Avesta is the name of the collection of Zoroastrian holy texts which contains the revelation of holy Spitama Zarathushtra, teaching that the prophet passed on to the people from Ahura Mazda and preserved by his followers, information about the spiritual and material worlds, prayers and blessings addressed to Ahura Mazda and his creations.
As the legend goes, Avesta was first brought in 21 Nask (parts) onto earth by Karshipt, the greatest bird of all birds. The messenger brought the teaching to Yimkard, the Aryan fortress city built by king Yima to protect people from floods and cold. But king Yima refused Ahura Mazda’s offer to become the founder and prophet of Good Faith.
However, Spitama Zarathushtra, the holiest of men, became the first and only prophet of Good Faith. He received his revelation upon entering the pure waters of Daitya river. From the moment of the revelation, Vizarishn, a new era of separation of good and evil, began in the material world.
Good Faith existed through oral tradition for some time. Later the text of 21 Nask Avesta was written on 12 thousand oxen skins in gold ink. The descendants of Aryans were able to build the great Achaemenian empire, spreading over three continents, from the Balkans in Europe and Egypt in Africa to China and India, and from the Black Sea steppes to the Indian ocean and Ethiopia. Early Greek philosophy begins from the great cultural influence of Iran. Persian king Kurosh the Great, proclaimed messiah by the biblical person Isaiah, frees Jews from the Babylonian prison and supports the construction for the second temple in Jerusalem. Roads and canals are built, culture and trade of the empire thrive. All this is going on at the time when Rome is a little known provincial town.
The first horrific blow to Good Faith was Damned Iskander’s (Alexander the accursed’s) invasion in the 4th century B. C. The conqueror not only strove to overtake the vast riches of the Empire, but pushed for eradication of Good Faith. Many temples that had the Sacred Fire burning were destroyed, and many priests were killed. Avesta was burned. Centuries of war and strife, termed the Hellenistic period, followed. Greeks forced their culture onto the people they overtook.
However, since Mazda Yasna was passed on orally, it was preserved through the following 500 years. A rebirth of Good Faith began with the Parthian Arsacid dynasty. Work on collecting the remaining Zoroastrian heritage begins at this time. That process was finally completed in 4th century A. D. during the reign of Shapur II of the Sassanian dynasty. Ratu, the protector of Good Faith, by the name of Adarbad Mahraspandan, was sent to Zoroastrians at this time. He restored the 21 Nask Avesta and wrote some commentaries wherever was needed.
|1. Satudgarnask||8. Barashnask||15. Niyaramnask|
|2. Vahishta Mansar nask||9. Kashasrubnask||16. Dvasraubnask|
|3. Baghnask||10. Vishtaspnask||17. Asparamnask|
|4. Damdadnask||11. Kheshtnask||18. Askaramnask|
|5. Nadarnask||12. Jerastnask||19. Videvdadnask|
|6. Pajamnask||13. Safandnask||20. Hadokhtnask|
|7. Ratoshtaynask||14. Baghan yasht nask||21. Satud yasht nask|
All Nasks were separated into three parts, seven Nasks in each part. The first part was called Gathic, and is made up of hymns that talk about immaterial worlds and their laws. Gathic is the basis for Ashoo Zarathushtra’s revelation. The second part was called Dathic («law») – a collection of social and political rules that through the decision of the AMI could change depending on time period, place, culture and the needs of the Zoroastrian community. The third part of the Avesta was called Hadha Mantric («The Good of Mantra») – it contained spiritual rules of Zoroastrian way of life. These rules, just like parts of Gathic, could not be altered, since they are necessary for Zoroastrians in order to overcome Ahriman and the transformation of the universe at the end of time.
Good Faith suffered its second and more terrible blow from the Arabs in 7 A. D. The desert tribes united under Mohammed’s flag of faith in the last prophet and started to destroy all faith in the first prophet even more radically than Alexander’s soldiers. Their cruelty was brought by the fact that this war was religious, rather than political. This was not the last of Zoroastrians’ problems. After the Arabs, Iranian lands were also crossed by Chengiz Khan’s Mongols and Timur’s Turks, who eradicated entire cities. One would think that nothing could survive these recurring waves of violence. But truth is immortal! What remained after the fires of Iran’s invasions was rescued by the surviving Moobeds and the strongest Zoroastrian communities. Currently the Avesta remains in the following books:
- Yasna – «Worship», the Zoroastrian liturgy. At its core are the Gathas, hymns of the prophet Ashoo Zarathushtra that register his teaching
- Visperad – «All Sovereigns», the supplement to the liturgical Yasna that includes worship of all patrons of good creations.
- The Yashts – «Hymns» dedicated to Ahura Mazda and his good creations.
- Vendidad – «Given against the demons» – contains prescriptions against the impure and the filthy, and the history of the first kings in the beginnings of Aryan commonness.
- Khordeh Avesta – «Avesta Minor» – a collection of daily prayers.
There are Avestan texts that are not included in any of the Avestan books. These texts are remains of lost Nasks that have miraculously survived, although it is not always possible to attribute them to particular Nasks. Some of these remains are whole works (such as three chapters that remain from Hadokht Nask, Vishtasp yasht, the so called Vaeta Nask), separate segments, and even standalone quotes that have been preserved in Pahlavi sources. The so called Aogemadaecha is a whole text made of Avestan quotes with Pahlavi commentaries.
To Zoroastrians, the Avesta is not just an ancient text speaking of bygone eras, it is a living book that carries the light of Truth, and is used in worship and prayer.
Courtesy : Phiroze Master and Rusi Mistry