ZOROASTRIAN RELIGION AFTER THE FALL OF SASANIAN
By: Aspi Maneckjee.
Iranica Institute: Outreach Program
According to Encyclopedia Iranica, there was a migration of a large
group of Iranians called Arslans from Northern Iran in the 5th century
to West. They were completely assimilated into the indigenous cultures
within a generation or so. Traces of them can still be found in Spain
The second mass migration came immediately after the fall of the Sasanian
Empire to China and Northern Iranian provinces in Central Asia. Emperor
Yazdegerd III's son Pirooz, and other members of the royal family
sought assistance from a distant ally in China. By the time Pirooz
marched back to Iran at the head of an army supplied by the emperor
of China, Emperor Yazdegerd had been already murdered. Pirooz did
not make any headway and had to return to China. That group was able
to sustain itself in China for a few centuries, but eventually were
completely assimilated and disappeared.
The third and most famous migration took place in the 10th century.
This group of Iranians moved from their homeland near Neishapur and
the Fort of Sanjan in Khorrasan to the island of Hormoz in the Persian
Gulf. After three years' preparation, they set sail for the west coast
of India, landing on the island of Diu. They stayed there for nineteen
years before landing in Gujarat. They named their new home Sanjan.
After that, it seems that there were several smaller migrations from
different parts of Iran into the same region of India. From Kangavar,
where there is a ruined temple to Anahita, came the priests with the
surname Kanga. From the 3000-year-old city of Sâri in Mazandaran,
came another group who came overland and established the settlement
Each of these Iranian groups brought with them their own ways of performance
of Zoroastrian ceremonies and rituals. The first Atash-Vahram, the
Iran-Shah (now at Udvada), was enthroned in CE 921. Although there
must have been many Atash-Aderans in the settlements, all other Atash-Vahrans
(known today as Atash-Bahrams) were established only in the last three
centuries. The Navsari Atash-Bahram was installed in 1765 and the
first Atash-Bahram in Bombay - the Dadyseth Atash-Behram was installed
in 1783. The Modi and Vakil Atash Bahrams in Surat were installed
in 1823, followed by the Wadiaji Atash Bahram in Bombay in 1830, the
Banaji Atash Bahram in 1845, and the Anjuman Atash Bahram in 1897.
Sorrow and Suffering in Iran
Arab Rule In Iran 
The Arabs who conquered Iran were generally illiterate and were after
Persian golds and booties, who had little or no knowledge of Mohammad's
teachings. However, it appears that at first they allowed the Iranians
to practice their religion so long as they paid the Jaziya (Poll Tax)
and accepted Arab rule. Arab Commander Sa'd Ibn Abi-Vaghas wrote to
Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khatab about what should be done with the books
at capital Tyspwn (Ctesiphon) in province of Khvârvarân
(today known as Iraq). Umar wrote back: "If the books contradict
the Koran, they are blasphemous. On the other hand, if they are in
agreement, they are not needed." All the books were thrown into
the Euphrates. Under another ruler Gotaibeh ibn Moslem in Khwarezmia,
all the historians, writers, and mobeds were massacred and their books
burned in fire, so that after one generation, the people became illiterate.
Other libraries at Ray, Khorassan, Gay of Isphahan and University
of Gondishapour were eventually destroyed. Only a few books that were
translated into Arabic survived. Yazid ibn Mohlab is reputed to have
ordered the decapitation of so many Iranians that their blood flowed
in the water powering a millstone for one full day. There are many
other massacres recorded. The Arabs called the Iranians 'Ajam' meaning
The first voice of protest cam from Firouz (known to Arabs as Abu
LoLo), an artisan who had been enslaved by an Arab. He assassinated
Umar. Later uprisings are recognized as Abu Moslem of Khorassan, White-clads,
Red-clads (led by Bâbak), Mâziyâr, Ostâdzis,
Afshin, and many others. Finally, after 200 years, known as "Two
Centuries of Silence", the Arabs were driven out of Iran by a
man and later king from Sistan, Yaghoub Lais, the founder of Saffarid
Many Iranian noblemen had by this time picked up.Arabic/Islamic names
and the new religion. They were.even more zealous in converting their
fellow-Iranians.to Islam. One Iranian premier, Sahib ibn-e Obbad (900.AC)
would not look in the mirror as he would see a. Zoroastrian. Publication
in Persian was banned by.Abdollah ibn Tahir (Taherid Dynasty), who
burned.Persian books. .
The 9th and 10th century saw the revival of Persian.literature and
culture by Zoroastrian poets like Daghighi and Zarthost Bahram Pazdouh
and later by Ferdowsi, Rudaki, Molavi, Nezami, Umar Khayyam and.Hafez.
Ferdowsi is credited with reviving the Persian.language through his
Shahnameh (the Epic of the Kings), which is almost completely devoid
of Arabic words. He renewed the Iranian legend of Kâveh the
blacksmith and Freydoun who vanquished the blood-thirsty Zahhak-e.Tâzi
In a garden renew your Zoroastrian faith
In the monastery of the Magi, why they honor us,
The fire that never dies, burns in our hearts.
Others Iranians like Sohravardi, the founder of the school of illumination
and Mansour Hallaj were martyred. When a group of fanatic Moslems
destroyed the wall of a mosque and blamed the action on Zoroastrians,
many Zoroastrian of Khorasan were massacred. Despite all this, by
the end of the Safavid.dynasty (1400 AD) there were 3 to 5 million.Zoroastrians
in Iran (nearly one fifth of Iran's pppulation).
The Caspian province of Mazandaran was ruled by a Zoroastrian dynasty
known as Pâduspiân until 1006 Hijri. During the rule of
Shah Abbas the Great (1587-1628 AD), many Zoroastrias of Iran were
deported.to a ghetto town near Isfahan named Gabrabâd, where
they lived in abject poverty.
The population of Zoroastrians in Iran at the turn of.the 18th century
was estimated to be One million..Under order of the last Safavid king,
Shah Sultan.Hossein (1694-1722) nearly the whole population of. Zoroastrians
of capital city Isfahan and nearby towns were slaughtered or forcibly
converted, according to reports by Christian priests in the area.
The entire population of Gabrâbâd was wiped out. The towns
of Nâyin and Anârak converted to Islam. The local language
of the people there remains Persian Dari. The.customs and traditions
of Abiyâneh still remain Zoroastrian.
When the rebellion Afghan warlord arrived in Kerman, they first massacred
Zoroastrians. The Afghan revolt was defused by Nâdar Shah of
Afsharid dynasty (1736-47). He became insane after the invasion of
India. After a failed assassination attempt, he became suspicious
of his son and blinded him. But when he found out that his son was
totally innocent, he resorted to mass murder. By his order, all the.Zoroastrian
population of Khorassan and Sistan were massacred. The few survivors
had to travel on foot through the central desert to Yazd and Kerman.
The next dynasty in power was the Zand dynasty. A Zoroastrian astrologer
named Mollah Goshtasp predicted the fall of the Zand dynasty to the
Qajar army in.Kerman. Because of Goshtasp's forecast, the Zoroastrians
of Kerman were spared by the conquering army of Agah Mohammad Khan
During the Quajar era (1796-1925), the walls of Zoroastrian houses
could not be built taller than that.of Moslems. If any child of a
family converted, he was entitled to all the heritage. If they were
riding a donkey, they had to dismount upon facing a Moslem. And they
were not allowed to appear in public during the rainy days because
the water that had run down from their clothes and bodies may contaminate
the Moslems. At times, Zoroastrian girls were kidnapped and forcefully
converted and married with celebrations and fanfare. On top of all
that they had to pay a heavy tax called Jaziya (Poll Tax). Under these
conditions, many declared themselves as Moslems and picked up Islamic
names but continued Zoroastrian practices in secret. The latter group
today is called Jadid.
In the 1850s, Count de Gobineau, the French Ambassador to Iran wrote:
"Only 6000 of them are left and just a miracle may save them
from extinction." The last known massacre of Zoroastrians took
place in Turkabad near Yazd. The descendants of this massacre have
the.surnames Turk, Turki and Turkian. .
Zarthusti Religion After the Sasanian Dynasty
Historical records of the religious life of the Zoroastrians in Iran
as well as India between the arrival of Islam and about the 14th century
are very sketchy. What little information we have comes from Muslim
writers and historians . Masu'di wrote about CE950 that Zoroastrians
believed that Avesta came as a revelation from heaven. Those who believed
in the Zend commentaries rather than the Avesta were called Zendiks.
About CE1000, the Iranian mathematician and philosopher Abu-Reyhan-e
Biruni wrote that the angel Sorush is spoken of as the most powerful
angel against sorcerers, and he visits the world three times during
the night to rout them. It was Sorush who introduced the practice
of Zamzama, that is, reciting one's prayers with closed lips and emitting
inarticulate sounds or in 'baj', as the Zoroastrians do to this day.
Artavahisht (Ordibehesht), as the genius of fire and light, watches
over mankind, he said, and heals diseases with drugs, but besides
this, as the genius who presides at the ordeal by fire, distinguishes
truth-speaking man from a liar.
By the end of the Sasanian period the sharp distinction between man's
soul and his Fravahar was forgotten, and both were regarded as one
and the same. Biruni writes that the Zoroastrians believed that the
souls of the dead, both righteous and wicked, descended to the earth
during the ten days of Farvardegan. They therefore fumigated the house
with juniper, and put dishes of food and drink on the roofs of their
houses, in the pious expectation that the souls would inhale their
flavor and receive nourishment and comfort.
Spendarmad, Biruni observes, is the guardian of the earth and of chaste
women who are devoted to their husbands. On the fifth day of the twelfth
month, both of which take their name after the archangel, people wrote
a charm on three pieces of paper to scare away the noxious creatures
and fix them on three walls of their house. The custom lingers in
some Parsi (Indian Zoroastrian) families in India up to this day,
who get a Pahlavi incantation written by the priests, preferably in
red, and stick it to the front door of their houses.
Fasting was regarded as sin. He who observed a fast was compelled
to feed some needy persons by way of expiation for his sin. Zoroastrians
were generally called fire-worshippers. Ferdowsi admonishes his co-religionists
and asks them not speak of Zoroastrians as fire-worshippers because
they were the worshippers of one holy God. Kazwini, writing in about
1263, says that Zarathushtra made the fire a Qibla and not a god.
Sects and Heresies
Shahrestani (CE 1086-1153) writes that the prominent sects of his
time were the Mazdakites, Zarvanites, and the Gayomarthians. The followers
of the latter sect believed in an eternal being called Yazdan. Yazdan
entertained a thought in his mind on the probability of the origin
of and adversary. This evil thought, believed the Gayomanrthians,
originated Ahriman, the spirit of darkness.
The Zoroastrian author of the Ulama-Ii Islam, written in about the
14th century, also attests to the existence of several different sects,
who variously held that Ormazd himself permitted evil to exist in
order that his goodness might be better appreciated, or that Ahriman
was a reprobate angel who had revolted from Ormazd. These sects appear
to be attempts at overcoming the constant taunts of the Moslems that
Zoroastrians believed in two Gods.
Interactions Between Iranian and Indian Co-religionists
By the fifteenth century, the small band of fugitives who had left
Iran in the 10th century and settled in the Gujarat in western India
had begun to prosper. They had adopted many Gujarati customs, but
had not forgotten their roots and remained a distinct community called
Parsis. Having achieved economic stability and a sense of freedom,
the Parsis now began eagerly to turn their attention to the necessity
of gaining authentic information on the religious questions about
which they were in doubt. They believed that their co-religionists
living in Iran must be better informed on religious maters than themselves,
and must have preserved the old-time tradition more faithfully that
they themselves did. They therefore drew up certain religious questions
on which they needed enlightenment, and in 1478 commissioned a daring
Parsi to go to Iran and lay the questions before the learned Dasturs
of their fatherland.
Great was the enthusiasm caused by the fresh opening of a closer communication
between the co-religionists; and for three centuries (1478-1766) a
more immediate interchange of views took place between the Zoroastrians
of Indian and Iran . No less than 22 messengers had left India
during this period with questions pertaining to ritual observances,
ceremonial ablutions, purificatory rites, forms of worship, rules
of adoption and marriage and other miscellaneous subjects. These compilations,
called the Rivayats were written in Persian, which had become the
literary language of the Parsi scholars under the influence of the
Moslem rule in Gujarat. The Rivayats provide a wealth of information
on liturgical and social matters .
Theology of the Period, According to the Rivayats Rather than the
Gathas and other Avestan works, the Bundahishn, Sad Dar, and Jamaspi,
and Arda Viraf Namah inspired the clergy and laity in their conduct
of life during that period. The formal rather than the spiritual,
the concrete rather than the abstract, seem to be the prominent beliefs
that were given in the Rivayats . The hope of joys of a materialized
heaven and the fear of the sufferings of a physical hell guided and
controlled life. Man's soul and his Farohar are taken as one and the
same. It came to be believed that the Yasna rituals offered in the
name of the Farohars, or of the angel Hom, or of those of Zarthust,
Gushtasp and other sainted dead person, could thwart the evil designs
of their enemies; could rout the demons and fairies; could oppose
the tyrant kings; could withstand famine and plague, retard the evil
consequences of bad dreams, gain favor of kings and noblemen, and
secure various advantages.
We are informed, moreover, that the reason of consecrating a set of
white garments on the fourth day after death is to provide a corresponding
heavenly garment to the soul in the next world. Bull's urine, an indispensable
article in the purificatory rites of the body and ceremonial ablutions
from the earliest times, took on the power of purifying the inner
nature of man. Drinking consecrated bull's urine thus became an indispensable
part of certain Zoroastrian ceremonies.
A learned Iranian mobed, Dastur Jamasp Vilayeti, who came from Kerman
to Surat in 1721, found the state of the intelligence of the Zarthusti
priests in India so low that he resolved to impart religious instruction
to some of the leading high priests. The Dasturs of Surat, Navsari
and Broach consequently became his disciples. The first of these,
Dastur Darab, later became the teacher of Anquetil du Perron. Dastur
Jamasp also discovered the discrepancy of one month between the Parsi
and Iranian Zoroastrian calendars. Some of the Parsis adopted the
Iranian calendar which was one month ahead, which is now known as
the Kadmi calendar. Relief And Amelioration But times later changed.
Zoroastrian scholarship could not thrive in Iran as it was able to
do under the conditions in India.
A fourth migration of Iranians started in the mid-18th century and
continued till recent times. Small groups, families and individuals
began making the hazardous journey to India by donkey or even on foot
through the deserts of Iran. This latest group is still known as Iranis
in Bombay. Due to these migrations, the Parsis became aware of the
miserable and deteriorating conditions of their co-religionists. They
dispatched emissaries to Iran-the most famous being Maneckji Limji
Hataria in 1854--to help their co-religionists. Hataria and other
Parsi philanthropists founded schools and established several places
of worship for Zoroastrians, and were able to prevail on the authorities
to abolish the Jaziyah (Poll Tax) in 1882.
Conditions of the Iranian Zoroastrians steadily improved after that.
The pace of progress accelerated under the Pahalavi dynasty and Iranian
Zoroastrians began to enjoy prosperity on a par with their co-religionists
in India. Today the number of Zoroastrians in Iran are approximately
The sorrow and sufferings of the group that remained behind after
the fall of the Sasanians, and the relative freedom and prosperity
of the Iranians who had migrated to India led to profound changes
in the practice of the religion that pervades the life of the Zoroastrians
to this day.
However, we need to take into account the impact of the European philologists
and the Zoroastrian scholars who translated and improved understanding
of the Gathas, other scriptures, and Avestan and Pahlavi literature,
before we can summarize the status of Zoroastrian religion of today.
But that is a story in itself. The final chapter is still unfolding
as the latest migrations of the Zoroastrians of India, Pakistan and
Iran bring about an unprecedented unification of religious knowledge,
beliefs and practices that had developed independently in different
cultures for centuries.
 Jahanian, Dariush, paper presented at the 10th N.
American Zoroastrian Congress, San Francisco,California, July 1996.
 Maneckji Nusservanji Dhalla, History of Zoroastrianism, published
by the K.R. Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, 1963.
 S.M. Hodivala, Studies in Parsi History, Bombay, 1920.
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