Zarathushtra is believed to have lived in the Bronze Age in Central Asia, the ancient land known as Airyana Vaeja. Legend tells us that in a town called Chorasmia, there was a beautiful maiden called Dughdhova. At the age of 15 her body began to shine with a glowing light. Her concerned parents sent her away to Rae or Ragha, near the river Vehdaiti, to the house of their friend Paeteraspa Spitama. The Spitama family belonged to a priestly clan. Pourushaspa, the son of the family soon fell in love with Dughdhova and they were married.
They had five sons. Zarathushtra, the third son, was born on the day Khordad of the month Fravardin, now celebrated as Khordad Saal, (Zaratha means gold and Ushtra means light – “He of Golden Light”, also read philologically as “keeper of golden camels”). Known to the Greeks as Zoroaster, there are various legends connected to his birth. It is stated that all nature celebrated his birth and he is the only child who is said to have laughed instead of crying at birth.
The evil leaders of the time planned to kill the baby but he was protected by the power of Truth.Durasarun had the baby placed in the midst of burning fire but the angel of fire, Asha Vahishta, made it grow cold and Dughdhova found him playing safely. Next the baby was placed in a narrow lane and a herd of cattle were driven over him. The angel Bahman sent a cow to stand over the baby and protect him till the herd had passed. Placed in a den of wolves he was found unharmed and a wild goat fed him on milk till his parents rescued him. Finally the wicked Durasarun came to stab the baby in his cot. As he raised his dagger to strike, Zarathushtra’s fravashi caused Durasarun’s arm to become paralysed.
Zarathushtra’s childhood is full of stories about his compassion and understanding. He shared his food with the poor; he rescued a sick and hungry dog and nursed it back to good health. He protested against the various lies of evil persons who were in power at that time and defeated them in debates in his father’s home.
Zarathushtra is the only prophet in the world who was also a priest. He studied religion for many years but the old faith did not satisfy his quest for truth. So he left home at the age of 20, taking with him for protection only his father’s sacred girdle. He spent 10 solitary years in prayer and meditation in the mountains, surviving on milk, herbs and cheese. He talked to Ahura Mazda and asked many questions, always seeking truth which leads to wisdom. Ahriman came to him and offered him worldly riches, even great kingdoms, if he would forsake the Path of Truth, but Zarathushtra drove him away with prayers.
When he was 30 years old, one spring morning, at the break of day, as he waded out of the water of the river Daitya (Oxus), he suddenly had a vision of God. On the bank Zarathushtra saw a shining being, who revealed himself as Vohu Manah (the Good Mind) and led him into the presence of Ahura Mazda and five other radiant beings. He received his first revelation, which he speaks of in his own words in the Gathas or Hymns of Zarathushtra.
“As the holy one I recognized thee, O Wise Lord,
When first I was instructed in your Words ….
To carry out that which you tell me is the greatest good”
The new prophet was not well received in his homeland and for a long time his only disciple was Maidhyoi Maongha, his cousin. But though persecuted, his faith did not falter. After 10 long years, discouraged by the failure of his mission with his own people he resolved to travel to other lands. He reached the court of King Vistaspa of Bactria. Evil courtiers tried to prove that Zoroaster was a follower of the lie and trapped him so that he was imprisoned. While in prison he heard that the King’s favourite horse Aspa – Siha was paralyzed and dying. He offered to cure the animal and asked for the King to follow four conditions.
The King should follow his teachings of Truth.
The Queen should follow the religion of Truth.
The Prince would protect the faith of Truth.
The evildoers’ lies in the court should be exposed.
As each condition was fulfilled, he freed each leg of the horse from paralysis. He composed a short manthra called the Ahuna Vairya or Yatha Ahu Vairya prayer, which is still taught to each Zoroastrian child as the most powerful of manthras.
With the help of King Vistaspa and others who followed, Zoroastrianism spread across the world from China to Europe and Zoroaster lived in honour at the court. The essence of the teaching of Zarathushtra is found in these words. “Humata, Hukata and Huvarastha”, which mean “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds”. Zarathushtra married Hvovi and had children. Zoroaster died at the age of 77. He was praying at the Fire Temple of Balkh when a man jealous of him stabbed him in the back. He threw his prayer beads at the assassin and forgave him but as soon as Zarathushtra died, the assassin too dropped dead. Sarosha and the Amesha Spenta took his soul to the paradise of light and song.
Zoroaster is important because he is the first man to proclaim that there is only One True God worthy of worship. God has a divine plan and this world is ruled by the doctrine of Asha; cosmic harmony and righteousness. Truth is the only Path to God. Wisdom for the individual lies in choosing the path of righteousness or Asha and Truth, rejecting the easier, more tempting path of Ahriman or the lie, which negates Ahura Mazda’s wisdom and goodness. While Asha works to perfect the world of Truth, the counter law of Druj or the Lie is equally at work. Complete freedom is given to the individual in the Gathas to choose the path he wants to follow:
“Hear with your ears that which is the sovereign good,
With a clear mind look upon the two sides
Between which each man must choose for himself”
Zoroastrianism places a great responsibility on man: in his actions lies his salvation. It is called the “religion of action” because work is the core of the religion. The spiritual battle for Truth is not to be fought in cloisters but in the struggles and sufferings of the everyday experiences of the world. The path to God, Wisdom and Truth, does not lie away from but through the joys and troubles of human kind.