A Zoroastrian Educational Institute



HomeArticlesAuthorsBook ReviewCommunityLibraryProminentsRegisterStoreArticle SubmissionAbout Us




ĀTAŠ-E DORUN: The Fire Within
Jamshid Soroush Soroushian Memorial Volume II
Coordinator: Soroushian, Dr. Mehrborzin
Editors: Cereti, Professor Carlo G., and Vajifdar, Farrokh


















The Fire Within is a fine collection of articles on Zarathushti history and religion.  The book is coordinated by Mehrborzin Soroushian in memory of his father, Jamshid Soroushian.  Jamshid Soroushian was a prominent citizen of Kerman and a fervent Zarathushti.  He was a businessman who was a leader in community activities.  In the book Professor Bastani Parizi quotes a remark that Chief Judge Forough of Kerman made, “Jamshid expects his audience in the span of fifteen minutes over tea with him to realize the merits of the Din-e behi  [The good religion] and to become believers in it!”  The book is named for this Fire within, with the hope that it will continue to illuminate the “living soul of Zoroastrianism.”

The book is a collection of articles arranged with the author’s names in alphabetical order.   While this artifice puts all contributors on an equal footing, it bounces the reader through many different subjects.  Distinct subject areas are found in the book such as history, philosophy, contributions to other religions, language and culture and religious customs and practices.  Grouping the articles by subject matter would have enhanced the flow of ideas.

In the opening pages of the book, the reader is introduced to the Soroushian family.  There is a biography of Jamshid Soroushian by the editors, Carlo Cereti and Farrokh Vazifdar, followed by some family photographs.  Mehrborzin Soroushian’s “Historical Perspective on Zoroastrianism” then traces Zarathushti history from Zarathushtra’s birth to the present and provides a framework to which the later articles add focus and detail.  It is an outstanding history, touching on the communities in Iran as well as in India, and how they helped each other over time.  Soroushian’s style is that of a story teller, with many fascinating details about the contributions of individual Zarathushtis to the welfare of the community as a whole.  Population statistics are also provided, which bring home the impact of the privations suffered by the Iranian Zarathushtis before the reforms of the late 19th century allowed them to participate in economic life and advance by dint of their hard work and honesty.

Daryoush Jahanian in “The Date of Zarathushtra” presents linguistic data to show that Zarathushtra was born circa 1700 B.C.E.  This date agrees with the date given by Soroushian and is based on linguistic parallels between Zarathushtra’s own compositions, the Gathas, and the Sanskrit of the Rigveda of India.

Zarathushtra’s Gathas tell of the revelation he received from Ahura Mazda.  In these poems, Zarathushtra tells of the primordial conflict between Truth and its implacable opponent the Lie.  Man’s role in this conflict, he said, was to bring about the ultimate triumph of Truth over the Lie through the choices he makes in his everyday life – a triumph that would usher in the end of time and Fresho Kereti, the “making wonderful”.  Man has been given Good Mind (vohu mano) by Ahura Mazda to equip him for this battle, he said.  Man must use this gift of Good Mind to choose for himself between good and evil in his everyday choices.  Man must also take personal responsibility for these choices, the sum of which over a lifetime will decide whether his soul enters Paradise or is consigned to purgatory.  These are essential Zarathushtrian concepts that have been adopted by other religions.  Farrokh Vazifdar gives an excellent overview of Zarathushtra’s teachings and their effects on later religions in his fascinating article “Ex Oriente Lux”.  The article provides a scholarly look at the writings of the Greeks, from Pythagoras through Plato and Aristotle to the later Greek and Roman writers of classical antiquity.  Step by step, it makes a convincing case that the classical Greeks were well aware of Zarathushti philosophy and provided a channel via which Zarathushtra’s ideas entered Western philosophy.  The nature of the ethical vision of Zarathushtra is the subject of an article by Kaikhosrov IraniPallan Ichaporia and Ali Jafarey have also contributed articles on the Gathas. 

Zarathushtra’s religion spread through Iran in the years after his death.  A millennium later, it arrived on the world stage as the religion of the Persian Empire.  When Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.E. he released the Jews held captive there and gave them permission and funds to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple.  For this Cyrus is called the Lord’s anointed in the Bible (Isaiah, chap 45).  The Old Testament books of the exilic period show the influence of Zoroastrian ideas.  In time these ideas found their way into Christianity as well.  The Old Testament thereby provided another channel via which Zarathushtra’s ideas flowed to a larger humanity.

Cyrus founded the Achaemenian dynasty that ruled Iran until 330 B.C.E. when it fell to Alexander of Macedon.  Alexander destroyed Persepolis and burned the library there, but died without ever returning to Greece.  Control of Iran passed back into Persian hands a few years later.  Zoroastrian texts were re-assembled by the Parthian and Sassanian dynasties that followed.  Zoroastrianism was the state religion of Iran under the Sassanians.  The Arab conquest of Iran in 638 C.E.  made Islam the state religion and ushered in a prolonged period of discrimination and persecution for Zarathushtis in their homeland.  Some fled Iran for the friendly shores of India, where they came to be called the Parsis.  Aside from occasional contact, the two populations remained separate until the mid nineteenth century. At that time, the Parsis became aware of the severe conditions afflicting their brethren in Iran and began an active campaign to improve their plight.  Burjor Avari and Michael Stausberg have contributed articles on the efforts of Manekji Limji Hataria to help the Zarathushtis of Iran.  Hataria was backed by the Society for the Amelioration of Conditions of Zoroastrians in Persia, funded by concerned Zarathushtis in Bombay.  Over a period of about 30 years Hataria lobbied the Iranian authorities to allow Zarathushti children to attend school and for Zarathushtis to be allowed to operate businesses.  Finally, with British diplomatic assistance, the discriminatory, religious jizya tax was repealed in 1882. 

During Hataria’s time in Kerman a new dakhma was built to replace the old structure.  Kerman is the ancestral home of the Soroushian family, so the threads of the stories come together here.  Mary Boyce writes fondly of visiting the Soroushians in Kerman in her article describing the use of a sagdi fire to illuminate the blackness of night for the first three nights after a body is placed in the dakhmaDietrich Huff describes the architecture of the dadgah there and the funerary customs of the different Zoroastrian communities in the small towns of Iran.

A short article by Francois de Blois on a calendar reform instituted in Iran in 1006 C.E. shows that such reforms were undertaken from time to time in the past.  The reform was to observe the five Gatha days after the twelfth month instead of after the eighth month of the year.  This reform was controversial in its day but today it is standard practice.  Maybe the calendar issues of today will be similarly resolved in years to come.

Awareness of Zarathushtra gradually faded in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.  Occasional accounts given by travelers to Iran were usually far from factual - though not intentionally false.  This state of affairs continued until Anquetil Duperron’s two year stay in Surat (an excellent adventure not described in this volume) and subsequent publication in 1771 of ”Zend-Avesta, Ouvrage de Zoroastre”.  This work kindled a firestorm of interest in Zoroaster in European intellectual circles and marks a beginning for Western scholarship in the religion.  Soon Zoroaster was appearing in works by people as disparate as Mozart and Nietzche.  In “Anquetil Duperron and Rome”, Paola Orsatti writes about the assistance Anquetil received from the Vatican Library after his return from India.  Johann Burgel’s article on Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan details the influence of Zoroastrianism in Goethe’s writings on purity.  Arthur Pearlstein has contributed an article on Nietzsche’s understanding of Zarathushtra’s philosophy.

Overall, this is a readable and useful reference volume on Zoroastrianism.  The list of contributors reads like a Who’s Who of Zoroastrian Studies.  There is a mix of informative and general articles for the novice and more specialized articles for the more advanced student.  A couple of the articles are not up to the caliber of the rest of the book, but that is inevitable in such a large collection of works by different authors.  All of the articles are footnoted, so the student can go back to the original sources if she is interested.  It is a thought provoking book that belongs in every collection of books on Zoroastrianism.

In the closing section of his history, Mehrborzin Soroushian says that the “main challenge for Zoroastrianism in the 3rd millennium will be whether it will revert to the vision that was formulated by its founder as being a universal faith” intended to “uplift and bring salvation to humanity, or whether it will continue in its diminished form” as a historical footnote in the evolution of religions, of humanism and of philosophy.  The answer to that question will hinge on the ability of today’s Zoroastrians to break free of their historical constraints and bring forward Zarathushtra’s visionary ideas in a manner that is understandable and effective today.  Education will be the key to the outcome of this mammoth undertaking.  The Fire Within is a valuable resource for anyone interested in becoming educated about Zoroastrianism.

[i] Book review written by the author in February 2005 was posted on vohuman.org on February 20, 2005.