Zoroastrianism is an ancient Iranian monotheistic religion with a history spanning over 3,500 years, that survives to the present day.
Zoroastrianism was founded by Zoroaster, also known as Zarathrustra, though many of the traditions in the religion have roots that go back centuries earlier. There is no scholarly consensus on when Zoroaster lived, and estimates vary wildly from the 2nd millennium B.C. to the 6th century B.C. It is believed that Zoroaster had founded the religion by challenging many of the existing traditions of the then-dominant ancient Indo-Iranian religion.
From about 650 B.C. to A.D. 600, Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in the Persian Empire. and influenced both the Abrahamic religions to the west and the Indic religions to the east. It was the state religion of numerous ancient Persian empires prior to Muslim conquest of Persia. Zoroastrianism gradually declined after the Islamic conquest of Persia in A.D. 651.
Today there are two main communities of Zoroastrians: the Parsis of India who fled and sought refuge in Gujarat in the 7th century after they became a minority and persecuted in Iran, and the Iranian Zoroastrians who have remained in Iran and Central Asia but continue to face discrimination and persecution. As the Parsis had been isolated from the Iranian Zoroastrian community for centuries, their traditions differ significantly from that of the Iranian Zoroastrians; the descendants of Iranian Zoroastrians who moved to India in the 19th and 20th centuries are known as Iranis, and are legally recognised as a separate group from the Parsis. During the days of British rule in India, many Parsis became successful businessmen. Parsis founded some of India's largest corporations, such as Tata, Godia and Wadrej, which retain that status in the Indian economy today. Many Parsis also migrated to far-flung corners of the British Empire, putting down roots in places such as Singapore and Hong Kong, where they form small but influential minorities. In modern times, many Zoroastrians have now emigrated and live in Western countries; perhaps the most famous Zoroastrian in the West was the singer Freddie Mercury from the British band Queen, who was born to a Parsi family in Zanzibar.
The Zoroastrian place of worship is known as a fire temple, in reference to the eternal flame that is kept burning within its sanctum. Contrary to popular belief, Zoroastrians do not worship fire itself, but instead regard fire as a symbol of God's wisdom, and hence turn towards a flame when they pray.
The Zoroastrian holy book is known as the Avesta.
Cities and other destinations
- 1 Isfahan. An atashgah (fire temple), in the mountainous outskirts of Iran's former capital, offers a commanding view of the city.
- 2 Karaj. Takht-e Rostam, a stone built Parthian-era temple of fire is one of the main attractions here.
- 5 Ray. A 'tower of silence', in which the corpses were left to be decayed lest they contaminate holy earth and fire as per Zoroastrian beliefs, can be found in the city.
- 6 Takab. Takht-e Soleyman, an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple that is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, is nearby.
- 7 Yazd. Yazd has remained a relative Zoroastrian stronghold as the rest of Iran converted to Islam. Between 5 to 10% of the population are Zoroastrian. The fire temple of Yazd is believed to have been continually burning since the 5th century. There are six holy shrines in the mountains near the city that are visited by Iranian Zoroastrians as part of an annual pilgrimage, with the Pir-e-Sabz in the village of Chak Chak being regarded as the holiest of the six.
- 8 Mumbai. During British rule, many Parsis moved to the big city and became a part of the elite entrepreneurial and business class. Many of India's richest Parsi families, including the Tata and Wadia families, are based in Mumbai. The city is also full of Parsi cafés, a legacy of their cuisine and culture.
- 9 Sanjan. The landing point of the first wave of Parsi refugees in India and therefore the town with the oldest Zoroastrian presence in India. The Parsis named the town Sanjan after the its namesake in Greater Khorasan, now in Mary Province, Turkmenistan.
- 10 Udvada. The Udvada Atash Behram (fire temple) is the holiest in India and the oldest continually used fire temple in the world. It has become an important pilgrimage site for Zoroastrians all over the globe.
- 11 Panjakent. The local museum has numerous artifacts from a time when the region was a major centre of Zoroastrianism.
Azerbaijan derives its name from Atropatene, the Greek translation of an Old Persian word meaning "the Land of Holy Fire". As such, the country has a number of sites associated with Zoroastrianism.
- 12 Baku. In the northeast of Azerbaijan's capital is the Baku Ateshgah (Fire Temple). The castle-like structure combines Persian and Indian architectural styles, and has been a Zoroastrian, Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage site for centuries.
- 13 Khinalug. The locals of this very remote and isolated mountain village are unrelated to the majority of Azerbaijanis who are Turkic. Once a major centre of Zoroastrianism in the Caucasus, the locals converted to Islam in the 12th century and are now pious Muslims, although both the village and the surrounding countryside are very rich in Zoroastrian sites.
- 14 Zoroastrian House is the headquarters of the Parsi community in Southeast Asia, and home to a small museum about the history of the Parsi community in Singapore and Zoroastrian religious traditions. Admission to the museum is free, but requires an advance appointment with the Parsi Zoroastrian Association of South East Asia (PZAS). It is also home to a prayer hall for the 300-strong local Parsi community to gather for communal prayers since there is no fire temple in Singapore.
- 15 Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey. Europe's only Zoroastrian burial ground is in the heart of Britain's largest necropolis. It contains the mausolea of notable British families belonging to the faith.
The holy book of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta, is written in Avestan, a language related to Old Persian and Sanskrit, and more distantly to Latin and Ancient Greek.
Non-Parsis are strictly forbidden from entering Parsi fire temples. Iranian Zoroastrian fire temples may usually be visited by non-Zoroastrians, though they may not enter the sanctum with the eternal flame.
- Persian Empire
- Yazidism is a belief system among a minority of the Kurdish people that shares a common origin with Zoroastrianism. As with Zoroastrianism, it became a minority religion after the introduction of Islam. A number of shrines in Lalish, Iraqi Kurdistan are considered to be the holiest in the Yazidi faith.
- Prior to Christianization, Armenians predominately adhered to Zoroastrianism—the belief survived among a minority of Armenians in parts of Anatolia well into the early 20th century. Much influence of Zoroastrianism can be found in the modern reconstruction of the ancient Armenian faith, Armenian neopaganism, or Hetanism as it is locally called, the believers of which hold regular ceremonies in the Temple of Garni.
- Religion and spirituality
- Baha'i Faith