AHURAS . The Iranian term ahura ("lord") corresponds to the Vedic asura. Whereas in the Vedas asura is usually applied to Dyaus-Pitṛ ("father sky"), the Indian equivalent of the Roman Jupiter, in Iran and in the Zoroastrian tradition ahura is applied to three divinities: Ahura Mazdā, Mithra, and Apąm Napāt ("son of the waters"). Some scholars see Apąm Napāt as the Iranian counterpart of Varuṇa, the first of the asura s, and have called him *Vouruna Apąm Napāt in an attempt to reconstruct a unitary structure of three original Indo-Iranian asura s, with Ahura Mazdā corresponding to Asura *Medhā, Mithra to Mitra, and *Vouruna Apąm Napāt to Varuṇa Apām Napāt (Boyce, 1975). These arguments, however, are not very convincing. Other scholars suppose that at the summit of an ancient Indo-Iranian pantheon was a god called Asura, without further characterization, who survived in Iran to some extent in the Ahura Mazdā of Zarathushtra (Zoroaster), but who in India abandoned the field to Varuṇa (Hillebrandt, 1927; Gershevitch, 1964). This thesis, however, is also not certain.
In both Iran and India, the term ahura/asura designates a class of gods or, to be more exact, a class of ruling gods (Dumézil, 1977), but their fate on either side of the Indus was different. Whereas in India the asura s came to represent the most archaic divinities, against which the deva s, the "young" gods, asserted themselves, in Iran it was one of the ahura s, Ahura Mazdā, who displaced all the daiva s. Thus, when Zoroastrianism reached a compromise with the ancient polytheism that had originally been condemned by Zarathushtra, the other ahura s, such as Mithra and Apąm Napāt, were readmitted to the cult, while the daiva s, whose nature was bellicose and violent and who were above all warrior gods (Indra, for example), were totally demonized. It is quite likely that the ahura s were able to maintain their privileged position in the Zoroastrian tradition thanks to their ethical nature and to their special function as guardians of asha (Vedic, ṛta ), truth and order, a fundamental concept of Indo-Iranian religions in general as well as of Zoroastrianism in particular.
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Translated from Italian by Roger DeGaris