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(HIRMAND) RIVER in Zoroastrian Tradition


By: Gherardo Gnoli



Abstract: (Av. Haêtumant; modern usage, Hirmand, Halmand), the border river of Afghanistan and Persia. It originates in the mountains in the Hazârajât (q.v) and flows into the Sistân in southeastern Iran and finally drains into the Hâmun Lake.


According to Avestan geography [1700 B.C.E.], the region of the Haêtumant River extends in a southwest direction from the point of confluence of the Arghandâb with the Helmand (Gnoli, 1980, p. 66) and since relatively ancient times has had an important position within the Zoroastrian tradition. In particular, this is mentioned in the text of Yašt 19.66-69, which contains some strophes dedicated to a celebration of the Haêtumant and some of its affluent rivers, such as the Xúâstrâ, Hvaspâ, Fradaθâ, Xúar™nahvaitî, Uštavaitî, Urvâ, Erə, and Zarənumatî. These have a number of parallels in both the Pahlavi texts and, especially, in the list of rivers in the Târikh-e Sistân (ed. Bahâr, 1935, pp. 15 f.; Gold, 1976, p. 12), where the following rivers are mentioned: Rud-e Hirmand (the Helmand), the Rukhkhad-rud (the Arghandâb or the Haraxúaitî of Vd. 1.12), the Khâš-rud (Xúâstrâ, the Wâdi Nesal or Nahr Nišak of the Arabs), Farâh-rud (Fradaθâ, the Ophradus of Pliny, Natural History 6.94), the Khošk-rud (Uštavaitî, between the Farah-rud and the Harrut-rud), and the Harrut rud (Xúar, the Pharnacotis of Pliny, loc. cit.). Moreover, the Zamyâd Yašt (Pirart, 1992; Hintze, 1994; Humbach and Ichaporia, 1998) celebrates Lake Ka…saoya; and in the Pahlavi texts the Kayânsih (the name formed with the plural word kayân, meaning "the Kavis" or "the Kayanids") is the Hâmun-e Helmand; and also the Uša’â mountain can be identified with the Kuh-e Khúâja. It must also be acknowledged that Yašt 19 supplies a singularly detailed description of a specific territory, the only such case to be found throughout the entire Avesta. As seen in the first chapter of the Widêwdâd, the country of the Haêtumant seems to have had a privileged position (Vd. 1.13-14); because, compared to the other fourteen countries also mentioned in the text, its description occupies twice as much space, with the exception of Airyana Vaêèah (Vd. 1.1-2). The identification of these rivers, lakes, and mountains within historical geography has been part of several in-depth studies, especially those of A. Stein, J. Markwart, E. Herzfeld, D. Monchi-Zadeh, and G. Gnoli.

The important role that the Helmand River and its region have played in Zoroastrian tradition is linked to the special connection between them and the kavaêm xúar, and therefore also to the xúar (farrah, farr) of the Kavis, the Kayanids of the national tradition (Gershevitch, 1959, pp. 185 f.). In fact, the Kavyân or Kayân-ian dynasty reigned "there where is Lake Ka…saoya" (Yt. 19.66), the point at which the Helmand ends along the southeastern border between Iran and Afghanistan. Not only is Lake Ka…saoya the center of this dynasty's power with Vištâspa, the protector of Zoroaster, as its last sovereign, but it is also the lake in which the seed of the prophet is cared for and protected by the 99,999 fravašis (Yt. 19.89-96), from which will be born the three saošyants ("saviors"): Uxšyat.ərəta (Pahl. Ušêdar), Uxšyat.nəmah (Pahl. Ušêdarmâh), and Astvat.ərəta, the Sôšâns par excellence. In the eschatological myth there is a correspondence between the sea Vouru.kaša and Lake Ka…saoya (Christensen, 1931, p. 22; Gnoli, 1977, p. 315; Gnoli, 1980, pp. 132 ff.); and it is significant that the Zamyâd Yašt, after having celebrated the kavaêm xúar and all the Kavis, (Yt. 19.70 ff.), ends with a triumphal celebration of the frašô.kərəti and the saošyant Astvat.ərəta, who was born from the water of the Ka…saoya (Yt. 19.89-96). This theme has a strong presence in both the Avesta (Vd. 19.5) and the Pahlavi literature, in which a kind of spiritualization of the Avestan geography occurs, particularly with fluvial elements, as has been correctly pointed out by J. de Menasce (Gnoli, 1974).

Several pieces of Pahlavi evidence confirm the position of excellence of the Haêtumant and its region in the Zoroastrian tradition. Without a doubt, the most important of these is that of the treatise, Abdîh ud sahîgîh î Sagistân (Utas, 1983), which lists the wonders of Sistân, collecting all of those themes already present in the Avesta. Thus we find: the river Hêtûmand; the war î Frazdân, which may be the Gawd-e Zira (Jackson, 1928, p. 283; Herzfeld, 1930, p. 91; Herzfeld, 1947, p. 62; Gnoli, 1967, pp. 14 ff.); the lake Kayânsih; the mountain Ušdaštar (the Kuh-e Khvâja); Ušêdar, Ušêdarmâh, and Sôšâns; the descendants of the Kayanids; Frêdôn and his three sons, Salm, Tûch, and Êrêch, etc.; Manušchihr; Wištâsp; Sên, son of Ahûmstût from Bust, etc. (Gnoli, 1989, p. 135).

The Helmand River and its region have therefore played a great role in the entire Zoroastrian tradition (Geldner, 1906, p. 221; Bartholomae, 1924, p. 9). Such a position was not necessarily acquired secondarily, as has been sometimes thought in the past (Nyberg, 1938, pp. 304 ff.; Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, pp. 274, 293; Hintze, 1994, p. 21, n. 39). Sistân is part of the vast horizon of the "Aryan lands," the airyå daiη´hâvô of the Avesta, inside of which is also placed Airyana Vaêèah. Numerous indications lead to the assumption that in an unspecific but archaic period, probably during the course of the 6th century B.C.E., a process occurred in which the Helmand and other localities of its region were identified with elements of traditional cosmography and mythical geography. This is well demonstrated by the concurrence of these places with the Avestan Vaη uhî Dâityâ—the Wehrôd of some Pahlavi texts, as was already pointed out by J. Markwart (1938, p. 122, n. 3; p. 159, note from the previous page; Gnoli, 1967, pp. 13f., 38; 1980, p. 133).



M. T. Bahâr, ed., Târikh-e Sistân, Tehran, 1935. 

C. Bartholomae, Zarathuštras Leben und Lehre, Heibelberg, 1924. 

M. Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, I, Leiden and Köln, 1975. A. Christensen, Les Kayanides, København, 1931. 

K. Geldner, "Die altpersische Literatur," in Die orientalischen Literaturen mit Einleitung: Die Anfänge der Literatur und die Literatur der primitiven Völker, Berlin and Leipzig, 1906, pp. 214-34. 

I. Gershevitch, The Avestan Hymn to Mithra, Cambridge, 1959. 

G. Gnoli, Ricerche storiche sul Sîstân antico, Roma, 1967. 

Idem, "Arang e Wehrôd, rây e xwarrah," in Me‚morial Jean de Menasce, Louvain, 1974, pp. 77-80. 

Idem, Zoroaster's Time and Homeland, Naples, 1980. Idem, The Idea of Iran, Roma, 1989. 

M. Gold, The Târikh-e Sistân, Roma, 1976. 

E. Herzfeld, "Zarathustra, V: Awestische Topographie," AMI 2, 1930, pp. 49-98. 

Idem, Zoroaster and His World, Princeton, 1947. 

A. Hintze, Der Zamyâd-Yašt, Wiesbaden, 1994. 

H. Humbach and P. R. Ichaporia, Zamyâd Yasht, Wiesbaden, 1998. 

A. V. W. Jackson, Zoroastrian Studies, New York, 1928. J. Markwart, Wehrot und Arang, Leiden, 1938. 

J. de Menasce, "Exegeàse spirituelle d'un mythe ge‚ographique mazde‚en," JA, 1974, pp. 21-24. 

D. Monchi-Zadeh, Topographisch-historische Studien zum iranischen Nationalepos, Wiesbaden, 1975. 

H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des alten Iran, Leipzig, 1938. 

E. Pirart, Kayân Yasn (Yasht 19, 9-96). L'origine avestique des dynasties mythiques d'Iran, Barcelona, 1992. 

A. Stein, "Afghanistan in Avestic Geography," Indian Antiquary 15, 1886, pp. 21-33. 

B. Utas, "The Pahlavi Treatise Avdêh u sahîkêh î Sakistân or 'Wonders and Magnificence of Sistan'," AAASH 28, 1980, pp. 259-67.



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Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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