In the beginning of the Vendidad, or first of the Parsi collection of sacred books, known as the Zendavesta, we are told that the supreme deity Ahura-Mazda created a country full of delights, but difficult of access, and the name of this country was Aryana Vaëjo. So charming was this primitive country that, had it not been made difficult of approach, the whole animate creation would have flocked thither and quite overwhelmed it. But this state of things did not long continue; for Ahriman, or Anramainyus, the spirit of darkness, was the implacable adversary of Ormuzd, or Ahura-Mazda, the spirit of light, and took pleasure in spoiling all his creations. So this death-dealing enemy, with the aid of his daëvas, or demons, created a great serpent and brought ten months of winter cold upon the land, so that Aryana Vaëjo was no longer a comfortable dwelling-place. The good spirit then created a new home for his people, called Sugdha; but the adversary spoiled this by creating a kind of wasp which devastated the fields and brought death to the cattle. Then Ahura-Mazda made a third habitat, which was called the high and holy Mum; but the dark demon now whispered evil reports and stirred up strife, until here, too, life became unendurable, and the beautiful land of Bakhdhi, or Baktria, was created as a fourth home for the children of light. So the warfare went on, until no less than sixteen countries are enumerated as successively created and made uncomfortable. In the last region of all the complaint is again of cold weather and hoar-frost; but perhaps in comparison with all the other plagues this now seemed endurable. At all events, the account here ends, with the admission that there are also other regions and places besides those described; as much as to say that we are not here concerned, however, with the history of all mankind, but only with the worshipers of Ahura-Mazda.
The book from which this legend is cited is one of the oldest in the literature of the world. It belongs to a more primitive age than the Homeric poems, and may probably be regarded as contemporary with the oldest hymns of the Veda. Written not in the court language of ancient Persia, but in the closely-related archaic dialect of Baktria, — very much as the ecclesiastical services of Russia to-day are written in Old Bulgarian, — the Zendavesta was, in the time of Darius Hystaspes, the sacred book of the most prominent nation in the world. For eleven hundred years afterward the worship of Ahura-Mazda retained its ascendency in the countries between the Euphrates and the Indus, until in the seventh century after Christ this whole region was overrun by Mohammedans, and converted to their faith. For a long time, no doubt, the Magian religion continued to survive alongside of Islam, as we see from the frequent allusions to “fire-worshipers” in the Arabian Nights, where they are indeed most abominably slandered. But after a while the good Ahura-Mazda, yielding to this last and gravest mischief wrought by the adversary, devised yet another abode for the remnant of his people, and led them to Bombay and its neighborhood, where, under the name of “Parsis,” or “Persians,” they still keep up their old ceremonies and their old faith.