A 17th-century Iranian copy of the Zoroastrian manual for the Yasna ritual.
What is the Yasna sādah?
The Yasna sādah, or ‘pure’ Yasna (the simple text of the Yasna ritual without any commentary) is made up of seventy-two chapters composed at different times and by different authors. They include the five sections consisting of seventeen hymns which are believed to have been composed by Zoroaster himself. The daily Yasna ceremony is the most important of all the Zoroastrian rituals, and priests today are still required to learn and recite it by heart.
The Yasna sādah is composed in Avestan (an ancient Iranian language) and is written in an alphabet created toward the end of the Sasanian dynasty in Iran (c. 224–651 CE) especially for the purpose of recording the Avesta or Zoroastrian sacred literature exactly as it was recited.
On the creation of the universe
Folios 96–97, on view here, contain the end of Yasna 43 and the beginning of Yasna 44. Arguably one of the most poetic sections of the whole Avesta or Zoroastrian sacred literature, this passage consists of rhetorical questions posed to the supreme god Ahura Mazda about the creation of the universe, such as who established the path of the sun and the stars, who made the moon wax and wane, and who holds the earth down below and prevents the clouds from falling down? The implied answer, of course, is that Ahura Mazda has created all this.
Why is this manuscript important?
It is the earliest Zoroastrian manuscript to have been brought to the west. It was acquired by the politician and art collector Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel (1586–1646), possibly from India via his friend Sir Thomas Roe, ambassador to the Mughal court (1615–19). Roe had been a personal friend of the lexicographer Jamal al-Din Inju, whose Zoroastrian assistant, Ardashir Nushirvan, had been invited from Iran by the Mughal emperor Akbar; it is possible that he brought the manuscript with him from Iran to India.