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Overview of Zoroastrianism

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Zoroastrianism (also sometimes known as Mazdaism) was adapted from an earlier, polytheistic faith by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in Persia between 1400 and 1200 BC (although, in the absence of written records, some scholars estimate as late as 600 BC).

Zoroastrianism combines elements of monotheism and dualism. Some modern scholars believe that Zoroastrianism had a large influence on Judaism and Manichaeism, and thus indirectly influenced Christianity and Islam.

The holy book of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta. Of the Avesta only the Gathas (the hymns) are attributed to Zoroaster.

Ahura Mazda (literally: "the Wise Lord" like the Sanskrit "Asura Medha"; later transcription: Ohrmazd, Ormazd or Ormus) is revered and worshipped by Zoroastrians as the good God. Opposed to Ahura Mazda stands Ahriman (Angra Mainyu), who in some traditions is Ohrmazd's twin brother, in others the twin of Spenta Mainyu; modern Zoroastrianism considers itself monotheistic and looks upon Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu as allegorical personifications.

According to Zoroastrianism, the earth was created by Ormazd as a battlefield to fight Ahriman (where Ohrmazd is destined to win approximately 3000 years after Zoroaster, that is, circa AD 2400). Human beings have free will to choose between Ohrmazd and Ahriman, however once this choice is made it is impossible or nearly impossible to change. Those who align with Ohrmazd are believed to go directly to Heaven after death or resurrection (depending on the tradition), whereas those who align with Ahriman go to Hell for a period of time before then going on to Heaven. Unlike Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism does not associate matter with evil. On the contrary, material pursuits such as raising a family and creating wealth are considered to aid Ohrmazd. "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds" is a common slogan.

However, Zoroastrianism is not simply the purely ethical religion it may at first seem. Purification rituals are important. Indeed a religious Zoroastrian must constantly be involved in a meticulous struggle against the contamination of death (which is associated with Ahriman) and of the many other causes of defilement, and against the threat - even in sleep - of demons. Fire is an important religious symbol, and once started a ritual fire must be kept continually burning. The dead are not buried (so as to not defile the soil) or cremated (as fire is considered sacred), but left for vultures to devour in specially constructed Towers of Silence.

By the 6th century, Zoroastrianism had spread to northern China via the Silk Road, gaining official status in a number of Chinese states. Zoroastrian temples still remained in Kaifeng and Zhenjiang as late as the 1130s, but by the 13th century the religion had faded from prominence in China.

In the 7th century, the Zoroastrian Sassanid dynasty was conquered by Muslim Arabs, and Zoroastrians were awarded the status of People of the Book by the Caliph Omar, although some practices contrary to Islam were prohibited, such as sibling marriages. Before this took place, however, many thousand of Zoroastrian priests were executed, hundreds of temples destroyed, and religious texts burnt. Further, the use of the ancient Avestan as well as Persian languages was prohibited. Islamic invaders attempted to distort the teaching of Zardusht by presenting Zoroastrianism as polytheistic cult thus facilitating the annihilation of the Iranian culture and its peoples.

Arab invasion and the subsequent repression by Islamic authorities left the deepest scar in this ancient monotheistic faith that was once dominant in a region stretching from Anatolia to Persian Gulf and Central Asia. The Persecution of Zoroastrians by Muslim rulers of theocratic Iran continued after the Arabs left; even today, however, one can find Zoroastrian communities living and practicing their faith in remote regions of the country.

In the 8th century, Zoroastrians fled to India in large numbers, where they were given refuge by Jadi Rana, a Hindu king of Sanjan (the modern-day province of Gujarat) on condition that they abstain from missionary activities and marry only in their community. Although these strictures are centuries old, Parsis of the 21st century still do not accept converts and are endogamous. The Parsis of India speak a Gujarati dialect.

The earliest English references (http://www.adherents.com/lit/sf_zor.html) to Zoroaster and the Zoroastrian religion occur in the writings of the encyclopaedist Sir Thomas Browne.

It is widely believed that the Three Wise Men said to have borne gifts for Jesus of Nazareth were Zoroastrian Magi. The Achaemenid Persian Kings Xerxes and Darius had previously assisted the Jews in rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem.

Small Zoroastrian communities survive in Iran and in India (where they are called Parsis or Parsees), totalling 140,000 followers. Iranian Zoroastrians are called Gabars (a name deriving from the Arabic word kaffir meaning infidel), but this is a pejorative term. Some Zoroastrians in Yazd and Kerman still speak an Iranian language distinct from Persian. They call their language Dari (not to be confused with the Dari of Afghanistan). Their language is also called Gabri or Behdinan. Sometimes their language is named for the cities in which they are spoken, Yazdi or Kermani. Other small Zoroastrian communities exist in large cities in the United States, England and Canada.

Famous Zoroastrians
One of the most famous Zoroastrians is the late Freddie Mercury, the frontman of the group Queen. He was given a traditional Zoroastrian funeral after he died of AIDS on the 24th of November, 1991. Famous Indian Parsis include symphonic conductor Zubin Mehta, the Tata and Godrej industrial families.

from: wikipedia.org
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