited soul and body, among other aspects, which, as I ,personally, see it, were borrowed by the Abrahamic religions. But they lost the context of the original peaceful teachings, and took on a more militant form; forcing conversion through the sword as well as other violent means and deceptions.
‘Zoroastrianism’ is one of the world’s oldest surviving religions and it is the first monotheistic tradition. Although it has few practitioners today, I contend that its historical influence on Judaism, Christianity and Islam is quite significant ( although , perhaps, especially , the Jews , who are quite naturally argumentative, may not agree !). Zarathustra, I suggest, may have been influenced by his contemporary , Buddha . Whatever it may be, the fact is , that the religion of Zarathustra was on a different plane from that of the other Western religions, (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) ,even though they have their genius from ‘ Zoroastrianism.’ There are no gory animal sacrifices or deliberately causing hurt or harm to any living being in Zarathustra’s creed. It certainly exerted sway also in the “Meditations of Marcus Augustus’, written by the Roman Emperor , more than a thousand years after Zarathustra’s demise. Zoroastrians worship ‘Ahura Mazda’ ,through the medium of Fire.
Zarathustra married three times. His first two wives bore him three sons, Isat Vâstra , Urvatat Nara, and Hvare Chithra, and three daughters, Freni, Thriti, and Pouruchista. His third wife, Hvōvi, was childless. Zarathustra lived for many years after ‘Vishtaspa’s’ conversion and he established a faithful community, which were once prominent in Persia. But in the 7th Centaury C.E., over ninety per cent of Zoroastrians in Persia were either killed or forced to convert to Islam by the Muslim hordes that swept through Western Asia. A small hand-full of them managed to flee to India. Zarathustra died when he was 77 years and 40 days old. The later Pahlavi sources like the ‘Shahnameh,’ claim that following an obscure conflict with the ‘Tuiryas’ tribes ,he was murdered by a ‘karapan ‘(a priest of the old religion) ,named ‘Brādrēs. while he was praying.
Today, only around ninety thousand Zoroastrians remain world- wide. I can think only of two Zoroastrians who have indulged in serious crimes. Commander Kawas Nanavati, who killed his wife’s paramour out of passion – some feel, which was justified. Pheroze Daruwalla , who murdered his elderly Christian in-laws out of greed. He was hanged at the Yerawda Central Jail in Pune on December 31,1975.Apart from these two land-mark cases, in my experience in the legal profession of some decades, I have handled only one criminal matter in which a Zoroastrian was involved. He was a confidence trickster and was referred to me by his brother-in law, who was my friend. I secured bail for him. He was later acquitted for want of clinching evidence. But I am told that he has not mended his ways. Zoroastrians are , primarily, a wonderful and joyful people. Their numbers, however, are drastically dwindling and soon, perhaps, this gentle community, who have contributed so much philanthropically and in every field wherever they are, may, sadly become extinct !
Author: AMIT KUMAR BHOWMIK
Amit Kumar Bhowmik is a lawyer based in Pune. He has his practice including in the Bombay High court as also other High courts as well as he appears as Counsel in the Supreme court. Although essentially having his practise on the criminal side he is an all-rounder having taken up matters in the matrimonial courts as well. He is a prolific writer and an unabashed champion of women rights.