Zoroastrianism

Doctrines Zoroaster's teachings are extant in the form of seventeen hymns, the Gathas, used in Zoroastrian ritual and incorporated into the Avesta. The Avesta is the sacred text of Zoroastrianism, written in a language known as Avestan. Zoroaster taught that humanity is confronted by an ultimate choice, between the exclusive worship of the good Ahura Mazda on one side, and the evil of Angra Mainyu and the false gods or daevas on the other. Believers must choose right, as Zoroaster did, and reject evil by dedicating their lives to Mazda and realising in person the various aspects of the divine nature in which everyone can share. These aspects are known as the Amesha Spentas or Bounteous Immortals and they are: Holy Spirit, Good Mind, Right, Dominion, Piety, Welfare and Immortality.
The classic formulations of Zoroastrian teachings are contained in the Pahlavi literature, written between the 4th and 10th centuries CE. Both Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu are seen as existing independently of the other from eternity. In terms of salvation there are two interrelated goals: personal salvation and the fulfilment of the total creation. Zoroastrian religious beliefs can best be summarised with the phrase, 'Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.'

History Zoroastrianism is the religious tradition named after the founding prophet Zoroaster, the Greek form of the Iranian Zarathustra, who most scholars agree lived between 1500 and 1000 BCE in North East Iran. Zoroaster was convinced that he had seen Ahura Mazda in visions. Early persecution stopped when Zoroaster converted the local ruler and his teachings spread to become the religion of the Achaemenid empire and three successive Iranian empires. However, under Islamic Iran there was economic and social oppression which resulted in a small group leaving in the 10th century and settling on the north west coast of India, around Bombay, where the main Zoroastrian centre still exists. Here the Parsis, or Persians, lived peacefully until a Muslim invasion in 1315 CE forced the priests to flee with the sacred fire to the hills of Bahrot, where they stayed for twelve years.
After a 400-year stay in Navsari, in 1742 the fire was taken to Udwada where it has burnt ever since. This particular sacred fire has burnt continuously for 1000 years and is a special pilgrimage site. British interest in Bombay between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries transformed the region into India's commercial centre and the Parsis prospered under their rule. Western influence and education caused many Parsis to reinterpret or adapt their beliefs and various movements within Zoroastrianism have assumed influence within the community at various times. The Parsis today are a shrinking and ageing community due to their policy of non-conversion and the discouragement of inter-marriage.

Symbols There are three major symbols in the Zoroastrian tradition. Firstly, all fire is sacred in Zoroastrian belief; it is present in all ritual and is perpetually burning in the temple as a symbolic representation of God. There are three different grades of fire in the temples: the royal fire, Atash Bahram, which burns in only four temples: the adaran fire which burns in most temples: and the dadgah fire which can be tended by a lay person and which will be present in the home. In terms of temple worship, there are no set times or days for attendance, although many Zoroastrians do attend regularly. Before any sacred activity, such as entry to the temple, the worshipper must wash and pray, as symbols of cleansing.
Zoroastrians wear two symbolic garments: the sudre and the kusti, which represent the armour of God and the swordbelt of faith respectively. The sudre is a thin white cotton garment worn next to the skin at all times, except when bathing. White is the symbol of purity, innocence and the Zoroastrian religion. The sudre has a small purse sewn into the throat, to remind the believer that it should be continually filled with good thoughts and deeds. The kusti is a long cord made of 72 threads of lamb's wool woven by the priest's wife and consecrated by the priest before it is worn. The kusti is untied and tied around the waist several times each day whilst prayers are said. At initiation (naojot) each boy or girl wears the sudre and the kusti for the first time. It is also at this ceremony that moral responsibility is given and the initiate is formally asked to commit themselves to the fight against the forces of evil.

Adherents There are approximately 140,000 Zoroastrians in the world and the Parsi community constitutes the largest group amongst them.
Adherents by main geographical areas: India, 100,000; Iran, 30,000; Pakistan, 4000; Britain and North America, 6000 (Harris et al. 1994).

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 The main centre could be said to be Bombay in terms of numbers of adherents or Udwada in India where the sacred fire is a special pilgrimage site.