Yazata

Yazata

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Yazata 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...

 word for a Zoroastrian
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...

 concept. The word has a wide range of meanings but generally signifies(or is an epithet of) a divinity. The term literally means "worthy of worship" or "worthy of veneration."

The yazatas collectively represent "the good powers under Ohrmuzd
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...

," where the latter is "the Greatest of the yazatas."

Etymology


Yazata- is originally an 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...

 adjective derived from the verbal root yaz- "to worship, to honor, to venerate." From the same root comes Avestan 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...

"worship, sacrifice, oblation, prayer." A yazata is accordingly "a being worthy of worship" or "a holy being."

As the stem form, yazata- has the inflected nominative forms yazatō, pl. yazatåŋhō. These forms reflect Proto-Iranian *yazatah and pl. *yazatāhah. In 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...

 the term became yazad or yazd, pl. yazdān, continuing in New Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 as izad.

Related terms in other languages are Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 yájati "he worships, he sacrifices," yajatá- "worthy of worship, holy," yajñá "sacrifice," and perhaps also Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 ἅγιος hagios "devoted to the gods, sacred, holy."

In scripture


The term yazata is already used in 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:...

, the oldest 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...

 and believed to have been composed by 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. In these hymns, yazata is used as a generic, applied to God as well as to the "divine sparks", that in later tradition are the Amesha Spenta
Amesha Spenta
' is an Avestan language term for a class of divine entities in Zoroastrianism, and literally means "Bounteous Immortal" The noun is amesha "immortal", and spenta "furthering, strengthening, bounteous, holy" is an adjective of it...

s. In the Gathas, the yazatas are effectively what the daevas
Daeva
Daeva in Avestan language meaning "a being of shining light", is a term for a particular sort of supernatural entity with disagreeable characteristics. Equivalents in Iranian languages include Pashto dêw , Baluchi dêw , Persian dīv , Kurdish dêw...

 are not; that is, the yazatas are to be worshipped while the daevas are to be rejected.

The Gathas also collectively invoke the yazatas without providing a clue as to which entities are being invoked, and—given the structure and language of the hymns—it is generally not possible to determine whether these yazatas are abstract concepts or are manifest entities. Amongst the lesser Yazatas being invoked by name by the poet of the Gathas are Sraosha
Sraosha
Sraosha is the Avestan language name of the Zoroastrian divinity of "Obedience" or "Observance", which is also the literal meaning of her name....

, Ashi
Ashi
Rav Ashi was a celebrated Jewish religious scholar, a Babylonian amora, who reestablished the academy at Sura and was first editor of the Babylonian Talmud...

, Geush Tashan, Geush Urvan, Tushnamaiti and Iza, and all of which "win mention in his hymns, it seems, because of their close association with rituals of sacrifice and worship."

In the Younger 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 yazatas are unambiguously divinities, with divine powers but performing mundane tasks such as serving as charioteers for other divinities. Other divinities are described with anthropomorphic attributes, such as cradling a mace or bearing a crown upon their heads, or not letting sleep interrupt their vigil against the demons.

At some point during the late 5th or early 4th century BCE, the Achaemenids instituted a religious calendar in which each day of the month was named after, and placed under the protection of, a particular yazata. These day-name dedications were not only of religious significance because they ensured that those divinities remained in the public consciousness, they also established a hierarchy among the yazatas, with specific exalted entities having key positions in the day-name dedications (see Zoroastrian calendar
Zoroastrian calendar
This article treats of the reckoning of days, months and years in the calendar used by adherents of the Zoroastrian faith. Zoroastrian religious festivals are discussed elsewhere, but have a fixed relationship to Nawruz, the New Year festival, whose timing is discussed below...

 for details).

Although these day-name dedications are mirrored in scripture, it cannot be determined whether these day-name assignments were provoked by an antecedent list in scripture (e.g. 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...

16), or whether the day-name dedications provoked the compilation of such lists. Relatively certain however is that the day-name dedications predate 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,...

's Siroza ("30 days"), which contain explicit references to the yazatas as protectors/guardians of their respective days of the month.

In tradition



The 9th - 12th century texts of Zoroastrian tradition observe the yazatas (by then as 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...

 yazads) in much the same way as the hymns of the Younger Avesta. In addition, in roles that are only alluded to in scripture, they assume characteristics of cosmological or eschatological consequence.

For instance, Aredvi Sura Anahita (Ardvisur Nahid) is both a divinity of the waters as well as a rushing world river that encircles the earth, which is blocked up by 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:...

 (Ahriman) thus causing drought. The blockage is removed by Verethragna (Vahram), and Tishtrya
Tishtrya
Tishtrya is the Avestan language name of an Zoroastrian benevolent divinity associated with life-bringing rainfall and fertility. Tishtrya is Tir in Middle- and Modern Persian...

 (Tir) gathers up the waters and spreads them over the earth (Zam
Zam
Zam is the Avestan language term for the Zoroastrian concept of "earth", in both the sense of land and soil and in the sense of the world...

) as rain. In stories with eschatological significance, Sraosha
Sraosha
Sraosha is the Avestan language name of the Zoroastrian divinity of "Obedience" or "Observance", which is also the literal meaning of her name....

 (Sarosh), Mithra
Mithra
Mithra is the Zoroastrian divinity of covenant and oath. In addition to being the divinity of contracts, Mithra is also a judicial figure, an all-seeing protector of Truth, and the guardian of cattle, the harvest and of The Waters....

 (Mihr) and Rashnu
Rashnu
Rashnu is the Avestan language name of the Zoroastrian yazata of justice. Together with Mithra and Sraosha, Rashnu is one of the three judges who pass judgment on the souls of people after death...

 (Rashn) are guardians of the Chinvat bridge
Chinvat bridge
The Chinvat Bridge in Zoroastrianism is the bridge which separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. All souls must cross the bridge upon death....

, the bridge of the separator, across which all souls must pass.

Further, what the calendrical dedications had begun, the tradition completed: At the top of the hierarchy was 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...

, who was supported by the great heptad of Amesha Spenta
Amesha Spenta
' is an Avestan language term for a class of divine entities in Zoroastrianism, and literally means "Bounteous Immortal" The noun is amesha "immortal", and spenta "furthering, strengthening, bounteous, holy" is an adjective of it...

s (Ameshaspands/Mahraspands), through which the Creator realized ("created with his thought") the manifest universe. The Amesha Spentas in turn had hamkars "assistants" or "cooperators", each a caretaker of one facet of creation.

In both tradition and scripture, the terms 'Amesha Spenta' and 'yazata' are sometimes used interchangeably. In general however, 'Amesha Spenta' signifies the six great "divine sparks." In tradition, yazata is the 1st of the 101 epithets of Ahura Mazda. The word also came to be applied to Zoroaster, but Zoroastrians to this day remain sharply critical of any attempts to divinify the prophet. In a hierarchy that does not include either Ahura Mazda or the Amesha Spentas amongst the yazatas, the most prominent amongst those "worthy of worship" is Mithra
Mithra
Mithra is the Zoroastrian divinity of covenant and oath. In addition to being the divinity of contracts, Mithra is also a judicial figure, an all-seeing protector of Truth, and the guardian of cattle, the harvest and of The Waters....

, who "is second only in dignity to Ohrmazd (i.e. Ahura Mazda) himself."

In the present day


Martin Haug
Martin Haug
Martin Haug was a German orientalist.-Biography:Haug was born at Ostdorf , Württemberg. He became a pupil in the gymnasium at Stuttgart at a comparatively late age, and in 1848 he entered the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, where he studied oriental languages, especially Sanskrit...

's interpretations of Zoroastrian scripture allows the yazatas to be compared to the angels of Christianity. In this scheme, the Amesha Spentas are the arch-angel retinue of God, with the hamkars as the supporting host of lesser angels.

Haug's interpretations were subsequently disseminated as Parsi (Indian Zoroastrian) ones, which then eventually reached the west where they were seen to corroborate Haug. Like most of Haug's interpretations, this comparison is today so well entrenched that a gloss of 'yazata' as 'angel' is almost universally accepted; both in publications intended for a general audience as well as in (non-philological) academic literature.

Amongst the Muslims of Islamic Iran, Sraosha
Sraosha
Sraosha is the Avestan language name of the Zoroastrian divinity of "Obedience" or "Observance", which is also the literal meaning of her name....

came to be "arguably the most popular of all the subordinate Yazatas," for as the angel Surush, only he (of the entire Zoroastrian pantheon) is still venerated by name.