What Is Zoroastrian Music?
Although, certain ancient Zoroastrian traditions show a negative approach towards Zoroastrian melodies such as the pre-Islamic pastorals and minstrels, Zoroastrian music has been in the religion since it was founded.
Historical texts prove that prior to the arrival of Islam in Persia, Zoroastrians knew choral and solo performance songs. The majority of these songs are no longer performed, although Zoroastrian religious songs still do remain. The wording of these songs are attained from either from the Avesta, or from the Gathas (sayings attributed to Zoroaster). Islamic influence can be seen in the melodies of the Naderi method of prayer recitation and pilgrim’s songs. The ancient tambourine music of Kermanshah (in Iran) is similar to some kinds of Zoroastrian music.
Due to the death of mobeds, many Zoroastrian customs have been forgotten and only a few remain.
Zoroastrian sacred music is described in Sacred Music Radio as follows:
For centuries, Zoroastrians shared the message of the one god Ahura Mazda, professing a fundamental tenet comprising good thoughts, good words, and good deeds; the pursuit of knowledge and the good mind; and equality through the recitation and memorizing of the songs of Zarathusthra. These Gathas are now the core texts of the Avesta scriptures, the sacred books of Zoroastrianism.
Based on the structure and rhythm of Zoroastrian texts, musical performance is considered a very important chore by Zoroastrians. The complexity of rhythm involved in the playing of Zoroastrian melodies, has meant that many Zoroastrian songs have become obsolete and forgotten. Also, further interruptions in the musical tradition have come about as a result of several Islamic incursions into territories where Zoroastrianism was the primary religion. One can still hear Zoroastrian sacred songs in holy buildings such as Darbe Mehr, or sun worship temples.
The wording of these songs is either derived from the gathas or part of the Avesta. Nowadays due to the natural passing of Zoroastrian priests (Mubids) many Zoroastrian traditions and customs are gradually being forgotten. Due to a paucity of new generations of Mubids who were familiar with all Zoroastrian texts, customs and rites, a lot of the ancient religious customs are forgotten and only excerpts of such melodies survive.
One can still witness the live performance of gathas by certain Mubids, as well as readings of the Avesta. But the lack of continuity that would have been a product of maintained clerical vocation means a lot of the canon has been forgotten or is performed in an intentionally unmusical or discordant style. The oral tradition of much music historically used in Zoroastrian ceremonies has been lost, such as the ‘Ferdog’ musical songs in graveyards.
In Zoroastrian fire temples, bells are frequently used to augment singing. The bells are tolled at certain and fixed intervals during ceremonies. According to some records, the Zoroastrian religious music has influenced some Christian ‘tartils’ (recitations) during the dawn of Christianity. The meter of Zoroastrian religious music is very natural, lyrical and harmonic. The cadence of the music can be heard as very natural, flowing, and to a large extent chiming with speech patterns.
Some Zoroastrian musical pieces are comparable to the tambourine music used in ancient Iran presently chanted in Kermanshah or certain Islamic/prayer melodies such as the Naderi method of recitation of the Quran and some of the pilgrimage songs and prayers. As we are aware the Gregorian songs originated from the East and these songs and melodies are greatly influenced by Hebrew melodies that are in use in Israel and Syria as well as regions where traditional Greek and Byzantine music is heard.