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The hymn, which appears in Yasna 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 (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), ratush (judgment), and kshathra (rule).
The Denkard, 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) 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 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 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 ('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), who then fell back "confounded and impotent as to the harm he caused the creatures of Ahuramazd" (1.29-30).
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 difficult (See also: difficulties in translating the Gathas). Translations based on middle Persian translations (and commentaries) of the hymn also exist and can differ greatly from those based on the gathic Avestan.
Transliteration of the Avestan 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 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.
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. ) infers no such connection, and applies it evenly to all followers of Zoroaster's teaching. -->
- Ashem Vohu
- Russell, "A Zoroastrian Mantra" (1993)
- 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.
- Darmesteter, James (1883). Avesta: Khorda Avesta (Book of Common Prayer), Part I. as published in
Müller, Max (ed.) (1898). Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 23.
- Dhalla, Maneckji Nusservanji (1938). History of Zoroastrianism. New York: OUP.
- Geldner, Karl Friedrich (1998). The Zoroastrian religion in the Avesta. Bombay: K. R. Cama Oriental Institute.
- Humbach, Helmut, Joseph Elefenbein, Prods O. Skjærvø (1991). The Gāthās of Zarathushtra and other Old Avestan texts, Part II, Commentary. Heidelberg: Winter. pp. 1–15, 248.
- Mills, Lawrence Heyworth (1887). Avesta: Yasna. as published in
Müller, Max (ed.) (1898). Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 31.
- Various translations/interpretations of the Ahuna Vairya formula.
- An extract from Three Prayers & the Name of God, including an exploration of the "Principles of Choice".
- An analysis of the Ahuna Vairya, in particular on the talismanic virtues of the Ahuna Vairya.