The Bundahishn

Knowledge from the Zand

1897 | 25,140 words

A collection of texts related to Zoroastrian cosmogony and cosmology. The contents focuses on the Zoroastrianism's creation myth, and the first battles of 'Ahura Mazda' and 'Angra Mainyu'. Most of the chapters of the compendium date to the 8th and 9th centuries. The Bundahishn ("Creation"), or Knowledge from the Zand. Translated by E. W...


Concerning this Pahlavi text, Mary Boyce has written,

"A much more important and fundamental work of compilation is the Bundahishn ("Creation"), also called Zand-agahih ("Knowledge from the Zand"), which survives in two recensions, the Great (or Iranian) Bundahishn and a shortened version, the Indian Bundahishn (deriving from a different MS. tradition). One of the two great Zoroastrian compilations, this work probably grew through different redactions, from some time after the Arab conquest down to 1178 A.C. (when a few additions were made in imperfect Middle Persian). The last important redaction belongs to about the end of the 9th century.

The Bundahishn has three main themes: creation, the nature of earthly creatures, and the Kayanians (their lineage and abodes, and the vicissitudes befalling their realm of Eranshahr). The compiler does not name individual sources; but shows an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Zand, and exemplifies excellently the process whereby treatises on chosen themes were created out of the scriptures.

Many passages evidently derive fairly closely from the Middle Persian translation, for an Avestan syntax underlies them and one section consists simply of the translation of the 1st chapter of the Vendidad coinciding (except in small details) with the canonical Zand. Glosses and commentaries provide part of the continuous text, and in these, foreign learning is adduced. There are also a few isolated attempts to bring the work up to date, by the identification of traditional (and even mythical) geographical names with Arabic ones. In the main, however, the absorbing interest of the Bd. lies in the antiquity of its material.

Here is preserved an ancient, in part pre-Zoroastrian picture of the world, conceived as saucer-shaped, with its rim one great mountain-range, a central peak thrusting up, star-encircled, to cut off the light of the sun by night; a world girdled by two great rivers, from which all other waters flow; in which yearly the gods fight against demons to end drought and famine, and to bring protection to man.

Natural phenomena are speculatively explained; the sprouting of the plants, for example, is ascribed to the mythical Tree of All Seeds growing in the ocean, whose seeds are mingled with water and so scattered annually over all the earth when the god Tishtar brings the rains.

Not only is the matter ancient and often poetic, but the manner of presentation, although arid, is of great antiquarian interest; for after the distinctively Zoroastrian account of creation, the speculative learning and legendary history is set out in traditional oral fashion, that is to say, in schematised mnemonic lists: so many types of animals, so many kinds of liquid, so many names of mountains, so many great battles. This is the learning of ancient Iran, as it must have been evolved and transmitted by generations in the priestly schools."

(quoted from Mary Boyce, 'Middle Persian Literature', Handbuch der Orientalistik, 1. Abt., IV. Band, 2. Abschn., LFG.1, pg 40-1.)

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