DĀITYĀ, (VAŊHVĪ) (lit., “the (good) Dāityā”; Mid. Pers. Weh Dāitī), the name of a river connected with the religious “law” (Av. dāta-, Mid. and NPers. dād), frequently identified in scholarly literature with the Oxus or with rivers of the northeastern region (Geiger, pp. 32-33). In the Avesta, however, Vaŋhvī Dāityā seems to have been particularly identified with the Helmand (Markwart, pp. 120, 122 n. 3, 159 n. 2; cf. Gnoli, 1989, p. 53). Avestan vaŋhuyå dāityayå “of the good Dāityā“ qualifies airyana-vaējah- (see avestan geography; ērānvēj); the entire phrase airyanəm vaēǰō vaŋhuyå dāityayå “the Aryan expanse of the good Dāityā” is the original name of the district Airyana Vaēǰah (Benveniste).
According to the Avesta, the Dāityā river was to be venerated (Yt. 1.21). On its banks Zairi.vari offered a sacrifice to Anāhitā (Yt. 5.112; see anāhīd) and Vīštāspa to both Anāhitā (Yt. 9.29) and Aši (Yt. 17.61). Zoroaster himself honored “the good waters of the good Dāityā” (Vd. 19.2). As already noted by Josef Markwart (p. 122), it is possible that Vaŋhvī Dāityā was the same river that was called Vaŋhvī in the Tištrya Yašt, where it was characterized as “famous from afar” (dūrāṯ frasrūtąm; Yt. 8.2).
According to the first chapter of the Vidēvdād, “the Aryan expanse of the good Dāityā” was the first of the best countries created by Ahura Mazdā, and in the Yašts it was mentioned as the place where Zoroaster worshiped Anāhitā (Yt. 5.17, 5.104) and Ahura Mazdā worshiped Vayu (Yt. 15.2). This country, crossed by the Vaŋhvī Dāityā, was also the place where Ahura Mazdā gathered the spiritual Yazata (Av. mainyava-) and Yima, the best men. Significantly, both Ahura Mazdā and Yima were defined as “famous in the Aryan expanse of the good Dāityā” (Vd. 2.20) and Zoroaster as “famous in the Aryan expanse” (Y. 9.14), with the shortened form of Aryans Vaēǰah.
In Pahlavi texts, the river acquired an increasingly mythical character. New details were added to Avestan reminiscences: The river was defined as the “(spiritual) chief of the running waters” (tazāgān ābān rad; Bundahišn, TD2, p, 121 l. 8). It supposedly flowed from Ērānwēz, “the home of the Aryans,” to the lands of neighboring Gōbedšāh, that is, Gōbadestān (Bundahišn, TD2, p. 87 ll. 7-9; cf. Humbach, 1985; Dādestān ī dēnīg 89.4). At the center of the world Gayōmard (Av. Gayō.marətan “mortal life”) and Gāw ī ēwdād (Av. Gav aēvō.dāta “uniquely created bull”) were placed on the right and the left banks respectively (Bundahišn, TD2, pp. 20 l. 14, 21 l. 8). Weh Dāitī also occupied a privileged place in the sacred geography of the revelation and encounters of Zoroaster with Ohrmazd and the Amahraspandān (Zādspram 21.5, 22.2, 22.9, 22.12; Dēnkard, ed. Madan, 7.3.51, 7.3.54, 7.4.23).
The mythical character of the river was preeminent and can be explained within the framework of the notion of Aryana Vaēǰah, which the Zoroastrian priests substituted for the traditional concept of a world center with a world mountain, the peak of the Harā (according to the old Iranian cosmology; see cosmogony and cosmology) or Mount Meru or Sumeru (according to the various Indian cosmographies). The Zoroastrian world mountain Čagād ī Dāitī (“lawful Summit”) or Hukar (Av. Hukairya “of good activity”) was placed, like Weh Dāitī, at the center of the world and defined as the “(spiritual) chief of the summits” in Pahlavi texts (bālistān rad; Bundahišn, TD2, p. 121 l. 11), and the river was closely connected with it (Markwart, pp. 125-26; Gnoli, 1989, pp. 40ff.); both were essential elements in a Zoroastrian myth in which the principal events of sacred history were placed at the center of the world.
E. Benveniste, “L’Ērān-vḕ et l’origine légendaire des Iraniens” BSOS 7, 1933-35, pp. 265-74.
Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, pp. 136, 143-44.
A. Christensen, Le premier chapitre du Vendidad et l’histoire primitive des tribus iraniennes, Copenhagen, 1943, pp. 71-76.
W. Geiger, Ostiranische Kultur im Altertum, Erlangen, 1882.
G. Gnoli, Ricerche storiche sul Sīstān antico, Rome, 1967, pp. 86, 110-11.
Idem, The Idea of Iran, Rome, 1989.
H. Humbach, “A Western Approach to Zarathustra,” Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute 51, 1984, pp. 15-32, esp. pp. 17-18.
Idem, “About Gōpatšāh, His Country, and the Khwarezmian Hypothesis,” in Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce I, Leiden, 1985, pp. 327-34.
J. Markwart, Wehrot und Arang, Leiden, 1938.
H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des alten Iran, Leipzig, 1938, pp. 326-27; repr., Osnabrück, 1966.
Originally Published: December 15, 1993
Last Updated: November 11, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 6, pp. 598-599