Sunday, December 16, 2012

One of the world's oldest religious texts the Avesta celebrates its 2700th Anniversary

Photo: Uzbekistan declared 2001 to be the 2,700th anniversary of the holy book the Avesta.

Ancient Khoresm which today covers much of North Western Uzbekistan and parts of northern Turkmenistan is acknowledged by most historians to be the birthplace of Zoroaster also known as Zarathustra the founding prophet of Zoroastrianism the world's first monotheistic religion. It is considered to be the precursor to many of the modern day monotheistic religions particularly Christianity and Judaism.

Zoroastrianism was widespread in both the Transoxiania and Khorezm regions before the arrival of the Islam in the eight and ninth centuries CE. The major premise of Zoroastrianism is the vast cosmic struggle between Ahura Mazdah, the God of Light and Ahriman, the principal of Darkness and Evil.  

Chilpik / Shilpiq dakhma

Photo: Shilpiq / Chilpik dakhma

The Chilpyk Tower of Silence located on the right bank of the Amu Darya River in Southern Karakalpakstan once served the surrounding region as a dakhma right up to the time of the Arab invasion of the early 7th century CE. There are signs of rebuilding or repair work in the 7th to 8th centuries BCE and again in the 9th and 10th century AD..
In 1940, Shilpiq was surveyed by Soviet archaeologist Sergei Tolstov and members of his early Khorezm Archaeological Expedition, a geodetic survey trig point being built on the dakhma. They found that it sits on a symmetrical conical 35-40 meters high hill, the circular structure of the dakhma approx. 79 meters in diameter. It's a 15 metre high walls were built from pakhsa or compacted clay. The walls where probably taller when built and taper towards the top from a wide base. On the west side of the walls is an opening accessed by a 20 metre-long staircase. At the start of the staircase is a tall pillar that can be seen from a distance. A ramp that starts from the river bank leads up to the pillar.

Tower of Silence

Burial practices are of special interest. Zoroastrian custom requires the body to the placed in the Dakhma shortly after death is confirmed, Bodies were placed on high hills or man-made summits and exposed to scavengers (usually vultures) who soon stripped the bones clean. The fastest means of transporting a body to the Dakhma would have been by boat. The numerous river arms and canals would have made water transport the most practical means of transportation. In addition, the river at the time of the dakhma's use would have been wider and closer to the base of the hill making the walk to the top much shorter than it is today.

Funerary practices in Khvarizem, Sogdiana and the Semirechye indicate that after the bones of the body had been bleached and dried for about a year, the skeletal remains were then placed in ceramic ossuary containers and buried. It would be natural to expect that families would want to bury the remains closer to their towns rather than in the dakhma area and as such only a few ossuary's have been found at Shilpiq. The concentration of population were at settlements to the west at Mizdahkan  and south of the Sultanuiz hills (Sultan Uvays Dag) and that is where a larger number of ossuary's have been found. Today the north-south highway runs beside Shilpiq, with the provincial capital of Nukus 43 kilometres to the North. Nearby at Qara Tyube, bronze age petroglyphs can be found.

1 comment:

  1. What is the worlds oldest religious text?

    The oldest known religious texts are the Pyramid texts of Ancient Egypt that date to 2400-2300 BC. The next earliest are the Sumerian Temple Hymns found on funeral objects dating to 2150-2000 BC.

    The Rigveda of Hinduism is proposed to have been composed between 1700–1100 BC making it possibly the world's oldest religious text still in use.

    The Avesta a compilation of all Zoroastrian prayers, which were composed over several centuries, some dating back to more than 3000 years. Known as the Holy Book or the Prayer Book of the Zoroastrians, was committed to writing in the mid-first millennium BC. The oldest portions of the Zoroastrian Avesta are believed to have been transmitted orally for centuries before they found written form, and although widely differing dates for Gathic Avestan (the language of the oldest texts) have been proposed, scholarly consensus floats at around would make it around the 6-7th century BC i.e. about 2700 years ago.

    The Torah's composition also took place over centuries. Its five books were created c.450 BC by combining four originally independent sources, known as the Jahwist, or J (about 900 BC), the Elohist, or E (about 800 BC), the Deuteronomist, or D, (about 600 BC), and the Priestly source, or P (about 500 BC).

    The first scripture printed for wide distribution to the masses was The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist scripture, and is the earliest recorded example of a dated printed text, bearing the Chinese calendar date 868 BC.