Roj Adar, Mah Meher, 1377 Yz.
Many Parsis are in the dark about the exact extent and depth of the Avesta scriptures we had. Perhaps many are unaware that today we have not more than about 7% of the entire original Avesta scripture. The rest has been lost in a series of tragedies. Perhaps, looking at the way we fight over the mere 7%, it is better we don’t have the rest! One wonders what the situation might have been then?
The original Avesta scriptures were divided into 21 mega volumes called Nasks .
Each Nask was named after the 21 words of our sacred Yatha Ahu Vairyo prayer. Thus there was a Nask called Yatha, one called Ahu and so on till Vastarem. These 21 mega volumes were divided into three categories.
- The Gathic Nasks: The Gathic part, comprising 7 Nasks contained the complete daily prayers of the ordinary people, along with details of regular day to day ceremonies that could be performed by the laity, as well as the beneficent power giving Manthra prayers. This part is remembered in the Avesta as ‘Manthra Spenta’.
- The Datic Nasks: The second category, comprising 7 Nasks contained the laws of the religion relating to spiritual and ritual purity as well as laws of everyday life, from which evolved the civil and criminal laws that the Persians later became famous for. This part is remembered in the Avesta as ‘Data Vi-daeva’ .
- The Hadha Manthric Nasks: The last category, also comprising 7 volumes, contained the beneficent prayers, the details of the rituals, and the keys to the Avesta as well as the traditions of the religion relating to consecration of various institutions, customs and beliefs. This part is remembered in the Avesta as ‘dareghayao upayanayo’.
So great was this body of knowledge that a curious saying is found in the Iranian tradition which says: ‘hich cheez nist ke andar Avesta nist’, i.e. ‘there is nothing that exists which is not in the Avesta’. This great storehouse of the entire knowledge attainable by a human being was closely guarded. There were 21 main priestly families during the time of the Zarathushtrian monarchy, and each family was given the custody of one Nask. The entire Nask was memorised by the Priests of that family and handed down from generation to generation. In addition to the actual Avesta, there was another set (according to some sources more than one set) of 21 Nasks written in Pahlavi – the day-to-day language of that time which explained the original 21 Avesta Nasks. These explanatory Nasks had different levels of understanding and were written in a kind of code language. The last Nask (Vastarem) contained the knowledge of decoding this code so that the Pahlavi would make sense.
In addition to the original Nasks in Avesta and the explanatory Nasks in Pahlavi, various great scholar-priests of that time wrote extensive commentaries on the Nasks giving even further details and extending the scope and logic of the original. Several such commentaries also compared the earlier writings of older scholar-priests and added to them. There existed different Universities of learning and there was a healthy debate and exchange of ideas (and some controversies too!) among the scholar-priests of that time.
All this was destroyed in a series of calamities, beginning with the destruction of Persepolis by Alexander and the systematic murder of the 21 priestly families. After a few centuries much of the destruction was salvaged and rearranged only to be destroyed again by the Arabs. Whatever was left was again restored but once again destroyed by the systematic persecution of the Arabs and the freshly converted Muslims of Iran.
What we have left today is just one complete Nask – the Vandidad which corresponds to the 19 th word of the Yatha – Drigubyo. The other Avesta we have left is mainly due to the fact that it was memorised by the Priests to perform the normal Yasna and Vandidad ceremonies as well as the Khordeh Avesta and a few other scriptures.
So what about the remaining part? Is it lost forever? No. Of the several messages which our Master Ustad Saheb Behramshah N. Shroff got from the Abeds of Demavand, one great message related to the Nasks. It was Ustad Saheb’s great fortune to see the complete set of Avesta Nasks that were preserved by the Abeds in Demavand. This set and several of the commentaries referred to earlier are in their safe keeping.
At the time of the arrival of the saviour Shah Behram Varzavand, some parts of this lost scripture will be brought out again into the material world and a fresh set of 21 complete Nasks, suitable to the age at that time will be presented by Him.
May that day come soon!
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram