THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

22 March 2017

In Search of Zoroastrian Manuscripts in Iran

To celebrate Nowruz, this guest blog has been written by Milad Jahangurfar, who is the grant holder for EAP888, a current project that hopes to find the few surviving Avestan manuscripts which have used the Persian alphabet.

 

The Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, has been written in the Avestan alphabet, which was created for this purpose probably during the Sassanid era (224-651 CE). It is usually believed that before developing the alphabet, the priests were responsible for oral transmission of the collection. However, the history of the script and the forms of transmission of the scripture are still open to debate.

Image 6 resizedSett-i Pir/Mah Setti Pir temple, inside the AsadńĀn castle. According to Zoroastrian legends and folklore, the castle dates back to the Sassanid era.

In the 19th century, and perhaps even earlier, a new trend in writing down the Avesta was developed. Zoroastrian priests started using the Persian alphabet. This change was a solution to the problem of reading Avestan and Pahlavi (middle Persian) texts which had become difficult for both priests and the laity.

Image 1 resizedThe three major Iranian provinces (Tehran, Yazd, Kerman) where the manuscripts are located.

Tehran, Yazd and Kerman are the three major provinces in Iran where the manuscripts are likely to be located. Once being the strongholds of Zoroastrianism in Iran, they are still where Zoroastrian communities are based. Yazd and Kerman are considered to be where the manuscripts originate. Even the volumes located in Tehran have been mostly composed and inscribed in these two provinces. The Zoroastrian families that moved to Tehran, particularly during the last few decades, brought with them such manuscripts, handed down through generations, brought to the capital. A few of them found their way to safekeeping such as the National Library, the Archives of Iran and the Library of Tehran University, whereas the rest of them are kept in poor conditions in private collections and sadly there is no specific record regarding their history of ownership or the exact date of composition and provenance.

Image 4 resizedPart of a prayer in the Khordeh Avesta.

The major part of the corpora consists of the Khordeh Avesta, which means ‚Äėthe Little Avesta‚Äô. The Khordeh Avesta is a collection of daily prayers to be performed during different ceremonies and rituals by both laypersons and by priests.

Image 3 resizedMilad Jahangirfar, sorting the files after digitising the manuscript.

Image 2 resized
Dr Farzaneh Goshtasb (a faculty member at the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tehran) working on a manuscript.

Image 7 resized
Mr Rostam, the keeper of the Sett-i Pir temple in Yazd, and Dr Goshtasb.

EAP would like to wish all of our Iranian colleagues a very happy New Year.