Zoroastrianism /ˌzɒroʊˈæstriənɪzəm/, /-ˌzɔr/, also called Zarathustraism, Mazdaism and Magianism, is an ancient monotheistic Iranian religion and a religious philosophy. It was once the state religion of the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian empires. Estimates of the current number of Zoroastrians worldwide vary between approximately 145,000 circa 2000 and 2.6 million in more recent estimates. The change over the last decade is attributed to a greater level of reporting and open self-identification more so than to an actual increase in population; however, precise numbers remain difficult to obtain in part due to high levels of historic persecution in Middle Eastern regions.
Zoroastrianism arose in the eastern region of the ancient Persian Empire, when the religious philosopher Zoroaster simplified the pantheon of early Iranian gods into two opposing forces: Spenta Mainyu ("progressive mentality") and Angra Mainyu ("destructive mentality") under the one God, Ahura Mazda ("Illuminating Wisdom").
Zoroaster's ideas led to a formal religion bearing his name by about the 6th century BCE and have influenced other later religions including Judaism, Gnosticism, Christianity and Islam. (Wikipedia)
Manichaeism (/ˈmænɨkiːɪzəm/; in Modern Persian آیین مانی Āyin e Māni; Chinese: 摩尼教; pinyin: Móní Jiào) was a major religion that was founded by the Iranian prophet Mani (in Persian: مانی, Syriac: ܡܐܢܝ, Latin: Manichaeus or Manes) (c. 216–276 AD) in the Sasanian Empire.
Manichaeism taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. Through an ongoing process which takes place in human history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned to the world of light from whence it came. Its beliefs were based on local Mesopotamian gnostic and religious movements.
Manichaeism was quickly successful and spread far through the Aramaic-Syriac speaking regions. It thrived between the third and seventh centuries, and at its height was one of the most widespread religions in the world. Manichaean churches and scriptures existed as far east as China and as far west as the Roman Empire. It was briefly the main rival to Christianity in the competition to replace classical paganism. Manichaeism survived longer in the East than in the West, and it appears to have finally faded away after the 14th century in southern China, contemporary to the decline in China of the Church of the East – see Ming Dynasty. While most of Mani's original writings have been lost, numerous translations and fragmentary texts have survived.
An adherent of Manichaeism is called, especially in older sources, a Manichee, or more recently Manichaean. By extension, the term "manichean" is widely applied (often disparagingly) as an adjective to a philosophy or attitude of moral dualism, according to which a moral course of action involves a clear (or simplistic) choice between good and evil, or as a noun to people who hold such a view. (Wikipedia)
Left: Zoroaster 19th century perception of Zoroaster derived from a figure that appears in a 4rd century sculpture at Taq-e Bostan in south-western Iran.
Right: Zoroaster A 3rd century fresco from Dura-Europos in modern Syria, depicting Zoroaster in religious garb.
Tower of Silence, Wind Towers and Ice Chamber, Yazd, Iran
Tower of Silence, Wind Towers and Ice Chamber, Yazd, Iran
A "Tower of Silence" is a circular, raised structure used by Zoroastrians for exposure of the dead, particularly to scavenging birds for the purposes of excarnation, the practice of removing the flesh and organs of the dead, leaving only the bones. Ancient Zoroastrian beliefs precluded burial or cremation of the dead because they opposed any contamination of earth or air caused by such practices.
Stone carved Faravahar in Persepolis.
The Faravahar is one of the best-known symbols of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of ancient Iran. This religious-cultural symbol was adapted by the Pahlavi dynasty to represent the Iranian nation. It also represents Rana's necklace.
A fire temple in Zoroastrianism is the place of worship for Zoroastrians, often called dar-e mehr (Persian) or agiyari (Gujarati). In the Zoroastrian religion, fire (Atar), together with clean water (Aban), are agents of ritual purity. Clean, white "ash for the purification ceremonies [is] regarded as the basis of ritual life," which "are essentially the rites proper to the tending of a domestic fire, for the temple [fire] is that of the hearth fire raised to a new solemnity".
For, one "who sacrifices unto fire with fuel in his hand [...], is given happiness."
As of 2010, there were 50 fire temples in Mumbai, 100 in the rest of India, and 27 in the rest of the world.
Yazd Atash Behram
Ateshkadeh yazd, in Yazd, IranZoroastrian Fire Temple in Yazd, Iran
The Yazd Atash Behram, also known as Yazd Atash Kadeh, is a temple in Yazd, Yazd province, Iran. It was built in 1934 and enshrines the Atash Bahram, meaning “Victorious Fire”, dated to 470 AD. It is one of the nine Atash Behrams, the only one of the highest grade fire in Iran where Zoroastrians have practiced their religion since 400 BC; the other eight Atash Behrams are in India.
Fire Temple of Baku, Azerbaijan,(Painting), 1860
Image extracted from page 012 of A journey from London to Persepolis; including wanderings in Daghestan, Georgia, Armenia., by USSHER, John. Original held and digitised by the British Library.
Ateshgah Fire Temple (Fire Temple of Baku)
The Baku Ateshgah (from Persian: آتشگاه, Atashgāh, Azerbaijani: Atəşgah), often called the "Fire Temple of Baku" is a castle-like religious temple in Surakhani, a suburb in Baku, Azerbaijan..
Mani, also called Manes, or Manichaeus (born April 14, 216, southern Babylonia—died 274?, Gundeshapur), Iranian founder of the Manichaean religion, a church advocating a dualistic doctrine that viewed the world as a fusion of spirit and matter, the original contrary principles of good and evil, respectively.
Before Mani’s birth, his father, Patek, a native of Hamadan, had joined a religious community practicing baptism and abstinence. Through his mother Mani was related to the Parthian royal family (overthrown in 224). Information about his life appears to derive from his own writings and the traditions of his church. He grew up at his birthplace, speaking a form of eastern Aramaic. Twice, as a boy and young man, he saw in vision an angel, the “Twin,” who, the second time, called him to preach a new religion.
He traveled to India (probably Sind and Turan) and made converts. Favourably received on his return by the newly crowned Persian king, Shāpūr I, he was permitted to preach his religion in the Persian empire during that long reign. There is little information about Mani’s life in those years. He probably traveled widely in the western parts of the empire, but later traditions that he visited the northeast seem unsound. Under the reign of the Persian king Bahrām I, however, he was attacked by Zoroastrian priests and was imprisoned by the king at Gundeshapur (Belapet), where he died after undergoing a trial that lasted 26 days.
(Source: Encyclopædia Britannica Mani)
Mani, the founder of the religion to which he gave
his name, was born in southern Babylonia in the year
527 of the Babylonian Seleucid era, that is, A.D. 216/217. On the maternal and probably also on the paternal side he was related to the Parthian dynasty of
the Arsacids, which was overthrown in 226 by the
Sasanian Ardashir I. Mani's father, Patek, had emigrated from Ecbatana in Media to Babylonia, settling
in Ctesiphon. After hearing a voice one day that commanded him to abstain from meat, wine, and sexual
intercourse, he joined a sect whose way of life corresponded to these injunctions. This was the background of Mani's early years. At the age of twelve he, too, is
reported to have had his first revelation: an angel commanded him to dissociate himself from his father's religious community, although it was not until later
that Mani first began to preach in public. He traveled
to India and there founded his first community. We
know just as little about the reasons that prompted
him to leave his homeland as we do about the circumstances surrounding his return to Ctesiphon. This took place after Ardashir's death, and he first preached in
public on the coronation day of Shapur I. Mani is
reported to have been granted an audience with the
king and even permission to proselytize the land. Under the reign of Shapur's successor, Hormizd I, Mani
was able to pursue his missionary work, but when this
monarch was succeeded after only one year by Bahram
I, things took a turn for the worse. The Persian priests
feared for their power at court and incited the king
into bringing charges against Mani. He was sentenced
to death and, we are told, met his end by crucifixion
in Belapat in Susiana in 276; his head was displayed
on a pole at the city gate. His followers were put to
death, wherever they could be found; hence they fled
toward the east, crossed the Oxus, and eventually
reached Chinese territory. Here, in the seventh and eighth centuries, they founded small Manichaean communities. From China they set out about the middle
of the eighth century to convert the Uighurians, apparently not without the express encouragement of the Chinese government, who saw in Mani's teachings a
spiritual means of taming that wild Turkish race. Manichaeism also spread rapidly toward the west: in Syria it retained most of its original character, while in other
parts it began to converge more and more with Christianity.
What Mani taught was a syncretism embracing
many components, in the form of a philosophy of
nature; it was based on Iranian dualism mingled with
elements from the Buddhist and Christian creeds. For
Mani saw it as his calling to give final perfection to
the teachings of his "predecessors" Buddha, Zoroaster,
and Jesus: he was the latest of the prophets, the Paraclete promised by Christ.
The basic premise of Manichaean doctrine is the
dualism between good and evil, which expresses itself
in nature as light and darkness. Manichaeism teaches
deliverance from evil through recognition of this dualism and through following a rule of life derived from
its recognition. The world as macrocosm and man as
microcosm represent a mingling of the two principles.
It is man's special duty to separate the two and render
the evil principle harmless. Thus, one must avoid all
that is detrimental to the light and seek to free it from
the darkness with which it is mingled. If a man does
this to perfection, that is, if he lives according to the
ascetic principles of Manichaeism, the separation of
the two principles will take place immediately after his
As Manichaeism was a religion of strict asceticism,
forbidding its followers among other prohibitions all
use of meat, wine, and sexual intercourse, it is obvious
that not all could become full members. And indeed,
Mani had laid down a double standard for his disciples,
one of the strictest abstinence for those who wished
to renounce the world totally, and the other less stringent for the lay believer. The former, known as the
elect, lived in absolute seclusion from the world, and
wore white ritual gowns as a distinctive dress. The
latter, with less spiritual ambition or achievement,
were called the auditors.
Cao'an 草庵, a Manichean temple in Jinjiang City, Fujian Province, China. A national key cultural relics protection unit.
Cao'an (Chinese: 草庵; literally: "thatched nunnery") is a temple in Jinjiang, Fujian. Originally constructed by Chinese Manicheans, it was viewed by later worshipers as a Buddhist temple. This "Manichean temple in Buddhist disguise" is seen by modern experts on Manichaeism as "the only extant Manichean temple in China", or "the only Manichean building which has survived intact".
Left: General view of Cao'an Temple.
Right: Cao'an Temple seen from the south, with Huabiao Hill in the background.
Left: General view of the Cao'an 草庵, a Manichean temple in Jinjiang City, Fujian Province, China.
Right: Restored inscription urging the faithful to remember "Purity (清净), Light (光明), Power (大力), and Wisdom (智慧)", and "Moni (摩尼) the Buddha of Light (光佛)"
Right: Manichaean diagram of the Universe Heaven and Earth, a painting that describes Manichaean cosmology. Hanging scroll, paint and gold on silk, Yüen dynasty (1279–1368 c.e.).
Read the analysis of right image (Manichaean Cosmology) atcommons.wikimedia.org and at
This large medieval Chinese silk painting belonging to an anonymous Japanese collector was identified in 2010 by Yutaka Yoshida as a depiction of the cosmos according to the Manichaean religion.
Jesus Christ as a Manichaean Prophet
The figure can be identified as a representation of Jesus Christ by the small gold cross that sits on the red lotus pedestal in His left hand. Ink, colour, gold, and gold leaf on silk, 153.4 x 58.7 cm, Yuan Dynasty, 14th-century.
The world's richest source of Manichaean texts and works of art is the Turfan region in East Central Asia, and the largest collection of such artifacts is found in Berlin. The Berlin Turfan collections resulted from four German expeditions that took place between 1902 and 1914. The commencement of the philological study of the thousands of manuscript fragments from Turfan led to the recognition of the first known, original Manichaean writings. Among these primary sources, Manichaean works of art were found as well. A sample of them, the best preserved items, appeared in two studies by Albert von Le Coq and a few pieces are frequently exhibited internationally and appear in catalogues published by the Berlin Museum of Indian Art. Besides these efforts, Turfan Manichaean art has enjoyed little art historical attention. A Manichaean artistic corpus has never been systematically identified among the Turfan remains. Artifacts belonging to this corpus have not been catalogued or examined by art historians as a whole. This book is a comprehensive, descriptive catalogue of positively identified Manichaean artifacts housed in Berlin. The majority of them belong to the State Museums of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, housed in the Museum for Indian Art, Berlin. In addition numerous illuminated book fragments are found within a manuscript collection belonging to the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and is deposited in the Berlin State Library of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. From the two Turfan collections, 93 item-groups have been selected according to a specific set of criteria. The main entries of this catalogue are organized according to media and are presented as illuminated book fragments, remnants of leather book covers, painted and embroidered textiles and fragments of wall paintings. The largest group, paper fragments, includes 68 pieces and is sub-divided by book-format - codex, scroll and pustake (palm leaf format). (www.brepols.net)
One of the great rewards of a visit to the Museum fur Indische Kunst in
Dahlem, West Berlin, is the opportunity to see its extraordinary holdings in
the art of Central Asia. With only a handful of important collections of Central
Asian art in the world, Berlin's remains unrivaled, particularly in the magnificent assemblage of wall paintings. Acquired in the first quarter of this century
as the result of four pioneering expeditions to the remote and inhospitable region
of Chinese Turkestan, the Berlin collection has led the way to a greater understanding and appreciation of the ancient cultures of Central Asia. ("Along the Ancient Silk Routes: Central Asian Art from the West Berlin State Museums" - Foreword)
Manuscripts, more than any other finds, reveal that Buddhism did not have
the field entirely to itself in Chinese Central Asia. The Nestorian version of
Christianity and Manichaeism also gained a foothold. In and around the old
Uighurian capital, Khocho, and only here, priceless relics of the literature of the
Manichaeans have been found, including a number of celebrated book miniatures
(Nos. 114-118). That such finds were possible is due in the final analysis to
the fact that in the eighth century the Uighurian ruler Bugug Khan (759-780)
was converted to Manichaeism, a syncretistic world religion driven out of Western Asia by the Arabs. From this time onward the Uighurian
princes were zealous disciples of the Manichaean faith. Buddhism, however, continued to be the religion of the masses. ("Along the Ancient Silk Routes: Central Asian Art from the West Berlin State Museums" - Page 22)
The ancient Silk Routes between China and the West
The ancient Silk Routes between China and the West
The route started from the capital Ch'ang-an (present-day Sian) in the
province of Shensi and crossed the Gobi desert to the oasis of Tun-huang where,
as it approached the Taklamakan desert, it divided in two: the northern route
via Hami, Turfan, Karashahr, Kucha, Aksu, Tumshuk, and Kashgar to Samarkand, and the southern route via Miran, Cherchen, Keriya, Khotan, and Yarkand
to Herat and Kabul.
This is the largest fragment of a Manichaean miniature
in the Berlin collection and is painted on both sides.
On one side a church ceremony is depicted. In the
background we see the body of the principal character
(his head has been destroyed), a high-ranking Manichaean priest in full vestments. A red embroidered
stole is wound round his neck, shoulders, and arms,
and hangs down in front. He is sitting on a carpet
with a pattern of red lozenges on a white background,
and his back is supported by six white bolsters with
yellow dots, over which there falls a white sash. The
priest's left hand is raised, while in his right hand he
grasps that of a man in full armor who kneels to his
right. The kneeling man is a prince or king, perhaps
even the Uighurian king in person; behind him stand
three of his attendants. To the priest's left kneel two
of the Manichaean elect in white robes and a layman,
probably an auditor.
The eye is immediately attracted by the curious-
looking group in the foreground. Here we seem to
have portrayals of Hindu deities: the one with the
elephant's head is undoubtedly Ganesha, the boar's
head possibly represents Vishnu as Varaha, the third
could be Brahma, and the one on the extreme right
Shiva (see Banerjee 1970 and Klimkeit 1980). Facing
them on the left are two Iranian-Manichaean gods.
Below these can be seen part of a red disk, possibly
a nimbus. Below the Hindu deities the page has been
badly torn; fragments of flowers and ducks can still
be made out.
The miniature on the other side depicts a religious
celebration, the famous feast of Bema. Commemorating the martyrdom of Mani, it was celebrated every
year, probably in the spring, for St. Augustine (who
was himself at one time a Manichaean) tells us that
Mani died in March 276. A podium was erected for the liturgical rites, with five steps leading up to it; it
was draped with sumptuous tapestries. The celebration
fell into two parts: first, on the eve the faithful fasted
in preparation and kept a vigil during the night in
remembrance of Mani's death; then came the feast day
In the center of the miniature is a red dais standing
on a blue carpet with a white pattern; there is no trace
of the five steps. Direcdy in front of the dais stands
a three-legged golden bowl containing fruit: watermelons, grapes, and honeydew melons. Further forward, on a patterned white carpet, stands a red table
with a floral pattern on top, bearing loaves of wheat
bread in the shape of the sun (disk) and moon (crescent).
The priest kneeling in the background to the left
of the table looks very like the one on the other side
of the leaf. His stole, however, is of gold brocade. On his right kneel four rows of different ranks of the elect:
those in the second row from the top have their names
written on their white robes. The persons in the bottom row are rather unusual and may represent the
auditors in their festal attire: they are smaller than the
others in size and wear high, conical, black hats; part
of the leaf, now missing, showed them in white robes
with gold belts.
Two figures dressed in white kneel before the table
on the right; behind are several more rows of the elect,
some of them again with their names on their garments.
On one side of the leaf, the illumination is in two parts
separated by a narrow band of script in the middle.
On each side there are two rows, one above the other,
of Manichaean priests in white robes and tall white
hats. They all have smooth black hair that covers the
ears and reaches down to the shoulders; their beards,
however, vary in style. Each priest kneels at a low desk
draped with colored material; each has a sheet of white
paper in front of him; some are holding pens.
In the background two flowering trees grow up on
either side; in one of them sits a golden bird. Two
large bunches of red grapes hang down as far as the
band of script.
The entire miniature is painted on a blue ground.
On the other side of the leaf is a different layout. Here the writing is divided into two blocks one above
the other, red above and black below; a narrow strip
delineated by two red lines separates the columns.
At the left, framed by two splendid decorative
climbing plants, the title of the book — The Four
Princely Gods — is inscribed in faded, dull green ink. A
five-petaled flower is seen at the top of the left-hand
creeper, and above it the form of a seated man. The
border at the top was originally occupied by musicians,
of whom only the vina player has survived. To the left
of him a man kneels in an attitude of worship.
One side of this fragment shows, to the left of six lines
of red script, two figures of demonic aspect, kneeling
side by side on a red-and-yellow lotus pedestal. The
figure on the left is no doubt supposed to be wearing
a magnificent suit of armor, though this has been
falsely interpreted as a pleated garment made of soft
materials sewn together. As a weapon he has been
given a long-handled battle-ax. His head is encircled
by a red nimbus; his face is flesh-colored and detailed
by means of white shadows and thin red lines. The
large eyes seem to be bulging out under the flat brows,
and the nose is strikingly curved. Two fangs in the
big, open mouth identify this figure as a demon. His
mustache, beard, and sideburns are intricately curled.
A long white cloth covers his head, on top of which
rests a magnificent crown decorated with feathers,
perhaps meant as a bird. His left hand is raised in the
gesture of teaching.
The considerably more corpulent figure to the right
is naked except for a loincloth and a sash worn diagonally across his chest. His large head is surrounded
by a green nimbus; his hair is done in the ascetic style
with a parting down the middle, and he wears a gold
headband with the sun and crescent moon. There is
a menacing look in the wide-open eyes that gives the
face its demonic character. In his right hand the man holds a gold dish with a green fish in it; his left hand
is raised in the gesture of teaching.
Below this pair can be seen the halos of two other
persons, each holding a staff with a three-petaled
flower at the tip.
The other side of the leaf was also, it appears, illuminated with a series of miniatures running from
top to bottom. Three figures are still intact. On the
right, in a rather awkward posture, stands a man clad
only in a white loincloth. His arms hang down in
resignation; his entire body is the expression of uncertainty and fear. He has an unusual hairstyle with
a couple of black curls on the forehead and what appears to be a strip of hair shaven over the temples from
ear to ear. To the left of this timorous figure there is
a bound green sheaf, under which two horizontal
parallel footprints are to be seen.
The next figure differs from the first in that his
hands are tied behind his back and he wears a bull's
head attached to a white band round his neck.
Facing this captive on the left stands a man in a red
robe, wagging the very long index finger of his left
hand in an imperious and admonitory manner. Beside
him to the left can be seen traces of a fourth person.
The first fragment, left, shows the head of a
woman with black spit curls, wearing a white hat.
The man in the right fragment has a black mustache
and beard and long hair down the back of his neck;
his white hat has the form of a calyx. Below is a third
fragment which shows the remains of floral decoration
on both sides.
10th century Manichaean Electae in Gaochang (Khocho), China.
Three Manichaean Women
Wall painting, 27x22 cm. Khocho, 8th-9th century
Museum fur Indische Kuns (MIK III 6916)
This fragment of mural with the portraits of three
Manichaean women is painted on a blue ground, as
was the practice in manuscript illustration; only parts
of the heads, which are turned to the right, and upper
torsos have survived.
The three women resemble each other closely. Their
black hair is parted in the middle and falls over the
back and shoulders, with a tress curling down in front
of the ear (a style that can also be seen in the miniatures). The headgear consists of a roll of white cloth,
apparently tied in a bow behind the ears and then
hanging free down the back. Rising above it in front
in the fashion of a diadem is a disk within a frame,
which here again is perhaps meant to symbolize the
sun and moon. The only ornaments are
earrings. What can be seen of the costumes shows that
they were high-necked and were colored respectively
red and blue, blue and red, and green.
The fragmentary nature of the painting makes it
impossible to establish whether the subjects are lay-women or — despite the absence of halos — Manichaean deities.