In Search of the Zoroastrians

Yazd














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A Zoroastrian Village

"... to get a sense of the Zoroastrian community's fragility, we didn't have to travel very far from Yazd. Zein Abad, some 12 miles away on the road to Taft, is one of dozens of nearly deserted Zoroastrian villages that dot the area. The villages are ethereally beautiful, each one a low earthen hamlet centered on a lone cypress tree... The bleat of goats drifts into the deserted streets. Nearly all the homes have been abandoned... Fifty years ago, there were 77 families here; now, only 12 aging souls remain."

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Yazd- The Most ancient city of Iran
 

Yazd or Yezd (یزد), is one of the most ancient & historical cities of Iran. The city is located some 175 miles southeast of Isfahan, at 31.92 North, 54.37 East. As of 2000 it had a population of about 350,000 people. The city is the capital of Iran's Yazd province.

The city is ancient, known to date back to the 31st century BC. It was anciently known as Ysatis. Accoriding to UNESCO, Yazd is second city in the world constructed using adobe. Yazd was settled on an oasis on a sandy plain.

The old part of town is ringed by a tall mud-brick wall dating back to the 5th century.

Yazd was long a center of Zoroastrian culture, and has a temple of that religion in continuous use for over a millennium, and Iran's largest population of Zoroastrianists.

Marco Polo wrote an acount of visiting the city in 1272.

The University of Yazd was established here in 1988.

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A Parsi and his Wife and Children.

This man was gardener to the Telegraph Director in Yezd. The flower pots contain orange trees. The rug is a gilim (p.25).

THE Parsis or Zoroastrians are the sole survivors of the pure Iranian or Persian race. Parsi is a word akin to Persian, and refers to race. Zoroastrian, a follower of Zoroaster, refers to religion. The actual period when Zoroaster lived is unknown; in all probability it was between 1000 and 700 B.C. The faith he taught was the national religion of Persia for many centuries. The Magi who followed the star to Bethlehem were probably Zoroastrians. Many of their sacred writings are said to have perished in the burning of Persepolis, but Pliny, in the second century, speaks of two million verses as being still extant! Making allowance for this generous computation, Zoroaster must have handed down a perfect storehouse of teaching to his followers.

Until the Arab invasion in the seventh century this had long been the dominant faith of Persia. When the creed of the Prophet was forced upon the country, many had no choice but to accept it; others, unwilling to change their faith, left their native land and settled in India, and only a small remnant held both to the faith and to the land of their fathers. Hence the wealthy and prosperous Parsi settlements in India to-day, and the remnant of about 9000 found in Yezd and Kirman and the surroundmg villages in Persia. Here they have the character of being honest, industrious, intelligent, truthful, moral, (23 Parsi, Jewish & Armenian Women) and better than their Moslem neighbours, with whom they never intermarry. In Yezd they have a large quarter of their own, with cleaner and wider streets than are found in the Moslem part of the town. They have good gardens and well-kept land, as agriculture was in the past upheld by their religion. Some are engaged in the silk industry and in husbandry, while many are merchants. In the Zend Avesta, their sacred book, it is written that "whoso cultivates barley, cultivates righteousness," but at present they are more a commercial than an agricultural people.

Their belief is still in the conifict between good and evil. The world is looked upon as the battle-field of two contending spirits, eternal and creative in their origin and action-the great wise God Ormuzd, or Ahura Mazda, and the wicked spirit Ahriman. The conflict is not believed to be hopeless nor is it destined to be perpetual. The light, the sun, the fire are the symbols of Ahura Mazda; therefore the sacred fire is always burning in their temples, and when they pray they face the sun. The name "fire-worshipper" is a misnomer; they do not worship the sun or the fire, but the One whose presence and character these symbolize. The sun in the Persian symbol is a relic of the past when it was the emblem of the so-called "fire-worshippers."

In many ways there is wide divergence between the teaching of Zoroaster and the religion as now practised. His followers claim to be monotheists and object most strongly to any change of religion either in the way of conversion to Zoroastrianism or perversion from it. They claim that the only way to be a Parsi is to be born of Parsi parents. Their faith seems to be the one thing that holds them together. Yet in Persia many are being strongly influenced by Bahaism, of which more later. (24 Parsi, Jewish & Armenian Women)

A practice of which they are very tenacious is the investiture with the sacred thread, and in many cases also with the sacred shirt.

Boys and girls at about the age of twelve are invested with these before a solemn assembly and are forbidden ever to lay them aside. To walk even a few steps without them is an unpardonable sin.

Another binding custom is the disposal of the dead, burial, as defiling to the earth, being abhorrent to the Parsi. Dakhrnehs, or towers of silence, are built outside the cities. No one but the professional bearers of the dead may enter these towers. The upper part of the tower is reached by a winding road or stairway, and at the top there are gratings "clothed with the light, facing the sun," on which the bodies are placed. Here birds of prey quickly dispose of the flesh, and in time the bones fall through into the central pit below.

In Persia the Parsis long laboured under many disadvantages. They might not build their houses as high as those of the Moslems. They might not ride through the town. The style and colour of their clothing was also restricted.

Parsi women until recent years were uneducated and ignorant. Now education is desired for them. The English school for Parsi girls in Yezd is largely attended, and the Parsis themselves have opened another. Dari, an unwritten language, is chiefly spoken by the women, who do not readily understand modern Persian.

Marriage with next of kin is not permissible. Polygamy is unknown.

The women wear baggy trousers which reach to the ankles; over these they have long full coats; coloured handkerchiefs are worn over the head and a chгdar folded like a shawl. The skirt and trousers are (25 Parsi, Jewish & Armenian Women) usually made of material with very broad stripes of bright colour. Many of their clothes are made of the silk which is woven in Yezd.

 

 

 
The following account of a Parsi wedding was written by an English lady who was present:
 
I went for part of a Parsi wedding, the bride being one of Miss B.'s schoolgirls, a very bonny girl of fifteen. The guests had assembled at I P.M., and the afternoon had been spent in talking, playing the timbrels, tea, and sweet-eating till 5 P.M., when the groom's best man came with a number of friends bearing four large wooden trays, one full of apples, pears and pomegranates for the bride's male relations; one with bread and a kind of sweet for which Yezd is famous, which looks like spun glass or raw silk; the third contained the bridal dress provided by the groom; the fourth loaves of sugar for the bride and the members of her family. The bread and sweets were handed to the guests, and when the men retired the bride was adorned for her husband in bloomers and a flowing robe of green and cinnamon silk, with a long sort of jacket of cloth of gold; a green silk shawl for the head was fastened by a heavy gold ornament on the forehead, and from it hung many gold coins. Silver bangles, a gold ring set with an emerald, and a very handsome talisman, the size of a breakfast saucer, in bas-relief representing Zardushti (the Parsi prophet), the sacred fire and various scenes in his life-these two were suspended on a silver chain with two talismans like snuff-boxes containing the Zardushti prayers. Then all the friends in turn saluted the bride and offered a sprig of myrtle and a pomegranate (typical of life and fruitfulness): this was nearly over when I arrived. Then the timbrels began. Everyone laughed their loudest and talked at the tops of their voices (no one seemed to (26 Parsi, Jewish & Armenian Women) attempt to listen) till 8.30, when a thundering knock brought silence and a scrimmage for chadars, for the best man and his friends had come to ask the bride if she wished to marry the groom! The green silk shawl was spread over her as if she were asleep. The men came near, and the best man, in a stentorian voice, asked: 'Do you, Goher, child of Shireen (sweet) and Khuda Parast (God-worshipper), wish to marry Mehriban?' The bride did not reply. The man faced his friends, 'She did not answer,' upon which they all yelled to wake her. Eleven times this was repeated, louder and louder, till the bride said 'Yes,' which was the signal for shouts of joy and a headlong rush to tell the groom. A minute later the bride's father came from an inner room carrying a large bundle, the groom's clothes, which the bride presented. To fill up time the timbrels were again brought out, and about an hour later the groom arrived, and tea was served to him and his friends, then to the bride and women, and the procession was formed, preceded by lights, timbrels and the dowry, to go to the groom's house. Every few minutes the bride stopped and said: 'I will go no farther till you pay my way.' Each time, after a good deal of argument, the groom gave her money, which goes towards the cooking utensils which she has to provide. At the house the priest was waiting with a pan of sacred sandalwood fire, round which all the company walked three times. Then the husband led the bride into the side room, and all the women who had come with her stood round the room. The bride and bridegroom sat down on a handsomely covered mattress, and then his sister and her mother uncovered her face. Next they took off their right socks and put their feet together; some water was brought, and the groom washed first his foot, then hers, (27 Parsi, Jewish & Armenian Women) then his right hand, then hers, then his own face, then hers. A large glass of sherbet was brought, which he sipped and she finished. Then he produced a large black silk handkerchief with coloured border, to dry their faces, hands and feet. Then all the company said, 'May your eyes be enlightened, may you live a hundred and twenty years,' and left the couple to wedded bliss. The only religious ceremony is at the groom's house, where the bride's best man is her proxy, and is married to the groom, while the priest's boys ring little silver bells and the priest mutters prayers."
 

Celebrating Zarathushtra's Birthday in Yazd
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Fire is "important because it's a symbol of love, kindness, and warmth, and he [Zarathushtra] brought it into the religion, but we don't worship fire. We're not fire worshippers. We hold it in high esteem because of the symbols of warmth and love and friendship that it carries with itself, and when it is brought into our temple here, there is a warmth that's added to the lives of those who are sitting in the room."

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"We chant. We sing. It's Zarathushtra's birthday. So we all have a joyous day. We all enjoy ourselves, get together, pray."

 
 
 
: Zoroastrians cemetery - Farvardinegan ceremony
 
 
 
 
















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