Sacred Texts  Zoroastrianism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Pahlavi Texts, Part I (SBE05), E.W. West, tr. [1880], at


Another treatise which must be referred to about the same age as the Bundahis, though of a very different character, is the Shâyast lâ-shâyast or 'the proper and improper.' It is a compilation of miscellaneous laws and customs regarding sin and impurity, with other memoranda about ceremonies and religious subjects in general. Its name has, no doubt, been given to it in modern times 1, and has probably

p. lx

arisen from the frequent use it makes of the words shâyad, 'it is fit or proper,' and lâ shâyad, 'it is not fit or proper.' And, owing to its resemblance to those Persian miscellanies of traditional memoranda called Rivâyats, it has also been named the Pahlavi Rivâyat, though chiefly by Europeans.

It consists of two parts, which are often put together in modern MSS., and bear the same name, but are widely separated in the oldest MSS. These two parts, consisting respectively of Chaps. I-X and XI-XIV in the present translation, are evidently two distinct treatises on the same and similar subjects, but of nearly the same age. That they were compiled by two different persons, who had access to nearly the same authorities, appears evident from Chaps. XI, 1, 2, XII, 11, 13-16, 18, 20 being repetitions of Chaps. I, 1, 2, X, 4, 20-23, 7, 31, with only slight alterations; such repetitions as would hardly be made in a single treatise by the same writer. Minor repetitions in the first part, such as those of some phrases in Chaps. II, 65, IV, 14, repeated in Chap. X, 24, 33, might readily be made by the same writer in different parts of the same treatise. To these two parts of the Shâyast lâ-shâyast a third part has been added in the present translation, as an appendix, consisting of a number of miscellaneous passages of a somewhat similar character, which are found in the same old MSS. that contain the first two parts, but which cannot be attributed either to the same writers or the same age as those parts.

The first part commences with the names and amounts of the various degrees of sin, and the names of the chief commentators on the Vendidad. It then gives long details regarding the precautions to be taken with reference to corpses and menstruous women, and the impurity they occasion; besides mentioning (Chap. II, 33-35) the pollution

p. lxi

caused by a serpent. It next describes the proper size and materials of the sacred thread-girdle and shirt, giving some details about the sins of running about uncovered and walking with one boot, and thence proceeding to the sin of unseasonable chatter. Details are then given about good works, and those who can and cannot perform them; in which reference is made to Christians, Jews, and those of other persuasions (Chap. VI, 7). The next subjects treated of are reverencing the sun and fire, the sin of extinguishing fire, confession and renunciation of sin, atonement for sins, especially mortal sins, both those affecting others and those only affecting one's own soul; with a digression (Chap. VIII, 3) prohibiting the rich from hunting. The remainder of this first treatise is of a miscellaneous character, referring to the following subjects:—The Hâsar of time, priests passing away in idolatry, the discussion of religion, ceremonies not done aright, throwing a corpse into the sea, evil of eating in the dark, the four kinds of worship, when the angels should be invoked in worship, the ephemeral nature of life, proper looseness for a girdle, when the sacred cake set aside for the guardian spirits can be used, maintaining a fire where a woman is pregnant, providing a tank for ablution, the Gâthas not to be recited over the dead, food and drink not to be thrown away to the north at night, unlawful slaughter of animals, how the corpse of a pregnant woman should be carried, forgiveness of trespasses, evil of walking without boots, when the sacred girdle is to be assumed, breaking the spell of an inward prayer, ten women wanted at childbirth, and how the infant is to be treated, sin of beating an innocent person, evil of a false judge, men and women who do not marry, a toothpick must be free from bark, acknowledging the children of a handmaid, advantage of offspring and of excess in almsgiving, prayer on lying down and getting up, Avesta not to be mumbled, doubtful actions to be avoided or consulted about, evil of laughing during prayer, crowing of a hen, treatment of a hedgehog, after a violent death corruption does not set in immediately, necessity of a dog's gaze, putrid meat and hairy cakes or butter unfit for ceremonies, when a woman can do priestly duty, &c.

p. lxii

The second part also commences with the names and amounts of the various degrees of sin, followed by the proper meat-offerings for various angels and guardian spirits. Next come miscellaneous observations on the following subjects:—The simplest form of worship, necessity of submitting to a high-priest, advantage of a fire in the house, sin of clothing the dead, presentation of holy-water to the nearest fire after a death, nail-parings to be prayed over, advantage of light at childbirth, offerings to the angels, maintaining a fire where a woman is pregnant and a child is born, a toothpick must be free from bark, acknowledging the children of a handmaid, advantage of offspring and of excess in almsgiving, evil of drawing well-water at night, food not to be thrown away to the north at night, advantage of prayer at feasts, treatment of a hedgehog, praying when washing the face, the proper choice of a purifying priest, no one should be hopeless of heaven, necessity of a wife being religious as well as her husband, the ceremonies which are good works, and the cause of sneezing, yawning, and sighing. These are followed by a long account of the mystic signification of the Gâthas, with some information as to the errors which may be committed in consecrating the sacred cakes, and how the beginning of the morning watch is to be determined.

The third part, or appendix, commences with an account of how each of the archangels can be best propitiated, by a proper regard for the particular worldly existence which he specially protects. This is followed by a statement of the various degrees of sin, and of the amount of good works attributed to various ceremonies. Then come some account of the ceremonies after a death, particulars of those who have no part in the resurrection, the duty of submission to the priesthood, whether evil may be done for the sake of good, the place where people will rise from the dead, Aêshm's complaint to Aharman of the three things he could not injure in the world, the occasions on which the Ahunavar formula should be recited, and the number of recitals that are requisite, &c. And, finally, statements of the lengths of midday and afternoon shadows, blessings invoked

p. lxiii

from the thirty angels and archangels who preside over the days of the month, and the special epithets of the same.

With regard to the age of this treatise we have no precise information. All three parts are found in a MS. (M6) which was written in A.D. 1397 (see p. xxix), and nearly the whole is also found in the MS. K20, which may be a few years older (see p. xxvii), and in which the first part of the Shâyast lâ-shâyast is, followed by a Persian colophon dated A.Y. 700 (A.D. 1331), copied probably from an older MS. The text in both these old MSS. seems to have been derived almost direct from the same original, which must have been so old when M6 was written that the copyist found some words illegible (see notes on Chaps. VIII, 19, X, 34, XII, 14, 15, &c.) Now it is known from a colophon that a portion of M6, containing the book of Ardâ-Vîrâf and the tale of Gôst-i Fryânô, was copied from a MS. written in A.D. 1249; and we may safely conclude that the Shâyast lâ-shâyast was copied, either from the same MS., or from one fully as old. So far, therefore, as external evidence goes, there is every reason to suppose that the whole of the Shâyast lâ-shâyast, with its appendix 1, was existing in a MS. written about 630 years ago.

But internal evidence points to a far higher antiquity for the first two parts, as the compilers of those treatises evidently had access, not only to several old commentaries, but also to many of the Nasks, which have long been lost. Thus, the first treatise contains quotations from the commentaries of Afarg, Gôgôsasp, Kûshtanŏ-bûgêd, Mêdôk-mâh, Rôshan, and Sôshyans, which are all frequently quoted in the Pahlavi translation of the Vendidad (see Sls. I, 3, 4, notes); besides mentioning the opinions of Mard-bûd, Nêryôsang, Nôsâî Bûrz-Mitrô, and Vand-Aûharmazd, who are rarely or never mentioned in the Pahlavi Vendidad. It also quotes no less than eleven of the twenty Nasks or books of the complete Mazdayasnian literature which are no longer extant, besides the Vendidad, the only Nask that still survives in the full extent it had in Sasanian times.

p. lxiv

[paragraph continues] The Nasks quoted are the Stûdgar (Sls. X, 8), the Bagh (X, 26), the Dâmdâd (X, 22), the Pâzôn (IX, 9), the Ratûstâîtîh (X, 29), the Kîdrast (X, 28), the Spend (X, 4), the Nihâdûm (X, 3, 22, 23), the Dûbâsrûgêd (X, 13), the Hûspâram (X, 21), and the Sakâdûm (X, 25), very few of which are mentioned even in the Pahlavi Vendidad. The second treatise mentions only one commentator, Vand-Aûharmazd, but it quotes eight of the Nasks no longer extant; these are the Stûdgar (Sls. XII, 32), the Dâmdâd (XII, 5, 15), the Spend (XII, 3, 11, 15, 29), the Bâg-yasnô (XII, 17), the Nihâdûm (XII, 15, 16), the Hûspâram (XII, 1, 7, 14, 31, XIII, 17), the Sakâdûm (XII, 2, 10, 12, XIII, 30), and the Hâdôkht (XII, 19, 30, XIII, 6, 10).

Of two of these Nasks, the Bagh and Hâdôkht, a few fragments may still survive (see notes on Sls. X, 26, Haug's Essays, p. 134, B.Yt. III, 25), but those of the latter Nask do not appear to contain the passages quoted in the Shâyast lâ-shâyast. With regard to the rest we only know that the Dâmdâd, Hûspâram, and Sakâdûm must have been still in existence about A.D. 881, as they are quoted in the writings of Zâd-sparam and Mânûskîhar, sons. of Yûdân-Yim, who lived at that time (see pp. xlii, xlvi); and the Nihâdûm and Hûspâram are also quoted in the Pahlavi Vendidad. It is true that the Dînkard gives copious information about the contents of all the Nasks, with two or three exceptions; and the Dînkard seems to have assumed its present form about A.D. 900 (see Bund. XXXIII, 11, notes); but its last editor was evidently merely a compiler of old fragments, so there is no certainty that many of the Nasks actually existed in his time.

Thus far, therefore, the internal evidence seems to prove that the two treatises called Shâyast lâ-shâyast, which constitute the first two parts of the present translation, are more than a thousand years old. On the other band, they cannot be more than three centuries older, because they frequently quote passages from the Pahlavi Vendidad which, as we have seen (p. xlvi, note 1), could not have assumed its present form before the time of Khûsrô Nôshirvân (A.D. 531-579). As they contain no reference to any

p. lxv

interference of the governing powers with the religion or priesthood, it is probable that they were written before the Muhammadan conquest (A.D. 636-651), although they do not mention the existence of any 'king of the kings,' the usual title of the Sasanian monarchs. And this probability is increased by there being no direct mention of Muhammadanism among the contemporary religions named in Chap. VI, 7, unless we assume that passage to be a quotation from an earlier book. We may, therefore, conclude, with tolerable certainty, that the Pahlavi text of the first two parts of the present translation of the Shâyast lâ-shâyast was compiled some time in the seventh century; but, like the Bundahis and Bahman Yast, it was, for the most part, a compilation of extracts and translations from far older writings, and may also have been rearranged shortly after the Muhammadan conquest.

The fragments which are collected in the appendix, or third part of the present translation, are probably of various ages, and several of them may not be more than seven centuries old. The commentator Bakht-âfrîd, whose work (now lost) is quoted in Chap. XX, 11, may have lived in the time of Khûsrô Nôshirvân (see B.Yt. I, 7). And Chap. XXI must certainly have been written in Persia, as the lengths of noonday shadows which it mentions are only suitable for 32° north latitude. As regards the last two chapters we have no evidence that they are quite five centuries old.

For the Pahlavi text of the Shâyast lâ-shâyast and its appendix we have not only the very old codex M6 (see p. xxix) for the whole of it, but also the equally old codex K20 (see p. xxvii) for all but Chaps. XV-XVII, XX, XXII, and XXIII in the appendix. In M6 the first two parts are separated by twenty folios, containing the Farhang-i Oîm-khadûk, and the second part is separated from the first three chapters of the appendix by four folios, containing the Patit-i Khûd; the next three chapters of the appendix are from the latter end of the second volume of M6, Chap, XXI is from the middle of the same, and the last two chapters are from some additional folios at the beginning of the

p. lxvi

first volume. In K20 the first two parts are separated by ninety-two folios, containing the Farhang-i Oîm-khadûk, Bundahis, Bahman Yast, and several other Pahlavi and Avesta texts; Chap. XVIII precedes the first part, Chap. XIX precedes the second part, and Chap. XXI is in an earlier part of the MS.

Derived from K20 are the two modern copies P7 and K21 (see p. xxviii). Derived from M6 are the modern copy of the first two parts in M9 (No. 9 of the Haug collection in the State Library at Munich), a copy of Chaps. XIV, XV in L15 (No. 15 of the collection of Avesta and Pahlavi MSS. in the India Office Library at London), a copy of Chap. XX, 4-17 in O121 (No. 121 of the Ouseley collection in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, see p. xxx), and a copy of Chap. XVIII in Dastûr Jâmâspji's MS. of the Bundahis at Bombay. While an independent Pahlavi Version of Chap. XXIII occurs in a very old codex in the library of the high-priest of the Parsis at Bombay, which version has been used for the text of the present translation, because that chapter is incomplete in M6.

Pâzand versions of some of the chapters, chiefly in the appendix, are to be found in some MSS., but all derived apparently from M6. Thus, in the Pâzand MSS. L7 and L22 (Nos. 7 and 22 in the India Office Library at London, see p. xxxi), written in Avesta characters, Chaps. XVIII, XX, XV follow the last chapter of the Bundahis, and Chap. XIV occurs a few folios further on. And in the Pâzand MS. M7 (No. 7 of the Haug collection in the State Library at Munich), written in Persian characters, the following detached passages occur in a miscellaneous collection of extracts (fols. 126-133):—Chaps. XX, 14-16, X, 18, 19, IX, 9, 10, XX, 12, 13, 4, 5, VIII, 2, 4-14, XX, 11. A Persian version of Chap. XVIII also occurs in M5 (No. 5 of the same collection) on fol. 54.

It does not appear that the Shâyast lâ-shâyast has ever been hitherto translated into any European language 1, nor

p. lxvii

is any Persian or Gugarâti translation of it known to the present translator, though a good deal of the matter it contains may be found in the Persian Rivâyats, but generally given in a different form. Owing to the technical character of the treatise, it is hazardous for any one but a Parsi priest to attempt to translate it, so that errors will, no doubt, be apparent to the initiated in the present translation. At the same time it must not be forgotten that the laws and customs mentioned in the text were those current in Persia twelve centuries ago, which may be expected to differ, in many details, from those of the Parsis in India at the present day. This is a consideration which a Parsi translator might be too apt to ignore; so that his thorough knowledge of present customs, though invaluable for the decipherment of ambiguous phrases, might lead him astray when dealing with clear statements of customs and rules now obsolete and, therefore, at variance with his preconceived ideas of propriety.


lix:1 But perhaps before the compilation of the prose Sad-dar Bundahis, or Bundahis of a hundred chapters, which seems to refer to the Shâyast lâ-shâyast p. lx in its opening words, as follows:—'This book is on "the proper and improper" which is brought out from the good, pure religion of the Mazdayasnians;' though this term may possibly relate to its own contents. There is also a Persian treatise called Shâyast na-shâyast, which gives a good deal of information obtained from the Persian Rivâyats, and copies of which are contained in the MSS. Nos. 56 and 116 of the Ouseley collection in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

lxiii:1 Except Chaps, XXII, XXIII (see the note on the heading of Chap. XXII).

lxvi:1 Except Chap. XVIII, which was translated into German by Justi, as the last chapter of his translation of the Bundahis (see p. xxvi).

Next: 7. Concluding Remarks