Ahura Mazda

Ahura Mazda
Mobed (right, with high crown) invests Ardashir I (left) with the ring of kingship. (Naqsh-e Rustam, 3rd c. CE)

Ahura Mazdā (also known as Ohrmazd, Ahuramazda, Hourmazd, Hormazd, Hurmuz, Aramazd and Azzandara) is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism. Ahura Mazda is described as the highest deity of worship in Zoroastrianism, along with being the first and most frequently invoked deity in the Yasna. The word Ahura means light and Mazda means wisdom. Thus Ahura Mazda is the lord of light and wisdom. Ahura Mazda is the creator and upholder of Arta (truth). Ahura Mazda is an omniscient, and an omnipotent god, who would eventually destroy evil. Ahura Mazda's counterpart is Angra Mainyu, the "evil spirit" and the creator of evil who will be destroyed before frashokereti (the destruction of evil).

Ahura Mazda first appeared in the Achaemenid period under Darius I's Behistun Inscription. Until Artaxerxes II, Ahura Mazda was worshiped and invoked alone. With Artaxerxes II, Ahura Mazda was invoked in a triad, with Mithra and Apam Napat. In the Achaemenid period, there are no representations of Ahura Mazda other than the custom for every emperor to have an empty chariot drawn by white horses, to invite Ahura Mazda to accompany the Persian army on battles. Images of Ahura Mazda began in the Parthian period, but were stopped and replaced with stone carved figures in the Sassanid period.



"Mazda", or rather the Avestan stem-form Mazdā-, nominative Mazdå, reflects Proto-Iranian *Mazdāh (female). It is generally taken to be the proper name of the deity, and like its Sanskrit cognate medhā, means "intelligence" or "wisdom". Both the Avestan and Sanskrit words reflect Proto-Indo-Iranian *mazdhā-, from Proto-Indo-European *mn̩sdʰeh1, literally meaning "placing (*dʰeh1) one's mind (*mn̩-s)", hence "wise".[1]

"Ahura" was originally an adjective meaning ahuric, characterizing a specific Indo-Iranian entity named *asura.[2][3][4] Although traces of this figure are still evident in the oldest texts of both India and Iran,[5] in both cultures the word eventually appears as the epithet of other divinities.

Previously, the transliteration Ahuramazda (Old Persian) was used during the Achaemenid era, Hormazd/Aramazd (Pahlavi) during the Parthian era and Ohrmazd (New Persian Hormoz) was used during the Sassanian era.[6]


Even though Ahura Mazda was a deity in the Old Iranian religion, he had not yet been given the title of "uncreated God". This title was given by Zoroaster who proclaimed Ahura Mazda as the uncreated God, wholly wise, benevolent and good, as well as the creator and upholder of Arta ("truth"). As Ahura Mazda is described as the creator and upholder of Arta, he is a supporter and guardian of justice, and the friend of the just man. Zoroaster stated that Ahura Mazda was not an omnipotent God, but one that could destroy evil eventually. While Ahura Mazda was not omnipotent, Zoroaster stated that Ahura Mazda was still omniscient.[1]

Zoroaster also spoke of a rival to Ahura Mazda, who was similarly uncreated. This rival was the evil spirit, Angra Mainyu. One of Ahura Mazda's objectives is to destroy Angra Mainyu and create a universe which is completely good. To achieve such a universe, Ahura Mazda initially offered Angra Mainyu peace, which Angra Mainyu refused. Ahura Mazda then set out to establish a spiritual army. One of his first acts was the creation of the seven Amesha Spentas, who were spirits to monitor and protect each of the seven creations.[1]

Zoroaster's revelation

At the age of 30, Zoroaster received a revelation. While Zoroaster was fetching water from dawn for a sacred ritual, he saw the shining figure of the yazata, Vohu Manah who led Zoroaster to the presence of Ahura Mazda, where he was taught the cardinal principles of the Good Religion. As a result of this vision, Zoroaster felt that he was chosen to spread and preach the religion.[7] The Old Iranian Religion worshiped many gods called daevas, along with three greater gods, each bearing the title Ahura. Zoroaster proclaimed that only one of these three gods, Ahura Mazda was the sole uncreated creator of the universe. He stated that this source of all goodness was the only Ahura worthy of the highest worship. He further stated that Ahura Mazda created spirits known as yazatas to aid him, who also merited devotion. Zoroaster proclaimed that all of the Iranian daevas were demons and deserved no worship. These demons were created by Angra Mainyu, the hostile spirit. The existence of Angra Mainyu was the source of all sin and misery in the universe. Zoroaster claimed that Ahura Mazda was not an omnipotent God, but used the aid of humans in the cosmic struggle against Angra Mainyu. Nonetheless, Ahura Mazda is Angra Mainyu's superior, not his equal. Angra Mainyu and his daevas which attempt to afflict humans away from the path of righteousness (Asha) would eventually be destroyed.[8]


Achaemenid Empire

The Behistun Inscription contains many references to Ahura Mazda.

Whether the Achaemenids were Zoroastrians is a matter of much debate. However, it is known that the Achaemenids were worshipers of Ahura Mazda.[9] The representation and invocation of Ahura Mazda can be seen on royal inscriptions written by Achaemenid kings. The most notable of all the inscriptions is the Behistun Inscription written by Darius I which contain many references to Ahura Mazda. Beginning from Darius' reign until Artaxerxes II, Ahura Mazda is invoked alone. Under the reign of Artaxerxes II, royal inscriptions stopped the sole invocation of Ahura Mazda and began invoking a triad of divinities, Ahura Mazda, Mithra, and Anahita. An inscription written in Greek was found in a late Achaemenid temple at Persepolis which invoked Ahura Mazda and two other divinities, most likely Mithra and Anahita. On the Elamite Persepolis Fortification Tablet 377, Ahura Mazda is invoked along with Mithra and Voruna (Apam Napat). Artaxerxes III makes this invocation to the three divinities again in his reign.

The early Achaemind period contained no representation of Ahura Mazda. The winged symbol with a male figure who was formerly regarded by European scholars as Ahura Mazda has been shown to represent the royal xvarənah, the personification of royal power and glory. However, it was customary for every emperor from Cyrus until Darius III to have an empty chariot drawn by white horses to accompany the Persian army on battles. The use of images of Ahura Mazda began in the western satraps of the Achaemenid Empire in the late 5th century BCE. Under Artaxerxes II, the first literary reference as well as a statue of Ahura Mazda was built by a Persian governor of Lydia in 365 BCE.[10]

Parthian Empire

It is known that the reverence for Ahura Mazda, as well as Anahita and Mithra continued with the same traditions during this period. The worship of Ahura Mazda with images is noticed, but it stopped with the beginning of the Sassanid period. Zoroastrian iconoclasm, which can be traced to the end of the Parthian period and the beginning of the Sassanid, eventually put an end to the use of all images of Ahura Mazda in worship. However, Ahura Mazda remained a dignified male figure, standing or on horseback which is found in Sassanian investiture.[10]

Sassanid Empire

Investiture scene: Anahita on the left as the patron yazata of the Sassanian dynasty behind Emperor Khosrau Parviz with Ahura Mazda presenting the diadem of sovereignty on the right. Taq-e Bostan, Iran.
Investiture of Sassanid emperor Shapur II (center) with Mithra (left) and Ahura Mazda (right) at Taq-e Bostan, Iran.

During the Sassanid Empire, a heretical[11][12][13] form of Zoroastrianism, termed Zurvanism, emerged. It gained adherents throughout the Sassanid Empire, most notably the royal lineage of Sassanian emperors. Under the reign of Shapur I, Zurvanism spread and became a widespread cult. Zurvanism revokes Zoroaster's original message of Ahura Mazda as the uncreated God, and the "uncreated creator" of all, and reduces him to a created deity, one of two twin sons of Zurvan, their father and the primary deity. Zurvanism also makes Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu of equal strength and only contrasting divinities.

Other than Zurvanism, the Sassanian kings demonstrated their devotion to Ahura Mazda in other fashions. Five kings took the name Hormizd and Bahram II created the title of "Ohrmazd-mowbad" which was continued after the fall of the Sassanid Empire and through the Islamic times. All devotional acts in Zoroastrianism originating from the Sassanian period begin with homage to Ahura Mazda. The five Gāhs begin with the declaration in Middle Persian, that "Ohrmazd is Lord" and incorporate the Gathic verse "Whom, Mazda hast thou appointed my protector". Zoroastrian prayers are to be said the presence of light, either in the form of fire or the sun. In the Iranian dialects of Yidḡa and Munǰī, the sun is still called "ormozd".[10]

Present-day Zoroastrianism

In 1884, Martin Haug proposed a new interpretation of Yasna 30.3 that subsequently influenced Zoroastrian doctrine to a significant extent. According to Haug's interpretation, the "twin spirits" of 30.3 were Angra Mainyu and Spenta Mainyu, the former being literally the "Destructive Spirit"[n 1] and the latter being the 'Bounteous Spirit' (of Mazda). Further, in Haug's scheme Angra Mainyu was now not Ahura Mazda's binary opposite, but—like Spenta Mainyu—an emanation of Him. Haug also interpreted the concept of a free will of Yasna 45.9 as an accommodation to explain where Angra Mainyu came from since Ahura Mazda created only good. The free will made it possible for Angra Mainyu to choose to be evil. Although these latter conclusions were not substantiated by Zoroastrian tradition,[1] at the time Haug's interpretation was gratefully accepted by the Parsis of Bombay since it provided a defense against Christian missionary rhetoric,[n 2] particularly the attacks on the Zoroastrian idea of an uncreated Evil that was as uncreated as God was. Following Haug, the Bombay Parsis began to defend themselves in the English language press; the argument being that Angra Mainyu was not Mazda's binary opposite, but his subordinate, who—as in Zurvanism also—chose to be evil. Consequently, Haug's theories were disseminated as a Parsi interpretation, also in the West, where they appeared to be corroborating Haug. Reinforcing themselves, Haug's ideas came to be iterated so often that they are today almost universally accepted as doctrine.[10][14][n 3]

In other religions

In Manichaeism, the name Ohrmazd Bay ("god Ahura Mazda") was used for the primal figure Nāšā Qaḏmāyā, the "original man" and emanation of the Father of Greatness (in Manicheism called Zurvan) through whom after he sacrificed himself to defend the world of light was consumed by the forces of darkness. Although Ormuzd is freed from the world of darkness his "sons", often called his garments or weapons, remain. His sons, later known as the World Soul after a series of events will for the most part escape from matter and return again to the world of light where they came from. Manicheans often identified many of Mani's cosmological figures with Zoroastrian ones. This may be in part because Mani was born in the greatly Zoroastrian Parthian Empire. However another reason for why this may be is that, in Manichaeism, the religions of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Buddhism were in fact deviations of the true religion that Mani taught and in a way they were the same religion, hence making it easier to identify the cosmological figures of Mani with the cosmological figures of Zoroastrianism.[15]

In Sogdian Buddhism, Xwrmztʼ (Sogdian was written without a consistent representation of vowels) was the name used in place of Ahura Mazda.[16][17] Via contacts with Turkic peoples like the Uyghurs, this Sogdian name came to the Mongols, who still name this deity Qormusta Tengri; Qormusta (or Qormusda) is now a popular enough deity to appear in many contexts that are not explicitly Buddhist.[18]

The Urartians had Aramazd as principal deity in their panthoen of gods. He is thought to be a syncretic deity, a combination of the autochthonous Urartian figure Ara and the Iranic Ahura Mazda.


  1. ^ For an explanation of the approximation of mainyu as "spirit", see Angra Mainyu.
  2. ^ Most prominent of these voices was that of the Scottish Presbyterian minister Dr. John Wilson, whose church was next door to the K. R. Cama Athornan Institute, the premier school for Zoroastrian priests. That the opinions of the Zoroastrian priesthood is barely represented in the debates that ensued was to some extent due to the fact that the priesthood spoke Gujarati and not English, but also because they were (at the time) poorly equipped to debate with a classically-trained theologian on his footing. Wilson had even taught himself Avestan.
  3. ^ For a scholastic review of the theological developments in Indian Zoroastrianism, particularly with respect to the devaluation of Angra Mainyu to a position where the (epitome of) pure evil became viewed as a creation of Mazda (and so compromised their figure of pure good), see Maneck 1997


  1. ^ a b c d Boyce 1983, p. 685.
  2. ^ Thieme 1960, p. 308.
  3. ^ Gershevitch 1964, p. 23.
  4. ^ Kuiper 1983, p. 682.
  5. ^ Thieme 1960, pp. 308–309.
  6. ^ Boyce 1985, p. 685.
  7. ^ Nigosian 1993, p. 12.
  8. ^ Andrea 2000, p. 86.
  9. ^ Bromiley 1995, p. 126.
  10. ^ a b c d Boyce 1983, p. 686.
  11. ^ Corduan 1998, p. 123.
  12. ^ King 2005, p. 314.
  13. ^ Whitrow 2003, p. 8.
  14. ^ Maneck 1997, pp. 182ff.
  15. ^ Joseph 2007, p. 172.
  16. ^ Unknown 1999, p. 429.
  17. ^ Frye 1996, p. 247.
  18. ^ Sims-Williams 1992, p. 44.


Further reading

  • Ahuramazda and Zoroastrianism
  • Dhalla, Maneckji Nusservanji (1938), History of Zoroastrianism, New York: OUP, ISBN 0404128068 
  • Boyce, Mary (2001), "Mithra the King and Varuna the Master", Festschrift für Helmut Humbach zum 80., Trier: WWT, pp. 239–257 
  • Humbach, Helmut (1991), The Gathas of Zarathushtra and the other Old Avestan texts, Heidelberg: Winter, ISBN 3533044734 
  • Kent, Roland G. (1945), "Old Persian Texts", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 4 (4): 228–233, doi:10.1086/370756 
  • Kuiper, Bernardus Franciscus Jacobus (1983), "Ahura", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 1, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 682–683 
  • Kuiper, Bernardus Franciscus Jacobus (1976), "Ahura Mazdā 'Lord Wisdom'?", Indo-Iranian Journal 18 (1-2): 25–42 
  • Ware, James R.; Kent, Roland G. (1924), "The Old Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 55: 52–61, doi:10.2307/283007, JSTOR 283007 
  • Kent, Roland G. (1950), Old Persian: Grammar, texts, lexicon, New Haven: American Oriental Society, ISBN 0940490331 
  • Andrea, Alfred; James H. Overfield (2000), The Human Record: Sources of Global History : To 1700, 4 (Illustrated ed.), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 9780618042456, http://books.google.com/?id=tiz6jbjgSjEC&pg=PA87&dq=ahura+mazda&cd=15#v=onepage&q= 
  • Schlerath, Bernfried (1983), "Ahurānī", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 1, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 683–684 

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