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By: Prof. Mary Boyce


In Zoroastrian priestly usage, gâh (< Av. θâ-, a Mid. Pers., Parth., and NPers. word whose common meaning is "time") retains the various YAv. applications of that word: for one of Zoroaster's hymns, for one of the five groups of those hymns, and for those hymns with the other OAv. texts collectively (Air Wb., cols. 519-21; Dhabhar, pp. 135-36). It also renders Av. afsman- "line of (Gathic) verse" (Air Wb., col. 103). In addition it is used generally by Zoroastrians for each of the five divisions or "times" of the twenty-four hour day, for which no Avestan term is recorded. It is agreed that it is through this usage that the word acquired the meaning "time," but why the word θâ- should have been applied to the day-divisions is not certain. It is, however, likely (Boyce, pp. 84-85) that before Zoroaster the Iranians divided the daylight hours into three periods, marked by prayers at sunrise, noon, and sunset, with the night devotionally a blank, whereas Zoroaster required his followers to pray also at midnight and dawn, thus creating two additional "times." The obligatory prayers to be said at each "time" are the same, and have at their core, and presumably originally consisted of, verses from the Gathas (Y. 46.7 and part of Y. 44.16). Further, priests teaching the new usage may, as a reminder to pray five times, have drawn an analogy with the prophet's fivefold θâs; and so it may have been for both these reasons that the five divisions of the day came to be referred to as "θ times," shortened simply to "θâs." Since this was a matter which concerned everyone in daily life, this use of θâ- would readily have passed into the general language, yielding in due course a variety of idioms and compounds with gâh, e.g., Pers. pagâh (early morning, early; Hübschmann, p. 42, no. 324), bîgâh (evening, late; untimely), gâh be-gâh (sometimes), etc. Gâh also occurs occasionally in Pahlavi for one of the six Gâhânbârs (q.v.).




M. Boyce, Zoroastrianism: Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour, Costa Mesa, Calif., and New York, 1992.

B. N. Dhabhar, Pahlavi Yasna and Visperad, Bombay, 1949. 

H. Hübschmann, Persische Studien, Strassburg, 1895.




Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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