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Iranian Religions: Zoroastrianism

CONVERSION IN ZOROASTRIANISM;

The Truth Behind the Trumpery


 

By Farrokh Jal Vajifdar & Keykhosrow Dinshah Irani

 

 

Prefatory remarks

The evidence of the Gathic texts

The Fravardin Yasht

The Pahlavi "Zartusht-Namag" (Denkard VII)

The Persian Rivayats

A rectification: from pseudo-history to historicity

A Pazand prayer: "Din-no kalmo" Difficulties with the Bombay Zoroastrian community and the communities abroad

Zarathushtra preached a religion which demanded of individuals responsibility for reflective moral living, and transformed human existence from social abrasion to social harmony. He wished us to become thereby HEALERS OF EXISTENCE. Many who consider themselves Zoroastrians, mainly among the Parsi community, seem to claim that this message was addressed by Zarathushtra to a specific tribe. Hence, if someone of nonZoroastrian parentage, upon hearing the message of Zarathushtra, and being convinced by it, declares himself or herself to be a Zoroastrian, such a claim would, and should, be rejected by the religious community of Zoroastrians. This view, though widely accepted, is intellectually absurd and morally inhuman and bigoted, beside being totally incompatible with the teachings of the Prophet. 

That this view is incorrect, both conceptually and textually, is what we wish to present here. We examine briefly the theological perspective on the matter, and collect the various texts where the issue is adverted to. Our contribution is not wholly original: the position we hold, viz. the universality of Zarathushtra's teachings, had been affirmed in a pamphlet prepared in the first decade of this century by scholarly Zoroastrian priests; it was also supported by eminent Western scholars of Zoroastrianism. Several percipient dasturs over the last eighty years had expressed remarkably similar views. In recent years a pamphlet addressing this issue was published by the Zoroastrian priest Dr Kersey ANTIA. 

The fallacious and bigoted view nevertheless continues to be promulgated. We were, however, disconcerted by recent articles from highly respected High priests of Bombay, and express our disquietude at their arbitrary joint statement that a principle exists by which CONVERSION IS NOT ACCEPTED BY ZOROASTRIANISM, and further, that CONVERSION IS BOTH ILLEGAL AND INVALID (Parsiana, November 1995, pp.29-34; Bombay Samachar, 24th December 1995) . Apart from the fact that no such principle has EVER arisen within our universalist religious system, it is exceedingly difficult to understand just what they collectively mean by "illegal and invalid" -- which LEGAL criteria have been applied, and why, and on what basis can one discredit an individual's informed and deeply held SPIRITUAL belief, and its practice, as LACKING VALIDITY! Why are quasilegal constraints sought to legislate against clearly formulated RELIGIOUS precepts? Conversion is not some idle hypothetical problem which can be dismissed through misconstruing and disinformation. It cannot be made to vanish through arbitrary denials and empty nuances. 

Conversion is a practice apparently unacceptable among the Parsis today, and has been so for some 150 years. It is a social practice of the community for the establishment of which. good reasons were perceived in the socio-political environment of the times. It must be clearly recognized, though, that it is a matter of social practice affected by social conditions, and NOT a matter of theological doctrine. 

A theology like Zarathushtra's, based upon the grasp of the eternal and universal Truth by the divinely endowed Good Mind enabling us to implement the Righteous Order in existence, is so clearly a universal message that it would be altogether irrational to limit its acceptance and practice to a community identified by biological ancestry. Identifying religious commitment by birth is an extremely primitive form of tribalism, entirely incompatible with Gathic teaching. We are aware of the bizarre thesis that God places each soul into the womb of a mother belonging to a tribe and expects the individual so born to believe in the religious doctrines of a tribe. Apart from the intrinsic absurdity of this view, the slightest exposure to the words of Zarathushtra, with his emphasis on individual judgement and responsibility, enables us to recognize the anti-Zoroastrian character of this view. 

We have long been acquainted with the suspect methodology by which attempts to assert the reverse of our religion's injunctions regarding conversion have been made. They are in the nature of factoid claims achieved by careful contrivance and are simply not probative. 

We encounter rather weak efforts at glossing our texts at the same time as claiming to "correctly" interpret them. Being groundless, they do not stand up to scrutiny, and yet it appears that the fictionalizing process is energetically, and deliberately, pursued. Among the minor but blatant fictions is the entirely false invocation of the Qisseh-ye Sanjan's "five conditions" as proof that Jaydev Rana granted asylum to our forefathers provided that no conversion of his Hindu subjects was attempted. There is NO SUCH CONDITION among the five to which we supposedly agreed. 

Our eminently rational religion primarily urges a world-view based on clear-mindedness whereby the Good Mind aspect of Ahura Mazda may be attained in quest of Truth. Its texts -- from the Gathas of Zarathushtra to the Persian Rivayats -- extend over some two thousand eight hundred years, in the long course of which they responded to religious evolution, the conflicting ideologies of newer religions, and the unpredictable forces of a rapidly changing history. But understanding the theology enables one to recognize immediately its universal message. WE STRESS THAT NONE OF OUR LATER TEXTS CONTRADICT EARLIER RATIONALIZING PROCESSES, EVEN LESS THEIR UNIVERSALIST PURPOSE: THEY ARE CONSISTENT THROUGHOUT ON THE SUBJECT OF ACCEPTANCE AND/OR CONVERSION. That these texts may be distorted to suppress or yield meanings entirely alien or out of context is a wilful exercise against which we must take issue. Our priests surely should apply religious laws, for they too are subject to them, and not obscure socio-economic regulations which vaguely find their origins in dubious traditions. And the vociferous followers of such traditions would do well to also learn from our texts, being the root and branch of our universalist religion.

  

The evidence of the Gathic texts 

Most of us are agreed that these very ancient texts are the product of Revelation for the metrical Gathas themselves, and the work of Zarathushtra's earliest inspired disciples for the prose part. The Gathic message does not come as isolated snippets, but as an intensely logical series of precepts carefully worked into their main purport the transfiguration of man from brutishness towards saintliness. For whom is this message intended? The second of our Gathic kusti verses (Ys.44.16) clearly entreats Ahura Mazda, as Healer of existence, to let His hearkening (Sraosha) come to WHOMSOEVER He wills it: we actually pray this each time we prepare to fasten on the kusti. The first stanza of the Ushtavaiti Gatha (Ys.43.1) is Zarathushtra's benediction in the same vein: May Ahura Mazda, who exercises sovereignty at will, grant blessings to WHOSOEVER desires them. In neither passage do we encounter the slightest hint that Ahura Mazda's Revelation was meant only for a chosen few, still less a narrow ethnicity: it would be disrespectful to suggest otherwise. 

And the message? This reflects the single-minded purpose of the Revelation: just as Ahura Mazda is acknowledged as the divine Healer of an existence corrupted by spiritual perversity, so too is man destined through his own FREE-WILL to wage an earthly combat to regenerate the world, towards which end the good powers of Mazda are invoked for help (Ys.30.9). "May we be those who shall renew THIS existence" urges Zarathushtra, and we dutifully echo this sentiment in a stray line of our kusti prayer (Yss.50.11 and 46.19). Elsewhere it is the sovereignty of Ahura which is invoked for the Healing in accord with OUR wish (Ys.34.15). 

Zarathushtra was a realist who fervently hoped to bring to fruition Ahura Mazda's Revelation that it was spiritualized man -- one lifted from barbaric tribalism to civilization -- who would renew this world. Armed with this inspired precept, the Prophet of the Righteous Order -- the New Order -- would convert ALL the living (Ys .28.5) ; again asking for the formula from the very tongue of Ahura Mazda's mouth whereby ALL the living would be converted (Ys.31.3); thereafter from Spenta Mainyu, the Bountiful Spirit of Ahura Mazda, that Right-mindedness and Truth come together to convert the many WHO ARE SEEKING (Ys.47.6)! Indeed, the many came from near and far to seek Zarathushtra's wisdom (Ys.45.1), emerging also in Yss.30.1 and 47.6. It must be noted here that Zarathushtra had uncompromisingly rejected all contemporary non-Mazdaean worship as hostile to the Revelation received from Ahura Mazda (Ys.44.11). His Gathas are replete with the idea of CONVERSION from dregvant to ashavan. We shall presently deal with its historical devolution. After our Prophet's demise, we continue to encounter the missionary activity of our fire-priests who ranged afar to spread his religion (Ys.42.7). 

For emphasis we again stress that ALL the living are required for the work of Renovation, known to us as Frashokereti, the establishment of a universal Righteous Order. The Prophet did not, moreover, distinguish between the sexes when he assured both men and women: "O Ahura Mazda! WHOEVER, man or woman, I shall impel to invoke You, with ALL these shall I cross the Chinvat Bridge" (Ys.46.10). The religion of Zarathushtra is open to ALL persons of moral goodness and goodwill who would accept the Gathic Revelation. Reason tells us it would indeed be pointless if only a chosen few were enlisted for the great task, for despite all their piety, all their good work would be surely rendered ineffective or even undone by the many NOT converted to the Mazdaean New Order. Prophet Zarathushtra and the community of believers in Iran, ancient and mediaeval, and even today, took this to be a universal and NOT A TRIBAL RELIGION, and on many historical occasions acted on that belief. There remains the act of worship inculcated in the Haptanhaiti (Ys.39.2) towards the souls of righteous men and women, past, present and future, WHEREVER THEY WERE BORN, which statement only the most obstinately inclined would see as a mere lip-service concession to good people of all other religions! Such reverence was accorded, rather, to all ashavans everywhere, in a wholly Gathic spirit, for their godly activity towards the Regeneration of the entire world.

 

The Fravardin Yasht 

The world-embracing Fravardin Yasht, a text as ancient as any in the syncretist Zoroastrianism which post-dated our Prophet, is a celebration of the fravashi, or pre-existent spiritual power of righteous men and women, again past, living, or to be born (Yasht 13.21) . Included are the religious heroes of early Zoroastrianism, as also its mythical and historical figures from the First Man to the future Saviours of Mankind. (Zarathushtra had counted ALL Truth-seeking persons as Saviours, or saoshyants, who had cultivated the Good Mind!). Here it is that we find the categorical statement that ALL Truth-owning men and women whose religious view contributes to the fulfilment of the Renovation are worthy of reverence (Yasht 13.154). With every emphasis, this Yasht urges the veneration of the Fravashis of all righteous men and women from ALL lands, including the infamous Turanians, the traditional enemies of Iran whose injurious activities against Zoroastrianism form the substance of many an ancient legend! But even more important is the remarkable passage celebrating the birth of Zarathushtra (13.94): THEN WILL THE GOOD MAZDAYASNIAN RELIGION BE PROPAGATED AMONG THE SEVEN CLIMES OF THIS EARTH! 

Our most sacred prayer of the Yatha ahu vairyo, which an early commentator tells us pre-existed Creation (so numinous did he consider it!), has to be correctly taught to the ENTIRE physical world, whereupon ALL of the living shall transcend mortality (Ys.19.6-?,10-11). The totality of veneration is indicated also by our Yasnas 23.3 and 26.6, the latter from our Satum-no-kardo! It is futile to still pretend that a universalism directed towards the Frashokereti does not involve conversion! Our priesthood solemnly intones such passages in the course of the Yasna ceremony – pious declarations which, as Zarathushtrian Mazdayasnian spiritual guides, they religiously vow to uphold. They should suit their beliefs to these sacred words, and not deny the true significance of our universally proselytizing prayers the moment they cease chanting them! 

The Vendidad, frequently misused to conform to closedmindedness and religion overriding personal dislikes, also strongly comes down on the side of conversion. Its chapter 19, X26, both in Avestan and its Pahlavi zand, makes Ahura Mazda answer to Zarathushtra's query as to whether he should guide both the righteous and the wicked daeva-yasnians, men and women, towards the Good Religion: "You should, 0 righteous Zarathushtra!" It could not be plainer. 

 

The Pahlavi "Zartusht-Namag" (Denkard VII) 

Prophet Zarathushtra's (here Zartusht) piously compiled biography was given its final revision in the ninth century of our Common Era, well after the murder of the last Sassanian king. Islam was then secure in its ascendancy, and despite the obvious danger to our ancient religion, our Prophet's, biographers gave forthright views on Zartusht's legendary life. The seventh book of our Mazdaean encyclopaedia, the Denkard, is fully devoted to this biography. Its first chapter does not baulk at declaring that ALL mankind are made knowledgeable in the religion -- hardly an idle academic assertion! -- and Zartusht the Spitamid's Fravashi is to be venerated. Ohrmazd/Ahura Mazda previews the Prophet's birth with His Amshaspands/Amesha Spentas: Having a mouth and tongue, he will declare the faith to the world incarnate (ch.2). After he is born, Vohuman/Vohu Manah escorts him before the spiritual assembly so that his Good Religion may spread among the seven regions of the earth. The Prophet's spiritual lordship is over the entire world (ch.3). A Turanian -- no less! .-- invites the kiks/kavis and karaps/karapans, both enemies of the new faith, to accept the Prophet's religion. It will be remembered that Vishtasp was a kavi, and Zartusht converts him to his religion by chanting aloud the Gathas. As token of the veracity and power of the new religion, Ohrmazd sends Vohuman, Ashavahisht and His spiritual Fire to Vishtasp for its propagation in the world (ch.4). 

The righteous Adurbad-i Maraspand diffuses knowledge of the religion in the world, and through his ordeal convinced the wicked ones, the marvel of the Avesta being that it is a compendium of the most supreme expressions of wisdom (ch. 5). In Book IV we read: "The King of Kings, Shahpur (II), son of Hormizd caused, through disputation, all the inhabitants of the country to be without fault, and brought all theological discussions to deliberation and examination. After Adurbad won the case by seemly discourse against all those sectarians, students of the nasks, and heretics, he (the king) said: 'Now that we have seen the religion in existence, we shall not let anyone approach evil religion. We shall exercise greater zeal over this' . He indeed acted in this manner" (Shaked's translation). What would have been the point of Adurbad's public disputation and demonstration of the potency of the Avesta before a 4th-century multi-faith assembly if his purpose had not been one of conversion through the universal validity of the religion? 

Ancient mythico-geography divided up the world into seven keshvars, or climes, of which Khwaniras/Khvaniratha was the central, Zoroastrian, region. Fifty-seven years after Zartusht received the Revelation from Ohrmazd, its acceptance was proclaimed throughout these seven regions from whose SouthEast and South-West continents came their High-priests to enquire from Vishtasp and Frashostar/Frashaoshtra -- they came in search of Zartusht's wisdom (Book VII, ch.6). We close this seventh book with Ohrmazd's declaration: "Thereupon I, Ohrmazd, shall renovate the world and render everything vivified and ever full of advantage, desiring good rulership", being Gathic reflexions in Pahlavi garb. 

Not to be outdone, the ninth-century Priest Zadsparam provided a variant perspective on the Prophet: this time it is a karap, summoned by Zartusht's own father to examine the supernatural infant -- "When I looked all about", said this mumbler-priest, "I saw again that the words of this one shall spread throughout the world, becoming as the Law of the Seven Regions ..." (Wizidagiha, 10.19). Zartusht dreamt that the men of this world came towards the north, and at their head strode Medyomah/Maidyoimaongha (traditionally, his cousin-german) ... who was the guide of all of mankind attracted towards Zartusht; it became evident that firstly Medyomah, and thereafter all of the physical beings are converted (Wizidagiha, ch.20). The story is here told of a crestfallen Zartusht (he had until then converted only Medyomah) being reassured by Ohrmazd: "There will be days when fewer persons shall be converted by you"! (ch.24). May it be noted that the Pahlavi verb HAKHTAN covers the notion of TO PERSUADE, TO CONVERT, exactly as did the Gathic root VAR- in the Prophet's own times: the proselytizing trend had faithfully continued over two millennia! 

The philosophical Book III of the Denkard commences its chapter 172 thus: "All profession of the Good Religion bears upon the will and commandment of the Creator. When all of mankind which is in the material world comes over to theprofession of the Good Religion, then the Assault (of Evil) shall be destroyed; all of creation will attain to a purity without opposition and to perfect bliss: that is the Revelation of the Good Religion"! Stirring sentiments uttered during very difficult times when conversion to anything other than Islam was expressly banned! Even later, we find conversion by the age of fifteen to the VEH-DEN, our good Zoroastrian religion, being enjoined in the case of a child born from an illicit union between a veh-din/behdin and a woman of different faith, failing which duty the Zoroastrian father is deemed to have committed the gravest of sins -- he becomes MARGARZAN: "worthy of death"! (Pahlavi Rivayat of Emed-i Ashavahishtan, 42.4). 

 

The Persian Rivayats 

It was popularly believed that contact between the Indian Jarthostis and the Iranian Zardushtis had been severed for several centuries, apart from the occasional brave refugee fleeing persecution and impoverishment in the Fatherland. In India, where conditions were far less harsh, the Parsis of Gujarat had lapsed into an increased adoption of local Hindu customs and beliefs. Certainly Hindu names proliferated among the provincial Parsis, and the ritual had succumbed to much adulteration. Matters having doubtless come to a head, the concerned davar Changa Asa of Navsari and some co-religionists determined upon obtaining correct answers to several questions of doctrine, ritual, and practices. The first emissary, Nariman Hoshang was sent, at great risk, along terrifyingly dangerous routes to the priests in Iran in 1478 and again in 1487. 

Among the answers brought back in direct response to questions from the Parsis, one addressed the problem of conversion: "If slave-boys and girls have faith in the Good Religion, then it is proper that kusti should be (given to them to be) tied [that is, they should be converted to Zoroastrianism], and when they become intelligent, attentive to religion and steadfast, they should give them barashnum andit is also proper and allowable to eat anything out of their hands"! For some who irresponsibly wish to exclude children -legitimately born from exogamous unions or born out of wedlock by Parsi fathers from non-Parsi mothers -- from the religion of their Zoroastrian fathers, then we must present an even stronger guideline from the 1599 Kaus Mahyar Rivayat whose response includes categories from even lower-deemed persons: "Can a grave-digger, a corpse-burner and a darvand become Behdins (i.e. be converted to the Mazdayasnian religion)?" Its answer: "If they observe the rules of religion steadfastly and (keep) connection with the religion, and if no harm comes on the Behdins (thereby), it is proper and allowable"! 

We cannot help wondering how often such proof of steadfastness and religious knowledge is demanded from "racially pure" Parsis to test their suitability for continuing in the faith of Zarathushtra. We do not thereby imply mass conversion of all and sundry who express perhaps only a passing or selfish interest in our religion; in the West serious enquirers have exhibited an affinity and sure grasp of its knowledge far exceeding the average Parsi's whose xenophobia thinly masks his own woeful religious deficiency. The nononsense translations (1932) from the Rivayats given above are by an orthodox scholar-priest, Ervad Bomanji N. Dhabhar. It is worth pointing out that attempts were clumsily made to have these disconcerting passages declared unauthentic!

The Itthoter Rivayat of 1773 was the last in the series of exchanges between India and Iran which had endured for nearly three hundred years. The replies to the 78 questions from the Parsi Zoroastrian dasturs of Broach and Surat, taken to Iran by Mulla Kaus Jalal, were signed by nine Iranian dasturs and nine religiously versed behdins. Here is Question 13 and its answer, dealing both with conversion and exposure within dakhmas: 

"In this quarter the behdins of Hindustan acquire large numbers of young Indian boys and girls as servants, and then use them for household chores; once they have taught them the Avesta and have got them to wear the kusti and sudreh according to the, rites of the Zoroastrian religion, they consecrate the daron-i gahanbar and other things which they have them prepare. Water and food also are taken from them by the mobeds and behdins of Hindustan. Yet when they die, those mobeds and behdins do not allow their bodies to be placed in the dakhma, claiming that they are sons of darvands, and that it would be unseemly to mix the bones of the behdins with theirs. Thus, while these people are alive they make use of them for all the religious preparations, and after their death they do not allow them to be laid in the dakhma. The question is, therefore, whether it is proper or not to lay their bodies in the dakhma. Let them write to clarify this matter". 

The answer came: "Concerning the acquisition of young men and women who are juddins as servants, the mobeds and behdins must first of all show care for their own religion, for their own rituals, for their personal property, and for their own soul so as not to face losses. TEACHING THE AVESTA TO THE SONS OF THE JUDDINS WHO HAVE BEEN ACQUIRED AND CONVERTING THEM TO THE DIN-I VEH-I MAZDAYASNAN EARNS ONE GREAT MERIT! What is instead exceedingly blameworthy and non-conformant with the opinion of the members of the din-i behi is the fact that the mobeds and behdins of Hindustan should eat food prepared by those youngsters while they live, and then once they die and stand to face God's mercy they should make such base comments about their poor bodies, arguing inappropriately that they are sons of juddins and that their mortal remains should not be united with those of the behdins in the dakhma. IT IS NOT RIGHT! Such iniquitous arguments do not profit the religion of Zaratusht and the Righteous Path, and whoever behaves in this way and does not allow their bodies to be laid in the dakhma is, according to the religion MARGARZAN and guilty before Mehr and Srosh. Indeed it is necessary for the mobeds and behdins to show greater mercy for these youngsters and to allow the bodies of the deceased ones to be laid in the dakhma according to the rules of the din-i behi, and this will be A SOURCE OF GLADNESS FOR ORMAZD AND THE AMESHASFANDS. 

"Here we have heard from the magniloquent speeches of the dasturzade Dastur Kaus, worthy successor of the deceased Dastur Rostam, that several dasturs, mobeds and behdins across most of the country [Hindustan] stand in the way and are an impediment and have agreed not to teach those youngsters the Avesta and not to convert them to the din-i veh-i mazdayasnan. THIS IS UNREASONABLE AND ALIEN TO THE TRADITION. May the Beloved ones prosper! In the second fargard of the Jud-div-dad [Vendidad] the Creator of the righteous material world has ordered the honourable Zaratusht Esfantaman anushe-ravan TO LEAD ALL MEN TO THE DIN-I BEHI, to the Main Path, to edify His joy, His glory and His honour. 

"Secondly, at the time of Hoshidar-mah, Hoshidar-bami and Siavashans [the three millennial Saviours of Zoroastrianism] ALL THE JUDDINS WILL BE CONVERTED TO THE DIN-I BEHI. It follows that according to the din-i behi it is appropriate and necessary to convert these youngsters, IT IS A VERY GREAT MERIT AND A RIGHTEOUS GOOD DEED. Therefore, those who hinder this and are against it can be considered AS BELONGING TO THE RELIGION OF THE JUDDINS, and they are not even aware of the Origin and of the other world. THEY PROCEED ALONG THE PATH OF ABERRATION AND VANITY AND ACCORDING TO THE RELIGION IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO DEFINE THEM AS BEHDINS, SINCE IF THEY WERE BEHDINS THEY WOULD INCREASE THE DIN-I BEHI." (We follow Mario Vitalone's translation with minor changes for ease of reading.) 

Our learned Ervad Shehryarji BHARUCHA, an excellent philologian well-versed both in Zoroastrian religious traditions and Parsi social mores, had used the authentic Persian text and a Gujarati translation of this Itthoter Rivayat for his pro-conversion arguments early this century. A little later, his English translation was published posthumously as part of a wide-ranging article, "Is Zoroastrianism preached to all mankind or to one particular race?" One can only wonder at the sharp contrast between the attitudes of our learned priesthood of former times and those of today who surely cannot be ignorant of our religious texts which so clearly and UNEQUIVOCALLY set out the case for conversion. Or could it be that they care not to attend to these contents of our sacred books? How are these texts explained by them to novitiates? How are Irani Zardushti perspectives presented to them, if at all? Are the several problems arising at all seriously discussed in Zoroastrian seminaries, or are they simply brushed aside as irksome, irrelevant, perhaps even rated secondary to the ritualistic primacy of textual contents? It would be instructive to have straight answers to such questions of so much direct importance to the wellbeing and progress of our minuscule communities.

  

A rectification: from pseudo-history to historicity 

The treatment of historical records by our priests is capricious to a degree, either ignoring or deliberately confusing the evidence of royal inscriptions. Thus we see a foreign source -- Deutero-Isaiah -- brought in as evidence of the Achaemenid CYRUS II's tolerance of alien faiths and leniency towards the subject peoples. In itself the Iranian emperor's exaltation is praiseworthy: he is "the anointed of Yahweh", the Abrahamic deity. The Jews of the Babylonian Captivity indeed had cause to so elevate their Persian liberator. But the cosy assumption thenceforth that all his Achaemenid successors were equally tolerant is to stretch credibility too far, especially when we read in DARIUS I's political testament his strict religiosity. In a quite Gathic tone, he declares to his successors: "Proclaims Darius, the king: You, whosoever shall be king hereafter -- the man who shall be a FOLLOWER OF FALSEHOOD (martiya haya draujana), or (the man) who shall be an EVIL-DOER, to those may you not be friendly, (but) punish them severely" (Schmitt translation). 

His son and successor XERXES I went one better: "Among these countries there was (a place) where previously FALSE GODS (daiva/daeva) were worshipped. Afterwards, by favour of Ahuramazda, I destroyed that sanctuary of the demons (daivadana), and I made proclamation, 'The demons shall not be worshipped!' Where previously the demons were worshipped, there I worshipped Ahuramazda and Arta/Asha reverently" (Kent translation). Xerxes' religious tolerance was very thin, and obviously selective; it has been substituted for political expediency and astuteness. Historical hard facts do not lie; their fictionalizing can and frequently do. When misused, they can become dangerous tools which often adversely affect the unwary and distort perspectives. 

In the face of continued misleading assertions that no conversions to Zoroastrianism were attested for Sassanian times, we feel it right to place the true historical facts before our readers. The major religious figure under the earliest five rulers of that dynasty was KIRDIR/KARTIR. The name was not his title; that most forceful prelate himself tells us of his rise through the priestly hierarchy from simple herbad/ervad to mobad of Ohrmazd, Judge of the (whole) Empire, Soul-saver of Bahram II, Director and Authority of the Anahid-Ardashir and the Lady Anahid Fire-temples in Stakhra, ayenbad or custodian of religious ceremonial procedures. This is what he says he did to non-Zoroastrians: he ensured that "great blows and torment befell Ahriman and the demons, and the heresy of Ahriman and the demons departed and was routed from the Empire. And Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and Nazarenes and Christians and Baptists and Manichaeans were smitten in the Empire, and idols were destroyed and the abodes of the demons were disrupted and made into thrones and seats of the gods . . . and the heretics and the destructive men, who in the Magian land did not adhere to the doctrine regarding the Mazdayasnian religion and the rites of the gods -- them I punished, and I tormented them until I made them better ... and MANY MEN WHO WERE UNBELIEVERS BECAME BELIEVERS, AND MANY WERE THOSE WHO HELD THE DOCTRINE OF THE DEMONS, AND ON ACCOUNT OF ME THEY LEFT THAT DOCTRINE OF THE DEMONS ..." (MacKenzie's translation, closely paralleled by others).

  

Our readers will agree that nothing less than FORCIBLE

CONVERSIONS were being described. Kirdir's name and fame mayhave been marginalized in priestly memories and forgotten in our extant Pahlavi and Pazand texts; the great man has, however, left records incised on stone which may be read to this day in Fars province in Iran. He was powerful enough in his own right to have his relief portraits carved alongside those of royalty -- a unique privilege not accorded any other prelate in Sassanian times. His history may have been suppressed, for whatever reason, but the man and his labours in the cause of third century Zoroastrian orthodoxy have emerged in the clear light of 20th century research. 

The new Zoroastrian orthodoxy was unsuccessfully forced upon the Christian Armenians by MIHR-NARSE, Prime Minister under three notable Sassanian kings, Yazdgard I , Bahram V and Yazdgard II. The first monarch was detested by the priesthood for his tolerance of other faiths coexisting in Iran; the second for his religious disinterest; but the last was called "The Clement" (!) by the Mazdaean priests because he enforced the conversion order against the Armenians in the fifth century. That edict was refuted by eighteen unimpressed Christian bishops, and ultimately proved unenforceable despite the still-remembered bloodshed of 451 C.E. MihrNarse's conversion activity, like the above-mentioned precedents, has been passed over in silence by our present embarrassed priesthood, and it not being our purpose to further press historical issues dealing with forcible conversions, we let these unpleasant matters rest. 

Very much nearer in time, however, and again from Iran, came the consensus statement under the seal of the Tehran Council of Mobeds, signed by Mobed Ardeshir AZARGOSHASP, published in the Bombay Samachar columns dated 3rd February 1991. It bore the heading, taken from the last paragraph: "WE MUST PERSEVERE TO PROPAGATE OUR RELIGION AND ACCEPT PERSONS WHO WANT TO EMBRACE IT" -- a carefully considered, and responsible, document of intent. Is Iranian Zoroastrianism so very different that it can unreservedly, yet so prudently, express such a divergent -- indeed opposite! -- view on the subject of conversion?

 

A Pazand prayer: "Din-no kalmo" 

The navjote, or formal initiation into the Zoroastrian fold, is normally performed for a child of seven to eleven years of age. Among the prayers PRONOUNCED BY THE OFFICIATING PRIEST and dutifully REPEATED BY THE CHILD is the Pazand Affirmation of the Faith, well known as the Din-no kalmo (or Kalma-i-din). It translates as "[Avestan prologue] (This is) the truest, most insightful Mazda-given righteous Good Religion of the Mazda worshippers. [Pazand] The good, true and perfect Religion, which God has SENT FOR THE PEOPLES OF THIS WORLD, is that which Zarathushtra has brought. That Religion is the Religion of Zarathushtra, the Religion of Ahura Mazda revealed to the righteous Zarathushtra". Its veracity is ratified immediately after by the recitation of the Ashem vohu, the Laudation of Truth! 

This is the religion which the priests formally confer upon the initiate IN THE SACRED NAMES OF AHURA MAZDA AND HIS PROPHET ZARATHUSHTRA, and is a solemn turning-point of his/her life. Ervad Kavasji Kanga (respected to this day as "Kangaji") has translated the universalist passage into Gujarati thus: "... din, je dadar hormazde ae dunyana lokone mate mokli ..." He then glosses the passage "je asho jartoshtne (ae dunyama felavane-mate dadar hormazde) api hati" -- "which He, the Creator Hormazd/Ahura Mazda, gave to the righteous Zarathushtra FOR PROPAGATION IN THIS WORLD". Ervad Shehryarji Bharucha and Ervad Jivanji Modi have both closely agreed with Kangaji in their respective English renditions of our Din-no kalmo. The former had added: "In the face of this recital and acknowledgement would it not be ABSOLUTELY WRONG TO DENY THE RIGHT OF EVERY MAN OF THE WORLD TO EMBRACE THE RELIGION OF ZARATHUSHTRA; and when a person applies to a Zoroastrian priest to admit him into his religion, how can he refuse him? Surely, if he does, it would be DERELICTION OF DUTY ON HIS PART"! It is indeed assumed that there is clear understanding of the prayer's contents amongst us who since childhood devoutly offered it to Ahura Mazda IN, ZARATHUSHTRA'S NAME. If so, then surely our belief must reflect our piously uttered affirmation.

 

Difficulties with the Bombay Zoroastrian community and the communities abroad

Despite exposure of the feeble canard on non-conversion falsely implicating Jaydev Rana, we notice that this untruth is still being peddled by unscrupulous anti-conversion lobbyists. Bombay indeed does have its particular difficulties with regard to acceptance of outsiders into the Zoroastrian faith, but pleads especial SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC reasons for RELIGIOUS non-compliance! Emphasis is placed on the Parsi socio-religious funds set up with the provisos that they benefit only the Parsis and that strange class of the socalled "born Zoroastrian". The priests have, apparently, left a loophole to conveniently allow the return of some backsliders on the curious pretext that their conversion out was both "illegal and invalid". This is untenable, for were it really so then we should not have had any obstacles denying exogamous Zoroastrian women their INALIENABLE BIRTHRIGHT of fire-temple visits and dakhma exposure: on such occasions we were assured that by outmarrying they had voluntarily and knowingly (!) renounced their Zarathushtrian Mazdayasnian faith! It is distressingly evident that religious adherence is being determined quite arbitrarily from ad hoc misogynistic premisses. 

No less unpleasant is the sad tendency of our Bombay prelates -- to whom we once used to entrust our religious and spiritual guidance -- to manipulate texts to suit their predilections for a tribal religion despite the clearest injunctions to the contrary. One such piece of misinformation was noticed in a false statement that just one lone Parsi scholar had translated the root VAR-, thrice located in the Gathas, as "convert". That this was palpably untrue was quickly brought to light with references to the sound scholarship of Kavasji KANGA, Khodabax PUNEGAR, and Irach TARAPOREWALA -- all respected Gatha translators. 

Much is being made of the fact that our Parsi translators had also utilized "to choose", "ward off/turn from (evil)", "to convince", "to cause to believe". Permutations formed about the root VAR- can only convey expressions unambiguously suggestive of the drive for PROSELYTISM. A selective adherence to peripheral meanings, with the careful exclusion of the embarrassing "CONVERT", is exactly like saying of someone that "he strides, paces, strolls, saunters, promenades, causes one foot to move ahead of the other, BUT he is not walking!" What would be the point of Zarathushtra's energetically repeated "convincing", "causing to believe", "turning away from (evil)" of seekers after.Ahura Mazda's Wisdom, if his purpose and intent was not their CONVERSION? We shall not further labour the point, having done so at length precisely for reasons of countering so much manipulation of our religious texts and undermining of the real importance of the conversion issue. We ourselves having no personal or vested interest, and certainly NO HIDDEN AGENDA, we seek only a restitution of the Truth of our religious and commentarial texts. 

Mr Cyrus P. Mehta of Harlow, Essex, recalls for us that the several learned articles and factual religious statements made in Western India early in the twentieth century by the pious Parsi Zoroastrians Darab SANJANA, Jivanji MODI, Shehryarji BHARUCHA, Khurshedji Rustamji CAMA and Tehmurasp Dinshahji ANKLESARIA, all of whom had opined that IF A PERSON SERIOUSLY WISHES TO BECOME A ZOROASTRIAN, THEN THERE IS NO BAR IN OUR RELIGION. Their conclusions were not based on blind beliefs but ON THE STUDY AND AUTHORITY OF ZOROASTRIAN SCRIPTURES. Few in Bombay now care to remember these judicious pronouncements of our enlightened ancestors. Enlightenment is not some new fad brought about since the Parsi and Irani emigrations world-wide: it has always illumined the Zoroastrian psyche. Western scholars too, pioneer and modern-day, applying common-sense to their disciplined scientific training, have arrived at the same conclusion: that ZOROASTRIANISM ENJOINS CONVERSION. No' sensible Zoroastrian would advocate indiscriminate or mass conversion. However, he does maintain that in cases of intermarriage, non-Zoroastrian spouses and the children from increasing intermarriages be encouraged to embrace Zoroastrianism and integrate within the communities. Family harmony would thrive, apostasy disappear, and community stability benefit naturally from RELIGIOUSLY inculcated social moves towards acceptance. 

Had the Bombay priests come straight out with the RELIGIOUS TRUTH ABOUT CONVERSION and then explained that owing perhaps to personal distaste or disinclination, or economic and socio-political pressures, now. augmented by alien fundamentalist busybodies and wily opportunists, it was not possible to put our religiously inculcated precepts into practice, and called a moratorium on this vexing issue. The self-respect of the Bombay community and its religious and populist leaders would thereby have remained unassailed throughout the decades of needless obfuscation. However, what is seemingly appropriate for Bombay cannot be rigidly imposed as RELIGIOUS dogma upon the rest of the Zoroastrian world where, evidentially, circumstances and needs are very different. Solutions similarly remain to be boldly tackled over the thorny questions of Calendars, Initiation, Intermarriage, Funerary procedures (especially regarding Burial, Cremation, Secondary Burials, non-Zoroastrian pallbearers, post-mortem Prayers) and all other matters which our communities continue to irresponsibly and hurriedly shelve as "controversial". Such pressing matters of real concern to every Zoroastrian will not resolve themselves through studied indifference. 

Adding to the difficulties confronting our priesthood and the laity is the infiltration by those Parsis who rejected Zoroastrianism for a moribund THEOSOPHY: an insidious mix of doctrines incorporating ideas alien to Zarathushtra's theology are passed on to a gullible public as a modern extension of the Prophet's teachings. Then there are among the Parsis groups of followers of the latter-day receivers of secretly communicated pseudo-religious teachings, the more revered as they become less comprehensible!

Such non-Zoroastrian views are being espoused by small vocal minorities. And though they certainly, under the principle of 'freedom of conscience', have the right to believe and declare the same, they must be seen for what they really are -- PERVERTERS OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE PROPHET ZARATHUSHTRA. Not only do they publish and preach in India; they appear as itinerant preachers in parts of the world where Zoroastrians have recently settled to promote their peculiar theosophies, attempting to gain the support of the uninformed by insinuating a tribal religion based upon blood. The illuminating message of the Prophet is craftily avoided, or even displaced. The life of moral striving and the goal of establishing the Rule of Righteousness is utterly ignored. For whatever unpleasant reasons, our authentically Zoroastrian priesthood seems paralyzed to denounce or counteract such unprincipled infiltrations, preferring to divert attention to imagined threats from phantasms. These difficulties indeed lie with the Bombay priesthood.

We do not wish to engage in pointless disputation. Ours is a plea for enlightenment, which is already embedded in the words of the Prophet. We urge our enlightened dasturs to articulate this Wisdom and not fail the Teacher whose teachings they profess. We jointly feel that a cultured, enlightened, educated and teaching priesthood represents our best hope for the propagation of the faith and the continuance of its glory well into the next millennium of our PROPHET ZARATHUSHTRA WHO WAS SENT TO US TO PERFECT THIS WORLD THROUGH OUR OWN PERFECTION.

 


 

 

Farrokh Vajifdar.jpg (25172 bytes)

 

Farrokh Jal Vajifdar was born in Bombay, India, into a high priestly family. Navjoted at nine, he has settled in London since sixteen. Took no interest whatever in Zoroastrianism initially, but instead studied and taught modern languages. Converted from Parsiism to Zoroastrianism at age 19, and has not ceased studying Indo-Iranian civilizations since. Specializes in the history, languages, literatures, and religions of Ancient Iran. Writes, translates, lectures, and occasionally broadcasts on foreign and national radio and television.

Reluctant midwife to some aspiring Parsi authors, and collaborator with noted non-Zoroastrian scholars on translations, articles and books. Recent co-editor for the commemoration volume 'Mash-a dorun" ("The Fire Within') for the Iranian scholar Jamshid Soroushian, and "Orientalia Romana - 7", being essays from the World Zoroastrian Organisation's 1996 London Conference on Zoroastrian Literature. Occasional contributor to the Vohuman.org and CAIS-SOAS websites. Categorizes himself as independent researcher.

He is a Fellow (and former Vice-President and Fellow-in-Council) of the Royal Asiatic Society, and a review contributor to its Journal. Farrokh is happily out-married to the same wife for some 39 years, having the same son for some 36 years, the cutest grand-daughter of some 16 months, and a wildly affectionate dog of some 5 years.

 

 

 

 

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