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Zoroastrianism had its genesis in Iran. As they hail from a Pars in south-west Iran, the people who practise this religion are known as the Parsis. In 642, when the last Iranian empire was conquered by the Arabs, most Zoroastrians were forcibly converted to Islam. Others fled the country. Today, of the 1,30,000 Zoarstrians in the world, about 1,00,000 live in India. Although their number has never been very large, and is in fact dwindling, the Zoroastrians or Parsis have retained their identity very strictly.

Despite being a small community, they have contributed enormously to India. Dadabhai Naoroji, author of the path-breaking book Poverty and Un-British Rule In India, Jamshedji Tata, the father of Indian steel industry, JRD Tata, prominent industrialist of the Tata House and the father of Indian aviation, are a few examples. Zoroastrianism was founded by the prophet Spitama Zarathustra. It affirms that there is one god, Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord), other gods being manifestations of his qualities. He is the Creator or Ohrmazd. Here the equivalents of angels are the seven Amesha Spentas (beneficient Immortals). Associates of the Amesha Spentas are Yazatas presiding over sun, moon, earth, fire etc. Corresponding to the Indian concept of pitri or forefathers, there is the Avesta Fravashi (Faith and Inspiration). It is supposed that there are two spirits working in this world and one of them is Spenta Mainyu, the spirit of growth and prayers. The word for `soul' in the Avesta is Urva (Chosen).

The holy text of the Zoroastrians is the Avesta, composed in a language belonging to the early Iranaian group of languages and resembling the language of the Vedas. The daily prayer-book the Parsis use everyday is Khordeh Avesta (the smaller Avesta). The Videvat are religious law books laying down codes of conduct and procedures for penance. The Yasna is the handbook of ceremonies, retreats etc, including the 17 cantos of the five Gathas Abunavaiti, Ushtavaiti, Spenta Mainyu, Voha Khshathra and Vahishtoishti. Visparat is a supplement of the Yasna, glorifying Ahura Mazda. The Yashts is a reservoir of epic and historical happenings involving warriors and kings.

All followers of Zoroastrianism have to wear the Sadra and Kusti, a narrow band round the waist, similar to the upavita of the brahmanas. Aiwayaonhana (which also means stormy sky) is the term used to refer to it in the Avesta. The band is woven out of 72 strands of sheep wool (symbolic of the 72 chapters of the Yasna) and is wound thrice round the waist symbolising the three cardinal tenets of the faith: good thoughts, deeds and words.

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