Ûšá, Proto Indo European Áusôs and dawn imagery in the poetic gathas

Dawn imagery is one the most important aspects of the Old Avestan and gathic poetry. The most important Zoroastrian act of worship called Yasná “intense longing, fervent desire” can only be performed at the early dawn hours. Yasná concludes shortly after dawn at the watch of pounding the sacred plant haômá.

At the Yasná ritual and all Zoroastrian acts of worship, the invoker of god-powers or züt, faces the SOUTH, Latin auster, a root cognate of dawn.

The ûš-bám formula “glorious, brilliant dawn” is the epithet of Yasná 52 a most powerful Old Avestan prayer recited at every dawn by the devout Zoroastrians accompanied with 21 recitals of ahü vairyö formula “the will to become godlike.”

The word ûšá “dawn” from Proto Indo European áusôs (Courtesy of Didier Calin) appears in Yasná 44.5, 4th rhymed verse line of the poetic gathas.

Also In Vendidad 19.28 we read of ûši ….bámya “glorious, brilliant dawn. However, what is most fascinating is the gathic skillful wordplay on dawn in the Old Avestan verse.

The term ûštá appearing repeatedly in the gathic poetry meaning “radiant happiness,” could be an extended form of ûšá or dawn. Ûštá translated as nádükih “delicate, exquisite,” in ancient commentaries could refer to the “delicate, exquisite” early dawn RADIANCE.

In the gathic imagery the splendor and radiance of each new dawn is linked to ašá/arthá “virtue, godly skill/art to create a new reality” and to the fulfillment of desire/wish, (See the sacred ašem vôhü formula.)

Concerning the etymology of ûštá, it shall be added that Bartholeme derives it from the root vas-, “to wish, desire” and translates ûštá as “fulfillment of desire, wish; a dream coming true.” However, Kant disagrees with Bartholeme and maintains that ûštá comes from the root sukhá meaning “radiance, happiness, prosperity, well-being.”

Our scholar friend, Didier Calin suggests that ûštá could come from the root *aus- meaning “brilliant, apparent, visible.” However, he is not dismissing Bartholeme’s analysis and is tending to agree with him.

In any event, the Vedic term vašat seems to be a cognate of the Avestan ûštá. It is the very word uttered by the invoker hotr priest at the conclusion of the Vedic ritual. Upon hearing the word, adhvaryu priest casts the offered oblations to the fire for the “well being, glory” of the invoked god beings..

The second verse book of the poetic gathas is called ûšta-vaiti or the sacred verses of “wish fulfillment or radiant.happiness.”

Ûši is the word for “intelligence” in the poetic gathas. It appears in the 2nd rhymed verse line off Yasna 34.7. Also in the form of ûxšyá in the 3rd rhymed verse line of Yasna 43.15 and in the form of ûšurûyæ in the 1st rhymed verse line of Yasna 32.16.

However, there is NO etymological connection between it and the word for dawn or ûšá in the Old Avestan. Ûši comes from IE root (h)ous or (h)aus and means “ear, to gather information.” Any similarity is semantic and a matter of sound similarity in poetry (Courtesy of Didier Calin.)

The word for “life force” in the poetic gathas is ûštána literally”lucid, transparent force” which is another possible variant of ûšá or dawn (See for example Yasna 43.16, 3rd rhymed verse line.)

I like to conclude by the dawn prayer, provided by our scholar friend Didier Calin:

G 5.5bj
uṣ̌ąm srīrąm yazamaide
uṣ̌åηhǝm yazamaide
xṣ̌ōiθnīm rauuat̰.aspąm
framǝn.narąm framǝn.narō.vīrąm
yā xvāθraiiaiti nmāniiāiti
uṣ̌åηhǝm yazamaide
rǝuuīm raṇjat̰.aspąm
yā sanat̰ aoi haptō.karṣ̌uuairīm ząm
auuąm uṣ̌ąm yazamaide

We worship beautiful Dawn.
We worship Dawn,
the shining, of the fast horses,
who has men of forethought,
who has men and heroes of forethought,
who is joyful in company of the Household Deity.
We worship Dawn,
the radiant, of the fleet horses,
who travels the sevenfold earth.
We worship that Dawn.
(trans. D. C.)

Declension of *áusōs ‘Dawn’ in (Proto-)Indo-European by Didier Calin:
Nom. sg áusōs
Gen. sg ussés
Dat. sg usséi
Acc. sg áusosm̥
Ins. sg usséh
Abl. sg ussés
Loc. sg ausési
Voc. sg áusos
Adv. loc. ussér
Nom./acc. dual áusose(h)
Gen./loc. dual ussóus
Dat./ins./abl. dual ussmô(h)/ussbh(y)ô(h)
Nom. pl áusoses
Gen. pl ussôm
Dat. pl ussmós/ussbh(y)ós
Acc. pl ausésn̥s
Ins. pl ussmís/ussbhís
Abl. pl ussmós/ussbh(y)ós
Loc. pl (ā)uséssu



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3 Responses to Ûšá, Proto Indo European Áusôs and dawn imagery in the poetic gathas

  1. John Easter says:

    From the Rig-Veda which is almost contemporary with the Poetic Gathas.

    “The radiant Dawns have risen up for glory, in their white splendour like the waves of waters. She maketh paths all easy, fair to travel, and, rich, hath shown herself benign and friendly.

    We see that thou art good: far shines thy lustre; thy beams, thy splendours have flown up to heaven. Decking thyself, thou makest bare thy bosom, shining in majesty, thou Goddess Morning.”
    -Rig-Veda 6.64.1-2
    (translation Ralph T. H. Griffith)

  2. Didier Calin says:

    Excellent, except maybe the etymological part about uši, which is an entirely different word and root, representing the ancient dual of the word for “ear”, IE *(h)ous- (or *(h)aus-): “ear, to hear/listen” > “to gather information” > “intelligence” as in modern Persian bâ-huš “intelligent” (< "with understanding" < "with the capacity of listening with one's ears". This raises doubts about the connection with uštâ- as well, but I am not sure about this word.

  3. Dirk Anderson says:

    Most sacred time for the Aryans of the Rig-Veda was Dawn. Worshipers faced East (Easter) as the Dawn approached. The Dawn causes the sacred sacrificial fire Agni (ignite) to be kindled. Agni is reborn each morning. Serving as a sacrificial bed or alter, a spot of ground was excavated 2-3 inches and covered with the sacred Kusha grass known as Barhis. Zoroastrian Magi are depicted holding a type of Barhis in the hand. Apparently a more symbolic Barhis came to be represented by the horizontal rods supported at both ends.
    Agni’s tongues (flames) facing in all directions reach up to meet the Dawning morning-red (Auora) of the rising Sun. As the Dawn awakens She illumines the ends of the sky.
    Rig-Veda 7.63.2. “Shining forth he (Savitr, the Sun) rises from the ‘laps of the Dawns’, greeted with the gladness of singers (reciters of the Rig-Veda, worshipers). He (Savitr, the Sun) has seemed to me (Vasistha, ancient seer poet) god Savitr (the Sun) who infringes not ‘the uniform law’ (natural order of the Universe Rta).”
    ‘Laps of the Dawns’: Dawn is seen here as the soul of the animate and the inanimate; the seen and unseen origin and creator of the Universe. With the morning recitation of the Rig-Veda and the Dawning of the new Sun, we have a ritual recreation of the Universe mirrored in the Ritual.
    Rig-Veda 1.48.15 “O Dawn, when today with thy beam thou shalt open the doors of heaven, then bestow on us safe shelter.”
    My Teacher Professor Allen Anderson San Diego Sate University, was accustomed to say: “Ultimately there can be only one divine principle operative in the Universe. How many uniques incomparables can there be?”
    Lanman’s Sanskrit Reader
    A.A. Macdonnels Vedic Grammar and Reader for Students.

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