VISPERAD (or Visprad), name of a lengthy Avestan text divided into 24 chapters (Pahl. kardag, Pers. karda); the name derives from Av. vīspe ratawō meaning “all the ratu-s.” It was never meant to stand alone, its chapters being inserted for recitation into various parts of the Yasna. Nor does it form part of the normal, daily performance of the Yasna. Rather, its original purpose was to embellish the Yasna ceremony during the five main festivals (Pahl. gāhānbār) of the yearly religious calendar.

The word ratu- has two distinct meanings. The easiest to define is “season, period of time” and by extension “seasonal festival.” In this sense it is certainly cognate with OInd. r̥tú- “season, proper time.” The second meaning is more difficult to ascertain. Chr. Bartholomae (AirWb, cols. 1498 f.) gave “judex” as the primary meaning, with a secondary meaning “authority” in general. In the Visperad the term is used extensively in the latter sense and is applied to all manner of  deities, abstractions, and the prototypical creatures, namely, the Bovine (see GĀW Ī ĒWDĀD), Gayō Marətan (see GAYŌMART), and Zaraθuštra. J. Kellens has argued that 2ratu- should be understood as “prototype des espèces vivantes” inasmuch as “à chaque espèce appartient un habitat saisonnier idéal et une période de reproduction.” Although this may apply in certain instances, it is better to adhere to Bartholomae' determination and translate as "chief, chief authority, master."

The expression vīspe ratawō, as the title of a text, occurs only once in the extant Avesta, in a late addition to the Mihr Yašt. Karda 30 contains materials pertaining to the worship of Miθra, where stanzas 121-22 are set in a question-answer frame familiar in the Vendidād: “Zaraθuštra asked … Ahura Mazdā said …” The particular question here is, “How shall a righteous man drink the purified libations?” so that Miθra will not be displeased. The response is that they should ritually bathe and undergo whip lashes as penance. The stanza closes with an injunction: “Let no one drink of these libations who is not versed in the Staota Yesnya, the Vīspe Ratawō” (mā.ciš mē åŋhąm zaoθranąm fraŋwharāt̰   [fem.] nōit̰   staotanąm yesnyanąm āmātō [masc.] vīspe ratawō [nom. pl.]). The relative clause is ungrammatical, and it appears that vīspe ratawō is an interpolation specifying one of the two texts the worshiper is required to recite. The fact that the words have been placed at the end of the line, without any grammatical connection to what precedes, strongly suggests that they have been a later addition, as we would have expected the genitive plural.  In any case, since in recorded Zoroastrian practice the Visperad is never recited alone, the implication is that the worshiper be able to recite the Staota Yesnya together with Visperad, as, for example, in the modern practice of the priestly initiation (navad). There are two occurrences where wīspa- ratu- are not the title of a text: Y. 1.19 vīspaēibyō aṣ̌ahe ratubyō and Y. 2.18 vīspe aṣ̌ahe ratawō “all the ratus of Truth,” as the objects of worship.

As the passage from the Mihr Yašt suggests, the Visperad was closely associated particularly with the Staota Yesnya. Although the common tradition is that the Staota Yesnya embrace Y. 14-58 (see YASNA), the internal evidence of the Visperad suggests that it recognized only Y. 27.14-58.33.  This is clearly the plan of Vr. 1.3-8. After invoking the ratus of the creatures of both spiritual and material worlds (1.1) and the ratus of the five festivals, plus the year-end Hamaspaθmaēdaya (1.2), stanza 3 invokes “The well-offered portions of the Staota Yasnya, the righteous ratu(s) of Truth.” What follows is a series of invocations to: Ahuna Vairya (Y. 27.14), Aṣ̌a Vahišta (Y. 27.15), Yeŋhē Hātąm (Y. 27.16); then Ahunawaitī Gāθā (Y. 27-34), Yasna Haptaŋhāitī (Y. 35-41), Uštawaitī Gāθā (Y. 43-46), Spəṇtā.Mainyu Gāθā (Y. 47-50), Vohuxšaθrā Gāθā (Y. 51), Vahištōišti Gāθā (Y. 53), Airyaman Iš́ya (Y. 54.1),  and Fšūšō Mąθra (Y. 58; followed by the invocation of “the lofty Haδaoxta ratu,” a reference to Y. 58.33 fṣ̌ūšō mąθrəm haδaoxtəm, on which see HĀDŌXT NASK). Note, however, that Vr. 24.1 has the clause “what is between the Ahuna and the Airyaman” (yat̰  asti aṇtarə ahuna airyamana).

The occurrence of the words vīspe ratawō in the Mihr Yašt is relevant to the problem of dating the Visperad. Although counted as one of the “great Yašts,” the Mihr Yašt (q.v.) is an extended text containing layers of composition and editorial redaction. Even if the final redaction took place in the mid- to late Sasanian period, the text would not necessarily have been exempt from occasional interpolations. The fact that vīspe ratawō occurs here in grammatical isolation shows that the words have been quoted, perhaps as a fossilized form, from some other, now lost, Avestan source. In terms of relative chronology, the Visperad is dependent upon the Yasna for it existence. Beyond these meager facts a more precise dating is elusive.

The Pahlavi Visperad follows the usual pattern of the Pahlavi Yasna, except in its brevity through the abbreviations of repetitions, in that it presents two distinct aspects. The major part is a word-for-word gloss of the Avestan text. To individual glosses are often appended brief words, phrases, or sentences of commentary, which sometimes make oblique reference to material found in Pahlavi literature, sometimes give a ritual context not explicit in the Avestan text. It is possible that the Pahlavi gloss is based on a text older than the one attested in our Mss. For example, Vr. 7.2 in all Mss contains a redundant yazamaide (“we worship”) where arštātəm yazamaide is followed by series of descriptives of this deity and concludes with a second yazamaide. That the Pahlavi glosses each word except the final yazamaide shows that it was adhering to a correct tradition not reflected in the Mss.

As a work of literature the Visperad fails utterly. It is a derivative text that borrows extensively from the Yasna, yet also seems to draw quotations from sources we cannot identify. The editors who assembled it are, more frequently than not, oblivious of grammar and syntax. Nevertheless, it is usually quite obvious what entities are the objects of veneration, while the arrangement of the chapters has a clear rationale, as they follow key moments in the Yasna ceremony.  If we assume the position of the priests who were charged with greatly expanding the Yasna ceremony for the festive occasions of the Gāhānbārs, we can appreciate that they never intended to produce a literary work. By necessity they needed simply to provide Avestan text in order to augment the Yasna.

The contribution of the Visperad to Avestan philology comes from those words and phrases which are not to be found elsewhere. For example, Vr. 2.5 closes with a series of three phrases, the last of which is a direct quote, in Standard Avestan, of Y. 43.6c. It is preceded by an unconnected phrase yōi mąθrəm saoš́yaṇtō, which, as Geldner (ad loc.) opined, must be a quote from a lost text. That in turn is preceded by an octosyllabic pāda spəṇtąm ārmaitīm [aramatim] darətəm, which by itself makes little sense. Another case is the archaic-looking phrase frā gawe vərəṇdyāi at Vr. 4.2 (see Benveniste, 1935, p. 82). Similar with tmesis is frā tanwō rəṇjayeiti at Vr. 7.2.

In addition to verbatim or nearly verbatim borrowings from the Yasna, we occasionally find clever ways in which an author has spliced and altered borrowed text. For example, Vr. 16.3 offers a well constructed sentence using both Y. 51.22ab and Y. 27.5 (yeŋhē hātąm): “Zaraθuštra is both ahu and ratu of these of whom bounteous Ahura Mazdā knows what is better in respect to our worship (of them)”:

Vr.  16.3  yaēšąm nō ahurō mazdå aṣ̌awa yesnē paiti vaŋhō vaēδa aēšąm zaraθuštrō aŋhuca ratušca

Y. 51.22  yehyā mōi aṣ̌āt̰  hacā vahištəm yesnē paitī vahištəm vaēdā mazdå ahurō…

Y. 27.5    yeŋhē hātąm āat̰  yesnē paitī +vaŋhō mazdå ahurō vaēθā aṣ̌āt̰  hacā …

In the borrowed sentence of Vr. 16.3 the entities over which Zaraθuštra presides are unnamed; however, they are specified as waters, fields, and plants in the “we worship (yazamaide)” clause which immediately follows.

Vr. 13.3 and 14.1 contain the technical vocabulary for the compositional structure of the Gāθās. Hāiti- “section, chapter” (Pahl. ) refers to a hymn as a whole. Each hymn is made up of stanzas or strophes called vacastašti “the fashioning of words/speech.” Each stanza is composed of a fixed number of full verse lines (in the case of Ahunawaitī Gāθā three to a stanza) called afsman. In turn, a full verse line is divided into two parts with caesura after the first. The half-line is a pad-, lit. “foot” (like the Sanskrit pāda). Finally, the smallest unit is the individual word wacas. We also find (Vr. 15.2) the words anapyūxδa- “without embellishment” and anapišūta- “without alteration” in reference to the recitation (Vr. 13.1) of the Tišra Paoirya, the “First Three” of the Ahunawaitī Gāθā, and to the recitation (Vr. 15.2) of the Yasna Haptaŋhāitī—a reference to various styles of recitation which deviated from the straight text. And Vr. 14.1 refers to the recitation of  the Ahunawaitī Gāθā  “together with the explanation (āzainti-), together with the question (pərəsu-), together with the interpretation (paiti.pərəsu-), together with both voices.”  Moreover, there is a rich vocabulary for the mental retention and the expression of text.

There are two general manuscript traditions of the Visperad. Inasmuch as the Visperad is not an independent text, it is incorporated into the long liturgy of the Vendidād Sāda (VS), that is, the Yasna text with insertions of the Visperad and the Vendidād (see the index, below). In the case of the Mss of the VS, the text of the Visperad is given in extenso.  This is not the case with the Pahlavi Visperad, which, as a non-liturgical text, is characterized by extreme abbreviation through the elimination of almost all of the repetitions of the Sāda text. For complete treatments of the two traditions, refer to K. Geldner”s “Prolegomena,” I, pp. xix-xxiv, and xxxvii-xl and to M. N. Dhabhar, Pahlavi Yasna and Visperad, pp. 9-11.

The following is an index of the chapters of the Yasna with the insertions of the chapters of the Visperad.

Yasna 1. 1-8
     Visperad 1, which replaces Y. 1.9
Yasna 1.10 - 2.8
     Visperad 2, which replaces Y. 2.9
Yasna 2.10 - 11.8
     Visperad  3.1-5
Yasna 11.9 -15
     Visperad 3.6-7 through 4.2
Yasna 11.16 through Y. 14.5
     Visperad 5
Yasna 15
     Visperad 6
Yasna 16 and 17
     Visperad 7 and 8 ( 7 is recited after Y. 25 and 8 after Y. 65)
Yasna 18 through 21.5
     Visperad 9
Yasna 22
     Visperad 10 and 11
Yasna 23 - 27
     Visperad 12
     [Vendidad 1-4]
Yasna 28 - 30 (Ahunawaitī Gāθā, of which 28-30 are called the Tišra Paoirya)
     Visperad 13
     [Vendidad 5 - 6]
Yasna 31 - 34
     Visperad 14
     [Vendidad  7 - 8]
     Visperad 15
Yasna 35 - 42
     Visperad 16-17
     [Vendidad 9 - 10]
Yasna 43 - 46 (Uštawaitī Gāθā)
     Visperad 18
     [Vendidad 11 - 12]
Yasna 47 - 50 (Spəṇtāmainyu Gāθā)
     Visperad 19
     [Vendidad 13 - 14]
Yasna 51 (Vohuxšaθrā Gāθā)
     Visperad 20
     [Vendidad 15 - 16]
     Visperad 21 - 22: note that 21.4 refers to Y. 52 as "the other Yasna" (apara-yasna-)
     [Vendidad 17 -18]
Yasna 52 - 53 (Vahištōišti Gāθā)
     Visperad 23
     [Vendidad 19 - 20]
Yasna 54 (Airyaman Išya)
     Visperad 24
     [Vendidad 21 - 22]
Yasna 55 - 72
     Visperad 8 is repeated after Y. 65



Chr. Bartholomae Altiranisches Wörterbuch, Strassburg, 1904.

E. Benveniste Les infinitifs avestiques, Paris, 1935.

J. Darmesteter Le Zend-Avesta I, Paris, 1892 (translation with notes rich in details).

B. N. Dhabhar Pahlavi Yasna and Visperad, Bombay, 1949.

K. F. Geldner  Avesta I, Stuttgart, 1896 (critical edition with Prolegomena and the Avestan text).

A. Hintze, “Avestan Literature” in R. E. Emmerick and M. Macuch, The Literature of Pre-Islamic Iran, London and New York, 2009, pp. 26-38 (with references to the older literature).

J. Kellens, Études avestiques et mazdéennes, vols. I-IV, Paris, 2006-2011 (translations with notes of both Yasna and Visperad).

J. J. Modi Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees, Bombay, 1922, pp. 352-53 (outline of the Visperad insertions in the Vendidād Sāda).

B. Schlerath Awesta-Wörterbuch, Vorarbeiten II, Konkordanz, Wiesbaden, 1968 (a useful reference for the Avestan sources of the Visperad).

F. Wolff Avesta, Strassburg, 1910 (translation following Bartholomae).

(William W. Malandra)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: July 1, 2013