Ahura Mazda is the Avestan name for the creator and sole God of Zoroastrianism, the old Iranian religion that spread across the Middle East predating Judaism, before ultimately being relegated to small minorities after the Muslim conquest of Iran. Ahura Mazda is described as the highest spirit of worship in Zoroastrianism, along with being the first and most frequently invoked spirit in the Yasna. The literal meaning of the word Ahura is “mighty” or “lord”, and Mazda is “wisdom”.
Ahura Mazda first appeared in the Achaemenid period (c. 550 – 330 BCE) under Darius I’s Behistun Inscription. Until Artaxerxes II (405–04 to 359–58 BCE), Ahura Mazda was worshipped and invoked alone. With Artaxerxes II, Ahura Mazda was invoked in a triad, with Mithra and Anahita. 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 (a feminine noun). It is generally taken to be the proper name of the spirit, and like its Sanskrit cognate medhās, 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”.
The name was rendered as Ahuramazda (Old Persian) during the Achaemenid era, Hormazd during the Parthian era, and Ohrmazdwas used during the Sassanian era.
The name may be attested on cuneiform tablets of Assyrian Assurbanipal, in the form Assara Mazaš, though this interpretation is very controversial.
Even though Ahura Mazda was a spirit in the Old Iranian religion, he had not yet been given the title of “uncreated spirit”. This title was given by Zoroaster, who proclaimed Ahura Mazda as the uncreated spirit, wholly wise, benevolent and good, as well as the creator and upholder of Asha (“truth”).
At the age of 30, Zoroaster received a revelation: while fetching water at 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” later known as Zoroastrianism. As a result of this vision, Zoroaster felt that he was chosen to spread and preach the religion. 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 bad spirits and deserved no worship. These “bad” spirits were created by Angra Mainyu, the hostile and evil 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 (destroyers), which attempt to attract humans away from the path of righteousness (asha), would eventually be destroyed.
Whether the Achaemenids were Zoroastrians is a matter of much debate. However, it is known that the Achaemenids were worshipers of Ahura Mazda. 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 contains many references to Ahura Mazda. An inscription written in Greek was found in a late Achaemenid temple at Persepolis which invoked Ahura Mazda and two other spirits, most likely Mithra and Anahita. On the Elamite Persepolis Fortification Tablet 377, Ahura Mazda is invoked along with Mithra and Voruna (Apam Napat, probably vedic Varuna, “water-god”). Artaxerxes III makes this invocation to the three spirits 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 as a place for Ahura Mazda 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.
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 symbolic 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 symbolized by a dignified male figure, standing or on horseback which is found in Sassanian investiture.
During the Sassanid Empire, a heretical 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 spirit, and the “uncreated creator” of all, and reduces him to a created spirit, one of two twin sons of Zurvan, their father and the primary spirit. Zurvanism also makes Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu of equal strength and only contrasting spirits.
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 Empireand 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 in 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“.
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” 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, at the time Haug’s interpretation was gratefully accepted by the Parsis of Bombay since it provided a defense against Christian missionary rhetoric, 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.
Some scholars (Kuiper. IIJ I, 1957; Zimmer. Münchner Studien 1984:187–215) believe that Ahura Mazda originates from *vouruna-mitra, or Vedic Varuna (and Mitra). According to William W Malandra both Varuna (in Vedic period) and Ahura Mazda (in old Iranian religion) represented same Indo-Iranian concept of a supreme “wise, all-knowing lord”.
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.
In Sogdian Buddhism, Xwrmztʼ (Sogdian was written without a consistent representation of vowels) was the name used in place of Ahura Mazda. Via contacts with Turkic peoples like the Uyghurs, this Sogdian name came to the Mongols, who still name this deity Qormusta Tengri (Also Qormusta or Qormusda) is now a popular enough deity to appear in many contexts that are not explicitly Buddhist.
The pre-Christian Armenians had Aramazd as an important deity in their pantheon of gods. He is thought to be a syncretic deity, a combination of the autochthonous Urartian figure Ara and the Iranian Ahura Mazda. In modern-day Armenia, Aramazd is a male first name.
- yazat (“Worthy of worship.”)
- harvasp-tavãn (“Omnipotent.”)
- harvasp-âgâh (“Omniscient.”)
- harvasp-h’udhâ (“The Lord of all.”)
- abadah (“Without beginning.”)
- awî-añjâm (“Without end.”)
- bûnastah (“The origin of the formation of the world.”)
- frâxtañtah (“Broad end of all.”)
- jamakh (“Greatest cause.”)
- parjahtarah (“More exalted.”)
- tum-afayah (“Most innocent.”)
- abravañt (“Apart from everyone.”)
- parvañdah (“Relation with all.”)
- an-ayâfah (“Incomprehensible by anyone.”)
- ham-ayâfah (“Comprehensible of all.”)
- âdharô (“Most straight, most just.”)
- gîrâ (“Holding fast all.”)
- acim (“Without reason.”)
- cimnâ (“Reason of reasons.”)
- safinâ (“Increaser.”)
- âwzâ (“Causer of increase. The Lord of purity”)
- nâshâ (“Reaching all equally.”)
- parvarâ (“Nourisher.”)
- âyânah (“Protector of the world.”)
- âyaîn-âyânah (“Not of various kinds.”)
- an-âyanah (“Without form.”)
- xraoshît-tum (“Firmest.”)
- mînôtum (“Most invisible.”)
- vâsnâ (“Omnipresent.”)
- harvastum (“All in all.”)
- husipâs (“Worthy of thanks.”)
- har-hemît (“All good-natured.”)
- harnekfareh (“All good auspicious-glory.”)
- beshtarnâ (“Remover of affliction.”)
- tarônîs (“The triumphant.”)
- anaoshak (“Immortal.”)
- farashak (“Fulfiller of wishes.”)
- pazohadhad (“Creator of good nature.”)
- xavâpar (“Beneficient.”)
- awaxshâyâ (“Bestower of Love.”)
- awarzâ (“Excessive bringer.”)
- â-sitôh (“Undefeated, undistressed.”)
- raxôh (“Independent, carefree.”)
- varûn (“Protector from evil.”)
- a-frîpah (“Undeceivable.”)
- awe-frîftah (“Undeceived.”)
- adhvaî (“Unparalleled.”)
- kãme-rat (“Lord of wishes.”)
- framãn-kãm (“Only wish is His command.”)
- âyextan (“Without body.”)
- â-framôsh (“Unforgetful.”)
- hamârnâ (“Taker of accounts.”)
- snâyâ (“Recognizable, worth recognition.”)
- a-tars (“Fearless.”)
- a-bîsh (“Without affliction or torment.”)
- a-frâzdum (“Most exalted.”)
- hamcûn (“Always uniform.”)
- mînô-stîgar (“Creator of the Universe spiritually.”)
- a-mînôgar (“Creator of much spirituality.”)
- mînô-nahab (“Hidden in Spirits.”)
- âdhar-bâtgar (“Air of fire, i.e. transformer into air.”)
- âdhar-namgar (“Water of fire, i.e. transformer into water.”)
- bât-âdhargar (“Transformer of air into fire.”)
- bât-namgar (“Transformer of air into water.”)
- bât-gelgar (“Transformer of air into earth.”)
- bât-girdtum (“Transformer of air into girad, i.e. gathered.”)
- âdhar-kîbarît-tum (“Transformer of fire into jewels.”)
- bâtgarjâi (“Who creates air in all places.”)
- âwtum (“Creator of most excessive water.”)
- gel-âdhargar (“Transformer of the earth into fire.”)
- gel-vâdhgar (“Transformer of the earth into air.”)
- gel-namgar (“Transformer of the earth into water.”)
- gargar (“Artisan of artisans.”)
- garôgar (“Bestower of wishes.”)
- garâgar (“Creator of man”)
- garâgargar (“Creator of the entire creation”)
- a-garâgar (“Creator of four elements)”
- a-garâgargar (“Creator of clusters of the stars”)
- a-gûmãn (“Without doubt.”)
- a-jamãn (“Without time.”)
- a-h’uãn (“Without sleep.”)
- âmushthushyâr (“Intelligent.”)
- frashûtanâ (“Eternal protector-increaser.”)
- padhamãnî (“Maintainer of padman, i.e. the golden mean.”)
- pîrôzgar (“Victorious.”)
- h’udhâvañd (“Lord-Master of the Universe.”)
- ahuramazda (“Lord Omniscient.”)
- abarînkuhantavãn (“Of the most exalted rank in the power of maintaining the origin of the creations.”)
- abarîn-nô-tavã (“Of the most exalted rank in the power of rendering the creations anew.”)
- vaspãn (“Attainer to all the creations.”)
- vaspâr (“Bringer of and attainer to all.”)
- h’âwar (“Merciful.”)
- ahû (“Lord of the world.”)
- âwaxsîdâr (“Forgiver.”)
- dâdhâr (“The just creator.”)
- rayomañd (“Full of rae-lustre-splendour.”)
- h’arehmand (“Full of khoreh, i.e. glory.”)
- dâwar (“The just judge.”)
- kerfagar (“Lord of meritorious deeds.”)
- buxtâr (“Redeemer, saviour.”)
- frashôgar (“Restorer through increase of the soul.”)