Wisdom Library Logo

The Zoroastrian Occult Knowledge

Chapter II

Philological Study of Zend-avesta in the West and in Bombay

The Avesta was first introduced in Europe in 1723 A.D., when George Boucher, a countryman of Thomas Hyde, the famous Orientalist in Europe, is said to have received a copy of Vandidad Sada from Surat through Richard Cobbe.

"But the old Manuscript was a sealed book, and the most that could then be made of it was to hang it by an iron chain to the wall of the Bodleian Library, as a curiosity to be shown to foreigners. A few years later, a Scotchman, named Fraser, went to Surat, with the view of obtaining from the Parsis, not only their books! but also a knowledge of their contents. He was not very successful in the first undertaking, and utterly failed in the second." {GL_NOTE::}

 

Anquetil Duperron

"Then in 1754 a young man, twenty years old Anquetil Duperron, a scholar of the Ecole des Langues Orientales in Paris, happened to see a facsimile of four leaves of the Oxford Vendidad, which had been sent from England, a few years before, to Etienne Fourmont, the Orientalist. He determined at once to give to France both the books of Zoroaster and the first European translation of them. Too impatient to set off, to wait for a mission from the government, which had been promised to him he enlisted as a private soldier in the service of the French East India Company; he embarked at Lorierit on the 24th of February 1755, and after three years of endless adventures and dangers through the whole breadth of Hindustan, at the very time when war was waging between France and England, he arrived at last in Surat, where he stayed among the Parsis for three years more.

Here began another struggle, not less hard, but more decisive, against the same mistrust and ill will which had disheartened Fraser; but he came out of it victorious, and prevailed at last on the Parsis to part both with their books and their knowledge. He came back to Paris on the 14th of March 1764, and deposited on the following day at Bibliotheque Royale the whole of the Zend Avesta and copies of several traditional books. He spent ten years in studying the material he had collected, and published in 1771 the first European translation of the Zend Avesta."

With respect to the difficulties Anquetil had to encounter in the task of his translations, and the disadvantages under which he had to labour, Bleeck states (in Intro. p. xiv seq. to his translation from German of Avesta: the Religious Books of the Parsees by Prof. Spiegel):

" ......when we consider the disadvantages he had to contend with, we can only wonder that he was able to produce any translation at all. In the first place, his teacher, the Dastur Darab, though well acquainted with the Parsee traditions possessed no 'grammatical' knowledge of the Zend at all, in fact, it would seem as if very little grammatical learning existed even so far back as the date of the Huzvaresh translation; and in a thousand years of subjection and exile it was not to be expected that the Parsee priests could do more than preserve the Avesta and the LITERAL translation, Add to this that the Dastur and Anquetil communicated with each other through the medium of Persian; and we find the case to resemble that of a man attempting to teach a language which he does not understand himself, by means of a language which his pupil understands but indifferently."

While regretting the absence of a Grammar and Dictionary of Zend, the learned translator (Bleeck) states as under about the Zoroastrian religion:

"This is the more to be regretted, because the whole subject of the Mazdayaznian religion deserves more attention than has hitherto been paid to it. A religion which is probably as ancient as Judaism, and which certainly taught the immortality of the soul and a future state of rewards and punishments for centuries before those doctrines were prevalent among the Jews - a religion which for ages prior to Christianity announced that men must be pure in thought as well as in word and deed, and that sins must be REPENTED OF before they could be atoned for, - a religion whose followers were forbidden to kill even animals wantonly, at a time when the ancestors of the French and English nations were accustomed to sacrifice human victims to their sanguinary Deities, - such a pure and venerable religion is one which must always command the respect of the civilized world, and of which a Parsee may well be proud."

At first the books brought by Anquetil and their translations (in French) were discredited in England as impostures. In this connection Bleeck further states:

"In Germany" Anquetil's book fared better than in England. The Germans, not greatly caring about the University of Oxford, and thinking that vanity sat as lightly on an author as feathers on a bird, set themselves soberly to examine the merits of Anquetil's discovery, and very soon a German translation of Anquetil's three volumes, with an "Appendix" of two volumes, was published by Kleuker, who successfully vindicated Anquetil from the charge of having attempted to impose a fabricated language upon the learned of Europe. Anquetil's book was published in 1771 (he returned from India in 1762), and Kleuker's translation appeared in 1781."

(ibid.)

 

Anquetil Ended His Life as an Ascetic

"Anquetil composed a number of Memoirs" read to the French Institute and preserved in their printed records. He published in 1774, three quarto volumes upon his voyages to, in and from India, and the Works of Zoroaster. " In epistle which he placed before his Latin translation of Dara Shuko's Persian Upanishad, and addressed to the Brahmans of India, contained, as it were, his religious and political testament. He declares his nourishment to have been reduced, like that of an abstemious ascetic, living even in winter, without fire; and sleeping in a bed without feathers or sheets. His juvenile boast of 'personal beauty' was expiated by total neglect of his body, his aspirations to 'a vast extent of learning' had subsided into patient and most persevering studies. But, disdaining to accept gifts and pensions even from Government, he preserved his absolute liberty, and blessed his poverty, "as the salvation of his soul and body, the rampart" of morality and religion; and friend of all men; victorious over the "allurements of the world, he tended towards the Supreme Being. Well may virtues so rare efface other human failings of Anquetil du Perron. He died, in seventy-fourth year, in 1805. (See Histoire et Memoires de l' Institute royal de France. Classe d' Histoire et de Literature anciennes, tome III. 1818.)" ("Dabistan" translated from Persian into English by David Shea and Anthony Troyers).

The above-mentioned translations of Avesta by Anquetil and Kleuker in French and German respectively, created great controversy in Europe for many years, which in the end resolved itself in the foundation of philology as a science towards the middle of the last century. In the wake of the spread of this linguistic study, Avesta and Pahlavi literatures have been rendered by different scholars and savants of the West in different languages of Europe.

Among the translations with the help of philology in English, "The Sacred Books of the East" (S.B.E. series) translated by various Oriental Scholars of the West and edited by Prof. F. Max Muller are very famous. In the above series the following volumes contain Avesta and Pahlavi works noted below:

(Avesta) Vol. IV - Vandidad translated by Prof. Darmesteter
   Vol. XXIII - Yashts Prof. Darmesteter
   Vol. XXXI - Yasna Visparad Dr. Mills
       
 (Pahlavi) Vol. V - Part I The Bundahis, Bahman Yast and Shayast-la-Shayast Dr. West
  Vol. XVIII - Part II Dadastan-I-Dinik and Epistles of Manushchihar Dr. West
  Vol. XXIV - Part III Dina- I Mainog-I-Kherad, Sikand-Gumanik Vegar, Sad Dar Dr. West
  Vol. XXXVII   - Part IV Contents of the Nasks, as stated in the eighth and ninth books of Dinkard Dr. West
  Vol. XLVII - Part V Marvels of Zoroastrianism Dinkard Book VII Dinkard Book V Selections of Zadsparam Dr. West

Great as this achievement is from the linguistic and scholarly points of view, yet the introduction of the philological study of the Avesta among the Parsis themselves in Bombay has proved deplorable, for instead of being able to understand the Zoroastrian religion in its pristine purity-about which the philological school is entirely in the dark - many Parsi students of Avesta only imbibe the faith-shattering, misconceived -opinions and ignorant and blasphemous criticisms against the sacred Yashts and other prayers leveled by Western scholars and their misguided Parsi imitators.

 

Invaluable Services of the Philological School

In spite of the above fact, philology deserves great credit for effecting the translations of the entire extant literatures of Avesta and Pahlavi and bringing them within the reach of the laity. For this invaluable service philology occupies an incomparable and a sublime place and we deem it our foremost duty to acknowledge our deep obligations to philology, despite our honest and legitimate criticisms of the short-comings of that science, whether they be in the form of flaws or imperfections in translations, or of true import therein. Again, we have not adequate words to-express our gratitude for the limitless labour dedicated to the altar of service of the Zoroastrian Scriptural literature by the selfless scholars and savants of the West, and for the funds established by their governments for the study of the religious literatures of the Oriental countries. Many of the highly learned Western philologists have tirelessly striven to explain the Avesta-Pahlavi texts, and from many of them we have received the most honest and praiseworthy help in various ways. Priceless are their labours, and to them are due our warmest thanks.

 

Introduction of Philological Study in Bombay

In India, Philology received an impetus through the exertions of the late Seth Khurshedji Rustomji Cama, who was the first to acquire proficiency in that Science in Germany and introduce its study in Bombay. He was a gentleman of solid worth and a seeker after truth with an honest and a sincere heart. To propagate the study of the Avesta and to create among the Parsi youths love and curiosity for the same he used to distribute some leaves of religious books in the trams and local trains of Bombay. By his efforts Avesta-Pahlavi were recognized as subjects of study by the University of Bombay.Moreover to attract and encourage the priestly class to study their religion, he established bigger scholarships for its members than for the laity.

At this time he came into contact with a profoundly learned scholar, who was as modest in his ways as he was balanced in his religious views, and very devoted in his studies, who with in defatigable labours expertly translated the entire Avesta literature, prepared an Avesta-Gujarati-EngUsh Dictionary and Avesta Grammar and English-Avesta Dictionary. This renowned scholar was the late Ervad Kavasji Edalji Kanga of revered memory. For the high services to his religion rendered by this devout priest, the community owes a deep debt of gratitude.

In the field of Pahlavi, the late Dastoor Peshotan Behramji Sanjana and after him his learned son Dr. Dastoor Darab, both of whom were honoured with the title of Shams-ul-Olma (lit. the sun among scholars) have rendered most valuable services. Their chief work is the translation of the Pahlavi Dinkard series. The seventh Volume of this Pahlavi series is of special importance and worthy of notice because it contains the life sketch of the Prophet of Prophets, the Holy Zarathushtra, the teacher of eternal truths.

The late learned Behramgore Tehmurasp Anklesaria and the late learned Shehryarji Dadabhai Bharucha were other highly renowned scholars of Pahlavi.

Besides the above" another great savant, the late Ervad Pheroze Shapurji Masani has expertly translated in Gujarati several Pazand prayers in the light of "Khshnoom".

first previous index next last

- Footnotes:

1.

The above "manuscript was written in the year 1050 of Yazdgard (1680-1681 AD.)" (S.B.E. Vol. IV Intro. p. xvii).

first previous index next last

Article published on