Zoroastrianism (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
ZOROASTRIANISM. The prophet Zarathushtra (known to the Greeks as Zoroaster) founded Zoroastrianism, one of the world's oldest living religions, in northeastern Iran, probably between 1800 to 1000 B.C.E. Zoroastrianism became the state religion of the first Persian Empire in the sixth century B.C.E. after which its influence waxed and waned until finally it was supplanted by Islam in the seventh century C.E. In the tenth century B.C.E. a small group of Zoroastrians migrated to the Gujurat region of northwest India where they became known as Parsis (Persians). Today, the number of adherents is estimated at 274,000 worldwide with the largest community centered around Bombay and a smaller number in the Iranian homeland. Zoroastrians follow the creed of "good thoughts, good words, good deeds" and uphold virtues of honesty, charity and hospitality.
Role of Food in Zoroastrian Tradition
Dietary laws and food proscriptions are not part of original Zoroastrian teachings. Nevertheless certain ritual and symbolic uses of food have evolved over time, based on later Zoroastrian writings and as a consequence of interaction with other cultures and religions. For example, Zoroaster abolished the tribal custom of animal sacrifice, though it quickly reemerged and became incorporated in Zoroastrian rituals. Today it survives only amongst Iranian Zoroastrians during the festival of Mehregan, when meat and bread are distributed. Generally all foods are permitted and are consumed according to personal preference and local custom. For example, Zoroastrians often forgo pork and beef in deference to their Hindu and Moslem neighbors, or are vegetarian by choice. Certain foods may still be avoided because they belong to the evil counter creation. These include birds of prey and "hideous fish." Carrion is regarded as impure as is any food coming into contact with it.
The concept of purity versus impurity is central to Zoroastrianism. Cleanliness is highly regarded and purification rites are a part of most ceremonies. Formerly there were elaborate codes to preserve food from impurities such as skin, nail clippings, sweat, blood, and excreta. It was forbidden to eat or drink from a common cup, and priests would not accept food from non-Zoroastrians. Although cleanliness and purity remain as important values, ritual practices have declined amongst ordinary Zoroastrians. Constraints of contemporary urban life, and differing interpretations by orthodox and reform groups within the faith also contribute to variations in actual practice. It is also notable that fasting common religious disciplinelays no part in the faith. Asceticism and renunciation, of which fasting is an integral part, are forbidden.
Symbolism and Sacred Foods
Rituals are important in Zoroastrianism. They establish a connection between the material and spiritual universes. Food plays a part in rituals, as a thanksgiving to God and
The pomegranate, being an evergreen, is a symbol of everlasting life and of the fecundity of nature. It is also a symbol of prosperity and plenty because of its numerous seeds. Pomegranate leaves are chewed during purification rituals at initiation ceremonies, marriages, after childbirth and by those who have come into contact with corpses. (There has been a modern decline in the latter practice). Rice, as in the Hindu tradition, represents happiness and prosperity.
Ceremonies and Ritual
Yasna is the most important of the Zoroastrian ceremonies. It is celebrated daily, but only in Iranian and Indian fire temples and only by qualified priests. Yasna is an "inner" ceremony, which only Zoroastrians may attend and is often specially commissioned by community members. Ritual materials used include haoma with pomegranate twigs, goat's milk, dron with ghee, water, and a presanctified mixture known as parahom. The water signifies health and wellbeing, while the milk represents the presence of Vohu Manah, the protector of the animal kingdom. The haoma twigs and pomegranate leaves are pounded with consecrated water and milk is
|Maidh-yo-zarem||mid-spring||Fresh vegetables in plenty||Sky||April 30ay 4|
|Maidh-yo-shema||mid-summer||Time for harvesting corn||Water||June 29uly 3|
|Paiti-Shahem||early autumn||Harvesting of fruit||Earth||September 126|
|Aya-threm||mid-autumn||Sowing of winter crops||Plants||October 137|
|Maidh-ya-rem||mid-winter||Period of perfect rest||Cattle||January 1|
|Hamas-path-maedern||pre-spring||Equality of heat and cold||Man||March 160|
|Nou Rouz||spring||Renewal of life||Fire||March 21|
|The Zoroastrian year is based on a solar calendar and starts at the exact time of the vernal equinox.|
|SOURCE: Adapted from the website of the Ancient Iranian Cultural and Religious Research and Development Centre (www.ancientiran.com).|
added to the mixture, some of which is then poured out into a well from whence it will flow out to strengthen the whole of creation. The remainder of the mixture is offered first to those present who endowed the ceremony and then to other observers.
One of the main Zoroastrian "outer" ceremonies, Afrinagan, may be performed in any suitable clean place and can be witnessed by Zoroastrians and non-Zoroastrians alike. Its purpose is to praise the bounty of Ahura Mazda and to request His blessings on members of the community. Ritual objects include a tray of food, usually fruit, wine, eggs, milk and water, which serves as a visible sign of Ahura Mazda's generosity and care for the wellbeing of his people. The main feature of the ritual is a threefold exchange of flowers between the officiating priests.
After giving birth, a woman should be confined with her baby for a period of forty days in order to allow the impurities she has contacted to dissipate. For modern urban Zoroastrian women this requirement not to leave the house for nearly six weeks is extremely difficult to fulfill. As a compromise the woman eats separately from the rest of the family. After forty days she takes a ritual bath that allows her to rejoin the wider community. The new baby may be given a drop of consecrated hom from a Yasna ceremony as a "strengthening drink." If this is not possible a drink may be made from hom twigs, pomegranate leaves and water.
Children are initiated into the Zoroastrian faith at age seven to eleven years (Parsi) or twelve to fifteen years (Iranian), at which time they become responsible for fully observing Zoroastrian practices. At the initiation ceremony (Naojote) the child receives a sacred white shirt (sudra) and a sacred cord (kushti). A ceremonial tray prepared for the ceremony contains a mix of rice, pomegranate, raisins, almonds, and slices of coconut. The officiating priest who blesses the child pours these over the head of the child. A banquet for family and friends follows the initiation ceremony.
Marriage ceremonies take place at the house of the bride or in public places where large crowds can congregate. Prior to the actual marriage ceremony the bridegroom, with family friends and priests, arrives at the bride's house. While the others enter the house the groom remains on the threshold where he is greeted with traditional symbols of welcome. An egg, a coconut, and a dish of water are successively passed around his head, then dashed to the floor. The groom may then enter the house and the marriage ceremony commences. During the ceremony the priest sprinkles rice on the bride and groom who also sprinkle each other with rice. A feast for family and friends follows the marriage ceremony.
After a death, consecrated food, such as dron or eggs is offered to sustain the soul of the newly departed. The family of the deceased may not eat meat for three days, a practice that may be linked to fear over impurities or to the idea that flesh food is more suitable for celebratory occasions. On the anniversary of a death the souls of the departed are offered cooked foods, milk, water, and fresh fruit. This food is subsequently given to charity. These observances, like others, may be in decline.
Holidays and Festivals
Zoroaster established a series of holy days and also assimilated existing traditional festivals and celebrations. There are six seasonal festivals known as Gahambars, which celebrate the six creations of Sky, Water, Earth, Plants, Cattle, and Man. Traditionally each lasted for five days, though now much curtailed, and included feasting, prayer and rejoicing. The most important festival is that of Nou Rouzhe New Year. Held at the spring equinox it celebrates the rejuvenation of nature and the beginning of new life, and is linked to firehe seventh and most sacred creation of Ahura Mazda. It is marked by family and community gatherings, religious services, feasting, and gift giving. The ten days prior to Nou Ruz are for commemoration of the departed. A variety of grains and lentils are soaked so that they will germinate in time for the holiday. These green sprouts are added to a thanksgiving table that also holds a variety of other symbolic objects and foods such as bread, fruit, fresh vegetables, sugar cones, and decorated eggs.
Each day in the Zoroastrian calendar is dedicated to a particular divine being or important event, twelve of which also has its own month. Name-day feasts are held when month name and day name coincide. Adar, the ninth day of the ninth month, is celebrated as the birthday of fire and is a time to give thanks for warmth and light. Traditionally food is not cooked in the home, to give the fire a rest. Other festivals include the birth and death anniversary of the prophet and the feast of all souls (Muktad) for remembrance of departed family members.
See also Death and Burial; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts; India: Northern India; Iran; Middle East; Religion and Food.
Boyce, Mary. Zoroastrians. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.
Clark, Peter. Zoroastrianism. An Introduction to an Ancient Faith. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 1998.
Dhalla, Homi B. "Social Dimensions of the Zoroastrian Jashan Ceremony." Dialogue and Alliance 4, no. 11 (1990): 276.
Nigosian, Solomon A. The Zoroastrian Faith: Tradition and Modern Research. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1993.