Mani The Painter Prophet
Manichaeism is one of the two specific movements of the Sassanid period. Mani emerged in the early third century AD. The rise of Manichaeism in Iran coincided with the efforts of the Sassanid kings to create religious unity in the country to unite Iran and return to the greatness of the Achaemenid era.
They wanted the same interpretation of the teachings of the Avesta, the Zoroastrian religion of the Prophet, as justifying their rule and legitimizing their every move and order.
In those crucial times, Manichaeism came into the display. Some Sassanid kings and elders welcomed Mani. Mani combined elements of the Christian, Zoroastrian, and Buddhist religions. In any land this religion infiltrated, it kept the critical substances and foundations of the public religions of that land. For this reason, Mani was closer to Zoroastrianism in Iran, to Buddhism in Indochina, and in the west to Christianity.
At the beginning of the third century AD, political disputes and disparate cultures and rival religions in the Mesopotamian region had made this land the center of the clash of the two empires of Iran and Rome. The collision of two cultures of Greece and Iran and the two religions of Christianity and Zoroastrianism. Christianity, which had just become the official religion of the Romans, and Zoroastrianism, which played a similar role in Iran.
Mani was born in Babylon in 216 AD (according to 215 AD) to Parthian parents of purely Iranian descent. His father’s name was Patig, who lived in Hamadan, and since he was always searching for the truth, he left for Babylon, the land of religious thoughts and beliefs.
When Mani was a six-year-old child, his father joined the Gnostics (a mystical sect of Christianity). Living in Babylon had a profound effect on Mani. The Gnostics gained the highest share in Manichaean beliefs. Therefore, in many cases, Manichaeism can be considered a mystical sect.
According to Manichaeism, During Mani’s youth, a spiritual revolution arose in him. A voice ordered him to let go of the path he knew was corrupt and found his religion which was all based upon revelation. From then on, Mani called himself the messenger of enlightenment.
Manichaeism spread rapidly in the East and the West because its religious and preaching books were in vernacular and understood by all. Soon it became a great rival to the followers of Christ, Buddha, and Zoroaster. Around 300 AD, nearly a quarter of a century after Kartir (the Magi) killed Mani, Manichaeism spread from the Levant, Egypt, and North Africa to Spain and France.
Mani had grown up among believers in Christian mysticism and the Gnostic sect. As a result of these thoughts and, of course, getting acquainted with the Zoroastrian teachings that believed in a certain duality, he established his religious belief. Manichaeism.
Mani believed that there is a God who is the embodiment of all purity and light. From a Gnostics interpretation, this God is not the one who created the earth and the matter since these objects are full of demons and darkness. Thus there should be a mediator who constructs, builds, and is no longer an initiator; he is a maker.
In Mani’s worldview, he believed that before anything, there were two realms. One light and the other one dark. There was nothing between these two realms except the void. The realm of darkness was an unstable one with the prince of darkness or the devil as its natural ruler. Due to these disturbances, the devil encounters the border between himself and the pure realm and becomes aware of light and beauty’s existence. He greedily seeks it.
The great God, the Initiator, knows with his vision that if the Prince of Darkness attacks, he will shatter and pollute his realm. Like a commander who sacrifices part of his army to keep the whole land safe, he sends his son to fight the Prince of Darkness. Then, to save him, the Initiator God summons a mediator, and thus the earth, the sky, and the human beings are created.
Explaining how or why this creation happened was a complex process with Mani-specific religious reasons: How the son’s companions, who were all light, were swallowed up by the male and female demons. What plan did the Initiator have in mind to release these pieces of light that eventually led to the creation of our present universe?
Every human being has a light in their being that should be saved from the painful cycle of life through the steps and teachings of Manichaeism. They must reach Nirvana with their knowledge and awareness, their self-denial, fasting, and austerity.
At the end of time, Christ emerges. He will guide people back to their essence, where they came from; The realm of light. Eventually, a terrible fire will consume the world with its flames to free the last particles of light. The earth and the sky will separate, and the Prince of Darkness will perish. Those who reach salvation will live in the realm of eternal light.
Mani was creative and brilliant. He thought his ideas and philosophy would be too hard for people to contemplate. First, he had a team of professional translators translate his books to the native language of the people he talked to about his beliefs.
Secondly, he used paintings to describe his thoughts. Miniatures, as they call it now. Mani saw this art as an effective means of disseminating religious teachings. He drew many images to explain and justify the principles of his beliefs and worldview. To express the concept of fusion of light, darkness and to describe the salvation of the soul and the paradise of light, he used a valuable theological and visual tradition to create the most beautiful paintings and writings.
Arzhang by Mani was a painted book about the creation and evolution of the universe.
Arzhang seems to have been a copy of the Manichaean Gospel that illustrated Manichaean beliefs. It showed how the final pieces of light find their way to the chariots of the moon, the sun, and the perpetual and infinite light.
The Manichaeans used precious metals to display light in their works. The use of metals such as gold and silver, which became very common in Iranian miniatures, is a direct continuation of the same tradition of Manichaeism art. The use of these metals is to reflect light and create rays that enter into a spiritual exchange with the viewer’s soul.
Manichaeism spread from the east to Indochina territory and from the west to the heart of Europe. This ritual left undeniable effects on art, especially on miniature, music, decorative arts, calligraphy, and gilding.
The Manichaean tradition of painting dates back to the founder of Manichaeism. More than any other religious founder who has ever appeared, Mani has practiced the fine arts and provided descriptive forms for a glorious life. Not only did he invent a way of calligraphy in which he wrote his books, even after being translated into Persian and Central Asian languages, but he also personally illustrated his works artistically. Arzhang is a grand treasure of artistic tradition in his propaganda and educational preaches.
Arzhang depicts the most cosmological teachings in the commentaries of Arzhang. There is a miniature of the great fire at the end of the world that shows Mani’s beliefs in detail. That is the same piece recovered in Turfan, which contains a series of interconnected similes and represents the destructive force of that great fire. This text is one of the few pieces that we have from Arzhang’s interpretation.
Archeologists have found an example of Manichaean art in the excavations of Turfan and Khocho.
The bottom line is: Mani was not just a profit. He was smart and had a determined mind. Mani was ahead of his time and knew what to do perfectly. He combined art with religion, and though his rituals were hard to commit to, he had followers everywhere he went.