July 28, 2014

Zoroastrianism - Intellectual Awakening in 6th Century B.C.

The sixth century B.C. witnessed a great intellectual awakening in various regions of the world . The reformers of all over the world raised their voice against the existing social beliefs and systems and endeavoured to reconstruct them on a rational basis. In Persia, Zoroaster launched his protest against the prevailing religious superstitions and in China, people welcomed the philosophic teachings of Confucius which gave them a higher conception of duties in life. It was an age when people in India were disgusted with old philosophical, religious and social dogmas and were striving for holistic alternatives. The new philosophy of revolt was anti - establishment in form and anti-caste in spirit. The ultimate aim of the revolt was not only spiritual but also materialistic. In due course some of the socio­intellectual movements assumed a religious form. (Example: Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism.)
The thinkers of the new movements were intellectual philosophers and concerned with life as a philosophy of power and knowledge. In India such thinkers were the wandering teachers (Sramanas). They rejected the authority of the Vedas and Vedic priests, denounced the bloody sacrifices which constituted a very large part of the Religious rituals and they did not make their philosophy and doctrines, god-centric ones.

Before the advent of Zoroaster, the Persians followed a socio - religious faith that resembled the beliefs and practices of Early Vedic Aryans. At that time they practiced polytheism and worshipped several deities representing natural forces, like Mitra, Varuna, Surya etc; they indulged in costly, bloody and senseless rituals, leading to exploitation of people by priestly class. Polytheistic faith and superstitions obstructed social unity, rational thought and moral life. Greed and selfishness ruined Persian Society.
There was a need for a healthy philosophical base to redeem the Persian society from degeneration and chaos. It was at that time that Zoroaster (Zarathustra) appeared in Persia and gave them a better socio-religious order in the form of Zoroastrianism.

Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism was born in about 600 BC in North Western Iran. He was concerned about the superstitions, barbaric religious cults, polytheism and moral degeneration in Iran. He was pained to see that his people showed no discrimination between good and evil, right and wrong, individual greed and social need and between faith and superstitions. To begin with, he asked the people to give up polytheistic cults, and to accept Ahura Mazda as the only god, representing good and right. Ahura Mazda, personified as sun ,fire and light, had been carrying on a relentless struggle against the evil forces (Asuras) who represented ignorance, selfishness and all vices. The struggle between good and evil became the central theme of Zoroastrianism. This struggle is manifested not only among humans, but also in all natural expressions. He asked his people to be with the good and abjure everything that was evil so as to attain salvation and immortality. His concept of good and evil strengthened the moral base of Persian society and his monotheism served the cause of social unity among Persian people. The Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda cult did not involve in costly rituals.
Zoroastrians could practice Mazda worship in the form of fire worship in their own houses. For them the body is only the instrument of spirits hence the corpse(dead body) did not deserve reverence or preservance. Hence the Parsees neither cremate nor bury their dead, instead they expose the corpses to disposal by nature (to decomposition or to be consumed by animals or birds). This method of disposal of the dead is considered as rejection of superstitious practices centered round death and this contrasts the Egyptian practice of mummification. Zoroaster's teachings are found in Zend Avesta, the holy scripture of the Parsees.

Economic and political strength was gained by the social unity brought by Zoroastrianism. Soon, the Persians built a political civilization and powerful empire. Their Achaemenian empire emerged as the largest empire in the middle east.

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