The word 'khvaetvadatha' occurs only
for five times in the entire Avestan text:
(1) Yasna 12.9. It is within a well-known
phrase of the Koshti prayers. It says "âstuyê daênâm vanguhîm mâzdayasnîm
fraspâyaokhedhrâm nidhâsnaethishem 'khvaetvadathâm' ashaonîm
...." The phrase praises the Mazdayasni Good Religion because it is,
verbatim, "throwing-off-yoke, putting-down-weapon, 'khvaetvadatha',
(2) Vispered 3.1-4. After calling his seven
officiating companion priests -- hâvanân (pounder) âthrevakhsh
(fire-promoter), fraberetar (procurer), âsnatar (washer),
raethwishkara (mixer) âberet (water-carrier), and
sraoshavarez (discipline-worker) -- to duty, the zaotar
(invoker) calls other representatives of the congregation and wants them
to be prepared for the congregational ceremony. They are an athravan
(professional priest), a warrior, a prosperous settler, a house chief, a
settlement chief, a district chief, and a country chief, and then
(verbatim) "I want a good-thinking, good-speaking, good-working young man
to stand by; I want a word-speaking (speaker), 'khvaetvadatha,'
country-traveling young man to stand by; [and] I want a genius itinerant
to stand by." He then continues: "I want the mistress of the house to
stand by; I want a woman good in thoughts, good in words, good in deeds,
well-educated, authority on religious affairs, progressively serene like
the women who belong to you, Wise God, and righteous to stand by; [and] I
want a man righteous, good in thoughts, good in words, good in deeds,
knowing well the religion he has chosen, and not a blind follower to stand
by." He concludes his call: "It is these people who, with their actions,
promote the world though righteousness." The congregational ceremony
begins with the invoker reciting the Gathas and the people join the
(3) Aiwisruthrem Gâh 7-9) repeats the above
list from 'athravan' onwards by venerating the same personalities instead
of calling them to stand by.
(4) Yasht 24.16-17 has it paraphrased from
the 'havanan' to 'the mistress of the house.'
(5) Vendidad 8.12-13: "O Creator of the
Material, O Righteous, with which urine the corpse-bearers should wash
their hair and body -- the urine of a sheep, bull, man or woman?" Ahura
Mazda replied: "The urine of sheep or bull, and not of a man or woman,
[even/unless(?)] he is 'khvaetvadatha' (masculine) and she is 'khvaetvadathi'
The word 'khvaetvadatha' has been
derived in two ways:
(1) By Western scholars from 'khvaetu,'
meaning 'family, next-of-kin' and 'vadatha,' meaning 'marriage'.
It means 'next-of-kin marriage, consanguineous marriage.' All these
Western scholars, and now a few Zoroastrians, take it to mean 'a marriage
within a family,' amounting to a matrimony between father and daughter,
mother and son, brother and sister, and between two cousins. They quote a
few historical instances in which members of royal families are shown as
practicing the custom. It may be mentioned that the word 'vadatha'
does not occur outside the combination of 'khvaetvadatha' in any
Avestan text and does not have its Sanskrit form in the vast Sanskrit
literature. It has been artificially 'construed' by a Western scholar
from the last letter 'u' or 'v' of 'khvaetu' plus 'v' of the
supposed 'vadatha.' The basis for the derivation has been the
reported meaning it has taken in Pahlavi 'khvedodah.'
Grammatically v plus v is equal to one 'v' (v + v = v), and therefore,
instead of a khvaetu-vadatha or khvaetav-vadatha,
we have 'khvaetvadatha.' Keeping this very point in mind, one
cannot easily accept the Western interpretation. There are other points
that point in another direction.
(2) By Zoroastrian scholars from 'khvaetu'
meaning 'relative, relationship' and 'datha' meaning 'giving'. It means
'giving relationship, family connection' and also 'self-devoted.' (Ervad
K.E. Kanga). For these scholars, it is khvaetva-datha, and not
khvaetva-vadhatha. The grammatical construction by Zoroastrian scholars
is easier and clearer.
Since all scholars agree that the first part
of the compound is 'khvaetu' or 'khvaetav,' let us look at it in its
"Khvaetu/khvaetav" is derived by all scholars
from "khva" (Sanskrit "sva") meaning 'own, self'. The Sanskrit equivalent
is 'svetu' and it means 'self-reliant, self-supporting, independent.' Dr.
Irach J.S. Taraporewala finds 'svatava,' meaning 'self-powered' as the
Sanskrit form of 'khaetav' and presents his theory that the 'Self-reliant'
were the "the first or highest grade of the Disciples of Zarathushtra."
(The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra, Bombay, 1951, page 252). Pahlavi
Khvadtây and Khudây and Persian khodây, meaning 'lord, master, God'
comes from khvatav. Haptanghaiti has "khvaetât" meaning "family tie" and
Sanskrit has "svatâ" meaning "ownership."
Khvaetu occurs, with two exceptions, in the
Gathic texts only. It is not a later Avestan term. It is mentioned for
eight times in the Gathas: Song 5.1 (= Yasna 32.1), 6.3-4 (= 33.3-4), 8.4
(= 43.4), 11.1 (= 46.1), 11.5 (= 46.5), 14.7 (= 49.7), and 17.4 (= 53.4).
Twice in the Haptanghaiti: Song 6.5 (Yasna 39.5) and 7.4 (40.4). Twice
outside the Gathic texts-Yasna 20.1 and Yasht 24.44.
Zarathushtra divides human society on
geographical basis. They are 'demâna,' meaning 'house,' 'vis' meaning
'settlement,' 'shoithra' meaning 'district,' 'dakhyu' meaning 'land,' and
'gâo' or 'bûmi' meaning the earth. House is inhabited by 'khvaetu' to
form the first and smallest 'independent, self-supporting' human unit, the
FAMILY. 'Verezena' are those who are 'enclosed' within larger settlements
of vis, shoithra and dakhyu. 'Airyaman,' literally ‘close
companionship’ makes up the world fellowship within any of the above
mentioned geographical units. 'Geush vâstra' (world settler) or 'vâstrya-fshuyant'
(prospering-settler) also denotes the useful inhabitants on the earth at
The geographical classification is of great
significance. It is a unique way of eliminating professional and racial
superiority and acknowledging equality between all humans. It is the
Zarathushtrian way of equality of those who make this good earth of our
prosperous and worth living. It is this very geographical division, which
was destroyed when the priests and princes, who penetrated the Fellowship,
gained control. They re-introduced their age-old Indo-Iranian custom of
professional classification and its resulting caste system in later days.
The price the Zarathushtrian Fellowship paid was the loss of freedom and
equality by both men and women. The priests became the 'spiritual'
seniors and the princes the 'material' superiors -- both to feed free on
the products produced by the third and fourth in rank, the prospering
settlers (vâstrya-fshuyants) and the roving artisans (huiti) -- the very
parasitic practice Zarathushtra had risen to eliminate by teaching them to
"Khvaetu", literally meaning
'self-supporting,' stands for 'family' in the Gathas. Most of the scholars
agree on this point. The reason is that a person, by him/herself, is not
self-supporting. It is the family, which is the first and foremost unit of
society that supports itself. It consisted in an ancient Iranian family
-- and still consists in rural Iran -- of parents, children and their
wives, and grandchildren. They are blood related next-of-kin. Should we
take that 'khvaetvadatha,' a term absent in the Gathas and the
Haptanghaiti, is made of the Gathic 'khvaetu' and the artificially
improvised 'vadhatha,' it would mean marriage within a family, between
blood related next-of-kin members. Then the Western scholars and those
Zoroastrians who follow them are right in rendering it as "consanguineous
marriage,' and that 'in the medieval [Sassanian and post-Sassanian} period
it became the technical term for incestuous matrimony." (Dr. Jamsheed K.
Choksy in 'Purity and Pollution in Zoroastrianism, Triumph over Evil,'
University of Texas Press, Austin, 1989, 89 & 140).
The only difficulty lies that it does not fit
into any of the above five Avestan references. It stands clearly out of
context. Even Prof. Mary Boyce, who supplies ample evidence concerning
incestuous marriages among Zoroastrian rulers and priests, doubts its
inclusion in the Koshti prayers (Yasna 12.9) (A History of Zoroastrianism,
Vol. I, Leiden, 1975, page 254, note 24).
The reason I have not tried to translate it
and have left is as 'khvaetvadatha' in my above translation of the
pieces in which the word occurs, has been to leave it for the reader to
see cited texts and decide for him or her self, whether it fits context or
It may be emphatically pointed out here that
the Koshti prayers are not only daily prayers but are to be done every
time of the day one stands to pray. Were ‘khvaetvadatha’ to
mean ‘next-of-kind marriage,’ it would have become the order of the
day and every person would have carried it out. It should have become the
most popular way of marriage, so much so that it would have been on every
lip – the Zoroastrians taking pride and their antagonists condemning
them for their “incestuous” sin/crime. History shows that it has not
been so, and that is one the main reasons to look for an alternative
The other alternative is to take 'khvaetva' as
'independent' or 'independence,' the way it has been used in Sanskrit and
add 'datha' meaning 'giving'. The Pahlavi transliteration of the word in
its archaic form is 'khvetuk-das' and that shows that whatever the notion
the Zoroastrians of the medieval period held about the term, they thought
the Avestan compound to be 'khvaetu-datha' and not 'khvaetva-vadatha." It
should, therefore, be rendered as 'independence-giving, rendering one
self-supporting, helping one to become self-reliant.' Let us now replace
'khvaetvadatha' with 'giving-self-reliance' and read the entire
phrase of the Koshti prayer:
"… throwing-off-yoke, putting-down-weapon,
'self-reliance-giving', and righteous." The phrase in Vispered 3.3
should read: "I want a good-thinking, good-speaking, good-working youth to
stand by; I want a word-speaking, 'self-reliance-giving,'
country-traveling youth to stand by; [and] I want a genius itinerant."
The same applies to Aiwisruthrem Gah and Yasht 24.17. The reading runs
much smoother and has a fitting meaning.
The context of the Vispered, Aiwisruthrem Gah
and Yasht 24 shows that a 'khvaetvadatha' youth was a special
active member of the society. He was eloquent in speech and traveled
much. He appears to be a 'preacher' more than any one else mentioned in
the list. He then is the person who taught others to 'choose' the Good
Religion because it is this religion, which helps one to "throw off the
enslaving yoke, keep down war weapons, become self-reliant and free from
dependence, and be a righteous person." My translation runs: "I
appreciate the Good Religion of worshiping the Wise One, which overthrows
yokes yet sheaths swords, teaches self-reliance and is righteous." (Fravarane,
I Choose for Myself The Zoroastrian Religion, California Zoroastrian
Center, Westminster, 1988)
The passage in the Vendidad would then show
that there were men and women who had learned self-reliance and that they
were held high for purification rights. Otherwise, the Vendidad passage
should be translated to mean that the poor corpse bears ('khandhias' in
Parsi Gujarati) had to be purified by the urine of their next-of-kin
Let us examine the question from another
angle. If the next-of-kin marriage was a meritorious deed, then
Zarathushtra and his companions should have set the best example. But
Avesta and Pahlavi writings do not show any consanguineous marriages among
them. Parents of Zarathushtra belonged to two different far-flung
families. Zarathushtra had no blood relation with his wife Hvovi. Their
daughter Pouruchista married a not-related Jamaspa. Vishtaspa married
Hutaosa who had 'many brothers' and belonged to Naotari clan. In the
entire Farvardin Yasht of some 300 foremost 'Zoroastrians-by-Choice,' none
are shown as married within their families. There is not a single trace
of within family or within community marriage in the Avesta. Above all,
there is no commandment in the Gathas and/or other any Avestan writing
that encourages within family or within community marriages and/or
prohibiting outside family or community marriages. Khvaetvadatha
does NOT play any part in marriage. That is the reason it is absent in
the marriage passages in the Avesta.
The Avestan/Sanskrit root for marriage is "vaz/vah"
or "vad/vadh". The word means to "conduct, carry (in a carriage)" because
the bride was 'conveyed' from her parental house to a new house, usually
the house of parents-in-law. The Hindu custom of making sure that there
is no consanguineous link between the bride and bridegroom stems from this
practice. The practice of the bride leaving her parental house for the
house of her spouse is still wide spread throughout the vast Indo-Iranian
territory among Hindus and Muslims of a common cultural heritage. It
provides a sad scene to see her leave her birth and youth place and
next-of-kin parents, brothers and sisters -- and in case of Hindus, every
blood related person -- for a new strange home.
The Gatha has both 'vaz' and 'vad'. It occurs
in the famous marriage sermon of Zarathushtra at the wedding of his
daughter Pouruchista. He says :
"These words I speak to the charming brides,
and to you, bridegrooms ..." The word is 'vazyamnâbio' qualifying 'kainibyo'.
It has been translated by all as 'marrying maidens, charming brides,
nubile maidens' or equivalent. For the bridegroom the word comes from the
root 'vad' -- vademno. (Song 17.5 = 53.5).
Yasht 17.59 has 'vad'. "The third time Ashi
Vanguhi (Post-Gathic Female Yazata of Good Reward) greatly cries: The
worst deed that tyrant men do is to keep maidens for long without marrying
(uzvadayeinti) them and making them pregnant. ".
The Vendidad has two instances, both from 'vad.'
"Should a person of the same faith, brother or friend, approach another,
seeking goods, young woman or knowledge ... He who has come for young
woman, should be wed (up ... vadhayaeti) to her. ..." (4.44) "...What is
the punishment for the person who hits an otter ... so hard that life
departs its body? ... He must righteously and piously conduct in marriage
(up ... vadhayaeti) for righteous men virgin girls ... his sisters or
daughters of over 15 years of age who have earrings in ear." (14.1 & 15)
All the above-mentioned instances carry the
inherent thought of the wife being married to a person outside the girl’s
family and that she was conveyed (vaz or vad, to conduct, convey) out of
her parental house. Had there been a family and relative affair, the
statements would have been different. They would reflected a happening
within the house. No one to be 'conveyed' from one house to another.
Leave alone next-of-kin wedlock within the family, arranged marriages,
especially between near relatives -- cousins or even further -- are as old
as the Indo-Iranian days and well beyond. But marriage within family is
not Indo-Iranian for sure. The question of next-of-kin marriage is absent
in the Avesta -- -the Gathas or the earlier and later parts.
As far as the Pahlavi term of 'khvedodah' is
concerned, I would expect those who are better scholars -- or claim to be
better scholars -- in the Pahlavi lore than I am, to come forward and
solve the problem. To me the Gathas and those parts of the Avesta, which
follow the Gathic teachings, are efficient enough to solve each and every
problem I face.
While the Western scholars have provided us
with instances of royal incestuous marriages from Greek and Christian
sources, they have not ventured into the Islamic world to pull out any
evidence. If at all, this was a widely practiced custom among
Zoroastrians, Arab and Iranian Muslims writers, especially the Iranians
who were converts from Zoroastrianism to Islam, would not have spared
their former co-religionists. They would have written volumes on the
subject with usual exaggeration. They have not simply because it was not
If this was the custom then one should ask why
'Yadi Rana' of the famous Qisseh-ye Sanjan did not make this a condition
to grant Zoroastrians a refuge? Why did he insist on a trifle matter
instead -- the marriage ceremony be performed in the evening and not
earlier? Were not the Zoroastrians of the Sassanian period known for the
reported consanguineous marriage by their next-door neighbors, the
Hindus? Or was the practice so confined to a small high circle of
Sassanian aristocrats that it was not known by outsiders? Hindus are very
sensitive about marriage between consanguineous relatives. Yadi Rana
could not be an exception.
This, however, does not mean that marriages
among relatives did not take place. It did, and still does, among
Iranians. Also, marriage between two Zoroastrians was definitely preferred
to the one marrying outside the religious circle. These were and are
natural tendencies and a prevailing custom among many peoples, no matter
to what religion they belong. At the same time, there is no evidence at
all that one should not marry a non-Zoroastrian, especially one who would
join his or spouse to choose the Good Religion. Mixed marriages among
Sassanian princes and princesses. as reported by historians, were quite
common. Right now many mixed marriages, handled with wisdom, among
Zoroastrians have won non-Zoroastrian spouses to this side, or at least
have the children be raised as Zoroastrians. In certain religions,
especially the very missionary ones, mixed marriages are a good means of
To conclude, 'khvaetvadatha' in the
Avestan context and concept cannot mean 'consanguineous marriage'. It
cannot mean 'marriage within the religious community' either because 'khvaetu'
is not community but is well defined to mean only 'family.' It is far
fetched to have it as 'khvaetu-vadatha.' The only meaning
that fits the contexts is 'self-reliance-giving,' or any synonymous term.
It fits well the Koshti prayers and it fits well the people who were
called upon to take an active part in the congregational ceremony.
Although used only once in a late Gathic supplementary text (Yasna 12.9)
and again four times in the later Avesta, it carries a noble meaning of
liberty and confidence, a noble meaning that has given it a placid place
in the daily Koshti prayers -- to remind one of 'haithyâ vareshtâm
hyat vasnâ ferashotemem' piece from the Gathas in which one declares:
"I am, Wise One, Your praiser and shall continue to regard myself so, as
long as I have the strength and the will through righteousness. This
shall promote the laws of life through good mind, for 'true actions make
life most renovated as god wishes'." It is a daily reminder to continue
to work for maintaining the life on earth ever fresh, ever new, ever good,
ever subtle, ever sublime. It is this spirit which promotes one to become
"khvaetvadatha", a promoter of self-reliance.
This article was posted on vohuman.org on March 1, 2005 courtesy of