July 21, 2015 7:55 pm
In a bid to boost understanding of the Indo-Iranian heritage, city-based Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), in a joint initiative with School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and UNESCO Parzor (Parsi Zoroastrian) Project, has introduced a 10-day long formal course in Avestan, an Indo-Iranian language that has its roots in the 3rd century.
The course, being taught for free, began on July 6.
“In December last year, a woman from France was on a tour to India during which she also visited BORI. She suggested that we conduct this course and offered to bear all the expenses too. Hence, after working out the necessary details, we launched a formal course. Interestingly, we got a very good response. We have around 90 students attending the course, which includes a number of senior citizens,” says professor Shrikant Bahulikar, honorary secretary in-charge, BORI.
Talking about the course, Bahulikar says it is designed to benefit scholars and students of various disciplines as well as the general public, especially from the Parsi community. “It contributes to oriental studies, Vedic studies and Indian culture by teaching the Avestan language in a comparative perspective that considers the common Indo-Iranian heritage shared by Vedic and Avestan,” he says.
Prior to being called Avestan, the language was known as Zend. It is primarily used in Zorastrian scripture, which is called Avesta and hence the name Avestan. Generally, Iranian languages are divided into two groups, eastern and western. In this context, Avestan is an eastern language. Other than Sanskrit, which is an Indo-Aryan language, Avestan is the oldest Indo-Iranian language known today.
Both the languages have the maximum number of ancient written works. The script for writing Avestan came into being around the 3rd century.
Talking about the distinctiveness of the course, Bahulikar says, “Though in the past, say about 10 years ago or so, a few scholars have conducted one or two-day workshops on Avestan, it is the first time that a formal course is being conducted in the city.”
According to Bahulikar, at the end of the course, the participants will have a clear understanding of the basics of the Avestan language that will help them translate simple Avestan literary works.
Alongside the course, the institute is also holding an exhibition that showcases its collections of books and documents written in Avestan manuscripts.
The course, says Bahulikar, is being conducted by Almut Hintze, who is Zartoshty Brothers professor of Zoroastrianism in the Department of the Study of Religions, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her field of work has been Indo- Iranian studies with special emphasis on Avestan language, Zoroastrian literature, beliefs and religious practice.
At present, Hintze is working with a team of scholars on an edition and translation of the Avestan and Pahlavi versions of a major Zoroastrian ritual, the Yasna.
Teaching Avestan in Pune has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. The group of ca. 60 students of all age-groups and very varied backgrounds studied the grammar of the Avestan language with the help of a textbook developed by the teacher, Professor Almut Hintze, and read all seven chapters of the Yasna Haptanghaiti. The cohort included many Parsis and Sanscritists. Highlights of the course were the recitation of the Yasna Haptanghaiti by Ervad Dastur of Pune and a visit to an exhibition of manuscripts held at BORI. Students had the opportunity to read in class the Yasna Haptanghaiti from BORI’s Avestan Yasna Sade manuscript Bh5. The course was opened and concluded with ceremonies that were attended by dignitaries of BORI. Students expressed the wish for an advanced Avestan class in 2016.