The Path – May 1894

ZOROASTRIANISM — S. D. Bharucha

RELIGION OF THE "FIRE WORSHIPERS"

The managers of the Parliament of Religions of the World's Fair requested Mr. Narroji of London, a Parsee who is in Parliament, to advise as to the best means for having the Zoroastrian religion represented there, and they were directed to the Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Society of Bombay, which appointed their lecturer, Mr. Sheriarji D. Bharucha, to prepare an address. This he did, and it may be regarded as authoritative. The Society subsequently published the address, and these extracts are from it. (1)

TIME

There are two expressions as to Time. The first is Time without bounds, or Eternity. The second is Time with a fixed period and therefore restricted to mean a cycle of time. The state of the Universe before the present cycle of time is not treated of in the books. But the end of the world is synchronous with the end of the present cycle when the last of Saoshyants will come. He will regenerate all; the souls in hell will be raised up and all souls will be brought unto bliss, for God's wish cannot be gainsayed. [Hence we see that the old cyclic doctrine is held and that final damnation is not possible. In some Persian books recurrent cycles are mentioned.]

CREATION

Its object is to promote happiness. The doctrine of creating something out of nothing is not held, but it is taught that the material cause of the world was supplied by the efficient cause Himself. At first there was a spiritual series of creatures. [This resembles the system of Secret Doctrine. After these came corporeal creations, the lower coming first, and then man last. In the course of this evolution the Saoshyants, who are saviors and teachers, come among men.

MAN'S CONSTITUTION

Man is a compound of material and spiritual parts, thus:

Tanu           Body
Ushtana      Life
Urvan         Soul (Feminine)
Fravashi     Soul (Masculine)

To soul are ascribed mind, consciousness, and the like.

The soul having been furnished with every aid is expected to come out successful in its moral career and get reward. But if it fails no vicarious salvation can be asked, as that is unknown to the religion.

ETHICS

As salvation depends on works, it is a peremptory duty to lead a holy life. The code is: Good word, good thought, good deed. All the very highest virtues are inculcated and described in the same way as in any modern system, and vices are emphatically denounced.

WORSHIP AND RITUAL

Oral recitations of the Sacred Word, sometimes accompanied with ritual, form their worship. Every Parsee generally prays by himself [this is the religion of Jesus], but public worship by all is sometimes performed. Most of the ritual must be performed by the priests. The most necessary ritual is the prayer on untying and retying the sacred thread, called Kusti, round the waist on the sacred shirt called Sudra. [This thread is extremely like the Brahminical one]. Between seven and fifteen the child must be invested with Kusti and Sudra. The Sudra is a white linen shirt with a breast-piece in front. Kusti is a thread or tape made of seventy-two woolen threads, girded three times round the waist with four knots, two in front and two behind. It is worn day and night. It is made of lamb's wool. The ceremony of investiture is called Navzot, i. e., new or first worship, and is performed by one priest in presence of the audience. The materials, colors, knots, and numbers are all symbolical. Laymen cannot take part in the principal ritualistic performances, but can touch some of the accessory implements. [Herein is similarity to Roman Catholic ritual.] Animal sacrifices were once offered, but are not now.

PARSIS NOT FIRE-WORSHIPERS

A fallacious notion that the Zoroastrians worship fire arose from their outward reverence for it as a great natural salutary agent. All their writers modern and ancient repudiate the notion, and Zoroaster enjoined the worship of the Supreme Being alone. Ferdosi says in the Shahnameh, a great epic,

Do not say that they were fire-worshipers;
For they were worshipers of God the Holy.

It is extremely probable that Zoroaster found the people worshipping idols, as certain references point to that fact, and reformed them gently by suggesting that they salute as holy the fire, which is the best and highest symbol of the Divine. In the Sun it represents the source of all life on earth, and it would be the part of a wise man to direct people who lived among idolators to such a grand and pure symbol, certainly less open to objection than are the images of Jesus and Mary used in modern times by Christians.

FOOTNOTE:

1. Brief Sketch of the Zoroastrian Religion and Customs, Duftur Ashkara Press, Bombay. (return to text)


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