The Ebb and Flow of History


Aug 23, 2013 — USA (SUN) —

A brief warning: This will be a long article spanning around 1600 years of Persian history. Please forgive my shortcomings as a writer if the article becomes a bit unwieldy.


In previous articles I spoke of analyzing modern events through a study of economic, political, religious, and historical data. This article is intended to take the reader through a time lapse of ancient Persia known today as Iran. By so doing we may better understand the historical fault lines that influence modern events.

The country today known as India has been physically at the center of the ancient world with Europe to its West and Asia to its East. As the center it has radiated its influence in both directions. Broadly speaking there were two great reform movements that spun off from the ancient Vedic tradition. The first was the tradition of Zarathustra which moved West from Persia to Europe; the second was the tradition of Gautama Buddha which moved East through Asia.

Each faith, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, carried with it some element of the ancient tradition. Zoroastrianism took the form (sacred fire, sacred thread, names of various divinities), but the substance (philosophy) was markedly different. Buddhism took much of the substance (philosophical concepts such as karma and samsara) but rejected the form in religious ritual. This article will focus on the schism that occurred that separated East from West as a result of the reforms of Zarathustra.

Who was Zarathustra?

No one quite knows who Zarathustra was and when his revelations occurred. Dates for his life range from 600 B.C. to 6000 B.C. What we do know comes from tradition. It is said he was born into a priestly caste in Bactria, which was located above what is today modern Afghanistan. He was a fire priest of the ancient tradition, an Athravan or reciter of the Atharva Veda.

One day, while taking a morning bath in a river, he had a revelation, that the tradition had gone wrong. One should not be worshipping the many gods of the Vedas, but only one God, who revealed Himself as the Wise Lord, Ahura Mazda (Avestan Ahura meaning Lord, Mazda meaning Wisdom). While I cannot speak to the state of Dharma after the Great War, it is said Zarathustra was dismayed by the constant internecine warfare among the various tribes and sought a religion that would reform society.

After his revelation, he set about preaching the new religion among his tribe. Everyone, including his own family, rejected him as an apostate. He was considered mad and was abandoned with no support. However, in time, he made his first convert in the King Vishtaspah who became his sponsor. He proceeded to convert his old order to the new faith. It is said he lived until the age of 77 when he was killed while praying in a temple by an invading tribe. But the religion he set in motion would go on to profoundly influence the Western world.

Similarities & Differences

Linguistic – Both Avestan and Pali were relatives of Sanskrit and were the religious languages of Zoroastrianism and Buddhism respectively. So similar is Avestan to Sanskrit that often a simple change translates one to the other. As an example, the Persians use 'h' instead of 's', thus Avestan Ahura becomes Sanskrit Asura; Avestan Haoma, Sanskrit Soma; Avestan Hapta-Hindu, Sanskrit Sapta-Sindhu (Land of the Seven Rivers); Avestan Haraxaiti, Sanskrit Sarasvati. It is interesting to note that while the Persians retained a memory of the great Sarasvati river, and reference having once lived in Sapta-Sindhu, the word Haraxaiti itself has no meaning in Avestan but Sarasvati does in Sanskrit.

Ritual – Zoroastrians retained a sacred thread, known as a kushti, which they tie around their waist (rather than overhanging the shoulder). This thread is given during a Navjote ceremony, which retains a similar function to the Vedic Upanayana. They are also well known for performing yasna (Sanskrit yagnas), or oblations into a sacrificial fire accompanied by manthras (Sanskrit mantra).

Divinity – The key reform of Zarathustra was the raising of one God worthy of worship. One of his famous quotes was "If the gods do evil they are not gods." But he did not get rid of all the old gods. Instead, he transitioned them to lesser divinities, something akin to angels. Thus, Zoroastrianism retains many of the Vedic divinities in some form: Mithra, Varuna, Vayu, Vivasvan etc…. Scholars generally conclude that Ahura Mazda was a combination of the qualities of two Vedic deities Mitra-Varuna. Even small references to Rama appear in their scriptures, but not his pastimes (possible reasons why later): Avesta: Khorda Avesta

Avestan scriptures reference individuals like Thraetona, who appear in the Rig Veda as Trita; Yima who is the same as Yama; and a royal sage known as Kava Ushan (Kavya) known for his glowing effulgence, who is the same as the Vedic Shukracharya, the teacher of the Asuras [Appendix 1].

Of particular interest is the case of Indra, one of the chief Vedic gods. In Zoroastrianism he is actually removed from the list of divinities and made the henchman of the evil spirit Angra Mainyu (or Ahriman). A key element of Zarathustra's teachings was anti-deva worship – and what better way to illustrate this than to place Indra, a chief Vedic deity, on the side of the evil spirit.

Finally, I wish to note a very curious divinity, known as Verethragna (Sanskrit equivalent Vrtrahan). Ordinarily this name would be a clear reference to Indra, but as we have seen, within Zoroastrianism, Indra had fallen out of favor. What is interesting about this divinity is that he has what can only be called a Persian equivalent "Dasavatar". He is principally known for his boar incarnation (Warharan). His ten incarnations are as follows: as an impetuous wind; as an armed warrior with a golden blade; as a beautiful youth at the ideal age of fifteen; as a bull with horns of gold; as a white horse with ears and muzzle of gold; as a camel; as a boar; as a bird; as a ram; as a wild goat;

You can read each of these incarnations in the link below: Avesta: Yashts

Philosophy – Zoroastrian philosophy is what separates the Western mind from the Eastern mind. There is no karma, reincarnation, nor samsara. There is one life in which to do good or evil. They have an angelology and demonology; they believe in a Heaven and Hell; a bodily resurrection, or a reuniting of the soul with the body after death; they believe in an individual judgment, and a Last Judgment (a final cataclysm to end the world) that would lead to a renewal (frashokereti); they believe in three saviors (Saoshyant) that are to be born of virgins and bring great benefit to the world; and finally they believe in a philosophy of ethical and cosmic dualism – a world divided between an all good God in a war with an all evil spirit named Angra Mainyu (or Ahriman).

No religion is born fully formed. They change, transform and reform. Zoroastrianism is no different. It broke away from the Vedic tradition, retained many of the forms, which were no doubt popular with the people, but changed the underlying philosophy. The path it went down would forever divide East from West.

Cyrus The Great & The Kings of Persia

Persia plays a prominent role throughout the Bible. In 586 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (modern Iraq) conquered Judea and Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple originally built by King Solomon in 957 B.C. Following this destruction the Jews were dispersed with many taken in captivity to Babylon.

Around 600 B.C. Cyrus (Kurush) was born to a noble Persian family. In time he would establish the Achaemenid Empire (550 B.C. – 330 B.C.). He was known as a just ruler, who worked to improve the lives of those he conquered, treating them with fairness and equanimity. Cyrus is mentioned 23 times directly in the Bible (Chronicles, Ezra, & Isaiah) for in 539 B.C. he conquered Babylon and freed the Jews from captivity. So great was he revered that the Bible refers to him as 'messiah' or 'the Lord's anointed'. Under his rule he financed the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. A sample from the Bible follows:

Chronicles 36:22-23:

    "Now in the first year of Cyrus King of Persia, in order to accomplish the word of the Lord spoken through the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus King of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, This says Cyrus King of Persia, The God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and has charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up."

Most scholars see a transformation in Jewish religious thought after the exile directly attributed to interaction with the new faith of Persia [Appendix 2]. Below is a link to the online Jewish Encyclopedia that provides some commentary on this influence: Jewish Encyclopedia: Zoroastrianism

Cyrus's reputation was as a just ruler who did not wish to rule destroyed people. He did not enslave conquered territories; he did not destroy their temples; he did not force conversion. All of these were radically different approaches for ancient rulers. So great was his reputation that the Greek philosopher Xenophon, a student of Socrates, wrote the Cyropaedia ("The Education of Cyrus") in the 4th Century B.C. This book was considered a masterpiece of classical political statesmanship to teach future rulers with Cyrus considered the ideal ruler. It became highly influential during the medieval Renaissance and was read even by Thomas Jefferson.

But Cyrus, being a warrior, sought to expand and consolidate his empire. According to Herodotus in his "Histories", Cyrus sought to conquer the land of the Massagetae, a warrior tribe in what is today modern Kazakhsthan. By culture they appeared to have been similar to the Scythians. He proposed a marriage between himself and Tomyris the ruler of the Massagetae. She rejected his proposal informing Cyrus if he wished to conquer her lands to meet her in battle. While there are a number of versions of Cyrus's death, Herodotus tells us that he was killed in a fierce battle whereupon Tomyris had him decapitated. He died in December 530 B.C.

The tomb of Cyrus the Great still stands. It is a simple stone monument. On it are inscribed the words "O man, whoever you are and wherever you come from, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus who won the Persians their empire. Do not therefore begrudge me this bit of earth that covers my bones." For 2500 years, through all the turmoil in the region, his tomb still stands based on his reputation.

Following the death of Cyrus there was a power struggle over who would rule over the new empire. In time Darius I (Darayava) (550 B.C. – 486 B.C.) would reign as the third Achaemenid emperor after marrying the daughter of Cyrus. He was famous for various infrastructure projects, the building of the palace at Persepolis, the organization of the empire with various satraps (or governors) for tax collection, and according to the Bible continuing the policy of Cyrus towards the rebuilding of the Second Temple, which was completed during his reign (Book of Ezra 4 & 5). He also commissioned the Behistun carvings that read in part:

The Great Inscription of Darius I at Behistun (516 B.C.):

    Adam Darayavush, khshayathiya vazarka, khshayathiya khshayathiyanam, khshayathiya Parsiya, khshayathiya dahyaunam, Vishtaspahya putra, Arshamahya napa, Hakhamanishiya.

    "I am Darius, the great King, the King of Kings, the King of Persia, the King of the provinces, the son (putra) of Hystaspes (Vishtaspah), the grandson of Arsames, the Achaemenian."

I reference this inscription for one purpose: to highlight Darius's father Vishtaspah. The traditional story was that Zarathustra's first sponsor was a King Vishtaspah. There is some debate if this is in fact the same Vishtaspah as in the original story. Academics believe it is and it is for this reason they place the appearance of Zarathustra at around 600 B.C. The inscriptions also note that Vishtaspah was a satrap (Governor) of Bactria, the ancestral home of Zarathustra. On the other hand tradition and a number of Greek sources place Zarathustra much further back. There is unsettled debate over this issue.

Personally, I am more apt to believe tradition (1500 B.C) over academia (600 B.C.) in the date for Zarathustra's mission. His Gathas (hymns) reflect a very archaic form of Avestan similar to Rig Vedic Sanskrit that would push the date further back in time to perhaps 1500 B.C. or older. However, some circumstantial evidence does seem to support the academic viewpoint.

There is no doubt that Darius was a Zoroastrian as this is attested through carvings throughout the empire. If his father were the same Vishtaspah that first sponsored the new religion, then the older Persian kings, possibly including Cyrus, would have belonged to the old pre-Zoroastrian Vedic religion, or at least were present during the transition to the new faith.

After the death of Darius, Persia came under the temperamental rule of his son Xerxes I (Khashayarsha) (519 B.C. – 465 B.C.). He is most famous for his various invasions of Greece including the Battle of Thermopylae. In 480 B.C. he sacked Athens and burned the Acropolis to the ground. This would later have grave implications for the people of Persia.

Most Biblical scholars identify Xerxes as King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther. In this book, King Ahasuerus selects a common Jewish girl and makes her the Queen of Persia. In time, with the help of her uncle Mordecai, she uncovers a plot by Haman, one of the King's deputies, to exterminate all of the Jews in Persia. She reveals to the King that she is Jewish and asks for his help at which point King Ahasuerus has Haman executed. The festival of Purim marks this occasion. There are no extra-Biblical sources that confirm this story and it is the only book of the Bible not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Like his father, Xerxes engaged in many infrastructure projects including completing his father's work at Persepolis. Here he carved his famous "Daiva Inscription" which reads in part:

    "And among these countries there was a place where previously daivas were worshipped. Afterwards, by the grace of Ahuramazda I destroyed that sanctuary of the daivas, and I proclaimed: 'The daivas shall not be worshipped!' Where previously the daivas were worshipped, there I worshipped Ahuramazda at the proper time and in the proper manner. And there was other business that had been done ill. That I made good. That which I did, all I did by the grace of Ahuramazda. Ahuramazda bore me aid until I completed the work."

Alexander The Macedonian

Alexander the Macedonian was born in 356 B.C. and was tutored by Aristotle himself. In 333 B.C. he invaded and conquered Persia then ruled by Darius III. His campaign of empire building would extend from Greece to the Punjab, but he never conquered India.

As an act of revenge against Xerxes, Alexander burned Persepolis to the ground. According to Zoroastrian tradition, Alexander "The Accursed" then butchered all of the Zoroastrian priesthood and burned their holy books and libraries. It is said that in order to preserve their tradition individual members (men, women, and children), would commit key books to memory. There is no doubt that this campaign greatly weakened the tradition and much ancient knowledge would have been lost. Additionally, new ideas would have been exchanged within the new Greco-Persian empire.

After conquering Bactria, the ancestral homeland of Zarathustra and outpost of the Persian Empire, Alexander married Roxana (Rokshana) the Princess of Bactria. It is said that Alexander conducted a mass wedding among his military men and noble women of Persia in order to culturally bring the conquered lands under Greek influence.

He was 30 years old and had defeated Persia, Bactria, and Gandhara and now turned his sights on India. In 326 B.C. he met in battle King Puru along the Jhelum river in Pakistan. After a fierce fight he eventually conquered this land and spared the life of the King.

However, a group of gymnosophists (naked philosophers) were preaching revolt. Alexander eventually captured ten of these naked philosophers and commanded these sadhus to answer his philosophical questions on point of death. They answered each and were spared. [Appendix 3].

He wanted to push forward but his army was in a state of mutiny. Years of fighting had taken their toll and they wanted no more. They had heard talk of pushing further into India but knew of the vast armies of the Indian Kings with their war elephants. To placate his army, Alexander turned back to Persia accompanied by Calanus (Kalyana) an Indian ascetic. Upon returning to Persia, Alexander discovered that some of his men had desecrated the tomb of Cyrus. He immediately worked to restore the monument and sought to punish those who committed the act.

In Susa, Persia, Calanus became ill. He asked that a funeral pyre be constructed. When it was lit, it is said he entered the fire alive, sat down, and spoke to Alexander "We will meet in Babylon." In 323 B.C. Alexander marched back to Babylon where he hosted festivities. Very quickly he became ill and died at the age of 32. His sudden death could hardly be believed. Modern researchers suggest he may have died of malaria or typhoid, while at the time many conspiracy theories suggested he had been poisoned.

Thus the reign of Alexander the Macedonian came to an end. He had conquered great lands, made it to the border of India, but he never truly forged a cohesive empire. Within less than 100 years the Persians would reassert their dominance and form the new Parthian Empire (247 B.C. to 224 A.D.).

The Magi From The East

Every year at Christmas time, all around the world, nativity scenes on lawns and churches commemorate the adoration of the Magi in 1 A.D. But who exactly were these Magi?

The Magi were a priestly caste known throughout the ancient world. They had many functions most notably the installation of the King, as well as the study of astronomy and astrology. In fact, the word 'magic' derives from their name though the word 'magi' itself means something similar to 'great'.

The online Catholic encyclopedia has this entry on the Magi: Catholic Encyclopedia: Magi

Which reads in part:

    "The religion of the Magi was fundamentally that of Zoroaster… The philosophy of the Magi, erroneous though it was, led them to the journey by which they were to find Christ. Magian astrology postulated a heavenly counterpart to compliment man's earthly self and make up the complete human personality. His "double" (the fravashi of the Parsi) developed together with every good man until death united the two. The sudden appearance of a new and brilliant star suggested to the Magi the birth of an important person."

One of the chief duties of the Magi was the coronation of the new King. When Cyrus first conquered Persia he brought the Magi under his control. There appears to have been some friction in the order at this time. After Cyrus's death, the Magi tried to install Gaumata "The Usurper" through subterfuge. Darius I ultimately killed this usurper and resumed leadership of Persia. All of this hints at a society under change, and suggests that the old order Magi were not pleased by the leadership.

The significance of the adoration of the Magi in the Book of Matthew would have been greatly understood by the people at the time - for the Magi coronate the King. In The Arabic Infancy Gospel of Christ (part of the Apocrypha) verse 7 it relates:

    "And it came to pass, when the Lord Jesus was born at Bethlehem of Judaea, in the time of King Herod, behold, magi came from the east to Jerusalem, as Zeraduscht had predicted; and there were with them gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh."

An interesting tradition later evolved around the 6th Century A.D. among Arabic Christians (and later Muslims) that Zarathustra was in fact Baruch Ben Neriah, the scribe of the Jewish Prophet Jeremiah (both present around 600 B.C). I should mention that neither Jews nor Zoroastrians draw this conclusion. But it is interesting as it shows ancient Christians trying to piece together their history and understanding the connection to the Persian tradition. [Appendix 4].

The Christianization of Europe

Jerusalem in 1 A.D. was smashed between two great empires: the Greek/Roman, and the Persian. In 33 A.D. the Romans crucified Jesus for fear he might cause a revolution. By 70 A.D. the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem rebuilt by Cyrus The Great. The Christianity that appeared in this crucible of traditions would push further west to civilize Europe.

At the time, Persia was monotheistic and Rome polytheistic. One of the religious traditions in Rome popular among Legionnaires was the cult of Mithras. This was a "mystery" religion and there are literally hundreds of temple remains scattered across the old Roman Empire as far off as England.

It is curious to note that Mithras, so popular among Roman soldiers, was in fact a Persian/Vedic solar deity (Mithra/Mitra) said to have appeared out of a rock in a cave. It is likely that this tradition was brought back to Greece after Alexander's military excursions into Persia. A number of the Roman emperors were state sponsors of this religion.

Many scholars have noted similarities between Mithraism and Christianity. In 1949 the famed civil right leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote "A Study of Mithraism" which can be read here: A Study of Mithraism

His conclusion was as follows:

    "That Christianity did copy and borrow from Mithraism cannot be denied, but it was generally a natural and unconscious process rather than a deliberate plan of action. It was subject to the same influences from the environment as were the other cults, and it sometimes produced the same reaction. The people were conditioned by the contact with the older religions and the background and general trend of the time."

Among the similarities between the traditions: celebration of the appearance on December 25 (the Roman solar holy day), use of bread & wine in religious ritual, paters (fathers) as priests etc. If we were to take a broad historical perspective we would see both Mithraism and Christianity as deriving from a common root. As such, it should comes as no surprise that they would carry forward some common elements. In a similar manner, Buddhism carries common elements from the Vedic tradition.

The centerpiece of every Mithraic temple was an altar depicting Mithras killing the cosmic bull (the tauroctony). Some have suggested that Roman Mithras worship deviated in ghastly ways from the original Persian worship of Mithra. They argue that it may have involved Persian symbols but manufactured its own processes. For one, in the Zoroastrian tradition Mithra does not kill a bull. The closest similarity would be that of Ahriman (the evil spirit) killing the cosmic bull.

It is said that in the beginning of creation God created Gayomart (mortal life), the first man, accompanied by Gavaevodata the cosmic bull. Ahriman, the evil spirit, attacked and killed the primeval bull, and from its blood and body arose all the animals of the world. Ahriman then killed Gayomart, and from his blood and body arose all the varieties of mankind. While this is tradition, some say even this seems at odds with Zoroastrian beliefs, as it suggests an act of evil (killing) brought about good (life). This tradition likely evolved from the older original Indo-Iranian Vedic tradition found in the purusha sukta of the Rig Veda (RV 10.90) in which the cosmic man is sacrificed by the gods for the creation of the world. [Appendix 5].

These details aside, early church Fathers saw in Mithraism a perverted reflection of the Christian tradition. Whether they were changed in some fashion it is clear that Persian symbols and ideas held sway in the Roman Empire. In time, Constantine I (306 A.D) became the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. It was under his leadership that the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire spreading Christianity throughout the rest of Europe.

In 326 A.D. St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in a cave said to be the spot where Jesus appeared. In 614 A.D. the Persian Empire invaded and conquered Jerusalem. Amid the destruction Persian soldiers entered the holy grotto of the Church of the Nativity. It is said they gazed upon the walls and saw a mosaic showing the birth of Christ surrounded by the Magi in Persian dress. Respectfully they backed out and left the site unscathed. Later, in the 9th Century A.D., this event was used as an example of the benefits of Christian religious art.

The Last Zoroastrian Emperor

A new power was rising in the region. Beginning around 610 A.D. the Prophet Muhammad received his revelations. The tradition he would establish would build upon the prior traditions. Many of the apocryphal stories of Christ that were not included within the Bible were gathered and included within the Koran. In fact, the Virgin Mary is mentioned more times in the Koran than in the Bible.

But Islam differed with Christianity in two distinct philosophical ways. First, Muslims did not accept the Incarnation – the idea that God descends as a divine man to earth. Second, Muslims did not accept the purushamedha of Christ – that a divine being is sacrificed for the renewal of the world. In these two respects both Judaism and Islam were in agreement.

Islam spread rapidly throughout the region. There were now three regional powers – Christian, Zoroastrian, and Islamic. In 636 A.D. at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah, the Islamic armies captured Iraq from the Persians. The loss was a humiliating defeat. Years of war and bloodshed followed as the energized Islamic armies went on to destroy the "fire worshippers". In 653 A.D. Yazdgerd III, the last Zoroastrian Emperor, was killed as he fled from town to town. There are a number of accounts of his death, but the most common was that he was killed by a Christian miller for his purse as the king hid in his shop. Thus the Persian Sassanid Empire (224 A.D. – 651 A.D.) came to an end and with it over 1200 years of history from the time of Cyrus the Great.

The daughter of Yazdgerd III, Princess Shahrbanu, was captured and eventually married Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Mohammed. The Persian people suffered greatly. Their fire temples were destroyed, their priests killed, and their holy books burned. Hussein was eventually martyred as he did not accept the leadership of the Caliphate and their brutal practices against the Persian people. The child of Princess Shahrbanu and Hussein ibn Ali would go on to lead the Shi'a sect of Islam. In the world today about 13% of Muslims are Shi'a tracing their lineage to this union. The remaining 87% of Muslims regard Shi'a Islam as a mix of Islam and Persian traditions.

Yazdgerd III had a son named Pirooz who escaped and made his way to China. One of his sisters was married to the Emperor of China under the Tang dynasty. For centuries there were trade relations between Persia and China. The remaining royal court followed and took refuge of the Chinese Emperor. Prince Pirooz would go on to become a General in the Chinese army. His family would take on the Chinese surname 'Li' and marry into the Chinese aristocracy. He died around 700 A.D. and was given a military burial by the Emperor.

The Exile

Zarathustra had laid out a philosophical platform that influenced Judaism, developed Christianity, and continued forward into Islam. The elements were one God in a cosmic war with an anti-god, one life to do right or wrong, eternal salvation (heaven) or damnation (hell), a savior, an individual judgment, resurrection of the dead, and a final judgment to renew the world. These philosophical elements combined create an impulse to action, and if not balanced properly can lead to a dangerous religious fervor. Ultimately, the philosophy set in motion came back to destroy itself.

The Persians were brutalized. They were killed, sold as slaves, denied education, denied much employment and were taxed as infidels. The Persian traditions were being wiped out. Several hundred years after the conquest of Persia, the poet Ferdowsi (940-1020 A.D.) sought to revive the Persian identity.

Though a practicing Muslim, Ferdowsi began to write his life's work The Shahnameh (Book of Kings). This book compiled the ancient folklore of Persia – from pre-Zoroastrian times to the conquest of Persia by Islam. It is heroic literature of the good and bad kings who ruled over Persia. Given the sensitive times much of the religious element is noticeably missing. But the goal was to give the Persians a sense of who they were in the past and by so doing give them hope for the future [Appendix 6].

By the 10th Century A.D. the persecution had become so severe that a group of Zoroastrian refugees fled by boat to India. After much hardship, they landed in the city of Sanjan in Gujarat seeking asylum. The local Hindu King was named Jadi Rana who informed them that his kingdom had no more room. It is said he presented their leaders with a bowl of milk filled to the brim to symbolize the overflow. At this presentation the leader of the Persians took some sugar from a pouch and sprinkled it in the milk – the bowl did not overflow. Like sugar they would blend in and only sweeten the kingdom.

Maharaj Jadi Rana then asked to discuss their philosophy. The Zoroastrian refugees presented sixteen shlokas summarizing their religion. The shlokas can be found below: The Sixteen Sanskrit Slokas

It is interesting to note, that while Zoroastrians are not known for being vegetarian, their philosophy as described in the sixteen shlokas clearly favored cow protection.

The King was satisfied and granted refuge on certain conditions: they were to speak the local language (Gujarati); the women were to wear saris; they were not to have weapons; they would marry in the evening; they were not to proselytize their religion. These requirements were accepted. In time, thousands of Persians would make the journey to India and are known today as the Parsi community.

By all accounts Parsis have been excellent citizens of India with a high civic sense. Mahatma Gandhi was once quoted as saying "In numbers Parsis are beneath contempt, but in contribution, beyond compare." Today there are only around 200,000 Zoroastrians left in the world of which half or 100,000 live in India. Outsiders in India are not allowed in their temples, not because of caste discrimination, but because for over 1000 years as a community they have kept their promise to the King never to preach their religion in India.

I close this section with two videos on the Zoroastrian community. These videos do not touch directly on all of the content of this article but give a good visual presentation of Zoroastrian history:

The Flame of Zoroaster

The Zoroastrian Journey


For over 2000 years Western society has considered Greece & Rome the pinnacle of civilization – in architecture, aesthetics, philosophy, law, politics. However, if we were to reorient our view we would see that religiously Western Civilization began with a schism that separated the areas west of Sapta Sindhu (the Land of the Seven Rivers). To the West of this line are the Persians, Jews, Christians, and Arabs who have a common platform of ideas – established through the influence of the Persian Empire.

A question may be asked "How was it possible for the Zoroastrian culture to disappear when Vedic culture remained?" The Islamic conquest of Persia was brutal – but so too was the Islamic conquest of India. How was it that Zoroastrianism virtually disappeared but the Vedic culture remained? While there are no doubt many reasons one could cite I think a legitimate argument could be made that "Things of a similar nature can combine." Modern Zoroastrians would likely reject that they are similar to Islam, but I believe under extreme duress the Persians re-assimilated into Islam because the platform of ideas was common. However, in India the same brutal practices occurred but the religious ideas were so uncommon that they never could truly dissolve one into the other.

Every reform is a heresy to another. I cannot critique Zarathustra's attempt at reforming his society thousands of years ago. No doubt he got some things right (monotheism), just like Gautama Buddha (ahimsa), yet lost key teachings that balance the philosophy (karma). With the fall of the Persian Empire the forms (sacred thread, sacred fire, manthras etc.) disappeared while the ideas carried forward in the traditions it influenced. How do we heal this rift that separates East from West? I do see the central teachings of Srila Prabhupada as perfectly addressing the philosophical imbalances of both the West and the East – containing both ethical monotheism, ahimsa, samsara, and the original Vedic rituals.

In this article I have attempted to describe as best I can and in a fair manner the historical fault lines that influence modern times. I have tried to be as specific with names, dates, verses, and events so that you the reader may continue with your own research.

If you found this article useful please forward along to others.


In the appendix I am including a few miscellaneous comments that complement elements within the article but would otherwise detract from the narrative flow.

Appendix 1 – Shukracharya was an Atharvan from the line of Bhrigu Muni. It is said that through penance to Lord Shiva the Sanjivani mantra was revealed to him – giving only him the power of the resurrection of the dead. Before the Nectar of Immortality was bestowed upon the demigods this put them at a distinct disadvantage. Later, however, the demigods discovered this mantra through the sacrifice of Kacha.

Appendix 2 – At the time of Christ there were a number of Jewish sects – notable among them were the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were known to be more elite and Hellenized while managing the Temple affairs. The Pharisees were mainly descendants of the freed Jews of Babylon and were considered to have a more common man's touch. Jesus was known for criticizing the leadership of both sects.

In the Book of Acts 23:6-8, Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin to defend himself for apostasy. The Bible relates the following exchange:

    "Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead."

When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.

(The Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)"

It is interesting to note that the Pharisees, descendants of Babylonian Jews freed by Cyrus, held a different philosophical conception than the Sadducees. Many have noted the similarity in 'Pharisee' and the words to denote Persian – 'Parsi' or 'Farsi' (language). Linguists insist this is simply a coincidence, that the word Pharisee is Aramaic meaning "separated". This is true and it most likely is just a coincidence. However, Aramaic was the governing language of the Persian Empire. But more important, it is clear the ideas of the Pharisees match those of the Persians – the importance of the resurrection of the dead – certainly an interesting coincidence.

Among other notable Pharisees was Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy man who gave his own tomb for Jesus' burial and resurrection.

Appendix 3 – Clearchus of Soli, like Alexander a student of Aristotle, in 320 B.C. wrote in "Of Education" regarding these naked philosophers: 'The gymnosophists are descendants of the Magi." Later Josephus, the Jewish historian, recorded a dialogue between Aristotle and Clearchus as follows: "Jews are derived from the Indian philosophers; They are named by the Indians Calami, and the Syrians Judaei, and took their name from the country they inhabit which is called Judea."

On its face, these statements by Clearchus appear rather odd. It is possible he was just wrong. Or it is possible he understood some part of a larger picture. If we accept that Judaism was influenced by Zoroastrianism, and that Zarathustra broke off from the old order caste of Vedic Atharvans, these two statements may make a bit more sense.

Appendix 4 – Often devotees note Vedic elements in Christian traditions but do not discuss the mechanism by which it moved "from here to there". I would submit the Magi are a clear means that can explain these common elements.

Among some Hindus there is speculation that Zarathustra was an individual name Jarutha in the Rig Veda (RV 7.1.7). If we assume 'J' and 'Z' are simply Latinized approximations of the original sound, we get a very close approximation. The verse appears to be angry with Jarutha, which would make sense with any schism in the community. I am unable to draw a solid conclusion given the limited evidence but it is an interesting point to note.

Appendix 5 – The idea of the sacrifice of a cosmic being to fashion the world appears to be common among Indo-European traditions. While the traditions vary and change over time and space (geography) the hints of a common tradition are there. We have seen in both the Vedic and Zoroastrian tradition similar elements of the fashioning of the world from a cosmic being.

We find other similarities (albeit very different) in the Icelandic Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson who compiled his traditions around 1200 A.D. This tradition describes a war between the Aesir and the Vanir, two sets of gods. They declare a truce by spitting into a vat and from this spit emerged a man; this man was ultimately killed and his blood created The Mead of Poetry (said to give scholarship to anyone who drinks it). Odin eventually steals this beverage disguised as an eagle (while in the Rig Veda Indra steals the Soma on the back of an eagle). The Edda also identify a progenitor of mankind named Rig who establishes three castes of nobels, farmers, and servants.

Finally, the Edda describes the giant Ymir and the primeval cow Audumbla who nourishes him. Eventually the gods, headed by Odin, sacrifice Ymir to fashion the world. Here is a sample from the Prose Edda:

    "Of Ymir's flesh was earth created, of his blood the seas, of his bones the hills, of his hair trees and plants, of his skull the heavens; and of his brows the gentle powers formed Midgard for the sons of men; but of his brains the heavy clouds are all created."

Like a game of telephone, the story changes over thousands of years and thousands of miles. I will not claim they are exactly the same but there are hints of an original tradition. There has been some discussion among linguists that Ymir may be derived from the same linguistic root as Avestan Yima and Sanskrit Yama(raj) meaning "twin". Like Ferdowsi, Snorri Sturluson compiled the Prose Edda to preserve what remained of his tradition before the complete conversion of his country to a new faith.

Appendix 6 – The Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, details the pre-Zoroastrian and Zoroastrian kings of ancient Persia. I read it in hopes of identifying key stories that linked to the Vedic tradition. While there are some hints (e.g. Jamshed=Yamaraj), overall I did not recognize as many as I had hoped. This may be in part due to my own lack of knowledge (of the Vedic tradition) as well as changes in names and terminology.

We should understand that The Shahnameh was a compilation of stories and folklore several hundred years after the conquest of Persia by Islam. There is a noticeable lack of religious content no doubt due to the sensitive times. There are also certain anachronisms such as Alexander The Macedonian praying to Christ and carrying the cross into battle. And the claim that Alexander was the illegitimate son of Darius I (of Persia), when historically the two were separated by over one hundred years.

However, I did find one story that was clearly modeled from the Vedic tradition. It is the story of Darab and Homay, which is "similar" to that of Karna and Kunti. In summary: Homay was a queen who was pregnant just before the passing of the King. She hid her pregnancy to manage the affairs of the kingdom. When she gave birth she placed the infant boy (Darab) in a basket filled with jewels, attached a special jeweled armlet on the boy and sent the basket downriver.

Far downriver a clothes washer found the infant. The washer and his wife had just recently lost their own son. Overjoyed at finding the child, along with the jewels, they left to start a new life. In time, the child grew up but became unruly and could not be controlled. His warrior spirit was beginning to show. The washers found some horsemen to teach him the martial arts. Darab goes off to fight many battles and eventually his heroic reputation reaches the ears of the Queen. When they meet the Queen, she recognizes the jeweled armlet he was wearing as the same she had attached to her infant son. Reunited, Darab goes on to become the King.

Ferdowsi attributes this story to the birth of Darius I. Remember this is a compilation of folk stories arranged in an historical order several hundred years after the conquest by Islam. The historical Darius I would have known his father Vishtaspah. My conclusion is that Ferdowsi inserted an ancient tradition into an historical timeline.

Interestingly, the Greek story of Perseus also has some similarities to the story of Darab/Karna. Herodotus recounts that Xerxes actually tried to entice the Greeks to surrender claiming the Persians were descendants of Perseus, a common belief among the Greeks at the time.


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