[Page 55] Philological Study of Avesta Shook the Faith of the Parsis
We have said that the religion remained unsullied till the study of the Avesta was confined to the devout Zoroastrian priesthood. But then started the misfortune. After the introduction of the study of philology in Europe, a Christian missionary by the name of Dr. Wilson had in 1833 A.D. severely attacked the holy Vandidad in Bombay in his booklet called "A Lecture On The Vandidad Sada". A fitting refutation of that attack has been given in his book of the “Translation of Vandidad” (p. 250 seq.) by the learned Ervad Kanga. From that book we sorrowfully learn that there was a faithless educated Parsi himself to help Dr. Wilson in his unworthy work. In his book that missionary has made false allegations and charges with the intention of undermining the religious faith of the Parsis.
In this way when, on the one hand, there were frequent attacks from the Christian missionary, there came to be published a weekly, named "Rast Goftar Tatha Satya Prakash" under the lacerating editorial pen of the late Mr. Kaikhushru Kabraji. This weekly began to spread in the community the poisonous doctrines of the so-called reformation. It was fully of vitriolic attacks on the tenets and observances of the holy Faith.
While in that weekly, attacks false and full of ignorance were being made, the refutations thereof are also to be found in the work on the translation of Vandidad (p. 285 seq.) by Ervad Kanga mentioned above. Such was the pitiful predicament in which the study of the Zoroastrian religion was placed till the beginning of the present century. On the one hand letters used to appear in the public press from correspondents, outwardly seeking light on various rites and ceremonies, but really with a view to shake the faith of the orthodox. The answers to these questions were given with the aid of philology or Theosophy coupled with the power of speculation. On the other hand, some followers of the "Rahnoomai Mazdiyasnan Society" who having studied the Avesta philologically fancied themselves the beall [Page 56] and end-all of religious knowledge, branded as "humbug" or "superstitious" any religious matter that did not fall within the narrow compass of their understanding. In this way under the frenzy of the so-called reformation they tried to sweep out much that was good and sacred by their poisonous propaganda during a period of rank materialism.
With the inception of the philological translations of Avesta came the belief that whatever was said in the Gathas was alone true. Then some of the scholars went stilI further that only certain portions of the Gathas were Zarathushtra's own and the other Avesta were inserted by the priests. In this way they styled all sacred literature like Yashts etc. except the Gathas as "Later Avesta", and degraded their high status by treating them as unauthentic.
From the rushing current of rank materialism of the last century there arose a revolutionary class of Parsi Avesta- Pahlavi Scholars possessing high University degrees, which (class) emulated the erroneous ideas of the Western scholars and propagated all sorts of skepticism against all Avestaic prayers except the Gathas. Thus they said the Sudreh and Kusti (the sacred shirt and thread-girdle) were not mentioned in the Gathas; Haoma is not mentioned by name in the Gathas; the successors of Zarathushtra departed from Gathic language, and began writing in language inferior to that of the Gathas; the whole of Vandidad savours of the Magis; the Parsis have been accustomed to believe all Avesta to be the Prophet's own; the whole of the later Avesta are full of those Yazadic Intelligences which were worshipped by Iranians prior to Zarathushtra and which were discarded by him etc. With the flow of all such types of deleterious ideas propounded through public speeches and writings, the faith of a certain section of the community was shaken. The most lamentable result of all this was that many an Athravan and many a layman lost faith in the Nyaesh and Yasht prayers which their sires and grandsires chanted with great devotion.
So over-delighted were the Parsi philological scholars with the translations of Avesta effected by their Western Masters that they (Parsi scholars) accepted as heavenly truths all the offensive, misconceived and unwarranted criticisms against their own holy Faith, and drank and drink deep in the cups of faith-shattering poison as nectar.
With the introduction of philological study, the knowledge of Avesta and Pahlavi literatures which was mostly confined to the devout Dastoors (high priests) in olden days and hence unsullied, was acquired by a good number of Parsis in Bombay, and the translations of the entire Avesta scriptures were placed before [Page 57] the community. But the dark side of the picture was due to the essentially limited scope of philology. Consequently, as stated above, many adverse criticisms arising out of ignorance and misconceptions were leveled against Avestan scriptures and holy religious rites and ceremonies. The result of all this strange paradox was that instead of profiting by the philological study, the community suffered irreparable harm in the shape of disintegration of faith and disregard of religious observances.
When such was the sorry state of affairs, a new light of the esoteric knowledge of the Zoroastrian religion began to shed its lustre in India for the first time in the beginning of the present century.