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.
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.
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.
The major part of the corpora consists of the Khordeh Avesta, which means ‘the Little Avesta’. The Khordeh Avesta is a collection of daily prayers to be performed during different ceremonies and rituals by both laypersons and by priests.
EAP would like to wish all of our Iranian colleagues a very happy New Year.