Who was King Darius the Great? (TMY – Jame Jamshed of 3 & 10-9-17)

  1. The Achaemenian dynasty had three kings by the name Darius. The most well known among them is Darius I or Darius the Great, who ruled from 521 to 486 B.C. After the accidental death of king Cambyses, there was no direct descendant of Cyrus. Rebellions spread throughout the Empire. An imposter seized power. At such a time, Darius, son of Hystaspes, a member of the royal family, quelled the rebellions and became the emperor.
  2. Darius was a brave warrior, a benevolent monarch, and a wise and skilful administrator. He had capitals at Persepolis, Susa, Ecbatana and Babylon. He continuously fought against the Greeks. He won many battles but was badly defeated at Marathon in about 499 B.C. The modern Marathon race is named after this battle.
  3. His Empire was divided into 30 administrative districts called Satrapies, each of which had three independent heads – the Satrap (Administrator), the Military Commandant, and the Treasurer. The Emperor maintained secret services called “the King’s Eyes and Ears.” Special tribunals paid surprise visits to the provinces. They had powers to investigate and prescribe remedy or punishments for any irregularities found.
  4. He built roads and bridges and dug canals to connect his vast Empire. The famous Royal Road, about 2550 kilometres (1,500 miles) long, was built as the highway connecting Susa with Sardis, with rest houses on the way.
  5. Darius was the first to introduce postal system in the world. Along important roads, postal stages were fixed at an interval of about 24 kilometres (14 miles). The post was carried by mounted couriers. New couriers were ready with fresh horses at every stage. A dispatch from Susa  reached Sardis in five or six days, covering a distance of about 2500 kilometres (1,500 miles). Describing this postal system, Herodotus had said: “Nothing mortal travels as fast as these Persian messengers.”
  6. Darius commissioned the construction of a canal connecting the Red Sea with the Nile. Remains of the same along with inscriptions in four languages were discovered while excavating for the Suez Canal.
  7. Darius the Great passed away at the age of 65 years in 486 B.C. His last remains are at Naksh-i-Rustam close to his palace at Persepolis. He left a number of inscriptions which shed light on ancient Persian history. The main one is at Behistun/Bisutun in Hamadan, which is the largest surviving historical document by any ancient Zoroastrian king. In one of the inscriptions the emperor proudly proclaims “I am Darius, the great king, the king of kings….. a Parsi, the son of a Parsi, an Aryan, of Aryan lineage.”
  8. Darius introduced the use of a gold coin called Daric. It was a thick coin with a standard weight of 8.4 grams bearing the image of the king as a warrior with a bow and arrow in the hand. It continued to be used till the end of the Achaemenian dynasty in 330 BC. After that, most of these coins were melted and reconstructed as Greek coins.
  9. The other two kings by the name Darius in the Achaemenian dynasty were Darius II (424-405 BC) and Darius III (336-331 BC). The latter was the last king of the Achaemenian empire. He was defeated at Gaugamela in the famous battle of Arabela by Alexander the Macedonian in 331 B.C. A year later Darius was killed by Bessus, the Satrap of Bactria, on the battlefield. Thereafter Alexander proclaimed himself the Emperor of Persia. The Greeks, under General Seleucus Nicator, ruled over Persia for the next 80 years.

What are the Gathas? Why are they so named? (TMY – Jame Jamshed of 20 & 27-8-17)

  1. In present Zoroastrian tradition, the word Gathas is used in two different but connected senses. The first is the name of a set of texts, and the other is the name of special days at the end of the Zoroastrian calendar year.
  2. In the first sense, the Gathas are the sublime poetical compositions of prophet Zarathushtra in the oldest Avestan language. The word Gatha literally means “a song.” In the Gathas, we come across prophet Zarathushtra’s communications with Ahura Mazda, right from his quest for the Truth to his ultimate acceptance as the Prophet.
  3. The 17 chapters of the Gathas are divided into five sections, totally comprising of 896 lines and about 5660 words, forming a part of the larger text of Yasna.
  4. Each of the five Gathas are named after the first word of the first chapter of that group. The names of the five Gathas are: Ahunavad, Ushtavad, Spentomad, Vohu-khshathra and Vahishtoisht.
  5. The Gathas are highly abstract, metaphysical and philosophical texts and hence very difficult to understand. Many translations of the Gathas are available, each differing somewhat from the other.
  6. Several subjects are covered in the 17 chapters of the Gathas. As they are spread all over, no particular chapter covers any one topic in full. The subjects covered are about: Prophet Zarathushtra, Ahura Mazda, six attributes of Ahura Mazda (later known as Ameshaspands), two spirits, Immortality of the soul, Principle of Divine Justice, Maxims for Life, Manthra (prayers) and Rituals. Most of these topics are not dealt with in detail in Gathas. They are elaborated in later texts like the Vendidad. The Gathas also explain the essential Zoroastrian teachings, namely – Belief in One God, existence of the Spiritual world, existence of the two spirits or forces and belief in the immortality of the soul
  7. The word Gatha is also used to denote the last five days of a Zoroastrian Calendar year, which form a part of the five Hamaspathmaedhem Gahambar days, and constitute the latter five days of the Muktad. These days were named after the 5 divisions of Gathas of prophet Zarathushtra, as these compositions were held in high esteem by Zoroastrians.