Universaltiy Of The Religion Of Zarathushtra - A Faith For Mankind
By Dasturji Jehan Bagli

The very word Conversion is used very loosely and so indiscriminately by people that it leads to a mix of sentiments and passion. Consequently the major objective of the discussion and its rational analysis is lost leading to confusion.


Despite the fact that Zarathushtra rose from a tribal village in Northeastern Iran, his teachings are entirely devoid of the ethnicity of a tribal faith. Gathic hymns of the Prophet attest to the fact that the God of Zarathushtra transcends the borders of race, colour, or creed bringing together the entire humanity under a single banner of spiritual union.

We learn from Gatha Ushtavaiti (Ys 46.1) that his ideas were not readily accepted or assimilated by the society of his time. He moved eastward to the kingdom of Bactria, the land located between Hindukush mountain range and river Oxus, earlier known as Amu-Darya. There his teachings found its roots. His doctrinal concepts were supported # and by king Vistasp of the Kyanian clan and his family.

Later in the same hymn (46.12) the prophet speaks about the spreading of the faith among the friendly Turanians who also helped disseminate the teachings.

Based on the writings of Zarathusht nameh (Bk VII, Dinkert, Ch 6.18) which elaborate the life of the Prophet, it is believed that the religion spread to the nations neighbouring the Turanians, including the Tartary, the Mongolians, and the Chinese.

Fravardin Yasht (Yt 13.143,144) a scripture which in part is quite ancient, reveres the men and women of the tribal clans of Aryans, Turanians, Sairimis (Syrians), Saini (Chinese) and Dahi. The evidence clearly suggests that through the efforts of Vishtasp and his

successors in Sogdiana – a region between river Oxus (Amu-Darya ) and Jaxcartes (Syr-Darya) Zarathushtrian Faith spanned deep into the borders of China.

Literary research of noted Zarathushti Sir Jehangir Coyaji and the Iranian scholar Foroughy (J. KRCOI 1942, #35, edited by Behramgore Anklesaria) mentions vivid details of the writings of the Zarathushtrian Faith in Chinese books. These writings span from the era of emperor Ling Wong; as far back as 571 BCE to the Tang and Sung dynasties as late as 1000 CE. They also speak of the presence of Zarathushti temples in China as late as 677 CE. After the fall of Sasanian clan. It was more than a millennium after the Kyanians that the region of Sogdiana and Chorasmia became a part of the vast Achaemenian empire. When Cyrus the great conquered the kingdom of Lydia, Ionia, and Mesopotamia in the west, and Babylonia in the south he wielded together a sovereignty that extended from Agean sea in the west, to river Indus in the east; China in the north to Egypt in the south.

The religion of Zarathushtra at this point was spread across nations not only of Asia Minor, (region comprising of present day Turkey, Iraq, and Syria) but also Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya and southern Russia including China. History thus clearly documents that the teachings of the Prophet spread over the immense geographic area of the world.

Some western historians postulate that even one hundred years after the birth of Jesus; in all countries west of India, including parts of Europe and Africa, some 2% practiced Christianity, 10% Judaism, 25% polytheism while a majority practiced Zoroastrianism.


Despite the spread of the faith over a multitude of Nations in the early era, serious diversity has evolved in the later tradition, on the question of the acceptance of Universality of the Faith. It is therefore relevant to briefly examine the words of the prophet to grasp within them His vision of Universality. The hymns of the Prophet in general are a roadmap , a guide in life to all who listens.

At the very beginning of the Gathas, Zarathushtra offers his devotions to his God terminating his prayers of Ahya Yasa Nemangha (Ys 28.2) with the words:

Ya khshnavisha Geushcha Urvanem .

That I may bring joy to the soul of creation

Here he clearly expresses his commitment, to heal the entire afflicted world through his teachings. This principle resonates through Gatha Ahunavaiti when he pledges in Ys 28.4

As long as….I am able I shall …..teach others to strive for the quest of truth

And in the very next verse we hear him saying:

With the proclamation of the sacred words….we may

Lead the wicked ones to choose the right (Ys 28.5)

And he continues to plead to Mazda

……give us the power that we may spread thy holy world (Ys 28.7)

In Yasna 30 the Prophet makes his primal announcement to his audience to listen.

sraotâ gêush âish vahishtâ, avaênatâ sûchâ mananghâ

…..parâ maz-ê ýåonghô ahmâi nê sazdyâi baodañtô paitî.

Listen to the best with your ears, ponder with a Good mind

…. before you choose your creed”

( Ys 30.2)

And in the following hymn he confirms his commitment to the humanity in the following words:

Speak O Wise One with the tongue of thy mouth

whereby I may convince all the living (Ys 31.3)

As we approach Yasna 45, we see a confident prophet eager to establish his revelations addressing his audience,

Give ear listen now you who have come from far and near …..

to these precepts; so the evil choice may not overcome your life. (Ys 45.1),

…..and in continuing his proclamation says,

I shall speak of the words which most holy one has spoken

and are best for all mankind ( Ys 45.5)

As we arrive at the hymn of Vohu Khshthra –the hymn of the desired dominion of Truth and Good thinking, he speaks of the final Judgment in allegorical terms saying:

You shall judge …through thy pure fire and the molten metal test

…..as a sign among the living beings in order to destroy the deceit … (Ys 51.9 )

Zarathushtra by consistently addressing, ‘All people’, ‘Living beings’, ‘Entire Creation’, ‘Each one’, ‘All mankind’ conveys beyond the shadow of doubt that the message he has is for all mankind and for all times. No where in the gathas does the

Prophet restrict his message either to Iranians or to any other group of people .

He even goes to the point of saying, “ Speak Oh Wise One… that I may convince all the living” . Indeed some interpreters have expressed this line as “… that I may convert all the living ”.

Evidence in the Gathas is thus overwhelming to demonstrate that Asho Zarathusht preached his teachings to entire mankind.

Ys 8.7 ( Ys 52.7) a post-Gathic hymn of the older avesta, we read, “ I who am zarathushtra, will make the heads of the houses, villages, provinces, and country to follow and think about this world religion, thinking, speaking, and acting in conformity with the religion as revealed to Zarathushtra by Ahura Mazda”.

We also know from later Avestan prayers, that we recite in every Niyaesh and in most of the Yashts, invoking Mazda as the creator of all races of mankind.

Ahura Mazda Khodae awazuni-e-mardum mardum sardegan

hama sardegan hambayashtevehan…..aghai , astavani, neki rasanad….

Ahur Mazda O Lord, beneficient to mankind, to all races of mankind and to all followers of Good religion…. grant the gift

of understanding , steadfastness and goodness….

Careful scanning of the Gathic scriptures also reveals three fundamental facts.

 Firstly the prophet unambiguously expounds, beyond all doubts, that the message/revelations from Mazda Ahura, transcends the borders of race, color or creed as He attempts to bring together the entire humanity under a single banner of spiritual union. This emphatically declares that his message is for mankind as a whole (Ys 28.4, 28.5, 30.2, 31.3, 45.1, 45.5, 51.9).

 Secondly , the efforts of this great Manthran (thinker) are directed to convince the mankind of his era, to recede from the blind following of the Kavis (princes) and Karapans (clergies) and to pursue the good rule Khshthravairya ( Ys 29.10, 30.7, 30.8, 48.5, 51.1, 51.2) inferred from Truth ( Asha ) and thinking through Good Mind ( Vohu Manah )

 Thirdly , we note that the Prophet did not expect his notions to be imposed on the people. Imposing any doctrinal notion without proper explanation is a violation of the basic teaching of Asho Zarathusht. He emphatically states, “ Listen to the best with your ears, ponder with a good mind…” before you choose your creed (Ys 30.2). Here

he clearly alludes to the ability of humans to think and exercise the fundamental principle of freedom of choice elaborated in the Gathas.

 hyat nê mazdâ paourvîm…..hyat shyaothanâchâ sêñghãschâ

ýathrâ varenêñg vasåo dâyetê.

In the beginning Mazda…..gave deeds and teachings so one can choose though Freewill (Ys 31.11)

Zarathushtra thus proclaimed that a human being is free to think and choose the path of Asha and good thinking implicit in his message. The question we now need to address is, was Zarathushtra converting people from one religion to another?

The answer to this will largely depend on how one defines the term ‘convert’. We must recall that in the time of the prophet when he proclaimed his doctrines, there was no institutionalized religion. There was just polytheism and deceitful exploitation of people by those of their own species. Hence there was no question of proselytizing from one religion to another. The sole objective of Zarathushtra’s teachings was to bring mankind on the path of Asha, and quest for Truth from the dishonest and evil practices that prevailed in that era.

 Thus any human being is within their basic God-given right, to choose the religion as propounded by zarathushtra, the religion of Asha and Good thinking to live a life following the teachings of Asho Zarathusht and be a zarathushti. Any person has the freedom to comprehend the doctrines, liturgy and become a Zarathushti by oneself . Be that person, a child of interfaith wedlock , a non-zarathushti spouse of a zarathushti or even a person irrespective of their parentage . Any individual therefore has the freedom, to go through the process conversion by oneself without assistance from a zarathushti or anybody and no one can stop that. This is WILLFUL

CONVERSION by free choice .

It is extremely important to understand the notion of Willful Conversion within the of the overall framework of the concept of conversion , as exercised by mission oriented religious traditions. Historically zoroastrians have never imposed their Faithon masses of people in the mission oriented manner as done by Christianity, Bahai, Islam, Buddhists, and Sikhs. In Zarathushtrian faith there is no historical precedent of IMPELLED or persuasive conversion before the onset of Christianity.

The monarchs of the Achemenian era, never imposed their faith on some 26 nations they governed they accepted as Zarathushti those who willfully followed the Faith. The most well known historical example of freedom of religion is the one granted by Cyrus the great. When he liberated the Jews from Babylonian captivity, he

provided them with financial assistance to go and build their own temples in Jerusalem . This is clearly documented in the book of Deutero Isaiah (44.28, 45.1) and also in the beginning of the Book of Ezra (1.1,2).

However, history of religions is replete with examples where conversions have been stigmatized and perverted by use of unfair means of persuasion . Bribes, incentives and even brutal force were used in many cases to enforce conversion. The most common examples in our history is the conversion that Islam foist upon Zarathushtis in Iran, at the point of sword, or a conversion to provide incentive to the rights to family heritage, or for incentives to escape the Jizya tax. Coercion and persuasion are the hallmark attributes in this type of conversion. IMPELLED CONVERSION of this nature promoted by Major missionary traditions is in fact UNTENABLE BY ZARATHUSHTRIAN FAITH , as they grossly violate the principle of free thinking and freedom of choice. This is impelled or induced conversion. We must therefore carefully analyse the question of conversion objectively, devoid of personal emotional sentiments.

It is clear that no one can stop a person from choosing for oneself to follow the Righteous path and be a Zarathushti. When a person undertakes such a commitment for oneself, the process of conversion is over . [Historically the most famous case of willful conversion is that of Mr. Joseph Peterson, who started wearing sudeh/kusti even before the performance of his Navzote ceremony].

Things however changed drastically once the institutionalized religions with missionary zeal appeared on the scene. There are recorded cases of persecution Christian clergies by zarathushtrians during the Sasanian era. On the other hand, there are recorded instances where incentives were offered to Christian Armenian converts, to return to Zarathushti faith . The bottom line is that Zoroastrians cannot and must not exercise mission oriented conversion , for that is a breach of the teachings of Zarathushtra.

There are instances recorded in later religious text of priest traveling to other countries to spread the knowledge of the faith (Ys 42.6, Visparad 9.2). Dinkard book 4.19 unequivocally describes the efforts of the Sasanian monarchs Shapur I and Khosrov Anushiravan to spread the knowledge of Zarathushtrian Faith among the people and Nations of their kingdom. Dinkard Book 5.14 which answers questions of an enquiring man, asks, “ and why does God send the religion only to the country of Iran , thereby abandoning the rest to the teaching of the demons? The response was, “And the creator Ahuramazd sent this religion for its proclamation not only to the country of Iran, but in the whole world, among all races…to be propagated in the entire world….”

The basic principle for Zarathushtis to follow, is to spread the knowledge of our faith to humanity and leave the choice and decision to the individuals, for that is what Zarathushtra did and we should be no different.

It is the ACCEPTANCE of the individual through Navzote ritual within the social folds of the zarathushi community, lies the basic cause of disharmony and discord within the community. This phase involves a zarathushti – an ordained priest or a qualified zarathushti - to perform the Navzote ritual. This is the phase of formal

ACCEPTANCE of the individual in the Zarathushti Religious community.

There is no reason to doubt that zarathushtra accepted all those members to his brotherhood who chose to follow his teachings . It is logical to assume that in the early era, during the three major monarchies, an individual of any Nation who chose to follow the path of Asha through the quest for Truth was accepted as a Zarathushti and was integrated in the community.

Not only is there no precedent in our recorded history of not accepting those chose the faith, but there is substantial textual references (described above) to strongly support Acceptance to respect the choice of the willing.

Ironically, it is the very same teaching, the doctrine of freedom of choice (Ys 31.1) that enjoins us to respect the tenet and ACCEPT those, who of their own free will choose to follow the teachings of Zarathushtra. It was some 27 years ago when I was the editor of a newsletter called GAVASHNI in North America, I had published an article (June 1983 issue) entitled Acceptance -Why!, to explain the concept of the phase of acceptance. However that article was perhaps much before its time.


It is therefore crucial to carefully understand the rationale as to what has happened since the exilic era to change this basic notion of Acceptance? What influenced the Parsi priesthood to decide otherwise and to change the course of our religious history to the

present state of discord? Zarathushtis who fled their homeland in 936 / 716 CE , with fresh memories of the massacre and sacrilege by Macedonians , and subsequent slaughter by the Arabs, Mongols, and Turks. They were sentimentally heavily scarred , and were obsessed with the notion to protect their ethnic identity at all cost in their new homeland. They did so by maintaining rigid ground rules with sectarian attitude of exclusivity to preserve their religion. These inflexible rules of selectivity had their genesis in their historic experiences and were without a doubt man-made decree .

The rules of exclusivity were set out, to protect the religious heritage , but ironically these rules had no doctrinal basis and were NOT invoked through any scriptural dictum of the Faith . One finds absolutely no reference in any Zarathushtrian religious texts – Older or Younger Avesta - that speaks of excluding anyone who willfully wishes to follow the path of Truth, righteousness, Good thinking and Benevolence as taught by Zarathushtra. Adherence to this rigid rule of exclusivity was perhaps essential under the prevailing circumstances then, and they deserve full credit for their wisdom . However doing so for some 1300 years, these man-made edicts have become so deeply rooted that they are ERRONEOUSLY believed to be the part of the core of the religion . The consequence is that the universal message of Asho Zarathusht has paid a very heavy price by being reduced to a racial heritage treasured only by a tribe of people .

We also know that between 1478 to 1773 C.E. questions in the form of Rivayats ( Rivayats of Nariman Hoshang in1478,1486 ; AY 847,855; to Mulla Kaus in 1773) were posed by the Indian priests to the Iranian mobeds. These included queries regarding acceptance of non-zarathushti who desired to follow the path of Good thinking and a life of truth and Righteousness. The response from the Iranian priesthood for the performance of Navzote ritual and acceptance within community, was unequivocally positive. Despite that, the priesthood in India of that time , chose NOT to comply with

the Iranian viewpoint.

The history of Zarathushti religion, since its exodus to India, has been very closely intertwined with customs and traditional practices that evolved in the Sasanian era. Today after some 1300 years, these customs and practices are perceived as the religious dogmas inseparable from the teachings of the Prophet. Zarathushti identity by definition is perceived by many zarathushtis (in India) not as one who follows the teachings of Asho Zarathusht but as one who follows the teachings of Asho Zarathusht while observing the customs and practices evolved by our Sasanian ancestors . This qualifications of the customs and practices in the definition of zarathushti identity, is a crust, that must be separated from the kernel of the message. The socio-cultural identity of the customs and rituals of the community has thus become one with the religious identity through the passage of time.

Rationally when one makes an informed commitment to follow the teachings of Zarathushtra, the person becomes a Zarathushti. However the present communal enigma arises out of the fact that the community particularly in India, has never been faced with zarathushtis (a) whose past was cut off from the Zarathushti tradition for several generations, such as the Islamic Iranians of today, the Uzbek, and the Tajiks, in north central Asia. Also Parsi community was never faced with zarathushtis who are total strangers to the Zarathushti tradition such as the Russians in St Petersburg, the Brazilians and the Venezuelans. This justifiably generates a distinct sentiment of fear. A fear of either loosing, changing and/or diluting of the tradition. This is indeed a major challenge that faces the Zarathushti community across the world.

The other major question that needs to be addressed is that, a person who chooses the religion of Truth and Good thinking and wishes to be a Zarathushti acceptable socioreligiously to the Zarathushti community? Is such an individual, who chooses the path of Asha following the Holy/benevolent Spirit of Spenta Mainyu proclaimed by Zarathushtra; eligible for that all important socio-religious ritual of Navzote that integrates a personin the zarathushti community? It is not the conversion , for we cannot stop a willful

conversion; but it is the socio-religious acceptance (Bagli Gavashni, June 1983) that is the basic cause of disharmony in the community.

It is logical to assume that in the early era, before Sasanian epoch, an individual

who chose to follow the path Asha through the quest for Truth was accepted as a Zarathushti and was integrated in the community. There is no recorded history to think otherwise.

We also know that between 1478 to 1773 CE questions in the form of Rivayats ( Rivayats of Nariman hoshang 1478,1486 ; AY 847,855; Mulla Kaus (1773) were posed by the Indian priests to the Iranian mobeds. The question of Navzote of a person of non-zarathushti origin was in fact addressed among them. The response from the Iranian priesthood for the performance of such Navzote ritual and acceptance within community was positive. Despite that, the Indian priesthood has chosen not to comply with the Iranian viewpoint.

It is therefore very important to carefully understand the rationale as to what has happened since the exilic era to change this basic notion of acceptance? What influenced our priesthood to decide otherwise and to change the course of our religious history. Zarathushtis who fled their homeland in 936 /716 CE did so, with fresh memories of the massacre and sacrilege by Macedonians , and subsequent slaughter by the Arabs, Mongols, and Turks. They were sentimentally heavily scarred, and were obsessed with the idea to protect their ethnic identity at all cost in their new homeland. They did so by maintaining rigid ground rules with sectarian attitude of exclusivity to preserve their religion.

These inflexible rules of selectivity were man-made decree . These exclusivity rules enacted in India, have resulted, purely from their past historic experiences. The rules were set out, no doubt to protect the religious heritage, but more importantly these rules were not invoked by any doctrinal dictum .

Our religious texts either the Older or the Younger Avesta says absolutely nothing about excluding anyone who wishes to follow the path of Asha and believe in Ahura Mazda, as taught by Zarathushtra. Adherence to this rigid order was perhaps essential under the prevailing circumstances then, and they deserve full credit for their wisdom. However doing so for some 1100 years, these man-made edicts were entrenched into the core of the religion, and the universal message of Asho Zarathusht has paid a heavy price by being reduced to a racial heritage treasured only by a tribe of people.

Today more than a thousand year later we notice some drastic changes in the world demography of Zarathushti faith. It is high time that Zarathushtis and in particular Zarathushti priesthood reassessed the position that divides the community. There is an unmistakable decline in number among the Parsi Zarathushtis in India where these rules of exclusivity are rigidly adhered to. These are the same exclusionary statutes, that has brought the (Parsi) zarathushti community in India to a stage where it is today , a declining, ailing, aged, and fast dissipating community. (Some highly intellectual Parsis in India are deeply concerned about the survival of the community in India.)

The question is do these man-made rules of 8th and 9th century, are worthy of allegiance in the changing demography of our faith in 21st century?


Zoroastrian community world –wide is making an enormous effort, by promoting youth activities, to preserve the religious integrity through marriage within the community. However, it is a statistical fact, that when a minority is immersed in vast majority of diverse socio-religious culture, a certain percentage of interfaith marriages is a natural consequence. It is proven beyond a shadow of doubt in India, and also in the western world.

To alienate these innocent couples by declaring their inter-religious wedlock a ‘spiritual sin’ is nothing short of being dishonest and un-zoroastrian .

It is offensive not only to the couple, but also to the religion of Zarathushtra to deny blessing to the union of two righteous human beings, that zarathushtra inspires in his holy hymns (Ys 53.3-5).

For the larger good of zarathushtrian faith, the children of the interfaith marriages, irrespective of the gender of the Zarathushti spouse, if unanimously desired by the couple, should be accepted eligible for Navzote and be permitted to be brought up as good dedicated Zarathushti. If an interfaith couple chooses to bring their child up to follow the path of Asha and Good thinking through the teachings of the Prophet, that decision deserves to be respected. Refusing anyone to follow the path for the quest of Truth is a direct breach of the prophetic message of Asho Zarathusht.

The priesthood of the zarathushti community (outside India) must be conscious of the fact that living in a (western) mixed social milieu demands certain adaptations of man-made socio-religious practices of the Community (in India).

In UK as well as in North America we do not have facility of dokhmenashini or consecrated Agyaries or Atash-e-Behram. We adapt to that through alternative means. Time is here for zarathushti priesthood (of the west) to sit down together, intellectually dialogue and analyse the issue objectively.

It is hazardous for the future of the Zarathushti faith, to blindly and sentimentally pursue the exclusionary attitude evolved by the early settlers of Khorasan, more than a thousand years ago, in a different part of the world, under a totally different set of circumstances that are non-existent today.


A survey of the Zarathushti population in the World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press 2001) of comparative religion in today’s world, indicates a marked increase of Zarathushtis in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and other ‘-stans’ in central Asia. Although the figures cited in the volume are open to question (Parsiana, May 2005, pg 21) there is no unambiguity of sudden burst of zeal and enthusiasm for the religion of Zarathusht in Central Asia; including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Belarus and Ukraine. This results from unmasking of the clandestine interest that was forced dormant under the pressures of communist regime.

The belief that Asho Zarathusht proclaimed his teachings in the vicinity of Aral sea in Central Asia and in Bactria strongly rationalizes the claim of the populace in that area, “ that their ancestors were the followers of the teachings of Zarathushtra”, and today they are desirous of to return to that original way of life. These are the people whose link with the Zarathushti tradition was severed for more than two generations by circumstances of history and through no fault of their own.

In contrast, we also observe de novo emergence of Zarathushtrian Faith in Brazil, Venezuela and in other South American lands. This was facilitated by the efforts of other agency (Zarathushtrian Assembly). Here we have a group of people following the teachings of the prophet that have absolutely no cultural or traditional ties with the past history of the Faith.

It is unequivocal that the world Parsi/Irani Zarathushti community has inherited zarathushti religion with its customs, practices, and the whole gamut of socio-cultural character. Regardless of its interpretation, we cannot ignore the fact that Freedom of choice of a human beings to choose a path of truth in life is a basic human right enshrined in the teaching of Zarathushtra (Ys 31.11) and that has been accepted today by the United Nations in the Declaration of Human rights.

The de novo Zarathushtis of Central Asia were severed from their ancestral heritage by the misfortune of historical circumstances and wish to return to their rightful way of life. In contrast those in South America have chosen to be Zarathushties because it satisfies their spiritual need towards the quest of truth in life.

One cannot deny the fact that there will be a major cultural and social void between them and the Parsi/Irani zarathushti community. However, in the interest of the perpetuation of the faith of Zarathushtra, it is incumbent upon the community to carefully contemplate to find a balance between the preservation of Tradition on one hand and the basic teachings of Zarathushtra on the other , to find an amicable solution to these new climes. Rather than rejecting them, we must make a concerted effort to enlighten them with the information of our customs and tradition, and find a compassionate path as means to the same end – the worship of Ahura Mazda through Vohu Manah.

In the interest of Peace, Harmony and cooperation through ‘Oneness’ of Human Brotherhood we need to open the doors to dialogue, to mutually educate ourselves and each other. In learning how to build a bridge we must choose the scaffold of Harmony over Uniformity to span the cultural gaps.

As Prof. Boyce says,

“ ……by the end of Sasanian epoch Iran was priest-ridden….subjected to pressures to pay for the religious services, purification rites, and penitentiary observances……after many ecclesiastical and ritual development of the period Zoroastrianism was ripe for reform, to return to the simpler usage of the earlier days, when each man’s hope of salvation lay more measurably within his own grasp….”(Zoroastrians pg144)

The question remains: is the zarathushti Faith of today ready for the new era? Are the tolerance and respect of the community evolved high enough to revere the Truth vested in the teachings of Asho Zarathusht? We will never know until we open the doors of understanding and find out for ourselves.