Religious Education Council of England & Wales (REC) celebrated RE in schools on 24 March 2011 at the Zoroastrian Centre in Harrow
The Zoroastrian priests, Magi, performed their sacred fire litany, the Aatash Nyaaish, to worship their Creator Ahura Mazda. The priests cover their mouths with a white cloth so as to keep the litany, Aatash, pure while they chant stanzas, gathas, from their holy book Avesta. Fire is considered to be a sacred force that sustains life and is taken as a symbol of truth and righteousness (right living).
Several schools from the Harrow area took part. The children’s performances showcased their enjoyment on learning about world religions at school and that was all wonderful to see. Key note speakers highlighted the point that in the name of religion the world has seen so many atrocities, yet it is all due to misunderstandings about others’ religions and the UK children now are clearly growing in an environment where such misunderstandings are eroded at source.
Rita Trust paid a donation to REC for a contribution towards the costs of refreshments for the afternoon. For the purposes of this article, however, let us take the opportunity to explore the Zoroastrian’s Asha, which is an equivalent form of the Hindu Rita.
Zarathustra who codified the religion lived around the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE, c.1500BCE, though some claim that date to be much earlier. Their holy book Avesta is written in the ancient Iranian language Pazend which is very much like the Indian Sanskrit, with many words being exactly the same. The fire litany too is exactly like the Hindu fire ceremony of Havan. Zoroastrians also wear a sacred thread Kushti exactly as some orthodox Hindus wear a Janeayu to remind them constantly of ‘righteous living’.
The ancient people around central and south Asia shared their culture but those living by the river Indus came to be called Hindus and those in Persia as Parsis. They developed as two distinct but sister civilisations.
The Cosmic Law Rita of the Hindus is called the Asha by the Zoroastrians. The Asha is essentially about ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds’ as one would see this phrase prominently written at top of their sacred alter, agiaari. The same emphasis of purity in thought, speech and action comes under the doctrine of Karma.
The only difference between the two theologies that seemed to have developed in those ancient times was that whilst the Hindus expressed duality of good and evil on the same side of the coin the Zoroastrians held them to be on the opposite sides of the coin. This difference resulted in the Zoroastrian theology giving rise to the Satan, Angra Mainyu or Ahirmanand, thus the theosophy becoming Dualistic, whereas the Hindu theosophy remained Monistic. The Hindus never aquired a Satan in their theology.
This Dual aspect of this ancient theology is translated into all the Abrahamic creeds, where Satan got additionally attributed with fire, ironically the same fire what was and is considered sacred by the Zoroastrians.
Anil Bhanot 10 April 2011