Zarathushtra, the Prophet
PROPHET ZARATHUSHTRA SPITAMA
Antiquity : Zarathushtra was the first prophet to reveal religion in the world. The Avesta texts scriptures do not provide any direct evidence as to the age in which he lived, and hence his era is calculated from indirect sources based on historical, literary, linguistic, geological and archaeological evidences, placing him between 6500 BCE to 1500 BCE
The unusually early date of about 6500 BCE is arrived at from the following sources:
Greek & Roman Writers: The earliest Greek and Roman writers date the time of Prophet Zarathushtra to about 7th millennium BCE. Their calculations commence from three starting points – the expedition of King Xerxes, the Trojan war, and the death of Plato. The result in each case is similar – between 6180 and 6480 BCE.
Later writers have not contradicted them, but quoted them with approval. Had there been any Iranian tradition about a later date of the prophet during their time, it would have been reported by these or other writers.
Great Deluge/Ice Age: Great Deluge is geologically placed around 9000 BCE If one identifies this event during the time of King Jamshed and work backwards, the era of Zarathushtra would be around 6500 BCE
Linguistic: Comparing the Sanskrit language of the Rig Veda with the Avesta of the Gathas and calculating the antiquity of Avesta, the age of Zarathushtra comes to around 6000 BCE
The more recent date for prophet Zarathushtra, around 1500 to 2000 BCE is based on archaeological finds. The dating of creation in the Bible has also influenced the scholars to arrive at this date. The scholars who supported this date are: Mary Boyce, K.R. Cama and J.M.Unwala.
Birth place and period :
Zarathushtra’s actual birthplace is a contentious issue, but it is generally agreed that he was born in the North-Western part of modern day Iran. Avesta & Pahlavi texts (Vd.19, Bnd, 20.32; 24.15) mention that he was born in Airyana Vaejah near the river Veh Dāiti. Some sources place him in Azarbaizan or Ragha. Another possible location for his birth is the area between the rivers Oxus (Amu Darya) and Jaxartes (Sir Darya).
Zarathushtra travelled the breath of ancient Iran, from West to East, till his mission took him to Bactria (Balkh), the then heartland of Iran. Bactria is now situated near the confluence of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikstan.
Personal and Family Names:
Zarathushtra, the Avestan name of the Prophet has two commonly accepted meanings “one possessing a yellow camel” and “the golden star.”
In esoteric writings ushtra also means consciousness (just as aspa “horse” also means senses.) Thus the word Zarathushtra can also mean “one having exalted consciousness.” The meaning “golden star” is derived from Zoroaster – the Greek form of the name, which is used in English and other European languages.
In Pahlavi the name appears as Zartusht, and in Modern Persian as Zardusht. Spitama is the family name of the Prophet, and it means “whitest, purest.” It is the name of his ninth ancestor. Hence, the prophet is known as Zarathushtra Spitama or Zartusht Spitaman.
The Avestan title Asho implies “righteous, one who has understood the Truth, one who has known the Purpose of Life. Persian titles like Vakhshure-Vakhshurān “Prophet of prophets,” Ahurānā “belonging to Ahura” and ramz-go “revealer of secrets” are also use before the prophet’s name.
Zarathushtra’s father was Pourushaspa “one possessing gray horse”, and grand father was Peteraspa. Zarathushtra’s mother’s was Dughdhova or Dogdo “one who milks.” She was the daughter of Frahimvā Zavish.
According to Yasna 29.1 Geush Urvan (the Soul of the Earth) complained to the Creator about the abuses being heaped upon it in the following words: khshmaibyā geush urvā gerezdā, kahmāi mā thwarōzhdūm ke mā tashat;ā mā aēshemō hazaschā remō, āhushuyā dareshchā tevishchā; nōit mōi vāstā khshmat anyō, athā mōi sāstā vōhū vāstryā. “The soul of the earth lamented –Why have you created me? Why have you fashioned me? Wrath, rapine, savagery oppression pains me. I have no protector other than You, so send me a good Saviour.”
The Creator consulted the Divine Beings and proclaimed that there was just one being who can help – Zarathushtra Spitama. The Soul of the Earth was not consoled as it sought support of a materially powerful prince, Finally, after much deliberations, the appointment of Zarathushtra was confirmed.
Much before Zarathushtra’s birth, arrangements were made for his arrival. His Khoreh “Divine Energy” was sent to his mother DOGDO through his grand-mother’s house’s hearth fire. On account of this, his mother radiated divine energy since a very young age. The evil ones, threatened by this, labeled her wicked and attempted to kill her.
Dogdo was sent to the house of Peteraspa, who is believed to have descended from the royal line of Peshdadian King Faridun. Later Peterasp’s son Pourushaspa married Dogdo. Zarathushtra’s Fravashi “Guardian Spirit” and physical components of his body were sent in special ways to his parents through divine beings.
When Dogdobanu was five months pregnant, AHRIMAN, the evil spirit tried to kill the baby in the mother’s womb. Dogdobanu had frightening dreams in which wild animals tried to harm the child in her womb, but a divine looking young man came to her rescue. Later, it was explained that the divine person was SAROSH YAZAD.
Three days before Zarathushtra’s birth, his entire village was covered in white light, signaling the coming of the great prophet. Zarathushtra was born during the early morning hours. This day is celebrated presently as the Khordad Sal.
Zarathushtra is reported to have laughed at birth, since he was aware of his divine mission and the ultimate victory of good over evil. At birth, all creations rejoiced and cried out in joy ‘Ushtā no zātō āthrava yō spitāmō zarathushtrō’, that is, “Rejoice, for us is born the priest Spitama Zarathushtra.”
Childhood & attempts on life :
Evil and wicked people were terrified by Zarathushtra’s divine light. As soon as they came to know of the birth of this child, they trembled with fear that he would put an end to their evil practices. They decided to kill infant Zarathushtra.
Chief among the wicked followers of Ahriman was the chieftain Dorasrun. who tried several times to have baby Zarathushtra killed, but each time the child was divinely saved. Dorasrun had the baby thrown into a fire, placed him in the pathway of a herd of cattle, and later horses and also in a den of wolves. Each time the child as miraculously saved.
Finally Dorasrun decided to kill baby Zarathushtra himself. He took a sharp dagger and went to Pourushaspa pretending to see baby Zarathushtra. As soon as Pourushaspa took him near the child, the Dorasrun pulled out his dagger and raised it to stab the child. At that instant he lost strength in both his hands, which were paralysed. Thereafter he was not able to do any work with his hands.
When Zarathushtra was 7, he was sent to study under the teacher Burzin Kurush. Here he asked questions about the reason for there being evil, pain and misery in the world. He was not satisfied by the explanations given to him.
When he was 12 years old, two evil magicians – Bratrokesh and Dorasrub tried to frighten Zarathushtra by their magic. Once when Zarathushtra’s was ill, they went to his house as physicians and gave him poisonous potions as medicine, which Zarathushtra did not take. later, when the evil one’s were returning, they were attacked by a crippling disease.
At 20, Zarathushtra’s quest for divine truth intensified. He realized that he had to do much more in the world and decided to set off in search for the Truth. He sought permission from his father, who, knowing the divine destiny of his son, readily agreed. When he asked Zarathushtra as to what he would like from his possessions, Zarathushtra just asked for the Kasti. This showed that Zarathushtra was open to accept the teachings and practices of the Mazdayasni belief system in which he was born.
When Zarathushtra was 20, he was divinely guided to a secluded place on Mount Ushidarena, “the Mount holding divine intellect.” He stayed on the mountain for 10 years, and devoted his time and energy to prayer, meditation and communion with Divine Beings. There he received inspiration and message of the religion through Vohu Manah and Sraosha. The reference to Mount Ushidarena may be an allegory to the deep state of meditation that Zarathushtra must have entered to receive the revelation.
At 30, Zarathushtra returned to preach the religion. He accepted many of the teachings and practices of the Mazdayasni system. In the initial stages, the Prophet had very little following. For ten years he travelled eastwards, till he reached Balkh (Gk. Bactria).
Demons rushed threateningly to kill Zarathushtra. When the prophet chanted the Ahuna Vairya, the Demons fled. The Evil Spirit tried win over the Prophet by offering him kingship, if he renounced his mission. Zarathushtra rejected the offer outright.
Disciples of Prophet Zarathushtra :
Prophet Zarathushtra had his first disciple in his paternal cousin Maidyoimaongha. Other disciples followed. Zarathushtra preached his religion in the court of King Vishtasp (later, Gushtasp). After intellectual discussions and spiritual experiences King Vishtasp recognized Zarathushtra as the true prophet and became his patron.
Gifts for the King
Prophet Zarathushtra presented three gifts to King Vishtasp as proof of his prophetship:
Adar Burzin, a spiritually burning fire which did not need fuel, and did not give out smoke. The King enthroned this fire on Mount Raevant.
A Cypress tree – Azad-Sarva which had an advise for the king on every leaf.
21 Volumes (Nasks) of Avestasn scriptures, containing all the knowledge of the world. Each of the Nask was based on one of the 21 words of the Ahunavar prayer.
The prophet instructed the king to have fires enthroned in buildings erected specially for that purpose. Evil forces fled underground on account of Zarathushtra’s power.
As his fame started spreading, people started acknowledging his divine status. Wise men from all over came to see him. Philosopher Tutianus from Greece came to meet him, and was instantly convinced of his greatness. Changranghāch and Vyās came from India to meet the prophet. After spending some time with him, they too were convinced of his greatness, as he predicted their questions even before they asked.
Wife and children of the prophet:
In the Avestan texts there is no reference to the prophet’s marriage or his wife and children. In later texts we are told that prophet Zarathushtra married Havovi, daughter of Frashoshtra, and had six children – three sons Isad-vastra, Haurvatat-nar and Khurshed-cheher; and three daughters Freny, Thrity and Pouruchishti.
Zarathushtra’s marriage and children are described as allegorical by some. It is indicated that three of his sons will be born after thousands of years to help the world. His wife and children are considered thought forms created by the prophet to assist him in his mission.
It needs to be clarified here that there is no prohibition on marriages in Zoroastrianism. Marriages, in fact, are considered a necessity for spiritual life.
Ascension of Prophet Zarathushtra:
Zarathushtra spent the later part of his life in prayers. He passed away at 77. Nothing is mentioned in the Avesta about his passing away. In Pahlavi texts, his passing away is referred to as vihez i zartusht “rising up/ ascension of Zartusht” (Dk.VII, preamble Ch. IV).
Later Persian tradition notes that Zarathushtra was murdered by a Turanian soldier Tur-barā-Tur, and, in retaliation he flung his rosary on him to kill him. This does not seem to be likely as Zarathushtra, by virtue of his Divine Energy (Khvarena) was invincible, and even Angra Mainyu was not able to harm him. (Dk, Vd.19, Ashi Yt 2.20; Zamyad Yt 80; Y. 9.12). A mortal murdering the prophet seems unlikely. Bahman Yasht explains this in another way. It says that Tur-barā-Tur was a collection of negative energies the destruction of which was necessary for resurrection and renovation.
After the prophet, Jamasp, one of his foremost disciples, was made the religious head. He and all religious head after him came to be known a Zarathushtrotemo.
Zarathushtra’s legacy – the scriptures :
Zarathushtra gave a very powerful philosophy and religion to the people by reinforcing the teachings of the existing Mazdayasni belief system and adding many new teachings. In this religion there was a strong moral order, a distinct world view, rituals and practices and scriptures in the Avesta language.