Yazata is the
Avestan languageword for a Zoroastrian concept. The word has a wide range of meaning but generally signifies (or is an epithet of) a divinity. The term literally means "worthy of worship"harvnb|Boyce|2001|p=xxi.] or "worthy of veneration."harvnb|Geiger|1885|p=xlix.]
The "yazata"s collectively represent "the good powers under Ohrmuzd," where the latter is "the Greatest of the "yazata"s."harvnb|Büchner|1993|p=1161.]
"Yazata-" is originally an
Avestan languageadjective derived from the verbal root "yaz-" "to worship, to honor, to venerate." From the same root comes Avestan " yasna" "worship, sacrifice, oblation, prayer." A "yazata" is accordingly "a being worthy of worship" or "a holy being."
As the stem form, "yazata-" has the inflected
nominativeforms "yazatō", pl. "yazatåŋhō". These forms reflect Proto-Iranian "*yazatah" and pl. "*yazatāhah". In Middle Persianthe term became "yazad" or "yazd", pl. "yazdān", continuing in New Persian as "izad".
Related terms in other languages are
Sanskrit"yájati" "he worships, he sacrifices," "yajatá-" "worthy of worship, holy," "yajñá" "sacrifice," and perhapsref_label|hagios|a|none also Greek ἅγιος "hagios" "devoted to the gods, sacred, holy."
The term "yazata" is already used in the
Gathas, the oldest texts of Zoroastrianismand believed to have been composed by Zoroasterhimself. In these hymns, "yazata" is used as a generic, applied to God as well as to the "divine sparks," that in later tradition are the Amesha Spentas. In the Gathas, the "yazata"s are effectively what the "daeva"s are not, that is, the "yazata"s are to be worshipped while the "daeva"s are to be rejected.
The Gathas also collectively invoke the "yazata"s without providing a clue as to which entities are being invoked, and - given the structure and language of the hymns - it is generally not possible to determine whether these "yazata"s are abstract concepts or are manifest entities. Amongst the lesser Yazatas being invoked by name by the poet of the Gathas are
Sraosha, Ashi, Geush Tashan, Geush Urvan, Tushnamaiti and Iza, and all of which "win mention in his hymns, it seems, because of their close association with rituals of sacrifice and worship."harvnb|Boyce|1972|p=195.]
In the Younger Avesta, the "yazata"s are unambiguously divinities, with divine powers but performing mundane tasks such as serving as charioteers for other divinities. Other divinites are described with anthropomorphic attributes, such as cradling a mace or bearing a crown upon their heads, or not letting sleep interrupt their vigil against the demons.
At some point during the late 5th or early 4th century BCE, the
Achaemenids instituted a religious calendar in which each day of the month was named after, and placed under the protection of, a particular "yatata". These day-name dedications were not only of religious significance because they ensured that those divinities remained in the public consciousness, they also established a hierarchy among the "yazata"s, with specific exalted entities having key positions in the day-name dedications (see Zoroastrian calendarfor details).
Although these day-name dedications are mirrored in scripture, it cannot be determined whether these day-name assignments were provoked by an antecedent list in scripture (eg "
Yasna" 16), or whether the day-name dedications provoked the compilation of such lists. Relatively certain however is that the day-name dedications predate the Avesta's "Siroza" ("30 days"), which contain explicit references to the "yazata"s as protectors/guardians of their respective days of the month.
The 9th - 12th century texts of Zoroastrian tradition observe the "yazata"s (by then as
Middle Persian"yazad"s) in much the same way as the hymns of the Younger Avesta. In addition, in roles that are only alluded to in scripture, they assume characteristics of cosmological or eschatological consequence.
Aredvi Sura Anahita("Ardvisur Nahid") is both a divinity of the waters as well as a rushing world river that encircles the earth, which is blocked up by Angra Mainyu("Ahriman") thus causing drought. The blockage is removed by Verethragna("Vahram"), and Tishtrya("Tir") gathers up the waters and spreads them over the earth ( Zam) as rain. In stories with eschatological significance, Sraosha("Sarosh"), Mithra("Mihr") and Rashnu("Rashn") are guardians of the Chinvat bridge, the bridge of the separator, across which all souls must pass.
Further, what the calendrical dedications had began, the tradition completed: At the top of the hierarchy was
Ahura Mazda, who was supported by the great heptad of Amesha Spentas ("Ameshaspand"s/"Mahraspand"s), through which the Creator realized ("created with his thought") the manifest universe. The Amesha Spentas in turn had "hamkars" "assistants" or "cooperators", each a caretaker of one facet of creation.
In both tradition and scripture, the terms 'Amesha Spenta' and 'yazata' are sometimes used interchangeably. In general however, 'Amesha Spenta' signifies the six great "divine sparks." In tradition, "yazata" is the 1st of the 101 epithets of Ahura Mazda. The word also came to be applied to Zoroaster, but Zoroastrians to this day remain sharply critical of any attempts to divinify the prophet. In a hierarchy that does not include either Ahura Mazda or the Amesha Spentas amongst the "yazatas", the most prominent amongst those "worthy of worship" is
Mithra, who "is second only in dignity to Ohrmazd (i.e. Ahura Mazda) himself."harvnb|Boyce|1969|p=24.]
In the present day
Martin Haug's interpretations of Zoroastrian scripture allows the "yazata"s to be compared to the angels of Christianity. In this scheme, the Amesha Spentas are the arch-angel retinue of God, with the "hamkars" as the supporting host of lesser angels.
Haug's interpretations were subsequently disseminated as Parsi (Indian Zoroastrian) ones, which then eventually reached the west where they were seen to corroborate Haug. Like most of Haug's interpretations, this comparison is today so well entrenched that a gloss of 'yazata' as 'angel' is almost universally accepted; both in publications intended for a general audience"cf." harvnb|Gray|1927|p=562.] "cf." harvnb|Edwards|1927|p=21.] as well as in (non-philological) academic literature."cf." harvnb|Luhrmann|2002|p=871.] "cf." harvnb|Dhalla|1914|p=135.]
Amongst the Muslims of Islamic Iran,
Sraoshacame to be "arguably the most popular of all the subordinate Yazatas," for as the angel Surush, only he (of the entire Zoroastrian pantheon) is still venerated by name.harvnb|Boyce|1993|p=214.]
* In Pokorny's comparative dictionary on
Indo-European languages, the author considers "Yazata-", "yaz-", "yasna", "yájati", "yajñá", ἅγιος "hagios" to all be derivatives of a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root "i̪agʲ-" ("i̪ag´-") "religiös verehren"harvnb|Pokorny|1930|p=I.195.] ("religiously venerate"). However, in partially derivative authorities such as Calvert Watkins' PIE Roots appendix to "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language" give no indication that Greek ἅγιος "hagios" is still considered a reflex of this PIE root.
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