Showing posts with label Gatha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gatha. Show all posts

Life and Time controversies of Zarathushtra

Let us see some of the controversies associated with Zarathushtra

Date of Zarathushtra

No one knows where or when the Prophet was born. Some legends place his birth in western Iran, perhaps near Tehran; others, which are somewhat more likely due to the eastern Iranian language of his poetry, place his birthplace in the east. As for the date of his birth, it has been since ancient times a matter of controversy. Greek sources placed him as early as 6000 B.C., a reckoning derived from poorly transmitted Zoroastrian legends; few if any scholars take that date seriously. The traditional Zoroastrian date for Zarathushtra's birth and ministry is around 600 B.C. This is derived from a Greek source that places him "300 years before Alexander" which would give that date; other rationales for the 600 BC date identify the King Vishtaspa of Zarathushtra's Gathas with the father of the Persian King Darius, who lived around that time.

As the linguists of both Europe and India worked on the Gathas, however, it became clear that the language of the Gathas attributed to Zarathushtra was far older than the language spoken in Iran at the time of King Darius' father. Gathic Avestan was very close to the Sanskrit of the Indian Rig-Vedas, which can be dated from the period 1500-1200 BC. This would mean that Zarathushtra lived far earlier than the "traditional" date. Some scholars have said that the 600 BC date is still plausible if Gathic Avestan was actually an artificially preserved sacred language, somewhat like Latin, which continued in literature and rituals thousands of years after it had ceased to be spoken.

Recent work by Martin Schwartz and Almut Hintze tends to discount this theory, as the linguists show that the Gathas are not the work of an academic writing in a dead language; they show all the signs of poetry composed and recited in an oral tradition, similar to the heroic poetry of Homer or the Rig-Vedas. These studies would confirm the earlier date for Zarathushtra.

The problem of Zarathushtra's time will never be solved, unless some improbable archaeological find turns up. Most scholars agree on a time-frame for Zarathushtra which could be as early as 1700 B.C. or as late as 1000 B.C.

Zoroaster's Name

The name Zarathustra is a Bahuvrihi compound in the Avestan language, of zarata- "feeble, old" and usatra "camel", translating to "having old camels, the one who owns old camels". The first part of the name was formerly commonly translated as "yellow" or "golden", from the Avestan "zaray", giving the meaning "having yellow camels".

A more romantic, but inaccurate, translation of the name in the past has been Bringer of the Golden Dawn, based on the mistaken assumption that the second part of the name is a variant of the Vedic word "Ushas" meaning "dawn".

This last translation seems to have derived from a desire to give a more fitting meaning to the prophet's name than "owner of feeble camels."

An alternate reading is "old camel." Animals such as camels and horses were essential and even sacred to the people of Zarathushtra's age, and thus a name containing one of these animals marks a person as important. A similar naming practice occurred among the ancient Greeks where names containing "-ippos" or horse denoted high birth - such as Philippos (lover of horses), Aristippos (best horse), or Xanthippos (yellow horse).

The later Zoroastrians, perhaps embarrassed by their prophet's primitive-sounding name, said that the name meant "Golden Light," deriving their meaning from the word zara and the word ushas, light or dawn. There is no doubt about Zarathushtra's clan name, which is Spitama - perhaps meaning "white." Zarathushtra's father was named Pouruchaspa (many horses) and his mother was named Dughdova (milkmaid). His birthday is celebrated on March 26, as part of the Iranian New Year Festival.

Life if Zarathushtra

Zarathushtra is said to have had six children, three boys and three girls. This is not exact information, since the number and gender equals that of the six Amesha Spentas and may be only symbolic. But the last Gatha is composed for the marriage of Zarathushtra's daughter Pouruchista (Full of Wisdom) so he is known to have had at least one child. Zarathushtra, in the legends, had three wives (in sequence) of whom the last was Hvovi (Good Cattle) the daughter of King Vishtaspa's prime minister. Thus Zarathushtra married into the king's court; Pouruchista, in turn, married the prime minister.

There is no exact or provable information about Zarathushtra's life at court, though it may be assumed that it was here that he composed the Gathas, and the names of king and court appear in the poetry as if, in oral recitation, they were there listening to him. The prophet may have spent almost three decades there, before his death at age 77.

Again, no one knows how Zarathushtra died. Many legends, and Zoroastrian tradition, say that he was killed, while praying in the sanctuary, by a foreign enemy of the king. But there is no holiday commemorating the martyrdom of the Prophet, as there would be in other religions (Christianity, for instance) and other Zoroastrian traditions, and scholars, say that Zarathushtra died peacefully.

One of the controversies about Zarathushtra concerns whether he was a priest. He did not live in a religious vacuum, but was born into a society that practiced the polytheistic rites of ancient Indo-Iranian religion. This religion already had a well-developed system of priesthood and service. In one verse of the Gathas (Y,33, 6) Zarathushtra calls himself a "zaota" which in later Zoroastrian usage is the word for officiating priest. The word, though, literally means "invoker" and both Taraporewala and Jafarey translate it simply, claiming that Zarathushtra never meant to call himself a priest. It is very possible that Zarathushtra, if not a priest, had priestly training (how else would he know the highly technical spiritual language found in the Gathas, as well as the ability to compose philosophical/religious poetry?). Other Zoroastrians, including more traditionally minded ones, say that Zarathushtra was indeed a priest and the first of the millennia-old tradition of Zoroastrian ritualizing priesthood.

In the later Avesta, Zarathushtra is used as a character in dialogue with Ahura Mazda; he is featured in ritual texts and in law- texts, and great amounts of ritual and doctrine are thus attributed to him, whether he was their originator or not. In much later Zoroastrian traditions, some of which were not recorded until centuries after the Arab conquest, the life of the Prophet abounds with miracles and divine interventions.

His mother glowed with the divine Glory usually reserved for kings; the soul of the prophet was placed by God in the sacred Haoma plant (which Z. condemned in the Gathas) and the prophet was conceived through the essence of Haoma in milk (though the birth is not a virgin birth, but the natural product of two special, but earthly parents.). The child laughed at his birth instead of crying, and he glowed so brightly that the villagers around him were frightened and tried to destroy him. All attempts to destroy young Zarathushtra failed; fire would not burn him nor would animals crush him in stampedes; he was cared for by a mother wolf in the wilderness.

He spent years in the wilderness communing with God before his first vision, in which Vohu Manah came to him in the form of a huge Angel. All the heavenly entities, the Amesha Spentas, instructed Zarathushtra in heaven, and he received perfect knowledge of past, present, and future. Zarathushtra's preaching to King Vishtaspa was enhanced by miracles, especially the healing of a paralyzed horse that convinced the king to accept the new religion.

Most of these motifs are familiar from the lives of other culture heroes such as Romulus, Moses, and Jesus. Whether any of this literally happened is a matter for belief, not scholarship. Tradition-minded Zoroastrians do accept these legends as truth about Zarathushtra. Other, more modern Zoroastrians, who rely more on the Gathas as a scriptural source, discount the legends as pious fantasies, noting that there are no miracles or supernatural interventions in the Gathas.

Unlike Mohammed's recitation of the Koran, the Gathas of Zarathushtra are not "channeled" - that is, the Gathas are regarded as the inspired composition of a poet-prophet rather than a text dictated by a heavenly being. Zarathushtra was inspired by God, through the Bounteous Immortals of Vohu Manah, Asha, and the others - but he was not a passive recipient of the divine wisdom. In accordance with Zoroastrian philosophy, he reached God through his own effort simultaneously with God's communication to him.

Zarathushtra was never divine, not even in the most extravagant legends. He remained a man like all others, though divinely gifted with inspiration and closeness to Ahura Mazda. His life is an inspiration for Zoroastrians of all persuasions, traditionalist and modern - in his innovation, loving relationship with God, and spiritual courage he is a model for all his followers. After his death. Zarathushtra's great soul attains almost the level of a Bounteous Immortal, but still is not merged in the divinity.