YEŊ́HĒ HĀTĄM, Yasna 27.15 of the Avesta, one of the four major Zoroastrian ritual prayers or mantras (Av. mąθra). In the extant Avesta, the commentary on Yeŋhē hātąm (hereafter: YH) survives in Yasna 21, which immediately precedes the Gāthās. Y. 21 follows the lengthier exposition of the Yaθā ahū vairiiō  (YAV) mantra in Y. 19 and that of Aṣ̌əm vohū (AV) in Y. 20.  These three prayers are listed (with two other Yasna formulae) as an anti-daevic remedy in Videvdad 18.43; the three are worshipped in Visperad 1.4 and 2.6, and AV and YH are recited in 21.0. Of the commentaries on these three that existed in the Sasanian Avesta (see Table 1), those belonging to the Bag Nask survive in Y. 19-21. 

Function. In the Yasna ritual, recitation of YH is closely linked to that of YAV and AV, which it follows as a doxology, marking the transition from one unit of scripture to the next (see Kotwal and Boyd, p. 155). The Yasna rubrics invoke YH (one recitation) after AV (three recitations) at the conclusion of each chapter (hāiti, Pahl. ) of the five Gāθās and the Yasna Haptaŋhāiti (Y. 28 through 51, 53)  and after the concluding prayers, Y. 54 (Ā airiiə̄mā iš́iiō) and 55.  The Srōš Yašt (Y. 57) invokes YH, but preceding AV (57.34; Geldner, I, pp. 204-5).  YH also is indicated at the conclusion of various other Yasna chapters (ed. Geldner, Y. 4.26, 7.27, 13.8, 17.19, 18.9, 19.21, 20.5, 21.5, 60.13, 68.24, 70.7; for an outline of the liturgical structure of the Yasna, see Kotwal and Boyd, pp. 155-57; for an example of use, in the context of Y. 4-8, see ibid., pp. 95-96).  M. Molé, pointing out that YH is the only mantra that speaks of the yasna sacrifice/worship,  attributes to it a key role in enabling ritual to be accomplished correctly and validly (pp. 274, 516). For J. Darmesteter, YH encapsulated the [entire] Yasna ritual; it was “the liturgical formula par excellence” (I, p. 176).

Given its role as a doxology following YAV and AV, YH can similarly accompany these mantras when they are recited apart from the sacrifice, and it similarly follows the devotional prayers of the Khordeh Avesta; it is also embedded within the Mihr Yašt, Y. 10.6, following declaration of sacrificial offerings to Miθra, and in that god’s Nyāyišn, 1.16. YH is not recited alone (Stausberg, III, p. 12; Stewart, p. 68).   Perhaps due to this ancillary role, as well as to its ambiguity, the prayer is easily overlooked or treated in cursory fashion. For instance, E. W. West, in his edition of Martin Haug (1878 and 1890, p. 141, n., expanding on 1862, p. 134), suggested translations of YAV and AV, but not of YHJ. J. Modi did translate it (see below), and he noted that “there is hardly a prayer that does not contain [that is, conclude with] this formula” (Modi, p. 349).  But, as in the case of the often-mentioned AV, his discussion is brief, compared with the lengthy consideration given YAV. Nevertheless, YH has been revered by Parsis as having great power similar to that of YAV and AV (e.g., see the interview in Kreyenbroek, p. 76).

Origin. Authorship of YH sometimes has been attributed to Zoroaster himself, based on interpretation of the Avesta commentary (Y. 21.1-2; e.g., Gershevitch, p. 9)—that is, as the prophet’s own restatement of the Gathic strophe from which it derives, Y. 51.22 (for both regarded as “consistent with common authorship,” see Gershevitch, p. 64, n.). As such, it would have the same authenticity, as pristine doctrine, as the Gāθās. However, the phrase “worshipful utterance of Zoroaster” (yēsnīm vacō, Y. 21.1) may refer, not to authorship, but only to performance of the liturgy of the sacrifice (Molé, p. 173), in which Zoroaster is priest; he recites the sacred text just as the zōd officiant still does today. The Pahlavi Dēnkard summary of the YH chapter of the Wārštmansr Nask seems to clarify this sense of Y. 21.1 when it describes the context of the prayer and has Zarduxšt respond to Ohrmazd’s command for “words of worship and praise of us, who are the Amahraspands,” saying  “I will speak the words of Ohrmazd [gowišn ī ohrmazd] ...” (Dk. 9.27; DkM, II, p. 82).  The YH prayer’s origin is seen, at present, as a rephrasing of the Gathic strophe done by a later generation of the Zoroastrian faithful (see Boyce, pp. 262-63). The text is analyzed as “archaized Younger Avestan” (see Humbach, 2000; idem et al., II, p. 14), rather than as Gathic with Younger Avestan substitutions.  

The prayer and its source. The brevity of YH, its phrasing with pronouns, and different analyses of grammatical forms and phrase structure, as well as of Gathic doctrine, have occasioned different interpretations. The same can be said for the predecessor text, the greater part of the Gathic strophe Y. 51.22:  

yehiiā mōi aṣ̌āt̰  hacā vahištəm yesnē paitī   vaēdā mazdå ahurō yoi åŋharəcā həṇticā
tą yazāi ...    

“In the worship toward which one [for “which ones”] the best for me according to Truth [Aṣ̌a]
the Wise Lord [Ahura Mazdā] knows, [the ones] who both have existed and do exist,
them I shall worship  ...” 

(cf. W. B. Henning, apud Boyce, 1969, pp. 18-19; Humbach and Faiss, p. 158). The text recurs, as yeŋ́hē mē aṣ̌āt̰ hacā …, in Y. 15.2 and is repeated twice as a formula in Y. 69.2 (for the liturgical context of the latter, see Kotwal and Kreyenbroek, p. 229; Kotwal and Boyd, p. 125). The ambiguity of this strophe can well be regarded as deliberate (Humbach et al., II, p. 234), and the same point can apply to the mantras (cf. Humbach and Taraporewala, p. 21, n. 1). The reciters of the prayers may have felt several, equally valid, interpretations in the wording of verses 1-2. (For possibilities, see Schmidt, p. 325; Humbach et al., II, p. 235; I, p. 191; for the translation “best (accomplishment) ... (will have fallen) to me” [ibid., I, p. 191], in the context of the mystery of the sacrifice, see ibid., I, pp. 92-94; cf. Kellens and Pirart, I, p. 185). For instance, the concept “recompense/reward” is already present in Y. 51 (mīždəm, 51.15, vaŋuhīm ... ašīm, 51.21) and can be viewed as strongly implied also in 51.22 (vahištəm “the best”) and YH (vaŋhō, lit. “the better”; thus Darmesteter, I, pp. 175-76 ; Nyberg, p. 270; cf. Humbach et al., II, p. 14;  Kellens and Pirart, I, p. 185). 

The prayer YH, with wording derived from Y. 51.22 but with transposition of the references to “existent beings” and “Truth,” presumably was intended to express the manner in which  the Gathic strophe was interpreted at the time of YH composition. Exact correspondence between the two is uncertain, since scholarship lacks the exegetical oral tradition and ritual context that would have existed at the time of the prayers’ earliest use, when Zoroastrian liturgical practice was being developed and codified (cf. Boyce, 1975, p. 263).

yeŋ́hē hātąm āat̰  yesnē paitī vaŋhō
mazdå ahurō vaēθā aṣ̌āt̰  hacā                 
yåŋhąmcā tąscā tåsca yazamaidē

Then in the worship toward which male one of the existent beings, 
the Wise Lord knows, according to Truth, the better, 
and toward which female ones,
those male ones and those female ones we worship.

(The latter verses also are cited as: mazdå ahurō vaēθā aṣ̌āt̰ hacā yåŋhąmcā / tąscā tåsca yazamaidē. Similar translations are Schmidt, p. 329; Gershevitch, p. 77; Boyce, 1975, p. 262; cf. “the better [accomplishment of them to be displayed] at worship,” Humbach et al., I, p. 116; II, p. 235.)

The “existent beings” in YH. The Younger Avesta commentary on YH, in Y. 21.2 identifies the “existent beings” of this prayer as the Aməša Spəntas, of whom the canonical concept was by then clearly defined; in the Yasna Haptaŋhāiti (contemporary with YH?), Y. 39.3, they are “the good male ones, the good female ones.” (On the emergence of the Aməša Spəntas from among the undifferentiated Ahuras, see Humbach et al., II, pp. 13-16. The latter can be equated with “[those] who both have existed and do exist”: cf. Y. 45.7 and, for the Old Persian parallels, Boyce, 1969, p. 18.) This identification is later repeated in the Pahlavi Yasna glosses, for Y. 51.22 and 21.2 (Dhabhar, pp. 228, 107), as well as in the Dēnkard summaries of the nasks of the Avesta. 

The words of YH are borrowed in the litanies of the Visperad (Vr. 16.3), directly following worship of the fravaṣ̌is “of the male Truthful ones … of the female Truthful ones” and preceding worship of the waters, earth, and plants: “Whose better the Truthful Wise Lord knows at worship for/by us, of these, Zaraθuštra is both lord (see AHU) and judge (ratu)”  (yaēšąm nō ahurō mazdå aṣ̌awa yesnē paiti vaŋhō vaēδa / aēšąm zaraθuštrō aŋhuca ratušca, with as an indirect dative, ethical or of interest; or of possession: Malandra; cf. Humbach et al., II, p. 235: “we ... our lord and judge (is) Zaraθuštra”). In the Warštmansr Nask commentary on YH, Ohrmazd similarly urges Zarduxšt to the worship of—besides the Amahraspands—water, plants, fravaṣ̌is, and immaterial [mēnōg] gods (Dk. 9.27.1; DkM, II, p. 823; Molé, p. 517). In a similar vein, Yt. 13.148 rephrases the first two verses of YH: “We also worship the fravaṣ̌is of all those truthful men and women / whose better the truthful Wise Lord knows at worship for/by us” (yaēṣ̌ąm nō ahurō mazdå aṣ̌auua yesne paiti vaŋhō vaēδa; cf. Humbach et al., II, p. 236).  

Some scholars (e.g., Nyberg, p. 270; Tavadia, p. 122) have viewed hātąm in YH as specifically meaning living men and women, even at the time of its origin, and present-day renderings are all the more likely to state or imply reference to the living faithful: “The male one among the existing whose very good (recompense) for the sacrifice / the Wise Lord knows in accordance with truth, / and the female ones as well, those male ones and those female ones we celebrate”  (Humbach and Faiss, pp. 73-74; see also Humbach and Ichaporia, p. 21, n. 2). This interpretation of YH is in harmony with the increased emphasis in Parsi practice, in the twentieth century, on human morality relative to ritual observances. Thus J. J. Modi (p. 349) rendered YH: “Ahura Mazdā knows who among the living [hātąm] is the best [vaŋhō] in prayer [yesnē paitī] through righteousness [aṣ̌āt̰ hacā]. We praise them whether male or female.” Here, and in other translations,  aṣ̌āt̰ hacā is felt to be bound up  with hātąm and so is applied to the first verse, whether modifying “the male one,” “the better,” or yesnē (e.g., similar to Modi, “on account of his [i.e., the male one’s] righteousness,”  Kotwal and Boyd, p. 15).   

Perhaps the person most emphatic in giving the prayer a moral focus was Framroz Rustomjee [1896-1978] (on whom, see Choksy, pp. 202-3), when he translated the mantras freely in his book of devotional prayers to be taught to children. In his view (Part 1, p. 41), Aṣ̌a (here: Righteousness), was the primary motif and bound Yeŋhē hātąm thematically with Yaθā ahū vairiiō and Aṣ̌əm vohū: “from among the living human beings, in every act of devotion or sacrifice, / (whom) All-wise Lord (God) knows or recognizes (as being) more excellent, / by reason of their knowledge of (the) Divine Law of Righteousness and practice of virtues,  / we revere all such men and women” (Part 1, p. 3).

In the end, whether YH was, and is, uttered as a cultic formula helping to guarantee the success of ritual sacrifice (cf. Molé, pp. 516-17; Darmesteter, I, p. 176) or is recited devotionally and felt as an individual moral affirmation, either way, the prayer can be said to orient the speaker toward the same Zoroastrian objective—the governance in the material [gētīg] world, as in the immaterial, of the Wise Lord’s right order, Aṣ̌a. 



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(Christopher J. Brunner)

Originally Published: April 7, 2015

Last Updated: April 7, 2015

Cite this entry:

Christopher J. Brunner, "YEŊ́HĒ HĀTĄM," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2015, available at (accessed on 07 April 2015).