Jackson, Abraham V. Williams
'From Yezd's eternal Mansion of the
-- MOORE, Lalla Rookh.
Situated amid a sea of sand which
threatens to ingulf it, Yezd is a symbolic home for the isolated band of
Zoroastrians that still survives the surging waves of Islam that swept
over Persia with the Mohammedan conquest twelve hundred years ago.
Although exposed to persecution and often in danger from storms of
fanaticism, this isolated religious community, encouraged by the buoyant
hope characteristic of its faith, has been able to keep the sacred flame
of Ormazd alive and to preserve the ancient doctrines and religious rites
of its creed.
When the Arab hosts unfurled the green
banner with the crescent and swept over the land of Iran with cry of
Allah, shout of Mohammed, proclamation of the Koran, fire, sword,
slaughter, enforced conversion, or compulsory banishment, a mighty change
came over Persia. The battlegrounds of Kadisia and Nihavand decided not
Iran’s fate alone, but Iran’s faith. Ahura Mazda, Zarathushtra, and the
Avesta ceased almost to be known, the temple consecrated to fire became a
sacrifice to its own flame, and the gasp of the dying Magian's voice was
drowned by the call of the Muezzin to prayer on the top of the minaretted
Scene in Yezd
In a way the Moslem creed was easy of
acceptance for Persia, since Mohammed himself had adopted elements from
Zoroastrianism to unite with Jewish and Christian tenets in making up his
religion. The Persian, therefore, under show of reason or exercise of
force, could be led to exchange Ormazd for Allah, to acknowledge Mohammed,
instead of Zoroaster, as the true prophet of later days, and to accept the
Koran as the inspired word of God that supplanted the Avesta. The
conqueror’s sword, inscribed with holy texts in arabesques, contributed
its share, no doubt, to making all this possible, but many a Gabar
stubbornly refused to give up his belief, and consequently sealed his
faith with his blood. The few that sought religious liberty by accepting
exile in India became the ancestors of the modern Parsis of Bombay, so
often spoken of already; but the rest of the scanty handful that escaped
the perils of the Mohammedan conquest found a desert home at Yezd and in
the remote city of Kerman, not to mention the straggling few that are
found elsewhere in Persia, to prove the exception to the now universal
rule of Islam in Iran.
Almost immediately after my arrival at
Yezd I inquired for the home of Kalantar Dinyar Bahram, the head of the
Zoroastrian community, which numbers between 8000 and 8500 in the city and
but it took me some time to find his house. For nearly two hours my tired
mules and donkeys threaded their way through dusty, crooked lanes, across
camel filled squares, and in and out of closing bazaars, until we reached
the Kalantar’s door just as the sun was going down. The dwelling was
unpretentious on the outside, as all Persian houses are. Several servants
answered the summons of my man, who announced the arrival of a farangi,
and I was then ushered into a large, oblong room carpeted with fine
Persian rugs. The walls of the apartment were almost without decoration,
and the furnishing was confined chiefly to divans and cushions, as in many
Oriental dwellings; but on one side there were arranged in Occidental
manner a table and some chairs, made and upholstered after European
models. The front of the room seemed almost open to the air, because of
the broad doorways and deep windows that ran from floor to ceiling and
looked out upon a covered veranda and a court which enclosed a pretty
garden with roses and potted plants. My Gabar host entered the room a few
The Reservoir in the
Meidan at Yezd
He was a man somewhat over fifty years of
age, with a roundish face and grizzled beard, and was dressed in a robe of
grayish cloth with a large white cotton sash about his waist. Upon his
head he wore the low rolled turban which is characteristic of the Persian
Zoroastrians; I had seen the same style of headgear worn by an Iranian
priest from Kerman when I was in Bombay. With genuine courtesy and
manifest cordiality my host extended a welcome, and turned aside with a
light touch the apologies I offered for my dusty appearance and for
entering his room wearing riding-leggings- as one has to do often in
Persia. In the best Farsi phrases that I could command I explained the
purpose of my visit. In Eastern fashion he immediately placed his house
and his all at my disposal, and this I found to be no empty phrase of
courtesy in his case, even though I could not accept the generous
invitation to lodge under his roof, because I had already promised to be
the guest of the English missionaries.
As soon as the Kalantar learned in more
detail the reason for my coming to Yezd, he sent for a member of the
community named Khodabakhsh Bahram Ra'is, who had studied in Bombay and
spoke English fluently, and who was known in Yezd as 'Master’ because of
his attainments. The style of dress of this scholar was similar to the
Kalantar's, even in the waistband and turban, and his features were of the
same general cast, although somewhat sharper. The nose, as in the case of
all the Persian Zoroastrians that I met, was rather prominent, but well
shaped. In manner he was modest and courtly, and his face lighted up when
he recognized the name he had heard from common friends in Bombay, where
my Zoroastrian interests were known. He held a hurried consultation with
the Kalantar, and they at once proposed a plan for a conference on the
morrow with the High Priest and with the spiritual and secular leaders of
the Zoroastrian community, setting the time in Persian fashion at so many
hours ‘after sunrise.’ Gifts of flowers were brought in and presented to
me as a sign of welcome, and the hospitality of supper was extended in
At this meal the host himself declined to
take a seat at the table, but moved about, standing now at the doorway and
again withdrawing to give directions, but returning to see them carried
out. He explained that this was regarded among his people as the true
manner of hospitality in olden times, when the master of the house was
supposed to be ever ready to serve his guests in person, and he thought
that I would best like to have the time-honored custom observed. The
number of dishes was perhaps ancient Median in its variety, rather than
early Persian -in other words, the abundance of Astyages and not the
frugality of his grandson Cyrus, if we may accept the picture in
Xenophon’s Greek romance as accurate. A hearty broth as first course mas
followed by lamb, vegetables, and some dishes characteristic of Yezd, with
sweetmeats and tea for dessert and some mild wine such as ‘ the house of
the Magian' produced in the days of Hafiz. To converse at table was, I
knew, contrary to the Avestan code, but I preferred not to observe this
prescription, even in the house of a Zoroastrian, as I wished to use every
possible moment to learn more concerning the interesting people among whom
I had come. We talked about matters of home life among the Zoroastrians,
the size of their community, their relations with Kerman and the
communication they had with their coreligionists in India, until i t was
time for me to leave for the English Mission, where I found a hearty
welcome awaiting me.
At an early hour the next morning I
returned again to the house of my Zoroastrian host. The Anjuman, or synod
of leading men in the Gabar community, was assembled to the number of
eighteen. The Chief Priest, Dastur-I Dasturan, who was named Namdar,
happened t o be absent in India at the time, but the Acting High Priest,
Tir Andaz, who was his father-in-law, was at home and entered the assembly
a few minutes later. He was a tall, handsome man, dressed in robes of pure
white, and his flowing beard of snow lent the dignity of age to his kindly
face. A brownish turban set off his dark, intelligent eyes, which had the
gleam of youth and were in keeping with his manly frame, erect bearing,
and clear voice.
The formal reception in Oriental manner
now began, and I was reminded of the description in the Zartusht Namah of
the ceremonies when Zoroaster first appeared before his patron Vishtaspa.
Settees and chairs mere placed in a large open hall that faced upon the
garden court. They were arranged in the form of a widespread V, in much
the same manner as in the council of Ormazd described in the old Iranian
I was formally conducted to a seat a t the apex of this V. My host took
the place on the right, the High Priest sat on the left; the other members
of the assembly were arranged in order of seniority or rank. When all were
seated there was a moment’s pause. Then those sitting on the right turned
toward me and made a solemn bow, to which I responded; the same salutation
was formally repeated on the left. A servant next entered with a tray of
confectionery, a ewer of rose-water, and a hand-mirror. From the
hospitality of the Parsis in India, I was familiar with the rose-water and
sugar candy, but I had not previously seen the mirror used in ceremonies,
although I was told it was an old Zardushtian custom in receiving a guest.
My momentary embarrassment was relieved when the mirror wits handed to the
High Priest. He looked gravely into it, slowly stroked his white beard, on
which he poured a few drops of rose-water, and then with perfect dignity
passed the glass to the next, who did likewise, and so did the others. The
sugared bonbons, for which the Zoroastrians of Yezd are renowned, proved
very refreshing and served to satisfy that craving for sweets which is
felt by travelers in hot and dry climates. Meanwhile a number of the
company regaled themselves with snuff, as there seems t o be no objection
to the use of tobacco in that manner, but only to its being smoked, as
that is regarded as a defilement of the fire.
The formalities finished, the real
conference began, and for three or more hours I asked and answered
questions relating to Zoroaster and his faith, and concerning the
condition of his followers in Persia. Two manuscripts of the Avesta and
some fragments were first shown me. One of these was a fine large copy of
the Vendidad Sadah, seen by Professor E. G. Browne, when he visited Yezd
in 1888; the other was a text of the Yasna. The copy of the Vendidad Sadah
was much the older of the two, and was said to date back about three
hundred years. The Yasna manuscript belonged to the middle of the last
century. The third text, incomplete, was a good transcript of the Vishtasp
Yasht, which is a comparatively late compilation devoted to the praise of
Zoroaster's patron and other worthies of the religion. These were all the
manuscripts that could be produced at the moment, and the best-informed
members of the assembly stated that all their more important manuscripts
had been sent to India for safe-keeping or for use, and they feared that
the chances of obtaining hitherto unknown copies were growing yearly less.
I urged upon them the importance of making a careful search, especially
among the older families, who might possibly have texts that had not found
their way to Bombay, and I have since corresponded with them on the
subject; but I am hardly more sanguine about the results of the search
than was Westergaard, who visited Yezd and Kerman in 1843.
The members of the assemblage naturally ascribed the loss of their texts
largely to the persecutions that followed after the Moslem conquest, an
instance of which I gathered from an oral tradition current among them. It
is worth repeating.
About a century and a half after the Arab
conquest, or more accurately in the year A.D.820, there was a Mohammedan
governor of Khorasan, named Tahir, who was the founder of the Taharid
dynasty and was called ‘the Ambidextrous' (Zu'l-Yaminein). He was a
bigoted tyrant, and his fanaticism against the Zoroastrians and their
scriptures knew no bounds. A Musulman who was originally descended from a
Zoroastrian family made an attempt to reform him and laid before him a
copy of the book of good counsel, Andarz-I Buzurg-Mihr, named from the
precepts given by Buzurg-Mihr, the prime minister of Anushirvan the Just,
and he asked the governor for permission to translate it into Arabic for
his royal master’sedification.
Tahir exclaimed, 'Do books of the Magians still exist?’ On receiving an
affirmative answer, he issued an edict that every Zoroastrian should bring
to him a man (about fourteen pounds) of Zoroastrian and Parsi books, in
order that all these books might be burned, and he concluded his mandate
with the order that any one who disobeyed should be put to death. As my
informant added, it may well be imagined how many Zoroastrians thus lost
their lives, and what a number of valuable works were lost to the world
through this catastrophe. A variation of the story, but told of Tahir’s
son, named Abdullah (A.D. 828-840), and applied to the romance of Vamik
and 'Adhra,which is described in its title as ' a pleasing story (khub
hikayat) compiled by sages and dedicated to King Anushirvan ' (A.D.
531-579), is given by the Persian biographer Daulatshah in his literary
notices.' The story as it exists today among the Zoroastrians is an
interesting illustration of their pertinacity in keeping up the tradition
regarding the loss of much of their literature after the Mohammedan
conquest as well as during the invasion of ' Alexander the Accursed.'
Inquiries regarding legends of Zoroaster
did not result in bringing out anything particularly new, but it was
interesting to obtain their views on some of the debated questions in
connection with the prophet's life. Zoroaster, they believe, came from Rei,
the ancient ruined city of Ragha near Teheran, long associated with his
They knew nothing of the tradition that connects him with Urumiah.
They associate his home, or rather his father's house, which is said in
the Vendidad to have been located on the Drejya, Darejya, or Daraj, with
the region about the river Karaj on the road from Teheran to Kazvin. The
village, they said, corresponds to the modern Kalak near the Karaj River
which flows from the mountain Paitizbara, as they interpret the words
puiti zaaruhi in the Avestan text.
The resemblance between the letters D and K in Avestan Darejya, Drejya,
Phl. Dareji, Pers. Daraj, if written in the ancient script, does make this
ingenious comparison seem plausible for a moment, especially as the river
Karaj itself, a photograph of which I took three weeks later when I
crossed it, also shows precipitous banks that would answer to the
conditions supposed to be required by the phrase paiti zbarahi in the
but in spite of this the identification seems fanciful, and I have given
reasons elsewhere for believing that the river Darejya, Drejya of the
Avesta, is the modern Daryai in Azarbaijan.
I may add in passing that a number of persons in the assembly knew that
Zoroaster’s name was associated by tradition with the city of Balkh in
Anjuman at Yezd
For Zoroaster’s name, which appears in
the Avesta as Zarathushtra and in Modern Persian as Zartuaht or Zarduaht,
which is believed in reality to mean some sort of a camel (Bv. ushtra, see
p. 89, above) they offered nearly a dozen fantastical interpretations or
attempted etymologies. Dastur Tir Andaz, after the Oriental manner,
suggested that the name, if divided as Zartusht, might be explained as
‘pure gold,’ or ‘washed gold,’ as if the latter element were connected
with shustan, ‘to wash.’ Another member of the company proposed ‘enemy of
gold,’ as if the final member of Zar-duaht were dushman, ‘foe.’ Finally my
host turned to the lithographed book that he held in his hand, and which
seemed to be a compendium of the various Persian and Arabic writers who
mention Zoroaster and are already known to Western scholars.
The work contained no less than nine different explanations, part of them
cited from Persian lexicographical works, and I subsequently learned that
it was handed down by Farzanah Bahram ibn Farhad, a disciple of Azar
Keivan, who lived in the time of Akbar the Great, about A.D. 1600.
The value of the book was most highly thought of by my best informed
critic, Khodabakhsh Ra’is, who referred to it as an imaginative work and
branded the etymologies as ‘ fanciful and invented by the disciples of the
aforesaid Azar Keivan, who was a half-Brahman, half-Zoroastrian, a
believer in metempsychosis.’ Scholars will certainly agree with the
estimate as to the philological value of the interpretations, but I give
the list as I noted it.
avval, ‘first created being.’
2. nafs-i kull,
3. nufs-i natikah, ‘spirit of speech.’
4. ‘akl-i falak-i ‘utarid,
‘genius of the heaven of the planet Mercury?
5. nur-i mujarrad,
6. ‘akl-i fa‘‘al,
7. rabbu ’n-nau’-i insan,
‘lord of all mankind.’
9. nur-i khuda,
nur-i yazdan, ‘light of God.’
From the same historical compilation the
reader cited a passage to the effect that the Mohammedans believed that
there mere several Zoroasters - a view which I had heard propounded also
by some of the Zoroastrians in India-and that the Zardusht of Vishtasp’s
time was the ninth in order, the first of them being Hoshang;
but this view, according to my host, was due to a mistaken reading of a
verse in the Shah Namah.
Prom questions relating to Zoroaster we
turned to religion and philosophy. The discussion led to the problem of
dualism, the relation of Ormazd (Ahura Mazda, ‘Lord Wisdom’) and the
archangels and angels (Amesha Spentas and Yazatas) to Ahriman (Angra
Mainyu, ‘Evil Spirit,’) and the arch-fiends and fiends (Daevas and Drujes),
who war against the soul of man. I found that the most enlightened of
these Zoroastrians look upon Ahura Mazda as comprising within himself the
conflicting powers of good and evil, designated respectively as Spenta
Mainyu, ‘Holy Spirit,‘ and Angra Mainyu, ‘Evil Spirit,’ and that their
views in this respect, and possibly under the influence of Bombay, mould
agree with the monotheistic tenets upheld by the Parsis of India to-day,
who stoutly deny the allegation that Zoroastrianism teaches pure dualism.
They believe also in the resurrection of the dead, or are acquainted, at
least, with this doctrine, which their faith has taught since early times;
and my informant promptly gave me the technical term (Pahlavi ristikhiz,
Mod. Pers. ristakhiz) for the ‘rising of the dead.’ The Messianic doctrine
of a Saoshyant, or Savior, appeared likewise to be well known.
When hearing the High Priest recite
passages from the Avesta and when listening to a Mobed as well as a layman
read from the sacred texts lying before us, I was struck by certain
peculiarities of pronunciation that are worthy of note. For some of the
striking features I was prepared through a previous study of the
variations in the Iranian manuscripts of the Avesta, used by Geldner for
his great edition of the Avesta, and through my observation of the
pronunciation of the Parsi priests in India;
but some of the peculiarities and certain phonetic inconsistencies in
reproducing the words were quite unexpected. What I noticed most was the
fact that the Avestan letters th, ph, dh, gh, and generally kh, which are
presumed historically to have been spirants, as in English kith, hurthen
(for burden), and German hoch, were pronounced as ordinary t, d, g, k, or
occasionally as aspirates t, d. g, k, (t, dh, gh, kh): for example, atha,
‘so,’ sounded as ata or at‘a atha; veretraghna, ‘Victory.’ The consonant t
was given everywhere as d; for example, cvat: ‘as many as,’ was pronounced
like chwad. The secondary nasal nh (&) arising in Avestan from an original
sibilant was pronounced like nk (vank-e-osh, vank-hi-osh, or vank-i-ash,
for vanheush, ‘of good,’ and ank-i-ash for anheush, ‘of the world’). The
voiced sibilant z was pronounced like the English z, and the Avestan
letter for zh could not be distinguished from our j (or from j, jh), while
the previously mentioned th occasionally interchanged with s, as in the
Avestan manuscripts (serish for thrish, ‘thrice’), thus coming near to the
earlier spirant character of the sound th than does the pronunciation t or
th in vogue among the priests as indicated above. The vowels a, o, u, were
frequently confused with each other, and i was shaded in the directiou of
e (veheshta, ‘best,’ for vahishta), while certain of the diphthongs were
merged into simple vowels (ao in mraot, ‘he spoke,’ pronounced as u, mrud).
The anaptyctic and epenthetic vowels were clearly marked: thus, pa-i-ti,
A few illustrations of the general
characteristics of the pronunciation will suffice. The name of the prophet
Zoroaster, in the nominative form Zarathushtra, was pronounced its
Zarat(h)ushtra, Zarat(h)oshtra, or even Zarat(h)ashtru. The opening lines
of the well-known Profession of Faith, naismi daevo fravarane mazdayasnu
zarathuushtrish vidivu ahura-d-kishu, ‘I abjure being a Demon- Worshipper,
I profess myself a Worshipper of Mazda, a foe to the demons, and a
believer in the faith of Ahura, ’were sounded like‘ naismi divu fravarane
mazdayasnu vidivu ahura-d-kishu.’ The sacred formula of the Ahuna Vairya
sounded on their lips quite different from the pronunciation generally
given to it in the Occident, at least as indicated in the accepted
philological works. This will be clear from a comparative transcript,
first in the ordinary transliteration with which we are familiar, and then
in the transliteration reproduced from the memoranda I made of the Yezd
pronunciation, supplemented by notes from Master Khodabakhsh.
AHUNA VAIRYA STANZA AS ORDINARILY WRITTEN
yatha ahu vairyu atha ratush ashatchit;
vangheush dazda mananho shyaothananam anheush mazdzai
khshathremcha ahurai a yim dregubyu dadat vastarem
AHUNA VAIRYA STANZA AS PRONOUNCED AT YEZD
(with the variant pronunciations in
yata (yat‘a) ahi vaireyu ata (atha) ratosh (ratash) ashadcdid hachu
vank-e-osh (vanke-hi-osh, vanh-i-ash) dazda manankahu she-yu-tananume
anke-hi-osh (ank-i-ash) mazdae
kashatrumcha (khashatremcha) ahorue (aharae or ahurae) a yem dare-
gabe-yu (dargabyu) dadad vas-e-tarem (vawstarem)
Priests at Yezd
For a fuller collection of material to
illustrate the pronunciation I must refer to a monograph on the subject
which I hope soon to publish in one of the Oriental journals. While on the
subject of pronunciation and the reading of the sacred texts, I may add an
observation which will not, however, surprise specialists; I refer to the
fact that the Acting High Priest and also the more scholarly members of
the assembly were unaware that a great part of the Younger Avesta is
composed in metre. The idea of verse and verse-structure appeared wholly
new to them, when I read for them a portion of the Hom Yasht metrically in
the manner that is familiar to students in the West. In all such matters
it is manifest that ages of persecution and of neglect of their sacred
lore have not been without a detrimental influence upon their technical
knowledge; on the other hand, certain points in their pronunciation appear
to deserve the consideration of linguistic scholars, because the Persian
Zoroastrians are not affected by any philological bias and have remained
practically free from the Indian influences that may have affected, in
some respects, the pronunciation of the Parsis of Bombay.
By this time it was considerably past mid-day, and nearly an hour more was
spent in examining the manuscripts and in photographing specimens of the
text. A rare privilege was now accorded me; I was invited by Tir Andaz to
visit his fire temple early that afternoon after I had enjoyed the repast
spread by our host. I was glad to accept at once this opportunity to
become acquainted with a place of worship used by the Persian
Zoroastrians. It was the temple of the Atash-I Varahram, or Atash Bahram,
'Fire of Victory,' situated in the Parsi quarter and located next to the
house of Dastur Namdar, the priest who was absent in India a t the moment.
It is the chief Zoroastrian sanctuary of Yezd, although there are three
other fire-shrines o r chapels, designated either as Dar-i Mihr or Adarian
besides one such minor place of worship in every Zoroastrian village in
the vicinity of the city.
Upon reaching the temple I found it to be
simple, unpretentious building. From its exterior and from the entrance it
would hardly have been possible to recognize it as a temple a tall.
Mohammedanism allows no rivals to its beautiful mosques with turquoise
domes, arabesque arches, and slender tessellated minarets. The splendor of
the ancient temple of Anaitis at Ecbatana, from which, as I have described
above, conquerors carried off untold wealth in gold and silver plate, the
grand ruins of Kangavar and the gorgeous display at the Shrine of Fire in
Shiz, under the Sasanian kings, belong to ages long since dead.
A Wind Tower at Yezd
Before reaching the main room of the
sanctuary at Yezd it was necessary to pass through several corridors and
an antechamber, all of which help to render the shrine safer from
desecration. On one side of the last passageway I observed a pile of short
logs, one or two feet long and several inches thick, that were used as
fuel for the holy flame;
it appeared to be ‘well dried and well examined wood,’ as the Avesta
From the anteroom I entered the large oblong chamber, or chapel, adjoining
the sanctum sanctorum in which the fire was kept. My ear caught at once
the voice of the white-robed priests who were chanting in the presence of
the sacred element a hymn of praise sung by Zoroaster of old. It was a
glorification of Verethraghna, the Angel of Victory, in the Bahram Yasht,
and I felt a thrill as I heard the Avestan verses –verethraghnem
ahuradhatem yazamaide, “we worship the Angel of Victory, created by
Ahura’-- ring out from behind the walled recess where the fire was hidden.
The door was open and I stood within a few feet of the fire, so as to
listen, but I made no attempt to see the flame, as I knew such a step
would be regarded as a profanation and might bar the way to other
privileges which I wished to enjoy. It seemed an unusual experience thus
to be standing in a fire-temple in Zoroaster’s own land and listening to
the priests of his hereditary line chanting verses from the sacred texts
as had been done for nearly three thousand years. The voice of the zot, or
officiating priest, was high, nasal, and resonant, and his intonation was
so rapid that he had to pause at times to catch his breath ; while his
assistant, the raspi, chanted in a lower key or accompanied his recitation
in a nasal minor key with great rapidity of utterance.
Each of the celebrants wore over his mouth the paitidana, a small white
veil prescribed by the Avesta to be worn over the lips when before the
fire, in order to prevent the breath and spittle from defiling the
I almost fell into a revery as I listened
to this monotonous chanting of the Yasht; but the hymn was soon ended, and
the veiled priests came out from the presence of the fire and were kind
enough to allow me to take their photograph, although the light was too
dim to secure a good picture.
While speaking of pictures I may mention
a so-called portrait of Zoroaster hanging on the wall of this main
chamber. I had heard of it a number of years before, and when writing my
book on the Prophet of Ancient Iran I had expressed a keen desire to see
My conference with Tir Andaz in the forenoon, when he gave me the meager
information that he had about its possible remote connection with Balkh,
had prepared me for disappointment as to its value, but I did not expect
to find it of so little importance. The picture is merely a modern colored
print, apparently a cheap Parsi chromolithograph from India, perhaps not
twenty years old, and of no historic interest. It is a variety of the
familiar representation based on the Tak-I Bostan sculpture;
but the-staff is not fluted, as in the sculpture, the top is capped with
a symbolic flame, as in other modern representations current among the
Parsis in India, and the lower end of the staff rests upon the ground.
This colored picture was the only decoration I noticed on the bare,
At the rear of the chamber there was a
gallery used on occasions when a considerable number of the Zardushtian
community come together, as at the Gahanbar season, the Farvadin festival,
on some commemorative day, or at some special celebration. The gatherings
on such occasions are the nearest approach that the Zoroastrians have to
the assembling of a congregation in church, for they have nothing that
corresponds precisely to our general Sunday worship.
The Acting High Priest now opened a door
leading into a small side-chamber to the right of the sanctum where the
fire was kept. It was a room arranged as an Izashnah Gah, a place set apart for the performance of religious
ceremonies and priestly rites. The floor was built of stone and was
cemented and marked off into little channels (pavi) or grooves (kash), to
enclose the space within which the priest sat while conducting the ritual,
as I had witnessed in the halls adjoining the Parsi temples in India.
A lambskin, used apparently as a seat, was lying on the floor, and there
were small, low stone stools such as are generally employed in the
Izashnah Gah, besides a number of sacrificial utensils. Among the latter
were the cups for holding consecrated water, milk, and the juice of the
hom plant (Av. haoma), from which the sacred drink was prepared in ancient
times, as nowadays, and partaken of by the priest as a part of the
The haoma, as is well known, corresponds
to the soma of Vedic India, which grows on the mountains,
and the two branches which the priest gave me came from the mountain
heights some distance from Yezd. In addition to this and the urvaru
hadhanaepata, or pomegranate,
there is still another plant employed in the sacrifice, and it has been
used in the Magian ritual since time immemorial. It is the barsom (Av.
baresman), the twigs or sprays of which are tied in a bundle at a certain
point in the sacrifice, corresponding in a distant manner to the barhis,
or straw, strewn as a seat for the divinities in the Vedic ceremonies of
old. In Yezd the tamarisk bush is used to form this bundle, and it is
bound with a slender strip of bark from the mulberry tree, probably in exactly
the same manner as it was in Zoroaster’s day.
Brass rods are sometimes substituted for the twigs, as is done by the
Parsis in India, but at Yezd this substitution is made only in winter,
when it is impossible to procure the branches, or at some particular time
when it is impracticable to obtain them. It was the use of these very
branches, perhaps, that the Prophet Ezekiel denounced as an abomination to
God when he saw in a vision ‘about five and twenty men, with their backs
toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, and they
worshipped the sun toward the east,… and, lo, they put the branch to their
I saw the large tamarisk bush from which
the sprays mere cut for use in the barsom ceremony; it was of a light
green color, twelve or fifteen feet high, and stood in the garden
adjoining the rear of the temple. A high wall shut in the garden at the
back; a gallery ran part of the way around the enclosure; a flight of
steep steps led down from this to the ground, where there were blossoming
rose bushes, sweet scented shrubs and plants, a pomegranate tree, and the
tamarisk bush. Tir Andaz cut off from this three handsome sprigs, each
nearly two feet long, and presented them to me. They were slender and
delicate, covered with downy fibrous leaves, and look graceful even in the
dried form in which I now have them.
Besides the sacred plants, perfumes (baodhi),
bread-offerings (draonah, myazda), consecrated water, the haotna, and
milk, the Avesta frequently refers to the cow (gao) in connection with the
Yasna ceremony. Like their Parsi brethren in India, the Zoroastrians of
Persia interpret the Avestan words gao jivya, lit. ‘iving cow,’ as goat’s
milk (Pers. shir), and similarly employ an egg and melted butter to
represent the gau hudhah, lit. ‘beneficent cow,’ in the ceremony. The
faithful of both communities agree in regartling the true Zoroastrian
sacrifice to be a bloodless sacrifice, an offering of ‘good thoughts, good
words, good deeds,
accompanied by praise and thanksgiving, with appropriate ceremonies. Such
was the sacrifice offered by Zoroaster himself in the Yashts, after the
manner of Ahura Mazda,] although the Avesta does allude to the sacrifice
of animals, once, for example, in the Yasna, and several times in the
Yashts, which represent Vishtaspa and the heroes of old as sacrificing
thousands of animals, some of which must have been slain as a
Spray of Barsom Plant
A possible survival of the ancient custom
of animal sacrifice may survive at. Yezd, down to the present, in the
celebration of the Jashn-i Mihrgan, ‘Sacrifice to Mithra,’ although the
views on this subject may differ.
This festival falls on the day of Mihr, in the month of Mihr
(February-March), and is an important one among the Persian Zoroasrians,
as they prolong it for five days, till the day of Bahram, or Verethraghna.
According to the account I received, it commemorates the victory gained by
Feridun (Avestan Thraetaoma) over the Babylonian tyrant Zohak (Avestan
Azhi Dahaka), whose cruel rule oppressed Iran for a thousand years. ‘The
Persian Zoroastrians used to believe, and some of them still believe,’ as
my authority informed me, ‘that at this festival Feridun sacrificed sheep
and bade his subjects to follow his example in this respect, and to eat,
drink, and be merry, because of the overthrow of their arch-enemy. It was
accounted meritorious, therefore, to celebrate the occasion joyfully and
to sacrifice a sheep or a goat in every house, or, if the family were
poor, to kill a chicken. The priests themselves at first used to kill the
animals, but the people afterward did this at home, sprinkling some of the
blood on the door-posts and over the lintel, and cooking the rest of the
blood with suet and onions, as a dish to be eaten with unleavened bread.
Since it was regarded not merely as a sacrifice but as a burnt-offering
unto Mihr-i Iran-davar, Mithra, Judge of Iran,’ the flesh of the sheep and
goats, when roasted, was carried to the fire temple, prayers were said
over it by the priests, to whom a share of the flesh was given, a portion
was set aside for distribution among the poor, and the remainder was taken
home to be eaten by the family and their friends. ’Such is the account I
received from my informant, who added, ‘this custom is now dying out; the
people are becoming wiser and saner, and outgrowing this cruel practice
and bloody rite, which the Parsis of India do not recognize and like which
they have nothing.’
After leaving the fire-temple I asked if
I might visit the Barashnum Gah, a place set apart for the performance of
the ablution for nine nights, as I shall describe in the next chapter.
Since it was situated in another street I had an opportunity, both when
going and returning, to see more of the Parsi quarter of the town and make
further observations as to the community and its general condition. As
there are about eight thousand Gabars in Yezd, they occupy a not
inconsiderable section of the city. I t is known as the Mahallah-i Pusht-i
Khaneh-I Ali, or Mahallah-I Pusht-i Khanahi Ali, the Quarter in the Rear
of Khan Ali, or of Ali’s House,’ and I subsequently learned that they have
a tradition current among them as to the origin of this name. The common
belief is that the designation by Ali’s name is due to a device resorted
to by the worshippers of Mazda in order to escape persecution at the hands
of their Mohammedan enemies after the Arab conquest. They pretended, it is
said, that Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed, had a house in this
part of Yezd and that he settled the Zoroastrians here, in order to shield
them from persecution; and that they were Ali’s cowherds. In support of
this claim they cleverly urged the plea that the name Gabran, ‘Infidels,’
by which they were stigmatized, and the modern pronunciation of which
among the Parsis of Yezd would be Gav-ran or Gaur-un, really meant Gau-run,
‘cow-keeper,’ and that as Gabars the Zoroastrians were therefore worthy of
Moslem protection. As I know through Khodabakhsh Bahram Ra’is, the better
educated among them regard this explanation of the name of the quarter as
a mere fiction, a piece of popular etymology, and they suggest a more
probable interpretation. The name Ali, they say, is not an uncommon one
among the Persians, and this was probably the name of a land-owner, or
wealthy Khan (Pers. Khan), who had a caravanserai outside the old part of
Yezd, near where the Parsi quarter now is, and the Zoroastrians settled
there, ‘back of Khan Ali’ (not khanah, ‘house’), so that the designation
has nothing to do with the house of Ali, the successor of Mohammed.
Some details regarding the general
condition of the so-called Gabars in Yezd and its environs may be of
interest. A large proportion of the Zoroastrians who live outside of the
city itself, especially in the neighborhood of the flourishing town of
Taft, are occupied in gardening and the cultivation of the soil. According
to the Avesta, as I have already stated,
agriculture is one of the noblest of all employments, because he who sows
grain, sows righteousness, and one of the most joyous spots on earth is
the place where one of the faithful sows grain and grass and fruit-bearing
trees, or where he waters ground that is too dry and dries ground that is
The Zoroastrians who dwell within the
city are largely occupied in trading.
This privilege was not accorded them until about fifty years ago, and they
are even now subject to certain restrictions and exactions to which no
Mohammedan would be liable. They are not allowed, for instance, to sell
food in the bazaars, inasmuch as that would be an abomination in the eyes
of the Moslems, who regard them as unbelievers and therefore unclean.
Until 1882 they were oppressed by the jazia tax, a poll tax imposed upon
them as non-believers, and this gave an opportunity for grinding them down
by extortionate assessments and trading-tolls. The jazia was finally
repealed by Shah Nasr ad-Din, who issued a firman to that effect,
September 27, 1882. It was largely owing to influences brought to bear
upon him by the Parsis of Bombay that the Shah was led to make this
liberal-minded move. They worked through the agency of the Society for the
Amelioration of the Zoroastrians in Persia, which they had founded with an
endowed fund in 1854, sending at the same time a representative to Iran to
look after the interests of their co-religionists.
Up to the time of the Shah's firman, a Zoroastrian was not allowed to
build an upper story on his house, or, in fact, erect a dwelling whose
height exceeded the upstretched arm of a Musulman when standing on the
Even within a year after the firman was issued, a Zoroastrian in one of
the neighboring villages is said to have had to flee for his life because
he had ventured to go beyond the traditional limits and add an upper room
to his abode, and another Gabar, who was mistaken for him, was killed by
the enraged Musulmans.
(Left to Right) Parsi woman; English
woman in Parsi dress; Armenian girl; Parsi woman.
As regards their dress, moreover, the
Zoroastrians have always been obliged to adopt a style that would
distinguish them from the Mohammedans, and it is only within the last ten
years that they could wear any color except yellow, gray, or brown, and
the wearing of white stockings was long interdicted. The use of spectacles
and eye-glasses, and the privilege of carrying an umbrella, have been
allowed only within the same decade, and even now the Gabars are not
permitted to ride in the streets or to make use of the public baths (hamam);
but the latter prohibition, as they told me, is no longer a hardship,
because they have built a bathing establishment for their own use. A score
of petty annoyances that they have to undergo might be cited in addition
to the more serious disqualifications; but enough have been given to show
the disadvantages under which they labor and the persecutions to which
they are exposed. In 1898 the present Shah, Muzaffar ad-Din, sought to
relieve their condition further by issuing a firman revoking the formal
disabilities from which they suffered. While imperfectly observed, this
decree has contributed, in spirit at least, to bettering their position.
The spread of Babist doctrines, which favor religious liberty and
toleration, has possibly contributed also by lessening intolerance on the
part of the Mohammedans. The presence of Europeans has likewise had a
salutary effect and aided considerably in the general advance. But the
most has been done by the Bombay Society for the Amelioration of the
Zoroastrians in Persia, whose funds have helped the Gabars and whose
reform measures have tended to their general good, so that their numbers
have increased considerably within the last fifty years.
Nevertheless, they still do not feel themselves free from oppression, and
they constantly have to avoid trouble and persecution by yielding to
Moslem prejudice. In fact, their lives are in danger whenever the
fanatical spirit of Islam breaks out, as was the case about a month after
I was in Yezd. A general Musulman rising then took place against the Babis,
a large number of whom belonging to the Behai branch are found at Yezd.
These Babis were massacred by scores, and even hundreds, or were subjected
to shocking outrages and cruel indignities. The Zoroastrians feared that
they would suffer the same fate, and I was informed on the authority of
one who had witnessed the horrors that such might have been the case if
the fanatical wave had not been broken in its course by the prompt and
energetic intervention of the Europeans in telegraphic communication with
the authorities in power at Teheran.
School Boys at Yezd,
The organization of the Zoroastrian
community at Yezd has already been indicated in a general way. The
spiritual guidance is in the hands of the priesthood (dasturs, mobeds, and
herbeds), but the authority which they exercise is greatly limited by the
fact that those who do not wish for any reason to accept it can simply
throw it off and act in accordance with the rule of the Moslems around
In civic matters the community is under the leadership of a synod, the
Anjuman (Av. hanjamana, 'assembly, convention'), headed by a kalantar, or
mayor, the present incumbent of that office being Kalantar Dinyar Bahram
whose hospitality I have described, and whose official duties often take
him to Kerman, Anar, and other towns in this region where there are
With the Kalantar's young son Bahram I
formed a friendship in the short time of my stay, for he acted as my guide
round the city and through the mazes of the bazaar. He was a bright,
intelligent fellow, straightforward and honest, manly in his bearing, and
agreeable in his manners. I could picture from him what might have been
the type of youth in Zoroaster's day, since the blood of the ancient faith
flowed in his veins by direct descent. I liked his naturalness and lack of
affectation, and certain of his characteristics were charmingly na'ive,
for when I took his photograph he instinctively plucked a rose to hold in
his hand (for a true Persian portrait would be artistically incomplete
without a rose), and in the other hand he held up to view his European
watch. I could understand his pride in this respect, since a Zoroastrian
would not have been allowed some years ago to carry a watch or even to
wear a ring.
A Zoroastrian convert to Islam
Benevolence is a Zoroastrian
characteristic, and the Avesta inculcates the virtue of generosity. Many
of the Parsis of Yezd live up to this doctrine so far as their limited
means will allow. As an instance of this I may cite the following example.
When the English Christian Mission at Yezd was in need of quarters for its
hospital -- a branch of their work with which the Parsis especially
sympathized -- a prosperous Gabar merchant, named Gudarz Mihrban, came
forward and donated to the cause a large caravanserai and its property,
including a house that adjoined it. The structure of this erstwhile
halting-place for caravans lent itself in a remarkable manner to the uses
to which it was now to be put: the central court that once was filled with
camels, asses, and pack-mules was turned into a pretty garden ; and the
old-time lodgings of the camel-drivers and muleteers were transformed into
chambers and wards for the Good Samaritan work.
These are the figures given me at Teheran by Mr. Ardeshir Reporter, Agent
of the Society for the Amelioration of the Zoroastrians in Persia. See
also p. 336, n. 3, above; p. 376, n. 1, and p. 425,below.
See my article in Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft,, 1. 364. I have
also been told that the Talmud somewhere speaks of this as the Parsi
manner of sitting at meals, in contrast to the Jewish fashion.
A number of these manuscripts which are now in Bombay had already been
used by Professor Geldner in the preparation of his edition of the
Avesta. I communicated afterward to the Parsi Panchayat in Bombay the
facts about the manuscripts I had seen at Yezd and also in Mr. John
Tyler’s possession at Tehran,as the Secretary of the Panchayat had
requested from me a report regarding any copies of Avestan texts I
Zendavesta, preface, P. 21, n. 4, and P. 11, n. 3, Copenhagen,
1852-1854 ; see likewise his letter to Dr. Wilson, quoted by Karaka,
History of the Parsis,1. 60.
This work corresponds to the Pahlavi
treatise Pandnamak-i Vazhorg-Mitro-i Bukhtarkan which has
survived. See on this point West, Grundr. iran. Philol.2.113.
ed. Browne, p. 30, London, 1901, and
compare Browne, Literary History of
Persia, pp. 12, 346-387.
See p. 430, below,
and compare my Zoroaster, pp.
17, 85, 192, 202
See pp. 87, 103,
See Vd. 19. 3, 11. The
view that the text contains an allusion to a mountain called 'Paitizbara '
(paiti zbarahi) from which the Darejya flows, is found in an essay in
English by Ervad Sberiarji Bharucha, Zoroastrian Religion and Customs, p.
3, Bombay, 1893, and this treatise has been translated into Persian by
Master Khodabakhsh. The same interpretation appeared to be found in a
lithographed work from which they quoted, and which was a compilation by
Mirza Tath-ali-Khan Zanganahi (so far as I could catch the name). The
comparison of the Daraj with Karaj is due to this latter
writer. There are some incidental references to the Karaj in Yakut,
pp. 65, 478, 488 ; see also p. 443, below.
I have reproduced the photograph in
Chap. 28, below. For paiti zbarahi, see Bartholomq Air. Wb. p. 1699.
See my Zoroaster, pp. 194-195.
For the main sources, see my
Zoroaster, pp. 280-286.
According to the Parsi Prakash, ed.
Bamanji Bahramji Patel, p. 10, Bombay, 1888, the above-mentioned
Dastur Azar Keivan bin Azar Goshasp was a learned and well known
Persian priest who believed in a universal religion. After spending
twenty eight years of his life in meditation he came to India and
settled at Patna, where he became known as a teacher of a universal
creed. He wrote the Makashifat-i Azar Keivan and died at Patna in
1614, at the age of eighty five. For this information from the Parsi
Prakash I am indebted to my pupil and friend, Errad Maneckji
Nusservanji Dhalla, of Karachi, India, a student at Columbia
University. For a note on Farzanah Bahram ibn Farbad, see Shehriarji
Bharncha, The Dascitir, in Zartoshti, 3. 122, Bombay, 1908.
In the Dasatir (see Shehriaji
Bharnclra, op. cit. p. 121) Zartoshtis the thirteenth in the line of
prophets. Such is the view held also by some of the theosophists among
the Modern Parsis of India, certain of whom regard him as the seventh
of the name. See Bilimoria, Zoroastrianism in the Light of Theosophy,
p. 4, note, Bombay, 1896.
On the whole subject
of dualism, see the views expressed in my article in Geldner. iran. Philol.
2.626-631, 617-649, 663.
Many of the phonetic features are
common in the ordinary pronunciation of the Indian Parsis, except
among the trained scholars.
For the sake of parallelism I have
here retained, with trifling modifications, the older transliteration
The a is sometimes labialized to aw
It is only the younger generation of
Zoroastrian students at Yezd that has come into close contact with the
Zoroastrians of India, through the influence of Master Khodabakbsh and
a few other scholars who have been in Bombay.
The name Dar-i Mehhr, 'Shrine of Mihr
' (used also in India) contains a reminiscence of the ancient Mithraic
worship, but is now used (like Adarian, ‘pyraea') merely as a
designation for a small chapel or shrine of fire.
See pp. 131-143, above.
Cf. Vd. 3. 1.
Cf. Vd. 14. 2; 18.27, 71.
The intonation of both the priests
was loud and resonant and more swift than that
of the Pami dasturs I had heard in Bombay and Udvada, and I observed
the Same peculiarities in pronunciation that I had observed in the
conference of the forenoon.
See my Zoroaster, pp. 288-289.
See pp. 216-218, above.
I refer to the
sc-called urvis-gah connected with the fire-temples at Udvada, Navsari,
and Bombay. For a photograph and a description of the latter, together
with a representation of the various implements and utensils employed
in the sacrifice, see Darmesteter, Le ZA. 1. introd. p. 72 (pl. 4),
and compare the interesting notes descriptive of some Parsi
ceremonies, by Haug, Essays on the Parsis, 3d ed., pp. 302-400; cf.
likewise my note in JAOS. 22. 321.
See Ys. 10.3, and Rig Veda 5.86. 2;
The Zoroastrians of Yezd, like the
Indian Parsis, agree in regarding the pmegranate as the representative
of the Avestan urvaru hadhanaepata; on the latter, compare Haug,
Essays on the Parsis, pp. 251, 399, and West, SBE. 37. 186.
The Avestan words employed in
connection with the barasman indicate that the twigs were originally
spread (star-, frastereta-), then gathered into a bundle and hound (yuh-,
aiwyasta-, aiwyhana-); see the references under each of these words in
Bartholomae, Atr. Ipb. pp. 98,947,1290, 1595.
Ezekiel 8. 16, 17.
My friend Mr. Percy Bodenstab, of
Yonkers, has made a drawing of the sprays (here reproduced) in a
reduced size; to convey a clearer idea it would be necessary to
reclothe the branches with the softest green color imaginable.
See Yt. 6. 17,
104; 9. 28 ; 17. 44 (rendering gava each time as ‘milk’).
See Ys. 11. 4 ; Yt. 6.21, 25, 33,
108; Yt. 9. 25; compare also the description of the Magian sacrifice
given by Herodotus, History, 1. 132. Observe likewise that on the eve
of battle (Yt. 6.68) Jamaspa himaelf offers an animal sacrifice.
The notes which I present on the
Jashn-i Mihrgan are given on the authority of Khodahakhsb Bahram Ra’is,
who, it should be noticed, attributes the origin of the custom to
Mohammedan influence after the Arab conquest, like the sacrifices at
the feast id-i Kur-ban, referred to above, p. 162, n. 1. The opinion
of the Parsis in India would also be in favor of his view. See Modi,
Meher and Jashne Meherangan (Mithra and the Feast of Mithras), Bombay,
1889; of also Marquart, Untersuchungen zur Ceschichte von Eran, 2.
132-136, Leipzig, 1905.
It is interesting
to note the resemblance between this old-time Persian custom and the
observances of the Jewish Passover.
See p. 246, above.
See Vd. 9. 31 and
Vd. 3. 4.
The Zoroastrians in general appear to
have an especial aptitude for business, and they appear rather to
amept than reject the designation 'Jews of the East' that is sometimes
applied to them because of their commercial activity.
For an account of
the efforts for the abolition of this tax, see Dosabhai Framji Karaka,
History of the Parsis, 1. 7282, London, 1884; cf. also p. 397, below.
scarcity of upper stones on the houses in the Gabar quarter is
For this point and the next, see
Malcolm, Five Years i n a Persian Town, pp. 46, 49, London and New
York, 1905. This interesting book on life at Yezd appeared after the
present chapter was written, but I have been able to incorporate one
or two references, and I would recommend to the reader’s attention Mr.
Malcolm’s remarks on the restrictions in general upon the Gabars (pp.
In 1854 the number of Zoroastrians in
the vicinity of Yezd was given at 6658 souls (Karaka, History of the
Parsis, 1. 55 ): in 1882 as about 6483 (Houtum-Schindler, Die Parsen
in Persien, in ZDMG. 26. 54); in 1903 as between 8OOO and8500,
including the environs of Yezd (these last figures being given to me
in Teheran by Mr. Ardeshir Reporter, Secretary of the Society for the
Amelioration of the Zoroastrians).
For the relations between the
spiritual and temporal powers in ancient times, see Wilhelm, Kingship
and Priesthood in Ancient Eran. pp.1-21, Bombay, 1892 (translated from
his German treatise in ZDNG. 40. 102-110).