Ali A. Jafarey :


I recently e-mailed a long article, ‘The Zoroastrian Priest in the Avesta,.’ It was written and read at the FEZANA Conference in Chicago in 1987, and I had it published in SPENTA, the Zarathushtrian Assembly bulletin in 1994. In it, I argued in detail that the Good Religion of Zarathushtra had and has no place for priesthood and that Zarathushtra was neither a priest, nor from a Priestly Class or family. I wrote: “The solitary use of ‘zaotar’ in the Gathas (Song 6.6 = Yasna 33.6) in which Zarathushtra, who repeatedly condemns the cultic rituals performed by karapan priests and kavi princes, calls himself the ‘straight’ or ‘upright’ invoker and who does not indulge in any of them, proves otherwise that he was not a ritualistic priest by profession and that he was only an invoker, a true invoker indeed. His Gathas stand the best testimony to his being non-ritualistic.”


One should only read Yasht 4.7 to see how who one draws certain number of lines and recites the names of Amesha Spentas, drives away pollution, dead matter, diseases, demons, sorcerers, enemy warriors, and Lie, just as ‘zaotar Zarathushtra’ drove away the Karapans, the only priestly class named and condemned in the Gathas.


In the Gathas, Zarathushtra calls the priestly class as ‘karapans,’ and he condemns them in clear terms. Batholomae writes in ‘Altiranishes Worterbuch’: Karapan is a particular term for the teachers and priests antagonist to the Zarathushtrian religion. Taraporewala writes in the Glossary of his ‘The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra’ that Karapan is the “Priest of the earlier pre-Zoroastrian ritualistic faith.” Ichaporia renders it as ‘murmuring priest’ in his ‘The Gathas of Asho Zarathushtra’ (1993) but later agrees with Humbach to leave it as ‘Karapans’ in ‘The Heritage of Zarathushtra’ (1994) because “...the Karapans, the Usigs, and the Grehma gang are ... groups of religious or political character that are otherwise not defined.” I have commented on the term: “Karapan from ‘krp, to arrange,’ means officiating priest. But ‘krp’ also means ‘to mumble’ ... He (Zarathushtra) is a versatile poet and has his wit and humor. ... It (Karapan) also means ‘mourner, mumbler, as a homonymic word ...” (Good Conscience, The Rational Religion of Zarathushtra, Ali A. Jafarey, Lahore, 1976).


The ‘Karapans,’ and this includes Bendav, Grehma, and Usigs, are the only priests Zarathushtra knows and addresses. He does not make any exceptions. To him every priest is a Karapan. Had he been himself from a priestly class or family which would have belong to another group, he would have separated the two, unless, as we will see in his traditional life story of Pahlavi writings, his own father followed the Karapans.


The life story of Zarathushtra is, more or less, given in the Pahlavi writings of the Denkard (Books 5, 7, and 9), Selections of Zadspram, Pahlavi Rivayat, and Vijaekard-i Denig, the Persian Zaratosht-nameh, and the Arabic al-Milal v al-Nihal of Shahrestani -- all written after the fall of the Sassanians. None of these wrtings show that the Spitâmas were priests. On the contrary, they portray Pourushaspa as a layman, a fact that reminds one of the Vishtasp Yasht in which one finds a tie between his name and “having many horses.” The gist of all books shows that Karapans were the only priests. They exiled maiden Dughdav, later mother of Zarathushtra, because of her ‘non-orthodox’ views. They tried their best to destroy Zarathushtra. Zarathushtra’s father, Pourushaspa believed in their word and followed their instructions to harm his own son. Here is how he address his son Zarathushtra: “I thought I begot a son who may be priest (âsron -- âtharvan), warrior and husbandman; now thou art foolish and secretly spoiled; thou mayest proceed to the Karaps that they may cure thee ... (when approached, the Karapan gives his urine to Zarathushtra to drink, and Zarathushtra tells his father) ... Give back to him who is thy protector and archpriest (Dastvar -- Dastur).” (Vichitakiha-i Zatsparam, Behramgore T. Anklesaria, Bombay, 1964, Chapter 11.2-8). In the Denkard (7.3.35), Poroushaspa praises the Karapan as the “best ‘Daevayasna’ in our settlement” and requests him to pray over the meals. The royal court of Vishtaspa had powerful Karapans who plotted against Zarathushtra. There is no trace of any ‘good’ priest outside the Karapan circle.


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Note :

There are 2 views 1. Considers Zarathushtra as a Priest and 2. Does not consider Zarathushtra as a Priest. I am not a Zoroastrian so, I dont know the facts but I will keep both view points on my website and let the readers decide.


Encyclopaedia Iranica :


KARAPAN (or Karpan), designation of members of a class of daivic priests opposed to the religion of Zarathustra. These priests were a part of the general society in which Zarathustra was active, as reflected in his Gathas, but they seem to have receded into legendary status already in the formulaic sa?ram kaoyam karafnamca “of tyrants, kawis and karpans” of more recent Yašt compositions; and in the Pahlavi literature they figure prominently only in the legends of Zarathustra.


In the Gathas the term scans metrically as a disyllabic stem karpan-. Only the nom. sg. kar?pa and nom. pl. kar?pano are attested in Gathic, while Standard Avestan has only the gen. pl. kar?fnam (cf. mar??no). Chr. Bartholomae (AirWb., col. 455) compared OInd. kálpa- masc. ‘ritus,’ thus approximately ‘ritualist.’ However, the existence of the OInd. verb vkalp- or its derivatives in Iranian is quite dubious (see Mayrhofer, 1986, p. 324). Still, a formation parallel to ma?ran- would not be impossible; though one would expect *kar?pano in the plural. V. I. Abaev’s (1956) attempt to connect with Av. xrafstra- was in error. Most likely is W. B. Henning’s comparison (1951, p. 45) of Xwar. karb- ‘to moan, mumble.’ Rather than originally a pejorative designation ‘mumbler,’ as supposed by Henning, it would have referred to a priestly functionary, as shown by M. Schwartz (1985, pp. 479-81), who cogently derived the term from *vkarp- (OInd. vkrap- /k?p-‘to pray for, implore; lament’) with the meaning ‘supplicator, hymnist.’ Alternatively, if Henning’s ‘mumbler’ were to be retained, the karpan would have been similar to the Vedic adhvaryu, who recited in an undertone while performing his duties. Although it may be pure coincidence, in the Denkard (IX.3.20; ed. Madan, p. 618.2-3) we find dandid Bratroreš i karb “Bratroreš the karb muttered.” However that may be, kar?pan- may best be taken as a primary derivative in -an- (IE -en-). Since Vedic vkrap-is a se?-root, its derivatives k?pa?yá-, k?pa?yú- and k?pa?á- suggest that the vocalization of our word may have been *k?pan-/k?fn-. A secondary derivative, karapo.tat- (karpatat-) fem. ‘karpan-ship’ is also attested. The Pahlavi glosses give only karb (klp).

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