In its original entirety, the complete Great Avesta was enshrined in 21 NASKS or volumes, each one relating to each of the 21 words contained in the Yathâ Ahû Vairyô prayer. Estimates of the full extent of the Avestan 21 Nasks are variously expressed, as follows:
Whatever may have been the exact extent of Asho Zarathushtra's 21 Nasks, the collection was certainly vast in dimension and comprehensive in scope, for the Nasks were divided into three categories of knowledge, each comprising seven volumes: Gâthic ("spiritual"); Dâtic ("legal"); Hadha-mânthric ("scientific"). Indeed, one is reminded of the ringing line from the Setâyeshn Ba Nâm-i Yazad that "nothing exists which is not there in the Avesta."
The history of the sacred Avestan scriptures is a saga of faith and perseverance, spanning many millennia. By Achaemenian times (558-331 B.C.), two copies of the entire written Avesta are known to have been preserved in the royal archives, only to be destroyed by the wanton vandalism of the "evil-destined villain Alexander." The task of recovering the scattered texts from far and wide was immense. The Parthian emperor Valkhash I (51-77 A.C.) commenced the project; the first Sassanian emperor Artakhshatar (Ardeshir I, 226-241 A.C.) - in concert with Dastur Tôsar (Tanasar) - brought it to fruition; and the sacred texts were finally and fully arranged by Dasturân Dastur Âtûrpâd Mâraspend during the reign of Shahpûhar II, the Great (309-379 A.C.), at which time the restituted Avestan literature was also translated into Pahlavi, the state language of Sassanian Iran.
The next catastrophe, of more than Alexandrian proportions, that befell the Iranians, was the Arab invasion that ended the glorious Sassanian dynasty with the murder of its last emperor, Shah Yazdegard III in 651 A.C. Yet again, the hallowed texts were dispersed and devastated; and yet again, the arduous process of recovering the scattered scriptures had to be effected - so that by the ninth century A.C., almost the entire literature, with only two volumes of the 21 Nasks missing, was once more at hand, although "dilapidated, decayed, worn-out, and dust-mingled."
A Stroke of Genius
It was at this juncture that the "leaders of the saintly and orthodox" were inspired by a stroke of genius - they compiled the encyclopaedic Pahlavi Dinkard ("Knowledge of the Religion") in nine volumes, based on the fourth century A.C. Pahlavi translations of the Nasks that had been made under Âtûrpâd Mâraspend. The "saintly and supremely learned" compilers of the Dinkard were Âtûr-farnbag Farukhô-zâd who commenced this great work in the first half of the ninth century A.C., and Âtûrpâd Hêmêd who completed it by the close of that century as "a new means of giving assistance to the Mazda-worshipping religion, with much prayer, investigation, and trouble."
The crown jewel of the Dinkard may be said to be its Books VIII and IX, where, with providential foresight, the inspired and erudite compilers thought it fit to provide a SUMMARY OF THE CONTENTS of all nineteen of the 21 Nasks that were extant at the time of the compilation - with a specially detailed treatment accorded to the first three Nasks.
The value of these Nask summaries in the Dinkard can be better appreciated when we pause to reflect that a major part of our original Avestan texts either faded away through neglect or was destroyed with the conversion or the extermination of vast numbers of Zarathushtrians under the barbarous Arab subjugation of Iran and the even more barbaric rule of the Mongols later on - the equivalent of the contents of about seventeen volumes of the original full-length Nasks was lost to us during those dark times. It is thanks only to the Nask summaries that today we have a fair idea of the broad substance and scope, along with some details, of almost all of our ancient scriptural lore as it had once existed in its fullness.
The Prohibitory Passage
The injunction against what are now called "mixed marriages" is found in the Dinkard's summary of the HÛSPÂRAM NASK, which is the seventeenth of the 21 Nasks and belongs to the Dâtic (legal) category. The English rendition given below (footnotes mine) of para 7, chapter 31 of Dinkard Book VIIII is reproduced from The Sacred Books of the East Vol. XXXVII, Pahlavi Texts Part IV, edited by F. Max-Müller and translated by E. W. West. Dr. West's translation has been cross-checked with that provided by Darab Dastur Peshotan Sanjana in Vol. XVI of his magnum opus The Dinkard, and no disagreement is to be seen between the two translations on any matter of substance. Sanjana, however, numbers the passage slightly differently as para 7 of chapter 30.
About the blood on a woman who wants washing(1), and the bridge(2) penalty upon him who has sexual intercourse with a woman who wants washing(1), with her who is a foreigner(3), or any other of those not authorisedly for intercourse; the confusion of germs(4) by the woman who grants intercourse to foreigners(3), and other sin which they may commit about like matters.
1 A woman in her menstrual period.
2 Punishment on the Chinvat Pul (Bridge) for the sins specified.
3 Phl. ana-Aîr = non-Iranian; ana-Aîrân = non-Iranians.
4 "Germs" = sexually reproductive seeds. Sanjana renders this expression as "the mixture of germs." Note the striking parallel with "the mixing of seeds" referred to in the Vendidâd's injunction (chapter XVIII, para 62) against similar mixed sexual unions.
The injunction from the Hûspâram Nask conveys the Zarathushtrian Religion's opposition towards mixed sexual relationships, as well as towards sex during menstruation. The clarity with which the passage speaks leaves little or no room for interpretation and calls for nothing more than the brief explanations provided below on the former aspect.
Although this passage from the Hûspâram Nask is little known or quoted, it certainly gets across the message on mixed marriages in direct, simple and unambiguous terms - and hence deserves wide exposure among our co-religionists, many of whom are unaware that the strong oral taboo on such unions, known to every Zarathushtrian from childhood, is drawn directly from our sacred religious texts themselves. There are, of course, various references to the same effect in some of our other sacred texts too, but the Hûspâram Nask's ruling is particularly lucid and easy to understand.
The most well-known of the textual references on intermarriage is the complex but important prohibition found in Vendidâd XVIII-62. It is significant that both the Hûspâram and the Vendidâd are Nasks, the former being the seventeenth and the latter the nineteenth; that both belong to the dâtic (legal) category; and that both thoroughly agree in their condemnation of mixed sexual unions, even to the extent of sharing the key idea of the "mixing/confusion of seeds/germs." Should the Hûspâram passage's validity be questioned by the sceptical or the self-interested just because it now happens to be with us in the form of a Pahlavi summary, let it be remembered that it is corroborated by the Vendidâd which is not only in Avesta but is also the only one of the 21 Nasks still extant in almost complete form.
For countless centuries it has been held as an article of faith that marriage for Zarathushtrians must take place exclusively within the Mazdayasnian fold and under the prescribed ritual sanctifications. Besides being a matter of Zarathushtrian Religious Law, this has been a key factor in the survival of our race and religion against all odds. In today's vitiated climate, however, where faith, discipline and humility are at a discount, more than "custom" and "tradition" is demanded. It is in response to this demand that more than one piece of authentic hard evidence from our authoritative sacred texts has been researched and offered to the community by the present writer. The conclusion is always the same: MIXED MARRIAGES ARE PROHIBITED IN THE ZARATHUSHTRIAN RELIGION.
Roni K. Khan
Amardad/Avan 1362 A.Y. 30 December 1992 A.C.
[Slightly revised from the original published in The Jam-e-Jamshed
Weekly of 03 January 1993.]
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