Sunday, March 30, 2014

Verethragna & Bahrām … The Great Warrior God


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“Bahrām is the great warrior god of Zoroastrianism…. Together with Čistā, he is one of the principal companions of Mitra.” (Yt. 10.70)…..

“Verethragna (vərəθraγna) is an Avestan language neuter noun literally meaning "smiting of resistance" (Gnoli, 1989:510; Boyce 1975:63). Representing this concept is the divinity Verethragna, who is the hypostasis of "victory", and "as a giver of victory Verethragna plainly enjoyed the greatest popularity of old" (Boyce, 1975:63)…..Verethragna is related to Avestan verethra, 'obstacle' and verethragnan, 'victorious'. (Gnoli, 1989:510) In Zoroastrian Middle Persian, Verethragna became Warahran, from which Vahram, Vehram, Bahram, Behram and other variants derive. Verethragna descends from an Indo-Iranian god known as *vrtra-g'han- (virtually PIE *wltro-gwhen-) "slayer of the blocker”…..The name and, to some extent, the deity has correspondences in Armenian Vahagn and Vram, Sogdian Wshn, Parthian Wryhrm, and Kushan Orlagno. While the figure of Verethragna is highly complex, parallels have also been drawn between it and (variously) Vedic Indra, Puranic Vishnu, Manichaean Adamas, Chaldean/Babylonian Nergal, Egyptian Horus, Hellenic Ares and Heracles.”….

“Kushan Gold Coin…..Kushan Empire…….Kanishka I (c. AD 100-126)
King, standing to front, head to l., wearing Kushan royal bonnet and diadem, holding spear and elephant goad, making an offering at a small altar…….Inscribed in Bactrian (Greek script): РΑОΝΑΝOΡΑOΚΑ—ΝhΡΚΙΚOΡΑΝO (king of kings Kanishka Kushan)
Reverse…..Kushan god Orlagno (war god, Verethragna), standing to front, head to r., wearing eagle-helmet and diadem, holding spear. Tamga to the r. Reverse Legend…..Inscribed in Bactrian (Greek script):ΟΡΛΑΓΝΟ”

“Bahrām ….. His Avestan epithets are: amavant- “strong, endowed with attacking might,” ahuraδāta- “created by Ahura,” barō.xᵛarəna- “bearing xᵛarənah-,” hvāxšta- “possessing good peace,” hvāyaona- “possessing a good place,” aršō.kara- “conferring virility,” maršō.kara- “rendering decrepit,” frašō.kara- “making wonderful.” The epithets hvāxšta- and hvāyaona- associate him with Čistā (Ē. Benveniste and L. Renou, Vṛtra et Vṛθragna. Ētude de mythologie indo-iranienne, Paris, 1934, pp. 58ff.) while aršō.kara-, maršō.kara-, and frašō.kara- relate him to Zurwān (H. S. Nyberg, “Questions de cosmogonie et de cosmologie mazdéennes,” JA 219, 1931, pp. 86ff.)…...

“Bahrām yašt (Yt. 14), dedicated to Vərəθraγna, belongs to the most ancient sections of the Younger Avesta or, at least, contains many archaic elements (A. Christensen, Études sur le zoroastrisme de la Perse antique, Copenhagen, 1928, pp. 7-8; M. Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, p. 63). Bahrām yašt is not one of the better preserved yašts, yet it gives us a vivid and exhaustive picture of the divinity. It first enumerates the ten incarnations, in both animal and human form, of Vərəθraγna. These recall, although exact correspondences are lacking, the avatāras of Viṣṇu in Purāṇic literature, or the ten incarnations of Indra (J. Charpentier, Kleine Beiträge zur indoiranischen Mythologie, Uppsala, 1911, pp. 25-68): an impetuous wind (Yt. 14.2-5); a bull with horns of gold (v. 7); a white horse with ears and muzzle of gold (v. 9); a camel in heat (vv. 11-13); a boar (v. 15); a youth at the ideal age of fifteen (v. 17); a falcon or bird of prey, vārəγna- (vv. 19-21); a ram (v. 23); a wild goat (v. 25); and an armed warrior (v. 27). It is interesting to note that the Avesta also attributed some of these metamorphoses to Tištrya (Yt. 8.13, 16, 20): the youth of fifteen, the bull with the horns of gold and the white horse; to Xᵛarənah (Yt. 19.35): the bird vārəγna-, and to Vayu: the camel (Dēnkard, ed. Sanjana, IX, 23.2-3; Benveniste and Renou, pp. 35f.). The first metamorphosis, the impetuous wind, also links the god of victory to Vāta (Vayu), another divinity endowed with warlike virtues in Iranian mythology (H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des alten Iran, Leipzig, 1938, p. 75; S. Wikander, Vayu I, Lund, 1942; G. Widengren, Les religions de l’Iran, Paris, 1968, pp. 33ff.)……..

“ … the Bahrām yašt goes on to list the favors and gifts bestowed by Vərəθraγna on Zaraθuštra and on those who worship him according to the cult. These gifts are victory in thought, in word, and in action, as well as in declamatory speech and in retort, in conformity with a conception dating back to the Indo-Iranian practice of verbal contest .”…..(F. B. J. Kuiper, “The Ancient Aryan Verbal Contest,” IIJ 4,1960, pp. 243, 246)….”…..

“Kushan Carnelian seal representing the Iranian divinity Adsho (ΑΘϷΟ legend in Greek letters), with triratana symbol left, and Kanishka's dynastic mark right. The divinity uses stirrups.”

“Vərəθraγna was one of the principal gods of the ancient Iranian pantheon and his cult was spread throughout the Iranian and Iranianized world, probably from the beginning of the Achaemenid era. This was due both to the survival of an ancient pre-Zoroastrian cult and to the high position given to the god in the new religion. As the divinity of war and victory, he was the protector of his people….”…..

“ The Greco-Babylonian-Iranian religious syncretism, which was also reflected by the spreading of astrological doctrines, something originally extraneous to Zoroastrianism, thus codified the correspondences Vərəθraγna-Nergal-Ares and transfused them into the great syncretistic phenomenon of the Mysteries of Mithra, in which the identification of Vərəθraγna with Herakles was also iconographically reflected (F. Cumont, Les mystères de Mithra, Brussels, 19022, pp. 18, 185; and, on the problems concerning the Iranian background of the religion of the Mithraic Mysteries, G. Widengren, “The Mithraic Mysteries in the Greco-Roman World with Special Regard to their Iranian Background,” in La Persia e il mondo greco-romano, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Roma, 1966, pp. 433-55).”…..…..

“Eastern Iran. To the east of the Iranian world, Vərəθraγna, in the form ORLAGNO … (A. Maricq, “La grande inscription de Kaniska et l’étéo-tokharien, l’ancienne langue de la Bactriane,” JA 246, 1958, p. 426), appears in the monetary pantheon of the Kushans, where the god is represented with a winged headdress, a characteristic motif in Iranian symbolism, which likens him to Xᵛarənah, i.e., to the FARRO of the Kushans (J. M. Rosenfield, The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967, pp. 95f.). The Avestan idea of the bird vārəγna- (see above), the incarnation both of Vərəθraγna and of Xᵛarənah, is likely to have been behind this symbolism (cf. F. Grenet, “Notes sur le panthéon iranien des Kouchans,” Studia Iranica 13, 1984, p. 256).”…..…..

“Bahrām was the name of six Sassanid kings…. Kartir called for the persecution of adherents of other religions, in particular Manichaeans, whose prophet Mani was sentenced to death by Bahram I (r. 271–274)….”

“The interpretation of the divinity was once one of the more widely debated fields in Zoroastrian scholarship since the theories of origin reflected a radical revolution in ethical, moral and religious values. (For a review, see Boyce, 1975:62-64)…..Primarily because the Avestan adjective verethragnan (victorious) had a corresponding Vedic term vrtrahan where it appeared "preponderantly [as] a qualification of Indra", one theory (Benveniste/Renou, 1934) proposed that in Indo-Iranian times there existed a dragon-slaying warrior god *Indra and that Avestan Verethragna derived from that divine figure…….The arguments against this theory are manifold: For one, there is no hint of Verethragna (or any other Zoroastrian divinity) having dragon-slaying functions. In the Avesta, it is the hero warrior-priest Thraetaona who battles the serpent Aži Dahāka (which, for the virtue of 'Azi' being cognate with Sanskrit 'Ahi', snake, is – by proponents of the theory - associated with Vedic Vritra). Moreover, in the Vedas, the epithet 'hero' (sura) is itself almost exclusively reserved for Indra, while in the Avesta it is applied to Thraetaona and other non-divine figures. The term "victorious" too is not restricted to Verethragna, but is also a property of a number of other figures, both divine and mortal, including Thraetaona. Then, while in the Vedas it is Indra who discovers Soma, in the Avesta it is humans who first press Haoma and Thraetaona is attributed with being the "inventor of medicine". In the Vedas, Indra strikes with vajra, but in the Avesta vazra is Mithra's weapon. Finally, and from a point of basic doctrine far more important than any of the other arguments, Indra is a daeva, precisely that class of divinity that Zoroaster exhorts his followers to reject. Indeed, Indra is explicitly named as one of the six evil demons in Vendidad 10.9 – directly opposing the Amesha Spenta Asha Vahishta, with whom Verethragna is associated.”…..

M. Boyce, Zoroastrians. Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, London, 1979
Thieme, Paul (1960), "The 'Aryan' Gods of the Mitanni Treaties", Journal of the American Oriental Society 80
West, Edward William (1880), Marvels of Zoroastrianism: The Bahman Yasht
Zaehner, Richard Charles (1955), Zurvan, a Zoroastrian dilemma


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