cais1.gif (153930 bytes)

CAIS Persian Text.gif (34162 bytes)


The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies

 Persian Section.PNG (9914 bytes)


About CAIS


Daily News

News Archive


CAIS Seminars

Image Library





Contact Us


Facebook-Button.jpg (107165 bytes)

Fauna & Flora


By: Professor Mary Boyce


Persepolis_Persian_mastif.jpg (45159 bytes)

  A statue of Persian Mastiff from Persepolis (Click to enlarge)

There was evidently an Indo-European belief in supernatural dogs of death (Schlerath), and these appear in the Rigveda as the "four-eyed" hounds of Yama, who watch along the path which departed souls take to their future abode (Keith, II, pp. 406-07). In Vidêvdâd 19.30 two dogs are said to stand at the Ùinvat bridge, by the female figure (the Daêna, q.v.) who there confronts the soul, and in Vidêvdâd 13.9 these are called the "two bridge-protecting dogs" (spâna pəšu.pâna).

Mortal dogs receive a striking degree of attention in the "legal" (dâdîg) books of the Avesta, notably in the Vidêvdâd and the almost wholly lost Duzd-sar-nizad, the contents of which are known from Dênkard (q.v.) 8. The two chief categories of dog (Vd. 13.8 and passim; Ardâ Wîrâz nâmag 48.4) are the herd dog (pasuš.haurva, lit., "cattle protecting"; Pahl. sag î šubânân) and house dog (viš.haurva, lit. "house protecting"; Pahl. sag î mânbânân). Their duties only are defined (Vd. 13.17-18). To them are added the vohunazga (Vd. 13.8), which other Avestan and Pahlavi contexts suggest was a masterless dog, loosely attached to the local community; and finally the tauruna (Vd. 13.15), apparently a young dog (linked by a simile with a youth who has put on the sacred girdle; Vd. 13.23), presumably not yet trained.

Gratitude is required of men toward the herd and house dog, for Ahura Mazdâ (q.v.) is represented as declaring: "No house would stand *firmly founded* for me on the Ahura-created earth were there not my herd dog or house dog" (nôit mê nmânəm vî’âtô hištənti za…m paiti ahura’âta…m yezi mê nôit å; Vd. 13.49). Responsibility toward dogs is repeatedly linked with responsibility toward humans. In the Huspârâm Nask the proper quantities of food are listed for man, woman, child, and the three kinds of dogs (Dênkard 8.37.1). A sick dog is to be looked after as carefully as a sick person (Vd. 13.35), a bitch in whelp as solicitously as a woman with child (Vd. 15.19). Puppies are to be cared for for six months, children for seven years (Vd. 15.45). There is a partly playful account of how the dog combines the characteristics of eight kinds of people (Vd. 13.44-48), and a description of him as created by Ahura Mazdâ "self-clothed, self-shod, alertly watchful, sharp-toothed, sharing the food of men, to watch over (man's) possessions" (hvâvastrəm xúâ.aoθrəm zaêni.bu’rəm ti‘i.da…surəm vîrô.draonaηhəm gaêθana…m harərâi; Vd. 13.39). "Having/sharing the food of men" (vîrô.draonaηhəm) is to be taken literally. In Vidêvdâd 13.28 it is enjoined that a dog is to be given milk and fat together with meat (xšvisca âzûitišca gə@uš ma†), staple articles of the diet of pastoralists.

According to a lost Avestan passage, preserved through Pahlavi translation in the Bundahišn (tr. Anklesaria, 13.28), the dog was created "from the star station . . . for the protection of beneficent animals, as if blended of beneficent animals and people" (az star pâyag . . . pânagîh î gôspandân rây, chun gumêzag az gôspandân ud mardôhmân). Because he was held to be of moral character, his corpse was thought to be surrounded, like a good person's, by triumphant evil powers, and so was highly contaminating. Hence one of the places where earth suffers most is where the bodies of men and dogs are buried (Vd. 3.8). If a dog dies in a house, fire is to be taken out of that house, as when a person dies (Vd. 5.39-40), and the dog's body is to be carried like a human's to a place of exposure (Vd. 8.14).

Like a human's, it contaminates the path over which it is carried, which is then to be purified by a living dog being led over it, for a dog was thought capable of driving away Nasu, the corpse demon which brings putrefaction. The dog used for this task was ideally "tawny with four eyes (or) white with tawny ears" (zairitəm caθru.cašməm spaêtəm zairi.gaošəm; Vd. 8.16). There seems an echo here of the supernatural four-eyed dogs of Yama, though for a mortal creature the characteristic is understood, by later Zoroastrians at least, as having two flecks of different-colored hairs just above the eyes (Jackson; Boyce, Stronghold, p. 140 and n. 3).. Because of the belief that a dog could drive away contaminating demons it was also to be present at the ritual cleansing known later as the barašnom-e nô šaba (Vd. 8.37, 8.38; see BARAŠNOM).

It seems probable that this power came to be attributed to the dog because dogs are the animals always referred to in the Avesta as devouring corpses, and, as they (presumably, that is, the vohunazga dogs, which would have followed the corpse bearers to the exposure place) were able to do this with impunity, it was plain that the corpse demon could not harm them. (On similar corpse eating by the dogs of modern African pastoralists see Boyce, p. 100 n. 56; see also CORPSE; DEATH). Thus a Pahlavi gloss on the vohunazga dog of Vidêvdâd 13.19 is "he smites Nasu" (nasûš ê zanêd; Pahlavi Vendidâd, p. 283.)

Respect for dogs was maintained in later Zoroastrianism, with most of the usages enjoined in the Avesta being continued, and some even elaborated. With the general building of funerary towers, the disposal of corpses was left to carrion-eating birds; but the dog was still used to help drive off Nasu at the barašnom-e nô šaba, and the additional rite of sagdîd (lit., "seen by the dog") was evolved, evidently from the belief that he has the power to do so. For this rite a dog (male and at least four months old) was brought to look at a corpse before it was carried to the dakhma, in order to lessen the contamination. The rite is first attested in the late Sasanian Šâyest nê šâyest (chap. 2), with what appears to be a supportive interpolation in the Vidêvdâd sâde (between 7.2 and 7.3; given in Avesta, tr. Darmesteter, II, p. 97). In time the rite came to be performed three times for each corpse (at death, when it was placed on the bier, and outside the dakhma) and also during each gâh if the funeral were delayed (Modi, pp. 58, 63).

The dog was induced to go up to the corpse by three bits of bread being placed on or by it. For Iranians bread had long replaced meat as the staple of diet, and three pieces of bread had become the recognized "portion for the dog" (in Zor. Pers. the chom-e šwa, in Parsi Gujarati the kutrâ-nô bûk). In Saddar nathr 31.1 it is enjoined that "whenever people eat, they should keep back three morsels from themselves and give them to a dog," and this was general practice in the Irani and Parsi communities down into the present century (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 143, 145 n. 11). In one of the Persian Rivâyats (ed. Unvala, I, pp. 256.19-257.4; tr. Dhabhar, p. 259) it is said that, if a person does this, he will be saved from even due torments in hell, while Ardâ Wîrâz sees the soul of a man suffering in hell who had withheld food from dogs (Ardâ Wîrâz nâmag 48.4). In Saddar nathr 31.5 it is said that food was given because the donor hoped that the dogs of the Ùinvat bridge would aid his soul, and sometimes still in recent usage the daily chom-e šwa was given at sunset in the name of someone departed, in the hope of helping him or her in the hereafter (Boyce, Stronghold, p. 144).

At every Zoroastrian religious service there is invocation of the fravašis, the souls of the dead, and the link of the dog with death and the soul brought it about that on holy days and at memorial rites the chom-e šwa was augmented by portions of everything consecrated at the "outer" religious service, including always a whole egg, symbol of immortality. This was given to a dog by someone (preferably, at a memorial service, a close relative) in a state of ritual purity and with recital of Avestan. A portion of the food offerings for the dead was thus always given to a dog (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 143-44, 158; Modi, pp. 404, 350). During the three days after death, if there were no house dog, a lane dog would be tied up in the courtyard (Persia) or on the verandah (Gujarat) and given food for the soul's sake at every mealtime, and then, in Persia, once a day outside the house for the next forty days (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 153 and n. 30, 158).

As a distinct usage, the tongue of every sacrificed animal was consecrated with a Hôm drôn (service dedicated to Haoma) and given to a dog to eat (Boyce, Stronghold, p. 158). Until the mid-20th century when a house dog died its body was wrapped in an old sacred shirt tied with a sacred girdle, and was carried to a barren place (cf. Šâyest nê šayest 2.7), and brief rituals were solemnized for its spirit (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 162-63). All rites in which dogs are concerned have been under attack by reformists since the mid-19th century, and have by now been wholly abandoned by them, and are much curtailed even by the orthopractic.




(For cited works not found in this bibliography, see "Short References.")

M. Boyce, Zoroastrianism. Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour, Columbia Iranian Series 7, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1992. 

A. V. W. Jackson, Persia Past and Present, New York, 1909; repr. New York, 1975. 

A. B. Keith, The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads, 2 vols., Harvard Oriental Series 31-32, Cambridge, Mass., 1925; repr. Delhi, 1970. 

J. J. Modi, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees, Bombay, 1937; repr. New York, 1986. 

Pahlavi Vendidâd, tr. B. T. Anklesaria, Bombay, 1949. B. Schlerath, "Der Hund bei den Indo-germanen," Paideuma 6, 1954, pp. 25-40.




Top of Page



Extracted From/Source: Encyclopaedia Iranica


Please note: CAIS has the privilege to publish the above article originating from the above-mentioned source, for educational purposes only (Read Only). This article has been published in accordance with the author(s) / source' copyright-policy -- therefore, the ownership and copyright of this page-file remain with the author(s) / sourceFor any other purposes, you must obtain a  written permission from the copyright owner concerned. (Please refer to CAIS Copyright Policy).


Keywords: Dog, Persian Mastiff, Sag, Fauna, Animal



my_Iran.jpg (13682 bytes)

"History is the Light on the Path to Future"


Persian_NOT_Farsi_by_Shapour_Suren-Pahlav_3D2.gif (177309 bytes)


Encyclopaedia Iranica

BIPS.jpg (15695 bytes)

The British Institute of Persian Studies

"Persepolis Reconstructed"

Persepolis_reconstructed2.jpg (36944 bytes)


The British Museum

The Royal

Asiatic Society

Persian_Gulf_Facebook.jpg (1935028 bytes)

The Persian Gulf

Facebook Page

Please use your "Back" button (top left) to return to the previous page

Copyright © 1998-2015 The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)