Ahuna Vairya

Ahuna Vairya

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Ahuna Vairya is the Avestan language
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 name of the most sacred of the Gathic
Gathas
The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.-Structure and organization:...

 hymns of the Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

, the revered texts of Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

.

The hymn, which appears in Yasna
Yasna
Yasna is the name of the primary liturgical collection of texts of the Avesta as well as the name of the principal Zoroastrian act of worship at which those verses are recited. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name of the ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate...

27.13, is named after its opening words yatha ahu vairyo, which cannot be translated without significant loss of meaning. Humbach refers to the Ahuna Vairya and the Artem Vohu (Ashem Vohu, Yasna 27.14, the second most sacred invocation), as "very cryptic formulas, of a pronounced magical character." (Humbach, 1991:1) The Ahunavaiti Gatha
Gatha
Gatha is a type of metered and often rhythmic poetic verse or a phrase in the ancient Indian languages of Prakrit and Sanskrit. The word is originally derived from the Sanskrit/Prakrit root gai , which means, to speak, sing, recite or extol. Hence gatha can mean either speech, verse or a song...

 (chapters 28-34 of the Yasna), is named after the Ahuna Vairya hymn.

One interpretation captions the hymn as "The Principle of Choice", since the three lines of the invocation reflect the three choices that have to be made: ahu (frequently translated as 'lord', but is not in all translations a reference to Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazdā is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism...

), ratush (judgment), and kshathra (rule).

The Denkard
Denkard
The Dēnkard or Dēnkart is a 10th century compendium of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The Denkard is to a great extent an "Encyclopedia of Mazdaism" and is a most valuable source of information on the religion...

, a 9th century semi-religious work, records that each volume of the nasks (that today form a significant portion of the texts of the Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

) was initially assigned its title from a word in the Ahuna Vairya prayer (Denkard intro, 6, 8, 17, 18, 9.1.4).

As an invocation


According to the Hom Yasht, Zoroaster
Zoroaster
Zoroaster , also known as Zarathustra , was a prophet and the founder of Zoroastrianism who was either born in North Western or Eastern Iran. He is credited with the authorship of the Yasna Haptanghaiti as well as the Gathas, hymns which are at the liturgical core of Zoroastrianism...

 himself was the first mortal to recite the prayer (Yasna 9.14). Zend commentary Yasna 19.13 notes that the invocation's efficacy derives from its primordial nature, as Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazdā is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism...

 articulated the prayer immediately before creating the material universe.

Yasna 19.10 notes that "this utterance is a thing of such a nature, that if all the corporeal and living world should learn it, and learning hold fast by it, they would be redeemed from their mortality."

As a primordial utterance, the hymn is believed to have talismanic virtues: the power to aid mortals in distress, and inversely as a potent weapon against the daevas (modern Persian: divs, demons). In the earlier texts of the Avesta, the Ahuna Vairya is the "most victorious" (Yasht 11.13), the "veracious word" (Yasna 8.1), the "sacred gift" (Yasna 27.7). In Vendidad 11.3, in addition to being "most healing", frequent recitation is said to be the means to "protect the body".

The hymn's supremacy among sacred Zoroastrian formulae is even more evident in later literature.
In the Denkard
Denkard
The Dēnkard or Dēnkart is a 10th century compendium of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs. The Denkard is to a great extent an "Encyclopedia of Mazdaism" and is a most valuable source of information on the religion...

('Acts of Religion', 9th century),
  • four of the twenty-one nasks composed during the Sassanid era are noted to have expounded on the efficacy of the hymn (8.44.1).
  • the prayer's potency to smite demons and protect life and property are described at length. (4.38-45, 8.43.81, 9.1.4)
  • the hymn's primordial nature is seen as the root and summation of the belief in Ahura Mazda, "the seed of seeds of the reckoning of the religion." (8.45.1)

According to the Bundahishn ('Original Creation', finished in the 11th or 12th century),
  • the spirit of the yatha ahu vairyo is the first manifestation of the luminaries that Ahura Mazda created. (12.13-14)
  • in articulating the formula, Ahura Mazda made his ultimate triumph evident to "the evil spirit" (Angra Mainyu
    Angra Mainyu
    Angra Mainyu is the Avestan-language name of Zoroastrianism's hypostasis of the "destructive spirit". The Middle Persian equivalent is Ahriman.-In Zoroaster's revelation:...

    ), who then fell back "confounded and impotent as to the harm he caused the creatures of Ahuramazd" (1.29-30).

Ritual use


In addition to its recitation during the Zoroastrian daily Kusti prayers, the Ahuna Vairya formula, by virtue of its status as the most sacred of the hymns, is uttered at least once in every ritual ceremony as a part of the Yasna liturgy.

Recitation is also prescribed by the Vendidad as an act of hygiene (11.13), and the Denkard suggests the prayer be uttered when entering a house (9.18.5). The Sayast ne Sayast prescribes its use when sneezing or coughing (12.32), and recommends invocation when pouring potable liquids (10.7). The Sayast ne Sayast additionally notes that a mumbling of the prayer is particularly offensive. (10.25)

Translation and interpretation


Even though several translations and interpretations exist, the overall meaning of the prayer remains obscure. The terseness of the language and lack of grammatical structure make a literal translation from the old Avestan language
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 difficult (See also: difficulties in translating the Gathas
Gathas
The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.-Structure and organization:...

). Translations based on middle Persian
Middle Persian
Middle Persian , indigenously known as "Pârsig" sometimes referred to as Pahlavi or Pehlevi, is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. Middle Persian is classified as a...

 translations (and commentaries) of the hymn also exist and can differ greatly from those based on the gathic Avestan.

Transliteration of the Avestan
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 text in Latin script by Maneckji Dhalla (which is not significantly different from the 1896 version by Karl Geldner):
athā ahu vairyo athā ratush ashāt chit hachā
vangheush dazdā manangho shyaothananām angheush Mazdāi
khshathremchā ahurāi â yim dregubyo dadat vāstārem


Dhalla also notes that a corrupt form of the prayer is commonly used:
athāu veryo thāre tose sāde chide chāvanghoise dezdā manengho sotthenanām
anghyos Mazdāe khosetharamchāe orāe āiyem daregobyo daredar vāstārem


A simple translation from the Pahlavi by Darmesteter:
the will of the Lord is the law of righteousness.
the gifts of the Good Mind to the deeds done in this world for Mazda.
he who relieves the poor makes Ahura king.


A translation from the Old Avestan
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 by Windfuhr:
Whereas he shall be chosen by the world, so, according to Truth,
the judgement of deeds done by the world in Good Faith (Mind) is yielded to Mazda,
and the Power of the Ahura whom they shall assign as pastor to the poor.


Humbach, Elefenbein and Skjærvø translate it as:
As judgment is to be chosen by the world,
so the judgment (which is) in accord with the truth, on the actions of good throughout the world,
is assigned to the Wise (Lord) (Mazdāi),
and the power (is assigned) to the (Wise) Lord (ahurāi)
whom they established as shepherd to the needy.


Given what Russell has termed the "syntactic density" of the prayer, scholarly agreement on a definitive translation, or even close approximation of its meaning, remains unlikely.

Other interpretations are listed in the further reading section below.

Readings


as published in
as published in

External links