Zoroastrianism: A Brief History

Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s most ancient surviving religions emanating from the prehistoric Indo-Iranian period. Today Zoroastrianism has become as much a cultural identity as a religious practice with many members of the community leading secular lifestyles. Whether practising or not, the Zoroastrian community’s respect for their cultural background remains.
 
The religion originated in ancient Persia over three thousand years ago, though the exact details of the birth of Zoroastrianism are unclear. But it is believed that the prophet Zarathushtra, later referred to by the Greeks as Zoroaster, was born in what was then ancient eastern Iran. The precise date of the founding of Zoroastrianism is uncertain. An approximate date of 1200-1500 BCE has been established through archaeological evidence and linguistic comparisons with the Hindu text, the Rig Veda (source: BBC Religions website)
 
Indo-Iranian religion in Zarathushtra’s time was polytheistic believing in a pantheon of deities and demons. This polytheistic religion shares its origins with the ancient Vedic religion of India. Thus, the two beliefs share some similarities such as the ahura and daevas (agents of order and chaos) in Zoroastrianism and the asuras and devas in the Vedic religion.
 
Like the Buddha who followed him, Zoroaster became disillusioned with the religious practices and organisations of his time and retreated from society in order to engage in deep meditation. Upon his return to the outer world, he shared what he had learnt with others around him and the practice of Zoroastrianism was born. Zoroastrianism is arguably the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, believing in one transcendent and universal God, Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. Zoroastrianism also acknowledges the principles representing good and evil: Spenta Mainyu (Bounteous Spirit) and Angra Mainyu (Destructive Spirit) and may be the first religion to propose the idea of personal responsibility, rejecting the idea of predestination and advocating the concept of freewill. It is a religion that is strongly bound to the forces of nature, where the four basic elements - earth, water, air and fire - are respected and honoured. Indeed Zoroastrians pray at Fire Temples. Ahura Mazda is represented by light and fire. Zoroastrian temples keep a fire burning at all times to represent Ahura Mazda’s eternal power. Fire is also recognized as a powerful purifier and is respected for that reason.
 
The Zoroastrianism holy books are called the Avesta, which contain sacred texts initially passed down orally from one generation to another before being recorded in writing. The most important ethical principal of Zoroastrianism is Humata, Hukhta, Huvereshta, “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”
 
Amongst the sacred texts, Avesta, there are 17 chapters (Yasmas) that are known as the "Gathas"; Zoroastrian hymns attributed to the prophet himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.