Arya-, Mazdayasni and Ethnicity: by Sarosh Manekshaw

Gentle Readers:

Professor Gherardo Gnoli, in his 1989 book: "The Idea of Iran," Instituto Italiano Per Il Medio Ed Estremo Oriente, Roma, has discussed the origins of Iran, starting with its earliest recorded references in history.

The basis of his book is that, at its roots, the term "arya-" was neither geographical nor political; but, rather, that it started out as an ethnic term for a race of people.

Professor Gnoli reviews the Old Persian inscriptions of the Achaemenians and finds that in them the term "arya-" is used in three different contexts.

First, it refers to the sphere of language:

ima dipi[vaidam] taya adam akunavam patisan ary‚ ‚ha

'This text that I made was then (written) in Aryan'.

Second, it is used in an ethnic context:

Both Darius and Xerxes declare themselves to be:

arya arya ciÁa

'Aryan, of Aryan stock'.

In this sense, Prof. Gnoli states that: "Old Persian (OP) arya- ... maintains to some extent an ethnic meaning that is connected not so much with a political situation as with a cultural and religious heritage" (page 17).

Third, in the Elamite text corresponding to the Old Persian text DB IV, 60 and 62, Ahura Mazda is described as:

Uramasda nap harriyanum

'Ahuramazda the God of the Aryans'.

In other inscriptions Ahura Mazda is distinguished from the gods of other people (who were not arya) in the following statements:

Auramazd‚ uta any‚ha bag‚ha tayai hanti

'Ahuramazda and the other gods that exist', and

Auramazd‚ haya mathista bag‚n‚m

'Ahuramazda the greatest of gods'.

Considering the fact that prior to the time of the Achaemenians, there was no political or geographical context in which 'arya-' was used, Prof. Gnoli concludes that the term arya- was only used to "define a racial, cultural and religious heritage" (page 20). Further, on the same page, Prof. Gnoli states: "To the Achaemenians arya- was a traditional, cultural and religious term that served to evoke their origin, a title of particular nobility, as it were, denoting that one belonged to a political and cultural hegemonic circle, in which the religious factor played a predominant part."


If one assumes Professor Gnoli's analysis to be correct, one may deduce that, certainly upto Achaemenian times, only those people who were ethnically arya- would have been Mazdayasni (Mazda worshippers) and, hence, Zarathushtis. The other ethnic groups, referred to in the Old Persian inscriptions as anarya-, would, of course, have been the worshippers of any‚ha bag‚ha tayai hanti, 'the other gods that exist'.

Thus, if we place Zarathushtra in circa 1080 BCE, then from his time to that of the Achaemenians, the Zarathushti religion was most certainly an ethnic religion, inherited from and practiced solely by those people who were arya arya ciÁa, 'Aryan, of Aryan stock'.

This would nullify the claim being made by some that Zarathushtrianism was, during the time of Zarathushtra, a "universal" religion. To the contrary, it was very much an ethnic religion, limited to only those people who were arya arya ciÁa.

There is no evidence presented by Prof. Gnoli to show that any of the anarya- worshipped Ahura Mazda or that they practiced the Zarathushtrian religion. But let us, for a moment, assume that the Mazdayasni religion was "universal" and practiced by the anarya; it would have then been rather preposterous (and very definitely incorrect) for the Achamenians, once the religion had already spread to the anarya, to have so proudly made the claim that Uramasda nap harriyanum, 'Ahuramazda (was)the God of the Aryans'. So this assumption must be considered to be false.

We may then safely conclude, on the basis of the research conducted by Professor Gnoli that, at least up to the times of the Achaemenians, the Zoroastrian religion, as manifested by the worship of Ahura Mazda, was practiced by and limited exclusively to those who were racially, culturally and ethnically arya-.

With best wishes,

Sarosh J. H. Manekshaw

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