अहम् दारयवहुः क्षत्रियः वज्रकः क्षत्रियः क्षत्रियाणां क्षत्रियः
पार्सो क्षत्रियः दस्यूनाम विश्तास्पस्य पुत्रः अर्शामस्य नप्ता हखामनीशियह

Thus opens a slightly modified transcription of one of the most famous inscriptions of ancient world. The original transcription into English and the translation reads thus.

adam Dârayavauš xšâyathiya vazraka xšâyathiya xšâyathiyânâm xšâyathiya
Pârsaiy xšâyathiya dahyûnâm Vištâspahyâ puça Aršâmahyâ napâ Haxâmanišiya

By now, you would have identified what this inscription is. These are the opening lines of the famous Behistun Inscription which translates as

I am Darius, the great king, king of kings,
the king of Persia, the king of countries, the son of Hystaspes,
the grandson of Arsames, the Achaemenid.

Further on, Cambyses is transcribed as Kambujiya and Cyrus as Kuru – the rendering is both an interesting as well as instructive read.

It would come as a surprise for one to notice such close a reading between the Old Persian original and it’s Sanskrit transcription prepared by a famous Parsi scholar of yesteryears, Shapurji Kavasji Hodivala(1870-1931).

Now, a few more examples on the same line, from a historum forum.

berezañtem ahurem xshathrîm xshaêtem apãm napâtem aurvat-aspem ýazamaide
Brhantam asuram kshatram kshetam apam naptam arvaNAshvam yajAmahe
Yasna 19.52.1

ýasca mê aêtahmi anghvô ýat astvaiñti spitama zarathushtra bakhãm ahunahe vairyehe marât frâ-vâ manô
ýasca mê etasmi Asuvo ýat astivant(i) pitamaha Zarathustra Bagham vairyehe martya prava mano
Yasna 19.6

âat mraot ahurô mazdå, bakha aêsha âs ahunahe vairyehe spitama zarathushtra ýat tê frâvaocem
e tat bravat mazdå bagha esha vairyehe pitamaha zarathushtra yat te pravacham
Yasna 19.3

Looking at this, it comes as no surprise when you notice that Cuneiform can also be used to transcribe Sanskrit.

Now, where does this lead to? Is Old Persian a different language altogether or a just another Prakrit or is it Sanskrit itself?

Writes Dr. Shivsankar Sastry in a blog post,

In the late 1700s a man called Anquetil du Perron came to India and lived for a few months with Parsi priests in Surat, who taught him what they knew of Zoroastrian chants (gathas) and rituals. Perron also collected some Zoroastrian texts and returned to Europe where he wrote a book in French called “Zend Avesta – Ouvrage du Zoroaster” meaning “Zend Avesta – the work of Zoroaster”. Perron’s work was initially dismissed but 60 years later it was validated and corrected by a man called Eugene Burnouf. To make the corrections Burnouf used a 13th century Sanskrit book by an Indian called Neryosangh Dhaval. That book was a Sanskrit translation of a Pahlavi language version of Zoroastrian holy texts. So whatever is written about the 3000 plus year old “Zend Avesta” is derived from verbal accounts of 17th century Parsi scholars, contemporary texts and a 13th century book that was written in Pahlavi language and translated to Sanskrit. A 3000 year gap between the original language and the translation does not inspire confidence about the linguistic theories regarding the identity of the original Zoroastrian language.

And then, he says,

The “sound changes” indicating differences in pronunciation between the Zoroastrian holy texts and the Vedas – such as Vedic “soma” being Zoroastrian “haoma” cannot irrefutably indicate a separate people and separate geography

Now, what does all this mean? Is Old Persian/Avestan a completely different language or an informal version of Sanskrit just like the standard Prakrit or Pali? Or is it possible that the Gathas were really in Sanskrit but the language drifted off by the times of Achaemenids? And if the linguistic affinity is that close, what can be said of the cultural affinity, fully knowing that Zoroastrianism is a just another rebel strain of Hinduism like Buddhism or Jainism?

References:

  1. Cuneiform Inscriptions Transcribed Into Sanskrit And Avesta – Shapurji Kavasji Hodivala
  2. There Never Was A Language Called Avestan – Shivsankar Sastry

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