AŠAVAN (possessing Truth)


AŠAVAN (Avestan, also ašāvan-), lit. “possessing truth (aša).” This word is attested in Old Persian as artāvan-, and in Old Indian as ṛtāˊvan-. It is used as an adjective referring to humans, to Ahura Mazdā and the divine or angelic entities, or to anything that pertains to the world of Ahura Mazdā and the domain of Aša, cf. Y. 68.15 vīspe. . . ke asti vohu ašava antarə ząm asmanəmca “all that is good (and) ašavan between earth and heaven.” In reference to human beings, it distinguishes him who walks the path of Aša (cf. Rigvedic *ṛtásya path- “the path of the truth”) and proceeds in his spiritual realization, the initiated, and, more generally speaking, the pious and the just; in reference to other beings or things, it has acquired the meaning of “holy.”

As aša “truth” is diametrically opposed to druǰ “the Lie,” thus also ašavan is diametrically opposed to drəgvant drvant “possessing lie.” According to the Zoroastrian concept of dualism, all beings may be deemed either ašavan, the followers of truth, or drəgvant/drvant, the followers of the Lie, conforming to an idea already prominent in the Gāθās. The former are assured salvation, while to the latter falls a long torment: (Y. 30.1) darəgə̄m drəgvō. dəbyō rašō savacā ašavabyō “Long harm for those possessing lie, and profit for the truthful.” The battle between ašavan and drəgvant preoccupies Zarathustra, who nevertheless has no doubts as to the final victory of aša: (Y. 48.2) ašavā mazdā və̄nghaṱ drəgvantəm hā zī aŋə̄uš Vaŋuhī vistā ākərətiš “Shall the ašavan overcome the drəgvant, Wise One? For this is known as the good renewal of existence.” The analogous meanings of OInd. ṛtāˊvan and Old Pers. artāvan would suggest a common Indo-Iranian ancestry, whereas the Av. ašavan would have been influenced by the reform of Zarathustra. (Such is the opinion of a number of scholars: E. Herzfeld, Altpersische Inschriften, Berlin, 1938, pp. 289ff.; Zoroaster and his World, Princeton, 1947, pp. 514ff.; H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des alten Iran, Germ. tr. H. H. Schaeder, Leipzig, 1938, p. 368; S. Wikander, Vayu I, Lund, 1942, pp. 153f.; J. Duchesne-Guillemin, Zoroastre. Ētude critique avec une traduction commentée des Gâthâ, Paris, 1948, pp. 130f.; idem, La religion de l’Iran ancien, Paris, 1962, p. 196; idem, “La religion des Achéménides,” in Beiträge zur Achämenidengeschichte, ed. G. Walser, Wiesbaden, 1972, pp. 70f.; F. B. J. Kuiper, “The Bliss of Aša,” IIJ 8, 1964, pp. 126ff.; idem, “Ahura Mazdā "Lord Wisdom"?” IIJ 18, 1976, pp. 31f.; G. Widengren, Die Religionen Irans, Stuttgart, 1965, p. 143.) While ašavan designates all followers of the Good Religion, even those still living, the Old Persian and Old Indian terms instead refer to the souls of just men, who have become possessed of aša/ṛtāˊ after their death. Echoes of this second meaning can also be found in the Avestan ašavan and in the Pahlavi term ahlaw (see H. W. Bailey, Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-Century Books, Oxford, 1943, pp. 87 n. 4; J. de Menasce, “Vieux-Perse "artāvan" et pehlevi "ahrav",” in Mélanges d’histoire des religions offerts à Henri Charles Puech, Paris, 1974, p. 58). According to a recent suggestion by W. Sundermann (AOASH 24, 1971, pp. 371ff.) this specific value of the Old Persian term may have survived in Man. Parth. ardāw (in the texts M 48, M 173, M 6120, M 8286) as “soul in Paradise.” Normally in the Manichean texts, ardāw designates the elect, the just, and the followers of the doctrine of Mani.

Old Persian artāvan is found twice in the “daiva-inscription” of Xerxes (XPh 47-48) šiyāta ahaniy jīva utā marta artāvā ahaniy “that I may be happy in life and in death may I be artāvan;” (XPh 54-56) utā jīva šiyāta bavatiy utā marta artāvā bavatiy “and in life he becomes happy and in death he becomes artāvan.” However, actually, there is no real divergence in meaning between Old Pers. artāvan and Av. ašavan; recent studies have shown that being šiyāta “happy” in life and artāvan after death are both the results of one and the same mode of conduct during one’s earthly existence (G. Gnoli, “Ašavan. Contributo allo studio del libro di Ardā Wirāz,” in Iranica, ed. G. Gnoli and A. V. Rossi, Naples, 1979, pp. 387-452). In Mazdaism, entry into Paradise is limited to those dead who are recognized as ašavan: In Vidēvdād 19.31 and Hādōxt Nask 2.16, Vohu Manah and the other deceased receive the soul of the dead with the vocative ašāum (see J. Kellens, “Trois réflexions sur la religion des Achéménides,” Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 2, 1976, p. 114 n. 3). The quality of ašavan is acquired in life. If an individual is not ašavan during his life, he can not arrive at the Best Existence (vahišta ahu) after his death: jīvasčiṱ nōiṱ bvaṱ ašava məšaščiṱ nōiṱ baxšaiti vahištahe aŋhə̄uš (Vd. 5.61 ).

Vedic ṛtāˊvan, Avestan ašavan, Old Persian artāvan all derive from an ancient Indo-Iranian concept, onto which the Zoroastrian concept has been grafted with originality. Vedic ṛtāˊvan may also refer to the living: It is an epithet for the Gods, the defunct Fathers, and the initiated seers, but not for common mortals, since the knowledge of ṛtá has been withheld from them. It is this fact that allows the reconstruction of the unity of both the Indo-Iranian and the Zoroastrian notions of ṛtāˊvan/ašavan, even in its most diverse nuances. The Zoroastrian ašavans are analogous to the Vedic initiated seers; just as the latter have access to the vision of the sun (svardṛ′ś “he who sees the sun”), the manifestation of Ṛtá, thus also the former have access to the vision of Aša (Kuiper, “The Bliss of Aša,” pp. 126ff.). The idea of the “most blessed union with Aša” (urvāzišta ašahya sar-) and of the “beatitude of Aša which is made manifest with light” (ašā yečā yā raočə̄bīš darəsatā urvāzā Y. 30.1) is at the base of the Zoroastrian conception of the ašavan. The extension of the term to all of the followers of the Good Religion is a secondary phenomenon, probably due to the opposition of ašavan to drəgvant/drvant (Pahlavi ahlaw and druwand), as well as to the influence of the latter on the former (see I. Gershevitch, The Avestan Hymn to Mithra, Cambridge, 1959, p. 156). To the idea of the fravaši of the ašavan, living or deceased (Gershevitch, op. cit., pp. 154ff.) the ašaunąm fravašayoš, who have their dwelling in the “solar residence of Aša” (xᵛanvaitīš ašahe vərəzō, Y. 16.7), are linked several Greek attestations: In the Calendar of Cappadocia, artana (perhaps from the genitive plural of artāvan, *artāunām) is the name given to the month of the Fravašis; according to Hesych, Artaioi meant “heroes” among the Persians; this probably reflects an archaic and pre-Zoroastrian heritage, as the Fravašis were originally linked to a belief in immortality that was typical of a society imbued with warrior values.

For Mid. Pers. ardā and ahlaw see Ahlaw. (Add to the bibliography given there: W. Belardi, The Pahlavi Book of the Righteous Viraz, Rome, 1979, pp. 111ff. Ph. Gignoux, “"Corps osseux et âme osseuse": Essai sur le chamanisme dans l’Iran ancien,” JA 267, 1979, pp. 41-79.)

See also Aṧa.


See also U. Bianchi, “L’inscription "des daivas" et la zoroastrisme des Achéménides,” RHR 192, 1977, pp. 7-11.

I. Gershevitch, “Word and Spirit in Ossetic,” BSOAS 17, 1955, pp. 483f. (for a derivation of Ossetic (i)dauäg “spirit, protective genius” from ärdauäg).

Idem, “Zoroaster’s own Contribution,” JNES 23, 1964, pp. 18ff.

W. B. Henning, “Mitteliranisch,” pp. 68 and n. 1, 98, 99f., 117 n. 6.

J. Kellens, “Sur un parallèle inverse à l’inscription des “daiva”,” Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni 40, 1969, pp. 209-13.

H. S. Nyberg, A Manual of Pahlavi II, Wiesbaden, 1974, pp. 10-11, svv. ahlav and ahlāi and p. 30 s.v. artāi and, artāk.

(G. Gnoli)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 16, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 7, pp. 705-706

Cite this entry:

G. Gnoli, “AŠAVAN (possessing Truth),” Encyclopædia Iranica, II/7, pp. 705-706, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/asavan-avestan (accessed on 30 December 2012).