BAHMAN, the New Persian name of the Avestan Vohu Manah (Good Thought) and Pahlavi Wahman.
Vohu Manah (Good Thought) is one of the divine beings to whom the name Aməša Spenta is given in the post-Gathic parts of the Avesta. As with all these beings, an originally abstract idea has been personified and deified. (On ideas and their personifications in Zoroaster’s thinking, see Thieme, Die vedischen Āditya, pp. 404f.) In many contexts it is unclear whether vohu manah (good thought) or vahišta manah (best thought) means the abstract idea or the divine being, but as in the case of the other personifications, a synergy of the idea and the being is apparent. (Such is the view of Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, pp. 212f., and Humbach, Die Gathas, p. 55. On the other hand, Nyberg, Religionen, p. 121, and Duchesne-Guillemin, Zoroastre, pp. 205ff., and The Western Response, pp. 227ff., consider vohu manah to be in all respects a being, while Insler, The Gathas, pp. 25ff., reckons him to be wholly an idea.)
Vohu manah means literally the good moral state of a person’s mind which alone enables him to perform his duties, whether these be worship of Ahura Mazdā or care of cows, which in the Gāθās is deemed particularly important. For example, it is said of Ahura Mazdā’s dominion that mankind “will augment it by good thought” (Y. 31.6), while righteous believers are described as persons “who through their practice of good thought are in the community of the milch cow” (Y. 34.14).
As a being, Vohu Manah appears in the Gāθās mainly in association with Ahura Mazdā and other beings, e.g., “I too shall praise you, O Truth, as never before, (you) and Good Thought and the Wise Lords” (Y. 28.3; cf. Y. 28.9, and Y. 33.11). In the abode where Ahura Mazdā dwells, Vohu Manah is present together with the souls of the truthful (Y. 49.10). One of the designations of the next world is “Abode of Good Thought” (Y. 32.15). Vohu Manah is presented as one of the basic facts of the creation (Y. 44.4). Ahura Mazdā is named as his father (Y. 31.8; 45.4), but this relationship, which other divine beings also enjoy, is not pictured in clearly anthropomorphic terms. Just as Ahura Mazdā is related to Vohu Manah (Y. 32.2), so too does man strive for partnership with him (Y. 49.3, 5). One characteristic function of Vohu Manah is that of an adviser (Y. 44.8, 13; 47.3). Man ought to follow the “Ways of Good Thought” (Y. 34.12, 13; 51.16). Anyone who does good to a truthful person—among other things by tending cows—will have a place “on the meadow of Truth and Good Thought” (Y. 33.3).
Vohu Manah, the being, also acts as a protector of man and his animals, but is not the only performer of this function. “Who could be found to be the protector of my cattle, of myself, (who) other than Truth, than you, O Wise Lord, and Best Thought?” (Y. 50.1). Conversely the herdsman, charged with the care of cows, is described as “Good Thought’s supporter” (Y. 31.10). There is probably also an allusion to Vohu Manah’s role in the sentence “Whom do you appoint, O Wise One, to be a keeper for one like me . . ., (whom) other than your Fire and your Thought?” (Y. 46.7).
It has often been assumed (e.g., by Lommel, Die Religion, pp. 123ff., and Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, pp. 209ff.) that a special relationship between Vohu Manah, the being, and animals, particularly the cow as representative of the animals, is already manifest in the Gāθās; but there is no clear evidence of such a relationship in the texts (cf. Narten, Die Aməṧa Spəṇtas, pp. 107ff.).
In line with the dualistic world view, vohu manah is opposed by aka manah (bad thought) or acišta manah (worst thought). Here again tendencies to personification appear in some contexts: the daēvas are “seeds from Worst Thought” (Y. 32.3), hell is called the “abode of Worst Thought” (Y. 32.13), the deceiver dwells “with Worst Thought” (Y. 47.5). (On the conflict between Good Thought and Bad Thought, visualized as beings, see Lommel, Die Religion, pp. 37f.)
The importance given in the Gāθās to the idea and personification of vohu manah is probably a specifically Zoroastrian feature. In the Vedas there is no instance of a compound of the abstract noun ma′nas and the adjective vásu with an ethical connotation. The word sumati, cited by Geiger (DieAməša Spəntas, p. 241) can hardly, in view of its different etymology, prove anything relevant to the Indo-Iranian period. (See Lommel, Die Elemente, pp. 380f., who thinks it improbable that Vohu Manah is from the Indo-Iranian period. For a different explanation of Vohu Manah, see Duchesne-Guillemin, La religion, pp. 200ff.)
In the Younger Avesta there are few references to vohu manah the abstract idea, but many invocations and mentions of Vohu Manah the divine being. In general, however, these give no indications of the being’s special attributes and functions (see Lommel, Die Religion, p. 38). Even so, it is significant that wherever the Aməša Spəntas are mentioned by name, and despite differences in the order of mention, the first rank after Ahura Mazdā is always held by Vohu Manah, whereas in the Gāθās Aša appears more important and closest to Ahura Mazdā. Also important is Vohu Manah’s role as the victorious opponent of Aka Manah: “Bad Thought will be vanquished, Good Thought will be the victor” (Yt. 19.96). In another context Vohu Manah reappears in the role of protector: “When the Evil Spirit assailed the creation of Good Truth, Good Thought and Fire intervened” (Yt. 13.77). In the race and combat for the light of good fortune, Vohu Manah takes part, together with Aša Vahišta (Best truth) and Fire, as a champion of Spənta Mainyu (most Beneficent Spirit), but only Fire is mentioned as an actual combatant. Finally Vohu Manah appears as the being who will welcome the truthful man’s soul in the afterworld (Y. 32.15 and Y. 49.10 quoted above, Vd. 19). This, by the way, is the only setting where the portrayal is at all graphic: “Good Thought rises from his throne made of gold, Good Thought proclaims . . .” (Vd. 19.31), but on the whole Vohu Manah as presented in the Younger Avesta is rather colorless—a being of some importance, but without distinctive attributes.
The second day of the month is dedicated to Vohu Manah, which is consistent with the order of precedence which places Vohu Manah second after Ahura Mazdā. The eleventh month is also sacred to Vohu Manah.
M. Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, Leiden and Cologne, 1975.
J. Duchesne-Guillemin, Zoroastre, Paris, 1948.
Idem, “The Western Response to Zoroaster,” Ratanbai Katrak Lectures, Oxford, 1956, repr. in B. Schlerath, ed., Zarathustra, 1970.
Idem, La religion de l’Iran ancien, Paris, 1962.
B. Geiger, Die Aməša Spəntas. Ihr Wesen und ihre ursprüngliche Bedeutung, Vienna, 1916 (Sb. Kais. Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien 176, 7).
H. Humbach, Die Gathas des Zarathustra I, Heidelberg, 1959.
S. Insler, The Gāthās of Zarathustra, Tehran and Liège, 1975.
H. Lommel, Die Religion Zarathustras, Tübingen, 1930, repr. Hildesheim and New York, 1971.
Idem, “Die Elemente im Verhältnis zu den Ameša Spentas,” in Festschrift für Ad. E. Jensen I, Munich, 1964, repr. in Schlerath, ed., Zarathustra.
J. Narten, Die Aməṧa Spəṇtas im Avesta, Wiesbaden, 1982.
H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des alten Iran, Leipzig, 1938, repr. Osnabrück, 1966.
B. Schlerath, ed., Zarathustra, Wege der Forschung 169, Darmstadt, 1970.
P. Thieme, “Die vedischen Āditya und die zarathustrischen Aməša Spənta,” in Schlerath, ed., Zarathustra.
In the Zoroastrian tradition Bahman is the first of the Aməša Spəntas and the protector of cattle. In the Pahlavi writings, with their strong dualist perspective, he has the arch-demon Akōman as his adversary. Both in the Younger Avesta and in the Pahlavi literature he acts as Ohrmazd’s auxiliary in the work of creation.
Bahman, as his name indicates, has two essential qualities, goodness (wehīh) and thought (menišn). He therefore, according to the exegesis of the Dādestān ī denīg (2.15-16), differs from Srōš, who exists in speech (gōwišn), and from Ard (Aša), who exists in action (kunišn); but according to another tradition, Bahman dwells in the intelligence (axw), Srōš in thought (menišn), and Spandarmad in the spirit (vārom; Dēnkard, p. 49.16). Although Bahman remains the protector of cattle and the embodiment of their five species (Zātspram 23.2), the literature lays much greater stress on his relationship to mankind. He plays an important part in mankind’s destiny, both here below and in the beyond. In the present world, he does thrice-daily counts of the good and bad thoughts, words, and deeds of every human being (Dādestān ī dēnīg 13.2-3); but he is not the sole account-keeper (āmārgar), as Mihr, Srōš, and Rašn are also charged with the task, particularly at the final judgment of each individual. Bahman acts as the guide of souls, but the Ardā Wīrāz-nāmag (chap. 11.163) explains that he only intervenes at the last stage of the soul’s journey, by accompanying it to the abode of Ohrmazd where he himself resides. Finally it is stated that during the Renewal at the end of time, Bahman will be consulted about everything (Dēnkard, p. 824. 12-13).
The Pahlavi texts contain legendary accounts describing Bahman’s involvement with Zoroaster’s birth (see the texts in Mole, La légende). Zoroaster was laughing when he was born because Bahman was dwelling in him (Dēnkard, bk. 5.2.5), Bahman being the mēnōg who brings happiness (Zātspram 8.15). Bahman’s opposition to Akōman is illustrated with examples from Zoroaster’s tribulations in infancy; it is Bahman who, accompanied by Srōš, brings a ewe to Zoroaster to nourish him (Zātspram 10.11; Dēnkard, bk. 7.3.17). Since Bahman is so close to Ohrmazd, it is not surprising that he played a part in the plan to create Zoroaster, being required to carry the sacred hōm from which Zoroaster’s body was made (Dēnkard, bk. 7.2.17-25), or that he escorted Zoroaster to his interviews with Ohrmazd. Similarly he appears as a messenger sent to Vištāsp to dispel his doubts and as a guide (parwānag) summoned by Tištar to make rain fall (Zātspram 3.8).
No Avestan yašt is specifically dedicated to Bahman. The frequently expressed opinion that the substance of a lost Bahman yašt has been preserved in the Pahlavi book Zand ī Wahman Yasn does not rest on any solid foundation. The yašts dedicated to the Aməša Spəntas are not old (see Boyce, Textual Sources, p. 91) but are all late fabrications, as Darmesteter first noted. Internal analysis of the Zand ī Wahman Yasn reveals no resemblance in either substance or form to the ancient yašts. The arguments from the language put forward by G. Widengren and other Swedish scholars are weak and unconvincing. Even the title of Bahman yašt was invented by modern scholars (see A. Hultgård, in Hellholm, ed., Apocalypticism, p. 388), but Bahman does not enter into the Zand ī Wahman Yasn at all. In reality the book is a late compilation of myths and apocalyptic speculations.
Bahman’s name does not often appear in onomastics, being much less widely used than Mithra or Ādur as a component of personal names. This is surprising for a divine being so closely concerned with mankind.
B. T. Anklesaria, ed., Zand-í Vohûman Yasn and two Pahlavi Fragments, Bombay, 1957.
M. Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism, Manchester, 1984.
Ph. Gignoux, Le livre d’Ardā Vīrāz, Paris, 1984.
Idem, “Sur l’inexistence d’un Bahman Yasht avestique,” Journal of Asian and African Studies 32, Tokyo, 1986, pp. 53-64.
D. Hellholm, ed., Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East, Tübingen, 1983.
J. de Menasce, Le troisième livre du Dēnkart, Paris, 1973.
M. Molé, La légende de Zoroastre d’après les livres pehlevis, Paris, 1967 (Dēnkard, bks. 5 and 7).
G. Widengren, The Great Vohu Manah and the Apostle of God, Uppsala, 1945.
(J. Narten, Ph. Gignoux)
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: August 23, 2011
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Vol. III, Fasc. 4, pp. 487-488