Were Zoroastrians Enjoined To Practice ‘Khvaetvadatha’ Or Next-Of-Kin Marriages?

There is one concept we are enjoined to follow, which one finds difficult to believe, that our Prophet Asho Zarathushtra, the first and one of the greatest rational thinkers of all times could or should have propagated… that is the belief in ‘Khvaetvadatha’ or the practice of the next-of-kin marriage. In Yasna 12.9, from where our confession of faith, Jas me Avanghe Mazda, emanates, we read, ‘I pledge myself to the Mazdayasnian religion, which causes the attack to be put off and weapons put down; which upholds khvaetvadatha (next-of-kin marriage), which possesses Asha; which of all religions that exist or shall be, is the greatest, the best, and the most beautiful: Ahuric, Zoroastrian. I ascribe all good to Ahura Mazda. This is the creed of the Mazdayasnian religion.’

Every unbiased authority on Zoroastrianism is of the opinion that the ethics of the Zoroastrian faith is undoubtedly the most practical and exalting. One can write a tome on the expression of the highest order of praises showered upon the faith so simple and pure, but at the same time, how can something so profound in rational wisdom support such a base practice as ‘Khetuadath’ (Avesta) or ‘Khvetukdas’ (Pahlvi).

We learn from a Pahlvi text, the sacred books of the East, about the ‘benefits’ of the observance of ‘Khvetukdas’, wherein it is stated if one performs ‘khveukdas’ for the first time a thousand demons and two thousand wizards and witches will die. If the person observes it twice, two thousand demons and four thousand wizards and witches will perish. It goes on till the fourth time, the man and woman involved will be righteous. One wonders how such a repeated performance of a base and dehumanizing practice can lead to destruction of any evil.

The word is supposed to have been used only five times in the entire Avestan text. Western scholars interpret the word ‘khvaetvadatha’ as a compound of two words, Khvaetu meaning family and vadatha meaning marriage. It has been interpreted as consanguineous or the next-of-kin marriage. Almost all the western scholars and even a few Zoroastrian scholars interpret the word as matrimony between very close relatives, and they quote few instances where almost incestuous marriages had taken place between the members of the royal families. Yes, this custom was widely practiced by Egyptian Royalty, even Roman, but quite rarely in Iran. Western scholars are right to a certain extent, contends Dr. Jamsheed Choksi, that it was during the Sassanian times and also later that ‘Khvaetvadatha’ came to be a term for incestuous marriages.

The word ‘Khvaetu’ or ‘Khvaetav’ comes from the word ‘khva’ meaning self, own self. It is not a late Avestan term and it occurs eight times in the ancient Gathic literature. According to most Zoroastrian scholars the compounding words are ‘khvaetu’/ ‘khvaetav’ and ‘datha’ (as against ‘Khvaetu’ and ‘vadatha’) meaning family connection or relationship, and also self-devoted. When taken as self-devoted, the Gathic word ‘xaetus’(Khvaetu) is able to make sense of the whole of Yasna 32.1. The grammatical structure ‘Khaevtu’ and ‘datha’ is clear, comprehensive and meaningful, rather sensible and more in accordance with the teachings of Asho Zarathushtra. It is the union of oneself with his or her family, having family connection and being self-sufficient.

Thus we can conclude that we were never enjoined to practice the next-of-kin marriages as interpreted by the western scholars!

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