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Ahuna Vairya is the Avestan language name of Zoroastrianism's first of four Gathic Avestan formulas. The text, which appears in Yasna 27.13, is also known after its opening words yatha ahu vairyo. In Zoroastrian tradition, the formula is also known as the ahun(a)war.
Numerous translations and interpretations exist, but the overall meaning of the text remains obscure. The Ahuna Vairya and Ashem Vohu (the second most sacred formula at Yasna 27.14) are together "very cryptic formulas, of a pronounced magical character." The Ahunavaiti Gatha (chapters 28-34 of the Yasna), is named after the Ahuna Vairya formula.
In relation to the other formulas
Like the other three formulas (Ashem vohu, Yenghe hatam, Airyaman ishya), the Ahuna Vairya is part of the Gathic canon, that is, part of the group of texts composed in the more archaic dialect of the Avestan language. Together with the other three formulas, the Ahuna Vairya is part of the 'envelope' that liturgically encloses the Gathas, i.e. the hymns attributed to Zoroaster himself. One of the formulas, the Airyaman ishya (Yasna 54.1) follows the Gathas, while the other three formulas -- Ahuna Vairya, Ashem vohu and Yenghe hatam (together at Yasna 27.13-27.15) -- precede them.
Unlike the third and fourth formula, the first two formulas -- the Ahuna Vairya and the Ashem vohu -- are part of the Kusti prayers. Unlike the third and fourth formula, the first two do not express wishes and are technically purificatory and meditational declarations (asti, "it is").
The Ahuna Vairya is already a subject of theological exegesis in scripture itself, in particular in Yasna 19, where "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." (19.10) In Yasna 19.3 and 4.8, the formula is described as having been a primordial utterance of Ahura Mazda, articulated immediately after the creation of the spiritual world (and before the material world), and that its efficacy in aiding the righteous is due to its primordial nature.
As a primordial utterance, the Ahura Vairya is described to have talismanic virtues: the power to aid mortals in distress, and inversely as a potent weapon against the demonic daevas. Elsewhere in the Avesta, the Ahuna Vairya is described as the "most victorious" (Yasht 11.13), as the "veracious word" (Yasna 8.1), as the "sacred gift" (Yasna 27.7). In Vendidad 11.3, in addition to being "most healing", frequent recitation of the Ahura Vairya is prescribed as an act of hygiene to "protect the body". In Yasna 9.14, Zoroaster is given credit as the first mortal to recite it.
The hymn's supremacy among sacred Zoroastrian formulae is well developed in the 9th-11th century texts of Zoroastrian tradition.
In the Denkard ('Acts of Religion', 9th century), four of the twenty-one nasks are described to have expounded on the efficacy of the hymn (8.44.1), and each volume of the nasks is said to have been initially assigned its title from a word in the Ahuna Vairya prayer (Denkard intro, 6, 8, 17, 18, 9.1.4). The formula's potency to smite demons and protect life and property are described at length (4.38-45, 8.43.81, 9.1.4), and the formula'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)
The Bundahishn, an 11th/12th century narrative of Zoroastrian cosmogonical myths, continues and embellishes the Avesta's description of the Ahuna Vairya as a primordial utterance. In that tradition, Ahuna Vairya is not only an utterance of Mazda following the creation of the spiritual world. Additionally, in Bundahishn 12.13-14, the spirit of the yatha ahu vairyo is the first manifestation of the luminaries that Ahura Mazda created, i.e. the spirit of the formula is the first of the material creations, and is at the same time the "fire form" force from which the material world is created. Moreover, in articulating the formula, Ahura Mazda made his ultimate triumph evident to "the evil spirit" (Angra Mainyu), who then fell back "confounded and impotent as to the harm he caused the creatures of Ahuramazd" (1.29-30).
The Vendidad's prescription of recitation of the formula as an act of hygiene is reiterated in the Sayast ne Sayast, which prescribes recitation 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) The Denkard additionally suggests the formula be uttered when entering a house (9.18.5).
While the Avesta's Yasna 19 sees the subject of the Ahuna Vairya formula as referring to Zoroaster, and possibly to his successors, later tradition (Denkard 9.24.1, also Zatspram 1.13.19) infers no such connection, and applies it evenly to all followers of Zoroaster's teaching.
Text, translation and interpretation
Like all Gathic Avestan verses, the prayer is altogether ambiguous and translations vary significantly. Even though several translations and interpretations exist, the overall meaning of the prayer remains obscure. The terseness of the prose, elaborate arrangement and poetical techniques make a translation from the Old Avestan difficult (See also: difficulties in translating the Gathas). Given its syntactic density, scholarly agreement on a definitive translation, or even close approximation of its meaning, remains unlikely. Translations based on Middle Persian translations (and commentaries) of the hymn also exist and can differ greatly from those based on the Avestan original.
The transliterations available have differences concerning certain words.
Transliteration of Helmut Humbach:
- yaϑā ahū vairyō*, aϑā ratuš aṣ̌āt̰cīt̰ hacā
- vaŋhə̄uš dazdā manaŋhō, š́yaoϑənanąm** aŋhə̄uš mazdāi
- xšaϑrəmcā ahurāi.ā***, yim drigubyō dadat̰ vāstārəm
- * "vairiyō" in "Zarathushtra and His Antagonists" (Faiss & Humbach)
- ** other versions are "š́yaoϑananąm" (Geldner) and "š́yaoϑnanąm" (West)
- *** according Martin L. West "ahurāyā"
Dastur 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'
More lit. translation of Humbach and Ichaporia:
- Since/as He is to be chosen by the world therefore/so the judgment emanating from truth itself (to be passed) on the deeds of good thought of the world is committed (lit. "given") to Mazdā,
- and the power (is committed) to Ahura whom (people) assign (lit. "give") as a shepherd to the poor.
Translation by Boyce essentially derived from that of S. Insler:
- As the master, so is the judge to be chosen in accord with truth.
- Establish the power of acts arising from a life lived with good purpose,
- for Mazda and for the Lord whom they made pastor for the poor.
A simple translation from the Zoroastrian Middle Persian 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 Avestan 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,
- (which is to be passed) 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.
Other interpretations are listed in the further reading section below.
- Works cited
- Insler, Stanley (1975), The Ahuna Vairya prayer, Acta Iranica IV: the Gathas of Zarathustra, Leiden: Brill, ISBN 90-04-04399-3.
- Brunner, Christopher Joseph (1984), "Ahunwar", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 1.7, Costa Mesa: Mazda Pub, p. 695.
- Dhalla, Maneckji Nusservanji (1938). History of Zoroastrianism. New York: OUP. ISBN 0-404-12806-8.
- Geldner, Karl Friedrich (1998). The Zoroastrian religion in the Avesta. Bombay: K. R. Cama Oriental Institute.
- Humbach, Helmut; Elfenbein, Josef; Skjærvø, Prods O. (1991), The Gāthās of Zarathushtra and other Old Avestan texts, Part II, Commentary, Heidelberg: Winter, pp. 1–15, 248
- Humbach, Helmut (1991), The Gāthās of Zarathushtra and other Old Avestan texts, Part I, Text and Translation, Heidelberg: Winter.
- Humbach, Helmut; Ichaporia, Pallan (1994), "Yasna 27,13-15. Introductory Prayers", The Heritage of Zarathushtra. A new translation of his Gāthās, Heidelberg: Winter.
- Humbach, Helmut; Faiss, Klauss (2010), "Yasna 27,13-15. Introductory Prayers", Zarathushtra and his Antagonists, Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert.