- Prophet Zarathushtra
- Family of the prophet
- Divine appointment
- Divine Revelation
- Early Struggle
- The court of King Vishtasp
- The king’s horse Aspe-Sihā
- Gifts for the King
- Gifts for the disciples
- Last days of the Prophet
- Family of the prophet
- Ascension of Prophet Zarathushtra
A ‘prophet’ is a divinely appointed teacher who brings the message of religion, reveals God’s commandments, and teaches men the conduct of life. A prophet is the divine messenger of God. He is an evolved soul, inspired by God and Spiritual Beings, advanced in spiritual insight. He is sent to the world to deliver people from misery and re-establish the faith of people in God and His goodness.
ZARATHUSHTRA was the first prophet to reveal religion in the world. After him other prophets came to this world as part of the Divine Plan of God. Moses was the prophet of the Jews, Gautama Buddha of the Buddhists, Wardhaman Mahavira of the Jains, Jesus Christ of the Christians, Mohammad of the Muslims and Guru Nanak of the Sikhs.
Zarathushtra as a divinely appointed prophet has the status of a Yazata, that is, a Divine Being. At places in the Avesta he is remembered immediately after Ahura Mazda, even before other divine beings.
Prophet Zarathushtra’s birth was a result of Ahura Mazda’s plan. His coming was foreseen by great religious teachers like Kings Jamshed and Faridun.
Avestan scriptures like the Yasna, Gathas, Videvdad and the Yashts, Pahlavi books like Denkard and Selections from Zadparam and Persian books like Zarthusht Nameh and Shahnameh give us information about the life of prophet Zarathushtra. The entire Spand Nask (one of the twenty one Volumes of Avestan scriptures, now lost) was devoted to the life of Prophet Zarathushtra.
Zarathushtra is an Avestan word. In other languages, the name appears as Zartusht (Pahlavi), Zardusht (Persian) and Zoroaster (Greek). The word Zarathushtra has two meanings
- “Possessing a wise camel” and
- “A golden star.”
The word Asho before his name means righteous. It indicates that he was aware of the Divine Plan of God.
Prophet Zarathushtra was born in such antiquity that his exact date of birth is not known. Estimates about his year of birth vary from 2000 BCE to 6000 BCE.
The full name of the prophet is Zarathushtra Spitama. Spitama is the family name of the Prophet which means “whitest or purest.” It is the name of the prophet’s ninth ancestor.
Zarathushtra’s family tree upto his ninth ancestor is as follows:
Other titles used to refer to the divine status of the prophet are Vakhshure Vakhshurān “Prophet of Prophets”, Ramz-go “Revealer of Divine secrets,” and Ahurānā “Belonging to Ahura”
Zarathushtra had four brothers, two elder – RATUSHTRA and RANGHUSHTRA, and two younger – NOTRIGA and NIVATUSH.
King Gayomard of the Peshdadian dynasty taught people to believe in one God – Mazda. This belief system is known as Mazdayasni. Great kings like Hoshang, Jamshed and Faridun added valuable practices to the Mazdayasni belief system. The Mazdayasni people lived happily under Peshdadian and Kayanian kings.
During the Kayanian dynasty, the power of the evil Daevayasnis was increasing. It became so unbearable, that Geush Urvan, the soul of Mother Earth cried out in pain to Ahura Mazda. After discussions with Bahman and Ardibahesht Ameshaspands, Ahura Mazda proclaimed that there was just one soul who could help her – Zarathushtra Spitama. He was sent as a Prophet to the world. At first, Mother Earth was not happy as she wanted a powerful prince. But finally she realised that the world needed the spiritual power of a prophet and not the might of a king.
Much before Zarathushtra’s birth, arrangements were made for his arrival. His Khvarenah “Divine Energy” was sent to his mother Dogdo through the hearth fire in her grand-mother’s house, as a result of which she radiated divine light right since her birth. Dogdo’s father Frahimva belonged to the illustrious Zavishi family.
The evil ones, threatened by the divine appearance of Dogdo called her wicked and attempted to kill her.
Dogdo was sent to the house of her father’s cousin Peteraspa. Dogdo and Peteraspa’s son Pourushaspa grew up together and later married, as per Ahura Mazda’s Divine Plan.
Ahura Mazda and the divine beings had taken great care to send prophet Zarathushtra to this noble family. Just as his Khvarenah was sent in advance, so were his Fravashi “Guardian Spirit” and the physical constituents of his body.
When Dogdo banu was five and a half months pregnant, AHRIMAN, the evil spirit tried to prevent prophet Zarathushtra’s birth. He attempted to kill the baby in the mother’s womb. Dogdo had frightening dreams at night in which wild animals like tigers, wolves and serpents came to kill the child in her womb. However, no harm came to the child as a saintly looking person with a book in one hand and a stick in another, came to their rescue. The beasts fled at his sight. Later, she came to know that the divine man was SAROSH YAZAD.
Three days before Zarathushtra’s birth, his entire village was bathed in white light. This was one of the signs of the coming of the prophet. Zarathushtra was born early in the morning on Roz Khordad, Mah Fravarden. Today this day is known as Khordad Sal and is celebrated in Zoroastrian houses all over the world with great festivity.
The actual birthplace of Zarathushtra is not precisely known. The Avesta mentions that Pourushaspa’s house was in the Airyana Vaejah near the Veh Dāiti river. At another place it is mentioned that Zarathushtra was born in the city of Rae.
Zarathushtra is the only child who laughed at birth, as he was aware of his divine mission and victory of good over evil. Seven nurses, who had come with the intent to hurt the child, retreated on seeing this great miracle.
At the birth of the prophet, all creations rejoiced and exclaimed in joy Ushtā no zātō āthrava yō spitāmō zarathushtrō, “Rejoice, for us is born the priest Spitama Zarathushtra.”
Evil persons were terrified by the divine glow of the child. As they came to know about the birth of this divine child, they trembled, fearing an end to their evil powers and practices. They decided to kill infant Zarathushtra. Chief among the wicked was the evil chieftain Dorasrun. He tried several times to have baby Zarathushtra killed, but each time the child was divinely saved.
Dorasrun had the baby thrown into a fire, but the fire did not burn the child, as Adar Yazad, the Yazata who looks after fire, made the fire cool, and the baby was unharmed. In the evening Dogdo banu went searching for her child, and found him lying there, a smile on his angelic face. She lovingly carried away the baby in her arms.
Dorasrun then had the child placed in a narrow pathway of a herd of cattle, so that he may be trampled. However, when the herd came that way, a white cow, inspired by the divine being Gosh Yazad, stood over the child, protecting it from the rest of the cattle. She did not move till the last of the animals had passed.
Later in the evening a worried Dogdo banu went searching for the baby, and found the smiling Zarathushtra on the pathway. She lovingly carried the baby away.
Infant Zarathushtra was then kept in the pathway of horses going towards their watering hole. A white horse, inspired by Dravasp Yazad, stood over the child and protected it. In the evening Dogdo banu went searching for baby Zarathushtra, and carried away the smiling child, lying on the path.
The angry Dorasrun tried another wicked trick. He had wolf cubs killed in a den of wolves, and ordered baby Zarathushtra to be placed next to the slain wolf cubs. Dorasrun thought that when the wolves would come in the evening, they would be angry, and tear the child apart.
When the wolves arrived, they were furious at seeing the dead cubs. They pounced upon the child, but could not go near it, as an unseen protective shield surrounded the baby.
Later, Bahman Ameshaspand and Sarosh Yazad assuming the form of two goats came to the den and fed the hungry child. The next morning, a worried Dogdo banu came searching for her child. She was relieved to hear his voice in the den. She ran in and lovingly carried away the smiling baby in her arms.
Dorasrun now decided to kill baby Zarathushtra himself. He took a sharp dagger in his evil hands and went to see Pourushaspa pretending to play with baby Zarathushtra. As soon as Pourushaspa took him near the child, the wicked Dorasrun pulled out his dagger and raised it to stab the child. But instantly, his hands were paralysed. Thereafter he was not able to do any work with his hands. Thus, all attempts to kill baby Zarathushtra were in vain, as he was divinely protected by Ahura Mazda.
When Zarathushtra was seven, he was sent for education to a teacher named Burzin Kurush. Zarathushtra kept asking questions about the origin of evil, pain and misery in the world, to which the teacher had no satisfactory answers. The teacher informed Zarathushtra’s father that this was no ordinary child, but a specially gifted young boy.
Attempts on Zarathushtra’s life continued. When he was 12, two evil magicians – Bratrokesh and Dorasrub tried to kill him with their magic. When Zarathushtra was ill, they went to his house dressed as physicians and gave him poisonous potions instead of medicine. Zarathushtra, was divinely guided not to drink the poisonous medicine. He reproached the evil men, and ordered them to leave their wicked ways. When the evil men were returning, they were struck by a fatal disease.
At 15, Zarathushtra’s quest for divine truth intensified. He spent much of his time in prayers. Questions about the cause of misery in the world and the plight of the needy kept bothering him. He spent time helping the poor and deserving people. He showed kindness towards all good creations as he saw a spark of the divine in all of them.
He felt the need to himself look for answers and decided to set off in search for the Truth. He sought permission from his father, who, knowing the divine destiny of his son, readily agreed. When he asked Zarathushtra as to what he would like from his possessions, Zarathushtra answered that he would just like to have the Kasti. This showed Zarathushtra’s willingness to accept the good teachings and practices from the Mazdayasni system in which he was born.
When Zarathushtra was 20, he set out of his house in search for Truth. He traveled towards the East and was divinely guided to a place on Mount Ushidarena “the Mount holding divine intellect.” He stayed there for ten years, subsisted on goat’s milk, and devoted his time in prayer, meditation and communion with Divine Beings.
One day, when he was walking towards the Vehdāiti river, Bahman Ameshaspand came to him and led him to a conference with Ahura Mazda. Zarathushtra saw Him as a radiant, white light, conferred with Him and was blessed with divine wisdom.
Zarathushtra received teachings of the Religion through Bahman Ameshaspand and Sarosh Yazad after having several conferences with Ahura Mazda and the Ameshaspands. He was instructed to guide mankind, teach them the right path and shun the path of Ahriman. Zarathushtra’s struggle, his revelation and the message from Ahura Mazda are recorded in Zarathushtra’s own words in the Gathas.
Zarathushtra possessed a special Khoreh, a Divine Energy which made him the true representative of Ahura Mazda’s power on earth. Zarathushtra was guided to go to eastern Iran. On his way, he had to cross a river. Unable to find a boatman, he went by his inner voice and was able to walk over the waters. This miracle gave him the confirmation of his divine mission.
At thirty, Zarathushtra returned to his people, and preached the religion. He accepted many teachings and practices of the Mazdayasni belief system into which he was born. He cleaned the world by removing the evil that had crept in it.
In the initial stages, the Prophet had to struggle hard to spread his message. For ten years he had no following till he reached Balkh (Gk. Bactria). This ancient city was situated near the borders of present Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikstan.
Zarathushtra was disappointed by the disinterest of people towards his divine message. Moreover Angra Mainyu, the Evil Spirit, tormented him. Buiti Daeva was sent to kill him. The daeva rushed threateningly towards the prophet, but realized that he could not even go near him on account of his powerful Khvarenah.
Later, when he was again threatened by evil beings, the prophet chanted the Ahunavar prayer and the evil fled. Zarathushtra realised that there was threat to his life. Fearlessly, he went ahead with his divine mission, and proclaimed that his determination to fight evil till the very end of his life.
Thereafter Angra Mainyu tried to bribe the prophet with riches if he would forsake the Mazdayasni religion. He offered Zarathushtra the kingship of the world as a reward for renouncing the Mazdayasni Religion. Zarathushtra ignored the temptations and kept working towards his divine mission. He firmly replied “Never shall I forsake the good Mazdayasni Religion – not even if all the bones in my body are broken or my life and consciousness are separated!” Angra Mainyu failed in all his attempts to persuade, bribe and threaten the prophet in renouncing the good Mazdayasni religion.
When Zarathushtra was forty, his cousin Maidhyomah, the son of Ārasp, and grandson of Peterasp, became his first committed disciple.
In Balkh, when the Kayanian King Vishtasp (also referred to as Gushtaspa) came to know about Zarathushtra, he invited him to his court. There, Zarathushtra expounded his religion and was engaged in intellectual and spiritual discussions about philosophy and religion with learned men in the court. Each passing day Zarathushtra emerged wiser, was given greater respect by the king and was made to sit on a special throne next to the King.
Jealous courtiers felt threatened by Zarathushtra’s growing stature and poisoned the king’s mind against him. They bribed the watchman of the prophet’s house and planted materials used for black magic like hair, nails, bones and skulls of animals in his room, under the bed. Then they asked the king to have his room searched.
The king, confident of Zarathushtra’s innocence had the room searched and was heart-broken when materials used for black magic were found. Though he ordered Zarathushtra to be imprisoned, he was very upset, as in his heart he was certain of Zarathushtra’s innocence.
The prophet spent his days in the prison with great dignity. He devoted his time to Ahura Mazda’s prayers. Once a day a guard brought food and water to him. Seven days went by in this way.
It so happened that the king’s favourite horse, Aspe-sihā was afflicted by an unusual illness. The horse was unable to stand on his legs as they had got embedded in his stomach. The king tried far and wide, but neither the royal veterinarians nor anybody else was able to cure the horse.
One day, as the prison guard went late to give food, Zarathushtra inquired about the cause of his delay. The guard told Zarathushtra about the horse’s ailment and the disappointment of the king. Zarathushtra conveyed to the King that he would be able to cure the horse.
Immediately, the king summoned the prophet. Zarathushtra went to see the King. Inspired by his divine appearance the king narrated his distressing story. Zarathushtra assured the king that the horse would be cured as soon as the king agreed to fulfil his requests.
When the king asked about the requests, the prophet explained that firstly the king should be absolutely faithful to Ahura Mazda, and the teachings of the Mazdayasni religion. As soon as the king agreed to be faithful to the Mazdayasni religion, the prophet touched the front right leg of the horse chanting the Ahunavar prayer, and it was cured.
The second request was to Prince Aspandiyar to support and protect the good Mazdayasni religion and its followers. The prince immediately agreed and the hind right leg was cured.
Then the prophet asked queen Katabun (also referred to as Katayun or Hutaosa) whether she had faith in him as the true prophet of Ahura Mazda. The Queen replied that she had always believed in the prophet and in the Mazdayasni religion with all her heart. Soon enough the third leg of the horse was healed.
The last request for the king was to summon the guard of Zarathushtra’s room. When the trembling guard came before the king, he was asked whether anybody had gone into the prophet’s room on the day when the materials for black magic were found. He immediately pointed to the four courtiers who had planted the materials in the prophet’s room. The wrong doers were instantly punished.
No sooner had the four requests been granted, Aspe-Sihā sprung up on all his legs, strong as before. The curing of the horse established the greatness and innocence of Zarathushtra. King Vishtasp recognized him as the true messenger of Ahura Mazda, accepted him as the prophet, and gave him a place next to his throne.
The story of Aspe-sihā has a hidden meaning behind it. The word Aspe-sihā means “a black horse.” In deeper religious studies, a horse represents the senses and hence the story of the “black horse” becoming ill indicates the blocking of king’s senses and poisoning of his mind. The prophet cleaned the king’s mind by the power of prayers.
When Zarathushtra was forty two, King Vishtasp. members of his royal family Queen Katabun, brother Zarir, sons Aspandyar and Peshotan, ministers Jamasp and Frashaoshtra and all Iranians accepted Zarathushtra as their prophet. Traditionally it is believed that Zarathushtra was accepted as a prophet on Roz Marespand of Mah Spandarmad. This glorious day is known as Din Beh Mino Mahrespand and is celebrated by the performance of a Jashan.
Prophet Zarathushtra presented three gifts to King Vishtasp as a further proof of his divine mission. He gave the king:
1) Adar Burzin Meher, a spiritually burning fire which did not need fuel, and did not give out smoke. This fire is seen in prophet Zarathushtra’s hand in some of his pictures. The Adar Burzin Meher fire was enthroned by the king on Mount Raevant.
2) A Cypress tree by the name Azad-Sarva, which had a message for the king on every leaf.
3) 21 Nasks (Volumes) of Avestan scriptures, containing all the knowledge of the world. Each of the Nask was based on one of the 21 words of the Ahunavar prayer.
One of the 21 Nasks, the Stot Nask, contained the 5 Gathas of prophet Zarathushtra. The Gathas are the prophet’s personal experiences, revelation and teachings in poetic language. The names of the five Gathas are: Ahunavad, Ushtavad, Spentomad, Vohukhshathra and Vahishtoisht.
As the Gathas have highly philosophical teachings, the prophet is also referred to as one of the greatest philosophers of all time. However some people wrongly regard the prophet as just a philosopher. Prophet Zarathushtra was a soul of a high spiritual status who was sent on a divine mission.
Once King Vishtasp expressed four wishes before the prophet – to visit heaven in his lifetime, to know about the past and the future, to be immortal till the end of this world, and to have an invincible body. He requested him to have them fulfilled.
Prophet Zarathushtra informed the good king that he cannot grant all these wishes to one man, but he would grant them to any four men whom the king selects. He further asked the king to select his wish. The king chose the visit to heaven as his gift and suggested the names of his sons Peshotan and Aspandyar and his wise Minister Jamasp, as the recipients of the other gifts.
The following day, prophet Zarathushtra performed a Jashan and presented the offerings to the four royal people. To King Vishtasp was given the consecrated wine and his wish of visiting heaven was fulfilled. The minister Jamasp was made to smell a flower and he got the gift to see into the past and foretell the future. Peshotan was given milk and he gained immortality in the material world. Crown prince Aspandyar was given pomegranate seeds and he became Rooyin-tan, that is, his body became as strong as bronze. Henceforth, no weapons would harm him.
Zarathushtra spent the later part of his life at the Navbahar Atash Behram with Kae Lohrasp, father of King Vishtasp.
As Zarathushtra’s fame spread, people started showing him great respect. Wise men from all over the world came to see him. A philosopher named Tutianus came from Greece to meet him. As soon as he saw his face, he inquired about the day and time of his birth and was instantly convinced of his greatness.
Two seers from the East, possibly from India, Changranghāch and Vyās came to see the prophet. After spending some time with him, they were convinced of his greatness, as the prophet was able to predict their questions even before they could ask them.
King Vishtasp had to pay taxes to Arjasp the king of Turan, Turkestan and China. Prophet Zarathushtra advised the king not to pay taxes, as he was in a much stronger position than the Turanian king. Accordingly, the king stopped giving taxes to Arjasp.
When Arjasp came to know that king Vishtasp had stopped paying taxes to him at the behest of Prophet Zarathushtra, he wrote a letter to the Iranian king asking him to pay the tax or be prepared for a war. He further ordered him not to accept Zarathushtra as a prophet, and have him killed. He also asked Vishtasp to forsake the Mazdayasni Zarthoshti religion.
Arjasp threatened Vishtasp, that he will have to face destruction and death if he did not carry out his wishes. Vishtasp was annoyed at the insult to Prophet Zarathushtra. He conferred with Jamasp, Zarir, Aspandyar and the commanders of his army and decided to punish Arjasp for his insolence. A letter was written, challenging Arjasp to a war.
On receiving the letter, Arjasp marched towards Iran with an army. Vishtasp gathered troops, selected the best soldiers and sent his army to Turan. A fierce battle was fought in which Zarir, and Kae Lohrasp lost their lives. The Iranians fought valiantly in defense of their religion and country. Ultimately the Iranians triumphed and Arjasp was chased out of Iran.
In the Avestan scriptures there is no direct reference to the prophet’s wife and children. In later works we are told that prophet Zarathushtra married Havovi, daughter of Frashoshtra, and had six children – three sons Isad-vastra, Haurvatat-nar and Khurshed-cheher; and three daughters Freny, Thrity and Pouruchishti.
Some people find it difficult to believe that the prophet may have married and had children. They feel that the mention about his marriage, wife and children are allegorical and have hidden meanings. They believe that his wife and children may not be real people but divine entities that the prophet created by his thoughts, to assist him in his spiritual mission.
This idea may have some truth in it, as at one place the three future saviours – Hoshedar, Hoshedar-māh and Soshyos, who will be born thousands of years after him are regarded as his sons.
Prophet Zarathushtra passed away at the age of 77 years and 11 days. The day of his passing away is referred to as Zarthosht no diso “the (death) day of Zarthosht.” It is observed on Roz Khorshed, Mah Dae.
There is no reference in the Avesta scriptures of his passing away. In Pahlavi books, the phrase used for his passing away is vihez i zartusht which means “rising up of Zartusht (to the spiritual world).”
It is wrongly believed that prophet Zarathushtra was killed by a Turanian soldier Turbaratur, and before dying, the prophet flung his tasbi (rosary) on him to kill him. This story is not correct, as no evil person, not even Angra Mainyu – the greatest evil spirit, were able to even go near the prophet. Hence it is not possible that an ordinary soldier could go near him, stab him in the back and the great prophet, in revenge, would take his life.
Turbaratur was the collective evil of the world, which would have harmed the whole world. The ascension of the prophet fulfilled a major work of destroying that collective evil.
After the prophet’s passing away from this world, Jamasp, one of his foremost disciples, was made the religious head. Jamasp and all religious heads after him came to be known a Zarathushtrotemo.
Prophet Zarathushtra accepted the teachings of the already existing Mazdayasni belief system, added many of his own teachings and gave a very strong religion to the people of Iran. This religion had a strong moral order, rituals and practices for everyday life. The 21 Nasks containing religious scriptures and literature in the Avesta language, enshrined his teachings for posterity.
All true Zarthushtis should have love for their prophet deep down in their hearts. Whenever his name is uttered or heard, or when the sight of his inspired image stirs the memory, the heart should dance away with love, faith, pride, joy and devotion.