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Ahuna Vairya (Avestan: 𐬀𐬵𐬎𐬥𐬀 𐬬𐬀𐬌𐬭𐬌𐬌𐬀) is the first of Zoroastrianism's four Gathic Avestan formulas. The text, which appears in Yasna 27.13, is also known after its opening words yatha ahu vairyo. In Zoroastrian tradition, the formula is also known as the ahun(a)war.
Numerous translations and interpretations exist, but the overall meaning of the text remains obscure. The Ahuna Vairya and Ashem Vohu (the second most sacred formula at Yasna 27.14) are together "very cryptic formulas, of a pronounced magical character." The Ahunavaiti Gatha (chapters 28-34 of the Yasna), is named after the Ahuna Vairya formula.
Like the other three formulas (Ashem vohu, Yenghe hatam, Airyaman ishya), the Ahuna Vairya is part of the Gathic canon, that is, part of the group of texts composed in the more archaic dialect of the Avestan language. Together with the other three formulas, the Ahuna Vairya is part of the 'envelope' that liturgically encloses the Gathas, i.e. the hymns attributed to Zoroaster. One of the formulas, the Airyaman ishya (Yasna 54.1) follows the Gathas, while the other three formulas – Ahuna Vairya, Ashem vohu and Yenghe hatam (together at Yasna 27.13-27.15) – precede them.
Unlike the third and fourth formula, the first two formulas—the Ahuna Vairya and the Ashem vohu—are part of the Kusti prayers. Unlike the third and fourth formula, the first two do not express wishes and are technically purificatory and meditational declarations (asti, "it is").
The Ahuna Vairya is already a subject of theological exegesis in scripture itself, in particular in Yasna 19, where "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." (19.10) In Yasna 19.3 and 4.8, the formula is described as having been a primordial utterance of Ahura Mazda, articulated immediately after the creation of the spiritual world (and before the material world), and that its efficacy in aiding the righteous is due to its primordial nature.
As a primordial utterance, the Ahura Vairya is described to have talismanic virtues: the power to aid mortals in distress, and inversely as a potent weapon against the daevas. Elsewhere in the Avesta, the Ahuna Vairya is described as the "most victorious" (Yasht 11.13), as the "veracious word" (Yasna 8.1), as the "sacred gift" (Yasna 27.7). In Vendidad 11.3, in addition to being "most healing", frequent recitation of the Ahura Vairya is prescribed as an act of hygiene to "protect the body". In Yasna 9.14, Zoroaster is given credit as the first mortal to recite it.
The hymn's supremacy among sacred Zoroastrian formulae is well developed in the 9th-11th century texts of Zoroastrian tradition.
In the Denkard ('Acts of Religion', 9th century), four of the twenty-one nasks are described to have expounded on the efficacy of the hymn (8.44.1), and each volume of the nasks is said to have been initially assigned its title from a word in the Ahuna Vairya prayer (Denkard intro, 6, 8, 17, 18, 9.1.4). The formula's potency to smite daevas and protect life and property are described at length (4.38-45, 8.43.81, 9.1.4), and the formula'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)
The Bundahishn, an 11th/12th century narrative of Zoroastrian cosmological myths, continues and embellishes the Avesta's description of the Ahuna Vairya as a primordial utterance. In that tradition, Ahuna Vairya is not only an utterance of Mazda following the creation of the spiritual world. Additionally, in Bundahishn 12.13-14, the spirit of the yatha ahu vairyo is the first manifestation of the luminaries that Ahura Mazda created, i.e. the spirit of the formula is the first of the material creations, and is at the same time the "fire form" force from which the material world is created. Moreover, 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).
The Vendidad's prescription of recitation of the formula as an act of hygiene is reiterated in the Sayast ne Sayast, which prescribes recitation 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) The Denkard additionally suggests the formula be uttered when entering a house (9.18.5).
While the Avesta's Yasna 19 sees the subject of the Ahuna Vairya formula as referring to Zoroaster, and possibly to his successors, later tradition (Denkard 9.24.1, also Zatspram 1.13.19) infers no such connection, and applies it evenly to all followers of Zoroaster's teaching.
Like all Gathic Avestan verses, the prayer is altogether ambiguous and translations vary significantly. Even though several translations and interpretations exist, the overall meaning of the prayer remains obscure. The terseness of the prose, elaborate arrangement and poetical techniques make a translation from the Old Avestan difficult (See also: difficulties in translating the Gathas). Given its syntactic density, scholarly agreement on a definitive translation, or even close approximation of its meaning, remains unlikely. Translations based on Middle Persian interpretations (and commentaries) of the hymn also exist and can differ greatly from those based on the Avestan original.
The version found in the Avesta edition of Geldner reads:
There are transliterations available with differences concerning certain words. Transliteration of Helmut Humbach:
Dastur Dhalla also notes that a corrupt form of the prayer is commonly used:
Translation by Boyce essentially derived from that of S. Insler:
A simple translation from the Zoroastrian Middle Persian by Darmesteter:
A translation from the Avestan by Windfuhr:
Vazquez's liturgically inclined translation is:
Humbach, Elefenbein and Skjærvø translate it as:
The Zoroastrian Assembly translates it as:
Both the lord and the leader are to be chosen
because of their righteousness.
These two appointments are made with good mind
so that acts of life are done for the Wise One,
and the dominion of God is well established,
in which the chosen person becomes the rehabilitator
of the rightful who are oppressed.
Other interpretations are listed in the further reading section below.