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Zarathustra – the laughing prophet !

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  !




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.


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