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M.N. Dhalla: History of Zoroastrianism (1938), part 7.

This electronic edition prepared by Joseph H. Peterson and Soli Dastur, 2004.




Theological disputations. We find from the extent Persian literature that the writers of this period occupied themselves in minute quibbling and barren discussions of the ritualistic cere­monies and purificatory rites. There is no trace of original thinking on vital problems. Their energy was wholly expended on endless wranglings about dogmas and theological disquisitions. Questions were raised whether it was essential to cover the face of a corpse with the penom, or mouth-covering white veil; whether the legs of a corpse should be folded or left lengthwise, before it was removed to its final resting place.1 The community was actually divided into two parties over the first question, and so bitter was the feeling aroused that at Surat the corpses with­out such coverings were refused a resting-place in the Tower of Silence. The relatives of the dead had under these circumstances to carry dead bodies to Navsari for their final disposal. This resulted in the erection of separate towers for the contending parties.

1. Patell, Parsi Prakash, 1, 23, Bombay, 1888.
Intercalation controversy provides a powerful incentive to the study of the ancient Zoroastrian scriptures. In 1720 were planted seeds of a controversy' which gave, however, a real and abiding impetus to religious studies. A learned Mobad named Jamasp, who came to India from Persia, in 1721, found that the Indian Parsis were one month behind the Zoroastrians of Per­sia in the calculation of their year, and he strongly advocated a reform in the matter. The question at first did not arouse much attention, but later it developed into a serious problem that led to a display of strong passion and to the exchange of bitter words on both sides in the community. Learned priests in each party zealously turned to the study of the original scriptures, as a source to decide the matter, and the question was threshed out in detail, accompanied by the publication of innumerable tracts [471] and pamphlets. While the learned in the community were thus engaged in ransacking their ancient records, the masses took up the controversy acrimoniously, resorting to abuses and some­times even to blows. The Shahinshahis, or the Imperials, repre­sented the old order, and the dissenters styled themselves the Kadimis, or the Ancients. The former annoyed the latter by their mocking derision. Social intercourse between the two be­came most strained, the community was split into two sects, and separate places of worship were founded. The division of the community into two sects endures to the present day, but despite the differences obtaining between the two, time and the growth of education have obliterated the bitter feelings. Modern re­searches have proved that both the parties were wrong in their calculations. The accidentals of the controversy have changed during the long period of hard-fought battles, but the main ques­tion has still remained as unsettled as before. Among the chief causes that have contributed to the indefinite postponement of the reform are the indifference and apathy of the community. The question is looked at with misgivings, as not falling in the arena of practical reform, because fraught with many complications. What we are more concerned with is, that the controversy gave new life to literary activities, and encouraged studious habits among the learned.




Introduction of Iranian studies in the West. The inexor­able decree of Providence had ruled that a new light from the West should dispel the darkness that had surrounded the pages of the sacred scriptures for ages, and add to their better under­standing and elucidation. European travellers who had visited India and Persia during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries acquainted the people of the West with the religious beliefs, man­ners, and customs of the followers of Zoroaster. Hyde's masterly work on Parsi religion, which drew its materials from the works of the classical authors and the Persian version of the Sad Dar as well as from kindred works, appeared in 1700. Some im­portant Iranian manuscripts had been carried from India to Eng­land, and were now shelved as curios in the Bodleian library at Oxford.

Anquetil du Perron's pioneer work. To the energetic Frenchman, Anquetil du Perron, is due the credit of making the first systematic attempt to study the Avestan texts and place their contents before the Western world.1 Having come across a fac­simile of four leaves of the Bodleian manuscript, his curiosity was aroused, and with characteristic zeal he enlisted as a soldier in 1754 on a ship bound for India with the aim of bringing back to the Western world a knowledge of the sacred scriptures of Zoroaster. Unbounded enthusiasm, combined with the vigour of youth, enabled Anquetil to overcome the almost insuperable dif­ficulties that stood in the way of his literary enterprise. Having acquired from Dastur Darab, the High Priest of the Parsis of Surat, what inadequate knowledge he could get in those days, he returned home after six years of strenuous work and published the result of his studies in three quarto volumes in 1771. This [473] publication created a stir in literary circles, and gave rise to a heated controversy. One school of thought of eminent scholars in Europe declined to attach any weight to the Frenchman's work, and denied that the grotesque stuff that he had placed before the world could ever be the work of so great a thinker and sage as Zoroaster, stoutly maintaining that Anquetil's Avesta was either a forgery or that he had been duped by the Indian Parsi Mobads. The falseness of this view, however, was ultimately shown.

1. See Mody, Anquetil du Perron and Dastur Darab, Bombay, 1916.
Western scholarship revives Zoroastrian studies. The dis­interested labours of various scholars during the subsequent years fully substantiated Anquetil's pioneer work; and when the closer affinity between the languages of the Avesta and Sanskrit be­came generally known, the sacred texts began to be studied in the light of comparative philology, and the authenticity of the Avesta was completely proved. The seeds sown by Anquetil have since blossomed into fruitful trees in the West, but some decades passed after the publication of his work before Western scholar­ship penetrated into India.




Beginning of the spirit of exclusiveness among the Parsis. We have already seen that the handful of the Parsi fugitives who emigrated to India after the final overthrow of the Persian em­pire in the middle of the seventh century had to face enormous difficulties in the earlier centuries of their settlement in the new home. The precarious condition in which they lived for a con­siderable period made it impracticable for them to keep up their former proselytizing zeal. The instinctive fear of disintegration and absorption in the vast multitudes among whom they lived created in them a spirit of exclusiveness and a strong feeling for the preservation of the racial characteristics and distinctive fea­tures of their community. Living in an atmosphere surcharged with the Hindu caste system, they felt that their own safety lay in encircling their fold by rigid caste barriers.

The community was divided regarding the question of ad­mitting lower classes of aliens into its fold. Though the prac­tice of an active religious propaganda had thus fallen into desuetude, the question of conversion does not seem to have died out entirely, for we find recorded in the Rivayat literature that a heated polemic regarding the subject was carried on during the latter part of the eighteenth century. With the beginning of economic prosperity, the Indian Parsis, we learn, were in the habit of purchasing male and female slaves of low Hindu castes. These slaves, in many cases, were invested with sacred shirt and girdle and admitted into the Zoroastrian fold by the priests at the request of their masters. Those members of the community who were opposed to the mingling of their blood with that of such a low class of people denied to these converts the full privi­leges of a true believer. The contesting parties applied to their coreligionists in Persia for their advice and decision in the mat­ter. The point made by those who favoured the cause of the [475] the converts was that the Parsis of India who owned slaves for their work not only often had them admitted to the Mazdayasnian faith in accordance with the tenets of the religion, but also, without and religious scruples, partook of food prepared by them, and even permitted them, at the season festival to prepare the sacred cakes used for consecration and sacrificial purposes. It was urged that having allowed the converted slaves all such rights of a true Zoroastrian in their lifetime, certain priests as well as laymen objected to the corpses of these slaves being deposited in the Tower of Silence when they died. The Iranian high priests, in replying to their inquiring brothers in India advised them in the beginning to take precautionary measures in all such conver­sions that no harm should thereby be done to the religion and to the community. It was certainly an act of great merit, they pro­ceeded, to purchase alien children and bring them up as Zoroastrians. It was unfair and highly objectionable, they added, nay it was an inexpiable sin, to refuse these unfortunate people all the privileges of a believer after once admitting them into the Zoroas­trian religious fold. It is taught by the scriptures, they argued, that all mankind will be brought over to the religion of Mazda in the time of the future saviour prophets. It was, therefore, the pious duty of every true Zoroastrian to help this great cause by leading all to the path of righteousness. In the face of such commands, they concluded, those who denied to the proselytes the full rights of a faithful believer did not deserve to be called Zoroastrians.
On another occasion in reply to a question about the conver­sion of such low-class people, the Iranian informant wrote that even a man who dug graves or followed the profession of burning the dead (two inexpiable sins according to Zoroastrianism), should be admitted into the Zoroastrian fold, provided his admit­tance would not be harmful to the faith.

The fear that the community might be swamped by the un­desirable alien element was a reason why proselytizing fell into disfavour. We notice in that discussion that the different sections of the community were divided more on the social side of the question of proselytizing than on its religious side. The protest was chiefly based against the admixture of racial blood that the low class of the aliens introduced into the community. The Zoroastrians of Persia, who were trampled under the iron [476] foot of their Moslem conquerors and had lived in servile state, saw no objection whatsoever in receiving converts even from the lowest strata of the non-Zoroastrian peoples. But the case was different with the Indian Parsis, among whom the improved social and economic conditions had aroused a keen sense of racial pride and consciousness of their past greatness. A very consider­able portion of the community, it seems, looked with disapproval upon the introduction of the undesirable element of alien races into their small numbers. This strong feeling was aggravated the more through the fact that such converts who sought admis­sion came always from the lowest classes. Members of the upper classes of the non-Zoroastrian communities were not heard knocking at the door of the Mazdayasnian fire-temples seeking admission. The community was not disposed to any kind of active religious propaganda. The cases of conversion were con­sequently confined either to the slaves brought up in Parsi fam­ilies or to the children born to Parsi fathers of their non-Zoroas­trian mistresses. Proselytizing came to be associated with the low type of foreign element, and fell into disrepute.
A beginning of opposition to the idea of religious propaganda was thus made when the entire question of proselytizing came to be looked upon by the community with disfavour. No serious at­tempt has since been made by the Parsis of India to organize a proselytizing movement with the sole object of propagating their faiths But the desire on the part of some Zoroastrians to include in the faith children born to them by illegitimate intercourse with non-Zoroastrian mistresses, or by others seeking a matrimonial alliance with alien women and investing the children born of such unions with the sacred shirt and girdle, has prompted them to open the question from time to time to the present day. So bitter have been the controversies thus arising that they have stopped just short of physical violence.




The last native version of the Avesta independent of the influence of Western scholarship. So far the Parsi scholars had generally written in the Persian language, a knowledge of which was limited to a very narrow circle, and the general public accordingly did not profit by their work. The need had long been felt of producing theological literature in the language of the people, and several portions of the Persian Rivayats had already been done into Gujarati. These were followed during the early part of the last century by a Gujarati version of the Avestan texts, not from the original, but based on the Pahlavi, Sanskrit, and Persian renderings. This was the last native attempt to render the Avestan scriptures into another language through the medium of the Pahlavi translation. The Sanskrit, Persian, and Gujarati translators had all successively made their renderings on the basis of the traditional Pahlavi version; it was left for the modern philologists to approach the Avestan texts in the original itself, independently of the Pahlavi rendering though aided by it, and through the methods of strict linguistic science to give an independent and first-hand translation of the original Avestan texts.
Rendering of other Persian works into Gujarati. The Per­sian Zartusht Namah was rendered into verse in Gujarati by Mobad Rustam Peshutan Hamajiar in the early part of the eighteenth century1. The Gujarati version of the Avesta was soon followed by a translation of some of the important Pazand-Persian works into Gujarati. The most popular among these were Jamaspi and Arda Viraf Namah. The prognostications of the former treatise fascinated the gentler sex, who were regaled by the recital of its contents from the lips of the family priest, [478] or of some male member of the family who happened to know the language. Viraf's account of the beatific visions of heaven and the horrors of hell appeared in illustrated lithographed edi­tions. The pictures of the heavenly persons seated on golden thrones, and of the wicked falling headlong into hell to be gnawed by noxious creatures, served vividly to bring the abstract ethical teachings, before the mind of young and old. Some devotional literature, both in prose and verse, appeared during this period. In the same connection, it may be added that the episodes of the Persian kings and warriors, handed down from antiquity by tra­dition, were rendered into Gujarati, and were most enthusias­tically read or heard by all. This helped to bring home to them the greatness and glory of their ancestors.

1 Meherbanu and Behramgore Anklesaria's Zartosht Namun, Bombay, 1932.


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The modern world is divided between Modernism and Tra­ditionalism. Religions rest on divine revelation. This revealed knowledge is static. Secular knowledge progresses with time and, by continuous research and discovery in the realm of the physics of nature and the laws of life, creates new knowledge. It knows no end and is ever new. It adapts itself to the times and satisfies the cravings of the thinking minds. From the earli­est times, religion spoke with authority on matters relating to the spirit. But there were physical problems for which the inquisi­tive mind always demanded solution. Science claimed to make new discoveries in the realm of physical researches. Religion adopted science as its handmaid and incorporated the discoveries of the scientists and the physicists and proclaimed them as the further divine revelation to mankind to explain physical ques­tions. The crude cosmologies and cosmogonies of the times when science was in its infancy were thus made integral parts of the religions of the world. The researches of modern science have rendered them untenable in the light of advanced knowledge. The doctrine of evolution has revolutionized man's outlook upon life throughout the world. Modern science has changed the atti­tude of the thinking people everywhere. The intellectual ferment and spiritual unrest have stirred the whole world. The enlight­ened youths are driven to disbelief. They are not happy in the state of disbelief. They are anxious to believe and secure peace of mind but they cannot honestly subscribe to the beliefs in which they are brought up. They are disbelievers despite themselves. This state of disbelief is produced by honest doubt.

Orthodoxy is obstinacy to forget anything old and learn anything new. Orthodoxy has always and everywhere professed that the doctrines, dogmas, rituals, and the established views of life that a people has inherited are fixed and right. All those that dissent from them are heterodox, other than right, not right, [482] that is, wrong. Orthodoxy has always numbers on its side, for the average man is temperamentally timid and conservative and is unwilling to be disturbed in the thoughts and views he has in­herited with his birth. He seeks refuge in tradition and is con­tent to live secure in the dead past. All that is handed down from remote times and forms the tradition of the people is sacred. Orthodoxy is jealous of the views it holds and resents all opposition to them. It aims at making people religious in its own way. It moves about with prying eyes and spies on its neighbour's conscience and struggles to read his thoughts. When­ever it is powerful enough to inflict its will upon others, it clips the wing of thought, gags speech, and cripples action. The collective orthodox mind controls the thinking of the individual and drives the dissenters to secrete their thoughts in the lowest depths of their souls. Orthodoxy makes free thinking taboo and fails to see that high thinking is impossible without free think­ing. Orthodoxy is impervious to the influence of the times.




Awakening of the communal conscience. The advent of the British in India, and an era of peace, justice, and security of life and property, ushered in by them, opened a new page in the history of the Parsis. Having a ready scope, the means of adaptation, and also elasticity in their religion, they now began to assert their latent capacity, and soon emerged from the obscurity in which they had lived, to become henceforth the foremost people in India in matters educational, industrial, and social. They came in the vanguard of progress, amassed vast fortunes, and munificently gave away large sums in charity. This un­precedented economic prosperity helped the revival of learning among the Zoroastrians. The new epoch of the revival of learn­ing gave new hopes for a period of formation and life. Various educational institution had been founded, and the Parsis faced the problem of the responsibility of universal franchise in the world of letters. The average Parsi child of both the sexes en­tered the schools founded on European lines by the community during the first half of the last century, in various centres of Parsi population, and education on Western standards spread with accelerated rapidity.

The new knowledge profoundly modified the religious con­ceptions of the young. The inroads of Western ideas and culture undermined the old ideals, and modified many of the beliefs sanctified by ages. It was the opening of a new age for the Parsis, in which they witnessed the waning of the power of au­thority and the waxing of the demand for the verification of religious truths. The transition from the old to the new was bound to be disruptive. The new spirit that had taken hold of the community stirred it to its lowest depth. It threatened the community with an intellectual revolt from the new school. The reaction was bound to come, and come it did. It was violent as all reaction is apt to be, and it ended in indifferentism. The [484] popular creed as propounded by the traditionalist exponents and orthodox formalists failed to carry conviction to their intellect. They wanted to verify their doubts and refused to believe that which, as they said, was not in accord with reason. The glowing accounts of the reward and retribution of the materialized heaven and hell ceased to act upon the imagination of the educated classes. The imaginings of Viraf failed to exert any restraining influence over the tendency to sin. The inspired visions of this seer, about the scenes of the hereafter, depicting the pleasures of the souls of the blessed in paradise and the agonies of the wicked in hell, which satisfied the spiritual cravings of their elders for ages, failed longer so to do in the case of the new generation. The waters of Ardvisur had inundated the regions of hell and quenched the blazing fire, the horrors of hell had vanished into thin air, and the apocalyptic account of Viraf no longer presented to the minds of the enlightened youth what they had to the strictly orthodox. A treatment of the unfortunate souls, such as was portrayed traditionally, seemed to them monstrous, and subverting man's idea of the goodness of Ohrmazd. They thought them to be crude and archaic. The germs of new thought were sprouting among the young, and they viewed these theological problems with a changed attitude. They gradually became estranged from all beliefs that had been instilled into them from childhood. They aimed at reconciling religion and contemporary knowledge, and bringing religious beliefs and practices into closer relation with the intellectual ways and thought. Parsi orthodoxy resented it.

An illiterate priesthood failed to satisfy the intellectual wants of the enlightened youth. The Parsi priesthood had long before degenerated into ignorance. The situation was not keenly felt so long as the laity was equally illiterate. But now when the latter sought enlightenment, the clergy had kept less and less abreast of the times. During the long period of twelve centuries, very few priests rose above mediocrity. The priest hitherto had acted as an intercessor between the layman and Ohrmazd, and through elaborate ritual had undertaken to gain for him divine help, being duly paid to recite penitential prayers for the expia­tion of the sins of the living, and to sacrifice for the purchase of paradise for the dead. The youth of the new school argued that there was no more need of the Mobad's mediation between him [485] and his Heavenly Father. He demanded that the priest should act as a moral preceptor, a spiritual ministrant to his soul. This, in those times, the priest could not do. He could not widen his religious outlook and adapt himself to the demand of the younger generation.
The youth now grew up without religious instruction and gradually gravitated towards indifferentism. The apathy, cal­lousness, and disregard towards religion on the part of the edu­cated youth waxed stronger day by day, and culminated in an atmosphere of agnosticism that withered the beliefs in which they were brought up. Agnosticism became the threatening evil of the day.




Parsi scholarship at this period. Up to that time the Avestan texts had been almost wholly interpreted by the Zoroastrian authorities through the help of their Pahlavi translations. The original Avestan texts had remained largely unintelligible with­out the Pahlavi version. It was not then known that the Gathas were composed in metre, much less the fact that some other minor texts were also metrical. The rudiments of Avestan gram­mar that various inflections modified the meaning of a word had been a long forgotten fact. This was due to the circumstance that, owing to the inflectional poverty of the Pahlavi language, the translators had resorted to the use of particles and very often had even dropped this only means of indicating the syntactical relation of words in a sentence, and had contented themselves with rendering an inflected Avestan word by its uninflected crude Pahlavi equivalent. Firdausi and other Moslem writers were the sole informants of the Parsi scholars regarding the ancient and legendary history of Iran. As these did not record the do­ings of the Achaemenian kings, the Parsi community remained without any inkling of the greatness and glory of the illustrious Parsi kings of the great Persian empire. European history had now for the first time startled the English-educated Parsi youth with the information that there once flourished a mighty dynasty of rulers whom the modern Parsi can claim as his kith and kin. The truth had been denied for centuries to their legitimate descen­dants in India and Persia that a Cyrus or a Darius, a Xerxes or an Artaxerxes, who had carried the Persian banner in war to the farthest ends of the world, were historically their own core­ligionists.
In vain did the august Farohar of Darius hover round the rock of Behistan for over two thousand years in pious expecta­tion of some Parsi traveller who would one day trace his steps [487] to this hallowed place, climb the rock to read the great king's record, make it known to the world, and thus earn the royal mon­arch's blessings whispered in the solemn silence by as many tongues as there were wedges and angles in the letters of the carved inscriptions.
Such, in short, was the deplorable state of Parsi scholarship when comparative philology came to its aid from the West and opened a new era of critical study in the field of Iranian re­searches.

Introduction of the science of comparative philology among the Parsis. Since the year 1771, when that worthy pioneer of romantic renown in Iranian studies, Anquetil du Perron, pub­lished his volumes containing the first European translation of the Avesta, or Sacred Book of Zoroaster, great strides forward have been made in Europe and America in the realm of Iranian research. The field is now replete with the lasting monuments of Western scholarship whether in the department of standard editions of the sacred texts or the compilation of grammars and dictionaries or again in the preparation of scientific translations as well as in making exegetical, philological and archeological re­searches. The service that these scholars have rendered to the Parsis is greater than can ever be expressed.
To K. R. Kama, Parsi pioneer of the Iranian studies on West­ern lines in India, who had studied the Avestan texts in Europe under the German savant Spiegel, is due the credit of introducing among Parsi scholars the science of comparative philology and the scientific method of interpreting their sacred books. The inauguration of this new era belongs to the early part of the sec­ond half of the last century.

Textual criticism brings startling revelation for the Parsis. The first outcome of the critical study of the Avestan literature, as may be judged from intimations given above, was the discov­ery made by the Western scholars that the grammar, style, and internal evidence of the extant Avestan texts show that they were not composed at a single period and by one person, but that they were the products of many persons who worked at various times. Scholars such as these undertook to determine the approximate dates of the component parts of the Avesta. The Gathas were shown to be the oldest in time of composition and the authorship of a considerable portion, if not all, of these [488] hymns was ascribed to Zoroaster himself.. The prophet's work, it was said, was continued by his immediate disciples, and must have extended over a very long period after him, even though the immediate impression made by Zoroaster himself may be ac­knowledged to have become fainter in succeeding generations. The religion of the Younger Avesta had departed in certain re­spects from the religion of the Gathas, and the subsequent com­positions showed signs of degeneration both in substance and style. The simple and abstract spirit of the Gathas was blurred if not lost, and the development of the later texts tended to be­come more complex and concrete. We breathe a different atmos­phere, they declared, when we pass from the Gathic to the Later Avestan field. Nature-worship, which Zoroaster strove to sup­plant by a higher type of ethical religion, was shown to have been reinstated in these later texts. The masses could not be weaned from the beliefs that loomed large in their eyes, and thus, the scholars maintained, many practices abolished by Zoroaster were later resuscitated by the clergy.
Startling indeed were these new ideas that philological re­ searches brought to the Parsis, who had been accustomed to at­ tribute indiscriminately all Avestan compositions to Zoroaster himself and who never approached their own sacred books with a historical perspective.

Back to the Gathas was the war-cry of the new school. This critical estimate of their scripture by the Iranian scholars of the West greatly influenced the young Parsi scholars in India. They now hailed the Gathas as providing a self-sufficient religious system in themselves. They claimed to have discovered the only true mirror in which the genuine teachings of Zoroaster were, re­flected. The Later Avestan texts were declared to render nuga­tory the pristine purity. An exuberant outgrowth of dogmatic theology and ceremonial observances, they asserted, had sup­planted the buoyant simplicity of the Gathic teachings, and simply' represented a decline from the pure teachings of Zoroaster. The names of the Amshaspands in the Gathas were considered to be merely descriptive of the attributes of Ohrmazd. These attributes, they insisted, had crystallized into concrete beings, thus convert­ing the monotheistic religion of Zoroaster into a veritable system of polytheism. Tradition, they argued, attributed to Zoroaster doctrines that he never preached. They advocated a return to the [489] original purity of the faith by stripping off the accretions that had gathered round the pure canon of the prophet, thus removing the haze of ignorance and bigotry that had overclouded the light of their excellent religion.
All this was highly sacrilegious to orthodox ears. Such state­ments roused the strong resentment of the community and elicited vehement protests from priests and laymen alike. The new school was assailed on all sides. More sober opinion intervened to modify the sweeping assertions, and declared that while the Gathas, of course, should be taken as the norm, there should also be admitted into the Zoroastrian canon such parts of the later scriptures as were in accord with the Gathic spirit; but whatever could not be traced to the Gathas was adventitious, and therefore not deserving of acceptance. The problem at once arose as to who was going to distinguish the authoritative from the un-authoritative and a new controversy opened amid still more bit­ter feelings.

A new theory to defend the Gathas from the accusation of dualism. The salient feature of dualism in the Iranian faith has ever been the chief point assailed by the non-Zoroastrians, both in ancient and modern times, whenever they have entered into re­ligious disputations with the followers of the prophet. They have laid the doctrine of two gods to the charge of Zoroastrianism. The accidentals of the controversy have varied materially in their character at different periods, but the main point of contention has ever remained the same. We have already seen how ve­hemently the learned prelates of the Pahlavi period strove to vin­dicate this characteristic feature of the Zoroastrian teachings. Far from considering it a weak point, they hailed it the only possible solution of the problem of evil. Not so their modern descendants. The repeated attack of the Christian missionaries, and the strong influence of the Western literature, which hailed monotheism as the highest category of theology, brought about an unprecedented change in this belief; and so powerful has this influence been, that we hardly ever find even at this day any learned Parsi priest or layman marshalling arguments in vindi­cation of the doctrine. Attempts are now generally made either to explain it away by ingenious arguments or to speak of it apologetically.
Haug was the first to bring it to the notice of the Parsis that [490] the leading idea of the Gathas was monotheism. Ahura Mazda, he declared, is the supreme godhead, who has produced the two rival principles Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu as his twin spirits. Separated as they seem, they are united in action. They are indispensable to each other in the formation and conduct of the universe. They are the creative and the destroying, construc­tive and destructive powers of God, and are as inseparable from each other as day and night. The opposition rests with the two rival spirits, and nowhere in the Gathas does Angra Mainyu, the Evil Spirit, stand in direct opposition to Ahura Mazda. This fundamental distinction, he said, is lost sight of in the late period, and we find in the Vendidad that the Good Spirit Spenta Mainyu is identified with Ahura Mazda himself, and the Evil Spirit Angra Mainyu stands in direct antagonism to God. The Parsi scholars who were ever in search for some new arguments to remove the so-called weak point of their faith eagerly embraced this new explanation, which, they thought, saved the Gathas at least from the stain of dualism. If the Vendidad and other later works introduced it in the Zoroastrian theology, it was a decided fall, they claimed, from the original pure monotheism. The prophet himself never taught dualism, they argued, and it is unfair to ascribe that doctrine to him, for which the enlightened youth had to blush before modern criticism!




Indifference on the part of the Parsi youth arouses the proselytizing zeal of the Christian missionaries. These thought that they could easily turn the apathy of the newly educated Parsi youth for his own religion to interest in the faith of Jesus, if they could convince him of the superiority of Christianity over his national creed. The impressionable youth once secured, they imagined, would prove a valuable asset in bringing over his en­lightened coreligionists to the Christian fold. Christianity would thus easily spread downwards among the masses, they thought, if only they could capture the upper educated classes. The mission­aries felt that this handful of the progressive people, who ap­proached nearest to the Western people in their modes of living, would ultimately be easily won over to their faith. With this object in view some of them began to study the Zoroastrian scriptures first hand, during the latter part of the first half of the last century. They picked out what seemed to them to be vulnerable points in the Zoroastrian faith, and exposed them to the ridicule of the Parsi youth newly tinged with Western ideas. The community was alarmed at this aggression, the more so when a couple of converts were actually made to Christianity from this class.

Salient features of Zoroastrianism assailed by the mission­aries. The religion of Zoroaster, the controversialists alleged, abounded in absurdities and incongruities. It was based on the idolatry of nature. The Parsi scholars repudiated the accusa­tion with indignation, and said that in their reverence for the elements of nature they never worshipped fire, sun, and such other elements, but venerated the angels presiding over these noble productions of God, holding them to be his purest symbols.1 1. A Parsi Priest, Tâlim-i Zurtoosht, p. 15, Bombay, 1840; Aspandiarji, Hâdie Gum Râhân (Eng. version), p. 44, Bombay, 1841.
[492] An erroneous rendering of Vd. 19. 9 had led Anquetil du Perron, the first translator of the Avestan text into a European tongue, to depict Boundless Time as the first principle of the Universe.2 This interpretation was taken as an unequivocal testi­mony of the Zoroastrian scriptures to corroborate the statement of the Greek and Armenian writers who had alleged that both Ohrmazd and Ahriman had sprung from Time. Anquetil's mis­take was repeated in the works of the European writers for a considerable time, until it was finally corrected by the unanimous verdict of the Iranian scholars of the West during the latter half of the last century. When the Zoroastrian scriptures were ad­versely criticized by the missionaries on the ground that the doc­trine of Boundless Time at the apex of existence proved the derivative and secondary character of Ormazd,3 the Parsi priests repudiated the charge and vigorously maintained that the concept simply designated eternity and nothing more. Far from being Ormazd's superior, Boundless Time, they affirmed was his crea­tion. 2. Zend-Avesta, vol. 1, p. 414; vol. 2, p. 592, Paris 1771.

3. Wilson, The Parsi Religion, p. 134, Bombay, 1843.
More heated was the controversy that hinged upon the al­leged belief of two rival spirits. We have already seen 'how dualism has been the main question of inveterate controversies,; we shall here only advert to it in passing When the mission­aries derisively called the Parsis the worshippers of two gods, which certainly they never were, they at once vehemently denied the charge and hastened to repudiate it by denying downright an objective existence to Ahriman. The Evil Spirit, they ar­gued, is not an entity, but merely the symbolic personification of evil nature in man owing his origin to man's errant thoughts. Outside of man he has no existence at all. He is a gratuitous invention. The concept of his existence is purely negative, a chimera. He is man's creation, as are also the infernal host of demons and fiends, which are nothing more than the lusts and passions of man.4

4. A Parsi Priest, Tâlim-i Zurtoosht, p. 62-64, 83, 84; Aspandiarji, Hâdie Gum Râhân (Eng. version); p. 35-37, 73, 74.
Parsi apologists meet the charges of their opponents by resorting to allegorical explanations. This attempt at giving al­legorical interpretations of the scriptures was carried still further. Tradition had always seen some geographical data in the first [493] chapter of the Vendidad, and modern scholarship had accepted that view; but in their polemics with the missionaries the Parsi scholars explained the opening of the chapter by asserting that the act of Ohrmazd in creating Iran Vej, the first region of the world, was to be interpreted as a mere figurative expression for religious faith, and Ahriman's counter creation of winter was emblematic of infidelity. Similarly, the various places said to have been created by Ohrmazd indicated man's body, and the obnoxious creatures of Ahriman signified man's evil passions.5 Another instance of the same kind of interpretation may be cited. Druj Nasu, or the Demon of Defilement is spoken of in the Vendidad as taking possession of a man who has touched the corpse of a dog or a man,6 and a minute description is given as to how the demon is successively driven out from the top of the head of the defiled person to the tips of his toes, as the ablution ceremony is being performed. This rite was criticized as being revolting to common sense.7 Instead of defending it on hygienic principles, the learned controversialists again expatiated upon the mystic significance of the text, and alleged that the whole cere­mony referred to the internal purification of man, and that Nasu represented his evil nature, while the successive expulsion of the fiend from one part of the body to the other, until finally eradi­cated, meant the gradual improvement of a man's character.8 Zoroastrianism teaches that the sin of burying corpses is inex­piable.9 The pulling down of the dakhmas, wherein lie interred the dead bodies of such men, is a means of the expiation of one's sins in thought, word, and deed; and is equivalent to the recital of a Patit.10 Responding to a criticism on this passage, recourse was again taken to declare it as couched in mysterious language. It was curiously explained to mean that the dakhma referred to the body of man, the corpse stood for his evil passions, its disinterment meant the expulsion of the evil propensities, and the final exposure to the light of the sun signified the enlightenment of the inner man by the divine wisdom.11

5. A Parsi Priest, Tâlim-i Zurtoosht, p. 35, 36.

6. Vd. 8. 35-71.

7. Wilson, The Parsi Religion, p. 161.

8. Aspandiarji, Hâdie Gum Râhân (Eng. version), p. 74; A Parsi Priest Tâtim-i Zurtoosht, p. 180.

9. Vd. 1. 12; 3. 38, 39.

10. Vd. 7. 51; 13. 57.

11. Aspandiarji, Hâdie Gum Râhân, p. 79, 80.

[494] The outcome of this controversy. The Parsis further re­taliated by seizing upon the weak points of the Christian scrip­tures and turning them into ridicule, just as we have seen, the author of the Shikand Gumanik Vijar did in the Pahlavi period. Theological questions were thus discussed with acrimonious zeal on both sides, and a considerable polemic literature was produced. The good that came out of this controversy was that the study of their own religion began to be prosecuted by the Parsi priests with greater avidity than before.




Crusade against the non-Zoroastrian practices engrafted upon Zoroastrianism. The compromises and concessions made on the part of the early Parsi settlers in India were needed to conciliate the prejudices of the Hindu rulers. The Parsis were a handful of people living in the midst of the teeming millions of India, and even the twelve centuries of their residence in this country have failed to merge them in the ocean of Indian human­ity. This fact is largely due to their intensely communal spirit, fostered by the dread of being assimilated into greater commun­ities, and of thus losing their individuality. But the average Parsi did not fail to borrow many superstitious customs and habits from the Hindus as well as from the Mohammedans dur­ing the later period. The Hindu augur and the Moslem diviner became important factors in the family life of the Parsis. These seers were called in to cast the horoscope of the new-born Zoroastrian child; they foretold the future, administered amulets to heal every sickness and disease in the family, prescribed charms to ward off the evil eye, exorcised demoniacal influences from persons possessed by the powers of darkness, and, in many ways, proved indispensable auxiliaries to a Parsi from birth to death. The mediation of a Brahman or of a Mullah was often rated higher than that of a Mobad,, and a Sanskrit mantra or an Arabic kalma was regarded more efficacious for the purchase of heavenly boons than an Avestan manthra. The Zoroastrian priest ruled in the fire-temple, but the non-Zoroastrian priest had a powerful sway over the hearts of the Parsi populace. With rich offerings did the faithful repair to the tombs of Moslem saints and to Hindu shrines. They laid their faith upon all altars and turned to strange gods in their extremities. The grandeur of the Mazdayasnian teachings had faded, and Zoroaster had partly ceased to be a living force in the spiritual life of the community.
[496] Many alien customs had thus worked their way into Zoroastrianism. These were hard facts for the orthodox to admit but they were facts all the same. With the vigour of youth and with unquenchable zeal the reformers of that day undertook to liber­ate the community from the thraldom of superimposed non-Zoroastrian customs, and to wean it from superstitions.

The reformers protested against reciting their prayers par­rot-wise in an unintelligible language. The Avesta language had long since fallen into disuse. It was not a living language. Yet the belief in its being of celestial origin, the tongue in which Ohrmazd addressed his heavenly court, and even that in which Ahriman harangued his ribald crew, had preserved it as the only true vehicle for conveying prayers. The reformers now argued that it was meaningless to mumble an unintelligible gibberish which neither the priest himself nor the layman understood. Ejaculations and genuflexions were of no avail, when they re­cited their prayers in a dead language. No amount of such formulas would affect the character of the devotees and ennoble their thoughts. A prayer that had no subjective value was no prayer. It failed to awaken any ethical fervour, for a truly de­vout prayer should spur the spirit within to a higher life. This was not possible so long as the priest perfunctorily droned prayers, not a word of which was understood.
The orthodox vehemently retorted that the Avestan language Was divine, and as such it possessed inherent magical efficacy. Miraculously composed as these Avestan prayers were, they had indescribable objective value, it was claimed, quite independent of the motive of one who recited them. The mere utterance of the sacred texts, without knowing in the least what they meant, would produce marvellous effect. The ultra-orthodox viewed the situation with pious dread and entertained serious apprehen­sion that, if once the community permitted the use of Gujarati or English compositions for daily prayers, nothing short of a revolutionary change would come, and with the lapse of time the Avestan texts would be supplanted by prayer-books composed in the modern vernaculars. The reformers pointed out that there already existed some monajat prayers composed in Persian by some of the learned Dasturs even in their own lifetime, which the orthodox were using without any scruple at the end of their daily Avestan prayers.
[497] A fierce controversy raged around this question, with the re­sult that the orthodox went on praying in their own way, and the reformers, neither having faith in the recital of their prayers in an unintelligible language nor having a proper substitute to sat­isfy their demand, went without prayers of any kind. And the situation remains, in large measure, unchanged up to this very day.

The Avesta text metamorphosed into an ungrammatical jargon. The reformers further said that the Avestan texts were recited with the most incorrect pronunciations. In vindication of their statement they quoted passages from the original texts and put by their side the corrupt formulas in vogue in the community. An example of this kind may not be out of place here, and we shall insert the text of Ahunavar, the most important Zoroastrian formula, first in its correct form and then in the corrupt form which obtains among a considerable portion of the community up to this hour. The original formula is as follows :
yathâ ahu vairyo athâ ratush ashât chit hachâ
vangheush dazdâ manangho shyaothananâm angheush Mazdâi
khshathremchâ ahurâi â yim dregubyo dadat vâstârem.
The corrupt form of the same:
athâu veryo thâre tose sâde chide châvanghoise dezdâ manengho sotthenanâm anghyos Mazdâe khosetharamchâe orâe âiyem daregobyo daredar vâstârem.
This, however, did not trouble the orthodox, for they com­placently remarked that as long as they had implicit faith in what they recited, and recited it whole-heartedly, it mattered very little whether they used correct pronunciation or not. Ohrmazd looked to their hearts, and not to their sense of grammar and orthog­raphy. So long as their motives were good, their prayers were acceptable to the Heavenly Father.
The redeeming feature of this entire controversy has been a growing tendency in the community to avail itself of the help of the philologist, who has brought nearer home to them the correct and carefully edited version of their sacred scriptures, and they have consequently begun to recite their daily prayers from books that have based their texts on the standard and authorized ver­sion of the liturgy.

[498] Too much ritualism, protested the reformer. The mechan­ical handling of the ritual, which was as much unintelligible in its real purport to the priest who performed it as it was to the lay­man who ordered it, failed to satisfy the new school. The ortho­dox maintained that although the priestly authorities themselves had lost the key of the mysteries of the ceremonies and were unable to understand their meaning, nevertheless untold good ac­crued to those who devoutly ordered such ceremonies for their own merit. They entertained a pious hope that the lost key would some day be recovered, and the hidden secrets brought to the light of the day.
The reformers urged that a vast structure of formalism and ritual had replaced the edifice of the simple faith, and religion had simply turned into ritualism. They dwelt especially on the subjective value of the ritual, and argued that however elaborate and expensive the ceremony might be, it was of no value if it failed to symbolize a moral idea for the faithful who ordered it. Ceremonial observances, they complained, were given greater im­portance than moral observance. Righteousness was identified with rituals. They were only a clothing of religion, but the ethi­cal substance of religion was of greater importance than the clothing itself. Religion, they urged, does not consist in laying up merit by ceremonials. The orthodox retorted that the ritual as such had an intrinsic value and inherent merit, and the more such rites were performed, the greater was the merit assured to the faithful. The new school said that these ceremonials may perhaps serve as a means of conveying ethical ideas to a back­ward people, but the Parsis were not a backward people. Hence they did not need them. Righteousness did not depend upon such ceremonial observances, but upon the purity of man's inner life. Besides, the ceremonials became an economic drain on the slender resources of the credulous poor, who incurred heavy debts for their performance, which was displeasing in the sight of Ohrmazd. The orthodox declared these statements an Ahrimanian onslaught upon the Mazdayasnian rites.

The progressives denounced the intercessory prayers for the dead. The philological researches had for the first time brought to the notice of the Parsis the fact of the sharp distinc­tion between man's soul and his Farohar. From what has been stated in the earlier pages, it can be clearly seen how this essential [499] difference was lost sight of, as early as during the later Pahlavi period. The soul and the Farohar were taken to be one and the same by the Zoroastrians before the philologist pointed out the error. Priest and layman, the learned and the illiterate alike, believed implicitly that the souls of the dead profited by the ceremonials performed in their honour by their relatives in this world. The Avestan and Pahlavi passages, which speak of the coming of the Farohars to earth at the period of the Fravar-digan festival, seeking invocation and sacrifice, were understood by the entire Community as indubitably referring to the coming of the souls of the dead.1 1. K. M. Modi, Kholâase Majdiasne, p. 91-95, 101-106, Bombay, 1853; Suryoday, vol. 2, p. 113-117, 158-161, Bombay, 1868.
According to the general conviction, the supplications offered by the living procured either a remission of the sins committed by the deceased in this world, or else a specific merit for the good deeds he had done. It was this strong faith in the efficacy of the ceremonials to help the struggling soul in either making its way out of hell, or in ascending upwards through the graded heaven in the next world, that inspired the loving and dutiful survivors to order elaborate rituals for the spiritual welfare of the departed. Propitiatory offerings were made, and penitential prayers were recited to secure a better lot for the souls of the dead, and the performance of these periodical rites was most zealously observed. Rich viands were consecrated in the name of the deceased. Whatever kind of food or drink the departed ones had best liked in life were specially prepared. On the last day of the festival, moreover, when the souls were believed to leave this world and return to that beyond, food and drink were offered them to assuage the hunger and thirst on their return journey, while money in copper and silver was dedicated to them to meet their travelling expenses.
The recital of the Patit, or expiatory prayer, forms an im­portant part of the ceremonies performed in honour of the dead. The relatives and friends of the deceased still engage a priest to recite it, and do the same themselves for the expiation and wel­fare of the soul when it is embarking on its journey to the next world after death. The devout generally keep up this observance daily for at least a month, or throughout the first year, or in many cases for a still longer period.
[500] The reformers took up the question and said that Zoroastrian-ism enjoined that a man went to the abode of weal or woe ac­cording to his deserts, and that no amount of ceremonials per­formed by the living could either mitigate his sufferings or im­prove his condition in the spiritual world. His sins could not be atoned for by elaborate rituals performed in his name, nor would he be one whit the happier for them. It is true, they fur­ther said, that according to the scriptures, the benefit of the ceremonials performed for the dead accrues to the soul during the first three nights after death, while it still hovers over the body, but from the period of the dawn of the fourth day, when justice is administered to the soul, and it is awarded its special place, the rituals do not affect its position. Any ceremonies per­formed after this day, that is, on the monthly and yearly anni­versaries or on any other occasions, are mainly for the Farohar of the dead man, and not for his soul. In fact, it was claimed, these rites are more for the interest of the living than for the imagined interest of the dead. Zoroastrianism, they said, never stood for any kind of vicarious salvation, for the question of salvation or damnation rested on the individual's own deeds. Neither would the expiatory prayers recited by the living wash out the sins of the dead, nor would the propitiatory sacrifices offered by them induce the heavenly judges to revoke their de­cision. As the man sows, so shall he reap, is the immortal truth taught by Zoroaster. Merit, they contended, cannot be purchased at a price, and sin cannot be expiated by proxy. It was destroy­ing the true spirit of the prophet's great religion to entertain such degrading ideas of vicarious expiation which had been fastened on Zoroastrianism.
These scathing criticisms seriously wounded the religious sus­ceptibilities of the orthodox, who became unsparing in the ve­hement denunciation of the reformers, charging them as reac­tionaries with carrying the religious barque to ruin. They branded the attempts of the reformers as blasphemous and as an irreverent prying into the divine work of Ohrmazd. Bitter words were exchanged between the rival parties, and abuses and invec­tives, ridicule and obloquy, became rampant over these and sev­eral other controversial questions.

The good sense of the disputants saved the community from being split into sects. The reformers were termed the [501] Parsi Protestants and were charged with thinking in terms of Christianity. They were said to be fired by the sole ambitition of being original, and of setting at naught the achievements of their elders for the last three thousand years. The reformers replied that they were simply looking to antiquity for models for their conduct and were profiting solely by the vast experience of the past. But at the same time, they rejoined, the orthodox should remember that the ancients had tackled the religious and cere­monial questions that arose in their own days according to light that had prevailed in the past. Those of that day had not done the thinking for all times to come, with injunctions to the future generations to act in strict accordance with them. They alone had not the monopoly to think, and had not given the final man­date to acquiesce in all that they had believed. Besides, a return to the past could not being unalloyed happiness to the Parsis in the present times. The community, it was urged, cannot afford to transplant itself back to the age of the Vendidad. There was no use sticking to outworn forms and seeking to give them a new life. It was futile to attempt to support delusions, and the ortho­dox, they said, should not throw all possible shackles in the way of progress by hampering and paralyzing the well-meant efforts of the new school.
Such, in brief form, is the story of the opening of the conflict between conservative and free thought among the Parsis in In­dia, which rent the community into two sections. The rival parties, however, did not make any formal division between themselves. The reformers did not. venture to contemplate so complete a break with the orthodox as would culminate in the establishment of a reformed Church. The orthodox could not excommunicate the reformers even if they would. The orthodox had to content themselves with condemning the reformers, and the reformers by satrizing the orthodox. Even to-day the main disputes over some of these vital problems remain much the same as they were nine decades ago, and the battle goes on, still to be won.




Inquiring minds seek a deeper meaning of life. At this period of transition, when the old practices seemed to have spent their force, and the younger generation was drifting towards in­difference in religious matters, there were other forces at work which heralded the rise of a new class of dissenters. Those of a prosaic and matter-of-fact turn of mind in the community had steadily doubted the statements that did not admit of a rational justification, and refused to believe in anything mysterious and mystical in religion. But human life cannot altogether be stripped of mystery. Rationalism is not the whole of human nature. Besides, the state of doubts and disbeliefs that prevailed in the community could not last long. Man is essentially a re­ligious being. He feels an inherent need in himself for some form of religious belief which would satisfy the yearnings of his spirit-that irrepressible heart-hunger of the human soul.
The Parsi priesthood, as custodians of the conscience of the community, zealously guarded and conserved the dogmatic teach­ings and traditions, but they were uuable to work for the adapta­tion of the traditional material to the contemporary situation. They were incapable, at the time, of helping the community in its religious crisis. Persons who thought that the rationalism of the new school ignored an essential part of human nature when it discarded the emotional side of man, to which man was indebted for some of his noblest virtues, yearned for new light. If that light did not come from within, they would welcome it from without. At this juncture the Theosophical Society opened its propaganda in India, and a number of Parsis eagerly em­braced the movement.

Parsi theosophists. In the early eighties of the last century the Parsi members of the Theosophical Society entered the arena of religious controversy and gave new zest to it. They became a potent factor in shaping the religious beliefs of a section of the [503] community through their active propaganda. Hitherto ritual ob­servances, theological dogmas, and ecclesiastical usages had oc­cupied a most conspicuous place in the religious controversies. The Parsi theosophists introduced metaphysical themes such as the nature of Being, a personal or an impersonal God, creation or emanation, reincarnation, and such like for discussion. This is significant as an indication of a higher phase in religious polemics. They showed a strong tendency towards mysticism in religion. They did not flee from the sight and sound of man and withdrew themselves to the fastness of the jungle, nor did they mortify their flesh, but their code of ethics comprised the ascetic virtues, tempered by the spirit of the age.

Custodians of the only key to Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster and his disciples, the theosophical interpreters said, wrote in a mystic language which conveyed a double meaning. The exoteric, or surface meaning, was intended for the vulgar, and the esoteric, or inner meaning, was designed only for the initiates. The adepts of various periods were the ones who possessed the mysterious key to the chamber of hidden truths. The last of such Parsi adept was Azar Kaivan, who died at Patna in 1614. With his death this key was lost. Occult science alone, it was asserted, could explain and vindicate the allegorical teachings of Zoroaster. Providence had blessed the founders of the Theosophical Society with the possession of a master-key that opened the secret cham­bers of the hidden knowledge of all religions. The Zoroastrian theosophists applied this key to Zoroastrianism to unravel the mysteries of its exoteric teachings. They aimed at an adjust­ment of the fundamental Zoroastrian concept according to the standard philosophy of their society, which was an eclectic sys­tem drawing its materials mostly from Hinduism and Buddhism.

The theosophists summarily rejected the method of the philologist adopted in interpreting the sacred texts. In their zeal for discovering great truths buried under the seemingly simple texts, but alleged to be pregnant with deep meaning, these esoterics often invested legends and myths with a symbolic sig­nificance, and included much in the sphere of serious literature that could be relegated to the realm of poetry. They alleged that the philologists, being bound by the fetters of literalism in the interpretation of the sacred texts, generally took a statement at its face value and adhered to the surface meaning. The theosophists [504] chose to lean upon the miraculous and mysterious, rather than to follow the recognized canons of the method of reasoning. Consequently, the sense of proportion, critical acumen, the his­torical sense, accurate thinking, and such preliminary requisites of modern scholarship became conspicuous by. their absence in most of their interpretations. Flashes of vague thought came to be regarded as inspiration, and visions as verities.
Passage after passage in the Zoroastrian scriptures was ex­plained to signify what it did not mean in the original. The fol­lowing may be adduced as a specimen: The pastoral people in Ancient Iran had found a faithful sentinel in the dog, and that animal, as shown by the Avesta, occupied an exalted place among the Iranians from the earliest ages; three chapters of the Vendidad in fact were devoted to this indispensable companion of the household, All scholars in accord with the traditional inter­pretation have naturally taken these passages as the fragments of an old Iranian canine literature. But the theosophists branded this explanation as absurd, and discerned in the chapters an alle­gorical description of conscience and its workings. Space here precludes the citation of other examples of this kind.
When the linguists challenged such interpretation of the an­cient texts, they were informed that their inability to reconcile themselves to the new esoteric explanations was due to the fact of not having yet sufficiently developed their spiritual faculties. They were dubbed 'mere philologists,' 'dry-as-dust' grammarians. Highly pungent bitterness was marked in the controversy carried on between the two parties. The theosophists in this controversy denounced the philologists, and the philologists denounced the theosophists.

Parsi theosophists as champions of the cause of orthodoxy. The advocacy on the part of the theosophists of the revival of the past, and their seeing in such a revival the sole panacea of communal ills, whether real or imaginary, their readiness to al­lege religious sanction for the time-hallowed customs, matched with their zeal for ritual, and their eagerness to vindicate the sacred ceremonies by giving strained allegorical interpretations to explain them, won for them the applause of the orthodox ? party, who cast in their lot with them. Inasmuch as the Parsi, theosophists declared that they were working to bring out the youth of the community from the, trough of materialism, and [505] endeavoring to defend Zoroastrianism against innovations of the reformers, they were regarded as the pillars of faith and the guardians of the edifice of ceremonialism.

Avestan prayers, however unintelligible, were declared the most efficacious owing to their occult significance. We have already seen the arguments advanced by the reformers against addressing to God prayers in a language unintelligible to the sup­pliant, and we have noted the discussion that followed. We now need only notice the part that the theosophists took in the con­troversy. The syllables composed in the Avestan texts, they averred, were so mysteriously adjusted to each other in the prayers, that they produced vibrations on the ethereal plane, when pronounced. The potency of such rhythmical sound was so great that, like every good thought that flashed out with strong occult force and sent forth a good "elemental," it created forms in the ethereal world, attracted good "elementals," and repelled evil ones. Every single sentence conveyed an occult meaning, and the prayers composed in the celestial tongue of the prophet and other seers had an unspeakable efficacy conducing to the welfare of the individual concerned, but their renderings into any modern vernacular would make them totally ineffectual as prayers.

Zoroastrianism in the light of theosophy. These followers of an eclectic philosophy, and interpreters of the divine scriptures through a claimed knowledge of occult and hidden meanings, ap­plied the theosophic principles of explanation to the teachings of Zoroaster, and adapted them to the Zoroastrian theology. Such an interpretation, however, led them to credit the religion of Zoroaster with ideas that in no period of its religious history were ever included in its sphere.
When these theosophic interpreters of Zoroastrianism were reminded that the thoughts they claimed to read in the canonical Zoroastrian works were not there, they argued with a doubtful historical perspective that if they did not meet them in the plain words, in the authentic texts, it was because the twenty-one Nasks of the prophet had not been preserved. If the bulk of the Zoroastrian canon had not been irrevocably lost, they should un­doubtedly have found such doctrines to be indissolubly associated with the cardinal texts of the Zoroastrian faith. Every Iranian student knows that the historical sources and records of the teachings of the prophet that were in vogue at any particular [506] period of Zoroastrian history have not perished altogether Some­thing of every period, whether the Gathic, Avestan, Pahlavi, or the later periods, has fortunately survived the vandalism of the conquering hordes and the ravages of time, and consequently has come down to the present day. For instance, in the controversy regarding the rebirth theory, to which we shall advert below, the theosophic interpreters, having recourse to similar arguments, stated that we should have found the theory of transmigration of souls taught in the Zoroastrian works, if these had reached us intact. It might be pointed out, however, that the fragmentary works of all periods of Zoroastrian history have come down to us; they contain the authentic teachings on the life after death, but they all persistently and systematically speak of only one bodily life on the earth, and never once suggest the theory of rebirth.

Zrvan Akarana as an impersonal God in the theosophic light. The theosophists attempted a readjustment of the Zoro­astrian doctrine of a personal God, or rather in accordance with their theory of an impersonal God. Personality, they alleged im­plied limitation and was a characteristic of the finite. A personal God meant that the godhead was a limited God, and therefore an incomplete God. In Zrvan Akarana, or Boundless Time, the Parsi theosophists saw this impersonal neuter being of whom nothing could be predicated. This supposititious being was the rootless root from which issued Ohrmazd. Ahriman was but Ohrmazd's manifested shadow. Zrvan Akarana, the primeval im­personal principle, according to their interpretation, was like a central fire from which all creation had emanated. The indi­vidual was only a vital spark, and his final resting-place was in it. Passionately loving the light, the moth finally immolated it­self in the flame; in like manner the individual had to throw off the illusory shackles of personality and be merged in the Universal, the One. This doctrine is certainly not Zoroastrian, be­cause through the whole history of the religion individuality is not an illusion. It is ever a stern fact. Personality is not an im­perfection, but it is the highest expression of life, that ultimately strives for the divine. Not the losing of individuality and the loss of the personal self, and not the weakening of personality, but the gaining and strengthening of it, is the Zoroastrian ideal. This has been the truth taught by Zoroastrianism in the striving [507] for the highest aims comprehensible to mankind from the remot­est antiquity.
Zrvan was extolled above Ohrmazd, who was ranked by them as a mere manifestation of Time. The one was elevated by de­basing the other. The personal God who could be loved and feared, who responded to the gentle aspirations of the human heart, was dethroned to make room for a monistic principle that might answer the stern canons of cold intellectualism, but which evaporated into an unthinkable abstraction and mercilessly left its hapless votaries without a word of solace or hope. Affection, love and devotion, however, can centre about some personality only. We find in the authoritative teachings of the Zoroastrian Church that Ohrmazd knows no peer, and he always sits supreme at the head of the divine hierarchy.
These modern votaries of Zrvan were, however, not to be confounded with the Zarvanite sect of old, which looked to Zrvan Akarana as a personality as much defined as Ohrmazd. We have already seen that, in postulating impersonated Time as the orig­inator of Ohrmazd and Ahriman, the sect aimed at supplanting Zoroastrian dualism by monotheism, in order to save their re­ligion from the so-called stigma of dualism. Not so the theoso­phists, who grafted this new feature on the pure teachings of Zoroaster. They did not personify Time, but reckoned this ab­stract principle of Time as higher than Ohrmazd himself, because, in common with all mystic schools, they held the idea of an im­personal God as the highest category of philosophical thought.

Zoroastrianism declared by the thesophic claim to be in­complete without the doctrine of transmigration of souls. From first to last Zoroastrianism, like Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism, shows no sign of this theory of rebirth. But this dogma occupied a pre-eminent place among the theosophists, being, in fact, one of the most conspicuous characteristics of their doctrines. To teach man to attain liberation from the bondage of rebirth was the ultimate aim of their ethics. It was not re­garded by the theosophists as one of the many solutions put for­ward by the human mind to solve the mysteries of the life after death, but as the only rational explanation that satisfied human instinct of justice, and the only solution of the anomalies in this world. They persuaded themselves that the theory was fast becoming a recognized truth in the West, and that, at no distant [508] date, it would be hailed as an inexorable law of nature proved with scientific certitude. With a view to investing their state­ments with scriptural authority they tore one or two passages from their context, and basing their arguments on these, they declared that they had unearthed the theory from the labyrinth of Zoroastrianism. When the Dasturs and other Parsi scholars asserted, in accord with all Iranian scholars of the West, that in no period of the religious history of Iran was metempsychosis ever hinted at in the remotest form, and that the passages re­ferred to had no bearing upon the question, they retorted that the scholarship of the scholars must be at fault, for so great a master as Zoroaster simply could not fail to have taught this fundamental truth.
But this was not all. Enthused by a zeal for the theory, they went a step further and alleged that Zoroaster himself was an Amshaspand incarnate. This is contrary to the spirit of Zoroastrianism. The sacred books speak of the prophet as the greatest of the mortals, the most brilliant among men, even as the star Tishtar is among the infinite stars,1 and as the noblest soul whose ideal is a leaven of righteousness to humanity. He is the highest and the greatest ideal of human perfection, the very embodiment of piety. The Gathas give a distinctly visualized image of the personality of Zoroaster. His life is surrounded by a nimbus of miracles in the later period, and most extravagant legends are woven about his personality, but after all that the human language can sing in his praise, he is simply a man, and not an arch­ angel incarnate. So was he during life, and so he is after death,
x x x       x x x       x x x
x x x x x x
x x x
1. Yt. 8. 44.
These modern successors of the Parsi Yogists of the seven­teenth century have caused several members of the community to drift towards a growing fondness for occult mystery. Many men and women, with or without higher education, are seen to-day running after any form of occultism that they come across. These continue to interpret and explain the sacred texts on the allegorical basis, With overweening presumption, common to the occultists of all ages and places, they claim to be the only cor­rect interpreters of Zoroastrianism and are busy producing a novel type of Zoroastrian ideological literature.




And now we have reached the completion of our study down to the present day. We have traced the gradual development of the religion of Zarathushtra during the various periods of its history. Nearly three thousand years have elapsed since the great prophet first gave the message of Mazda to the people of Iran. Many millions of human souls have lived a happy life and died a peaceful death under the shadow of the protecting wings of the faith. Zarathushtra's immortal triad of 'good thoughts, good words, and good deeds' has kindled the religious zeal, in­tensified the desire, ennobled the thoughts, illumined the minds, and warmed the hearts of the countless numbers of his followers. Throughout its history Zoroastrianism has seen its bright and dark days, accompanied by the rise and fall of the political power of its adherents. During these ages, great and mighty kings, in whom was concentrated the temporal power of Persia, have ruled over Iran. Yet they are no more. But the one per­sonality in whom was sanctified the spiritual power, the ever­lastingly greater than kings, has ruled over the hearts of men in all periods of the nation's history and will ever continue to rule so in the ages to come. Zarathushtra, the chosen of Ahura Mazda, does not belong to any single period and particular people, but to all ages and to all peoples. He is unchanging. His religion it was that inspired the Iranian nation with the loftiest of ideals when Iran was at the zenith of her power. His ever optimistic teachings and the ever cheerful spirit of his sublime doctrines saved its remnants from falling into the slough of pes­simism and gloom, thirteen centuries ago, when the Zoroastrian community stood appalled by the national catastrophe that sounded the death-knell of their empire. With the downfall of the empire the hope of regaining power had disappeared forever. They could never see visions of its restoration. History has recorded this one and unique pathetic instance of a great nation [510] of millions being reduced to a small community of a little over a hundred thousand souls all told, still true to its ancient faith. Everything that was nearest and dearest to them in the father­land was gone. Zarathushtra remained their only hope, and with his religion as the only cherished heritage, the Parsi exiles sought an asylum in Iran. Thirteen centuries have dragged their weary course since they first landed on this the land of their hope and began their life anew. Rulers of nations they have not become, but they have proved themselves to be the true bearers of the great name and fame of their illustrious forebears. The pages of their national history are still thrilling with the noble deeds of the ancient Iranians, and their dutiful descendants have faithfully reflected their past national glory in the mirror of their small community. Zoroastrian virtues have made the modern Parsis great. The community has secured a pioneer place in the social, intellectual, and industrial life of the teeming millions of India. They have amassed vast fortunes and have given away equally vast sums for philanthropic purposes without distinction of caste, color, or creed. An individual member among the Parsis to-day is a better cared-for unit than one in any society. The Parsis yearly contribute for his relief at a rate which no people in the world does for its individual member. The virtue of charity has been built into the very communal fibre, and is woven into the tissues of every individual's being. A religion that produces such results in the practical life of a community well deserves the epithet 'excellent,' which the Mazda-worship­ping religion of Zarathushtra is given in the Confession of Faith.
With sublime confidence Zarathushtra foretold to the Evil Spirit that his religion will ever live and his followers will do battle with the forces of evil up to the end of the world.1 His noble faith has weathered the heaviest of storms and survived them; and a religion which stood these trials in the past will stand any trial in the future. Zoroastrianism will live by its eternal verities of the belief in the personality of Ohrmazd, an abiding faith in the triad of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, the inexorable law of righteousness, the reward and retri­bution in the life hereafter, the progress of the world towards perfection, and the ultimate triumph of the good over evil through the coming of the Kingdom of Ohrmazd with the [511] co-operation of man. These are the truest and the greatest realities in life. They are valid for all times. They constitute the lasting element of Zoroastrianism. In the midst of the accretions that have gathered round it during the long period of its life, these immortal truths have remained substantially unchanged, and by them Zoroastrianism will live for all time. Dogmas and rituals are based upon the needs of the times, and as such they are sub­ject to the natural laws of growth and decay. They have their place in the spiritual development of man. They are the accom­paniments of religion, but not religion itself. Man may fall away from dogmas and from rituals, and yet he may remain religious. Righteousness rests on the individual's piety, and not on a scrup­ulous observance of ceremonials, or a practice of elaborate lus­trations. Let the Parsi individually, and his community collec­tively, abide steadfast in the path of righteousness, and they will be practising true Zoroastrianism. In the fret and fever of modern civilization, which renders man exceedingly sensitive to suffering, and lets loose on him the demons of restlessness and discontent, Zarathushtra's religion is the best sedative for him to-day. So will it be in all social unrests, economic crises, and religious upheavals of the future. Zarathushtra has been the hope of the Parsis in the past. So is he now, and so will he be forever. 1. Vd. 19. 5.
frajajt pavan darût u shâtîh u râmishnîh.
"Completed in peace and joy and pleasure."
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