AHU, two homonymous Avestan terms.

1. “Existence, life.” This word occurs in a range of religious phrases: (a) Both the Gathas and the Younger Avesta contrast ahu-astvat- “material existence” (lit., “existence inhering in the bones, bone-existence”) and ahu- manaŋhō “spiritual existence” (see Yasna 28.2, 40.2, 43.3, 53.6, 57.25; Pursišnīhā 40; Hadōxt Nask 2.16.). This contrast has been regarded as imposing a second duality upon that of good versus evil existence; i.e., the world is analyzable into four categories (H. Lommel, Die Religion Zarathustras, Tübingen, 1930, pp. 101ff.). (b) The Gathas also refer to “first life” and “second (i.e., future) life” (paouruyō ahu- and daibitya ahu-; see Yasna 28.11 and 45.1). “First life” has been interpreted as present, earthly life (AirWb., cols. 106-10) or as the preexistent state of creatures (Lommel, loc. cit.). (c) The phrases vahišta- ahu- and ačišta ahu- “best existence” (i.e., paradise) and “worst existence” (i.e., hell) go back to Zarathuštra (Yasna 30.4, 44.2) and are quite common in the Younger Avesta. Historically, vahišta- ahu- replaced Indo-Iranian *ásu- (Vedic asu-) “existence” (especially “existence in the world beyond,” which is not qualified as good or evil). The distinct “hell” developed from the concept of the space between heaven and earth, the abode of restless spirits without peace. Vahišta- ahu- (Middle Persian wahišt) survives in Persian as behešt “paradise.”

2. “Lord, overlord.” It occurs linked with ratu- “lord, judge,” except in Yasna 32.11. In that difficult strophe it apparently means “master of the house;” and it is coupled with aŋuhī- “lady of the house.” The word’s meaning is not further narrowed by its etymology: Cf. Hittite ḥaššū- “king,” and Latin erus “lord” (Schlerath in bibliog., p. 146). According to the usual interpretation, ahu- indicates “holder of secular power, holder of the jurisdiction of the king [who opens the legal process and executes judgment],” while ratu- designates “judge.” But such a distinction rests on abstract principles and alleged parallels from non-Iranian sources, not on the actual Avestan passages. Ahura Mazdā is three times called ahu- and ratu- (Yasna 27.1; Vispered 2.4, 11.21). Zarathuštra is so called seven times (Yasna 19.12, 27.13; Yašt 13.91, 92, 152; Vendidad 2.43; Vispered 2.4). Yasna 27.1 provides a significant point in stating that the ahu- and ratu- were appointed by the community; cf. Yasna 29.6. Ratu- (q.v.) is attested more frequently, and its specific meaning is more easily ascertained. In the most recent layer of the Avesta, ratu- implies the spiritual authority which is attached to every Ahurian creature.


B. Schlerath, “Altindisch asu-, awestisch ahu- und ähnlich klingende Wörter,” Pratidānam . . . F. B. J. Kuiper, The Hague, 1968, pp. 142-53.


(B. Schlerath)

Originally Published: December 15, 1984

Last Updated: July 29, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 7, p. 681

Cite this entry:

B. Schlerath, “AHU,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/7, p. 681; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ahu-two-homonymous-avestan-terms (accessed on 28 March 2014).