An esoteric work by the philosopher and religious leader Azar Kayvan (1533–1618).

The work

The Dasātīr-i āsmānī (‘celestial rules’) are perhaps the most enigmatic texts of the movement founded by Azar Kayvan, who emigrated with his disciples from Safavid Iran in the 1570s and settled in Mughal India at the invitation of the emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605). The Azar Kayvanis propounded a neo-Zoroastrian world-view that sought to reconcile the pre-Islamic past with Islamic philosophy, particularly millenarian and illuminationist ideas. . The Dasātīr-i āsmānī consists of invocations to a series of pre-Islamic prophets, composed in a special celestial (āsmānī) language. This language doesn’t resemble any other known language – but includes elements of Persian, Arabic, Avestan, Turkish and Hindi. The work supposedly dates from antiquity but is generally considered to be by Azar Kayvan himself, though parts are in fact translations of older texts, including prayers to the seven planets, originally composed in Arabic by al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191). The hymns are accompanied by a Persian translation and commentary reputedly by the fifth Sasan, who is alleged to have lived under the Sasanian ruler Khusraw Parvez (r. 590–628 CE).

This manuscript

This manuscript dates from, at the latest, the early 18th century (the seal of a former owner is dated 1138/1725–26) which makes it the oldest known copy of the work. This opening shows the beginning of the work (ff. 1v–2r, digitised images 1–2). The fully vocalised ‘celestial’ language is overlined in red and followed by a Persian paraphrase and commentary. The volume includes not only the Dasātīr, but Avestan and Pazand hymns to the sun (ff. 51v–52r, digitised images 3–4) and to Gushtasp transcribed into Persian script with an interlinear Persian translation.

Why is this work important?

These unique works testify to the multilingual nature of the ‘celestial’ language. Considered by the 18th-century English orientalist Sir William Jones as a sacred text, equal in importance to the Avesta, the dasātīr was subsequently declared a fabrication and forgery. The reality is that it represents a genuine 17th century branch of esoteric philosophy. The connection between the invocations of the dasātīr and Zoroastrianism as we know it may seem tenuous, but the fact that they appear, uniquely in this volume, juxtaposed with Avestan hymns not only proves a close connection but is tangible evidence for a knowledge of the Avestan language in Azar Kayvan’s circle.