Gavaevodata (gav-aēvō.dātā) is the Avestan language name of the primordial bovine of Zoroastrian cosmogony and cosmology, one of Ahura Mazda's six primordial material creations and the mythological progenitor of all beneficent animal life.
The primordial beast is killed in the creation myth, but from its marrow, organs and cithra[a] the world is repopulated with animal life. The soul of the primordial bovine – geush urvan – returned to the world as the soul of livestock. Although geush urvan is an aspect of the primordial bovine in Zoroastrian tradition, and may also be that in the Younger Avesta, the relationship between the two is unclear in the oldest texts.
Although Avestan gav- "cow" is grammatically feminine, the word is also used as a singular for the collective "cattle". In English language translations Gavaevodata is often referred to in gender-neutral terms as “primordial ox”. Other translations refer to Gavaevodata as a bull (cf. Boyce 1975, p. 139). The -aevo.data of the name literally means "created as one" or "solely created" or "uniquely created."
Gavaevodata is only alluded to in the surviving texts of the Avesta, referred to by name in only two hymns. In other instances, for example in Yasht 13.85, the primordial beast is mentioned among the six material creations, but not by name. Elsewhere, such as in the Gathic Avestan Yasna Haptanghaiti, prayers are offered on behalf of the soul of the cow (geush urvan, Y. 35), or worship is offered to "the cow's soul, and to her created body" (Y. 39), but in neither case is Gavaevodata mentioned by name, nor is it clear (unlike in Zoroastrian tradition) whether the soul of the cow is the soul of Gavaevodata.
This is also the case for The Cow's Lament in Yasna 29, which – as a Gatha – is attributed to Zoroaster himself, and is thus the subject of a great deal of interpretation. In this allegorical text, the soul of the cow (geush urvan) despairs over the wretched condition to which the forces of deceit (druj) have subjected her (see myth, below), and over her lack of protection from an adequate herdsman. The divinities hold council, and decide that Zoroaster is the only one who can alleviate her condition. At first she laments even more, holding Zoroaster to be incompetent, but finally accepts his assistance.
At least two levels of meaning have been inferred from this text (Malandra 2001, p. 577): The maltreated creature symbolizes the plight of Zoroaster's community, and the soul of the primordial beast is a metaphor for the message that Zoroaster has received from Mazda. In verse 3 of the litany to the moon (Mah Niyayesh 3), Gavaevodata is invoked as (or together with) the "bovine of many species" in the care of the moon Mah, specifically måŋha- gaociθra- "the moon that keeps in it the cithra[a] of cattle," which is a stock epithet of Mah (Yasht 7.3, 7.5, 7.6, GBd VIe.2-3, VII.5-6 etc.)
In the 30 hymns to the divinities of the Zoroastrian calendar month, Gavaevodata is again invoked in the verses nominally dedicated to the Moon. In both Siroza 1.12 and 2.12, Mah is again referred to as "the Moon containing the cithra of cattle," and Gavaevodata is again referred to as (or in the company of) the "Bovine of many species."
The mythology of the "uniquely created bovine" that is only alluded to in the extant Avesta appears fully developed in the 9th-11th century Middle Persian texts of Zoroastrian tradition. In these texts, Avestan Gavaevodata appears as Middle Persian gaw i ew-dad or ewazdad or ewagdad, and retains the same literal meaning as the Avestan language form.
As also for all other Zoroastrian cosmological beliefs, the primary source of information on the primordial ox is the Bundahishn, a 9th-century text. In this text, the primordial ox is a hermaphrodite, having both milk (Ibd 43.15) and semen (Ibd 94.4). It is "white, bright like the moon, and three measured poles in height" (Gbd Ia.12). The uniquely created ox lived its life on the river Veh. Daiti (Gbd Ia.12), and on the opposite bank lived Gayomart/d (Avestan Gayo maretan), the mythical first human.
Gawi ewdad's role in the creation myth runs as follows: During the first three-thousand year period, Ahura Mazda's (Ormuzd) fashioned the bovine as His fourth or fifth[b] of six primordial material creations. At the beginning of the second three-thousand year period, Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) attacked the world, and the Creator responded by placing the primordial plant, bovine, and human in the respective heavenly spheres of the stars, moon and sun (IBd 7). But Ahriman assaulted the sky and Ormuzd fed the bovine "medicinal mang" (mang bēšaz[c]) to lessen its suffering (GBd IV.20). The bull immediately became feeble, and then died.[d]
But as it lay dying its chihr[a] was rescued and carried to "the moon station."[e] In the care of the moon, the chihr[a] of the beast was purified and became the male and female pairs of the animals "of many species." After the ox's death, fifty-five kinds of grain and twelve kinds of medicinal plants grew from its marrow (Ibd 10). In another passage (Ibd 93.11, cf an equivalent passage in Zadspram), the Bundahishn speaks of sesame, lentils, leeks, grapes, mustard and marjoram issuing from various other parts of its body. For example, lentils from the liver and mustard from the lungs[f] (Ibd 14.1, Gbd XIII.2[g]).
Goshorun (from Avestan geush urvan), the soul of the primordial bovine, escaped to the star, moon, and sun stations where she lamented the destruction of the world. She was not placated until Ormuzd shows her the fravashi of the yet-unborn Zoroaster (whose protection she would receive). Contented with the promise of protection, Goshorun then agreed to be "created back to the world in livestock." (Gbd IVa.2ff, Ibd' 46.3ff., Denkard p.9).
- The precise meaning of this word in this context is unknown. It is traditionally translated as "seed", which in the sense of "prototype" carries the connotation of a particular physical form or appearance. But the word can also mean "seed" in the sense of a "race, stock", which Gavaevodata – as the primordial animal – is the apical ancestor of.
- The primordial bovine is either the fifth or the fourth creation, depending on which enumeration is followed. The number of material creations varies as well, and is either six or seven, subject to whether fire is included as the seventh and last of the material creations. The Greater Bundahishn has Gawi ewdad as the fifth of seven creations.
- Middle Persian mang refers to either henbane (e.g. Hyoscyamus niger) or datura (Datura stramonium) or hemp (e.g. Cannabis sativa).
- Henning. Zoroaster: Politician or witch doctor?. p. 32. suggests that the author meant a euthanasiac was administered. For contra, see Boyce 1975, p. 231, n. 11.
- The "moon station" being referred to is the station of the moon known in Middle Persian as pesh Parwez "before (in front of) Parwez," with Parwez being the Middle Persian equivalent of Avestan paoiryaeinyas, the Pleiades.
- For the reconstruction of the Avestan word for mustard (identified in Zoroastrian tradition with healthy lungs), and its homophonic similarity to the Middle Persian word for lungs, see Henning, Walter Bruno (1965), "A grain of mustard", Annali dell' Istituto Orientale di Napoli, Sezione Linguistica, 6: 29–31 (Selected Papers II, pp. 597-599).
- In several translations (e.g. the Anklesaria or West Bundahishns) of Middle Persian texts, Middle Persian sipandan "mustard" is mis-translated as "(wild) rue." This is due to a confusion of mustard (Middle Persian sipandan) with s(i)pand, which is so-called "Syrian rue."
- Malandra, William (2001), "Gāwī ēwdād", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 10, Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, p. 340.
- Malandra, William (2001), "Gə̄uš Uruuan", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 10, Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, p. 577.
- Boyce, Mary (1975), A History of Zoroastrianism, 1, Leiden: Brill, pp. 138–139.