The Avesta word Yasna is derived from Avestan root yaz– “to venerate, to attune.” It is used as yazishn in Pahlavi and ijasni in Gujarati. Presently the text and ritual are referred to as Yasna or Ijasni.
Composition of the text of yasna:
The Avesta text of Yasna consists of 72 chapters, known as hāiti “chapter, section” in Avesta and hā in Parsi-Gujrati. These include 17 chapters of the Gathas. The Yasna contains the texts which go along with the ritual. In it Ahura Mazda, Ameshaspands, Yazads, Fravashis, and other living and non-living creations are remembered and praised. It does not pertain to any one particular subject.
Several prayers in the Khordeh Avesta have been sourced from the Yasna. For instance Avā Nyaishna from Hā 65, Atash Nyaishna from Hā 62, Haptan Yasht from Hā 35 – 42, Sarosh Yasht Vadi from Hā 57 and Hom Yasht from Hā 9–10. Shorter prayers like Ahunavar, Ashem Vohu, Yenghe Hātām, Kem nā Mazdā, Jasa me avanghe, parts of Hoshbãm and Stum are also found in the Yasna.
Many prayers in the Yasna are repetitive or similar. For instance, the first seven Hā have many repetitive passages. Hā 5 and Hā 37, Hā 18 and Hā 47, Hā 4 and Hā 24, Hā 6 and Hā 17, Hā 3 and Hā 22, Hā 23 and Hā 67, Hā 61 and Hā 72 are almost identical.
The Yasna text is mainly in the Avestan language, though there are a few parts in Pazand language too. One of the Pazand prayers is the dibācheh, which occurs at the beginning and in Hā 11. It is uttered in vāz “not aloud.” The Avestan prayers of the Yasna were composed centuries before the Pazand prayers, but on the basis of the presence of Pazand prayers it could be deduced that their final collation of the text of Yasna may have taken place during or immediately after the times of Dastur Adarbad Mahrespand (4th century CE).
Why it is done:
Yasna can be done for the soul of living or departed person. It adds great merit to the soul while done for the living and greatly comforts the soul after death.
The haoma juice prepared during the Yasna has high therapeutic and in the Yasna is a part of other inner rituals like the Visperad, Vendidad, Nirang-din, Hamā-Yasht and Nāvar, with variations in recitation of the khshnuman (invocation) to the respective ‘Yazad’ (divine being). In fact the Visperad and Vendidad rituals start off with the Yasna.
A brief summary of the 72 Chapters (Hā) of the Yasna:
Hā 1 : At the beginning of the Yasna, Ahura Mazda and His spiritual divinities are invited and spiritual gifts are offered. The following 33 divinities main are invited: Ahura Mazda and the six Ameshaspands, Geush Tashan, Geush Uru, fire of Ahura Mazda, Five Gāhs with their 2 co-workers each (15), Six Gahambārs, Mah (month) and Saredha (year). The priest then invites other divinities and natural creations.
After inviting, the priest says: “If knowingly or unknowingly I have offended any of you with my thoughts, words or actions, I seek your forgiveness and respectfully beseech you to be present in this spiritual assembly.
Hā 2 :In this Hā, a ‘gift’ and a ‘seat’ is given to each one of the divinities invited by calling out their individual names and offering them zaothra“specially prepared water.”
Hā 3 to 8 : The Hās from 3 to 8 are known as Sarosh darun, because they are modified and used in the Darun Yasht or Bāj-dharna ritual. In the third Hā the priest expresses the desire to prepare offerings and dedicate them to various divinities individually. The following offerings are dedicated: Darun, the Haoma water, fuel, incense, goat’s milk, barsam, zor, good thoughts, words, deeds and sacred chants.
Hās 4, 6 and 7 are similar, except for the special verbs used. The special verb in Hā 3 is āyese yeshti “(the priest) desires to prepare (gifts)”. After this, the priest announces these gifts in Hā 4 with the words āat dish āvaedhayamahi “we announce all these.” In Hā 5 Ahura Mazda is upheld as the creator and His praises are sung. In Hā 6, the verb yazamaide is used to laud and sing praises of the guests. The gifts are dedicated in Hā 7 by the words ashaya dadhãmi “I dedicate with righteousness.” The chief priest then offers the gifts in Hā 8 after singing frasasti that is “praises” of Ahura Mazda and other divine beings. The gifts dedicated to the divinities are later partaken as chāsni by the Zoroastrians present in the ritual.
Hā 9 and 10: They are recited in the Khordeh Avesta as Moti Hom Yasht. In the beginning we are told that four men Vivanghān, Athawyān, Sām and Pourushaspa worshipped Hom Yazad and to them renowned children, namely Jamshed, Faridun, Kersāsp – Urvākhsh and Prophet Zarathushtra were born.
Further, the benefits of worshipping Hom are given: “O Hom! By partaking you, may I get wisdom, courage, victory, health, prosperity, plenty, strength and greatness. May I walk this earth as a ruler at gain victory over hatred and falsehood .” Those who partake of Hom juice, pray that: “Give me the highest Heaven, health of the body, long life, courage and renown, so that I may be able to do away with all evils. Not only that, I should also be able to know the tricks of the evil ones beforehand so that I may be able to fight them with intelligence, but they should not know my plans in advance.”
Hā 11: It is a supplement to the above two Hā. In this Hā gao “bull”, aspa“horse” and Hom are shown as giving blessings to those who use them well and curse to those who misuse them.
Hā 12: It is regarded as the Zoroastrian ‘Confession of Faith.’ Jasa me avanghahe Mazda, the shorter ‘Confession of Faith’ in our Kasti, is the last paragraph of this Hā, which starts with the words, “I forsake evil, and accept the religion of Ahura Mazda, which is against evil and follows the laws of Ahura Mazda as taught by Zarathushtra.” Further he accepts Ahura Mazda as vispanām dātārem “creator of the entire universe.” He agrees to think good thoughts and promises to serve his village, town, country and religion. After confessing his faith, the devotee takes a pledge “I belong to the faith and belief to which belongs Ahura Mazda, creator of the whole universe, and to which belongs Prophet Zarathushtra (12.7).”
Hā 13 : This Hā is known as Fraoreiti hāiti “the Hā which gives faith.” In it the devotee gives some more promises. At the outset he prays Ahurem mazdãm āmruye, “All-knowing Ahura is superior over other lords. The religion of Zarathushtra has taught that all big and small creations of the world like vegetation, animals, birds, water, air, light and man himself are necessary for the progress of human beings and they should not be destroyed or misused (13.1-3). In the end the devotees remember the sacred chant of ‘Ahunavar’ and renews his faith in the religion of Zarathushtra.
Hā 14 : In this Hā the devotee praises the Ameshaspands in different ways. Along with singing praises, the devotee also dedicates his own body and life. Our ancestors also understood that the true devotion and remembrance of Ahura Mazda lies in taking care of children.
Hā 15 : In this Hā the Ameshaspands are remembered and praised. The second paragraph of this Hā is taken from the 22nd stanza of Hā 51, and is similar to the Yenghe Hātām prayer.
Hā 16 : Ahura Mazda is declared to be the creator of the universe, having good wisdom, greatest of the Yazatas, beneficent and prospering the world. Thereafter Zarathushtra and the Yazatas of physical and spiritual world are remembered. The thirty days of the month are remembered, and then the souls of departed ones and Fravashis of righteous people are remembered. Evils like plague and diseases are to be destroyed, and good natural creations like vegetation, water and cattle are to be taken care of, because these are very essential in maintaining the health. Finally the earth is remembered.
Hā 17 : This Hā is similar to Hā 6. Additionally several special fires are remembered:1) Berezi Savngh, 2) Vohu Frayān, 3) Urvāzisht, 4) Vāzisht, 5) Spenisht, 6) Nairyosangh and finally all house-hold fires.
Hā 18 : This Hā is identical to Hā 47.
Hā 19 :This Hā is a commentary on the Ahunavar. In the beginning, Prophet Zarathushtra asks: “O Ahura Mazda, Creator of the world! Which was the sacred chant that Thou made known before the creations?” Ahura Mazda replies: “O Zarathushtra! The sacred chant which I made known to you before the creation, was Ahunavar (19.1-2).” Regarding creation of the world it is said: “Ahura Mazda recited the sacred chant of Ahunavar, whereby this excellent world was created (19.15).”
As to the question of “Which are the four professions?”, it is stated: “Athravan (priest), Ratheshtār (king/administrator), Vāstryosh (farmer) and Hotokhsh (artisan) (19.17).” At the end of this Hā the questions “What is good thought, What is good word and What is good deed?” are answered, “The good thought is the thought for righteous people, The sacred chants giving prosperity are good words and to sing praises of good creations are the good deeds. (19.19)”
Hā 20 : This Hā is a brief commentary on the Ashem Vohu. In the beginning it is said that Ashem Vohu is given by Ahura Mazda Himself. Just as a family member gains goodness by just staying close to a good member, so, one who prays the sacred chant of Ashem Vohu, selects “best righteousness”, since that is the true source of Bliss. At the end it is stated that the person who is righteous for the sake of righteousness gets eternal Happiness.
Hā 21 This Hā is the commentary of ‘Yenghe Hātām.’ It tells us that Ahura Mazda recognises the value of righteous people, and hence such men and women are remembered. This Hā includes the famous line from Gathas ‘Ushtā ahmāi yahmāi ushtā kahmāichit (Hā 43.1)” “Happy is he who makes others happy.”
Hā 22 to 26 : These Hās are collectively known as ‘Homāst’. Of these, Hā 22, 24 and 25 closely resemble Hā 3, 4 and 6. While reciting these Hās, twigs of Hom and pomegranate, goat’s milk and water are poured in the Hāvanim (mortar), pounded by the Lāleh (pestle) and its juice is prepared, which is known as aiwyo zaothrāo. At the end of the Yasna ritual a part of this Hom water is poured back into the well, and the rest is taken by the people. In Hā 23 and 26 various Fravashis are remembered, including Fravashis of divine beings, people of different countries and of all men from Gaoyomard to Soshyos.
Hā 27: In this Hā, passages from the Hoshbām, Hā 34.15; 54.1; 33.8, 12,13,14 and Atash Nyāishna 9-11 are incorporated. During the recitation of certain passages, the chief priest pounds the Hom twigs along with other ritual requisites in the Hāvanim and also strikes the Hāvanim to ward off evil.
Hā 28-34: They constitute Gatha Ahunavaiti.
Hā 35-42: This collection is known as Yasna Haptanghāiti “Yasna having seven chapters.” It constitutes the Larger Haptan Yasht.
Hā 43-47: They constitute Gatha Ushtavaiti.
Hā 48-50: They constitute Gatha Spenta Mainyu.
Hā 51: It constitutes Gatha Vohukhshathra.
Hā 52: This short Hā is part of the Hoshbām prayer.
Hā 53: It constitutes Vahistoishti Gatha
Hā 54:This is the Hā of the Airyaman prayer, which can be recited individually and is also prayed in the benedictions to the wedding couple. It is in invocation of Airyaman Yazad who is “courage giving, victory giving and keeping one away from injury.”
Hā 55: According to the Zoroastrianism, our body is made up of six corporeal (three visible and three invisible) and three spiritual constituents. They are gaethā, tanu, azdi, ushtān, kehrp, tevishi, baodhangh, urvan and fravashi, that is “organs, body, bones, life-breath, subtle body, desire body, consciousness, soul and Fravashi.” It is further stated that: “The Gathas give protection, and defence and are the givers of spiritual food. They are like food and clothing to our soul.”
Hā 56: In this Hā, Ahura Mazda is remembered along with Sarosh Yazad. It is a sort of a preface to the Hā that follows, in which the qualities and virtues of Sarosh Yazad are mentioned.
Hā 57: This Hā is recited as the Sarosh Yasht Vadi prayer.
Hā 58: Prayers done with a sincere heart save men from several difficulties (1). Ahura Mazda protects true devotees. A sincere devotee is ready to sacrifice everything – wealth, property and even his life for the love of Ahura Mazda (2). Devotion should be offered to Ahura Mazda not as duty, but out of joy and happiness (3). The true devotees of Ahura Mazda are truthful people, who protect not only men, but also animals and cattle, and thus directly or indirectly promote the growth and prosperity of the world by their righteousness, industry, charity, wisdom, humility and spiritual strength (4). The devotee has to be wise and should make good use of his authority,. Through his prayers he seeks to be saved from pain and difficulties (5). One has to remain on the side of Spenta Mainyu, the beneficent spirit, and live a self-sacrificing life (6). The supremely powerful fire is remembered and its help is sought. It is further stated that fire is the representative of Ahura Mazda in this world. The sun shining in the sky is a constant reminder of this (7,8).
Hā 59 : The initial part of this Hā is identical to Hā 17. Thereafter there are passages from Hā 26 followed by three new paragraphs.
Hā 60: The prayer containing blessings and benedictions recited in Afringans and Jashans is from this Hā. After remembering the righteous departed ones and asking for their blessings, the devotee wishes to propitiate righteous people in the house. If the people living in the house are happy, the souls of the departed ones too become happy and shower their blessings of happiness and prosperity (2).
Thereafter the coming of the Fravashis of the holy ones is desired.. The devotee asks for the boon that disobedience, discord, miserliness, pride and deceit be vanquished from the house, so that Ahura Mazda and divine beings may bless the house with happiness, prosperity and a child with innate wisdom (4-7).
Hā 61: In this Hā it is stated that the prayers of ‘Ahunavar, Ashem and Yenghe Hātām’ spread throughout the earth and the sky whereby all the evils in the world can be destroyed.
Hā 62: All the prayers in this Hā are part of the Atash Nyaishna.
Hā 63: This Hā is composed from paragraphs taken from Hā 15 and 56.
Hā 64: This Hā is taken from Hā 50, para 6-11.
Hā 65: This Hā is included in Avan Nyaishna and the Avan Yasht.
Hā 66 and 67: These Hās are identical to Hā 7, 23 and 38.
Hā 68: This Hā is about Avan Ardvisura yazad. It begins with the words “If at all I have offended the waters of Aredvisura, which are very important for my life, then as an expiation I offer it the gifts of Hom and libations (1).” Paragraphs 18 to 23 are in Khorshed Nyaishna, and 24 to 31 are same as in Hā 18.
Hā 69 : This Hā is identical to Hā 15.
Hā 70 : At the outset Ahura Mazda, Ameshaspands, Yazads and Prophet Zarathushtra are remembered. The devotee desires truth, so that he can spread the teachings of Ahura Mazda as taught by Prophet Zarathushtra, and thus contribute towards the progress of the world (2-4).
Hā 71: In the beginning of this Hā, Ratus, a special type of spiritual beings are remembered and praised. Then it is stated: “O Zarathushtra! If you spread these holy words in the world till the end of your life, then I, who am Ahura Mazda, will take you away from hell (15).” Ahura Mazda addresses Zarathushtra: “Do convey my teachings for the benefit of the world, because if mankind puts them into practice, they will definitely save themselves form hell and be able to attain heaven, happiness and spiritual joy.”
Hā 72: This Hā is similar to Hā 61.
Yasna – ritual and ritual implements:
Yasna occupies a very important place among the inner rituals. The 72 chapters are recited with intricate performances of ritual. Yasna can be performed only in the Havan Geh. the only exception being the day of Rapithwin ijvanu when the Yasna is performed with some modifications as Rapithwin ni Ijashne.
Before beginning the Yasna ritual proper, a priest with the power of Bareshnum (a special ritual purification) prepares the hindolā (a short stone table) by performing the Hom gālnā ritual. On the hindolā, the ritual ālāt “apparatus” are arranged. Another such hindolā serves as a seat for the Zot “chief priest”. After that, two priests, the zot “chief priest” and the rāspi/ rāthwi “assistant priest” begin the Yasna ritual which lasts for two and a half to three hours.
Ritual implements used in the ritual are referred to as ālāt. They have been used since very ancient times, as they are mentioned in the texts of Vendidad, Visparad and Yasna. The main ritual implements are :
1) Metallic utensils: Cups (fulyu), plates (tashtā), a metallic plate with nine holes in it (surākhdār tashtā) and a bigh metallic water receptacle (kundi).
2) Barsom: Originally twigs of the gachh tree was used. Nowadays 23 metallic wires are used.
3) Aiwyaonghan: Date palm leaf used to tie the Barsom twigs. In Baj ritual a metallic chain is used as the Aiwyaonghan.
4) Hāvana/ Hāvanim: Hāvanim is the ritual utensil in the shape of a big wine cup used for pounding dry twigs the Haoma (ephedra) tree along with, pomegranate twigs, goat’s milk and water. Originally stone and metallic Hāvana were used, but nowadays only metallic Hāvana is used.
5) Lālo: Lālo or lāleh is the pestle used to pound Haoma twigs in the Hāvanim. The word lālo literally means the tulip flower. This name is give to this implement because its non-pounding end is shaped like a tulip. The lālo is made of mixed metals, and when struck against the hāvanim it gives out a sweet ringing sound.
6) Māhrue: The māhrue is a crescent shaped three legged metal stand used to place the bundle of barsom. It is also called the barsom-dān “receptacle for the barsom.” The word māhrue means “that which looks like the moon (māh)”
7) Varesa: A metallic ring on which consecrated hair of varasyaji(consecrated albino bull) is tied. The word comes from. Avesta varesa “hair.” In invocations beginning with vispaesha, and where Fravashis are invoked, the varesa ring is uncovered, otherwise it is covered by a small metallic cup (Guj. Fulyu).
8) Fire: As in all rituals, fire is present as an emblem and a direct representative of Ahura Mazda’s endless light.
An important aspect of the Yasna ritual is the preparation of ‘Hom’ juice. ‘Hom’ is a special type of tree, a twig of which, after being washed with clean water, is pounded along with the chanting of prayers in thr Hāvanimalong with goat’s milk (jivām) and a pieces of a pomegranate twig.
After the juice is prepared, the chief priest takes a sip while the ritual is in progress, part of it is poured back into the well (known as jor melavvi“blending the sacred waters), and the rest is partaken by the laity after the completion of the ritual. It may also be given to a new-born child, severely ill patients or those on the death bed. However, the decrease in the performance in the past few decades has resulted in difficulty in getting Haoma juice, which is believed to be health giving and invigorating.
Rituals have deeper inner symbolism and significance. The Yasna ritual symbolises the life cycle. Just as some water is drawn out from the well before the Yasna, the soul of a man comes from man is a small part of the vast storehouse of spirituality of Ahura Mazda. The water from the well is purified while being used in the Yasna, mixed with goat’s milk and Haoma juice. Throughout the ritual, the water is mixed, strained and passed from one vessel to another in order to make it pure and invigorating.
Finally, at the end of the ritual, the water is poured back into the well while reciting particular prayers. The water is taken out from the well, made purer and more valuable, and merged back into its original source, thus making the rest of the well water purer and better too. Similarly, man, at the end of his life, has to go back from where he has come, that is, into the spiritual world after being better and valuable to the world.