A young child is given a sudre, a white sleeveless undershirt. The sudre has a purse sewn in front, reminding the wearer to fill its emptiness with ‘good thoughts, good words and good deeds.’ A priest ties a kushti, around the young child. This sacred thread signifies that the wearer has a bond and has tied him or herself to practice the faith that is Zoroastrianism. The sudre and kushti are a symbolic armour that Zoroastrians wear each day as they get ready to face the world.
Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest world’s religions. Zarathustra–or Zoroaster–lived around 2000 BCE. He was raised to be a priest and at the age of 30, he had a series of revelations in which he saw one entirely good, uncreated and eternal God called Ahura Mazda. While his vision allowed for the existence of the angelic realm and other deities, his assertion of a supreme creator laid the foundation for monotheism.
Zoroaster preached that Ahura Mazda–while all-good, was not necessarily all-powerful. Angra Mainyu, his twin, had introduced suffering and death into the world. Angra Mainyu is believed to express itself in the universe as greed, wrath, and envy. Despite the chaos and suffering that was effected in the world, it is believed that Angra Mainyu will be defeated by Ahura Mazdā. The prophet Zoroaster envisioned the world as a battleground between good and evil forces. Humanity had a special role to play, as each person had the freedom to choose to live the actively virtuous life.
Zoroaster shared his revelations in a series of hymns known as gathas. In them, he voices his doubts and asks metaphysical questions. He urges tending to the sacred fire, a powerful symbol of illumination. Through his teachings, he stresses the importance of making up one’s own mind.
Religious historians say Zoroastrianism had a broad influence on Judeo-Christian thought, contributing to such concepts as individual responsibility for one’s actions, divine justice, heaven and hell, satan, a saviour, last judgment, resurrection and eternal life for the soul that is reunited with its higher self.
One of Zoroaster’s disciples was King Vishtaspa, ruler of Bactria. This led to the spread of the religion far and wide. For a thousand years, Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of three Persian empires with followers in the millions. It was even the state religion of the Persian Achaemenian Empire which was founded by Cyrus the Great (559 BCE).
The faith suffered a setback when Persia was conquered by Alexander of Macedonia. Persepolis, the seat of the Persian empire, was destroyed; and libraries and religious texts were burnt. Zoroastrianism then went through a revival during the Sasanian Empire but reeled once again with the advent of Islam. After a crucial battle in 641 CE with the Arabs, sovereignty passed into the hands of the Islamic caliphs.
Over the ensuing years, a large number of Zoroastrians accepted Islam, while some continued to practice their faith under oppressive conditions. A few fled Persia, landing on the western shores of Gujarat, India where they were given refuge. Their descendants, the Parsis, still keep their faith alive.