Although belief in gods was still alive in Iran when Zoroaster was born, its collapse was imminent. Erroneous beliefs were springing up. Zoroaster was destined - as a Forerunner for the Light of Truth - to warn the people of Iran against erroneous beliefs, and reaching beyond that, with his people to lead humanity forward to the belief in God, to prepare them for the time of the Final Judgment, and for the coming of the "Saoshyant", the Helper.
Without any initial knowledge of his task, Zoroaster recognises it only in the solitude of the mountains, and discovers the way to fulfill it. With close attention, the interested reader follows how the false forerunner opposes Zoroaster. Linked with the weaving and working in Creation, Zoroaster finds the revelations of the Truth.
Then begins his work: Out of depravity and delusion, human beings are to be guided to pure ways, so that gradually they may be led to the understanding of Luminous Truth. Zoroaster treads his path courageously. At the right time he finds the companions needed for his work; he receives help and instructions from higher spheres, and grows inwardly in his task. The people of Iran mature; they become able to absorb the Commandments which Zoroaster received from the Light, and to turn them to good account in active life.
In old age Zoroaster records the revelations he was allowed to received from the Wisdom of the Light, culminating in the proclamation of the Helper, the "Sayoshyant", for the time of Final Judgment. For this purpose he makes use of a picture-language, which he expands more and more , and etches on thin stone tablets.
The value of thee book "Zoroaster" lies not only in the beauty of its language and elucidation of historical events, but much more so in the experience of the magnitude of Divine Guidance and Wisdom, sending to each people the Forerunner whom they need in order to mature, and who tells them of the Truth.
Before it began its raging downward rush over the rocks, the wild Karun issued from innumerable bubbling springs high in the mountains. There, between menacing cliffs, lay a vast plain.
Thick bushes of thorny tragacanth surrounded it, so that paths had to be hewn through this prickly mass before human beings could set foot there.
Only at the time when the Sun and Moon gods held equal sway over the days of men was this wide expanse covered with green. But then it was indeed ineffably fair.
The grasses and mosses sparkled like gemstones, enjoying their brief two-month existence, drinking in the light. Fragrant, golden blossoms adorned the thornbushes, resembling the delicate sun-birds fluttering round them on gaily coloured wings.
Then people would flock to this wonderful region, setting up camps wherever they found a place among the wild rocks to pass the night. A prolonged stay on the plain was not permitted them by the Atravan, the priest.
It was sacred to the Sun god, Mithra, the luminous, benevolent god who dispensed blessing and loved human beings.
Therefore sublime, wonderful festivals were held in his honour. The rocks resounded to the jubilation of human voices singing hymns in his praise.
Sometimes from afar the roar of a lion answered them, but not a single heart beat fearfully on that account. As long as they were on Mithra’s plain, no beasts of prey could approach them.
With his assistants, the Mobeds, the Atravan was eagerly preparing the stone-piles on which the sacred fires were to be lit at nightfall. Only the two oldest Mobeds were permitted to help him with this work. They had to lead an unblemished life, for only completely pure hands must touch the sacred stones.
The remaining five Mobeds, the youngest of whom had scarcely outgrown boyhood, ran about killing snakes and mice, or simply driving them away.
The camping places for hundreds of worshippers were being prepared. But not until the song of the Atravan had signalled the beginning of the festival would anyone have dared to approach Mithra’s garden.
It was the Atravan too, who established precisely the cardinal points for the placement of the tall, carefully layered heaps of stone.
One stood where the golden rays of dawn dispelled the twilight of Maonha’s realm. It was the largest stack of all. The next stood directly opposite it; the remaining two to the right and left, all equidistant from each other. In the centre of the site three stone-piles had been erected in a triangle.
Reciting prayers to Mithra, the Atravan placed a deep iron bowl filled with small dry twigs on each of these offering places.
All the seven Mobeds then had to prepare bundles of thorny tragacanth branches with which it was their duty to ward off insects throughout the festival.
So that no one would be injured, these had to be held aloft until needed. That was sometimes a strain, but being permitted to be a Mobed was a high honour not only for the youth himself, but for his entire family, so that the task was gladly undertaken.
In the meantime the Atravan had stepped behind a protruding rock and attired himself for the festival.
He wore a white woollen garment devoid of any ornament. Encircling his brow was a coronet inlaid with dull, blue-green stones so closely set that nothing could be seen of the gold from which it was fashioned.
Stepping into the centre of the open square, he clapped his hands.
From behind another boulder there appeared four maidens dressed in white. Silver embroidery adorned the loosely flowing garments that enveloped their lovely forms.
Wound several times round their necks and entwined in the bluish black hair of their braids they wore chains of blue-green stones.
In their hands they held golden vessels containing precious oil with which they replenished the bowls while the Atravan prayed.
He invoked the grace of Atar, the god of the flames, upon the festival.
As a younger brother of Mithra, from whom he received all the fire he needed, it was to be hoped that he would not disturb a Mithra-festival. Thraetvana, the god of lightning, was the youngest of the fire brothers, the most restless and unrestrained of them all.
Now all was in readiness for the festival.
The youngest of the priestesses approached the Atravan and placed a splendidly-embroidered, white silken cloth over his face so that it covered his mouth and nose, lest the man’s breath touch the sacred fire.
The priestesses required no such protection, for their breath was considered to be pure. Solemnly, while the Atravan continued to pray, the four maidens stepped behind the rock and brought forth a bowl of fire, from which they placed firebrands in each of the seven bowls.
When the last offertory bowl was alight, the priest fell silent, while the eldest of the maidens took his place at the three central flames, raised her arms and hands and prayed to the gods for their blessing.
“Pure as the flames that consume all evil may our hearts be, you Sublime Ones!” she implored in the prescribed manner. “Send us the spirit of sacred fire that it may cleanse and purify us!”
Then she moved to the eastern bowl while her companions tended the three other flames, and the Atravan remained standing in the centre.
In a sonorous voice, he then began a hymn glorifying both Atar and Mithra.
Now those celebrating the festival gathered. From all sides they streamed forth, some clambering over rocky ridges, others slipping along the paths in the bushes, but nonetheless with innate seemliness and dignity.
On one side of the square the women, in their multi-coloured garments, and adorned with beautiful chains and headbands, presented a colourful picture.
Opposite them stood the men, splendid of figure, tall and slender of build, with suntanned faces. Their garments were black, richly decorated with silver; over this most wore a wolf’s skin held together by a silver chain. On their heads they wore tall fur hats. Their hair was cut at the nape of the neck.
Those standing joined at once in the song of the Atravan, so that a full chorus of male and female voices surged aloft.
When the sacred songs were over, the oldest priestess brought a silver goblet and a silver pitcher with the juice of the haoma-plant to the Atravan who, while uttering prayers, filled the goblet, drank from it and then passed it on.
Every adult man was permitted a sip of the drink. From time to time one of the people returned the emptied goblet to the priestess, who refilled it.
All this proceeded with great solemnity, in dignified silence.
When all the men had been given a sip of haoma, the priestess poured the remaining juice over the offertory bowl where she stood. Bluish smoke assumed peculiar forms as it rose upwards.
The few moments in which this occurred sufficed to show the maiden all manner of things which she now proclaimed in a gentle singing tone.
The crowd listened spellbound, for from the words of the sacred proclamation they drew something special for their own lives in the twelve months to come.
When she had finished, the people burst forth into shouts of jubilation.
These were meant to bespeak gratitude, gratitude to the Sun- and Light-god, Mithra, who again had granted promises for the immediate future.
A call from the Atravan brought the proclamations to an end. The four priestesses went to the central flames and began to sing a hymn in praise of Diyanitra, the pure, gracious woman.
Thereupon the Atravan said a long prayer, and in solemn procession the priestesses departed with the women.
The latter kindled a prepared bundle of dry twigs on the offertory flame nearest to them, as though wishing to feed the fire of the domestic hearth from the sacred flame.
But the men seated themselves in a circle. Fermented haoma juice was brought in stone jugs, from which they drank in long draughts at will. Over-indulgence in the intoxicating drink was unknown. In Mithra’s garden respect was taken for granted.
The Atravan sent for a bundle of animal-skins upon which he seated himself along with the Mobeds.
Night had fallen. Maonha sent down shimmering rays from the dark blue sky. There was no longer any need to be afraid of snakes, and other animals were kept away by the flames.
“Tell us a story, tell us a story!” the men shouted eagerly.
For a little while the Atravan let them plead, as was seemly. Then he looked up at the sky and began:
“You men of Iran, you know how this world was once created.
“The wise, Holy Spirit, Ahuramazda* lived all by Himself in the seven heavens. Solitude was all about Him; immeasurably vast were His realms, but He was alone, utterly alone.
“So He resolved to create something that could give Him joy.
“He conceived of beings, and as He conceived of them, they appeared! First He devised Mithra, the radiant sun, for Ahuramazda loved everything bright. Thus He loves Mithra most of all the gods He created.
“Beside Mithra He set Maonha, the god of the pale, still moon. He was to share the days with Mithra. His light is less powerful than Mithra’s, therefore he was to take over the day’s beginning which we human beings call night, so that the radiant one might follow him.
“But his light is too weak, sometimes it goes out altogether. See how his rays quiver!
“Ahuramazda saw this and gave him help: Beside him He placed Tish-trya with the luminous mantle. Countless to the human eye are the sparkling stars that adorn the mantle of the Star-god.
“Then Mithra implored: ‘Lord, You have given Maonha a brother, give me one too, so that I need not be alone!’
“Ahuramazda consented; but the brothers who were granted him at his request were not to help him. He was to keep watch over the wild ones: Atar, the fire-spirit, and Thraetvana, the god of lightning. But Mithra rejoiced that they were radiant like himself.
“‘Flame-brothers are we!’” he called out across all the world.
“And Ahuramazda created the air-god, Vayn, who comes rushing along in his wide mantle, in whose folds the winds are concealed, warm and cold, gentle and strong, a whole race of nimble fellows. They play with flames and teach them to dance. But Maonha’s rays are too pale for them.
“Then Ahuramazda thought of clear, bubbling water, how it dances along in ripples, how it babbles and laughs, sings and roars. And as He mused, a lovely woman was formed. Singing and laughing, with strings of pearls in her long hair, she stood before the wise God Who had conceived of her: Ardvisura Anahita, abounding in delights.
“Suddenly there was life in the seven heavens, joyous life, but Ahuramazda thought of His solitude and knew that He had loved it more than the scintillating life around Him now. And He conceived of a world in which the gods should rule. From above He would look down, summoning them one at a time whenever He longed for company.
“Behold, you men of Iran, thus arose the Earth, our Earth, on which we live. Rocks, waters and plants were created by the thoughts of Ahuramazda; and the gods played with the earth for a long, long time. A human being cannot begin to imagine the remoteness of that time.
“Ahuramazda was content, the gods were occupied and did not disturb Him. But no sooner had He entertained this thought, than they came with another request:
“‘Lord, place beings on the earth who will be subject to us.’
“‘What are they to look like?’ the wise God asked benevolently.
“‘They should resemble us,’ pleaded Ardvisura Anahita, the lovely one.
“‘Let them be quite different, plump and misshapen, but strong and courageous so that we may enjoy them,’ cried Atar.
“And Ahuramazda conceived of two beings, man according to Anahita’s request, the bull according to Atar’s wish. And the gods were happy and contented.
“Again aeons of time passed. They brought abundant change on earth; for ever again the gods directed events down here in different ways.
“Man had multiplied; many kinds of people had come into existence. It was likewise with the bull, from which came all the animals known to you. The gods had all wished to have specific kinds of animals under their dominion. That you know.
“The birds belong to Vayn, the fish, snakes and frogs to the lovely Anahita.”
The Atravan fell silent. The jugs had been emptied.
“Go on,” begged many of the listeners.
But the flames were dying down, it was time to go and rest.
The following day the mountains resounded with joyful shouts. The women went in search of fruit-bearing shrubs for refreshment; the men roamed about, peering into the eyries of large birds, destroying poisonous snakes, and speaking of what they had heard the day before.
When Mithra began to conceal his rays, a metallic sound rang out: one of the Mobeds was using a heavy stick to beat rhythmically on an iron disc, suspended from one of the taller bushes.
The sound was not beautiful, but it could be heard far and wide; it was the signal granting the men permission to assemble and hear the words of the priest.
Eagerly they came. Although they had heard most of it before, the Atravan always presented the story differently, always added something new.
It was the only time during the year when all were instructed. It was their food for thought.
Most of the men were solitary herdsmen whose lives gave them time and leisure for reflection. Their thoughts dwelt with the gods, of whom they were now again permitted to hear.
Under Maonha’s pale rays the one learned secrets about the co-operation of natural forces; from Mithra’s fire another drew manly courage and fearlessness.
When the square was filled, and no further stragglers were to be expected, the Atravan lit the three central bowls, no longer filled with the sweet-smelling offertory oil.
The flames served only for illumination, and were fed by the Mobeds with the dry branches they had brought.
The Atravan seated himself. Today he wore a dark brown robe of soft wool held together by a white cord. He was without the coronet.
“Yesterday I told you, you men of Iran, how wondrously the earth and all that lives upon it was created.
“But Ahuramazda, the wise God, perceived how men clung to the gods whom they saw, and who held sway over them, forgetting that He was above the gods, and that a single thought of His could bring about the destruction of all things, just as He had caused their creation.
“Then He conceived of beings who, at His behest, could be sent to men to influence, help or reward them.
“But these beings were to serve Him, to remain near Him, to stand between Him and the gods.
“And He conceived of Truth, a wonderful female figure clad in blue, with clear, blue eyes. Wherever He sends her all shadows are dispelled.
“As a sister He gave her Purity, in silvery white raiment, with a luminous veil covering her lovely countenance. Cool is she like the snow on the highest peaks of our mountains, unapproachable, and yet accessible to all who strive towards her.
“Having sent these two to human beings, Ahuramazda saw that those who followed them would consider themselves to be better than the others.
“‘That must not be, or else men will destroy the very thing that was meant to bring them salvation.’
“Considering this, Ahuramazda, the wise, benevolent God, brought forth in His solicitude a simple, plain female figure garbed in silvery grey. She attends Truth and Purity, extending gentle, kind hands to those who are about to be carried away with themselves.
“Humility is the name of this winsome child, who bears deep within the treasure bestowed by Ahuramazda, the God, Himself. He who recognises and is loved by Humility will receive bliss.
“These female attendants rendered faithful service to the Supreme God. They became dear and indispensable to Him.
“To demonstrate His pleasure He permitted them to conceive of whatever might arise from their activity on behalf of men as a blessing for them. He would then animate their thoughts, granting his faithful servants the resultant beings as their reward.
“Truth conceived of Wisdom which could always abide with those souls striving for Truth; it became her companion.” Purity smiled, and the loving God knew what His dearest child desired, and granted her the blossoming of human souls who let themselves be guided by her.
“You do know, you men, that those who strive for purity here on earth become a joy to us all. Think of your women! Think of the fairest earth-woman we know of, Princess Diyanitra.
“Then Humility asked: ‘Lord, let the desire to pass on what they receive arise in the souls. Let them move out of themselves and find their way to others.’
“Then the God conceived of Love, which forgets self.
“‘Six pure women surround me,’ He reflected, ‘they arose from my thoughts. From my Will, however, I will place a man beside them: the Hero He shall bear within him all virtues of true manhood.’”
With these words of the Atravan, the listening men began to stir. They straightened, their features shone. The hero’s virtues were known to them; from their earliest years they strove to become true heroes.
The Atravan continued:
“Aeons of time went by. Generation upon generation of men came into being and passed away. Faithfully the servants of Ahuramazda exerted themselves on behalf of the earth-inhabitants. With joy the God looked upon His creatures.
“Then something terrible came to pass. To grasp what happened, you must know that any wrong we humans perpetrate falls below the earth. There is a place where all this refuse is gathered.
“There, too, go all wicked words and evil thoughts. In the long, long period of time that had elapsed since the creation of the earth, inconceivably much had accumulated there.
“But in some of it there was yet life. And this life clustered together, and was strengthened and became Anramainyu, the spirit of evil. Born of the refuse from all that is earthly, he could produce only frightful things. He knew of Ahuramazda and wanted to equal Him.
“‘As You live in the seven heavens above the earth,’ he cried, ‘I shall live in the seven caves under the earth! You have conceived of gods, well then I shall do likewise!’”
The men shuddered. In some their hearts shrank, others clenched their fists and smote the air.
But the Atravan continued:
“However much Anramainyu attempted to create gods, he did not succeed; for he himself was not God, but only an evil spirit. There is a great difference. Thus he could actually produce only spirits.
“He looked up to the sky. With what should he rival Mithra, Maonha and Tishtrya? His desire grew excessive. And Azhi, the great sinister cloud-serpent arose. You have all often beheld it when it rolls past ominously.”
The men nodded.
“Thereafter his evil volition created Apaosha, the drought-demon, which ever again causes the gods anxiety and trouble. Then Anramainyu laughs and deems himself the highest of all gods.
“But when he compared his creatures to the gods, he saw that they were dull and ugly. None could compare with the radiant figures. Tremendous rage seized Anramainyu and brought forth Aeshma – Anger. In strength he is like unto none, in fervour he might well belong to the flame-brothers, but he has one great defect – he is blind.”
The men laughed. They were pleased that Anger must be inferior to the gods. That he could not see whom he struck was fitting, often causing harm to himself and those he led.
“Gradually,” the Atravan went on, “Anramainyu discovered that Ahuramazda had brought forth yet other special servants, whose activity was beneficial.
“So he too must create beings which in turn could destroy what the others built up. Carefully he investigated, insidiously he watched. Then he knew.
“In place of Truth he created Falsehood which, at first glance, appeared scintillatingly beautiful. A closer look, however, revealed that everything about her was false. But so affable was this spirit, so much more amiable than the retiring Truth that men flocked to her, letting themselves be deceived. And so they came to know falsehood.
“Lovely Purity appeared too unassailable to him, he did not know how he could oppose her. Then he created three beings: the Passions. They pulled and tugged at man until he had defiled himself. Then he soon went down altogether. The blustering, shrieking Passions were zealous servants of the evil spirit.
“Humility he confronted with Arrogance – an easy task; this danger man had virtually created for himself. What the other servants of Anramainyu failed to accomplish, Arrogance, along with Egotism – for these servants too required companions – easily brought about.
“Falsehood selected Cunning, but the Passions created Disease.
“With all these servants Anramainyu now emerged to wrest the kingdom from Ahuramazda. It was his goal to bring humanity under his dominion. The more that had to be thrown on to the rubbish-heap, the stronger was the evil spirit’s following.
“You cannot imagine how terrible the battles were, nor how many fell victim to them.”
As the Atravan paused, one of the listeners asked:
“Why did Ahuramazda, the highest of all the gods, not put an end to the adversary? Surely it would have been easy for Him.”
“Certainly,” the priest affirmed, “He could have done so had He wanted to. But He wanted His creatures to decide for themselves for good or evil. Let him who desired nothing else simply fall prey to Anramainyu and thus to destruction. That was better than to have a realm of helpless human beings.
“You too take special delight in those animals of your flocks that seek their own pastures. The mass of cattle that follow one another blindly wearies you. Thus the wise God left men to their free will, permitting the gods and His servants to help only those of good volition.
“In the process, however, the evil one gained victory upon victory. The flowering garden which the earth once presented became a mass of stone, a wasteland such as is now familiar to you. You can no longer conceive of a land in beauty, though you sense it vaguely during the two months when Mithra causes our fields to blossom.”
“But surely things cannot continue in this manner for ever,” sighed one of the younger men. “Otherwise there will be nothing left of our earth in the end to delight the gods and Ahuramazda.”
“No, things will not continue like this for ever,” the Atravan confirmed. “We have a prophecy that the earth will not endure eternally. Its time will be immeasurably long, and has been divided by Ahuramazda into three parts of equal length. The first lasted from the creation of the earth to the time when the God conceived of primeval man and the primeval bull. “The second part will end when the Forerunner, the Zoroaster, is born. Then the third epoch will begin in which the Saoshyant, the Helper, proclaimed by the Zoroaster, will be given to mankind.
“Who the Saoshyant will be, and how He will liberate men from the evil one we do not yet know. But He will come and we will be happy.”
With a deep sigh, the speaker concluded his lengthy account, but he did not rise as usual. It was noticeable that he still had something, perhaps the most important thing, to say.
Meanwhile one of the men asked:
“Will it be a long time before the Forerunner comes?”
The Priest rose to his feet. Solemnly he stood before them.
“Men of Iran,” he said, emphasising each word, “all these things I have told you in such detail, in order to proclaim to you something new.
“Our observation of the stars has revealed that the Zoroaster has been born.” He could not continue speaking, thunderous jubilation broke forth. For a long time he tried vainly to restrain them; finally he was able to resume.
“With this the second earth-period has come to a close. The earth will be helped so that it may again become that for which Ahuramazda created it long ago. Let us give thanks to Him!”
Deeply moved, he prayed spontaneously from the heart. Then he sent the men away. Night had fallen.
Now came the third day of the festival. Once again the women participated. They came, full of excitement, for the men had passed on to them the great news of the Forerunner’s birth.
This last festival-day began when Mithra was at his zenith. No fires had been lit, but there was a lovely scent in the air from the vessels which had been filled with fragrant oil.
The Atravan had taken his seat among the men; the Mobeds discharged their duty of driving away annoying and harmful animals.
The seated listeners made a pleasing picture, men and women strictly separated.
One of the priestesses went up to the central stones and chanted the tale of the cloud-serpent, Azhi, which had resolved to darken the entire sky. Ominously it winds its way upwards, covering section upon section of the radiant blue sky, spreading out more and ever more, swallowing up stars from Tishtrya’s mantle and snapping at Maonha, who is too delicate to defend himself.
Then Thraetvana leaps forth threatening the monster with his ringing sword! The strike finds its mark; it severs the head from its loathsome body which hurtles noisily downwards. Long afterwards, the rumbling continues in the mountains.
“Praise be to thee, Thraetvana!”
The narrator stepped back; another priestess took her place.
Likewise half-chanting, but with different tones and a different rhythm she recounted how Anramainyu had given the cloud-serpent another, more vicious head. This time however it had tried to be more careful, by leaving the stars and the moon in peace, but placing its huge heavy form before all the lights of heaven, so that even Mithra’s rays could no longer penetrate to men.
Then another of the flame-sons had leaped forth in great ire: Atar, the fire-spirit, drew his sword! He struck not the head, but the large loathsome body on all sides, so that the blood poured down toward earth. Azhi had grown faint, ever fainter, and finally she herself had followed the streams of her blood.
“Praise be to thee also, Atar!”
The third priestess came forward. Her words were accompanied by soft notes from the small stringed instrument she carried.
She told of Apaosha, the drought-demon, who long ago had seized power at the behest of the evil one. Not a drop of rain had fallen for weeks. Man and beast had been parched with thirst.
All had prayed to Ahuramazda for water. But the wise God knew that only because of men’s wickedness had Apaosha been able to gain control. It lay with them to bring about change.
Finally they realised this and began to improve. Then the Supreme God permitted His gods to intervene. They begged Ardvisura Anahita for water, and she promised to give as much as would ever be wanted, if only they would convey it to the skies. How was this to be done without Apaosha’s drinking it all up? Finally the decision was reached.
Tishtrya sent out fiery stars with long rays designed to pierce the demon in many places at once. Howling, he retreated to the seven caves.
Now all the stars had to draw up water; Maonha, too, assisted them. Soon there was enough water above for the gods to let it rain.
In single, heavy drops the rain began to fall, then it increased until a beneficent flood poured over the thirsting earth.
“Thanks be to thee, kindly stars!”
The high priestess came last. She related how the evil one had created a new servant: Deceit. Everywhere it placed itself before Truth, obstructing its work with men. They should be cautious lest they fall prey to it.
A prayer spoken by the priestess ended the festival. The people set out on the homeward journey at once, since it was more pleasant to travel under Maonha’s rays than under Mithra’s burning heat.
The plain at the source of the Karun lay still and deserted after the Mobeds had carried off the heaps of stone, and used them to raise walls before the entrances.
Deep in thought, the Atravan was the last to leave the place.
Now he had been permitted to proclaim to the people that the Forerunner had been born. Would they understand? Would they grasp the significance? The Forerunner was to be thirty-one years old before entering upon his task. They would still have to wait that long. He would no longer experience it.
The Atravan travelled about teaching, as was his task, visiting the herdsmen with their flocks, the nobles in their rock-hewn palaces. Meanwhile on the edge of the salt-desert, an infant son had been born to a young couple at the exact time proclaimed by the stars.
The old women who assisted the mother were most surprised that the little one was born with a smile on his face instead of uttering the expected cry.
“Will you be something special, child?” they asked. “Do you expect something beautiful from life?”
The child’s face remained sunny as if reflecting a different kind of light. And yet life began in such a difficult way for the little Saadi: his mother died after three days.
The delicate, beautiful Zharat could no longer enjoy her little child. Gradually she faded away, leaving the boy to the care of the old women.
Dshami, the father, who had loved his wife ardently, did not understand why she had gone, leaving him with the child, whose care was quite beyond him.
Little horses he reared with great skill and understanding. This was his vocation, and he devoted himself to it with all his powers. But the little human being was in his way. If only Zharat had taken him with her!
When the little one cried at night, his father got up and went to his horses in the corral. He would rather sleep with them than be with the sobbing child. Yet Saadi never cried aloud as other children do.
The old women took turns in looking after him; but they were already becoming disgruntled. Other duties awaited them, they had their own households to think of.
Let Dshami get himself another wife, there were women enough. They made all sorts of suggestions, but he would not hear of it. At last he became so annoyed that he threatened to take the child with him into the mountains if they continued to harass him. So they stopped trying to persuade him, but they also stopped coming.
Dshami had been all alone with Saadi for only a few days when he realised that things could not go on this way. He let the child be suckled by a mare so that it would not go hungry, but surely that was not enough to sustain the young life.
Crestfallen, Dshami stood one morning at the little one’s bedside. He could not neglect his horses for the sake of the child. Should he wrap Saadi up and take him along? He looked at the little boy who gazed into the world, unconcerned and happy. Then across the threshold of the simple dwelling came a beautiful, stately woman, clad in a long garment of dark blue. Without a word of greeting, she stepped to the man’s side, at the same time gazing into the eyes of the little one.
“You no longer have a mother, poor child,” she said tenderly. “Dshami, give me the boy, I will bring him up.”
The man regarded the speaker with alarm. She was noble in appearance and fine-featured. Her braids were snow-white and unadorned. She appealed to him, but to be separated from the boy?
True he had toyed earlier with the idea of giving the child away, because it was a burden to him, but now that someone had come to take the little one from him, it seemed impossible for him to part from his son.
At first, both of them remained silent for a long time. It was quite understandable to the woman that the man was unable to decide at once. Then suddenly he said quite firmly:
“If you have come to me out of neighbourly love, you will understand that it will do the child no good to remove him from his accustomed surroundings. If you have the child’s well-being at heart, then stay with him. I will honour you and not let anything happen to you. You will be the mistress of my home; I will be your servant.”
“I will stay,” the woman replied simply, removing the large silk shawl that enveloped her figure and taking the child into her arms with maternal solicitude.
With a cry of joy the little one acknowledged that he perceived her love.
“He is very intelligent for a child barely two weeks old,” said the woman admiringly, busying herself with him as though she had always been there.
Dshami stood by embarrassed. He would so much have liked to go out with his horses in search of better pastures, but did not know whether he should.
The woman glanced back over her shoulder.
“You can set your mind at rest, Dshami, and go about your work. I will not take the little one from you. You will find him well cared for whenever you return. Just tell your neighbours that I am here with your consent; leave everything else to me.”
“What shall I call you when I speak of you?” enquired the man.
“Madana is my name,” was the answer.
“And where do you come from, will you not tell me? Did you know that Saadi had lost his mother? Who told you?”
Madana gave the enquirer a friendly smile.
“The time will come when I may answer your questions. Trust me, Dshami.”
Her look and her words won the man’s heart. Expressing his thanks, he left.
The child was indeed well cared for. He wanted for nothing. When the most urgent housework, quickly accomplished at her hands, was done, the woman seated herself beside the little one’s bed, singing.
Soft, sweet melodies she sang, bringing a smile to the child’s face. At the same time, she made exquisite embroideries, such as the women, who sometimes called in, had never seen before.
At first the neighbours had treated her with suspicion, but her clear eyes, her words, which were full of love, overcame all prejudices. When the women fully realised that Madana knew all sorts of things which were of help to them, they praised and commended her behind her back, and came to her in their every need.
For every hurt she had a remedy, balm for their wounds, comfort for their troubles.
“Madana is like a priestess,” said the women.
Thus it came about that they asked the stranger to tell them of gods and eternal things. She did this in the evenings when they had usually sat together laughing and chatting.
Wonderful things she related, such as they had never been told before. Without shyness they could ask about anything, and were given a friendly answer. Saadi lay there with big, knowing eyes.
“One would think he understands what you are saying, Madana,” the women often commented. Invariably the reply came:
“He knows and understands.”
Then the neighbours would laugh. Yet they had to admit that from birth onwards Saadi had been a special child. He grew and thrived under the excellent care, but he remained finely proportioned, as though he were not the child of a horse-breeder, but rather of noble parentage. –
One day, in Dshami’s garden a flower blossomed, whose like had never been seen here. It was deep red, with a strong, sweet fragrance. Its slender stem came from a stalk completely covered with shiny green leaves.
Madana had planted the little stalk, the women knew that. They enquired eagerly about the flower and asked for seeds of the rare plant.
That evening Madana told them a new story:
“In the Celestial Gardens above there is the most exquisite garden which is filled with these flowers. Roses they are called, and they are the symbol of Divine Love.
“Ahuramazda has them tended with special care; He loves the dark red blossoms that tell of so much beauty. He loves the fragrance that wafts through all the heavens. But only where love and purity unite can this rare blossom flourish.
“Purity, fairest of all the goddesses, besought Ahuramazda to send down some of these blossoms to the wretched earth. They are meant to bring fragrance and beauty into the life of women.
“Wherever woman is imbued with purity, wherever love for others is the mainspring of her deeds, the Rose, the dark red Queen of all flowers, is able to thrive.
“There are regions in this vast realm that resemble a rose-garden. There, milder breezes blow than here, there the women are less austere…”
One of the women listeners interrupted:
“Is the rose the blossom of the fabled Princess Diyanitra?”
“Yes, it was Diyanitra’s flower,” Madana answered. “But why do you call the tidings of Diyanitra a fable? The great, noble Princess actually lived.”
But the women did not want to hear about the Princess now, they wanted to have roses. Were they really pure enough for the heavenly blossom to flourish among them also?
Madana promised that when the time came she would plant a small rose in every garden; the neighbours were delighted.
Just where could Madana get the roses? They would have liked to know, but none dared to ask. There was a deep reserve about the otherwise so kind Madana.
From time to time Dshami came to see the boy. He found him developing splendidly, and left well satisfied. Saadi learned to walk and to speak just like any other child.
He liked to play with the neighbourhood children, but here he showed himself to be very strong-willed. He never intended any harm; but whatever he wanted he would carry out. Quarrels he avoided.
He achieved his purpose by emphatic demands or requests, whichever was appropriate. In all the games he devised, he was the leader. Mostly they were about the gods, and depicted battles with the forces of evil.
The children lived completely in Madana’s stories. It was natural for them to ask the gods for help in every small or great misfortune.