“Primal creation,” traditional name of a major Pahlavi work of compilation, mainly a detailed cosmogony and cosmography based on the Zoroastrian scriptures.


BUNDAHIŠN, the name, meaning “Primal creation,” traditionally given to a major Pahlavi work of compilation, mainly a detailed cosmogony and cosmography based on the Zoroastrian scriptures but also containing a short history of the legendary Kayanids and Ērānšahr in their days. There is also a Ṣad dar-e Bondaheš, a considerably later (ca. 8th-9th/14th-15th century) work in Persian of a hundred miscellaneous chapters on the Zoroastrian religion, morals, legends, and liturgy. The Pahlavi work is preserved in two distinct recensions. One, a shorter and patently more corrupt version, is known as the Indian Bundahišn (IBd.). It is from this corrupt text, beginning; Zand [ī] āgāh ī nazdist abar bundahišnīh ī Ohramazd ud patyārag ī gannāg mēnōg, understood as “The Zand-knowing, which is first about Ohrmazd’s primal creation and the onslaught of the Evil Spirit,” that the name was evidently taken. The first manuscript codex containing the better and more complete recension was brought to India (and so gradually to public knowledge) from Iran in about 1870, and came to be known as the Great(er) or Iranian Bundahišn. Its introduction suggests that neither Bundahišn(īh), nor probably (as most modern scholars assume) Zand-āgāhīh “Knowledge from the Zand,” is in fact a title originally given to the work. It reads, in full: ān < ī> zand āgāhīh, nazdist abar *bundahišnīh ī Ohrmazd ud petyāragīh ī gannāg mēnōg, pas abar čiyōnīh ī gēhān ud dām az bundahišnīh tā frazām [IBd. here: ī tan ī pasēn], čiyōn az dēn ī māzdēsnān paydāg, pas abar xīr *ke *gēhān dārēd, pad wizārišn ī čēīh ud čiyōnīh “Knowledge of (i.e. deriving from) the Zand; first about the primal creation of Ohrmazd and the (counter-)onslaught of the Evil Spirit; then about the nature of the world and the creatures from the primal creation until the End [which is the Final Body], as it is revealed in the religion of the Mazda-worshippers; then about the things which the world contains, with an interpretation of (their) essence and nature.” (It is possible, but less likely, that the first *bundahišnīh is to be read *bunyaštīh, i.e., “the fundamentality of Ohrmazd.”)

Manuscripts and editions. The existing manuscripts of the Indian Bundahišn all derive from two codices of miscellaneous Pahlavi texts, K (Copenhagen) 20 and H (Haug) 6, both from the late 8th/14th-early 9th/15th century of our era and now slightly incomplete, and from nineteen loose folios (now K20b) of an even earlier date. The arrangement of the chapters of the IndianBundahišn is different in the two codices, and three are missing entirely from H6, suggesting that it was copied from a manuscript already in a state of some decay. The first codex to be brought to Europe, by Anquetil-­Duperron, was one copied from K20 at Surat in A.D. 1734. From this Anquetil published his translation of the Boun-dehesch, Paris, 1771. In 1820 K20 itself and K20b were brought to Copenhagen (whence their signatures) by Rask and are now lodged in the Univer­sity library there. Westergaard published a lithographed copy of the text of the Indian Bundahišn from K20 in 1851. From this Haug translated the first three chapters in 1854 and Spiegel several passages in 1860. A full translation by Windischmann appeared at last in 1863. In 1864 at Surat Haug obtained the manuscript H6, dated Broach (Bharūch) A.D. 1397. It is from this codex (later known as M [Munich] 51) that the Pāzand versions of the Indian Bundahišn in several manuscripts have been derived. Pahlavi texts also deriving from it had been in London and Oxford libraries for many years and were also used by Justi in his first critical edition of the text in 1868. The Indian Bundahišn was again lithographed in 1897 by Unvalla, and finally both codices K20 and K20b were published in facsimile in 1931. About 1870 Tehmuras Dinshawji Anklesaria obtained from Iran the codex (now known after him as TD1) containing the Iranian Bundahišn and in 1880 a second copy (TD2) from Yazd, dated 1626. (This and subsequent datings are based on the assumption that the era used in the poorly written colophons is not the usual Yazdegerdī era of A.D. 631, but the pārsīg era “after the year 20 of his late Majesty Yazdegerd,” i.e., A.D. 651.) It has been estimated by West that TD1, which lacks some folios at beginning and end, was written about A.D. 1530 (or possibly 1550, or even a generation later) in Kermān and is thus the oldest known MS of this recension.

A first English translation of the Indian Bundahišn, but with some additions from TD1 (particularly chapter XXXV A), was published by West in 1880. In the same year it was also noticed that the first two folios of the imperfect codex K43, brought from Iran to Copenhagen by Westergaard in 1843, contained part of the last chapter of the Iranian Bundahišn, with a colophon written in 1587. This fragment was published in facsimile in 1882 by Andreas (and again, with the whole codex, in 1936). Another good MS of the Iranian Bundahišn was later found in the library of Dastur Hoshang Jamasp of Poona, after whom it is called DH. This was written in 1597 and now lacks some 16 folios. In 1908 TD2 was published in facsimile, despite its relative lateness and inaccuracy, as providing the more complete text. The variant readings of DH were, however, printed in the introduction. It is to this edition that all subsequent publications make reference, by page and line. Apart from a copy of it made in about 1888 for Darmesteter and kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, TD1 remained un­known to the public until both it and DH were published in facsimile in Tehran in 1349 Š./1970. The Paris copy, however, was collated by Bailey and his collation made available to some other scholars. In 1933 Bailey presented a complete and annotated transliter­ation and translation of the Iranian Bundahišn as a doctoral thesis in Oxford. Although it has not yet been published, one copy of this work circulated among other scholars for some years, and it is presently being revised for publication by the author. Another trans­literation and English translation by B. T. Anklesaria, begun in 1908, was laboriously set in type in Bombay and, all but the introduction was ready for publication by 1935. A year after the death of the author in 1944, however, the printing press was destroyed by fire and with it almost all the printed copies. The work finally appeared only in 1956, reproduced by photozin­cography from a surviving copy of the original print, under the title Zand-ākāsīh. A complete edition by the late Kaj Barr, long awaited, has never been published. Several individual chapters have been edited by various scholars: see Geldner, Götze, Henning, MacKenzie, Messina, Modi, Nyberg, and Zaehner. Shorter passages have been exploited by several other writers: see Bailey, Molé, Schaeder, and Taqīzāda. A Pahlavi-Persian glossarial index of the Bundahišn, with incomplete references, was published by Bahār in 1967 and an annotated index of select words by Choksy in 1986.

Authorship and compilation. The text of the Bunda­hišn probably grew through different redactions, but it is impossible to say even approximately at what date the first compilation was made. There are several references to the conquering Arabs and their misrule and irre­ligion, suggesting a post-Islamic date, but it is not certain whether they are original or have been added to the work at some later stage. Most scholars subscribe to the view (expressed by Henning, p. 229) that it is “an original work on cosmology in which the scattered teachings of the Avesta were coordinated and brought into a system by an author who, living presumably towards the end of the Sassanian epoch, possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Avestic literature,” and that the final chapters (XXXI to XXXVI) are a later addition. This author also had some knowledge of the Greek scientific literature that had reached Iran under the Sasanians. For example, the contents of chapter XXVIII bear a similarity to the Hippocratic treatise Peri hebdomádōn. Chapter II on astronomy manifests, besides nearly prehistoric views, an acquaintance with Greek and Indian science. In Henning’s words, “There is no doubt that the author of the Bundahishn knew perfectly well that the moon is nearer to the earth than the fixed stars; to say so, however, against the authority of scripture, would have branded him as a heretic.”

Among the authors of the last important redaction was evidently the priest who names himself among others at the end of the “family of the mobads” (chap. XXXV A) as “Farrbay, whom they call Jādagīh (son) of Ašwahišt.” His by-name (formerly read Dādagīh, which might mean “fact, situation,” cf. German Gegebenheit—an unlikely name or amended to Dād­weh) was perhaps an honorary title meaning “Apportionment,” recognizing the bearer of it as a godsend to his flock. He names, presumably as a contemporary (possibly even his uncle), Zādsprahm (son) of Juwānǰam, who is known as the author of a very similar compilation, the Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram (Selections of Zādspram). From the dated Epistles of his elder brother Mānuščihr, written against his innovations in a matter of ritual purification, Zādspra(h)m is known to have been active about A.D. 880. Thus even this final redaction predates the beginnings of Neo-Persian litera­ture by almost a century. It was, though, nearly contemporary with the beginnings of Islamic science, particularly the several works on history, geography, and medicine written in Arabic (often by Persians) in the 3rd/9th century. Nevertheless these works appear to have had little influence on Farrbay.

The prime source of the compilation, as is often declared, was the dēn “Religion” itself, i.e., as recorded in the scriptures. These are repeatedly ascribed to an unnamed “He,” presumably the Creator himself. Indi­vidual sources are not named, but some can be identi­fied in the surviving zand, i.e., the traditional Pahlavi translation and commentary of the Avesta. For example, chapter XXXI, on the lands of Ērānšahr, closely follows the first section of the Pahlavi Vendidād. The Avestan Vendidād, probably compiled in Achaemenian times from traditional sources, is a description of Airyana Vaēǰah, (Pahlavi Ērānwēz), the original “range of the Aryans,” and the fifteen sur­rounding lands occupied by Iranians (e.g., Sogdiana, Margiana, Bactria, Arachosia) in modern eastern Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. The Pahlavi version, however, displaces some of the lands to the west of Iran, within the experience of the authors. Thus suγδō.šayana “abode of the Sogdians,” is written swlyk mʾnšn, understood as “the Syrian dwelling.” Some glossator in the Bundahišn compounds the error by identifying this with bkdʾt Y bgʾndʾt “Baghdad, created by the gods.” Similarly Haraxᵛaitī, Arachosia, Pahlavi hlhmnd, is corrupted in the Bundahišn to ʾlmn, Armenia. The mythical upa aoδaēšu raŋhayå “at the source of the Rangha river,” becomes ō’ā Y ʾlngystyʾn (Y hlwm) in the Pahlavi Vendidād, “Odha of Arangestan (which is Byzantium).” This becomes ʾwtʾyʾlwnd in the Bundahišn and by identifying Rangha/Arangestan with the Arwand (properly the Orontes, but confused with the Tigris) is said to be where the Arabs dwell. Thus an attempt is made to reconcile the ancient timeless geography of the Avestan text first with an early Sasanian world view and later with the realities of post­-Islamic Iran. Chapter IX, with its list of mountains, is clearly based ultimately on Yašt 19, of which no Zand survives. Chapter XI B, on the seventeen kinds of “water,” is an expansion of the Pahlavi Yasna 38.3-5. There the several Avestan adjectives describing the waters, “seeping forth, beneficent, easy to cross, plea­sant to bathe in,” etc., are given seventeen imaginative glosses, such as “the moisture which is on plants, urine, moisture in our bodies, moisture which comes from our bodies (sweat),” all of which appear in the Bundahišn. A comparison of the remaining contents of the Iranian Bundahišn with those of the lost Dāmdād nask of the Avesta, as sketched in the Pahlavi Dēnkard, bk. VIII, chap. 5, is revealing. In his Selections Zādspram actually twice (3.43.57) mentions this nask as giving more details (of which limbs of the Sole-created Ox the various plants sprang from, and of the kinds of birds) than his own summary. A zand of the Dāmdād nask must surely have been a major source for both compilations.

It is no longer possible to distinguish entirely between original material and later accretions, whether they be single glosses or whole sections. Efforts have neverthe­less been made by several scholars, notably Nyberg and Zaehner, to identify passages that evince an origin within the Zurvanite heresy. On a more mundane level, chapter IX provides a good example of the occasional endeavor of later editors, whose various notes have been incorporated into the text, to identify the tra­ditional (and even mythical) data of the Avesta with real geographical data within their own knowledge. Thus Upāiri.saēna, Pahlavi Abarsēn, Abursēn, originally the Hindu Kush range, is said in chapter XI A to be the source of the Harīrūd, Helmand, Morḡāb, and Balḵ rivers. In chapter IX, though, after the allegedly scrip­tural statement that Abarsēn is the biggest mountain apart from Harburz (i.e., Alborz), it is said to be “the mountain of all Pārs, and its base is in Sagestān and its top in Ḵūzestān, and there is a ridge in Ḵorāsān also.” The Avestan Iškata (named together with Upāiri.saēna), which is glossed škaft “wonderful” in Pahlavi Yasna 10.14, becomes was-škaft, probably understood as “having many caves,” and is said to be “that which is in Pārs, from the same Mount Abarsēn.”

Contents. The Indian Bundahišn was estimated by West, very approximately, to contain 13,000 words: in its fullest form it has something less than half the extent of the Iranian Bundahišn. Of the thirty-six chapters into which the latter is generally divided the Indian Bunda­hišn contains only parts of twenty-two, and these in a somewhat confused order. As both Justi and West gave some sections of chapters separate numbers their trans­lations each contain thirty-four (differing) chapters, to which Justi appended a noncanonical thirty-fifth from one Pāzand transcription of the Indian Bundahišn. In the following list of contents the chapters of the Iranian Bundahišn are numbered in Roman numerals and letters, after the edition of B. T. Anklesaria. The numbers of the corresponding sections of West’s translation of the Indian Bundahišn are given in parenthesis in Arabic numerals. The contents of chapters without headings are given in English only.

I. (1) The primal creation of Ohrmazd and the onslaught of the Evil Spirit.

I A. Abar dām-dahišnīh ī gētīgīhā “On the material creation of the creatures.”

II. (2) Abar frāz-brēhēnišnīh < ī > rōšnān “On the fashioning forth of the lights.”

III. Abar čim ī dahišnīh ī dām ō ardīkkarīh “On the reason for the creation of the creatures, for doing battle.”

IV. (3) Abar dwāristan ī ēbgat ō dām “On the running of the Adversary against the creatures.”

IV A. (4) The death of the Sole-created Ox.

V. (5) Abar hamēstārīh < ī> *dōnān mēnōgān “On the opposition of the two Spirits.”

V A. Abar zāyč ī gēhān, kū čiyōn ǰast “On the horoscope of the world, how it happened.”

V B. The planets.

VI. Abar ardīg-kunišnīh < ī> dahišnān <ī> gētīg padīrag gannāg mēnōh “On the doing battle of the creations of the world against the Evil Spirit.”

VI A. (6) Nazdist ardīg mēnōg ī asmān abāg gannāg mēnōg kard “The first battle the Spirit of the Sky did with the Evil Spirit.”

VI B (7) Dudīgar ardīg āb kard “The second battle the Water did.”

VI C. (8) Sidīgar ardīg zamīg kard “The third battle the Earth did.”

VI D. (9) Čahārom ardīg urwar kard “The fourth battle the Plant did.”

VI E. (10) Panǰom ardīg gāw ī ēkdād kard “The fifth battle the Sole-created Ox did.”

VI F. Šašom ardīg Gayōmard kard “The sixth battle Gayōmard did.”

VI G. Haftom ardīg ātaš kard “The seventh battle the Fire did.”

VI H. 8om ardīg axtarān kard “The 8th battle the fixed stars did.”

VI I. 9om ardīg mēnōgān yazadān abāg gannāg mēnōg kard “The 9th battle the spiritual gods did with the Evil Spirit.”

VI J. 10om < ardīg > starān < ī> agumēzišnīg kard “The 10th battle the stars unaffected by the Mixing did.”

VII. Abar ēwēnag ī awēšān dahišnān “On the form of those creations.”

VIII. (11) Abar čiyōnīh < ī> zamīgān “On the nature of the lands.”

IX. (12) Abar čiyōnīh < ī > kōfān “On the nature of the mountains.”

X. (13) Abar čiyōnīh ī zrēhān “On the nature of the seas.”

XI. (20) Abar čiyōnīh ī rōdīhā “On the nature of the rivers.”

XI A. (20) Abar nāmčištīg rōdīhā “On particular rivers.”

XI B. (21) The seventeen kinds of liquid.

XI C. (21) The dissatisfaction of the Arang, Marv, and Helmand rivers.

XII. (22) Abar čiyōnīh < ī> warīhā “On the nature of the lakes.”

XIII. (14) Abar čiyōnīh <ī> gōspandān<ī> 5 ēwēnag “On the nature of the 5 kinds of animal.”

XIV. (15) Abar čiyōnīh ī mardōmān “On the nature of men.”

XIV A. Abar čiyōnīh ī zanān “On the nature of women.”

XIV B. (23) On negroes.

XV. (16) Abar čiyōnīh ī zāyišnān ī az har sardag “On the nature of births of all kinds.”

XV A. (16) Other kinds of reproduction.

XVI. (27) Abar čiyōnīh <ī> urwarān “On the nature of plants.”

XVI A. (27) On flowers.

XVII. (24) Abar radīhā <ī> mardōmān (ud) gōspan­dān (ud) har tis-ēw “On the chieftains of men and animals and every single thing.”

XVII A. On the inequality of beings.

XVIII. (17) Abar čiyōnīh ī ātaxš “On the nature of fire.”

XIX. Abar čiyōnīh ī xwāb “On the nature of sleep.”

XIX A. The independence of earth, water, and plants from effort and rest.

XX. On sounds.

XXI. Abar čiyōnīh ī wād ud abr ud wārān “On the nature of wind, cloud, and rain.”

XXII. Abar čiyōnīh ī xrafstarān “On the nature of the noxious creatures.”

XXIII. Abar čiyōnīh ī gurg-sardagān “On the nature of the species of wolf.”

XXIV. Abar tis tis kū pad čē šōn dād ēstēd u-šān hamēstārīh <ī> abar mad “On various things, in what manner they were created and the opposition which befell them.”

A-C. (18) The Gōkarn tree, the Wās ī Paṇčāsadwarān (fish), the Tree of many seeds.

D-U. (19) The three-legged ass, the ox Haδayãš, the bird Čamroš, the bird Karšift, the bird Ašōzušt, the utility of other beasts and birds, the white falcon, the Kāskēn bird, the vulture, dogs, the fox, the weasel, the rat, the hedgehog, the beaver, the eagle, the Arab horse, the cock.

XXV. (25) Abar sāl ī dēnīg “On the religious year.”

XXVI. Abar wuzurg kardārīh ī mēnōgān yazadān “On the great activity of the spiritual gods.”

XXVII. (28) Abar duškunišnīh ī Ahreman (ud) dēwān “On the evil-doing of Ahreman and the demons.”

XXVIII. Abar tan ī mardōmān handāzag ī gētīg “On the body of men as the measure of the world (microcosm).”

XXIX. (29) Abar radīh ī kišwarān “On the chieftain­ship of the continents.”

XXX. Abar čēh-widarag puhl ud ruwān ī widardagān “On the Činwad bridge and the souls of the departed.”

XXXI. Abar mānīhā ī nāmčištīg az Ērānšahr, mān ī kayān “On particular lands of Ērānšahr, the abode of the Kays.”

XXXII. Abar mānīhā ī kayān kard pad xwarrah, kē abdīhā ud škoftīhā gōwēnd “On the abodes which the Kays made with splendor, which are called wonders and marvels.”

XXXIII. Abar wizend <ī> hazārag hazārag ō Ērānšahr mad “On the afflictions which befell Ērānšahr in each millennium.”

XXXIV. (30) Abar ristāxēz ud tan ī pasēn “On the resurrection of the dead and the Final Body.”

XXXV. (31-32) Abar tōhmag ud frazand ī kayān “On the stock and the offspring of the Kays.”

XXXV A. (33) Dūdag ī mōbedān “The family of the Mobads.”

XXXVI. (34) Abar sāl <ī> *maṛčābukān zamān <ī> 12,000 sāl “On the years of the heroes in the time of 12,000 years.”



Texts and translations. N. L. Westergaard, Bundehesh. Liber Pehlevicus, Copenhagen, 1851.

F. Windischmann, Zoroastrische Studien. Abhandlungen zur Mythologie und Sagengeschichte des alten Iran, ed. F. Spiegel, Berlin, 1863.

F. Justi, Der Bundehesh, zum ersten Male herausgegeben, transcribiert, übersetzt, und mit Glossar versehen, Leipzig, 1868.

E. W. West, The Bundahish, Pahlavi Texts, pt. I = SBE V, pp. xxii-xlv, 1-152, Oxford, 1880, repr. Delhi, 1965.

F. C. Andreas, The Book of the Mainyo-i­-Khard, Also an Old Fragment of the Bundehesh, Kiel, 1882, pp. 77-79.

M. R. Unvalla, The Pahlavi Bundehesh, Bombay, 1897.

T. D. and B. T. Anklesaria, The Bûndahishn. Being a Facsimile of the TD Manuscript No. 2, Bombay, 1908.

University Library of Copenhagen, Codices Avestici et Pahlavici, ed. A. Christensen, Copenhagen, I: The Pahlavi Codices K20 & K20b, 1931; V: The Pahlavi Codex K43, First Part, Containing a Fragment of the Great Bundahishn, 1936.

H. W. Bailey, The Bundahišn, unpublished D. Phil. thesis, Oxford, 1933.

B. T. Anklesaria, Zand-Ākāsīh, Iranian or Greater Bundahišn. Transliteration and Translation in English, Bom­bay, 1956.

Bonyād-e Farhang-e Īrān (Iranian Culture Foundation), The Bondahesh, Being a Facsimile Edi­tion of the Manuscript TD1, (prepared by P. K. Anklesaria), Tehran, n.d. [1949 Š./1970].

Idem, The Codex DH, Being a Facsimile Edition of Bondahesh, Zand-e Vohuman Yasht, and Parts of Denkard, Teh­ran, n.d. [1949 Š./1970].

Partial translations. H. W. Bailey, Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-Century Books, Oxford, 1943, repr. 1971 (many passages).

K. F. Geldner, “Die Zoroastrische Religion (Das Avesta),” in Religions­geschichtliches Lesebuch, ed. A. Bertholet, Tübingen, 1926, pp. 47-50 (IBd. 30 = chap. XXXIV).

A. Götze, “Persische Weisheit in griechischem Gewande,” ZII 2, 1923, pp. 60-73 (chap. XXVIII).

W. B. Henning, “An Astronomical Chapter of the Bundahishn,” JRAS, 1942, pp. 229-48 (chap. II).

D. N. MacKenzie, “Zoroastrian Astrology in the Bundahišn,” BSOAS 27, 1964, pp. 511-29 (chap. V).

G. Messina, “Mito, leggenda e storia nella tradizione iranica,” Orientalia 4, 1935, pp. 257-90 (chaps. XXXIII-IV).

J. J. Modi, A Paper Read Before the Bombay Branch of the RAS, 1901, Bombay, 1902 (chap. XXX).

M. Molé, Culte, Mythe et Cosmo­logie dans l’Iran ancien, Paris, 1963 (several passages, see index p. 592).

H. S. Nyberg, “Questions de cos­mogonie et de cosmologie mazdéennes,” JA 214, 1929, pp. 207-37 (chap. I), 260-310 (chap. II).

Idem, Texte zum mazdayasnischen Kalender, Uppsala, 1934, pp. 10-29 (parts of chaps. V, XXV).

H. H. Schaeder, Studien zum antiken Synkretismus, Leipzig, 1926, pp. 213-33 (several passages).

S. Ḥ. Taqīzāda, Gāh-šomārī dar Īrān-e qadīm, Tehran, 1316 Š./1937, pp. 326-29 (chap. V A).

R. C. Zaehner, Zurvan. A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Oxford, 1955, pp. 276-321 (chap. I), 321-36 (chap. III), 335-59 (part of chap. IV), and several other passages, see index pp. 460-61.

Glossaries. M. Bahār, Vāža-nāma-ye Bondaheš, Tehran, 1345 Š./1967.

J. K. Choksy, “An Annotated Index of the Greater or Iranian Bundahišn (TD2),” Studia Iranica 15/2, 1986, pp. 203-42.

(D. Neil MacKenzie)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 5, pp. 547-551