GATHAS

The original teachings of Zarathushtra are compiled into hymns called the Gathas (songs). Zarathushtra composed his hymns in the Old Avestan language, a living language of his time. But during Zarathushtra's time, Avestan was only a spoken language for it did not have a script and so there was no reading or writing. At that time, priestly seers, who sought through study and meditation to reach direct communion with the divine, used poetic style of composition. The Gathas, like the Hindu Vedas, were composed in poetic rather than prose form because it is easier to memorize poetry than prose. Thus, for several centuries, the Gathas -- the teachings of Zarathushtra were passed down orally from one generation to the next.

The Gathas contain about 6000 words and almost two thousand years after Zarathushtra's death, his words were incorporated into 17 chapters, called hâitis. These 17 hâitis contain 241 verses and were compiled into 5 parts and each part was named after its opening word.

The names of the 5 Gathas are:

(1) Ahunavaiti Gatha, the song containing the Ahuna Vairya (a prayer)
(2) Ushtavaiti Gatha, the song containing wishes
(3) Spentamainyu Gatha, the song of the Life-giving Inspiration
(4) Vohukhshathra Gatha, the song of the Good Command
(5) Vahishtoishti Gatha, the song of the Best Ritual.

Each of the 5 Gathas, as we know them today, starts with a Khshnuman, an introduction, composed in Pahalavi language, and also ends with a few additional sections in Pahalavi. In the first Ahunavaiti Gatha, Zarathushtra starts his prayers with the words:

hyâ ýâsâ nemanghâ ustânazastô rafedhrahyâ manyęush mazdâ

In humble adoration, with hands outstretched I pray to You, O Mazda!

Three paragraphs in the Atash Nyaish prayer, a liturgy to Fire, are from the Ahunavaiti Gatha and the first paragraph starts with the words:

us môi uzâreshvâ ahurâ
âramaitî tevîshîm dasvâ

which means:
O Ahura, rise within me,
grant me steadfastness of purpose,

and the third paragraph end with the words:
mananghascâ vanghęush mazdâi
shyaothanahyâ ashâi ýâcâ
uxdhaxyâcâ seraoshem xshathremcâ!
(Ahunavaiti Gatha: 33.12 to 33.14)

The first paragraph of the Kemna Mazda, recited during the Kusti prayer, is from the 2nd Ushtavaiti Gatha. It starts with the words:

kęm-nâ mazdâ mavaitę pâyűm dadât
and ends with:
tăm môi dăstvăm daęnayâi frâvaocâ.
.

In the 5th Gatha, Zarathushtra addresses her youngest daughter Pourachista during her marriage and tells her to be dedicated to the divine law of Asha and lead a life of righteousness.

Over the centuries as more prayers were composed, the 5 Gathas were made part of a longer prayer called the Yasna, which means Reverence or Veneration. The Yasna is one of the longest prayers in the Avesta and has 72 haitis. The kusti is made of 72 threads to represent the 72 haitis of the Yasna. The Parsis call the Yasna, Ijashne, and this ceremony is performed practically every day in a Fire-Temple.

Of the 72 haitis of the Yasna prayer, Haitis 1 to 27 are in Younger Avestan, which is a dialect of the Avestan language. A dialect is a regional and temporal variation of a language. The Gathas, composed in Older (or Gathic) Avestan, have a dialect that is different to the prayers composed in Younger Avestan. The difference between Gathic and Younger Avestan is similar to what we notice today between British English and American English and, the Gujerati language spoken by the Parsis as compared to the Shuddh Gujerati spoken by the people of Gujerat in India. The prayers in Younger Avestan are not in poetic but in prose form. They were not composed by Zarathushtra but hundreds of years later by by priests of that era. Haitis 28 to 34 contain the first Gatha of Zarathushtra, Haitis 35 to 41 contain a prayer called the Haptanghâiti and Haiti 42 has a prayer called Yanghe Hatam, Both of these prayers are also in Older Avestan. Haitis 43-51 contain Gathas 2, 3 and 4 composed by Zarathushtra, Haiti 52 is another prayer, while, Haiti 53 contains the 5th Gatha of Zarathushtra and Haiti 54 has a prayer called Airyama Isho. Haitis 55 to 72 are in Younger Avestan language and prose form but were not composed by Zarathushtra.

Yasna Haptanghâiti, the Yasna of Seven Chapters, Haitis 35 to 41, is in Older Avestan and was perhaps composed by one or more of Zarathushtra's close companions. Yasna Haptanghâiti has short songs of prayers and has been given the second highest position (after the Gathas) in the Avesta. It is between the Five Gathas of Zarathushtra, inside which it has been allotted a placid place. According to Dr. Almut Hintze, Lecturer in Zoaroastrianism at SOAS, UK, Yasna Haptanghâiti is a poetic text like the Gathas. While the poetic form of the Gathas is governed by the rhythm of the syllables that of Haptanghâiti is governed by the rhythm of the words. In this prayer, the following three terms appear for the first time, Amesha Spentas (Bounteous Immortals), Yazamaidi (Bless) and Fravashi (active presence of Ahura Mazda in every being).

A paragraph from Haptanghâiti is recited during the flower ritual in the Jashan ceremony, and its words are:

humatanăm hűxtanăm hvarshtanăm
yadacâ anyadacâ
verezyamnanămcâ vâverezananămcâ mahî
aibî-jaretârô naęnaęstârô ýathanâ vohunăm mahî.

We revere Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds
done and to be done,
Now and henceforth.
We are, accordingly, the praisers
And invokers of all that is good.
(Haptanghâiti: Yasna 35-2)

The Haptanghâiti prayer tells us that we, Humans, are responsible for what we have done in the past and for what we are doing at present, as well as for what we will do in the future, for we esteem all that is good in the Divine Creation.

The Gathas have been translated by several scholars and some web-sites that have the English translation are listed below:

Recitation of the Gathas is available on the internet at:

Gathas recited by Kersey Antia
Gathas recited by Ramiyar Karanjia



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