RAŠN YAŠT, the Middle Persian title given to the twelfth Yašt of the Avesta. It is dedicated to the Zoroastrian deity Rašnu (MP. Rašn, Skt. Satyapati-). 


The Avestan proper noun Rašnu ultimately derives from the PIE root *h3reĝ “to direct, make straight” (see Rix, 304, s.v. *h3reĝ-) together with the primary suffix nu-. C. Bartholomae translated the name as ‘Justice’ (Bartholomae, col. 1516, s.v. rašnav- 2), “Name des Gotts der Gerechtigkeit’’) while I. Gershevitch argued in favor of the meaning ‘Judge’ (Gershevitch, p. 223; see also Lommel, p. 97). Both of these definitions fit with the figure’s judicial role (on which see below). In contrast, E. Pirart proposed the translation ‘Orientation’ (“l’Orientation,” Pirart, 2006, p. 24), supposing that Rašnu originally represented the ‘straight’ pronunciation of ritual texts (“la prononciation «rectiligne» des textes rituels,” Pirart, 2009, p. 221; see also Pirart, 2006, pp. 46-47). 

Rašnu, whose standing epithet is razišta- (MP. razistag) “straightest,” is invoked five times in the Yasna (Y. 1.7,  2.7, 16.5, 65.12, 70.3), but does not figure in the Older Avestan portions. He is said to be the son of Ahura Mazdā and Ārmaiti and the brother of Sraoša, Miθra, Aṣ̌i, and the Mazdaiiasnian Daēnā (Yt. 17.16). In Vd. 4.54-55, Rašnu is depicted presiding over an oath-swearing ritual involving “water which is sulphurous, golden, bestowing proof” (āpǝm saokǝṇtauuaitīm zaraniiāuuaitīm vīθušauuaitīm, Vd. 4.54; cf. Schwartz, 1989, pp. 293-95, who translates āpǝm saokǝṇtauuaitīm as “oath water”) and harsh penalties are prescribed for anyone committing perjury by “warding off Rašnu and cheating Miθra” (rašnaošca paiti.saŋhǝm miθraheca aiβi.druxtǝm, Vd. 4.54). 

This passage is seemingly congruent with the broad theme of Yt. 12 (vv. 5, 9-37, see below) which consists of repeated appeals unto Rašnu to be present at the varah-, a term usually understood to mean a ritualised ‘ordeal’ that was undertaken by a defendant to prove their veracity (see Bartholomae, col. 1365, s.v. 2varah- “Probe, Prüfung, Ordal,” who compares MP. war “oath, ordeal”; see also Avesta, tr. Darmesteter, II, p. 168; Lommel, p. 96; cf., however, Pirart, 2009, pp. 227, 234, who rejects this interpretation, and instead translates varah- as “[sacrificial] space”: “l’aire [sacrificielle]”). In the Middle Persian texts, Rašnu functions primarily as a judge of the deceased. He is said to possess a set of “yellow, golden scales” (tarāzūg ī zard ī zarrēn, AWN 5.5) in which are weighed an individual’s accumulated sins and virtues. This balance “does not dip (unjustly) on any side: Not for the righteous ones, nor the sinful ones, not for lords nor other rulers. It does not alter so much as a single hair(’s breadth) and possesses no partiality” (ēc kustag ōgrā nē kunēd nē ahlawān rāy ud nē-z druwandān, nē xwadāyān rāy ud nē-z any dahibedān. cand mōy-ēw tāg bē nē wardēd ud āzarm nē dārēd. MX 2.120-21). 


This Yašt has traditionally been considered as one of the ‘minor’ Yašts (see Lommel, p. 1) composed at a relatively late period (see Bartholomae, col. 1516, s.v. rašnav-, n. “Dem das späte und nichtssagende Stück Yt.12 gewidmet ist”; see  also Lommel, p. 95; Panaino, 1992, p. 160). It is attested in thirteen manuscripts (F1 E1 Pt1 P13 O3 L18 K12 J18 J10 J19 W2 Ml2 B27) of both the Khorde Avesta and pure Yašt types. It exists only in Avestan and comprises 39 verses. In his edition of the text, Geldner followed F1, Pt1, L18 by not dividing the hymn into kardes “chapters” (see Avesta, ed. Geldner, II, p. 162, fn.; so also Lommel, p. 95). Several manuscripts, however, which belong to the ‘F1’ line, e.g., E1, P13, W2, as well as J10, Ml2, which belong to the ‘J10’ line, do break the text into 31 such units. In this case, verses 0-8 constitute the first karde, and each successive verse represents a new karde

The hymn begins (vv. 1-2) with a brief question and answer session between Ahura Mazdā and an unidentified “truthful one” (aṣ̌auuan-, presumably Zaraθuštra) on the nature of the “bounteous mantra” (mąθra- spǝṇta-). The following six stanzas (vv. 3-8) contain a set of technical instructions dictated by Ahura Mazdā and relate to the varah- (on which see above). This includes the invocatory formulae to be uttered, e.g., “We call, we propitiate Rašnu who is strong ... to this prepared varah-” (zbaiiamahi frīnāmahi rašnūm yim amauuaṇtəm ... auui ima varō uzdātəm, v. 5) as well as certain ritual actions to be performed, such as the direction to “strew forth one-third of the barǝsman- along the path of the sun” (θrišūm barəsma frastərənuiiā̊ paitiš́a hū aδβanəm, v. 3). The rite is said to be attended by a host of divinities besides Rašnu, including Ahura Mazdā, the Victorious Winds (vāta vərəθrājanō), Dāmōiš upamana-, the Kauui-dynasty Glory (kauuaēm xvarənō), and the Mazdā-made Radiance (saoke mazdaδāite) (vv. 4, 6). The section closes with the praising of Rašnu through a series of 13 vocative forms (vv. 7-8).  

The remainder of the Yašt (vv. 9-37 = kardes 2-30) has been recognized as important for containing the most comprehensive cosmographical account found in the Avesta (see Panaino, 1993-94, p. 119; Skjærvø, 1994, p. 224). Accordingly, each verse begins with the line Be you, O truthful Rašnu at ...” (yaci ahi rašnuuō aṣ̌āum upa ...), followed by the name of a place, and concludes with a repetition of vv. 5-8, which invite Rašnu to be present. In this way a map of the universe is constructed, consisting of 29 distinct locations. This cosmography is highly stylized: The overall scheme may be divided into seven thematically distinct categories (see below; cf. Windfuhr, p. 628, who makes instead five such divisions) within which there is a preference for triadic or heptadic groupings of verses. This world-view can be presented thus: 

Group I ‘Seven Continents’ 

v. 9: western continent (arǝzahi), v. 10: eastern continent (sauuahi), v. 11: southeastern continent (fradaδafšu), v. 12: southwestern continent (vīdaδafšu), v. 13: northwestern continent (vouru.barǝšti), v. 14: northeastern continent (vouru.jarǝšti), v. 15: central continent (xvaniraθǝm); 

Group II ‘Aquatic Features’ 

v.  16: Sea of Wide-bays (zraiiō vourukaṣ̌ǝm), v. 17: Tree of the Saēna bird (vanąm ... saēnahe), v. 18: waters (?) of the Raŋhā (aoδaēšu raŋhaiiā̊), v. 19: source (?), of the Raŋhā (sanake raŋhaiiā̊); 

Group III ‘General Terrestrial Features’ 

v. 20: edge of the earth (karanǝm ... zǝmō), v. 21: middle of the earth (vīmaiδīm ... zǝmō), v. 22: anywhere on earth (kuuaci ... zǝmō); 

Group IV ‘Mountainous Features’ 

v. 23: lofty Harā (harąm bǝrǝzaitīm), v. 24: Mount of Good-action (hukairīm barǝzō), v. 25: Peak of the lofty Haraitī (taērǝm haraiθiiā̊ bǝrǝzō); 

Group V ‘Celestial Features I’ 

v. 26: star Vega (vanaṇtǝm stārǝm), v. 27: star Sirius (tištrīm stārǝm), v. 28: stars of Ursa Major constellation (stārō yōi haptōiriṇga),  v. 29: stars which have the origin of water (stārō yōi afš.ciθra), v. 30: stars which have the origin of earth (stārō yōi zəmasciθra), 31: stars which have the origin of plants (stārō yōi uruuarō.ciθra),  v. 32: stars of the Beneficent Spirit (stārō yōi spəṇtō.mańiiauua); 

Group VI ‘Celestial Features II’ 

v. 33: moon (mā̊ŋhǝm), v. 34: sun (huuarǝxšaētǝm); 

Group VII ‘Heavenly Realms’ 

v. 35: Endless Lights (anaγra.raocā̊), v. 36: Best Existence (vahištǝm ahūm), v. 37: House of Welcome (garō.nmānahe). 

The hymn concludes (v. 38) with the standard closing formulae found in all the Yašts.


C. Bartholomae, Altiranisches Wörterbuch, Straßburg, 1904.

I. Gershevitch, The Avestan Hymn to Mithra, Cambridge, 1967.

H. Lommel, Die Yäšt’s des Awesta, Göttingen, 1927.

A. Panaino, “Gli Yašt dell’Avesta: metodi e prospettivi,” Atti del Sodalizio Glottologico di Milano 30, 1992, pp.159-84.

Idem. “L’innologia avestica,” in L’inno tra rituale e letteratura nel mondo antico. Atti di un colloquio, Napoli 21-24 ottobre 1991, Rome, 1993-94, pp. 107-23.

E. Pirart,  L’Aphrodite Iranienne, Paris, 2006.

Idem, “Le Rašn Yašt (Yt 12),” in Zarathushtra entre l’Inde et l’Iran. Études indo-iraniennes et indo-européennes offertes à Jean Kellens à l’occasion de son 65e anniversaire, ed. Éric Pirart et Xavier Tremblay, Wiesbaden, 2009, pp. 221-49.

H. Rix, ed., Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben, die Wurzeln und ihre Primärstammbildungen, bearbeitet von Martin Kümmel, Thomas Zehnder, Reiner Lipp, Brigitte Schirmer; Zweite, erweiterte und verbesserte Auflage, bearbeitet von Martin Kümmel und Helmut Rix. Wiesbaden, 2001.

M. Schwartz, “Pers. saugand xurdan, etc. ‘To take an oath’ (Not *‘to drink sulphur’),” in Etudes Irano-aryennes Offertes à Gilbert Lazard, ed. C.-H. de Fouchcour and Ph. Gignoux, Paris, Association pour l’avancement des études iraniennes, 1989, pp. 293-95.

P. O. Skjærvø, “Hymnic Composition in the Avesta,” Die Sprache 36, 1994, pp. 201-43.

G. Windfuhr, “Where Guardian Spirits Watch by Night and Evil Spirits Fail: The Zoroastrian Prototypical Heaven,” in The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth. Essays in Honour of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of His Sixtieth Birthday, ed. Carol Meyers and M. O’Connor, Winona Lake, Ind., 1983, pp. 625-45.


(Leon Goldman)

Originally Published: October 3, 2012

Last Updated: September 4, 2013