|Home > Articles > The Gathas and Translation|
Translation, Explanation, Interpretation, and Imagination
late Dr. Maneck Pithawalla, Principal of B.V.S. Parsi High School, Karachi
(Pakistan) taught me Avesta and Pahlavi from 1938 to 1941, and then introduced
me to the celebrated Dasturji Dr. Maneckji N. Dhalla.
The first day I faced Dasturji's divine face, he affectionately advised
me, more or less, in these words: "When
you think you have learned enough of the Avestan language, do not start by
translating the Gathas first. They
are the guide. One wrong
interpretation would be enough to mislead the people on that point.
Engage yourself with other parts of the Avesta.
Wait for five years, master the language, and then embark on translating
the Gathas." I made a
promise, a promise that made me turn to the desired translation full thirty-five
1938, when my esteemed friend Eruch P. Bulsara, later the Principal of the
Bulsara Commercial Institute, Karachi gave me my first copy of the Gathas,
translated into Sanskrit, English, and Gujarati by the late Jotindra Mohan
Chatterji, to this day, I have read renderings of the Gathas in Pahlavi,
Sanskrit (both the older and the recent ones by Chatterji and Khabardar despite
my elementary knowledge of Sanskrit), English, Persian, and Gujarati.
My French and German are too rudimentary to be of any subtle
comprehension but translation of some French and German renderings of the Gathas
into English have been of great help. A
Turkish rendition by the late Prof. Tarlan of the Persian translation of Poure
Davoud was only pleasing to see. I
could not enjoy reading it because I do not know Turkish.
these and my own studies and subsequent knowledge of the Avestan, Pahlavi,
Persian (prose, open verse and poetry), and several living Indo-Iranian
languages as well as the Indo-Iranian literature and lore and my experiences in
anthropological fields and acquaintance with archeological works encouraged me
to render the Gathas and other texts in the Gathic dialect in Persian in 1981
under the title “Stot Yasn, dârâye Gâthâ, sorűdhâye pâk-e zartosht-e
espantamân va haft-hât va dîgar goftehâye yârân be pârsi-ye ravân.”
It has had several informal editions in the past eleven years and now a
formal second edition printed in Los Angeles this year.
Its English edition was published in 1989.
Gathas were composed by one person, Zarathushtra Spitama.
They have been translated by many -- Zoroastrian and non-Zoroastrian
priests, philologists, professors, litterateurs, "translators”,
adventurers, and sheer admirers. The
resulting translations are so diverse that one has to imagine as many
Zarathushtras as there are translators of his songs.
The translations range from verbatim renderings through moderate
explanations and odd interpretations to queer imaginations. A few are not, in
fact, translations but paraphrases of other renditions.
Going through various translations and the Zoroastrian lore has made me
realize the truth in the advice of Dasturji.
I fully see what translation, explanation, interpretation, and
imagination by persons of diverse backgrounds, schools, and interests, each
working for his or her self, can do.
is but one sure outcome of these diversities.
These translations have confused the small yet highly literate
Zoroastrian community. That is why
I suggested at the 1964 World Zoroastrian Congress and read a paper at the 1976
Congress -- both held in Bombay, India, advocating that a team of Avesta and
Indo-Iranian scholars, Zoroastrians and friends, cooperate to render, what we
may term, a standard version of the Gathas.
Then I wrote this paper, now revised to suit the occasion, for the 8th
North American Zoroastrian Congress held in Montreal, Canada, in 1987.
I could not attend the congress because of my travel difficulty.
So the essay was published in the California Zoroastrian Center's
bulletin, The Zoroastrian, No. 6-5, October-November 1987.
have been all along advocating my point. So
far, in spite of all the nodding approvals and a very affectionate answer from a
colleague in Iran who rushed his translation before we could sit together and
discuss our plan to present it jointly, no one has come forward to even give it
a serious thought. The recent move
in North America by three physicians to publish a "master" translation
in pure Persian is a welcome move. It was initiated by the late Dr. Rostam
Sarfeh of the Rustam Guiv Trust fame. It
is supported by many Iranian admirers of the Gathas and has a moderate fund for
the project. But since none of the
sponsors knows Avesta and the implications of translation, it is, in my opinion,
more of an emotional movement than a scholarly undertaking.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging.
far every translator (now with the exception of Prof. Helmut Humbach and Dr.
Pallan Ichaporia who have come out with a joint rendering) has done it alone,
some with the knowledge that such a move would grant them the full freedom to
interpret "a very difficult and evasive text in a very archaic
language." A few
translators have come out with the suggestion that this was purposely done by
Zarathushtra, as if he did not really want his message to get across.
the above as a prologue, I am sure the scholars present here fully realize what
I mean by the title: The Gathas and Translation, Explanation, Interpretation,
and Imagination. But, for the sake
of those among the audience who may not fully understand, please bear with me
and let us see what the words in the title mean.
Webster’s Dictionary defines them: Translate is to turn into one's own
or another language. Translation is
an art that involves the re-creation of a work in another language for readers
with a different background. Explain
is to clarify or make acceptable to the understanding some thing that it finds
mysterious, causeless, or inconsistent. Explanation
consists in successfully comparing new phenomena with older and familiar ones.
Interpret is to understand and appreciate in the light of individual
belief, judgement, interest, or circumstances.
Interpretation is explanation of what is not immediately plain or
explicit, or unmistakable. Imagine
may imply the process of free mental visualization or pictorialization that is
often vivid, relatively unguided, and unchecked by rationality.
It is to form an idea, to create a mental image, to fabricate.
Imagination is an act or process of forming a conscious idea or mental
image of something never before wholly perceived in reality by the
background, school, and interests of a translator play a part, sometimes
insignificant, sometimes substantive, in his or her rendering.
One sees Zarathushtra in these perspectives and the result of the
rendering has glimpses and glimmers of them.
The backgrounds, schools, and interests of translators are wide and
diverse -- Vedic Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism,
Hellenism, Westernism, Iranianism, Mysticism, nationalism, patriotism,
prejudice, bigotry, anthropology, archeology, mythology, philosophy, fun, fame,
challenge, hobby, money, admiration, and love may be counted as some of the
Christian and Muslim thoughts and interests have limelighted, in their own
terminology, God, lord, archangels, angels, spirits, Satan, prophet, savior,
shepherd, sheep, flock, fold, holy, merit, sin, reward, punishment, purgatory,
resurrection, paradise, and hell. Of
course strict Judaic and Muslim monotheism and trinitarian Christian monotheism
each have their relative hues, and so does the idea of the "awaited"
Savior--Saoshyant. Baha'ism is also
interested in the Savior idea, Baha'ullah being the awaited one.
Vedic schools have mostly linked Zarathushtra with the Rig Veda and have
either seen in him a "rishi" or even an "atharvan" priest,
or have emphasized his role in prayers and sacrifices aimed at invigorating his
favorite god. Although racehorses
and chariots have not been specifically mentioned, for some the terms connected,
directly or farfetched, with chariot racing are of importance.
Others have discussed terms for justice and ordeals.
Some see him as a busy ritualistic priest and some as a shaman.
Men of Hinduism have found divine incarnation, human re-incarnation, and
other subtleties of the Hindu religion. Alien
religious bigotry and prejudices have belittled him and his songs.
Zoroastrian feelings have aggrandized him.
The "traditionalists" tend to see the Gathas as a part of
elaborate rituals. Mystics have
mystified the Gathic teachings and have written about mystic powers in the
vibrations produced by Gathic verses when recited aloud.
Occult commentators have written pages to "illuminate" a single
word of great potency. Poetic
persons have been charmed by the Gathic eloquence, a fact that has made some to
"explain" the Gathas through the "Masnavi of Jalal al-Din Rumi"
and other famous works of Muslim Sufis and Iranian mystics.
Patriotic Iranians have lauded Zarathushtra as the only "Prophet of
Iran," and the Gathas as his message for a resurrected greater Iran.
Racists monopolize the Gathic teachings for a particular stock of people.
Anthropologists see cows and horses and an early Bronze Age animal
husbandry in the songs. Mythologists
find, with their equations, ancient gods in new garbs in their verses.
And lastly, the Gathic dualism has its own charms, charts and churns in
translation, explanation, interpretation, and imagination.
article is not aimed at commending a rendering and commenting on another, nor a
review of the Gatha translations. It
is meant to point out what the four words in the title--translation,
explanation, interpretation, and imagination -- have done -- and still do -- to
the Gathas. It may also serve to
show what these words have done and are doing to any literary piece, religious,
social, national, or artistic.
the holy scriptures of other religions have been, or are being, translated
mostly by their own devoted scholars; some scriptures, and Zoroastrian books
being prominent among them, are dealt with generally by philologists and
linguists of either alien faiths or "no faiths."
Many scholars are devoted more to their profession than the piece of
literature with which they are working. The
hair-splitting methods used by some surgeons of translation simply mar the very
beauty and sublimity of the poetical works composed exclusively for guiding
people in mind and body, spirit and matter.
The result is that some translations look more like postmortem mutilated
bodies than pieces of priceless art. They
lack the spirit with which a religious scripture is filled.
Some of the "postmortem” translations appear as though they are
not meant for the faithful but are in fact "counter-translations,"
duels, debates or dialogues between various scholars within a small circle, and
yet they are published in sufficient number of copies to find their way into
personal and public libraries of Zoroastrians. Mystic expounders, occult
interpreters and imaginative persons stand on the other extreme.
They make the reader left dazed to admire and esteem a work beyond his or
her mental grasp, and then blindly follow the "master."
And there are moderate, sincere, devoted, concerned, responsible, and
scholarly persons who have done their best to present a good translation and
explanation. But again their
backgrounds, schools, and interests place disparities between their
translations can be motivating, convincing, sweet, insipid, incomprehensible, or
even misguiding, and if one reads several of them, they are collectively
confusing, even confounding. The reason: The archaic language of the Gathas,
distances of time and differences of culture between Zarathushtra and the
translators, diverse backgrounds of translators, their individual motives, their
relations with Zarathushtra, and their limitations.
are compelling reasons for referring to the background, school, and interest of
a translator. Let me give an
example by way of explanation. When
I was 14 or 15 years of age, I read an Urdu book authored by the son of the
famous Indian Muslim reformer, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.
He quoted an anecdote about an oriented British official in India who was
supposed to have a good command of both the "vernacular" and Indian
lore. The official often heard his
servants reciting poetic couplets in their conversation with each other.
One day he asked them to teach him a couplet.
One of them presented him with one.
huay, tum huay, keh mîr huay
Unki zulfon men sab asîr huay
verbatim translation is: "Be
it we, be it you, be it Mir; in her locks, all became prisoners."
The official memorized it. After
a week or so, the servants asked him about the couplet.
He came out in good Urdu: "Hum
tum aur Khânsâmân Amîr ke hâth bâl ki rassi se bândh kar jel-khâne men
dâl detâ hai." It means:
"I take you and our cook Amir, tie your hands with hair ropes and throw you
in prison." Evidently he had
forgotten the couplet and interpreted it as he had understood it.
He left the servants stunned!
comprehend the couplet, one has to know that in Persian, Urdu and allied
languages, the heart of the lover gets entangled in the curly hair of the
beloved. This means falling in love. Mir,
the proper name used in the poem, is the name of the poet who composed it and
not a third person, certainly not the cook who worked for the British official
and whose name happened to be Amir, not Mir.
The couplet is not in the usual prose syntax. This makes the word-to-word
rendering depart further from its own syntax. The words "we and you"
denote "all" but the poet. A
deeper study would require one to know the poet and his age to determine to whom
the "zulf," or the curls, belong and who the beloved is; a
girl, a boy, God, or the Prophet. One
should read not only the poem that contains the couplet but the entire
collection, the divân. Above
all, one should have a fair knowledge of the relevant culture.
Then what appear as inconsistencies in a poem with each couplet seemingly
saying something new, would appear consistent, relevant and revealing a profound
message. And now let us render the
couplet into English so that we comprehend and enjoy it.
It reads: "She is so
beautiful that all, including Poet Mir, who see her, fall in love with her.
the above as a rudimentary example and many more in mind, let us look at one
instance from the Gathas. Scholars
differ as to who composed Ahuna Vairya, Ahunavar or Yatha Ahu, Zarathushtra or
some other person. Nevertheless, it was and is considered the most important
stanza in the Gathic texts. Of the
five metrical parts of the Gathas, the first and longest gets its name
Ahunavaiti from this stanza, and this is enough to express its importance.
Yet most scholars have excluded it from their translations.
Some have written separate essays to link it with the Gathas,
particularly Song 2 (Yasna 29).
The Ahunavar has as many as four dozen renditions -- enough to confuse the clearest mind. We will look at two of them. The Ahunavar has, more or less, five key words: ahu, ratu, vairyô, vâstâr, and drigu. One translator takes the five words respectively to mean "sovereign lord, spiritual leader, all-powerful, shepherd and meek." As a result, the translation makes the temporal lord (of the ruling class) and the spiritual leader (of the priestly class) all-powerful in their sphere of actions. Furthermore, God blesses the person who becomes a shepherd to lead the meek in spirit and matter. Another translator comes to the conclusion that ahu means "a lord who removes evils," ratu is a "righteous leader,” vairyo means "worthy of being chosen," vâstâr is "rehabilitator," and drigu stands for the "oppressed." To this translator the Ahunavar formula is the corner stone of the mental and physical, and spiritual and material democracy in the Zarathushtrian Doctrine. He sees that even Zarathushtra, the divine founder of the religion, is to be chosen and elected as the spiritual and material leader on the basis of his qualifications as a righteous person in order to establish a divine dominion in which wisdom rules to rehabilitate every person whom injustice has oppressed and uprooted. To him Zarathushtra is not a God-sent or God-imposed prophet but one who, in his search for Truth, realized God, comprehended the divine message and set out to spread it to others.
we have two schools of thought. One
translation finds a totalitarian socio-religious order, a theocracy in which the
poor, led by their all-powerful leaders, are informed that they would enjoy
charitable institutions to survive. The
other stands for an ideal democracy in mind and matter and a secure and just
life for all. They present two
opposite interpretations of a single stanza.
One explanation may please the powerful rulers, religious leaders, and
the charitable rich. The other may
appeal to modern minds. But then
which is the correct rendering? Did
Zarathushtra advocate a physical theocracy or a spiritual democracy? Other
translations take us to judge, judgement, protector, shepherd, shelter, pasture,
the dervish, and more.
a second example, the well-known Gathic term "gav," from the
second song of the Gathas also speaks about ahu and ratu and is
linked to the Ahunavar. Literally
the word means "cow" or "bull."
The Gathas speak about the plight of "gav" and the
complaint made by its soul -- "urvan."
For those searching for cows and bulls, the message is clear.
Zarathushtra rose to protect the dumb, poor, and useful animal from the
cruelties wrought by sacrificing priests and epicurean princes.
In fact, the whole message boils down to introducing a reform in cattle
breeding. Zarathushtra wanted his
people to care for cattle. The
paradox with some of the cattle-theory translators is that they themselves
belong to a religion which has God and kings as shepherds or speaks about a
Shepherd Messiah, his juniors as pastors, their followers as sheep, and their
community as a human flock! However, in their own case, the words are not to be
taken literally but as subtle allegories. Others,
scrutinizing the contexts, find it much a poetic allegory as the divine
Cattleman takes his spiritual cattle to celestial pastures.
not cow and bull, then what does the word "gav" mean?
Some are content with the secondary meaning in the Vedas.
There, among other things, it means the "earth."
These scholars, therefore, praise Zarathushtra for his guidance in
leading a good life on this good earth. For
others the earth is too small. They
enlarge it to include the entire creation, the universe.
One says that it represents mankind.
Another states that it is an allegorical figure for "the good vision
-- a view of the world governed by truth and good thinking."
The mystics compare it with the Vedantic, Babylonian, and Mithraic "purusha"
and bull sacrifices to create the world. While
the Pahlavi rendering also speaks about cattle in general, the Bundahishn, the
imaginative Pahlavi book of "genesis" of the tenth century C.E. has
all the imagination one needs to create, out of the second and thirds songs (Yasna
29 & 30), a universe in which Ahriman, the Evil Spirit, is on the offensive
and Ahurmazd, the good spirit, is defending the very territory he created for
himself. It links the story
to the Primal Bull of the myth of Kayomars, (the legendary Gaya Marethan of the
Avesta), both of whom were killed by Ahriman, only to find to his surprise that
the double murder gave birth to the teeming world.
"Geush urvan" laments in the Gathas, but in the
Bundahishn, it shouts as loud as one thousand men bawling together!
Then we have the scholars of synchronism who would place the Gathas and
Bundahishn -- separated by 2,800 years -- together to prove their theories of
his (Zarathushtra) adherence to the primitive Aryan myth, legends, and
traditions. These are but a few
examples of how the word "gav" is translated, explained,
interpreted, and imagined from a docile animal on a farm to the cosmic bull of
creation, or as a metaphor for mankind, the earth or the universe.
those who take it to be allegorical, I put this question.
How many of them have sought an explanation from the Avesta first and
then have let their interpretations and imaginations work wonders?
The second song, Yasna 29, is a drama, perhaps the oldest drama in poetry
and by the author-player in world literature.
It explains the Ahunavar and so do the following five songs -- Yasna 30
to 34. It says that Zarathushtra is
accepted by “gav" as its "ahu" and "ratu."
The Avesta, in its prose form, substitutes "gaęthâ"
for "gav," and states that Ahura Mazda is ahu and ratu
of the "mental existence,” and Zarathushtra is ahu and ratu
of the gaęthâic existence. (Vispered 2.4, see also Yasht 13.94 and
Yasht 8.1 & 44). The aforesaid
deliberately short treatise should supply us with its true meaning -- the
physical existence of living beings in which we, human beings, live.
Further Gathic contexts would give "gav" a wider sense
of the living world and "gaęthâ" a narrower circle, the
creatures, particularly human beings. It
is in this later sense that the Tir Yasht replaces "gaęthâ"
with "nar," men and says that Zarathushtra is the ratu
of men. (8.44). This shows a
shrinking domain of the term "gav."
The Avestan term "gęush-pancho," "five
(categories) of gav" is explained as aquatic, subterranean, aerial,
roaming, and grazing animals (Vispered 1.1, 2.1, Yasht 10.38). Furthermore, we
have Yasna 19, ignored by many as incomprehensible, to provide us with certain
clues to a better rendering of the Ahunavar and consequently Song 2.
may cite further instances of translation, explanation, interpretation, and
imagination about dualism, free will, freedom of choice, conversion, mâńthra,
feresho-kereti, chinvato-peretu, heaven, hell, and social virtues
and vices. They are all
confusing renderings of the Holy Scriptures of other religions go unnoticed,
just because of the sheer numbers of their followers.
These renderings are read only by a handful of professors and their
students of comparative religion and leave millions completely unconcerned and
ignorant about them. This is not
the case with the Zoroastrian community. The
community and its friends total, more or less, in the lower six digits.
All of them are literate and educated, and fairly interested in knowing
their religion. The relative number
of the scholars of Zoroastrianism, compared to the scholars of other religions,
is significantly quite large. And
these scholars of diverse backgrounds, schools, and interests are in close
contact with Zoroastrians. The
impact is obvious, rather damaging for an educated, concerned, and possibly
us imagine, what would happen to Christianity if there were as many as 30,000
scholars with their diverse interpretations of Trinity, virginity, nativity,
crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, return, and other fundamentals as given in
the New testament and other Christian writings, who enjoy an easy access to 50
percent of the influential members of the Christian church for almost a century
and that too against a dwindling number of the clergy?
Would it be able to survive? The
same would hold true about other major religions of the world.
It is, therefore, gratifying to note that in spite of all diversities,
renderings of the Gathas, with the exception of a very few, project the Good
Religion of Zarathushtra, pastoral or principled, as a highly ethical religion.
Good Religion of Zarathushtra has withstood the impact well.
It does not matter whether a translation has been done by a Christian
priest, a patriot Iranian, a devout Zoroastrian, an occultistic interpreter, an
atheist scholar, a Sanskrit expert, a philologist of Indo-Iranian languages, or
a simple admirer of Zarathushtra; the main features are the same lofty teachings
for knowing the Wise Lord and promoting the world in spirit and matter.
No translation, even done with the express purpose of outdating or
outcasting the Gathas, has ever succeeded in suppressing or perverting the
sublime theme of the Wise God and the divine man.
Nevertheless, the confusion discourages many a faithful from turning to
the Gathas as the source of inspiration. It
makes many content with the daily prayers, understood or not, outside the pale
of the Gathas. It also helps the
growing indifference to the religion among some, particularly the youth, in
alien environments. It is harmful,
and harmful situations require resolution.
examples given to shed some light on the term gav are, in my opinion, and
experience, a sounder method of explaining many other Gathic terms -- Daęnâ,
varana, spentâ, mainyu, manah, aka,
angra, âramaiti, chinvato-peretu, vahishta ahu, achishta ahu, parâhu, garo
demâna, ahu, ratu, vâstâr, vâstra, vâstrya, drigu, and many more.
It will save us from myth, mysticism, occultism, shamanism, farm
economics, riddling rituals, and surface reformation.
One must take pains to search for the meaning from the Gathas first, then
other parts of the extant Avesta, then turn to Sanskrit instances, Pahlavi
renderings, Iranian studies, the rich literature in Persian, particularly the
poetic tradition, the geographical position of the Iranian plateau, and the
people who live on this plateau in almost the same conditions as did those
during Zarathushtrian times as well as Indo-European linguistics.
the Gathas are in a dead language, the Pahlavi and Sanskrit renderings of the
past, and modern studies of philology have paved the way for a still better
understanding of their message. All this cannot be undertaken and done by a
single scholar, however competent he or she may be.
We need scholars of Avesta, Old Persian, Sanskrit, Middle Persian
languages, living Iranian languages and dialects, and Indo-Aryan languages.
Persian poetry, rich in figures of speech and varied in syntax, has its do-beitis,
rubâis, and ghazals (quatrains and lyrics).
They would make it easier to understand how personification of certain
objects or use of plural instead of singular and third person singular or plural
for first person singular are poetic ways to emphasize and highlight those
objects. Persian hemistiches and
stiches will lead to a better understanding of Gathic lines.
Persian poetry will show how a stanza is always like a pearl with its
independent value, but when strung in a cord along with other pearls, it becomes
a part of a greater value, and if a number of cords are joined in a necklace,
all of them, retaining their independent value, become an integrated part of a
Gathic lines, each a partial sense, make complete sense in a stanza with a
message of its own. Stanzas join in
to compose a song on a specific subject. Several
songs, making a Gatha, deliver a more complete message.
Finally, seventeen songs in five Gathas, a complete necklace, a coherent
text, give us the master message of Zarathushtra.
need scholars who have studied books in Arabic and Persian written by Iranians
of the early Islamic period. Commentaries
of the Quran in Arabic and Persian and its renditions in pure Persian of the
10th century CE are fully patterned on the Pahlavi translation and commentaries
of the Avesta. They would throw
more light on how to decipher the Pahlavi rendering better.
Both are word-to-word translations.
The Pahlavi rendition of the Gathas, because of its artificial syntax, is
difficult to grasp, and the same holds true about earlier Quranic renditions.
Iranian scholars, well versed in this, could prove a great help.
direly need, in addition to "room-scholars," who are confined to their
respective study-rooms, libraries, universities and have their limitations; men
and women who have worked and are working in fields of Persian and other Iranian
literature, anthropology and archeology.
Among the best-qualified persons in this group are native Iranians, many
of whom are now residing in Western countries.
Most, if not all, of them admire Zarathushtra and are proud of their
ancient Iranian heritage. In Iran,
ancient Iranian studies are highly commendable.
Iran still has the largest number of scholars and students in this field,
and most of them would only be glad to be of any service.
collective translation of the Gathas does not mean a totally new beginning.
The existing translations, no matter done by one lauded into publicity or
one ignored into neglect, are the result of the efforts of a chain of scholars.
They do help to illuminate many points.
They would serve as the basis. The
result of a joint venture will provide the community with hitherto the best
rendering it has had. As an
approved rendering, it will greatly help the helplessly confused to clear their
us Zarathushtrians, the Gathas are the Guide to a sublime, progressive, and
productive life on this earth and beyond. They
are thought-provokers and mind-stimulators.
They are the Divine Message supreme.
They cannot be in a puzzling language or a "mistifying"
mysticism. They are not a
misguiding map to confuse treasure hunters.
They are a message for humanity, conveyed by a human, Zarathushtra
Spitama. This message has to be
straight and clear. The Gathas
deserve the best and clearest rendition, one as authentic as it can be -- a
standard or approved edition. The Gathas of Zarathushtra are divinely inspired
to inspire and convert "all the living."
As a living message, they must be rendered into living languages to
achieve that objective.
is neither too late nor too early to undertake the task.
The Bible was translated, for example into English in 16th century CE.
Although the Quran is in a living language, the Islamic world is awaiting
an authorized or even an approved rendition in a non-Arabic language.
Baha'ism, comparatively an infant religion in age, has come up with the
authorized translation of the its most sacred scripture Kitab-i-Aqdas, "the
Charter of the future world civilization,"
in 1993, full one hundred years after the death of its founder Baha'ullah,
the author of the "Holiest Book."
The English rendition, and not the original Arabic, is to form the basis
of turning it into other languages.
standard, authorized or approved translations of other sacred scriptures,
particularly the Bible, are results of teamwork by the expert and the devout.
I repeat, the Gathas deserve to be rendered in a standard version by a
collective effort of outstanding scholars, scholars who are sincerely devoted to
Zarathushtra and his sublime songs. Scholars
who are not individualists or self-centered. Sincerity, cooperation, reason, and
conviction are needed to achieve the desired rendition.
Even the works of those who make a shepherd or a shaman of him may prove
does not mean that critical studies of the Gathas be given up.
Far from it. Scholars should
be encouraged to continue their research to improve future editions of their own
works and/or the standard translation. However,
I would not recommend their works to enjoy a wide circulation among the
faithful. They would serve the
cause better if they are fairly confined, just as the critical studies of other
religious scriptures are, within a circle as dialogues between the relevant
scholars, their students and admirers.
therefore, propose to this unique gathering of scholars, the first Gatha
Colloquium of its kind ever held in history, to lay the foundation of rendering
the songs by a collective effort. I
propose that a Gatha Translation Committee be formed under the auspices of the
World Zoroastrian Organization (WZO), first to explore the feasibility of such a
project and then find means to execute it.
No doubt, it is a great task, and a difficult one too.
The project warrants a good consideration by the WZO or whatever
organization which undertakes the project, to see what to do, how to proceed,
whom to consult, and whom to invite to collective work for it. It would need
time, perhaps one to two years to prepare the plan and to invite qualified
scholars, not only those who are, to quote Prof. Ilya Geshevitch, "Gathologists,"
but all those who can help us understand the divine songs better.
approved and established, I offer my humble services on voluntary and honorary
basis to do my utmost in humata, hűkhta and huvarshta to serve the noble cause.
version, if earnestly undertaken and completed by the cooperation of competent
scholars and institutions -- Zoroastrian and friends -- will yield a more
accurate translation with a better explanation, greatly reduce the possibility
of a wrong interpretation, and eliminate imagination altogether.
It will definitely play a great part in saving, shaping, and spreading
Daęnâ Vańguhi, the religion of Good Conscience and vision.
It will surely restore it to its pristine purity and dynamic domain.
has been my recurring dream since I had, in my early Avestan days, the sad
discovery of diversities in Gatha renditions.
It is the goal of the Zarathushtrian Assembly, a religious organization
dedicated to spreading the universal message, of which I am a founder member.
May it become the goal of all those who want to "hear to the best
..., ponder with a bright mind, and choose, each man and woman, for his or her
self ..." the Divine Doctrine
of Zarathushtra. May my dream come
true. Atha jamyât yatha âfrinâmi!
* * * * *
above paper was read at the Gatha Colloquium, sponsored by the World Zoroastrian
Organisation, held in London from 5th, 6th & 7th November 1993.
It was published in SPENTA, bulletin of the Zarathushtrian Assembly, in
its issue Vol.4.No., April/May, 1994. It
is reproduced here, devoid of its diacritics, as a welcoming response to Mr.
Albert Bailey for his "Thoughts on Translation of Basic Gathic
February 6, 1996
* * * * *