TIŠTRYA (Pahl. Tištar, NPers. Teštar), an important Old Iranian astral divine being (yazata-), to whom the eighth hymn (Tištar Yašt) of the Later Avestan corpus was dedicated (Panaino, 1990).
Tištrya should be identified with the most brilliant star visible in the firmament, Sirius (alpha Canis Maioris), although different opinions have been expressed in the past on this point (for the state of the question, see Panaino, 1995, pp. 1-14). This identification is confirmed by Plutarch (De Iside et Osiride 47; cf. Yt. 8.44). It is also very probable that Vedic Tiṣya (RV V.54.13; X.64.8) corresponds to Av. Tištrya, according to the etymological explanation proposed by Forssman (1968), which puts the star Sirius in a direct and clear relationship with the three stars of Orion’s Belt (delta, epsilon, zetaOrionis) by its name as well as by observation and by the account of a few mythological passages in Vedic literature. In these, the asterism of Orion’s Belt was represented as an arrow called iṣus trikāṇdā, shot by Tiṣya (or Rudra) towards Prajāpati in order to punish him because of a sexual sin committed against his daughter, who appeared in the body of a “female gazelle” (rohít-); for the Indian passages concerning this astral myth see Forssman (1968, pp. 58-59). Thus Sirius would have been named as “the one who belongs to the three stars”: IE. *tri-str-o-m “group of three stars”; then IE. *tri-str-iḭo-s by dissimilation > IIr. *ti-str-iḭa- > Av. tištriia-. Ved. Ti-ṣyà-, for his part, would derive from *ti-šr-íḭa- < *ti-str-iḭa- by a secondary dissimilation of -t- by analogy with *púṣiya-, masc. “he who makes prosper.” (Púṣya- is the name of the sixth or eighth nákṣatra- “lunar station,” with which Tiṣya will be later associated.) Forssman (1968, p. 56) would identify *púṣiya with the second part of the name of the Av. demon a-paoša- [see APŌŠ], the direct antagonist of Tištrya. But we can consider an alternative, in which Ved. tiṣya- comes directly from IIr. *ti-str-iḭa-, through the simplification of the cluster -str- to -ṣ- (Panaino, 1995, pp. 31-33; Forssman, 1968, p. 56, n. 92). The linguistic correspondence with Greek Seírios has been assumed by Fischer (1969), but it remains questioned (Panaino, 1995, p. 35).
The symbolic link with the astral theme of the heavenly “arrow” is strongly present in various Oriental uranographies, particularly with respect to the star Sirius, which in India was shot by the archers Tiásya or Rudra, but which in Iran corresponds to Tištrya himself. In fact, according to Yt. 8.6-7 and 37-38, Tištrya flies in the sky as the arrow shot by the most valiant archer of the Aryans, i.e., the hero Ǝrəxša (Kellens 1977). This image was already present in the Mesopotamian celestial lore, where Sirius was named KAK-SI-SÁ “arrow” in Sumerian and šiltaḫu or šukūdu “arrow” in Akkadian (Götze, 1923; Gnoli, 1963; Panaino, 1995, pp. 28-32, 47-59). We may notice that also in later Egypt Sirius (Sōthis) was the target of the arrow shot by Sathis, while in China, the celestial Emperor shot an arrow against the sky jackal, i.e., Sirius (Tīan láng). It is worthwhile to recall that in later times Tištar and the planet Tīr (which is sometimes by folk etymology erroneously associated with the meaning “arrow” of Mid. Pers. tīr, which actually derives from OIr. *tigra-/i-) became direct antagonists, but a strange and complex relation actually existed between them. Already in Mesopotamian texts the Sumerian name of Sirius (KAK-SI-SÁ) was sometimes used also for that of the planet Mercury. In addition, the god of the planet Mercury, Tīriya in western Iran, a protector of the scribes, as in the parallel cases of Thoth-Mercury in Egypt and Nabû-Mercury in Babylon (Panaino, 1995, pp. 62-85), probably was associated with Tištrya, but after the (later) demonization of the planets he became a demon (see tir). Relics of the original positive role of Tīriya can be seen in the Pahlavi tradition which assumes that Tištar and Tīr were the same being (Ir. Bd. V, B, 12), while the same source contrariwise states that Tīr should correspond to Apōš; the later and modern well known custom, still extant among Zoroastrians, to call Tīr Yašt the hymn to Tištrya attests to a direct identification of the two names and beings.
Tištrya is the Iranian protagonist of the myth of the liberation of the waters, which, at least to a certain extent, could be structurally and functionally compared with that of Vedic Indra Vṛtrahā´n; the parallel passages in Yt. 8.56-61 and 14.48-53 (Wahrām Yašt) have been discussed in this Indo-Iranian framework by Benveniste (1934, pp. 36-37, 177-99) and Panaino (1995, pp. 36-45); but see also Kellens (2001, pp. 478-79) for a fresh analysis of the problems involved.
The Avestan hymn to Tištrya contains two different mythical events, one concerning Tištrya’s fight with Apaoša and the latter with the Pairikās, which probably correspond to shooting stars. The first myth (stanzas 13-34) describes the combat of the yazata against Apaoša for the possess and liberation of the waters contained in the (cosmic) ocean Vourukaṧa. The two champions appear in the body of a horse, but while Tištrya is a beautiful white stallion (auruša-), his antagonist is a black (sāma-), glabrous, and horrible horse. It is possible—but the passage is unclear (see Yt. 8.8)—that also the Vouru.kaṧa assumes the form of a mare, for whose possession the two male horses come to fight. Before the combat Tištrya assumes three diferent avataras, taking ten days for each; he successively changes the form of his body into a fifteen-year-old man, a bull with golden horns, and finally a splendid white horse. These three transformations (which correspond to three of Vərəθrγna’s avataras) probably should astronomically cover the period beginning with the heliacal rising of the star Sirius in July and lasting till the first appearance of the meteor showers between August and September (Panaino, 1995, pp. 15-24).
In the body of a white horse Tištrya attacks Apaoša, but after three days and nights he is defeated, because the yazata was not sufficiently worshipped by the Aryans (see Yt. 8.24). Only after a kind of potential or incrementing yasna- offered by Ahura Mazdā himself in favor of his champion (Yt. 8.25) can Tištrya move again against Apaoša, and at midday he defeats him who runs away; thus the waters of the Vouru.kaṧa are free and can be distributed among the seven karšvars by Tištrya with the help of Satavāesa (Yt. 8.32). The entire story probably offered a sufficient indeterminateness in the timing of the autumnal rains on the Iranian lands; this in fact explains why the month dedicated to Tištar (i.e., the fourth of the Zoroastrian calendar; see CALENDAR) did not correpond to the actual month of the true liberation of the waters and of the rains. The day dedicated to Tištar is the 13th of the month; also in the Sogdian calendar tyš [tīš] was the name of the same day (Henning, 1939, p. 95; 1945, p. 149, line 19 = SP II, p. 208), known also from al-Bīrūnī and Mount Mugh documents, while in the Parthian calendar it was tyry, and in the Choresmian tyry (Tok-kala) or jyry (al-Bīrūnī).
According to the Tištar Yašt, other constellations and single stars, in particular Satavāesa, probably Fomalhaut (AlphaPiscis Austrini), collaborate with Tištrya. In the same hymn (st. 12), the Tištryāeinī stars also are mentioned; astronomically they seem to correspond to the constellation Canis Minor, but it is probable that they were also the “wives of Tištrya” (Klingenschmitt, 2000, p. 225).
The second myth concerns the fight of Tištrya with the Pairikās, led by a demoness called Pairikā Dužyāiryā “The Bad year Witch” (see DUŽYĀIRYĀ); these demonesses, with the support of the Yātus (whose astral role is unknown), were assumed (Yt. 8.8) to be stārō kərəmå “worm stars” (but, perhaps, it is a compound stārō.kərəmā- “having starred worms” or “belonging to the star-worm showers” (problems and other solutions have been discussed by Scherer, 1953, p. 24, n. 1). They were expressly flung by Aŋra Manyu (Yt. 8.39) with the purpose of bringing chaos into the (apparently) regular movement of the (fixed) stars, which in fact were strictly connected with the falling of the rains and with the return of the waters. Tištrya and the other stars were also named afšciθra-, generally translated as “having the seed/origin” of the waters (or of the rains), but possibly meaning “having the brilliance of the waters/rains” (Panaino, 1990, pp. 92-93; cf. Cantera, 1997). Tištrya (like Miθra) can get in and out of the human time, as shown by Kellens (2003; Panaino, 2003).
In the Pahlavi texts Tištar was still worshipped; he was mentioned in various Pahlavi passages, in particular in the astronomical and astrological chapters of the Bundahišn (chaps. II and V; see Henning, 1942; MacKenzie, 1956; Raffaelli, 2001), where he plays the role of direct antagonist of the planet Tīr and the leader of the fixed stars of the Eastern quarter (Tištar xwarāsān spāhbed), but under the general command of the Pole Star. Also important is the account about the cycle of Tištar as summarized in the Anthology of Zādsparam 3.7-17. The Dādestān ī Dēnīg 92, gives an additional description of the liberation of the waters and rains (Gignoux, 1988). Various collaborators of Tištar (hamkārān) are listed in these sources (Panaino, 1995, pp. 87-94), but very remarkable is the presence of the xar-ī se pāy “the three-legged ass,” probably a kind of Iranian unicorn (Panaino, 2001). Tištar, according to the Šāyest nē šāyest 22.3, is the protector of travelers (Kotwal, 1969, p. 91). A probable iconography of Tištrya (in Sogdian Tiš) has been recently identified by Grenet (apud Marshak. 2001: 238) in some Sogdian paintings (Grenet and Lee, 1988; Grenet and Marshak, 1998) or on the ossuary from Kaška-darya (Grent and Pinaul, 1997, p. 1059).
E. Benveniste and L. Renou, Vṛtra et Vṛθraγna. Étude de Mythologie indo-iranienne, Cahier de la Société Asiatique, Paris 1934.
A. Cantera, rev. of Panaino, 1995, in OLZ 92/1, 1997, cols. 97-103.
B. Forssman, “Apaoša der Gegner des Tištrya,” KZ 82, 1968, pp. 37-61.
A. Götze, “Tištrya, Tīr, Tiṣya, Seírios,” KZ 51, 1923, pp. 146-53.
W. B. Henning, “Zum soghdischen Kaender,” Orientalia, 1939, pp. 87-95; repr., idem, Selected Papers [SP], Tehran and Liège, 1977, I, pp. 629-37.
Idem, “An Astronomical Chapter of the Bundahishn,” JRAS, 1942, pp. 229-48; repr., SP II, pp. 95-114.
Idem, “The Manichaean Fasts,” JRAS, 1945, pp. 146-64; repr., SP II, pp. 205-23.
H. Fischer, “Griechisch Seírios,” MSS 26, 1969, pp. 19-26.
Ph. Gignoux, “Le mécanisme de la pluie entre le mythe et l’expérimentation (Dādestān ī Dēnīg 92),” Iranica Antiqua 23, 1988, pp. 385-92.
Ph. Gignoux and A. Tafazzoli, Anthologie de Zadspram, Paris, 1993.
F. Grenet and G.-J. Pinault, “Contacts des traditions astrologiques de l’Inde et de l’Iran d’après une peinture des collection de Turfan,” Comptes rendus des séances de l’année 2001 (Janvier-Mars) de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 2001, pp. 1003-63.
Gh. Gnoli, “La stella Sirio e l’influenza dell’astrologia caldea nell’Iran antico,” Studi e materiali di storia delle religioni 34/2, 1963, pp. 237-48.
Fr. Grenet and J. Lee, “New Light on the Sasanid Painting at Ghulbiyan, Faryab Province, Afghanistan,” South Asian Studies 14, 1998, pp. 75-85.
F. Grenet and B. I. Marshak, “Le mythe de Nana dans l’art de la Sogdiane,” Arts asiatiques 53, 1998, pp. 5-20.
J. Kellens, “Vibration and Twinkling,” Journal of Indo-European Studies 5, 1977, pp. 197-200.
Idem, “Les saisons des rivières,” in Kontinuität und Bruche in der Religionsgeschichte.Festschrift für Anders Hultgård zu seinem 65. Geburtstag am 23. 12 2001, ed. M. Stausberg et al., Berlin and New York, 2001, pp. 471-80.
J. Kellens, “L’Iran mazdéen: le temps créé et mesuré,” in Representations du temps dans les religions. Actes du Colloque organisé par le Centre d’Histoire des Religions de l’Université de Liège, ed. V. Pirenne-Delforge and Ö. Tunca, Genève, 2003, pp. 235-41.
F. Kotwal, The Supplementary Texts to the Šāyest nē-šāyest, København, 1969.
G. Klingenschmitt, “Mittelpersisch,” in Indoarisch, Iranisch und die Indogermanistik. Arbeitstagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft vom 2. bis 5. Oktober 1997 in Erlangen, ed. B. Forssman und R. Plath, Wiesbaden, 2000, pp. 190-229.
D. N. MacKenzie, “Zoroastrian Astrology in the Bundahišn,” BSOAS, 27, 1964, pp. 511-29.
B. I. Marshak, “La thématique sogdienne dans l’art de la Chine de la seconde moitié du VIe siècle,” Comptes rendus des séances de l’année 2001 (Janvier-Mars) de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 2001, pp. 229-264.
A. Panaino, Tištrya. Part. I. The Avestan Hymn to Sirius, Rome, 1990; Tištrya. Part. II. The Iranian Myth of the Sirius, Rome, 1995.
Idem, “Between Mesopotamia and India. Some Remarks about the Unicorn Cycle in Iran,” in Melammu Symposia II. Mythology and Mythologies. Methodological Approaches to Intercultural Influences. Proceedings of the Second Annual Symposium ofthe Assyrian and Babylonian Intellectual Heritage Project Held in Paris, France, October 4-7, 1999, ed. R. M. Whiting, Helsinki, 2001, pp. 149-179.
Idem, “Short Remarks about Ohrmazd between Limited and Unlimited Time,” in Iranica Selecta. Studies in honour of Prof. W. Skalmowski on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, ed. A. van Tongerloo, Turnhout, 2003, pp. 195-200.
A. Scherer, Gestirnnamen bei den indogermanischen Völkern, Heidelberg, 1953.
Ph. Swennen, D’Indra à Tištrya, Paris, 2004.
Originally Published: July 20, 2005
Last Updated: July 20, 2005