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Introduction (Avestan Literature )


The Avestan language, which was spoken in Irānvij – a land situated in the eastern part of Iran – was the language that was principally used to write the Zoroastrian religious script, the Avestā. The oldest Avestan written texts probably dated back to the 10th-8th Centuries BC. No other Avestan texts, however, have survived except the Avesta.

By the 3rd Century AD, the Avestan language had been forgotten and was out of use and only the Zoroastrian mobeds used this language, that had been preserved orally, as the sacred language of the Zoroastrian religion in their hymns and religious supplications. During the Sassanian period (224-651 AD) and following the spread of Zoroastrianism as the official religion of the empire, the Avesta was for the first time put down in the written form in a script called the “Din Dabiri” (religious script) that had been especially invented for this purpose. The Avesta which is available today and which has been transcribed since 1278 AD merely comprises one-thirds of the Avesta of the Sassanian period.

The Avesta is not entirely in one particular language and this inconsistency is either due to the differences in the various dialects or owing to the fact that the various parts of this scripture were written in different periods of time. The Avestan texts can be divided into the two groups of Gāhāni Avesta and the Later Avesta on the basis of the antiquity of their language, their grammatical and linguistic characters and features, and from the viewpoints of their fundamental teachings and their religious contents. On the other hand, the existing Avesta has been divided into the five different parts viz. the Yasnās, the Visperād, the Vendidād, the Yashts, and the Khordeh Avestā.

* source: Zarshenas , Zohreh " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.558

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