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The Later Avesta

The Later Avesta comprises almost five-sixths of the entire Zoroastrian holy scriptures and represents the later Zoroastrian religion or, in other words, the religious beliefs in Iran before the advent of Islam. Even though the language of this part of the Avesta is less difficult than that of the Gāhān, one is nevertheless faced with difficulty in the understanding and comprehension of its matter that finds its roots in a combination between pre-Zoroastrian beliefs as well as the maxims of its prophet and the infiltrations of the beliefs of some other religions into these texts owing to the widespread dissemination of the Zoroastrian religion in the different parts of Iran. No categorical statement can be made as regards when these texts have been written and compiled. It is quite likely that the old Yashts, or the oldest section of the Later Avesta, belonged to the 8th and 9th Centuries BC.

The Later Avesta comprises the following sections from among which only the Yashts can be compared with the Gāhān in terms of their literary value:

i. The Yasnās: The Yasnās consist of seventy-two chapters. The Gāhān and the Yasnā Haftās are spread out among the Yasnās. Therefore, this section comprises forty-eight “hās” or chapters. The term “Yasnā” means “worship” and, as a whole, the contents of the Yasnās include the praise of the good spirits that were invoked to participate in the Yasnā ceremonies and for making offerings to them.

ii. The Visperād: The “Visperād” (meaning “masters”) is comprised of twenty-four parts and most of its matter is derived from the Yasnās and is a supplement to them.

iii. The Khordeh Avestā: This collection of supplications which is also referred to as the “smaller Avesta” comprises short supplications for the benefit of the common Zoroastrians as against the supplications belonging exclusively to the priests. The most important sections of the Khordeh Avestā comprise the “Niyāyesh”, the “Si-Ruzeh”, and the “Āferinegān” which are supplications for the different parts of the day and night, for the different months, and for the various ceremonies.

iv. The Vendidād: This book in fact contains practical laws that have been presented in a question-answer form (the answers of Āhurā Mazdā to the questions put forward by Zoroaster) in twenty-two fargard (sections) while the term “Vendidād” (earlier referred to as “Vidivdād”) actually means “distancing oneself from the div (evil spirit)”. The queries of the Vendidād are mainly in connection with the laws of purification and the atonement of sins. Some mythical stories like the story of Jam (Fargard II) as well as a detailed geographical section on the various lands (Fargard I) comprise the other sections of the Vendidād. Some linguists consider the Vendidād to be the main source of reference for gaining more knowledge regarding the ancient life of eastern Iran and regard it as the most important section of the Avesta.

v. The Yashts: This section of the Later Avesta comprises twenty-one Yashts and each Yasht is sub-divided into several “kards”. Yasht means “worship” and from the etymological point of view it shares its roots with the ancient term “yasn” as well as terms like “jashn” and “Izad” from Modern Persian. The Yashts are hymns in praise of the good spirits. Every large Yasht (Yashts 5, 8, 10, 13, 17, and 19) generally comprises a description, adulation, glorification, and an invocation (beseeching help) of the particular spiritual being to which that Yasht is dedicated. Moreover, each of these Yashts also contain myths and accounts of historical events presented in a highly condensed, metaphorical, and vague style.

The names of the twenty-one Yashts of the Avesta are as follows: 1. The Hormuzd (Urmazd) Yasht; 2. The Haft-Tan (Amesha Spenta) Yasht; 3. The Ordibehesht Yasht; 4. The Khordād Yasht; 5. The Arduyi Sur (Āban Anāhid) Yasht; 6. The Khorshid Yasht; 7. The Māh Yasht; 8. The Tir Yasht; 9. The Gevesh Yasht; 10. The Mehr Yasht; 11. The Sorush Yasht; 12. The Rashn Yasht; 13. The Farvardin Yasht; 14. The Bahrām Yasht; 15. The Vayu (Rām) Yasht; 16. The Din (Chistā) Yasht; 17. The Ashi (Ard) Yasht; 18. The Ashtād Yasht; 19. The Khorrah (Kiyān, Zāmyād) Yasht; 20. The Hom Yasht; 21. The Vanand Yasht.

Not all the Yashts have been written at the same time. For instance, the Yashts 1-4 belong to a relatively later period. Interestingly, the names of some of the Yashts have no apparent relation with their actual contents. For instance, the Zāmyad Yasht (derived from the term “zam” meaning the “earth”) is in connection with “farr-e kiyāni” (lit. “royal splendor”).

The superiority of the Yashts over the other parts of the Avesta is owing to their dynamism and poetical value which are not congruent with the otherwise ethical and religious value of the other sections of the Avesta. The good spirits are believed to possess skills as well as outstanding, mythological features and have been praised in a poetic language. For instance, the Mehr Yasht which comprises thirty-five “kards” is a great and unique piece of work from among all the ancient Indo-European works from the angles of its expressiveness and imaginativeness and the use of poetic allegory. The employment of two different sets of nouns and verbs for the description of divine (Ormazdi) and evil (Ahrimani) beings and the usage of analogy in the narrations of mythological and epical stories like the battle between Tishtar and the “Apush” div (demon) in Yasht 8 is from among the other features of the Yashts. It can be concluded that parts of all the Yashts are metrical and while some Iranologists consider their poetic meter as syllabic, yet others believe them to be stress-based.

vi. The Herbadestān and the Nirangistān: The Herbadestān comprises matter relating to the duties and obligations of the “Herbads” as well as their system of training and education. The Nirangistān, on the other hand, comprises detailed rules regarding religious ceremonies, the preparation of ceremonial offerings, and the special supplications related to them.

vii. The Hādokht Nask: Three portions of this text written in the Avestan language are surviving today in which the fate of the soul after death and the importance of the “Ashem Vohu” supplication have been discussed.

viii. The Avegmadicha: This text comprises twenty-nine sentences in the Avestan language mainly dealing with the subject of “death”. In all probability, the “Avegmadicha” meaning “we say/we express” was a supplication or āfarin that was recited in the memory of the deceased after the recitation of the “Āferinegān”.

ix. The Vaethā Nask: The Vaethā Nask, meaning “the nask of knowledge” comprises short texts in the Avestan language written and compiled in the later periods.

x. Āfrin Paygambar Zarthusht

xi. Veshtāp (Gashtāsp) Yasht

The last two subjects that have appeared in some copies of the “Khordeh Avestā” as well as a number of Avestan words and sentences present in the Avim dictionary, the “Shayest Ne-Shayest” (Proper and Improper), the Porsishnihā, etc. form the final section of the Later Avesta.


* 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 - 559

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