Zoroastrianism, Brahmanism, and Early Indo-Iranian Religions

By Ryan Higgins: RELI 612

 

It is the intention of this paper to examine some of the theological correspondences that occur between Zoroastrianism and early Brahmanism in order to identify a much older Indo-Iranian pagan tradition.  Following this examination I will identify two common modes of development shared by each tradition. These modes of development include a more articulate conception of monotheism and a revised theodicy involving the demotion of certain gods to the class of demons.

Throughout this investigation I will first discuss some of the general characteristics of the earlier Proto-Indo-European culture out of which the Indo-Iranian traditions emerged.  I will then discuss some specific features of Indo-Iranian rituals, gods, and cosmologies while identifying some of their Zoroastrian and Vedic parallels.  Following this, I will proceed to examine the general pantheon and cosmologies of the two traditions in order to identify some common patterns of theological development.   

Throughout this endeavor, I hope to avoid the trap of leading the reader to assume that the Proto-Indo-Europeans, or the ‘Aryans’ were a monolithic people or culture out of which all later phenomenon can be traced.  In this regard I caution the reader with the following quote from William Malandra:

A religion never has an absolute beginning.  When one speaks of the “beginnings” of Hinduism or Christianity or Zoroastrianism, one may have in mind the date of a founder such as Jesus or Zarathushtra; or one may be referring to the oldest texts of the religion, such as the Rig-Veda in the case of Hinduism.  Yet these ‘beginnings’ are really no more than points in history that owe their existence to events still farther in the past. (Malandra p. 5)

In her book Zoroastrians, Their Beliefs and Practices, Mary Boyce gives an insightful overview of the Indo-Iranian traditions predating the development of Zoroastrianism and Vedic expressions.  She explains that “In still remoter times the ancestors of both the Iranians and the Indians had formed one people, identified as the proto-Indo-Iranians” (Boyce. P. 2)  While it may be convenient to trace the common elements to a single source, it may be more useful to think of tracing later religious developments to an earlier culture rather than a monolithic group of people. I base this suggestion on the fact that it is the culture itself which is traced through the use of comparative mythology, linguistics, and archeological inscriptions. 

It is also worthwhile to note that it is problematic to identify the migration of a monolithic group of people per se, since there are only the traces of a migrating cultural continuity involving a group of pastoral peoples called Aryans, whose genealogical history is likely to be saturated with local diffusion as they migrated over a large geographical distance over a significant duration of history. (Olivelle p. 21-22) With this in mind it is possible to continue this examination of ‘Proto-Indo-European people’ with the clear idea that such migrating peoples most likely involved an organic and dynamic mixture of peoples from various regions who shared a general cultural continuity throughout time and space.  

Boyce describes the Proto-Indo-Europeans, also known as the ‘Aryans’ as a branch of the Indo-European family of nations who lived as pastoralists on the South Russian steppes east of the Volga.  These people were semi-migratory pastoralists herding cattle, sheep, and goats over a limited area on foot with the aid of dogs.  One branch of the Proto-Indo-Europeans who migrated into Iran and Northern India are referred to as the Proto-Indo-Iranians. Boyce speculates that, “Perhaps from the fourth to the third century B.C.- the Proto-Indo-Iranians forged a religious tradition of immense strength, so that to this day elements from it are preserved by their descendants, the Brahmans of India and the Zoroastrians of Iran” (Boyce p. 2)

It is believed by most historians that eventually in the third millennium-the Proto-Indo-Europeans drifted apart, becoming identified only by speech.  While still being pastoralists, they probably had trade contacts with the Mesopotamians.  It is from Mesopotamia that they learned how to use wooden carts pulled by Oxen, eventually leading to the development of war chariots.  Following this development there was also the domestication of horses and the use of bronze for tools and weapons.  (Boyce p. 2)

The use of horse drawn chariots combined with the use of bronze weapons seems to have transformed the life of the Proto-Indo-European peoples into what scholars describe as a ‘heroic age,’ in which cheiftians and their followers were to begin a conquest driven lifestyle.  This seems to be the means by which wealth and resources were acquired under these otherwise harsh living conditions. (Lincoln p. 3) 

This early culture had developed a unique and sophisticated cult around its various elements.  Two central objects of the Proto-Indo-Iranian cult were fire and water.  Both fire and water were considered sacred and were offered various libations as a form of sacrifice. (Boyce p. 5)  This sacrificial ritual was called Yasna in the Avesta of the Zoroastrian tradition and Yajna in the Vedic tradition.  It is interesting that aside from the linguistic correspondences of the Avestan Yasna, and Sanskrit Yajna, that the fire continued to remain a central feature of the ritual in both of these later traditions. (Boyce p. 5-10) A

The ritual offering made to water at the end of the Yasna was prepared from milk, the leaves of one plant, and juice obtained by pounding the leaves of another.  In Sanskrit the pounded plant is called Soma while in Avestan it is called Hoama, meaning ‘that which is pressed’.  While the identity of this plant remains unknown, many speculate that it may have been a species of Ephedra; the juice of the plant was claimed to exhilarate and heighten a person’s powers.  A major part of the Yasna ritual involved pounding the plant with a stone mortar and offering it to the waters.  The ritual use of Hoama/Soma is still used within Zoroastrian and Vedic rituals today; again, one can observe striking parallels between the linguistic terminology and the ritual components of both traditions, thus allowing scholars to construct a tentative model of an earlier Indo-Iranian pagan tradition.  (Boyce p. 5)

There were many gods which the Yasna ceremony of the earlier Iranian religion could honor.  Some of the early Indo-Iranian cult gods included: Fire and Water; Hoama, and Geush Urvan.  There was also a wide plethora of nature gods personifying natural phenomenon: the sky and the earth were personified by Asman and Zam; the sun and moon by Huar and Mah; there were two gods of the wind, Vata, and Vayu.  Vata was simply the god of the wind that blows, being venerated for his ability to bring rain clouds.  Vayu is more mysterious and is called the soul of the gods in the Rig Veda, while the Iranians regarded him as the breath of life itself. (Boyce p. 6)

The Indo-Iranians held that there was a natural law which assured the continuity and order of the cosmos.  While the Indian Vedic priests refer to this concept as ‘rta’, the Zoroastrians use the corresponding word, ‘asha’.  In his book An Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion, William Malandra describes rta as “…perhaps the most important concept in Aryan religion, since it embodies the basic principle by which the entire cosmos, physical as well as ethical, behaves.” (Malandra p. 13)  Thus asha has a broad meaning expressed in various contexts: order in reference to the natural world, and truth or righteousness in the moral world.  (Malandra p. 13)

One particularly important mode of conduct was the sacredness attributed to a person’s given word, and the importance of keeping one’s word as a part of asha.  There was also a contrary principle of disorder and falsehood opposed to asha referred to as drug.  In this context there were two types of pledges: the solemn oath called ‘Varuna’ (probably from the Indo-European root Ver, meaning ‘bind, tie’) in which an individual would be bound to perform or refrain from a specific act. (Boyce p. 8) Then there was also the covenant called Mithra (probably from the Indo-European root me: meaning exchange) whereby two parties would make an agreement. (Malandra p. 9)   

In each case it appears that a power was felt to be latent in the spoken pledge and this power came to be recognized as a divinity that would support and further the person who kept his or her word while making sure to smite liars with vengeance.  The vengeance or mercy of these deified moral qualities was made manifest through the ordeals.  Whenever someone was accused of breaking their word and denied it; he or she might find themselves obliged to submit to an ordeal by water, in the case of an oath, or an ordeal of fire for a covenant.  These two deities also appear later on in both Zoroastrianism and Brahmanism. (Boyce p. 8)

Both Varuna and Mithra grew to become great gods, with many beliefs and concepts attached to them allowing them to become personifications of loyalty and truth.  Boyce writes that “Both received the title ‘Asura’ in Sanskrit and ‘Ahura’ in Avestan, which simply means ‘lord’.  Boyce notes that due to the danger involved in the fire and water ordeals, the decision to require one was left to the judgment of a king or local leader and that such a figure may have inspired the religious conception of “…the third and greatest of the lords in Avestan Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom.”  (Boyce p. 10)  This god is taken as the central deity and is paralleled in the Rig Veda simply as the ‘Asura’ or the ‘Lord’. (Boyce p. 10)

Some of the other lesser deities grouped around Mithra include Airyaman (Sanskrit Aryaman) personifying the power of friendship, which was a form of a covenant when ritually established.  There is also the god of justice, Arshat, the god of courage, Hom Vareti, and Sraosha, the god of obedience who is the guardian of prayer. 

Another deity associated with both Mithra and Varuna is Khvarenah who personifies ‘divine grace’ or ‘glory’-a quality that dwells with kings, heroes and prophets, but departs if they are false to Asha.  Khvarenah is sometimes linked with Ashi, the goddess of fortune, who bestowes her prizes only on the righteous, the ashavan.  (Boyce p. 10)

A similar notion applies to Verethaghna, the god of Victory, who has the standing epithet of ‘created by the Ahuras’.  While most of the Indo-Iranian gods were conceived anthropomorphically, Verethatghna is characteristically manifested as the wild boar, which is recognized for its fierce courage among the ancient Iranians.  Boyce points out an interesting distinction here between the Indians and the Iranians: “Verethaghna was not worshipped by the Vedic Indians, for their ancestors, it seems, had allowed the ancient god of victory to be displaced by Indra…a divinity who was the prototype of the Indo Iranian warrior of the heroic.” (Boyce p. 11)  

Indra is often characterized as a reckless deity with amoral qualities, drinking deeply of soma and only asking for lavish offerings from his followers in exchange for material gains.  While he is despised in the Zoroastrian tradition, his sins of war and recklessness are regarded with a certain pragmatic indifference in the Vedas (Dumezil p. 67)

The contrast between Indra and the more ethical Ahuras is expressed in the following Rig Vedic hymn:  ‘“Lordship belongs indeed to me, the perpetual sovereign, as all the immortals (acknowledge) to us…I let the dripping waters rise up, through rta.”’  Indra responds to this with his own claim: ‘“Men who drive swiftly, having good horses, call on me when surrounded in battle.  I provoke strife, I the bountiful Indra.  I whirl up the dust, my strength is overwhelming.  All things have I done.  No godlike power can check me, the unassailable.  When draughts of Soma, when songs have made me drunk, then both the unbounded regions grow afraid”’(Boyce p. 11) 

When referring to these passages Boyce claims that these two gods are conceived as completely different beings, who have their prototypes on earth portrayed by ethical rulers as against bold war lords caring only for personal prowess and fame.  (Boyce p. 11)  However it should be noted that while Indra is demonized within the Zoroastrian tradition, he is regarded with both praise and fear within the Vedas, suggesting a certain utilitarian neutrality as opposed to his demonic portrayals in Zoroastrianism (Dumezil p. 65-67)   Here it is possible to see how the early mythology provides a background upon which Zoroastrianism was able to develop its theological and ethical dualism, while showing strong parallels with Brahmanism.   

Mary Boyce constructs a general Indo-Iranian cosmogony from the Zoroastrian writings.  According to this cosmogony the gods created the world in seven stages.  First they made the sky out of stone, solid like a shell.  The bottom portion was filled with water; following this they created earth, resting on the water like a great dish; and then at the centre of the earth they fashioned the three animate creations in the form of a single plant, a giant animal (uniquely created bull) and a single man (Gayo maretan, meaning ‘mortal life’) Seventh, they created fire, both visibly as itself and also as the unseen, vital force pervading the animate creations.  The sun, being part of the creation of fire stood still overhead as if it were always noon, since the world was brought into being motionless and un-changing.  At this point all of the gods are said to have offered a triple sacrifice: they crushed the soma plant, and slew the first bull and the first man.  From this beneficient sacrifice more plants, animals, and men came into existence.  The cycle of being was thus set in motion, with death followed by new life; the sun began to move across the sky and to regulate the seasons in accordance with ‘Asha’. (Boyce p. 11-12)

Indian sources regard these processes as un-ending; since they were initiated by the gods, they would continue forever, so long as humans up held their part in the cosmic cycle.  In this sense the priests saw themselves re-enacting everyday the original sacrifice to ensure that the world continues in its proper course. 

Out of this Indo-Iranian cultic tradition arose Zoroastrianism in Iran and Brahmanism in India.  Zoroastrianism was founded by the prophet Zarathustra, who is known mostly through the gathas, a series of 17 hymns composed and preserved by the Zoroastrian community.  Much of this tradition was also preserved in the Avesta, a later composition.  While Zarathustra’s date of appearance cannot be located with historical certainty; it is estimated that he may have lived some time between1700 and 1500B.C. (Boyce p. 18) Hymns from the Gathas and the Avesta suggest that Zoroaster was a witness to acts of violence involving the prevailing war-bands at the time.  Thus, it may have been his disgust with the injustices of violence that led to his inspired vision of an ethical theology in which the previous war gods such as Indra were to be demonized.  (Boyce p. 19)

It was Ahura Mazda himself as the master of Asha that Zoroaster’s vision venerated.  While such veneration was in sympathy with the existing tradition; he made a clear departure from the accepted beliefs by proclaiming that Ahura Mazda was the one un-created God, existing eternally, being the creator of all things that are good, including all of the benevolent deities. (Zaehner pgs. 12-13) 

Harsh life experiences most likely led Zoroaster to develop a concept of a second and wholly separate power of evil, co-existing with Ahura Mazda, as an adversary, a hostile spirit call Angra Mainyu. (Zaehner p. 13)  A description of this second power is given in the Yasna texts:

Truly, there are two primal Spirits, twins, renowned to be in conflict.  In thought and word and act they are two, the good and the bad…And when these two Spirits first encountered, they created life and not life, and that at the end the worst existence shall be for the followers of falsehood (drug), but the best dwelling for those who possess righteousness”(Y30.3-5 Boyce p. 21)

Here one can see a more sudden move towards monotheism in Zoroastrianism as contrasted with the much more gradual conceptions that took place in the Vedic literature.  Zoroaster’s conceptions of monotheism and ethical dualism presented a unique departure from the earlier Indo-Iranian traditions. 

In his book, The Teachings of The Magi, R.C. Zaehner explains that while his teachings were new, the old cosmogony provided the bases for his thought.  Zoroaster considered Ahura Mazda’s first act to be the evocation of the six lesser deities, being the radiant beings of his first vision called the Amesha Spentas.  It was these beings, along with Ahura Mazda who formed a heptad and proceeded to fashion the seven creations of the world in a similar manner depicted by the earlier cult.  A sense of divine unity is always maintained throughout his concept of creation.  Zaehner explains that “Neither the entities with which Zoroaster surrounded his supreme deity (the Amesha Spentas or Amahraspands) nor the old gods later re-introduced into the system, are more than created spirits, subservient absolutely to the One Creator God.” (Zaehner p. 13)

According to Zoroaster the six great beings evoked other benevolent divinities, being the benevolent gods from the earlier pagan pantheon.  Some of the gods invoked in the Gathas include: Mithra, and Apam Napat; Sraosha, Ashi and Geusha Urvam.  Zoroaster considered all of these divine beings to be either direct or indirect emanationsof Ahura Mazda, acting as a means of furthering good and defeating evil.  They are collectively known as Yazatas, ‘beings worthy of worship’ or Amesha Spentas, meaning ‘holy immortals’ (Boyce p. 21)

Although it doesn’t occur in the Gathas, it is probable that Zoroaster coined the term to separate the benevolent beings of his revelation from the generality of Iranian pagan gods who are invoked as ‘All the Immortals’ in the Vedas.  This would make sense when one considers that Zoroaster “…rejected with the utmost courage and firmness the worship of the warlike, amoral Devas-that is, Indra and his companions who’m he regarded as being the ‘race of evil purpose.”’(Boyce p. 21)  The demonization of the devas is portrayed in the following Yasna verse: “The Daevas chose not rightly, because the deceiver came upon them as they consulted, so that they chose the worst purpose.  Then together they betook themselves the wrath through whom they afflicted the life of man.” (Y 30.6)

After this brief examination of Zoroastrianism a few unique developments become apparent.  There is a monotheistic shift in which Ahura Mazda is identified as the one unique creator god, along with his ethical anti-thesis, Angra Mainyu the god of disorder, deception and evil.  There is also a revised theodicy in which some of the older gods, the ‘daevas’ are treated as demons, while the rest of the earlier pantheon and its cosmology are assimilated into Zoroaster’s ethical vision  After identifying some of the developments of the Indo-Iranian religion that occurred within Zoroastrianism, it is now possible to look at the way in which these earlier pagan traditions were transformed as the Aryan people’s practicing them migrated into the Indus Valley and eventually settled throughout India and developed their own Vedic traditions. 

.   In his introduction to his translation of the Upanisads, Patrick Olivelle explains that around the time that the Indus Valley civilizations became extinct, there was a relatively large migration of people from the west into the upper Indus Valley.  He explains that,“They [the Aryans] were a pastoral, but militarily powerful people who called themselves Arya (literally, noble or ‘honorable’, whence the word Aryan).” (Olivelle p. xxv) 

While the Aryan material culture was less sophisticated than that of the Indus Valley civilization, they left behind a vast literary corpus called the Vedas along with what is known as the Vedic religion, or Brahmanism. (Olivelle p. xxvi)  While this tradition had its own rituals corresponding strongly with those of the earlier Iranian religion; it will best serve the scope of this present investigation to examine some of the Vedic tradition’s cosmological and theological components.

The Vedic deities were believed to inhabit a tripartite universe consisting of heaven (swar), atmosphere (bhuvas), and earth (bhur) with each realm being populated by different gods.  Heaven (svar) contains the sky god Dyaus, Varuna lord of rightiousness (rta), Mitra: Varuna’s companion, Pusan; the nourisher, and Vishnu the pervader.  The atmosphere (bhuvas) contains the warrior Indra; the wind Vayu; the storm gods, the Maruts; and the terrible Rudra.  Earth (bhur) contains the plant god Soma; the fire god Agni, and the priestly god of creative power Brhaspati. (Flood p. 45)  One can already notice the strong theological and cosmological correspondences with the earlier Iranian pagan traditions and Zoroastrianism during this brief examination.  The recurrence of the tripartite vision of the cosmos along with some of the earlier chief deities such as Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Vayu, and Soma indicate a strong degree of mythological continuity between Brahmanism, Zoroastrianism, and the earlier Iranian paganism. 

Another classification places a group of gods called the Adityas, the sons of the goddess Aditti (Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, Varuna, Daksa, and Amisa), within the heavenly realm.  The Maruts, and the Rudras are placed within the atmosphere; and the Vasus, the attendants of Indra are placed within the earthly realm.  In this classification Indra’s attendants are personifications of natural phenomenon, namely Apa (water), Dhruva (the pole star), Soma (the moon), Dhara (the earth), Anila (wind), Anala (fire), Prabhasa (dawn), and Pratyusa (light). (Flood p. 46) 

The god Agni signifies the sacrificial fire in particular, and is responsible for transporting the dead to the realm of Yama, and he also purifies and transports the sacrificial offerings to the realm of the gods.  Soma plays a similar role to Agni by interceding between humans and the gods, and is regarded as a link between the human and divine.  Therefore, Soma is identified with Agni and the Moon which contains the Ambrosia of immortaility (amrta).  (Flood p. 46)  One may also recall that fire played an intermediary role in the earlier Iranian traditions as well and continued to be revered in Zoroastrianism.

In contrast to Zoroastrianism, the Vedic religion revered Indra as the warrior king; he is empowered by Soma, and destroys all obstacles with his thunderbolt.  His most famous myth celebrates his destruction of the snake vrtra, symbolizing cosmic chaos.  His defeat of vrtra resulted in the freeing of the waters of the sky.  Gavin flood acknowledges the connection between Indra and the warrior ethos of the early Vedic society mentioned by Mary Boyce when he writes: “The storm gods, the maruts, accompany Indra on his adventures which seem to reflect the warrior ethos of Vedic society: Indra captures the cows as the Aryan warriors would have gone on cattle raids to neighboring groups.” (Flood p. 46)

The roles of Varuna and Mitra are virtually identical to the Iranian gods Varuna and Mithra discussed earlier.  Varuna is the distant majestic sky god and protects the social order, (rta)  Mitra rules over social responsibilities or contracts and accompanies Varuna.  Aryaman governs custom and marriage. Pusan presides over journeys.  Within this context Varuna is considered to be the most important since he is lord of the ethical order.  The Asvins are twin deities of good fortune and health.  Surya is the sun at dawn, while Saviter is the sunset.  Vayu who also exists in the Iranian religion, is the god of wind.  Apas is the water deity, while Prthivi is the earth goddess and the consort of father sky, Dyaus Pitar.  (Flood p. 46-47)

In the early family books 2-7, the Vedic religion appears to be predominantly polytheistic with only a few vague expressions of a monotheistic vision, while the later books 1, and 10, indicate a clearer formulation of cosmological monism, with more articulate expressions of monotheism. (Reat p. 12-15) 

According to Jeanine Miller the Vedic gods are the dynamic aspects of rta operating at “…the secondary level of manifestation, or that level which stands between the noumenal or pure abstraction and the purely phenomenal or real of sensuous experience…” (Miller p. 69) The gods are therefore considered to be part of manifestation, or embodied existence insofar as they shape it according to its inherent law which is also the law of their being, but they are not its original cause. (Miler p. 69)  In this context the gods are the means by which Rta and the absolute monistic principle of the cosmos manifests as a concrete experience.  To this effect Miller writes:

This permutation implies a process of objectifying powers at work in the universe at more and more concrete levels, all in accordance with the law of transformation.  Hence this process whereby the abstract becomes the concrete in due course the concrete can be viewed as an aspect of the mighty dynamics of rta.” (Miller p. 70)

            While the gods are understood as being neither wholly personal nor totally impersonal, they maintain a degree of uniqueness in relation to the ‘One’ monistic principle (Tad ekam).  Therefore these cosmic intelligences (the gods) have individual characteristics and functions that distinguish one from another; yet, their various roles and characteristics at various times merge or overlap, so that they appear as both separate and interrelated entities.  This paradoxical relationship is exemplified by Brahmanaspati, Agni, and Rudra in certain instances where they functionally merge or identify with eachother; thus Saviter, Surya, Pusan, and Agni can be viewed as expressions of a single solar power within the Vedic mythos.  This is also expressed in the following Vedic verse: “I honor as the face of lofty Agni in heaven, the bright and holy light of Surya.” (X 7.3 Griffith)

Miller also points out how the move toward a more monotheistic conception is expressed by the way in which the gods are regarded in the various rituals.  In the Vedic rituals each god can be worshipped as representative of the Divine, as a facet or an embodiment of the ‘One’ (tad ekam), which can be invested with superior cosmic attributes, or include the qualities of all the other gods at any time.  This elevation of one particular god to absolute supremacy at particular times was referred to as henotheism by Max Muller.  Miller explains that: “This was possible because all the gods were seen as expressions of the One, devah or tad ekam.  Each god is an expression of the All-God…” (Miller p. 72)  This later leaning toward monotheism is also clearly expressed by the sage Dirghatamas in the following hymn from the first book: “They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly winged Garutman.  To what is one, sages give many a title; they call it Agni, Matarisvan.”(Rig. 1.164.46)

While the Zoroastrian tradition is portrayed as making a more sudden move toward monotheism by the prophetic vision of Zoroaster, the Vedas give an account of a gradual shift from a predominantly polytheistic worldview to a more clearly articulated notion of monotheism and monism in the later books 1, and 10, of the Rig Veda.  When examining the Zoroastrian tradition one notices how the earlier Iranian gods referred to as deavas, were demoted to the class of demons while the ‘ethical’ ahuras, the Iranian cognate of the Indian asuras, are elevated within Zoroaster’s theological vision.  This legion of demonized gods included the warrior god Indra from the earlier Iranian pagan tradition, who is regarded with esteem in the Vedic religion.  Thus a real theological inversion begins to take shape; however a further contrast occurs when the later Vedic scriptures begin to portray the earlier Asuras as demons while maintaining the Devas as gods, thus creating a complimentary theological reversal of good and evil powers. (Chattopadhyaya 102)

It is interesting to note that the word Asura occurs 108 times in the Rig Veda, and aside from a scant number of 14 passages, the word refers to ‘a divine spirit’, that is a ‘deva’. The other fourteen passages in the Vedic literature use the word asura as a referent for ‘demon’.  Therefore this is a relatively later theological development since it is only in the later literature that this shift in meaning occurs. While there is no clear explanation for this shift, Kshetresh Chandra Chattopadhyaya offers a prima-facie explanation in his book Studies in Vedic and Indo-Iranian Religion and Literature: “Hence, we must read in the deterioration of the word ‘asura’ from ‘spirit’ to ‘evil spirit’ the same process as in Greek Daimonioa (deity)>English demon or in English ghost as ‘spirit’>ghost as ‘goblin’, etc.” (Chattopadhyaya p. 109)  Here he is basically suggesting that the various shades of meaning attributed to a word may shift as it is used over time.  Thus the word asura may have come to mean lesser gods ‘deva-yonis’ and eventually took on the meaning of ‘demons’. (Kshetresh Chandra Chattopadhyaya p. 111)

While Chattopadhyaya’s explanation is highly speculative, it does lend at least a tentative theoretical model in which to interpret this more recent development in Vedic doctrine.  The relevance of his explanation lies in its contextualization of the unique theological shift in the Vedic theodicy that radically contrasts the tradition with Zoroastrianism and the earlier forms of Iranian paganism. 

The result of this analysis on a whole has been to identify the way in which both Vedic Brahmanism and Zoroastrianism share many theological correspondences, which combined with their similar linguistic roots indicates that both of these traditions emerged out of an earlier Indo-Iranian pagan tradition. By giving a general overview of some of the unique cosmological and mythological elements of each tradition, it has been possible to identify two common patterns of development that have occurred despite the unique and radical departures that have shaped each religion.  Both traditions developed a clearer conception of monotheism, and they both developed a revised theodicy in such a way as to inverse the previous theology by demonizing the gods in the older tradition. The most striking feature of this development involves the demotion of the daevas in favor of the Ahuras in the Zoroastrian tradition while the later Vedic tradition demonized the asuras in favor of their devas. 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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