BAG NASK, one of the Avestan nasks of the gāhānīg group, i.e., texts connected with the Gāθās, now lost almost in its entirety (see avesta). This nask is listed in the survey of the Avesta in Dēnkard 8.1.9, is briefly described in 8.4, and its contents are resumed in Dēnkard 9.47-68 (also in the Persian Rivayats; see the bibliography). It consisted of twenty-two fragards (twenty-one according to the Persian Rivayats, p. 3), the first three of which are extant as Y. 19-21. These contain a commentary on the three holy prayers which precede the Gāθās: the Ahuna vairiia, Aṧəm vohū, and Yeŋ́he hātąm. The rest of the Bag nask, now lost, contained a commentary on the Gāθās and the prayer Airiiə̄ma išiiō, which closes the Gāθā collection. Like the Pahlavi version of the Gāθās themselves, the Pahlavi version of the commentary is of little or no help for understanding the Avestan text of the Gāθās though it may afford some insight into the development of Zoroastrian doctrine.

In the manuscripts of the Avesta, Y. 19-21 are called Bagān yašt rather than Bag nask, which is likely to cause some confusion since in the Dēnkard the name Bagān (or Bayān) yašt (nask) is given to that part of the Avesta which contained the Yašts. However, while the second bagān/bayān is the plural of bag/bay (for Av. baγa-) “god,” the first bagān is probably for baγąm, accusative of baγā-, which is found in the final verses of all three prayers: Baγąn Ahunahe vairiiehe/Aṧahe vahištahe yazamaidē, Baγąm Yeŋ́he.hātąm hufraiiaštąm aṧaonīm yazamaidē “we worship the baγą- (consisting) of (or: called) Ahuna Vairiia/Aṧəm vohū/ the well-worshipped, truthful Yeŋ́he.hātąm.” Note also that Yasna 19 calls itself baγa . . . Ahunahe vairiiehe and that the Šāyest nē-šāyest (13.1, see below) also quotes the form baγąm. The term baγā- (different from baγa- “god”) is usually translated as “part, piece” (e.g., AirWb., col. 922; Darmesteter preferred “divine prayer,” p. 165 n. 17). It is rendered in the Pahlavi version of the Yasna as baxtārīh, literally “distributorship.” In Y. 55.7 the Staota yesniia is referred to as baγąm, but these texts make up the nask called Stōd yašt. The three Aṧəm vohūs at the end of Y. 11.15 are called baγąm in the Šāyest nē-šāyest (13.1) and may have belonged to the Bag nask (Kotwal, pp. 40f., 100).

Yasna 19-21 contain the only remnants in Avestan language of a once extensive commentary on the holy Gāθās of Zaraθuštra and related texts, somewhat comparable to the Old Indian commentaries on the Rigveda. Of the three commentaries the first, on the Ahuna Vairiia, is by far the longest, twenty-one paragraphs against five for each of the other two. The technical vocabulary of these commentaries has not yet received the study it deserves. We may note here the use of nominal derivation, as in vacō yaṱ ahumaṱ yaṱ ratumaṱ “the utterance containing the words "ahu" and "ratu"” (19.8) and uštatāt- “being "uštā"” (21.4), and technical terms such as kāraiia- “to *point to, *refer to” (AirWb., col. 448) and cinasti and para.cinasti “to *assign” (what is spoken of to somebody; see Narten, esp. pp. 86ff.).

All three commentaries contain interesting doctrinal matters, of which we may note the following. Of the three prayers, the Ahuna vairiia and Aṧəm vohū are said to be the words of Ahura Mazdā, but the Yeŋ́he hātąm to have been spoken by Zaraθuštra and addressed to the Aməṧa Spəntas. Boyce (Zoroastrianism I, p. 263 n. 52) argues against ascribing the composition of the Yeŋ́he hātąm to Zaraθuštra—in contrast to the Gāθās and the Ahunwar—on the basis of its “syntactical awkwardness,” perhaps rightly, though the lack of consensus regarding the syntax of these old Avestan prayers recommends caution in passing this kind of judgment. The Ahuna vairiia, we are told, was created by Ahura Mazdā before anything else in the material universe and before the creation of the demons (Y. 19.1-4) but after the Aməṧa Spəṇtas (19.8). When the evil one first appeared Ahura Mazdā recited the Ahuna vairiia and a passage from the Gāθās (Y. 45.2). These points were elaborated in the cosmological Pahlavi texts (perhaps already in lost Avestan texts); in the Bundahišn it is said that the Ahunwar was the manifestation of the “fireshape” (āsrō-kirb) which Ohrmazd in the beginning fashioned from the “endless lights” (anagrān rōšnān) and which was needed to repel the initial attack of Ahriman (see ahunwar [i, p. 683] and Zaehner, p. 479 index s.v. Ahunvar).

The social divisions are said in Y. 19.16-18 to be dependent on the word of Ahura Mazdā (i.e., the Ahuna Vairiia), which “has four classes, five masters” (caθu.pištra panca.ratu), namely (1) the priest (āθrauuan), the warrior (raθaēštar), the agriculturer (vāstriiō.fšuiiant), and the artisan (hūiti, only mentioned here in the Avesta; Pahl. hutuxš); and (2) the masters of the house, the village, the tribe, the country (māniia, vīsiia, zantuma, da iiuma), and Zaraθuštra.



The passages in the Dēnkard and Persian Rivayats are: (1) Dēnkard 8.1.9: Dresden, pp. 305.20-306.2, Madan, p. 678.3, tr. West, pp. 7, 418; (2) Dēnkard 8.4: Dresden, pp. 302.13-20, Madan, p. 681; tr. West, pp. 13, 420, 429, 439; (3) Dēnkard 9.47-68: Dresden, pp. 151.19-149 end, 240-194.4; Madan, pp. 873-936, DH (The Codex DH, Being a Facsimile Edition or Bondahesh, Zand-e Vohuman Yasht, and Parts or Denkard, Tehran, [1971-72]), pp. 237.7-end [the ms. breaks off in the 17th fragard]; tr. West, pp. 303-84.

The passages from the Persian Rivayats were translated by West, pp. 418-47 and were not repeated by Dhabhar in his translation (see Persian Rivayats, p. 4.).

See also Darmesteter, Zend Avesta I-III, esp, I, pp. 160-77 (text), III, pp. x-xi, xvi.

B. N. Dhabhar, ed., The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz and Others, Bombay, 1932.

M. Dresden, ed., Dēnkart, a Pahlavi Text. Facsimile Edition of the Manuscript B of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute Bombay, Wiesbaden, 1966.

F. M. P. Kotwal, The Supplementary Texts to the Šāyest nē-šāyest, Copenhagen, 1969.

J. Narten, “Avestisch CIŠ,” in Monumentum H. S. Nyberg, Acta Iranica 5, Tehran and Liège, 1975, pp. 81-92.

H. Reichelt, Avesta Reader, Strasburg, 1911, repr. Berlin, 1968, pp. 73-75, 174-76 (Y. 19 text and commentary).

M. R. Unvala, Dârâb Hormazyâr’s Rivâyat I, Bombay, 1922.

W. E. West, Pahlavi Texts IV: Contents of the Nasks, SBE 37, Oxford, 1892, repr. Delhi, etc., 1965.

F. Wolff, Avesta, die heiligen Bücher der Parsen, Strasburg, 1910, repr. Berlin, 1960, pp. 49-54.

R. C. Zaehner, Zurvan. A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Oxford, 1955, repr. New York, 1972.

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(P. O. Skjærvø)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 22, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 4, pp. 400-401