SRAOŠA

SRAOŠA (MPers. Srōš) a major deity (yazata) in Zoroastrianism, whose great popularity reserved a place for him in Iranian Islam as the angel Surōš. In Avestan, s(ə)raoša- occurs both as common noun and as a proper name. It is derived from an s-extension of √sraw-/sru- “to hear.” Both finite forms and nominal derivatives are formed. As a common IIr. verb, the basic meaning is “to obey, be compliant, ” that is, “to hear and obey.” In Gathic Avestan a finite form occurs, səraošānē  “I shall be obedient.” A primary derivative in -ti- is attested in Ved. śruṣṭí- “obedience” and GAv. asrušti- “disobedience.” Other derivatives in Av. are sraošyā- “punishment” (Xwar. swy “disciplinary action”), sraošin- “obedient, mindful,” sraošya- “deserving of discipline, punishment.” Thus, sraoša- falls within the semantic range of “harkening, obedience, discipline”; sraošō.carana- is the “instrument of (administering) obedience, punishment,” and the sraošāwarəza- is the individual who is the enforcer of obedience, discipline (including the rooster).

Sraoša in the Gāthās. Although Sraoša is never part of the group of the Aməṣ̌a Spəṇtas appearing in later strata of the Avesta, in the Gāthās he has a prominent place beside Aṣ̌a, Vohu Manah, and the others. Like the other Entities, Sraoša appears sometimes as an abstraction, sometimes as an individual. At Y. 33.5 Zarathustra says, “I shall invoke Sraoša, mightiest of all” (… vīspə̄.mazištəm səraošəm zbayā …), where the verb zbā- is characteristically used for the invocation of a deity. At Y. 43.12 Sraoša is named in conjunction with the goddess Aṣ̌i “Reward,” foreshadowing his standing epithet in the post-Gāthic literature, aṣ̌ya (see below). There we may translate, “When Thou didst say to me, ‘Thou hast gone in forethought to Truth, so thou didst not dissemble to me in disobedience,’ (I thought) I must rise up before Obedience will come to me accompanied by wealth-bestowing Reward, who (Aṣ̌i) may distribute rewards in abundance to the parties” (hya mōi mraoš aṣ̌əm jasō fraxšnənē, a tū mōi nōi asruštā pairyaoγžā, usərəidyāi parā hya mōi ā.jima, səraošo aṣ̌ī mąza.rayā hacimnō, yā vī aṣ̌īš rānōibyō sawōi [vi]dāyā). At Y. 44.16 Z. inquires about a “smasher of resistance” (i.e., Vištāspa?) and concludes, “Now, let Obedience come to him through Good Mind, o Mazdā, to him whomever it is that Thou wishest” (a hōi vohū səraošo jaṇtū manaŋhā, mazdā ahmāi yahmāi vašī kahmāicī). In these two contexts, which involve obedience or harkening to Ahura Mazdā’s Word (mąθra), sraoša seems to be meant as a simple substantive. Thus Y. 28.5 “By this mąθra of Ahura Mazdā shall we proclaim with (our) tongues the greatest obedience, o xrafstras” (… səwištāi səraōšəm mazdāi, anā mąθrā mazištəm, vāurōimaidī xrafstrā hizwā, where the genitives sawištahyā and mazdå/mazda’ah/ must be restored metri causa); and by implication at 45.5 “Those who will render obedience and respect for this (Word) of mine …” (yōi mōi ahmāi səraošəm dąn cayascā …).

Hymns to Sraoša. Although there are references throughout the Avesta to Sraoša, most information is contained in two related texts, namely Yasna 57 and Yašt 11. Yasna 56 is a short composition whose stanzas begin with “May Sraoša be here for the worship of X” (səraošō iδā astū [name(s) in the genitive] yasnāi). Unlike most sections of the Yasna recitation, Y. 57 is typical of the major Yašts with its 13 kardag (chapter) divisions of the 34 stanzas. Perhaps it was originally counted among the other Yašts. If so, once it had been moved to its current position in the Yasna, a substitute would have been needed to fill the eleventh position in the Yašt collection. This is the Srōš Yašt Haδōxt, presumably taken from the Haδōxt Nask of the Sasanid Avesta. It too is characterized by a kardag division (into 5 chapters) of its 22 stanzas, though it contains little information about Sraoša that is not already in Y. 57. Owing to its inclusion in the Yasna, the Srōš Yašt has a Pahlavi gloss, of which there is also a Sanskrit rendering. Although there is no exact correspondence between the Yašts and the days of the month, Sraoša has a fixed place between Mithra and Rašnu, as in the sequence Yašts 10-11-12 and the days 16-17-18 of the month. In terms of literary style, Y. 57 is composed, for the most part, in the octosyllabic meter typical of much of the Yašts. By contrast, Yt. 11 shows only sporadically any metrical pattern and seems to be generally a loose compilation of diverse materials. The Srōš Bāj, though an important daily drōn recitation, is simply composed of passages from other texts.

Sraoša in the non-Gāthic Avesta. Owing to the richness of Sraoša's persona outside the Gāthās, it is unlikely that he was a creation out of Zarathustra's vision. Since there is no obvious counterpart in the Vedas, it may be concluded that he is a purely Iranian deity. His close connection with ritual as well as his association with Mithra may suggest a common functional heritage with Ved. Bṛhaspati who is similarly associated with the martial deity Indra, though this seems remote. As an examination of his epithets reveals, Sraoša is very much a man of action in his own right. In outward appearance he is handsome (huraoδa), tall (bərəza) and powerful in his arms (bāzuš.aojah). His youthfulness is emphasized in that he is the strongest, bravest, swiftest, fleetest and most dreaded from afar of youths (aojišta, tancišta, θβaxšišta, parō.katarštəma yūnąm). Elsewhere he is simply brave (taxma), swift (āsu) and powerful (aojahwant). He is bold (daršita), valorous (hąm.vərətiwant) and armed with a mighty wooden club (darši.dru). Through his physical prowess he is a smasher of resistance (vərəθrājan) and a head smasher (kamərəδō.jan) of the demons, which allows him to rule at will (vasō.xšaθra) and be conquering (vanwanah). Particularly important is his role as guardian and protector. Thus he is called most protective (θrātōtəma), a guardian (harətar) and overseer (aiβyāxštar). Even houses protected by Sraoša (nmąna sraošō.pāta) are worshiped. In general, he, with other deities, is a promoter of the material world (frāda.gaēθa). He shares with Mithra and men an enigmatic epithet tanumąθra, which perhaps means “who embodies the holy word.” He also possesses high intelligence (bərəziδī-). Finally, Sraoša has the standing epithet aṣ̌ya. As a secondary derivative of aṣ̌i, it has the sense of being connected in some way to aṣ̌i. However, it is unclear whether this means that he is a companion of the goddess Aši or that he is a source of rewards. If the epithet is based on the Gāthic passage quoted above, it is likely to refer to the goddess Reward. The Pahlavi Srōš Ahlāy (MMPers. srwšʾhrʾy “The Column of Glory”) is of no help, since it derives from OPers. artāwan- (see AŠAVAN), showing that Zoroastrian tradition held that aṣ̌ya was a derivative of aṣ̌a. Manichean Sogdian srwšrt preserves the historically correct form; otherwise, if it followed Middle Persian, it would have been ʾrtʾw “electus.”

As already seen in the Gāthās, Sraoša is associated with harkening to the holy word (mąθra). This role is expanded in the non-Gāthic Avesta to include ritual, speech, and religion in general. According to his Yašt, he was the first to strew barsman (§ 6) (see BARSOM), the first to recite the five Gāthās of Zarathustra (§ 8), and also the first to worship at the strewn barsman, clearly a priestly function. Since Ahura Mazdā revealed the Religion to him, he is the teacher of the Religion (Yt. 11.14: daēnō.disō +daēnayå) In his warrior role, his weapon is the club, yet in his priestly function his weapons are the Ahuna Vairya prayer, his “victorious weapon,” the Yasna Haptaŋhāiti, the Fšūsō.mąθra, as well as all sacrificial acts (Y. 57.22).

By far, the theme of Sraoša’s protection of the world from demonic forces dominates his hymns. This seems to be the primary source of his popularity throughout the history of Zoroastrianism. “Three times the same day or the same night he descends to this continent, shining Xwaniratha, in his hand holding the weapon, sharp at the blade, easily wielded at the head(s) of the demons” (Y. 57.31; see also GrBd 26.49) Especially active at night, he has “not slept since the two Spirits created their creations” (Y. 57.17) and “not falling asleep he guards and protects Mazdā’s creatures, he who protects the entire material world with his upraised weapon after sunset” (Y. 57.16). Although he routs the demons indiscriminately, Ahura Mazdā “created (him) as the antagonist of Wrath with the gory club (Yt. 11.15: aēšma xrwi.dru). Thus, “after sunset he smites Wrath with his shattering weapon (inflicting) a gory wound” (Y. 57.10). As protector, he wards off evil calamities and famines from this house, settlement, clan, and country, “in whose house he is satiated (with food and) treated with hospitality” (Y. 57.14). 

In the Pahlavi literature. Whether because of the paucity of preserved Avestan texts or because of historical developments, the Pahlavi literature, while continuing what is known from the Avesta, amplifies the roles of Srōš in a number of ways. Most striking is his association with Mihr and Rašn. In the Avesta, all that is said is that in battle, “Mithra drives the frightened regiments hither, Rašnu drives them thither, Sraoša aṣ̌ya chases them everywhere” (Yt. 10.41). Yet, in the later tradition these three deities play a major role in the judgment of the deceased’s soul and in its conveyance to the reward it has earned, as they sit at the Cinwad Bridge (DD 13.2-3) (see ČINWAD PUHL). In respect to the deceased, Srōš is to be invoked to protect the soul for the first three days after death, as it hovers in a liminal situation threatened by demonic powers (Suppl. Texts to the ŠnēŠ 17.3). On the fourth day, as psycho-pomp, he escorts the soul to the bridge, where judgment takes place (MX 2.114ff.; GrBd 26.50). As might be expected, at the Frašegird (see FRAŠŌ.KƎRƎTI) Srōš accompanies Ohrmazd for the judgment of the souls (Zādsp 35.31-33). And at that time he also smites Āz (PRDD 48.94) as well as his arch-enemy Xešm (GrBd 34.27; MX 8.13 ff.)

Srōš’s prowess in combating demons and protecting the material world contributes to his apparent elevation to a position of near equal earthly authority with Ohrmazd. Thus, “Srōš holds the material world (gētīg; see GĒTĪG AND MĒNŌG) through the performance of protection (by command) from Ohrmazd. Just as Ohrmazd is ruler in the spiritual world and the material, Srōš is the ruler of the material world. As He says: Ohrmazd is the protector of the soul in the spiritual world and Srōš is the protector of the body in the material world” (GrBd 26.46-48). His “proper function (xwēškārīh), the defense and protection of the those living in the material world, is by the command of the Creator” (DD 27.6). In the context of ritual, the PRDD (56.3) states—as an explanation of why, unlike the other deities who are to be worshiped together with Ohrmazd, Srōš is to be worshiped alone—that he is the lord and ruler (xwadāy ud dahibed) of the world. In contrast to the Srōš Yašt, where he comes down to the central continent, Xwaniratha (see HAFT KEŠVAR), in the Pahlavi books he exercises his sovereignty (xwadāyīh) mostly in Arzah and Sawah (GrBd 26.55), but also in Ērānwēz (MX 44.25). This sovereignty further became a model for earthly rulers, who are called srōšahlāy ī gētīg (DkM, p. 585.14).

Bibliography:

E. Benveniste, “Deux noms divins dans l'Avesta,” RHR 130, 1945, pp. 13-14 (for the meaning “discipline”).

M. Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism I, Leiden and Köln, 1975, pp. 60-62. 

[DD] E. W. West, Dâdistân-î Dênîk in Pahlavi Texts II, Oxford, 1882.

[DkM] D. M. Madan, The Pahlavi Dinkard, Bombay, 1911.

I. Gershevitch, The Avestan Hymn to Mithra, Cambridge, 1959, pp. 95, 193-194.

[GrBd] references to the Iranian Bundahišn are according to the chapter numbering of B. T. Anklesaria, Zand-Ākāsīh, Bombay, 1956.

G. Kreyenbroek, Sraoša in the Zoroastrian Tradition, Leiden, 1985. This is the definitive work on Sraoša which provided the foundation for the present article.

M. Mayrhofer, Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoarischen II, Wiesbaden, 1996, p. 672. 

[MX] E. W. West, Dînâ-î Maînôg-î Khirad in Pahlavi Texts III, Oxford, 1885.

[PRDD] A. V. Williams, The Pahlavi Rivāyat Accompanying the Dādestān ī Dēnīg, Copenhagen, 1990.

[Suppl. Texts] F. M. P. Kotwal, The Supplementary Texts to the Šāyest-nē-Šāyest, København, 1969.

[Zādsp] B. T. Anklesaria, Vichitagiha-i Zatsparam, Bombay, 1964.

(William W. Malandra)

Cite this article:

William W. Malandra, "SRAOŠA," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2014, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sraosa (accessed on 29 August 2014).