The Ashem Vohu (/ˈʌʃɛm ˈvɔːh/, Avestan: 𐬀𐬴𐬆𐬨 𐬬𐬊𐬵𐬏 aṣ̌əm vohū) is the second most important mantra, and one of the most important prayers in Zoroastrianism.[1] It is dedicated to Asha, a Zoroastrian concept denoting truth, order or righteousness.[2]

Together with the Ahuna Vairya, the Yenghe hatam, and the Airyaman ishya; the Ashem vohu forms the four mantras that enclose the Gathas in the Yasna.[3] It is also at the end of most of the prayers in the Khordeh Avesta, except a certain few, most notably the Fravarane.[4]

In the Avesta

In the Yasna, the Ahuna Vairya (Y. 27.13), the Ashem vohu (Y. 27.14), and the Yenghe hatam (Y. 27.15) precede the Gathas, which are followed by the Airyaman ishya (Y. 54.1). Together with the Yasna Haptanghaiti, these texts form the Old Avestan layer of the Avesta. In the Younger Avestan portions of the texts, the Ashem vohu is mentioned more than 200 times.[3]

Text and interpretation

The Ashem vohu is overall the shortest of the four Gathic mantras. It is dedicated to asha, a central concept of Zoroastrianism. It consists of only twelve words which are arranged in an alliterative fashion. This may have helped ordinary people to more easily remember it.[5] It repeatedly uses the words aṣ̌a (truth, order), vohū/vahištā (good/best), astī (is) and uštā (desire); showing the centrality of these terms.[6][7] It has been argued that it was one of the prayers used from early on at the five daily times of prayer known as gáh.[3]

The text poses a number of challenges for a grammatical analysis.[8] The term vohū translates to good and can be used as a regular adjective or as a noun. In the latter case it acquires the meaning of possession, comparable to the English noun good in the sense of item of merchandise. The first line can therefore mean both "asha is the best possession" or "asha [is] good, it is best." The term uštā is equally ambiguous. It can be derived from ušta (desired things) or from ušti (desire). Finally, the term ahmāi can refer to itself or to the next words hyat̰ aṣ̌āi.[3] These ambiguities have resulted in a number of diverging translations, none of which has found universal acceptance.[9]


There are many translations that all differ significantly due to the complexity of Avestan and the concepts involved. For example:

Righteousness is best (of all that is) good.
As desired, what is being desired
is truth for him who (represents) best truth.


Order is the best good (reward/possession) there is.
There are wished-for things in his wish for this one
when his Order is for the best Order.[10]


Truth is best (of all that is) good.
As desired, as desired, truth
is for him who (represents) best truth.[11]


Holiness (Asha) is the best of all good:
it is also happiness.
Happy the man who is holy with perfect holiness!"[12]


Righteousness is the best good and it is happiness.
Happiness is to her/him who is righteous
for the sake of the best righteousness.[13]

Sogdian version

In the early 20th century, several thousands documents were discovered by the Daoist monk Wang Yuanlu in the Library Cave at Dunhuang. They were subsequently acquired and brought to Britain by Sir Aurel Stein. In these documents, a Sogdian version of the Ashem Vohu was discovered in the 1970 and translated by Nicholas Sims-Williams.[14]

This version shows some phonological and linguistic peculiarities compared to the extant Avestan version. Ilya Gershevitch has, therefore, opined that the Ashem Vohu must have been known to the Sogdians before they converted to Zoroastrianism. Combined with the fact that it contains no specific Zoroastrian beliefs, Gershevitch concluded that the mantra should be considered to be pan-Iranian.[15]

See also



  1. ^ This is a reconstruction by Gershevitch into a hypothetical Old Iranian stage of the Sogdian language.[15]


  1. ^ Lentz 1968.
  2. ^ Zaehner 1961, p. 34.
  3. ^ a b c d Schlerath 2012, p. 741.
  4. ^ Boyce 2001, p. 38.
  5. ^ Humbach & Ichaporia 1994, p. 12.
  6. ^ Boyce 1996, p. 262.
  7. ^ Kotwal & Kreyenbroek 2015, p. 337.
  8. ^ Humbach 1991.
  9. ^ Stausberg 2002, p. 85.
  10. ^ Skjaervø 2012, p. 219.
  11. ^ Humbach & Ichaporia 1994.
  12. ^ "AVESTA: KHORDA AVESTA: Part 1". Retrieved 2019-07-16.
  13. ^ Kanga, Ervad Kawasji Eduljee. English Translation of Gujarati Khordeh Avesta. p. 1.
  14. ^ Sims-Williams 1976.
  15. ^ a b Gershevitch 1976.


Further reading