Yatha Ahu Vairyo in the Avesta and Pahlavi Traditions

by Dr. Pallan Ichaporia
(Avesta: Ahuna Vairya, Pahlavi: Ahunawar)

 Yatha Ahu Vairyo, Ashem Vohu (also called Asha Vahishta), Yenghe Hatam and A Airyaman Ishiyo are the four mighty prayers in Zoroastrianism. However the great potency of Yatha Ahu Vairyo is derived from its character as a primordial utterance of Ahura Mazda (Yasna 19.3, 4.8), who created it after the spiritual beings, but before all the material things and so it has the profound power to aid the living souls and distress the demons.

The language of Ashem Vohu and Yahta Ahu Vairyo is purely Avestan. The linguistic analysis and the structures of these two prayers show that they are composed by Zarathushtra. “Ahuna Vairya most sacred Gathic prayer was chanted for the first time in the material world by Zarathushtra himself (Yasna 9.14), and serves as the most powerful basic prayer for the Zoroastrians”. (Humbach-Ichaporia, forthcoming ‘Concordance of the Gathas’). 

Yatha Ahu Vairyo and Ashem Vohu are mentioned in the complaint of the Evil Spirit (Av. Angre Mainyu, Phlv. Ahreman) in Ashi Yasht (Yt.17,20) as follows:
jainti mam ahuna vairya avavata snaithisha yatha asma… asha vahista… ayo xshustem He (i.e. Zarathushtra) defeats me and smites me with Ahuna Vairya, a weapon as heavy as a stone, and as big as a house, and he burns me like a molten metal with Asha Vahishta (Ashem Vohu). Yatha Ahu Vairyo, Ashem Vohu, and Yenghe Hatam are listed together in Yasna 61,1: “ahunemcha vairim… ashemcha vahishtem… yenghe.hatamcha”. (For details see H.&I, ‘Concordance’ and H.Humbach, ‘Die Gathas Des Zarathushtra’, Band II.)  The Avestan commentary on the above three holy prayers are found in the Yasna chapters 19 to 21 which together is known as the Baghan Yasht (= section of the holy texts). It says that Ahuna Vairya was proclaimed by Ahura Mazda himself to Zarathushtra.

Ahuna Vairya is singled out as the “most victorious” (Yasht 11.3), and the “most healing” (Vendidad 11.3, Yasna 8.1, 7.7). Vendidad 11.3 stipulates
five recitations saying that “the Ahuna Vairya protects the body”.

Four Avestan Nasks had chapters expounding the Ahunawar (see Denkard, 8.44, 9.1.1, 24.1). Its supremacy among all the prayers is evident in the Pahlavi literature cited below:

1. Denkard 4.38-45, 8.43.81, 9.1.4: “It protects life and property and smites demons.”
2. Bundahishn p.12, 13-14 (ed. Anklesaria): “Its great power comes from its primordial character as Ohrmazd fashioned it from “boundless light”, the
“fire form” which was the source for all creatures. The first manifestation from the “fire form'” was Ahunawar, the spirit of the ‘Yatha Ahu Vairyo’, “out of whom is the manifestation of creation and ultimate end of creatures. By reciting it, Ohrmazd revealed His own ultimate triumph to Ahreman (the evil spirit), which then fell, back in stupor and confounded for 3000 years (Bd. 1.29-30). Ahunawar is identified with Den “Religion”.
3. Denkard 8.45.1: Since Ahunawar is primordial, it is the summation and the epitome of the religion, “the seed of seeds of the reckoning of the
4. Denkard 8.intro, 6.17-18, 9.1-4 and Zatspram 28.1-3: “Each of the 21 words of Ahunawar was used to name one Nask of the Avesta whose total
contents the Ahunawar prayer thus symbolized”.
5. Pursishniha: Question 26 (Pursishn 26): “What manifestation of Ahuna Vairya do you have? and How is it when it becomes clear that Religion (is) resident in one’s body?” (K.M. Jamaspasa and H.Humbach, ‘Pursishniha’, Wiesbaden, p.42-43).

In accord with its great importance, Ahunawar is recited in numerous rituals including the Yasna, Barsom and Afrinagan ceremonies. It is recited with actions while tying kushti, entering house and several others personal works (see Denkard 9.11 5-7). It has to be recited after paring nails
(Saddar Nasr, par. 14), pouring a drink, sneezing or coughing (Sayast ne sayast 10.7, 12.32). It is very offensive to mumble this great Ahunawar
prayer (ibid. 10.25b). It must be recited properly so a person next to him/her can hear, or his/her ears can hear it. (cf. Herbedestan) The power of Yatha Ahu Vairyo is awesome and it is the great gift of Ahura Mazda revealed to Zarathushtra who has given it to us for our happiness in
both the worlds that of material and spiritual [For the most recent translation of Yatha Ahu Vairyo (Yansa 27,13-15) see: Humbach-Ichaporia,
The Heritage of Zarathushtra, A New Translation of His Gathas, Heidelberg,1994 p.19].

Translation in French by J Kellens-E. Pirart-1988
Harmonieux comme un digne de choix par l’existence le modele des actes de l’existence de la divine Pensee et leur emprise sont attributes au Maitre
Mazda don’t fera un patre poir les necessiteux.
[English translation of the French (translation} by Pallan Ichaporia] 
Harmony is one worthy/dignified choice for (one’s) existence, being the model for existence with divine thought. This attributes are assigned to the
master/teacher Mazda who is for him, the needy.
Translation by Insler-1975 
Just as the Lord in accord with truth must be chosen, so also the judgment in accord with truth. In consequences of (this) good thinking, institute ye the rule of actions stemming from an existence of good thinking for the (sake of the) Wise One and for the lord whom they established as pastor for the needy-dependents.
Translation by Humbach-Ichaporia 1994 
Since He is the One to be chosen by the world, therefore the judgment emanating from truth itself, is to be passed on the deeds of good thought,
as well as power is committed to Mazda Ahura whom people assign as a shepherd (/guide) to the poor.

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