Zoroastrians in Iran
Zoroastrians are the oldest religious community of Iran. Prior to the Muslim conquest of Persia, Zoroastrianism was the primary religion of the nation, it originated from the pre-Zoroastrian Religion of Iranic paganism. According to the country's official census, there were 25,271 Zoroastrians within the country as of 2011. There are no written records from Zarathushtra's time; the earliest surviving written references to Zarathushtra are those of Greek writers from 1000 BC. Prophet Zoroaster and his first followers were Iranians that lived between the Bronze Age and Iron Age; the term "Prophet" is of Western origin and is an inexact description of Zarathushtra, more appropriately designated "Khordad," a term for that unique mortal who achieved spiritual perfection within his lifetime. The name "Za-rath-ush-tra" translates to a Divine Chariot that brought heavenly Light-Knowledge; the time of the Iranian peoples' migration to Iran can be estimated through Assyrian records. Herodotus recalled one of the Mede tribes to be called "Magoi", better known as "Magis", a tribe known to have included many priests, who served both Medes and Persians.
By the time of the Median empire, Zoroastrianism is known to have been well established in both the Pars region as well as in the Eastern regions. Persians led by Cyrus the Great soon established the second Iranian dynasty, the first Persian empire by defeating the Medes dynasty in 549 BC; as Persians expanded their empire, Zoroastrianism was introduced to Greek historians such as Hermodorus, Xanthos and Aristotle. However, it is clear that by the time of Darius the Great, the empire was in favour of Zoroastrianism. Darius declares in one of his inscriptions that: "A great God is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Darius king, one king over many, one lord over many" Persepolis was one of the four capitals of the Achaemenid empire, built by Darius the Great and his son Xerxes, it was the trading capital of the Near East. One of the main functions of Persepolis was to serve as the host of the ancient Zoroastrian festival, Norouz.
Therefore, every year representatives from each country under the rule of Persia would bring gifts to Persepolis to show their loyalty to the king and the empire. The Sassanid dynasty was the first Persian empire which declared Zoroastrianism as the state religion and promoted the religion more than ever, it is believed that Avesta was first put together at this time. During the period of their centuries long suzerainty over the Caucasus, the Sassanids made attempts to promote Zoroastrianism there with considerable successes, it was prominent in the pre-Christian Caucasus. Due to its ties to the Christian Roman Empire, Persia's arch-rival since Parthian times, the Sassanids were suspicious of Roman Christianity, after the reign Constantine the Great sometimes persecuted it; the Sassanid authority clashed with their Armenian subjects in the Battle of Avarayr, making them break with the Roman Church. But the Sassanids tolerated or sometimes favored the Christianity of the Nestorian Church of Persia.
The acceptance of Christianity in Georgia saw the Zoroastrian religion there but decline, but as late the 5th century AD it was still practised as something like a second established religion. Manichaeism The prophet Mani was an Iranian of noble Parthian roots who established Manichaeism which contained many elements of Zoroastrianism as well as Gnosticism, however it saw the experience of life on earth by humans as miserable, a contrast to the Zoroastrian view, to celebrate life through happiness. Mani was received kindly by king Shapur I and spent many years at his court where he was protected during all of Shabuhr's reign; however Mani wrote in a semitic language, all his work had to be translated into Middle Persian by his followers, who rendered the name of Mani's supreme god as Zurvan and called him the father of Ohrmazd. Although the origins of Zurvanite Zoroastrianism are unclear, it was during the Sassanid period that it gained widespread acceptance, many of the Sassanid emperors were at least to some extent Zurvanites.
Zurvanism enjoyed royal sanction during the Sassanid era but no traces of it remain beyond the 10th century. Unlike Mazdean Zoroastrianism, Zurvanism considered Ahura Mazda not the transcendental Creator, but one of two equal-but-opposite divinities under the supremacy of Zurvan; the central Zurvanite belief made Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu twin brothers that had co-existed for all time. Non-Zoroastrian accounts of Zurvanite beliefs were the first traces of Zoroastrianism to reach the west, which misled European scholars to conclude that Zoroastrianism was a dualist faith; the Zoroastrian cult of Zurvan should not be confused with the Manichaeism's use of the name Zurvan in Middle Pe
Ahura Mazda is the creator and sole God of Zoroastrianism. Ahura Mazda is the highest spirit of worship in Zoroastrianism, along with being the first and most invoked spirit in the Yasna; the literal meaning of the word Ahura is "lord", that of Mazda is "wisdom". Ahura Mazda first appeared in the Achaemenid period under Darius I's Behistun Inscription; until Artaxerxes II of Persia, Ahura Mazda was invoked alone. With Artaxerxes II, Ahura Mazda was invoked with Mithra and Anahita. In the Achaemenid period, there are no representations of Ahura Mazda other than the custom for every emperor to have an empty chariot drawn by white horses, to invite Ahura Mazda to accompany the Persian army on battles. Images of Ahura Mazda began in the Parthian period, but were stopped and replaced with stone carved figures in the Sassanid period. "Mazda", or rather the Avestan stem-form Mazdā-, nominative Mazdå, reflects Proto-Iranian *mazdáH. It is taken to be the proper name of the spirit, like its Vedic cognate medhā́, means "intelligence" or "wisdom".
Both the Avestan and Sanskrit words reflect Proto-Indo-Iranian *mazdʰáH, from Proto-Indo-European *mn̥sdʰh₁éh₂ meaning "placing one's mind", hence "wise". The name was rendered as Ahuramazda during the Achaemenid era, Hormazd during the Parthian era, Ohrmazd was used during the Sassanian era; the name may be attested on cuneiform tablets of Assyrian Assurbanipal, in the form Assara Mazaš, though this interpretation is controversial. Though Ahura Mazda was a spirit in the Old Iranian religion, he had not yet been given the title of "uncreated spirit"; this title was given by Zoroaster, who proclaimed Ahura Mazda as the uncreated spirit, wholly wise and good, as well as the creator and upholder of Asha. At the age of 30, Zoroaster received a revelation: while fetching water at dawn for a sacred ritual, he saw the shining figure of the yazata, Vohu Manah, who led Zoroaster to the presence of Ahura Mazda, where he was taught the cardinal principles of the "Good Religion" known as Zoroastrianism.
As a result of this vision, Zoroaster preach the religion. He stated, he further stated that Ahura Mazda created spirits known as yazatas to aid him, who merited devotion. Zoroaster deserved no worship; these "bad" spirits were created by the hostile and evil spirit. The existence of Angra Mainyu was the source of all misery in the universe. Zoroaster claimed that Ahura Mazda was not an omnipotent God, but used the aid of humans in the cosmic struggle against Angra Mainyu. Nonetheless, Ahura Mazda is Angra Mainyu's superior, not his equal. Angra Mainyu and his daevas, which attempt to attract humans away from the path of truth and righteousness, would be destroyed. Whether the Achaemenids were Zoroastrians is a matter of much debate. However, it is known; the representation and invocation of Ahura Mazda can be seen on royal inscriptions written by Achaemenid kings. The most notable of all the inscriptions is the Behistun Inscription written by Darius I which contains many references to Ahura Mazda.
An inscription written in Greek was found in a late Achaemenid temple at Persepolis which invoked Ahura Mazda and two other spirits, most Mithra and Anahita. On the Elamite Persepolis Fortification Tablet 377, Ahura Mazda is invoked along with Mithra and Voruna. Artaxerxes III makes this invocation to the three spirits again in his reign; the early Achaemenid period contained no representation of Ahura Mazda. The winged symbol with a male figure, regarded by European scholars as Ahura Mazda has been shown to represent the royal xvarənah, the personification of royal power and glory. However, it was customary for every emperor from Cyrus until Darius III to have an empty chariot drawn by white horses as a place for Ahura Mazda to accompany the Persian army on battles; the use of images of Ahura Mazda began in the western satraps of the Achaemenid Empire in the late 5th century BCE. Under Artaxerxes II, the first literary reference as well as a statue of Ahura Mazda was built by a Persian governor of Lydia in 365 BCE.
It is known that the reverence for Ahura Mazda, as well as Anahita and Mithra continued with the same traditions during this period. The worship of Ahura Mazda with symbolic images is noticed, but it stopped with the beginning of the Sassanid period. Zoroastrian iconoclasm, which can be traced to the end of the Parthian period and the beginning of the Sassanid put an end to the use of all images of Ahura Mazda in worship. However, Ahura Mazda remained symbolized by a dignified male figure, standing or on horseback, found in Sassanian investiture. During the Sassanid Empire, a heretical form of Zoroastrianism, termed Zurvanism, emerged, it gained adherents throughout the Sassanid Empire, most notably the royal lineage of Sassanian emperors. Under the reign of Shapur I, Zurvanism became a widespread cult. Zurvanism revokes Zoroaster's original message of Ahura Mazda as the uncreated spirit, the "uncreated creator" of all, reduces him to a created spirit, one of two twin sons of Zurvan, their father and the primary spirit.
Zurvanism makes Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu of equal strength and only contrasting spirits. Other than Zurvanism, the Sassanian kings demonstrated their devotion to Ahura Mazda i
Zoroastrianism, or Mazdayasna, is one of the world's oldest religions that remains active. It is a monotheistic faith, centered in a dualistic cosmology of good and evil and an eschatology predicting the ultimate destruction of evil. Ascribed to the teachings of the Iranian-speaking prophet Zoroaster, it exalts a deity of wisdom, Ahura Mazda, as its Supreme Being. Major features of Zoroastrianism, such as messianism, judgment after death and hell, free will may have influenced other religious systems, including Second Temple Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism. With possible roots dating back to the second millennium BCE, Zoroastrianism enters recorded history in the 5th century BCE. Along with a Mithraic Median prototype and a Zurvanist Sassanid successor, it served as the state religion of the pre-Islamic Iranian empires for more than a millennium, from around 600 BCE to 650 CE. Zoroastrianism was suppressed from the 7th century onwards following the Muslim conquest of Persia of 633–654. Recent estimates place the current number of Zoroastrians at around 190,000, with most living in India and in Iran.
However, in 2015, there were reports of up to 100,000 converts in Iraqi Kurdistan. Besides the Zoroastrian diaspora, the older Mithraic faith Yazdânism is still practised amongst Kurds; the most important texts of the religion are those of the Avesta, which includes the writings of Zoroaster known as the Gathas, enigmatic poems that define the religion's precepts, the Yasna, the scripture. The full name by which Zoroaster addressed the deity is: Ahura, The Lord Creator, Mazda, Supremely Wise; the religious philosophy of Zoroaster divided the early Iranian gods of Proto-Indo-Iranian tradition, but focused on responsibility, did not create a devil per se. Zoroaster proclaimed that there is only one God, the singularly creative and sustaining force of the Universe, that human beings are given a right of choice; because of cause and effect, they are responsible for the consequences of their choices. The contesting force to Ahura Mazda was called angry spirit. Post-Zoroastrian scripture introduced the concept of Ahriman, the Devil, a personification of Angra Mainyu.
Zoroastrianism's creator Ahura Mazda, through the Spenta Mainyu is an all-good "father" of Asha, in opposition to Druj and no evil originates from "him". "He" and his works are evident to humanity through the six primary Amesha Spentas and the host of other Yazatas, through whom worship of Mazda is directed. Spenta Mainyu adjoined unto "truth", oppose the Spirit's opposite, Angra Mainyu and its forces born of Akəm Manah. Zoroastrianism has no major theological divisions. In Zoroastrianism, the purpose in life is to "be among those who renew the world...to make the world progress towards perfection". Its basic maxims include: Humata, Huvarshta, which mean: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds. There is only one path and, the path of Truth. Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, all beneficial rewards will come to you also; the name Zoroaster is a Greek rendering of the name Zarathustra. He is known as Zardosht in Persian and Zaratosht in Gujarati; the Zoroastrian name of the religion is Mazdayasna, which combines Mazda- with the Avestan language word yasna, meaning "worship, devotion".
In English, an adherent of the faith is called a Zoroastrian or a Zarathustrian. An older expression still used today is Behdin, meaning "The best Religion | Beh < Middle Persian Weh + Din < Middle Persian dēn < Avestan Daēnā". In Zoroastrian liturgy the term is used as a title for an individual, formally inducted into the religion in a Navjote ceremony; the term Mazdaism is a typical 19th century construct, taking Mazda- from the name Ahura Mazda and adding the suffix -ism to suggest a belief system. The March 2001 draft edition of the Oxford English Dictionary records an alternate form, Mazdeism derived from the French Mazdéisme, which first appeared in 1871. Zoroastrian philosophy is identified as having been known to Italian Renaissance Europe through an image of Zoroaster in Raphael's "School of Athens" by Giorgio Vasari in 1550; the first surviving reference to Zoroaster in English scholarship is attributed to Thomas Browne, who refers to the prophet in his 1643 Religio Medici, followed by the Oxford English Dictionary's record of the 1743.
The Oxford English Dictionary records use of the term Zoroastrianism in 1874 in Archibald Sayce's Principles of Comparative Philology. Zoroastrians believe that there is one universal, supreme God, Ahura Mazda, or the "Wise Lord".. Zoroaster keeps the two attributes separate as two different concepts in most of the Gathas and consciously uses a masculine word for one concept and a feminine for the other, as if to distract from an anthropomorphism of his divinity. Zoroaster claimed. Other scholars assert that since Zoroastrianism's divinity covers both being and mind as immanent entities, it is better described as a belief in an immanent self-creating universe with consciousness as its special attribute, thereby putting Zoroastrianism in the pantheistic fold where it can be traced to i
Atar (/ˈətər/ is the Zoroastrian concept of holy fire, sometimes described in abstract terms as "burning and unburning fire" or "visible and invisible fire". It is considered to be the visible presence of his aša; the rituals for purifying a fire are performed 1,128 times a year. In the Avestan language, ātar is an attribute of sources of heat and light, of which the nominative singular form is ātarš, source of Persian ātaš, it is etymologically related to the Avestan āθrauuan / a type of priest. It was copied by the Latin ater and a cognate of the Slavic vatra. In Zoroastrianism, ātar is iconographically conflated with fire itself, which in Middle Persian is ātaxsh, one of the primary objects of Zoroastrian symbolism. Atar is evident in the Gathas, the oldest texts of the compendium of the Avesta and believed to have been composed by Zoroaster himself. At this juncture, as in the Yasna Haptanghaiti, atar is still—with only one exception—an abstract concept an instrument, a medium, of the Creator and is not yet the divinity of heat and light that atar was to become in the texts.
In the most ancient texts, atar is a medium, a faculty, through which judgement is passed and reflects the pre-Zoroastrian institution of ordeal by heat. So, for example, justice is administered through atar, the blazing atar, through the heat of atar, through the blazing, molten metal. An individual who has passed the fiery test, has attained physical and spiritual strength, wisdom and love with serenity. However, among all the references to atar in the oldest texts, it is only once addressed independently of Ahura Mazda. In this exception, atar is spoken of in the third person masculine singular: "He detects sinners by hand-grasping". Altogether, "there are said to have been some 30 kinds of fiery tests in all." In the early texts, tangential to its role in establishing guilt, atar is the light of revelation through which Zoroaster is selected for prophet-hood, the Zarathushtra Mainyu Athra, radiated by Wisdom/Mazda, bearing the conviction of "Good Purpose", enlightening one’s inner-self. Within this framework of the concept of divine illumination, atar radiates the "other lights", the essence from which insight and wisdom permeate the universe.
So Zoroaster's injunction to always pray in the presence of atar—either towards the sun, or towards their own hearths—so as to better concentrate their devotions on asha and the virtue that should be striven for. The Gathic role of atar as the medium for detecting guilt is not directly evident in the texts of the Avesta, but reappears in modified form as an allegory of burning and annihilating the Angra Mainyu through righteousness, "where Asha Vahishta is identified at times with the household fire on the hearth." There, "identification in the realms of matter and of spirit serves only to bring more into prominence the main tenets of Zoroaster's teachings in regard to Asha". A vestige of the ancient institution of ordeal by heat is nonetheless present in Vendidad 4.54–55, where speaking against the truth and violating the sanctity of promise is punishable by flogging and is detected by the consumption of "water, blazing, of golden color, having the power to detect guilt." The Zend translation/commentary on this passage translates "blazing" as having brimstone and sulphur, notes that innocence or guilt was established by the consumption of this "guilt-detecting liquid".
In the Denkard, Adharbad Maraspand—the Sassanid era high-priest to whom the collation of the Avesta texts is attributed—is purported to have nine measures of "unburning molten zinc" applied to his chest as proof of accuracy of the sacred texts. Seen chronologically, the transition from atar as a vehicle of judgement to Atar Yazata the divinity presiding over blazing fire is abrupt. While the older Gathic Avestan texts have heat associated with harsh judgement, the Younger Avestan texts have the divinity Atar representing and being represented by fire itself. Asha Vahishta's association with atar is however carried forward, they are mentioned together. So in their roles as protectors, for "when the Evil Spirit assailed the creation of Good Truth, Good Thought and Fire intervened" It is in the texts that Atar is personified as "the son" of Ahura Mazda and is addressed as "full of glory and full of healing remedies". In Yasna 17.11, Atar is "master of the house", recalling the role of the hearth fire in the Gathas.
The same passage enumerates the "five kinds of fire": atar berezi-savah, "the beneficent atar", qualified in Zend texts as "the fire that eats food but drinks no water", the kind of fire that burns in an Atash-Behram, the highest grade of fire temple. Atar vohu-fryana, "the atar of good affection" qualified as "the fire diffusing goodness", "the fire that consumes both water and food". Atar urvazishta, "the atar of greatest bliss" qualified as "the fire of ha
Farr-e Kiyani (Faravahar)
The Faravahar known as Farr-e Kiyani, is one of the best-known symbols of Iran. It symbolizes Zoroastrianism, the first religion of Iran before the Arab invasion of Iran, Iranian nationalism; the Faravahar is the most worn pendant among Iranians and has become a secular national symbol, rather than a religious symbol. It symbolizes good thoughts, good words and good deeds, which are the basic tenets and principles of Zoroastrianism; the New Persian word فروهر is read as faravahar. The Middle Persian forms were frawahr, frōhar, fraward, directly from Old Persian *fravarti-; the Avestan language form was fravaṣ̌i. After the Arab conquest of Iran, Zoroastrianism continued to be part of Iranian culture. Throughout the year, festivities are celebrated such as the Iranian New Year or Nowruz and Chaharshanbe Suri; these are remnants of Zoroastrian traditions. From the start of the 20th century, the Farvahar icon found itself in public places and became a known icon amongst all Iranians; the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi is Iran's national epic and contains stories from pre-Islamic Zoroastrian times.
The tomb of Ferdowsi, visited by numerous Iranians every year, contains the Faravahar icon as well. The Sun Throne, the imperial seat of Persia, has strong relations from the Farahavar; the sovereign would be seated in the middle of the throne, shaped like a platform or bed, raised from the ground. This religious-cultural symbol was adapted by the Pahlavi dynasty to represent the Iranian nation. In present-day Zoroastrianism, the Faravahar is said to be a reminder of one's purpose in life, to live in such a way that the soul progresses towards frashokereti, or union with Ahura Mazda, the supreme divinity in Zoroastrianism. Although there are a number of interpretations of the individual elements of the symbol, none of them are older than the 20th century. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Lion and Sun, part of Iran's original national flag, was banned by the government from public places in order to prevent people from being reminded of life prior to the revolution. Faravahar icons were not removed.
As a result, the Faravahar icon became a national symbol amongst the people, it became somewhat tolerated by the government as opposed to the Lion and Sun. The Faravahar is the most worn pendant amongst Iranians and has become a national symbol, rather than a religious icon because it has been absconded with by non-Zoroastrians, although its Zoroastrian roots should not be ignored. It's the symbol of the state religion of the Persian Empire: Zoroastrianism. Nowadays, it is a common symbol of ancient Iranian state. Although Zoroastrianism is no longer Iran's state religion, it is an important and traditional symbol; the winged discs has a long history in the culture of the ancient Near and Middle East. In Neo-Assyrian times, a human bust is added to the disk, the "feather-robed archer" interpreted as symbolizing Ashur. and the winged disc- Anshar While the symbol is thought to represent a Fravashi, from which it derives its name, what it represented in the minds of those who adapted it from earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian reliefs is unclear.
Because the symbol first appears on royal inscriptions, it is thought to represent the'Divine Royal Glory', or the Fravashi of the king, or represented the divine mandate, the foundation of a king's authority. This relationship between the name of the symbol and the class of divine entities it represents, reflects the current belief that the symbol represents a Fravashi. However, there is no physical description of the Fravashis in the Avesta, the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, in Avestan the entities are grammatically feminine. }}
Daeva is an Avestan language term for a particular sort of supernatural entity with disagreeable characteristics. In the Gathas, the oldest texts of the Zoroastrian canon, the daevas are "gods that are rejected"; this meaning is – subject to interpretation – also evident in the Old Persian "daiva inscription" of the 5th century BCE. In the Younger Avesta, the daevas are divinities that promote disorder. In tradition and folklore, the dēws are personifications of every imaginable evil. Daeva, the Iranian language term, should not be confused with the devas of Indian religions. While the word for the Vedic spirits and the word for the Zoroastrian entities are etymologically related, their function and thematic development is altogether different; the once-widespread notion that the radically different functions of Iranian daeva and Indic deva represented a prehistoric inversion of roles is no longer followed in 21st century academic discourse. Equivalents for Avestan daeva in Iranian languages include Pashto, Kurdish dêw, Persian dīv/deev, all of which apply to demons and other villainous creatures.
The Iranian word was borrowed into Old Armenian as dew, Georgian as devi, Urdu as deo, with the same negative associations in those languages. In English, the word appears as daeva, deev, in the 18th century fantasy novels of William Thomas Beckford as dive, it has been speculated that the concept of the daevas as a malevolent force may have been inspired from the Scythian gods. Old Avestan daēuua or daēva derives from Old Iranian *daiva, which in turn derives from Indo-Iranian *daivá- "god", reflecting Proto-Indo-European *deywós with the same meaning. For other Indo-European derivatives, see Dyeus; the Vedic Sanskrit cognate of Avestan daēuua is devá-, continuing in Indo-Aryan languages as dev. Because all cognates of Iranian *daiva have a positive connotation, but "no known Iranian dialect attests and the survival of a positive sense for *daiva-", in the 19th- and 20th-century a great deal of academic discussion revolved around questions of how Iranian daeva might have gained its derogatory meaning.
This "fundamental fact of Iranian linguistics" is "impossible" to reconcile with the testimony of the Gathas, where the daevas, though rejected, were still evidently gods that continued to have a following. The same is true of the daiva inscription, where the daiva are the gods of rebels, but still evidently gods that continued to have a following; the issue is related to the question of how Zoroaster's own contribution to Iranian religion might be defined. In the older early/mid 20th-century view, in which Zoroaster was perceived to be a revolutionary reformer, it was assumed that the daevas must have been the "national" gods of pre-Zoroaster-ian Iran, which Zoroaster had rejected; this attribution to Zoroaster is found in the 9th/10th-century books of Zoroastrian tradition, Gershevitch and others following Lommel consider the progression from "national" gods to demons to be attributable to the "genius of Zoroaster". Subsequent scholarship has a more differentiated view of Zoroaster, does not follow the unprovable assumption that prehistoric Iranian religion had "national" gods, nor does it involve hypothetical conjecture of whose gods the daevas might/might not have been.
While the progressive hypothesis gives Zoroaster credit for giving Iranian religion a moral and ethical dimension, it does not give Zoroaster credit for the development of the daevas into demons. It assumes that the development was gradual, that a general distrust of the daevas existed by the time the Gathas were composed. Although with some points of comparison such as shared etymology, Indic devá- is thematically different from Avestan daēva. In the Rigveda, the devas are the "younger gods", in conflict with the asuras, the "older gods". There is no such division evident in the Zoroastrian texts. And, while in the post-Rigvedic Indic texts the conflict between the two groups of devas and asuras is a primary theme, this is not a theme in either the Rigveda nor in the Iranian texts, therefore cannot have been a feature of a common heritage; the use of asura in the Rigveda is unsystematic and inconsistent and "it can hardly be said to confirm the existence of a category of gods opposed to the devas".
Indeed, RigVedic deva is variously applied including many of the asuras. At the oldest layer, Zoroastrianism's daevas are also gods, it is only in the younger texts that the word evolved to refer to evil creatures, and the Zoroastrian ahuras are only vaguely defined, only three in number. Moreover, the daemonization of the asuras in India and the daemonization of the daevas in Iran both took place "so late that the associated terms cannot be considered a feature of Indo-Iranian religious dialectology"; the view popularized by Nyberg, Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin, Widengren of a prehistorical opposition of *asura/daiva involves "interminable and conjectural discussions" on the status of various Indo-Iranian entities that in one culture are asuras/ahuras and in the other are devas/daevas. In the Gathas, the oldest texts of Zoroastrianism and credited to Zoroaster himself, the daevas are not yet the demons that they would become in Zoroastrianism.
Avestan known as Zend, refers to two languages: Old Avestan and Younger Avestan. The languages are known only from their use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, from which they derive their name. Both are early Iranian languages, a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages within the Indo-European family, its immediate ancestor was the Proto-Iranian language, a sister language to the Proto-Indo-Aryan language, with both having developed from the earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian. As such, Old Avestan is quite close in grammar and lexicon with Vedic Sanskrit, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language; the Avestan text corpus was composed in ancient Arachosia, Aria and Margiana, corresponding to the entirety of present-day Afghanistan, parts of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Yaz culture of Bactria-Margiana has been regarded as a archaeological reflection of the early "Eastern Iranian" culture described in the Avesta. Avestan's status as a sacred language has ensured its continuing use for new compositions long after the language ceased to be a living language.
"Avestan, associated with northeastern Iran, Old Persian, which belongs to the southwest, together constitute what is called Old Iranian." Scholars traditionally classify Iranian languages as "old", "middle" and "new" according to their age, as "eastern" or "western" according to geography, within this framework Avestan is classified as Eastern Old Iranian. But the east-west distinction is of limited meaning for Avestan, as the linguistic developments that distinguish Eastern from Western Iranian had not yet occurred. Avestan does not display some typical Western Iranian innovations visible in Old Persian, so in this sense, "eastern" only means "non-western". Old Avestan is related to Old Persian and agrees morphologically with Vedic Sanskrit; the old ancestor dialect of Pashto was close to the language of the Gathas. The Avestan language is attested in two forms, known as "Old Avestan" and "Younger Avestan". Younger Avestan did not evolve from Old Avestan; every Avestan text, regardless of whether composed in Old or Younger Avestan, underwent several transformations.
Karl Hoffmann traced the following stages for Avestan. In chronological order: The natural language of the composers of the Gathas, the Yasna Haptanghaiti, the four sacred prayers. Changes precipitated by slow chanting Changes to Old Avestan due to transmission by native speakers of Younger Avestan The natural language of the scribes who wrote grammatically correct Younger Avestan texts Deliberate changes introduced through "standardization" Changes introduced by transfer to regions where Avestan was not spoken Adaptions/translations of portions of texts from other regions Composition of ungrammatical late Avestan texts Phonetic notation of the Avestan texts in the Sasanian archetype Post-Sasanian deterioration of the written transmission due to incorrect pronunciation Errors and corruptions introduced during copyingMany phonetic features cannot be ascribed with certainty to a particular stage since there may be more than one possibility; every phonetic form that can be ascribed to the Sasanian archetype on the basis of critical assessment of the manuscript evidence must have gone through the stages mentioned above so that "Old Avestan" and "Young Avestan" mean no more than "Old Avestan and Young Avestan of the Sasanian period."
The script used for writing Avestan developed during the 3rd or 4th century AD. By the language had been extinct for many centuries, remained in use only as a liturgical language of the Avesta canon; as is still the case today, the liturgies were recited by rote. The script devised to render Avestan was natively known as Din dabireh "religion writing", it is written right-to-left. Among the 53 characters are about 30 letters that are – through the addition of various loops and flourishes – variations of the 13 graphemes of the cursive Pahlavi script, known from the post-Sassanian texts of Zoroastrian tradition; these symbols, like those of all the Pahlavi scripts, are in turn based on Aramaic script symbols. Avestan incorporates several letters from other writing systems, most notably the vowels, which are derived from Greek minuscules. A few letters were free inventions, as were the symbols used for punctuation; the Avestan alphabet has one letter that has no corresponding sound in the Avestan language.
The Avestan script is alphabetic, the large number of letters suggests that its design was due to the need to render the orally recited texts with high phonetic precision. The correct enunciation of the liturgies was considered necessary for the prayers to be effective; the Zoroastrians of India, who represent one of the largest surviving Zoroastrian communities worldwide transcribe Avestan in Brahmi-based scripts. This is a recent development first seen in the ca. 12th century texts of Neryosang Dhaval and other Parsi Sanskritist theologians of that era, which are contemporary with the oldest surviving manuscripts in Avestan script. Today, Avestan is most typeset in the Gujarati script; some Avestan letters with no corresponding symbol are synthesized with additional diacritical marks, for example, the /z/ in zaraϑuštra is written with j with a dot below. Aves