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Perisa, Past and Present (Published 1906)
Chapter XXIII: The Zoroastrians of Yezd


Jackson, Abraham V. Williams



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'From Yezd's eternal Mansion of the Fire.’
-- 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 mosque.

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 its environs,[1] 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 minutes later.  

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 Zoroastrian style.

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 Bundahishn.[2] 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.[3]  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. [4] 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.[5] 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.'[6]

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 mother's name.[7] They knew nothing of the tradition that connects him with Urumiah.[8] 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.[9] 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 Vendidad; [10] 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.[11] 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 eastern Iran.

The Zoroastrian 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. [12] 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. [13] 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.

1. afraid-i avval, ‘first created being.’
nafs-i kull, ‘universal soul.’
3. nufs-i natikah, ‘spirit of speech.’
‘akl-i falak-i ‘utarid, ‘genius of the heaven of the planet Mercury?
nur-i mujarrad, ‘incorporeal light.’
‘akl-i fa‘‘al, ‘active genius.’
rabbu ’n-nau’-i insan, ‘lord of all mankind.’
rast-gu, ‘ truth-speaker.‘
nur-i khuda, or 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; [14] 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.[15] 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; [16] 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, ‘against.’

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.


yatha ahu vairyu atha ratush ashatchit; hacha
vangheush dazda mananho shyaothananam anheush mazdzai
khshathremcha ahurai a yim dregubyu dadat vastarem[17]


 (with the variant pronunciations in parentheses)
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)[18]

Two Zoroastrian 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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21]

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;[22] it appeared to be ‘well dried and well examined wood,’ as the Avesta enjoins.[23] 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.[24] 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 hallowed flame.

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 it.[25] 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;[26]  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, whitewashed walls.

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.[27] 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 ceremony.

The haoma, as is well known, corresponds to the soma of Vedic India, which grows on the mountains,[28] 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,[29] 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.[30] 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 nose.[31]

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.[32]

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,[33] 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 blood-offering.[34]

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.[35] 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.[36] 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,[37] 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 too wet.[38]

The Zoroastrians who dwell within the city are largely occupied in trading.[39] 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.[40] 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 ground.[41] 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.[42]

Yezd Types

(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.[43] 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, Mostly Zoroastrian

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 them.[44] 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 Zoroastrians.

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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

 [3] 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 could find.

[4] See Westergaard, 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.

[5] 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.

[6] See Danlatahah, Tadhkirat ash-Shu'ara, ed. Browne, p. 30, London, 1901, and compare Browne, Literary History of Persia, pp. 12, 346-387.

[7] See p. 430, below, and compare my Zoroaster, pp. 17, 85, 192, 202

[8] See pp. 87, 103, above

[9] 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.

[10] I have reproduced the photograph in Chap. 28, below. For paiti zbarahi, see Bartholomq Air. Wb. p. 1699.

[11] See my Zoroaster, pp. 194-195.

[12] For the main sources, see my Zoroaster, pp. 280-286.

[13] 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.

[14] 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.

[15] On the whole subject of dualism, see the views expressed in my article in Geldner. iran. Philol. 2.626-631, 617-649, 663.

[16] Many of the phonetic features are common in the ordinary pronunciation of the Indian Parsis, except among the trained scholars.

[17] For the sake of parallelism I have here retained, with trifling modifications, the older transliteration of Justi.

[18] The a is sometimes labialized to aw (Eng. law).

[19] 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.

[20] 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.

[21] See pp. 131-143, above.

[22] Cf. Vd. 3. 1.

[23] Cf. Vd. 14. 2; 18.27, 71.

[24] 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.

[25] See my Zoroaster, pp. 288-289.

[26] See pp. 216-218, above.

[27] 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.

[28] See Ys. 10.3, and Rig Veda 5.86. 2; 10. 34.1.

[29] 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.

[30] 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.

[31] Ezekiel 8. 16, 17.

[32] 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.

[33] See Yt. 6. 17, 104; 9. 28 ; 17. 44 (rendering gava each time as ‘milk’).

[34] 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.

[35] 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.

[36] It is interesting to note the resemblance between this old-time Persian custom and the observances of the Jewish Passover.

[37] See p. 246, above.

[38] See Vd. 9. 31 and Vd. 3. 4.

[39] 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.

[40] 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.

[41] The comparative scarcity of upper stones on the houses in the Gabar quarter is still noticeable.

[42] 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. 44-63).

[43] 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).

[44] 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).