The Role of Farr in Firdowsi's Shahname

Written by

Iraj Bashiri

copyright, Bashiri 1993


I. Introduction 1

The word farr, used in the contemporary Persian and Tajiki languages, was employed for the first time by Abu Mansur Muhammad Ibn-i Ahmad Daqiqi at the end of the 10th century AD. This word is originally derived from the Avestan word khwarnag. Its Pahlavi form is khwar. Other names for the farr in the ancient literatures of the Perso-Tajik peoples include farr-i izadi (glory of God), farr-i shahanshahi (the king of kings' glory), farr-i Ariya'i (the glory of the Aryans), and farr-i kayani (the glory of the Kayanian dynasty). 2 The farr plays three major roles in Firdowsi's Shahname. First, it distinguishes the peoples who inhabited Central Asia and Iran in ancient and medieval times. The major groups thus distinguished were the Iranians, the Turanians, and the Turks. Using the concept of farr, Firdowsi separates the Aryan Iranian and Turanians from the Uralic-Altaic Turks. He states that the Iranians have been in possession of the farr from the beginning of their history and that farr remains in their possession throughout the Shahname era. Firdowsi recognizes the Turanians as Iranians who had lost their farr after the reign of King Fereydun, who divided his kingdom among his sons. In subsequent periods of Iranian history, Firdowsi says, the Turanians sought to recapture their lost farr, often at the expense of the Iranians. Indeed, the first ten times that the name of Tur, the eponymous ancestor of the Turanians, is used in the Shahname (i.e., before Fereydun's tripartite division of the realm) it is blessed with the attribute of a farahmand. The third group, the Turks, according to Firdowsi, had never been associated with the concept of the farr. Their participation in the wars that occur between Iran and Turan on the subject of the farr is for reasons other than those of their Turanian overlords. Since this aspect of the farr has already been discussed in a different article, 3 it will not be expanded upon here. 4

The second role of the farr in the Shahname is the establishment of kingship in the family of Kayumars and the promotion of the concept of divine rulership among the Iranian peoples. In this respect, farr is used 451 times throughout the Shahname. Of these, it is used 41 times in praise of Yazdan, the creator of the farr, 180 times to praise the Iranian monarchs, 50 times to praise princes, and 38 times to praise the Iranian champions. A close study of the farr also indicates that those who carried it were themselves participants in a special hierarchy in which the farr of the king was the richest and the strongest. All the other farrs were positioned hierarchically below that exalted source.

The third and the most germane role of the farr in the Shahname is guidance of the king in worldly affairs by providing him with a pre-ordained and sacred example of divine rulership. In this role, the farr puts the king in contact with the "perfect mind," especially when the king embarks upon epoch-making decisions (i.e., decisions that would affect the lives of many Iranians throughout centuries). Fereydun and Kaykhusrau, as it will be shown, are prime examples of epoch-making monarchs of the Perso-Tajik peoples. King Fereydun, by taking refuge in the power of kin (vengeance) distanced his descendants from Ahriman's harm. He also guided his successors, Iraj, Kayka'us, Siyavosh, and others, to recapture the spiritual unity that Iran had lost after the fall from grace of King Jamshid. Kaykhusrau, after a great deal of deliberation and study of the events of the past, rejected the concept of kin as an effective weapon against evil and sided with din (religion shorn of superstition and dogma) for the future of a unified Iran and Turan. Because din, kin, and farr are inseparable aspects of the life of the ancient Iranians, in what follows, we shall examine Firdowsi's great epic from these vantage points.

II. The Emergence of the Farr

The Shahname was written by Hakim Abu al-Qasim Firdowsi between the years 935 and 1026 AD.5 Based on ancient documents describing the deeds of the champions of the Perso-Tajik peoples, it is the most important historical, sociological, religious, and ethical document of the Iranian peoples. Firdowsi's epic describes the ancient world from cosmological, mythological, and historical perspectives. According to Firdowsi the first world that Ahura Mazda created was a cosmic world inhabited by cosmic beings like Kayumars. In it, especially at the beginning, equality ruled so that no one was preferred over the others. After consultation with His Yazatas, Ahura Mazda changed the balance of His world by making Kayumars His own deputy and lord over the others. Furthermore, in order to distinguish Kayumars meaningfully, He invested him with the power of divine rulership. Ahura Mazda's cosmic world, of course, was a model of sound governance for the future generations that would populate the earth.

After Ahriman's destruction of Ahura Mazda's cosmic world and after the death of Kayumars, the window that had been opened for Kayumars to find divine guidance remained open. In addition, the blessing of being inspired by divine knowledge was conferred upon the descendants of Kayumars as well. These descendants, who appeared later in the form of the male and female branches of a sacred rhubarb plant, were the mythical population of the world. According to the requirements of the farr, these mythical creatures were divided along socio-political lines. The descendants of Kayumars—Jamshid (Yama), Fereydun (Thrataona), and Kayka'us (Kavi Usa)—were all blessed with the farr and each used, or misused, it according to his understanding of the needs of the time.

As is evident, the farr was a blessing conferred by Ahura Mazda upon special individuals. Whenever the chosen individual neglected the farr or chose not to follow its requirements, the farr was taken away from him and conferred upon a different person. The important peculiarity of this divine blessing rested in the fact that farr was not hereditary and that it could not be gained through wars and bloodshed. Rather, it was a blessing that became a part of the individual as a reward for admirable foresight and commitment.

III. Farr and the Lie

A summary of the story of the creation of farr and of the use of the power of farr in the organization of Ahura Mazda's world appears in the Zamyad Yasht. This story covers both the defeat of the lie by such heroes as Tahmuras and the prevalence of the lie over kings like Jamshid. The Zamyad Yasht explains that the farr increases the power of those who endeavor to improve the world of Ahura Mazda with truth and who distance themselves from pride, conceit, and the lie. Constantly lurking in the dark, the lie seeks an opportunity to influence the world of truth that the kings had created with the aid of the farr and destroy it. It is incumbent upon the king, therefore, to be informed of the ruses of the lie to safeguard his world from its harm and vagaries. Tahmuras is a representative of the kings who created the world according to the dictates of Ahura Mazda, while Jamshid exemplifies a king who was deceived by pride and, consequently, was brought down from the peak of his power. After gaining control of both the physical and the spiritual powers of the farr, Jamshid rebelled against Ahura Mazda and, in the process, lost his kingdom. He also betrayed the helpless and innocent people who had put their trust in him; they were delivered, as it were, to the dragon of the lie, Zahhak (Azidahaka).

Throughout Zahhak's reign, the lie penetrated the thoughts and deeds of the people, giving them an incentive to eliminate each other in order to save themselves from the burning breath of the dragon. During the last days in particular, the people of Ahura Mazda were all but destroyed. In fact, the world would have entered the dragon king's eternal darkness, were it not for the emergence of the blacksmith Kaveh and Fereydun on the scene.

IV. The Farr and Kin

Again, according to Zamyad Yasht, King Fereydun captured the royal farr, rose against Zahhak, and liberated the world of Ahura Mazda. Fereydun's reign was the era of reconstruction and recapturing of Iran's by-gone glory. However, only the military aspect of the reconstruction was achieved with ease. The spiritual aspect engaged Fereydun quite deeply (i.e., until he realized that Jamshid, having been defeated by the lie, had confused the greatness of Ahura Mazda with his own worldly pomp and glory). He further reasoned that the confusion must have been the result of the penetration of the lie in all the aspects of the country, bringing about the impotency of the farr. Fereydun also realized that as long as the lie was not openly discussed, its deep roots in the country could not be severed and its grip on the hearts of his subjects would not be released. Therefore, the epoch-making question during the latter part of Fereydun's rule was this: What power would be able to, for centuries to come, separate the good from evil and safeguard the truth without endangering the unity of the country? The answer was summarized in the word kin, which was constantly able to keep the future kings and their people conscious of the existence of the lie and thus guard them against the deceitful acts of the perpetrators of the lie.

The family has always been one of the basic columns of the life of the Iranian peoples, and throughout history its management has served as a guiding light for the governance of the country as well. In reality, in ancient times, the whole kingdom of Iran was considered to be a large family with the shah carrying out the duties of the father. Fereydun, after studying the deeds of his children—the future kings, and commanders of the country—concluded that his elder son, Tur, was in no way worthy of receiving the farr. However, at the same time, he realized that that same Tur could play a major role in the future of the kingdom vis-à-vis his youngest son, Iraj. For this reason, at the time of choosing his successor, Fereydun kindled the flame of kin in the dark heart of Tur by awarding, the recaptured farr to Iraj contrary to the custom of the time. Fereydun was aware that Tur and his descendants would create a much needed negative pole against the positive rule of Iraj and that they would keep Iraj and his descendants worried about the deceits of the lie. From what can be gathered from the Shahname, Fereydun was not mistaken in his analysis of the situation. Tur's murder of innocent Iraj created an intense desire for vengeance in the hearts of the Iranians against Tur and his Turanians. Before long, Fereydun's intentionally created family quarrel, turned into a series of bloody wars of vengeance for the possession of the farr.

After being rescued from prison,6 Kayka'us used the kin for Iraj as a pretext and sent his son, Siyavosh, to fight the Turanians. Siyavosh, with the guidance of the farr, opened the way of friendship with Piran-i Vise and Afrasiyab and, in a short time, built a strong fortress called Siyavoshgird near the city of Khutan. Afrasiyab, after realizing his own mistake, had Siyavosh murdered, but this crime did not stabilize his kingdom. Of course, Afrasiyab's fear was due to Siyavosh's farr. He feared that the Iranian prince, by using the power of his farr, might easily incite the Turanians against him and ultimately annex Turan to Iran. That is, in fact, exactly what happened. Siyavosh was not only aware of Afrasiyab's deadly plans but, with the power of his farr, was also aware of the end result. Comparing the death of Iraj at the hand of Tur with his own planned death at the hand of Afrasiyab, Siyavosh arrived at the conclusion that the kin of Siyavosh for the Iranians would be more intense and constructive than the kin of Iraj. He also knew that his own son, after ascending the throne of the Kayanians, would rise to avenge him and, in the process, would raise Turan to the ground. It was for this reason, therefore, that after establishing a safe haven for his future son, Siyavosh walked to his own death. By this act, he paved the way for his son to implement Fereydun's concept of kin to recapture the unity of Iran and Turan.

V. Farr and Government

Born from the seeds of Afrasiyab and Kayka'us, the blessed son of Siyavosh, Kaykhusrau, is perhaps the most illustrious of the mythical kings of the Perso-Tajik peoples. With the assistance of Piran-i Viseh, Kaykhusrau fled Turan and the clutches of Afrasiyab and ascended the throne of Iran. From there, he dispatched a great army, led by mighty Tus, to Turan to avenge his father. When Tus was defeated and returned to Iran, Kaykhusrau used Afrasiyab's lust for power as a pretext to launch a series of reforms and prepare Iran for a final victory in Turan. These reforms consisted of two major programs. According to the first program, the land of Iran, which had been heavily ravaged by Afrasiyab's previous incursions, was completely reconstructed. According to the second plan, a huge army was dispatched to Turan in order to complete Kaykhusrau's plan for the total destruction of Turan.

Following the dictates of farr, Kaykhusrau did not participate in the initial engagements in this war. Rather, he waited until Afrasiyab was forced to leave Gang Dezh. The position of the commander-in-chief of the Iranian army was first given to Tus and, later on, to Fariburz, Kayka'us's son. Kaykhusrau also asked Iran's experienced paladins, especially Giv and Rustam, to accompany the host. After the war had begun, Kaykhusrau decreed that the Iranian army should remain in the vicinity of Khutan, Piran's steadfast base and the operative center of Turan's war machine. He further ordered that the army should not leave that region until Piran, his son, and Piran's brothers were all killed.

After the destruction of the local forces in Turan, Kaykhusrau directed his attention to the outside bases of power that contributed to Afrasiyab's strength. With the help of Rustam, he killed Kamus the Kushan and the Khaqan of China and set Shangol of India and all the other foreign allies of Afrasiyab to flight. In this way, Afrasiyab was forced to abandon Gang Dezh and become a vagabond. Fearing Kaykhusrau, Afrasiyab took refuge in his most intimate element—water. Using the power of his farr, Kaykhusrau then dragged Afrasiyab out of the depths of the oceans and decapitated him with his sword. With the death of this second Zahhak, the kingdom of Iran regained its spiritual unity and looked forward to a bright future under the auspices of the royal farr.

VI. Kin and Din

Kaykhusrau's life was tumultuous, but always exciting. His childhood was spent at the side of Piran and away from the eyes of Afrasiyab. His youth was spent in planning successive wars with his grandfather and in commanding Iran's army for Kayka'us. In the end, after the "Great War" annexed Turan to Iran, and when the base of the lie was once again destroyed, Kaykhusrau began to think seriously about the reconstruction of the greater Iran and its return from the way of kin. Kaykhusrau realized that Fereydun's decision to divide his kingdom among his three sons and to assign the farr to his most deserving son must have been motivated by something. After much deliberation, he concluded that Fereydun had kept the farr away from the reach of his eldest son because the lie had been with that son. He had assigned the farr to the youngest in order to pinpoint the place where the lie fought against the truth. But Kaykhusrau also realized that in spite of the lengthy wars that had been launched to avenge Iraj and Siyavosh, the lie had unfortunately continued to sustain its strong roots in the kingdom. The final conclusion, of course, was that kin had not proved to be a viable weapon against the lie and that, after centuries of struggle, Iran and Turan had returned to the position that they had held at the time of the division of Fereydun's kingdom.

Thus far, Kaykhusrau had followed Fereydun's way in order not to jeopardize the unity of Iran. Otherwise, he regarded kin to be a poor weapon against the lie, because kin, in addition to not being constructive, nourished good and evil equally. Furthermore, kin failed to fulfill the desires of the auspicious kings and of the Lord, Who sought tranquility and prosperity for people.

The discovery of this tragic reality engaged Kaykhusrau's mind intensely. For forty days and nights he remained in seclusion and in conversation with his Creator. At the end, he found a new solution for the future problems of the newly reunited Perso-Tajik peoples. He realized that the power of the farr—like the force of water, wind, and fire— has its own destructive and constructive aspects. Fereydun and Jamshid had both utilized the destructive powers of the farr, but especially Fereydun, who used the power of kin to create great destruction and slaughter in the land. Din, Kaykhusrau concluded, embodied the constructive aspect of the farr. It had both a protective and a generative power, and it was able to distinguish the truth from the lie. Kaykhusrau further realized that by supporting din, it was possible to put an end to the wars that had been brought about by kin. And finally, he understood that din could expand into the domain of the lie with such force that the lie would vanish not only in form but in its very essence.

It is important to note that Fereydun, after recognizing kin as his best weapon against the lie, did not introduce it into his rulership immediately rather, he sowed the seed of kin among the members of his own family, nurtured it, and, eventually, through his descendants—Iraj, Siyavosh, and Kaykhusrau—introduced it at the government level. Over the next few centuries, the effort was brought to fruition. Kaykhusrau, too, adopted the same method. As a first step in opening the way for the preparations necessary to usher in din and the future leaders of the country, he resigned from the kingship that had been based on kin. Then, as Fereydun had done, he arranged for the timing of the choice of his successor to coincide with his own departure from the throne. Finally, much to the consternation of all princes, governors, commanders, and the nobles of Iran, he chose Luhrasp, an unknown man who seemed distant from nobility, to succeed him. Using his farr, Kaykhusrau had realized that Luhrasp was not only in possession of the farr, but that he was also an innate supporter of din. We understand Kaykhusrau's motives in choosing Luhrasp only when Zal attributed the royal choice to the deeds of Ahriman in the person of Kaykhusrau. The king reminded Zal that Luhrasp was not only blessed with the farr, but that from among the descendants of Luhrasp there would rise a man who would support the tenets of a Prophet who would seek a new rule for the Perso-Tajik people, a rule based on din. The story of the acceptance of the Prophet Zoroaster at the court of Gushtasp is widely known.

VII. Farr and History

During historical times, as during the cosmic and mythological times, the farr had enjoyed special greatness. From among the kings of the Achaemenian dynasty, Cyrus the Great and his son Cambyses were both blessed with the farr. Darius I the Great, who had been born close to the throne, but who did not enjoy the possession of the farr, was forced to prove his right to the throne with successive victories in war and with marriage ties to the royal family. That is perhaps why, during the first year of his rule, Darius I the Great fought nineteen battles and dethroned nine kings 7 and married Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great. It was only during the last years of the rule of Xerxes I that the farr abandoned the Achaemenian dynasty. 8 None of the later kings of the dynasty was capable of returning the blessed farr to Iran. Consequently, the Achaemenian dynasty was overthrown in BC 332 by Alexander the Great of Macedonia.

The difference between the Seleucid kings' lack of farr and Darius the Great I's rested in that Darius I the Great could prove his right to the throne with his being an Iranian, with the heroism that he showed in wars, and with the creation of a blood relationship with the royal family. None of these factors held true for the Seleucids, who could not, as a result, establish a relationship between their dynasty and the farr. This inability also handicapped the Seleucids in their attempts to create a rapport between themselves and the Iranian people. This, however, proved to be more than a difficulty. Without proof of the possession of the farr, the Seleucids realized, they could not rule the Iranians. Therefore, out of necessity they took refuge in the creation of a god in the form of a man. They thought that the same method that had brought them the loyalty of the Egyptians would also bring them the loyalty of the Iranians, but this was only an idle thought. They were not aware that the Iranian kings had continuously portrayed themselves as carriers of the farr and as representatives of Yazdan on earth. They had never claimed to be living gods. Therefore, the rule of a man-god was rejected by the Iranian public, and the government of the Seleucids never took root on Iranian soil.9

In reality, most of the Iranian dynasties have utilized the farr and have left symbolic traces of their use. For example, in the architecture of Persepolis, in Fars province, we encounter the symbol of the faruhar as it hovers over Darius I the Great's head. 10 In this symbol, farr appears as a ring that constitutes the torso of the faruhar. In paintings uncovered in ancient Panjkent, Varakhshe, and Qahqaha, the farr appears as a lamb posed at the side of the king. In many of the pictures in this latter collection, there are golden lambs that carry the throne of the king. In the excavations in Isfara, the head of one such lamb was discovered and, in the Shahname, Kayka'us presents Rustam with a throne that has similar attributes. 11 Furthermore, the scene of a lamb's bringing of the farr to the founder of the Sassanian dynasty, King Ardashir, is described in the Karnamak-i Ardashir-i Babakan (The Deeds of Ardashir of the House of Babak). 12 That scene has been a source of inspiration for Iranian painters throughout many centuries. There are also depictions of the farr in the form of a ring around the neck of certain birds or in the form of a banner at the back of the headgear of the latter kings of the Sassanian dynasty. 13

During Islamic times, great efforts were expended to delete the idea of the farr from the Arabic texts that dealt with Iranian mythology and history. For example, in his summary of the Khudayname (Book of Kings), Abu Ja'far Muhammad Ibn-i Jarir al-Tabari describes the wars between Iran and Turan (i.e., wars that had been fought exclusively for the possession of the farr) as a series of border struggles between Iranians and Turks (not Turanians). 14 In addition, both Afrasiyab and Piran, who had spent their lives trying to capture the farr for Turan, are referred to with the term "Turk." Does this not negate the strong bond that Firdowsi has established among the Iranians and Turanians throughout his Shahname? 15

In spite of this kind of influence, from the three basic roles that were enumerated for the farr, the third—that is, guidance of the king in charitable affairs according to a divine example—remained steadfast in Islamic Iran. Of course, in this aspect the Muslims also introduced devastating changes in the source and in the principles of the right to the farr. For instance, when Allah replaced Ahura Mazda during Islamic times and His was the only light that reached humankind, both the kings and the Shi'ite imams claimed their separate guidance to that same extraordinary light source.

The question of the farr during Islamic times does not have a simple answer. It is related to the Ishraqi philosophy 16 and, as such, must be dealt with in a separate article. Suffice it to refer to the two principal bases of the Ishraqi philosophy, i.e., hikmat al-kashfiyyah and hikmat al-bahsiyyah. The first principal deals with the secrets of the world of the Nur al-anwar, which resembles the garodman, or Zoroaster's seventh heaven. The other is concerned with the world of the senses and reason and, consequently, with the material world. In this philosophy, the farr emerges as a light from the world of the Nur al-anwar. It illuminates the material world and serves it as a guide so that it organizes its affairs correctly.

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