DŪRAOŠA-, Avestan word, attested once in the Older Avesta (Y. 32.14), in the Younger Avesta the preferred and exclusive epithet of haoma, the ritual liquid. Although the equivalent term in Sanskrit duróṣa(s)- is attested three times, in only one instance is it connected with the soma. It is therefore not certain that the single Old Avestan usage refers to haoma; another possibility is strongly suggested by the fact that it occurs in the form dūraošəm, the object of the causative saočaiia- “to set alight,” whereas in the Rigveda (4.21.6) duróṣa(s)- is an epithet of Agni (32.14; Kellens and Pirart, p. 92). H. W. Bailey has identified the Khotanese durauśa as a survival of this term (1964, p. 4), but doubt has been cast on this identification by Ronald Emmerick (in Flattery and Schwartz, p. 64 n. 28).

Both the etymology and the meaning of the word are uncertain. The great majority of scholars have recognized it as a compound and have agreed that the second term is aoša- “death”; this interpretation is, however, not entirely convincing, for the meaning of aoša- is more specifically “destruction by fire.” Furthermore, interpretation of the first term has caused considerable difficulty. Although the Pahlavi translator rendered dūra- as “distant,” leading to an interpretation of the compound as “whose death is distant” or “who keeps death at a distance,” the parallel with duróṣa(s)- seems to exclude that solution. Christian Bartholomae (AirWb., cols. 751-52) was thus led to dissociate the Iranian and Indian words, but more recent scholars, from Jarl Charpentier to D. S. Flattery and Martin Schwartz (p. 130), have attempted to minimize the difference by invoking the individual instance and popular etymology respectively.

Alternative interpretations also present insurmountable difficulties. Bailey (1936, pp. 95-97) reconstructed *dura-, derived from dvar “to run”; the compound would thus be translated “from whom destruction flees,” though Bailey himself did not propose a compound (see below). He also suggested a reconstruction from Baluchi dōr “sadness.” Ilya Gershevitch (p. 49) proposed “painkiller,” apparently with the improbable subject dur-. One problem with all the interpretations is that gathic dūraoša- contains three syllables, whereas the compound (*dūraʾ(a)uša-) would not be contracted (Kellens and Pirart, p. 260). The initial element might be more satisfactorily explained by the Indo-Iranian prefix *dus, but that suggestion also raises doubts, for in Iranian there is no sandhi in which s becomes r; furthermore, the proposed consonant modification to *dužauša- “charred” (Karl Hoffmann, cited in Humbach, pp. 300-01) has no known Iranian equivalent. It can be asked also whether dūraoša-/duraóṣa(s)- is not simply a fossil word, attesting a root and suffix that had otherwise become extinct. Bailey (1957) followed this line of reasoning, reconstructing a root dur “injure” with a derived adjective meaning “pungent in taste,” but his arguments are not persuasive.


Bibliography: (For cited works not found in this bibliography and abbreviations found here, see “Short References.”)

F. C. Andreas and J. Wackernagel, “Die erste, zweite und fünfte Ghāthā des Zuraxthuštro,” Nachrichten der göttinger Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, 1913, pp. 363-85.

H. W. Bailey, “Indo-Iranica,” TPS, 1936, pp. 95-97.

Idem, “Dvārā matīnām,” BSOAS 20, 1957, pp. 53-58.

Idem, “Lyrical Poems of the Sakas,” in Dr. J. M. Unvala Memorial Volume, Bombay, 1964, pp. 1-5.

Idem, “Durauzha the Drink Exhilarant,” South Asian Studies 1, 1985, pp. 157-64.

J. Charpentier, “Kleine Mitteilungen,” WZKM 27, 1913, pp. 236-44.

J. Duchesne-Guillemin, Les composés de l’Avesta, Liège and Paris, 1936, pp. 168, 272.

D. S. Flattery and M. Schwartz, Haoma and Harmaline. The Botanical Identity of the Indo-Iranian Sacred Hallucinogen “Soma” and Its Legacy in Religion, Language, and Middle Eastern Folklore, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989.

B. Geiger, Die Aməša Spəntas, Vienna, 1916, pp. 77-78 n. 2.

I. Gershevitch, “An Iranianist’s View of the Soma Controversy,” in P. Gignoux and A. Tafazzoli, eds., Mémorial Jean de Menasce, Louvain, 1974, pp. 45-75.

H. Humbach, Deutsche Literaturzeitung 78, 1957, pp. 300-01.

J. Kellens and E. Pirart, Les textes vieil-avestiques III, Wiesbaden, 1991.

(Jean Kellens)

Originally Published: December 15, 1996

Last Updated: December 2, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 6, pp. 595-596