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The Vendidad or Videvdat is a collection of texts within the greater compendium of the Avesta. However, unlike the other texts of the Avesta, the Vendidad is an ecclesiastical code, not a liturgical manual.

Contents

Name

The name of the texts is a contraction of the Avestan language Vî-Daêvô-Dāta, "Given Against the Daevas (Demons)", and as the name suggests, the Vendidad is an enumeration of various manifestations of evil spirits, and ways to confound them. According to the divisions of the Avesta as described in the Denkard, a 9th century text, the Vendidad includes all of the 19th nask, which is then the only nask that has survived in its entirety.

Contents

The Vendidad's different parts vary widely in character and in age. Although some portions are relatively recent in origin, the subject matter of the greater part is very old. In 1877, Karl Friedrich Geldner identified the texts as being linguistically distinct from both the Old Avestan language texts and well as from the Yashts of the younger Avesta. Today, the Vendidad is classified as an "artificial" Younger Avestan text, that is, its language attempts to mimic Old Avestan. In its extant form, the Vendidad is considered to be a Magi (or Magi-influenced) composition.[1] It has also been suggested that the Vendidad belongs to a particular liturgical school, but "no linguistic or textual argument allows us to attain any degree of certainty in these matters."[2]

The Vendidad consists of 22 fargards or chapters containing fragments arranged as discussions between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster. In the past, among Zoroastrians themselves, this literary technique caused the Vendidad to be mistaken for a composition by one of the prophet's contemporaries.

The first chapter is a dualistic creation myth, followed by the description of a destructive winter comparable with the great floods of various other mythologies. The second chapter recounts the legend of Yima (Jamshid). Chapter 19 relates the temptation of Zoroaster, who, when urged by Angra Mainyu to turn from the good religion, turns instead towards Ahura Mazda. The remaining chapters cover diverse rules and regulations, through the adherence of which evil spirits may be confounded. Broken down by subject, these fargards deal with the following topics (chapter(s) where a topic is covered are in brackets):

  • hygiene (in particular care of the dead) [3,5,6,7,8,16,17,19] and cleansing [9,10];
  • disease, its origin, and spells against it [7,10,11,13,20,21,22];
  • mourning for the dead [12], the Towers of Silence [6], and the remuneration of deeds after death [19];
  • the sanctity of, and invocations to, Atar (fire) [8], Zam (earth) [3,6], Apas (water) [6,8,21] and the light of the stars [21];
  • the dignity of wealth and charity [4], of marriage [4,15] and of physical effort [4]
  • statutes on unacceptable social behaviour [15] such as breach of contract [4] and assault [4];
  • on the worthiness of priests [18];
  • praise and care of the bull [21], the dog [13,15], the otter [14], the Sraosha bird [18], and the Haoma tree [6].

There is a degree of moral relativism apparent in the Vendidad, and the diverse rules and regulations are not always expressed as being absolute, universal and mandatory. In some instances, the description of prescribed behaviour is accompanied by a description of the penances that have to be made to atone for violations thereof. Such penances include:

  • payment in cash or kind to the aggrieved;
  • corporal punishment such as whipping;
  • repeated recitations of certain parts of the liturgy such as the Ahuna Vairya invocation.

Value of the Vendidad among Zoroastrians

Many Zoroastrians reject the later writings in the Avesta as being corruptions of Zarathustra's original teachings and thus do not consider the Vendidad as an original Zoroastrian scripture because it was written near 1000 years after the death of Zarathustra. The writing differs totally from the other parts of the Avesta. [1] [2]

An article by Hannah M.G. Shapero Ushtavaiti sums up the situation:

"How do Zoroastrians view the Vendidad today? And how many of the laws of the Vendidad are still followed? This depends, as so many other Zoroastrian beliefs and practices do, on whether you are a "reformist" or a "traditionalist." The reformists, following the Gathas as their prime guide, judge the Vendidad harshly as being a deviation from the non-prescriptive, abstract teachings of the Gathas. For them, few if any of the laws or practices in the Vendidad are either in the spirit or the letter of the Gathas, and so they are not to be followed. The reformists prefer to regard the Vendidad as a document which has no religious value but is only of historic or anthropological interest. Many Zoroastrians, in Iran, India, and the world diaspora, inspired by reformists, have chosen to dispense with the Vendidad prescriptions entirely or only to follow those which they believe are not against the original spirit of the Gathas." [3]

Liturgical use

Although the Vendidad is not a liturgical manual, a section of it may be recited as part of a greater Yasna service. Although such extended Yasnas appears to have been frequently performed in the mid-1700s (as noted in Anquetil-Duperron's observations), it is very rarely performed at the present-day. In such an extended service, Visparad 12 and Vendidad 1-4 are inserted between Yasna 27 and 28. The Vendidad ceremony is always performed between nightfall and dawn, though a normal Yasna is performed between dawn and noon.

The Vendidad may also be recited on its own, not accompanied by any ritual activity: this ceremony is known as the Vendidad Sadé.

Because of its length and complexity, the Vendidad is read, rather than recalled from memory as is otherwise necessary for the Yasna texts. The recitation of the Vendidad requires a priest of higher rank (one with a moti khub) than is normally necessary for the recitation of the Yasna.

Bibliography

  1. ^ Zaehner, Richard Charles (1961). The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism. New York: Putnam.   p. 160ff.
    Portions of the book are available online.
  2. ^ Kellens, Jean (1989). "Avesta". Encyclopedia Iranica. 3. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 35–44.   p. 35

Further reading

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

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Etymology

From Avestan 𐬬𐬍𐬛𐬀𐬉𐬬𐬋𐬛𐬁𐬙𐬀 (Vī-Daēvō-Dāta), Given Against the Demons).

Proper noun

Singular
Vendidad

Plural
-

Vendidad

  1. (Zoroastrianism) A collection of texts within the greater compendium of the Avesta. By content, an enumeration of various manifestations of evil spirits, and ways to confound them.

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