Zoroastrian: Connecting An Ancient Water Festival & BP Oil

Ghambar Maidyoshem

TUESDAY, JUNE 29: Revel in the beauty and necessity of water with Zoroastrians today on Ghambar Maidyoshem. For thousands of years, Zoroastrians have marked this 5-day festival that celebrates the creation of water, along with the sowing of the summer crop and the harvesting of grain. Zoroastrianism—believed by many to be the first major monotheistic religion in history—began with a simple priest, in about 1,000 BCE. Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, traveled the land to convince Persian kings to adopt the belief systems he had been told of by Ahura Mazda, the chief god. Soon, Zoroastrianism spread across the Persian Empire and was practiced by half of the known world, although today, some of its core rules are leading it to the brink of extinction.

Throughout the year, Zoroastrians feast for six ghambars, or seasonal festivals. Each ghambar has its own theme and reflects the seasons, as early Zoroastrians were very closely connected with the natural world. (The Environmentalist magazine explains Zoroastrianism’s tenets and influences.) In the 21st century, it can be difficult to find the rhythms of the natural world amidst technology and manmade environments, and the results can be detrimental—as the recent Gulf Coast oil spill has demonstrated. There’s an ironic connection today between this festival of water and BP, particularly since Zoroastrianism is an environmental religion and BP has a long history with Iran and with Zoroastrians. (A full story is in the Sri Lanka Guardian.) BP’s name actually originated as the British Empire and Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and the company gained interest in Persia when oil was discovered in 1908. A geologist-engineer, G.B. Reynolds, was hired by a wealthy man to oversee drilling—and Reynolds was careful not to drill over Zoroastrian temples, since Reynolds had heard many local legends that attested to the building of temples over eternal fire and tar pits.

Today, although Zoroastrians still practice the same festivals, the number of practicing Zoroastrians is dropping sharply. Besides facing persecution in Iran, many Zoroastrian followers believe the religion is ethnic and that only those born into the religion should be accepted. The promotion of women’s success, another tenet of Zoroastrianism, doesn’t help, either, as many women establish careers and have few children, the New York Times recently reported. Add to this the challenges of intermarriage and the rejection of “fake” converts, Zoroastrian numbers hover around 150,000—total. To revive interest in the religion, UNESCO has initiated the PARZOR Project, an attempt to preserve Parsi Zoroastrian heritage with campaigns and international conventions. (Read about the project on its Web page.) PARZOR also provides information to scholars, the media and publishers on the ancient religion.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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