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DAIVAS . The Iranian term daiva originally signified "god," as is shown in several occurrences of the word in the Avesta (Av., daēva; OPers., daiva; MPers., Pahl., dēw ). Like the Vedic deva or the Latin deus, daiva may be related to the Indo-European root meaning "shine, be bright." In Zoroastrian Iran, however, daiva had a negative sense. Other terms were used to refer to divine beings, such as baga ("one who distributes"), ahura ("lord"), and yazata ("one worthy of worship"), while daiva was used to designate malefic or demonic powers. For that reason one speaks of a "demonization" of the daiva as a phenomenon characteristic of Zoroastrianism.

In all probability daiva acquired a negative value in the Iranian world because of the condemnation by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) of traditional religion. The prophet of Ahura Mazdā propounded a faith and a doctrine of monotheistic inspiration, and the gods of ancient polytheism were repudiated as illusions or chimeras.

Later, after Zoroastrianism had reached a compromise with the older religious sensibility and with the various forms of polytheism that had spread throughout the Iranian world in the first millennium bce, the daiva s were condemned not because they were considered, as Zarathushtra had seen them, the fruit of ignorance and superstition but because they were thought to be real demonic beings. The significance of daiva thus changed from "god" to "demon." In this later form of the religion, Indra, Saurva, and Nānhaithyawho had prominent positions in the Indian pantheon as Indra, Śarva, and Nāsatyabecame archdemons. They were opposed, respectively, by the Amesha Spentas Asha, Khshathra Vairya, and Ārmaiti.

The Zoroastrian pandemonium is particularly rich. Among the most important daivas are Aēshma ("wrath, fury"), known throughout the Zoroastrian tradition; Apaosha ("dearth"), fought by Tishtrya, the yazata of the star Sirius; Astōvīdhātu ("dismembering of skeleton"); Būshyąstā ("sloth"); and Nasu ("corpse"), the demon of decay.

Zarathushtra's condemnation of the daiva s, intended as the rejection of the gods of polytheism, always remained, if only with the modification explained above, a characteristic feature of Zoroastrianism. In all its subsequent historical manifestationsas, for example, in an inscription of Xerxes at Persepolisthere are traces, even if partly distorted, of Zarathushtra's original teaching.


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Gherardo Gnoli (1987)

Translated from Italian by Roger DeGaris