By Jayaram V
Zoroastrian religion does not discriminate between men and women.
Leaving aside the differences with regard to religious observances
and role responsibilities, both the sexes are treated equally in
the religious texts. Unlike in the Vedic religion there is no preferential
treatment for male children. There is no such argument that male
children are necessary for the deliverance of parents into the ancestral
world. The initiation ceremony, Naujot is performed for both male
and female children. Of the six Immortal Beings created by God,
three are feminine and three are masculine. According to the Bundhahisn, "the
sky, metal, wind, and fire are male, and are never otherwise; the
water, earth, plants, and fish are female, and are never otherwise;
the remaining creation consists of male and female." Both men
and women have equal importance in protecting the sanctity and divinity
of the world. Children are advised to honor both mother and father
Creation of Man and Woman
According to the Zoroastrian theories of creation, both men and
women originated from the seed of Gayomard, the primeval man. When
he was attacked by the evil forces, before passing away, he gave
forth seed. The seed developed into Matro (Mashye) and Matroyao
(Mashyane). They grew up from the earth like a plant united below
the waist, whereby it was difficult to know who was male who was
female. Ahura Mazda separated them from each other and changed them
from plant into the shape of man. To them He said, "You are
man, you are the ancestry of the world, and you are created perfect
in devotion by me; perform devotedly the duty of the law, think
good thoughts, speak good words, do good deeds, and worship no demons!"
After receiving instructions from God they decided to follow His
commandments. However soon they were attacked by the evil forces
and their minds were corrupted. The Bundhahishn narrates the subsequent
events in the following manner.
17. Owing to the gracelessness which they
practiced, the demons became more oppressive, and they themselves
carried on unnatural malice between themselves; they advanced
one against the other, and smote and tore their hair and cheeks.
18. Then the demons shouted out of the darkness
thus: 'You are man; worship the demon! so that your demon of
malice may repose.'
19. Mashye went forth and milked a cow's milk,
and poured it out towards the northern quarter; through that
the demons became more powerful, and owing to them they both
became so dry-backed that in fifty winters they had no desire
for intercourse, and though they had had intercourse they would
have had no children.
20. And on the completion of fifty years the
source of desire arose, first in Mashye and then in Mashyane,
for Mashye said to Mashyane thus: 'When I see thy shame my desires
arise.' Then Mashyane spoke thus: 'Brother Mashye! when I see
thy great desire I am also agitated.'
21. Afterwards, it became their mutual wish
that the satisfaction of their desires should be accomplished,
as they reflected thus: 'Our duty even for those fifty years
22. From them was born in nine months a pair,
male and female; and owing to tenderness for offspring the mother
devoured one, and the father one. 23. And, afterwards, Ohrmazd
took tenderness for offspring away from them, so that one may
nourish a child, and the child may remain.
Code of conduct for women
Zoroastrian scriptures suggest that women are prone to the temptations
of evil and therefore should be kept under regular watch. Women
are expected to follow the example of Spenta Aramaiti and cultivate
the qualities of love, devotion, sincerity and perfection. According
to Arda Viraf, women who are desirous of going to heaven should
honor water, fire, earth, trees, cattle and sheep and all the good
creations of God. They should perform the religious ceremonies sincerely
and offer prayers and service to God and the spiritual beings. They
should show reverence and obedience to their husbands and lords
and should practice the faith of Mazdayasnians without doubt. They
should practice good thoughts, good words and good actions and abstain
from sin. Adultery and unnatural intercourse are regarded as sins
of heinous kind.
The Denkard classifies women on the basis of their conduct into
four classes: "good as well as bad; not bad, and good; not
good, and bad; and neither good nor bad. From among these any woman
who is not bad and is good should be selected to manage household
affairs and to give happiness and comfort to the master of the house.
And to keep oneself free from unhappiness she who is good and bad
ought not to be obtained; and (men) should positively keep aloof
from choosing, from among the two descriptions of women mentioned
above, her who is not good and is bad, over her who is neither good
The Meno-i-Khard describes the best of women as "The woman
who is young, who is properly disposed, who is faithful, who is
respected, who is good-natured, who enlivens the house, whose modesty
and awe are virtuous, a friend of her own father and elders, husband
and guardian, handsome and replete with animation is chief over
the women who are her own associates."
On Treating One's Wife
In Book5, Chapter 18 of the same text, we come across the following
instruction on how to treat married women by their husbands.
- The wife of one's choice who is tied by a marriage ceremony
should always be treated with affection and without niggardliness.
- One should strive to increase progeny by going to her
- She should be made a sharer in the good gained from righteous
- A maiden wife should be given good dowry. And a wife who
was previously widow should be given lesser dowry.
- One should maintain physical intimacy and have sexual intercourse
with her several times. No limit is prescribed, but thrice a
month is considered reasonable.
- As far as possible both men and women should avoid second
spouse. Such an act is not considered meritorius.
Advise during Menstruation
Menstruation and childbirth are viewed as a major sources of
pollution in Zoroasrianism. Women are advised to maintain seclusion
and avoid contact with everything. According to the Vendidad, Ahura
Mazda himself gave the following instruction to women as to the
question of what they should do at the time of menstruation. He
answered that menstruating women "shall clear the way of the
wood there, both plants and trees; they shall strew dry dust on
the ground; and they shall isolate a half, or a third, or a fourth,
or a fifth part of the house, lest her look should fall upon the
As to the question of how much distance they should maintain
with things and people, he replied that they should stay "'Fifteen
paces from the fire, fifteen paces from the water, fifteen paces
from the consecrated bundles of Baresma and three paces from the
faithful. The women who bring food to such women should maintain
a distance of three paces. The food and drink should be brought
to them in vessels of brass or lead or any metal. If a child touches
them during this period, his body and hands should be washed.
He also prescribed in the same text the number of day they should
remain in seclusion depending upon how long the condition prevailed.
Severe penalties have been prescribed in the text for men who touch
women during this period. Having intercourse with menstruating women
used to attract severe penalties in the ancient world. In the Arda
Viraf there is a description of a man suffering from an agonizing
punishment in hell for such a sin. The Vendidad ascribes the following
instruction to Ahura Mazda Himself, "Whosoever shall lie in
sexual intercourse with a woman who has the whites or sees blood
does no better deed than as if he should burn the corpse of his
own son, born of his own body and dead of naeza, and drop its fat
into the fire."
Laws of Inheritance
The following laws of inheritance are mentioned in Dadestan-i
1. As to the sixty-first question and reply, that which you
ask is thus: How stand the shares in the inheritance (mirato) of
property among those of the good religion, and how is it necessary
for them to stand therein?
2. The reply is this, that in the possession of wealth the
wealth reaches higher or lower, just like water when it goes in
a stream on a declivity, but when the passage shall be closed at
the bottom it goes back on the running water (puy-avo), and then
it does not go to its after-course.
3. When there is nothing otherwise in the will and private,
property goes to a wife or daughter who is privileged; if one gives
her anything by will then she does not obtain the share (dash) pertaining
4. Whenever a share for a son is not provided by it, every
one has so much and the wife who may be a privileged one has twice
as much; and the share of that one of the sons, or even the wife
of a son, who is blind in both eyes, or crippled in both feet, or
maimed in both his hands, is twice as much as that of one who is
5. And it is needful that he who was in the father's guardianship
shall remain in guardianship, as when a father or mother is decrepit
and causing awe (chagarin), or of a nurture different from that
of the guardian -- or a child of his brother or sister, or a father,
or one without nurture apart from him, is without a guardian --
the ready guardianship of a capable man, and the shelter and nourishment
that have become inadequate are as indispensably forthcoming from
the possessors of wealth, of those who have taken the property,
as that taking was indispensable.
6. If there be no son of that man, but there be a daughter
or wife of his, and if some of the affairs of the man are such as
render a woman not suitable for the guardianship, it is necessary
to appoint a family guardian; if there be, moreover, no wife or
daughter of his it is necessary to appoint an adopted son.
Zoroastrian scriptures prohibit inter religious marriages (Denkard
Bk.3). Followers are urged to marry within the religion to ensure
the practice of righteousness without any complications. The texts
suggest to select women who are wise and modest and firmly anchored
in the religion. As for the son-in-laws they should be good natured,
honest and experienced, even though they may be poor (Counsels of
Suggested Further Reading