Tag Archives: Gathas

The Rig Veda and the Gathas-revisited


On 22 Apr, 2007, I posted a write- up  discussing the close relation between the Rig-Veda and the Gathas concerning the language, the locale, the names of the principal characters etc. I mentioned there in, the language of the Gathas (the older scriptures), known as Avesthan was remarkably similar to that of the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rig Veda. Further, in the Rig Veda the devas are worshipped as gods and the asuras are put down as demons, while in Zoroastrianism the treatment of these deities is reversed.   (Topic: Rig Veda and the Gathas )

As regards the similarities between the two languages:

One could find a Sanskrit equivalent for almost any Avestan word. For instance: The Avesthan : aevo pantao yo ashahe, vispe anyaesham apantam (Yasna 72.11); could be rendered in Sanskrit as : abade pantha he ashae, visha anyaesham apantham (translation: The one path is that of Asha, all others are not-paths).

Another example (left) of Avestan text from Yasna 10.6 is rendered word for word in Sanskrit on the right. Translated it means: `Mithra that strong mighty angel, most beneficent to all creatures, I will worship with libations’

The Cambridge History of India observes, “The coincidence between the Avesta and the Rig-Veda is so striking that the two languages cannot have been long separated before they arrived at their present condition.” The linguist, Professor T. Burrow of Oxford University also argued for strong similarities between language of Avesta and Vedic Sanskrit.   And, HD Griswold (in his The Religion of the Rig Veda) went  so far as to point out that each can be said to be “a commentary on the other … No scholar of the Avesta worth the designation can do without a thorough grounding in Vedic Sanskrit”.


The issues raised in the post of 22 Apr, briefly, were – when and why the terms deva/asura came to acquire different meanings in the two texts. Was this because of a conflict between the two sects? If so, when and where the” conflict “ took place?

Following that post there were a few comments and discussions in the Forum. I also looked around a few sites and read a few books on the subject because I was not totally convinced that there was a “conflict” per se. In the mean time, a friend on the Forum recommended an article entitled “Vedic Elements in the Ancient Iranian Religion of Zarathushtra “ written by Mr. Subhash Kak, a scholar from Jammu & Kashmir. The article was well written and it helped me to take a view on some, though not on all the issues raised in the post of22 Apr 2007. These efforts yielded additional information on the ancient kingdoms of Kassite s, Mittanis and Hattusa that existed sometime during 18th century B. C to 16th century B. C. in the Mesopotamian and North –West Syria regions. Based on the additional information I prepared a fresh article on the subject and hence this post.

Now, shall we resume our little talk about the Rig Veda and the Gathas?

1. I have veered to the view that the “conflict” was mostly surmised. There is no evidence pointing to any such “conflict”. I agree we may safely discard that hypothesis, at least for the present.

2. the Vedic religion, in some form, was present in the Mesopotamian region during the times of the Mitanni ,the Hittite, the Kassites (c 1750 BC) who worshiped Surya.

3. The Hurrian (1500 B C to 1270 B C) was located in the present-day western Syria , in the mountainous regions of Upper Euphrates and Tigris. The name Mitanni or Maitani first appears in the “memoirs” of a military officier who lived at the time of Amenhotep (1525 – 1504 BC). These memoirs were in connection with the Syrian wars (ca. 1480).

3.1 The ethnicity of the people of Mitanni is difficult to ascertain.The names of some Mitanni kings reveal Indo Aryan influence. They appeared to follow the Vedic religion. The ruling aristocracy was maryanni , meaning “young warrior” a derivative of the Sanskrit marya. The Mitanni warriors were called Marya, the term for warrior in Sanskrit as well.

3.2 Washukanni, or Waššukanni (also spelled Washshukanni, Wassuganni, Vasukhani, or a combination of these variants) was the capital of the kingdom of Mitanni from 1500 B C. The name is similar to the Sanskrit phrase for “a mine of wealth.” Washukanni flourished as a capital city for two centuries.

3.3 The names of the kings also point to the Indo-Aryan influence. The founder of the Kirta (1500 B c to 1490 B C). His name is also mentioned as “Krta” or with its element such as Krtadeva, Krtadhaja, and Krtadharman etc.

The names of the other Mitanni kings are also of Indo Aryan origin. For instance: Tushrata (Dasharatha–possessing ten chariots), Baratarna ( Paratarna-great sun); Biridaswa (Brihadashwa- possessing great horses); Artatama (Rtumna-devoted to the divine law, Rta); Rta-smara ( rooted in the Rta);  Sattura (Satvar – warrior); Saustatar ( Saukshatra-son of Sukshatra, the good ruler); Saumathi (Son of Sumathi); Sattawaza (he who has won seven prizes);Shuttarna (Sutarna – good sun); Sumaala ( having beautiful wreaths); Parsatatar(Parashukshatra-ruler with axe); and, Mattiwaza ( Mativaja -whose wealth is prayer) – are the Mitannian names of the kings and other males of the time.


Royal seal of Saustatar

Šattiwaza (c.1325-1280) before his accession to the throne carried a Hurrian name Kili-Teššup, like that of several of his predecessors. In his treaties, he invokes, among the many Hurrian and Mesopotamian deities, the Indo-Aryan deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and the Nasatyas.

3.4 A famous treaty entered between the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma and the Mitanni king, Mattiwaza,(Mattiraja) in about 1380 BC, at Boghazkoy, invokes not only the Babylonian gods to witness the treaty but also the deities of Vedic origin such as Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Nasatya (Ashwins). The names of these deities are in the forms that appear in the Rig-Veda (S. Konow: Aryan gods of the Mitani people, 1921).

They occur in the treaty as ila_ni Mi-it-ra-as-si-il, ila_ni A-ru-na-as-si-il In-da-ra, ila_niNa-sa-at-ti-ya-an-na. Since the form for Na_satya is quite different in the Avestan language (Naonhaithya), it is likely that the Mitannian did not speak Iranian but Indo-Aryan (E.Meyer: Sitzungsberichte der K. Preuss. Akad. Der Wissen, 1908). Of these gods, only Mitra (Mithra) is invoked in the Avesta (Indra and Nanhaithya appear in the Avesta as demons and Varuna may have survived as Ahura Mazda – Asura Mahat).This indicates that the religion of the royalty was Vedic and the Iranian influence was yet to spread to the Mitanni region.

The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have therefore materialized at a much later stage .Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.

3.5 As regards the language of the Hurrian kingdom, the common language Hurrian was neither Indo Aryan nor Semitic but was closer to Urartian. The Hurrians adopted the Akkadian cuneiform script for their language in about 2000 BC . It appears there were different groups and sub groups who spoke different dialects and followed different sets of deities. The royal family of Mitanni was speaking Hurrian as well.

the horse drawn chariot

3.6 Kikkuli, a master horse trainer (assussanni, the Sanskrit form of which is aśva-sana) of Mittani, was the author of a chariot – horse training manual written in the Hittite language (an extinct language of Indo European family). The text (dated c1499 B. C) is notable for the information it provides about the development of Indo European language and for its content as well. Kikkuli’s horse training text includes numerical terms such as aika (eka, one), tuwa (dwe , two), tera (tri, three), panza (pancha, five), satta (sapta, seven), Na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, round).The terms used to denote the horses of different ages or stages of training are – saudist– “foal” or “untrained”; yuga– “young horse”; dāyuga to mean “horse in its second year of training” etc. The text employs terms such as babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita, grey), and pinkara (pingala, red) to denote colors. These terms are of Sanskrit origin.

Further, Kikkuli’s text, though in Hittite, has a few loanwords from Luwian and Hurrian languages. Whenever Kikkuli found it difficult to put across the Mitanni concepts inthe Hittite language, he switched to his own language (Hurrian) and switched back to Hittite.
Mitanni Chariot with spokes

3.7 Hence, the Indo-Aryan element of the Mitanni could be placed 1500 BCE , if not earlier.

4. Hittites is the conventional English name for an ancient people who spoke an Indo European language and who established the kingdom of Hattusa in the North Western region of Syria in 14th century B C. Hittite is the earliest attested Indo European language. The Hittites referred to their language as Nesili (or in one case, Kanesili), meaning “in the manner of (Ka) nesa.” Jay Friedman, University of California,in his paper Verbs in the Rig-Veda and Old Hittite confirms the Indo European nature of the Hittite language.
4.1 A cognate appears in a Hittite text found at Bogazköy in the name Ak/gniš, a god of devastation and annihilation. This term refers to AGNI (Sanskrit), the god of fire in ancient and traditional . In the Gathas of Zarathustra, the term atar is used to denote the concept of fire. The term atar does not appear in Rig-Veda. This points to presence of Vedic type of religion in the region .

5. kassites are the ancient people of the Middle East who established a dynasty that ruled for about 450 years, starting around 1600 BCE. Their capital was Dar Kurizgalu; about 150 km north of Babylon.The kassite spoke a language that was similar to Sumerian.

5.1 The names of some Kassite kings were of Vedic origin (for example: Shuriash = Surya, Maruttash = Marut, Inda-Bugash = Indra-Bhaga),

5.2 The fifth king among the Kassite dynasty took the name Abirattas’ (abhi-ratha ‘facing chariots (in battle)’. (T. Burrow, The Sanskrit Language , London, Faber and Faber, 1955).

5.3 The tenth king of the Kassite dynasty Agum (II) (c.1595-1545) took the throne-name Kakrime derived from Sanskrit term KAK meaning “ to enable , to help”(Sanskrit – saknoti, he is able, he is strong: Shakti,)( The American Heritage Dictionary of the English LanguageIndo-European Roots)

6. What is interesting in the case of Mitannis and Kassites is, the language of the common people was not Indo Aryan, the religion of the people did not appear to be Vedic. Yet, for some unknown reason many of the kings assumed Sanskrit – throne-names. It appears there were traces of Indo Aryan influence in the region.

The Indo-Aryans names do not appear in texts till 15th century BCE. The Mesopotamian texts of the 18th and 17th centuries BCE do not show evidence of this trend (of assuming Sanskrit-throne names). This trend, therefore, was comparatively recent.

What is not clear is, how these “traces of Indo Aryan influence“ came into being? When and why they faded away?

Ruins of Mittani palace

7. Mr. Kak in his paper makes a number of points:
( )

a) Following the collapse of the Sarasvati – river based economy around1900 BC, groups of Indians might have moved West and that might explain the presence of the Indic Kassites and the Mitanni in West Asia .

b) The old Vedic religion survived for a fairly long time in corners of Iran. The evidence of its survival comes from the daiva-inscription of Khshayarshan (Xerxes) (486-465 BC).

c) The ruling groups-Kassite and Mitanni – represented a minority in a population that spoke deferent languages. They, however, remained connected to their Vedic traditions. They were neighbors to the pre-Zoroastrian Vedic Iran . In addition, there were other Vedic religion groups in the intermediate region ofIran which itself consisted of several ethnic groups.

d) As per the Mitanni documents , the pre-Zorastrian religon in Iran included Varuna. Since Mitra and Varuna are partners in the Vedas, the omission of Varuna from the Zoroastrian lists indicates that Zarathushtra might be from the borderlands of the Vedic world where the Vedic system was not fully in place.

e) The pre-Zoroastrian religion of is clearly Vedic. Zarathushtra’s innovation lay in his emphasis on the dichotomy of good and bad The Zoroastrian innovations did not change the basic Vedic character of the culture in Iran. The worship ritual remained unchanged, as was the case with basic conceptions related to divinity and the place of man.

I also believe that Zarathushtra did not try to overthrow belief in the older Iranian religion, he did however, place Ahura Mazda at the centre of a kingdom of justice that promised immortality and bliss. He attempted to reform ancient Iranian religion on the basis of the then existing social and economic values

8. Now, let us come to the question of why the same set of deities came to be viewed differently and why there was division. This concerns mainly the asuras/ahuras versus the devas/daevas debate.

In the older texts, that is, in the Rig Veda and the Avesta, these differences are not quitesharp.In the Rig Veda, the asuras were the “older Gods”, a class of deities without negative connotations,who presided over the moral and social phenomena of the primeval universe; while devas the “younger gods” presided over nature and the environment. In the Vedic account of creation, some of the “older gods”(asuras) went over to join the ranks of the “younger gods” (devas). The remaining asuras were exiled to the nether world. While this distinction between asuras and asuras-who-became-devas is preserved in the texts of the Rig Veda, the later texts employ the term asura to represent allnon-devas or those opposed to devas.

In Zoroaster’s Gathas, where the battle between good and evil is a distinguishing characteristic of the religion ,the daevas are the “wrong gods”, the followers of whom need to be brought back to the path of the ‘good religion’

9. It is not clear what led to the rivalry between two groups and how rival groups perceived the same set of deities differently.It is possible that at some common point of time, the ancestors of both branches worshiped the same set of deities. Later, it is possible; each group supported its chosen set of deities, leading to rivalry between the two groups. The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have materialized a long time after the demise of the Mittani and other kingdoms. Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.

It is likely that the rivalry had its roots in the division of theIndic and Iranian branches of Proto-Indo-Iranian culture. However,the differences persist even today; while their causes have disappeared long ago, and even have been forgotten.

10. Mr. Kak states that the Vedic and the Zarathushtrian systems are much less deferent than is generally believed. He mentions the Kashmiri system which recognizes a three-way division consisting devas, asuras, and daevas. He also brings in the argument of three gunas –Satva, Rajas and Tamas- of Indian thought. I am familiar with the “Gunas” concept; But not as well as to comment on Mr. Kak’s argument.

11. I do believe that the Rig Veda and the Gathas have to be studied together to gain a fuller understanding of either of the texts. Parallel research on the Gathas and on the Vedic, religion prior to Zarathushtra will therefore be useful for better appreciation of the Zoroastrian and the Vedic texts.


H.G. Rawlinson in his Book Intercourse between India and the Western World from the Earliest Times to the fall of Rome(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge – 1926) writes :

From prehistoric times, three great trade-routes have connected India with the West. The easiest, and probably the oldest of these, was the Persian Gulf route, running from the mouth of the Indus to the Euphrates, and up the Euphrates to where the road branches off to Antioch and the Levantine ports. Then there was the overland route, from the Indian passes to Balkh, and from Balkh either by river, down the Oxus to the Caspian, and from the Caspian to the Euxine, or entirely by land, by the caravan road which skirts the Karmanian Desert to the north, passes through the Caspian Gates, and reaches Antioch by way of Hekatompylos and Ktesiphon.

Lastly, there is the  circuitous sea route, down the Persian and Arabian coasts to Aden, up the Red Sea to Suez,  and from Suez to Egypt on the one hand and Tyre and Sidon on the other. It must not be supposed, of course, that merchandise travelled from India to Europe direct. It changed hands at great emporia like Balkli, Aden or Palmyra, and was often, no doubt, bartered many times on the way. This accounts for the vagueness and inaccuracy of the accounts of India which filtered through to the West in early times. A story is always vastly changed in passing through many hands.

Trade between the Indus valley and the Euphrates is, no doubt, very ancient. The earliest trace of this intercourse is probably to be found in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Llittite kings of Mitanni in Kappadokia, belonging to the fourteenth or fifteenth century B.C. These kings bore Aryan names, and worshiped the Vedic gods, Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and the Asvins, whom they call by their Vedic title Nasatya . They were evidently closely connected, though we cannot yet precisely determine how, with the Aryans of the Vedic Age, who were at that time dwelling in the Punjab.

It has been claimed that the word ‘Sindhu’, found in the library of Assurbanipal (668-626 B.C.), is used in the sense of ” Indian cotton,” and the word is said to be much older, belonging in reality to the Akkadian tongue, where it is expressed by ideographs meaning “vegetable cloth ’’ Assurbanipal is known to have been a great cultivator, and to have sent for Indian plants, including the “wool-bearing trees” of India.

At any rate, we know that the cotton trade of western India is of great antiquity The Indians, when the Greeks first came into contact with them, were dressed in “wool grown on trees” In the Rig Veda, Night and Dawn are compared to ” two female weavers.”

We may perhaps trace to this source the Greek, the Arabic ‘satin’ (a covering), and the Hebrew ‘sadin’. Similarly the Hebrew ‘karpas’ and the Greek Kap-aaos are identical with the Sanskrit ‘karpasa’. Logs of Indian teak have been found in the temple of the Moon at Mugheir (the “Ur of the Chaldees”) and inthe palace of Nebuchadnezzar, both belonging to the sixth century B c , and we know that the trade in teak, ebony, sandalwood and black wood, between Barygaza and the Euphrates, was still flourishing in the second century AD 6 In the swampy country at the mouth of the Euphrates, nothing but the cypress grows well.

please also check A Kassite / Mitanni Kudurru Boundary Stone

Mitanni - World History Encyclopedia

Source :

All images are from Internet


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History, Indian Philosophy


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Rig Veda and the Gathas

Rig Veda and the Gathas

I am  intrigued by the close relation between the Rig-Veda and the Gathas–the language, the locale, the names of the principal characters etc.

It is generally accepted that the language of the Gathas (the older scriptures) known as Avesthanis close to that of the Vedic Sanskrit (please see the notes at the bottom mentioning some similarities as also  differences between Sanskrit and Avesthan). Avesthan Gathas were reflected in a hymn kakshivant Ausija – Zarathustra representing the side of the defeated Anuras (Asuras?) and Usijica representing the side of the victor. Hashurva is recognized as Sushravas who entered into a truce with Diwodasa, while Vistapa  the patron of Zarathustra  is found to be Ishtashwa of Rigveda.There is  also references to Devas(Daevas ?) , Asuras(Ahura) , Gandharvas , Anavas , Turvashas(Turanians) etc . In the Gathas the word Asura is pronounced as Ahura because the Indic  “S “ becomes Iranian “H”(like Sindhu – Hindhu , Soma – Homa,Saptha – Haptha). Similarly the Indic “V” becomes Iranian “P” (Ashwa – Aspa); Indic “H” becomes Iranian “Z” (Hind – Z(s) Ind) et al. Apparently, both the scriptures speak of the same set of Deities / Characters.

Further, in the Avesta the Asuras (Ahura) are the Gods, and Devas (Daeva) are the demons. It appears the Angirasas were the priests of the Vedic Aryans and the Bhrgus were the priests of the Iranians. In addition, that there was a period of acute hostility between the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians, which left its mark on the myths and traditions of both the peoples.

Now we have two issues here :

1) Where and when did this hostility take place?

2) Many hold the view that it is impossible to understand Indian pre- history unless:

a) is also taken into consideration .The whole of Aryana () should be taken as one unit of Aryan prehistory .

 b)The original Gathas of Zarathustra and Rig-Veda is comprehended together because the Sixth and Seventh Mandalas of Rig-Veda represent Devas (Daevas of Zarathustra) and the   likely (?) scene of action was the present day Iran: and the Caspian region

Can some learned members on the forum please throw light on the issues 1?

Can some one pl recommend to me book/s on a comprehensive comparative study of the Rig Veda and the Gathas as also of their language…issue2.

Please read the next part of the article @


[Similarities and differences between Rig Vedic Sanskrit and Avestan .Source : Encyclopedia Britannica.

The long and short varieties of the Indo-European vowels e, o, and a, for example, appear as long and short a: Sanskritmanas- “mind, spirit,” Avestanmanah-, but Greek ménos “ardour, force; Greek pater “father,” Sanskrit pitr-, Avestan and Old Persian pitar-. After stems ending in long or short a, i, or u, an n occurs sometimes before the genitive (possessive) plural ending am (Avestan -am)—e.g., Sanskrit martyanam “of mortals, men” (from martya-); Avestan mašyanam (from mašya-); Old Persian martiyanam.In addition to several other similarities in their grammatical systems, Indo-Aryan and Iranian have vocabulary items in common—e.g., such religious terms as Sanskrit yajña-, Avestan yasna- “sacrifice”; and Sanskrit hotr-,zaotar- “a certain priest”; as well as names of divinities and mythological persons, such as Sanskrit mitra-, Avestan miqra- “Mithra.” Indeed, speakers of both language subgroups used the same word to refer to themselves as a people: Sanskrit arya-, Avestan airya-, Old Persian ariya- “Aryan.” Avestan

The Indo-Aryan and Iranian language subgroups also differ duhitr- “daughter” (cf. Greek thugáter). In Iranian, however, the sound is lost in this position; e.g., Avestan dugdar-, dudar-. Similarly, the word for “deep” is Sanskrit gabhira- (with i for i), but Avestan jafra-. Iranian also lost the accompanying aspiration (a puff of breath, written as h) that is retained in certain Indo-Aryan consonants; e.g., Sanskrit dha “set, make,” bhr, “bear,” gharma- “warm,” but Avestan and Old Persian da, bar, and Avestan garma-. Further, Iranian changed stops such as p before consonants and r and v to spirants such as f: Sanskrit pra “forth,” Avestan fra; Old Persian fra; Sanskrit putra- “son,” Avestan puqra-, Old Persian pusa- (s represents a sound that is also transliterated as ç). In addition, h replaced s in Iranian except before non-nasal stops (produced by releasing the breath through the mouth) and after i, u, r, k; e.g., Avestan hapta- “seven,” Sanskrit sapta-; Avestan haurva- “every, all, whole,” Sanskrit sarva-. Iranian also has both xš and š sounds, resulting from different Indo-European k sounds followed by s-like sounds, but Indo-Aryan has only ks; e.g., Avestan xšayeiti “has power, is capable,” šaeiti “dwells,” but Sanskrit ksayati, kseti. Iranian was also relatively conservative in retaining diphthongs that were changed to simple vowels in Indo-Aryan.Iranian differs from Indo-Aryan in grammatical features as well. The dative singular of -a-stems ends in -ai in Iranian; e.g., Avestan mašyai, Old Persian cartanaiy “to do” (an original dative singular form functioning as infinitive of the verb). In Sanskrit the ending is extended with a—martyay-a. Avestan also retains the archaic pronoun forms yuš, yuzm “you” (nominative plural); in Indo-Aryan the -s- was replaced by y (yuyam) on the model of the 1st person plural—vayam “we” (Avestan vaem, Old Persian vayam). Finally, Iranian has a 3rd person pronoun di (accusative dim) that has no counterpart in Indo-Aryan but has one in Baltic.


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History, Rigveda


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