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Zoroastrianism

7) The adorable Ones

Zarathushtra recognised the worship of only one Supreme Being, the Great Lord alone, the One without a second, He also declared the Six Attributes of the Lord to be worthy of our adoration, and in places spoke of Them as Divinities, the Holy Immortals. All the numerous host of Aryan Deities receded into the background, except only Atar (Fire), who being the living symbol of Zarathushtra's Faith, was also given a place in the Gathas. Besides the six Holy Immortals and Atar, there are two other Beings mentioned in the Gathas-Sraosha and Asha-who are also to be taken in much the same way as the Amesha-Spentas. These two also form a pair, masculine and feminine.

In later Zoroastrianism all these nine have continued, but the Holy Immortals form a class by themselves, and may be called the Archangels. The other three become the most important members of a class of Divine Beings called the Yazatas (the adorable Ones) and these we may call Angels. Sraosha the oldest among them all and the most ethical of them all naturally is the greatest among them. The Yazatas, however, are not merely three in number. Among them we find a large number of the ancient Aryan Deities who have regained some of their old importance as Deities. and we also find among these later Yazatas some fresh names which can be only regarded as Divine Attributes which have been 'personified'. We may, however, lay down as a general rule that the earlier Gathic conception of the Divine Attributes are much loftier and on a higher spiritual level altogether than these later ones. Another important point which has always to be remembered is that whatever the original idea of the Yazatas may have been, they are one and all regarded as Powers subordinate to Ahuramazda, and as the Servants of His Will. And with these adorable Ones also we find their spiritual level much lower in the later ages than in the days when they first began to be worshipped. This degradation had gone in some cases to the extent of their images being made and worshipped in the later ages.

From what has been said above we may be enabled to classify these Yazatas in a rough sort of way. There are (i) Yazatas who are 'personified Divine Attributes', (ii) Yazatas who represent original Indo-Iranian Deities, and (iii) Yazatas who represent the Elements and the Powers of Nature. The last two necessarily overlap more or less. The first group is peculiarly Zoroastrian and in the case of these Yazatas, it was doubtless the Holy Immortals that supplied the idea. These were probably the earliest of the post-Zoroastrian additions to the pantheon. Among the Yazatas the three mentioned in the Gathas are of course predominant.

Of these three, even in the Gathas, Sraosha is the most important. There He is often mentioned in close association with the Holy Immortals and so in the later theology He naturally is the first among the Adorable Ones. He is distinctly Gathic in conception and, like the other Holy immortals, He typifies a cardinal virtue. The name is derived from the root sru, 'to hear', and means literally, 'hearing'. It means 'listening to the commandments of God' or 'obedience to the commands of God'. Sraosha therefore typifies the highest virtue of a human being, Obedience to and submission to the Divine Law. In one oft repeated passage of the Gathas, the Prophet desires that 'Sraosha may approach with Good Mind' the man whom Mazda loves. In other words He desires that all human beings who tread the Path may have clear understanding (Good Mind) plus the desire to obey (Sraosha), and that mere blind faith should not inspire all His followers.

This being the original idea of Sraosha it was but natural that He should become in later ages the chief among the Yazatas. As with all Gathic ideals Sraosha, also becomes more and more anthropomorphic with the passing of time. Some of the attributes of the earlier Aryan Divinities came to be attached to Sraosha; such, for instance, is His double weapon, holding which uplifted, He guards night and day all the creatures of Mazda. Sraosha is the Guardian Angel of Humanity, for Obedience to the Law of Mazda is the highest protection humanity could have. And we also read that the most efficacious of His weapons are the Holy chants, with which He smites and routs from off the face of the earth the Evil One and all his crew. He is the special Guardian of the Zoroastrian flock. His aid is especially invoked at night when the powers of evil stalk abroad, and the cock, who ushers in the day, is the bird sacred to Srosha. He is invoked for protection during hours of darkness and peril, both material and spiritual. Whenever He is invoked and made welcome, there people become more righteous in thought, word and deed.

As Guardian of Humanity Sraosha is necessarily very closely associated with the human soul after the death of the body. All death ceremonies are closely associated with Him. The funeral service begins and ends by invoking Him, and the ceremonies during the first three days are also closely associated with Him. On the morning of the fourth day after death the soul crosses over 'the Bridge' into the next world, and there, on the other side, it is judged for all its actions done upon this earth; and at this time of trial Sraosha is his chief helper before the great judges of the dead.

A very curious idea grew up in later times that King Vishtaspa, the first Royal disciple of Zarathushtra, was an incarnation of Sraosha. This is borne out by the fact that all the epithets showered upon the King are identical with those which are usually found with Sraosha.

Ashi Vanguhi (Holy Blessing) has been constantly associated with Sraosha. The name is the same as the Sanskrit word ashis (blessing). In the Gathas she is a sort of feminine counterpart of Sraosha, and indicates the blessings of heaven that follow upon Obedience to the eternal Law, for the Teaching of the Prophet of Iran has also been: 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you'. In later ages the blessings were understood more in the material sense of riches and physical well-being, and Ashi becomes a sort of Goddess of Fortune; indeed, in the Sanskrit version of the Avesta texts by Nairyosang (circa, A.D. 1200) the name is always rendered by Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Fortune. All the great prophets and Heroes of Iran have been represented as having invoked her aid, in other words, they have prayed for the Spiritual Blessings which Ashi essentially represents.

One of the greatest sources of happiness for man here below is the union of man and woman, knit strong in bonds of holy love for each other and their progeny. The married state has been upheld by all Aryans as the most desirable in life. The continuance of the race, and consequently also of the Aryan ideals, has always been regarded as the most sacred duty of every man and of every woman both in India as well as in Iran. And Ashi Vanguhi is the special guardian of Holy Matrimony. She guards the chastity of women and the sanctity of the home. This is, therefore, an additional reason why she is associated with Sraosha.

Atar is the third of the Yazatas who has been expressly mentioned in the Gathas. Zarathushtra mentions Atar more in the sence of the Divine Spark which glows in the heart of every man, a Spark of the Divine Flame. The Prophet chose Fire as the outward symbol of His Faith, because to Him Fire, as the holiest of the Elements, had a special signification. And in fact Fire most aptly symbolises the spiritual nature of the Eternal Truth. He is the one Yazata in the avesta who has throughout remained on the spiritual level, even though He has been identified with the physical element Fire. This is because even physical Fire typifies something higher, and one feels instinctively that 'it is not of the earth, earthly'. For this same reason Atar has never been anthropomorphised in Zoroastrian scriptures. Even the later hymns speak of Him always as Puthro Ahurahe Mazdao, the Son of Ahura Mazda, He is the chief cleanser from all sins. He also represents the sacred Fire of the domestic hearth, the Fire which is still maintained as sacred in many Parsi homes. We have already seen above that in later times Asha-Vahishta became the Archangel of Fire, and Atar is necessarily closely associated with this Holy Immortal. Coupled with the epithet Verethraghna (victorious) the name of Atar represents the most sacred of the Fires in Parsi Temples. This sacred Fire is never allowed to be extinguished under any circumstances. And the Temples known as Atash-Bahram are among the most sacred of Zoroastrian shrines today. There are not more than ten such shrines in the whole world. In the oldest of these, now situated at Udwada, about the hundred miles north of Bombay, there is still burning the Sacred Flame of the Iran-Shah (the Lord of Iran), Whom the Pilgrim Fathers of the Parsis had carried along with them through all the years of struggle and suffering against the Arab conquerors of their motherland.

Daena (the Faith) is another 'personified abstraction'; and her name is not found in the Gathas but in the later Avesta. We find her name coupled with another 'personified abstraction'-Chisti (Wisdom). The worshipper demands from Her 'clear vision'. It is also remarkable that the name given to one of the 'daughters' of Zoroaster is Pouru-Chisti (Perfect Wisdom).

The important Divinities are in the later Avesta closely associated with Sraosha in the task of judging the souls of the departed. They are Rashnu and Mithra. On the morning of the fourth day after the soul has 'departed' from the body, is crosses over the Chinvat-bridge. This is the bridge leading into the other world, where the good and the bad are separated. On the other side sit the gudges, who judge the departed soul and allot the proper reward in exact proportion to its conduct upon earth.

Of these two Judges, Rashnu always bears the epithet Razishta (the most just). As the Judge after death, He is the foe of all unrighteous people. Rashnu is sometimes also associated with Sraosha as Judge of the departed. Here again the original idea seems to have been Divine Justice meting out rewards and punishments for actions done here below, in strict accord with the Law of Action and Reaction, which is a Law of Ahura, and with the strictest impartiality. The departed soul stans before the Judges in all its nakedness, stripped of all the glamour which invested it during its life upon this earth. And at this hour of its trial the soul has none to accompany it except its own deeds upon earth. The soul of man has got perfect freedom to choose its own path in life, but once the choice has been made, it must bear whatever results follow. In one place (Yasht, xxii) there is a very poetical description of a womanly shape-the embodiment of the deeds done in life-(beautiful or ugly as the departed has made her) meeting the soul halfway across the bridge and accompanying it before the Judges.

Mithra is closely associated with Rashnu as Judge and He is one of the ancient Aryan Divinities of Light. He is the ancient Vedic Mitra and closely associated with Asura Varuna. In Iranian mythology He is also invoked together with the other Solar Deity, Hvare-Khshaeta and the daily morning prayer of the Zoroastrians is addressed to both these Divinities. One of the longest of the Yashts (Hymns of Praise) is dedicated to Mithra. This hymn is a fine piece of ancient Iranian poetry rising at times to epic grandeur. The Giver of Light, the Lord and Inspirer of Life, Mithra, very naturally is the foe of all the Powers of Darkness and of what they represent in the moral world, falsehood. Mithra also represents equity and justice, hence too he is the presiding Lord of the courts of Justice upon earth. The word of the ancient Iranian was always held sacred; and Mithra who presides over all Law and Justice gives His name to legal contracts. In later Achaemenian days the cult of Mithra developed into a school of religious thought, and with this cult were also early associated certain mystic and esoteric ceremonies and symbols. Doubtless the contemporary Greek mysteries had also some influence in giving final shape to the Mithra cult, and its spread throughout the Greek, and later the Roman world was truly remarkable. All over Europe, even in far-off England, shrines of Mithra have been found, and in the early days of Christianity the worship of this ancient Aryan Sun-God was a very dominant cult and had its influence upon the new religion as well.

Another Aryan Deity whose worship was revived in the later Avesta days was Verethraghna (Vedic, Vrtrahan)- the slayer of the Arch-Fiend, Vritra. Among the Hindus the Slayer of Vrtra becomes later on the Lord of all the Gods, Indra. Ahriman, but Verethraghna is one of the greatest of the Divinities. The long hymn (Yasht xiv) reminds one of the Indra hymns of the Vedas. It is very vigorous and full of epic grandeur, and one almost hears the clash of battle. He is the Angel of Victory and He is invoked by both the opposing armies arrayed for battle. One very remarkable point with regard to Him is that He appears in various shapes. The hymn enumerates ten such, including several of animals.

Among the older Indo-Iranian Deities, whose worship was revived in post-Zoroastrian ages, may be mentioned also a group of Heavenly Lights-Hvare-Khshaeta (Surya, the Sun), Maong-ha (Masa), the Moon, and the Ushah (Ushas, the Dawn). Of these the first, Hvare-Khshaeta (later Khurshid) is always closely associated with the Sun as Mithra. He shows a close resemblance to the Vedic Surya. He is 'immortal, radiant and swift-horsed'; He is the eye of Lord Ahura. The hymns dedicated to Him (Niyayish i, and Yasht vi) give us some of the finest poetry in the Avesta. Through the physical Sun the worshipper approaches the real Lord and Life-Giver of our system of worlds.

Maong-ha (the Moon) is closely associated with the animal creation. He is called the 'possessor of the seed of cattle', and is thus closely associated with Vohu-Mano, the Guardian Angel of the animal world, and also with Drvaspa (the feminine Deity) who gives health and strength to cattle and to all animals.

Ushah in the Avesta is not invoked so very frequently as in the Vedas; She has but one short hymn addressed to Her, and though it is made up from various sources still it is a very beautifull piece full of very high ethical thought. The whole of the Gah v is addressed to Ushahina, who is the same Deity in the masculine gender.

There are several other astronomical Deities, the most notable among whom is Tishtrya, the Dog-star. As which other Indo European nations He is closely associated with rain. The Yasht dedicated to Him (vii) is a fine and forcible epic fragment. The account of His fight with Apaosha, the Demon of Drought, and of His ultimate victory has in it echoes of the ancient Aryan description of the fight of Indra with the Demon Vrtra, who also held the waters prisoner.

Other 'Powers of Nature' invoked in the Avesta are the Waters, the Wind and the Earth. The first name attained a considerable importance in the later Achaemenian period when Ardvisura Anahita (the Deity of the waters) is mentioned as the Patron of the King of Kings side by side with Ahuramazda and Mithra. She was regarded at that time as one of the important Guardians of the Imperial power of Iran. The worship of Anahita spread very far and in many ways she represents the female counterpart of Mithra. One very long Yasht (v) is dedicated to her. She is there described as a beautifull and glorious maiden. Who is worshipped by all the great heroes of ancient Iran in turn and Who gives to them help in times of difficulty. Her image was worshipped in Persia as Greek writers have recorded, and some scholars are of opinion that the description given in Yasht v, follows closely her actual image as set up by Artaxerxes Mnemon.

Ram (the ancient Vayu) represent the wind. The epithets that are showered upon Him are almost an echo of those which are used of Ahura Mazda Himself. In the Yasht dedicated to Him (xv) the list of His suppliants is headed by Ahura Himself! He also has been invoked by the successive rulers of Iran and He has helped all the good among them, but refused His help to the wicked ones.

Zam (Mother Earth) is also invoked. But the Yasht known as the Zam Yasht (xx) is devoted to the history of the Imperial Glory (Kavaem Khvareno) of Iran, the possession of which also meant the possession of the Earth. This Glory is said to have descended upon each of the Royal Sages of Iran one after the other, and to have departed from him when he died or proved unworthy. The whole of this Yasht is, therefore, the history of the Iranians. And it is noteworthy that in the later Persian Epic the Shah-Nameh, the history of 'the First Law-Givers' of Iran agrees very closely with the Avestan account.

Abstracted from : The religion of Zarathushtra, I.J.S. Taraporewala, Madras, 1926

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"We worship the spiritual Yazatas who are the givers of the better (rewards) and are full of Asha."
(Gah, ii, 6.)

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