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.THE PERSIAN SEA IN THE AVESTA,

PAHLAVI TEXTS & THE SHAHNAMEH


 

By: Professor Fereydun Joneydi

 

 

Abstract: The Persian Sea was mentioned under different names, such as "Va'ooru-Kash",  "Farākh-o Kart" and "Puyitic" Sea, in the Avestā and in old Pahlavi texts. The oldest record in the world that made reference or alluded to the Persian Sea dates back to earlier Iranian manuscripts. The Persian Sea was said to have extended to the Naareh Island in the Indian Ocean, the old Persian name of which was ôšata-Vaesaö.    

 

 

(1) ETYMOLOGY

The word "daryā" (sea) appears in the Avesta as "zarayangeh" and it refers to a body of water that is called in the Avesta as "Va'ooru-kash". This word consists of two parts: the first part is "va'ooru", meaning "full and many", while the last part is "kash", meaning "border and shore". Thus, the word in full means "many-shored".

 

In Pahlavi literature, this word is transformed into "Faraakh-o kart". The first segment, "faraakh", is the same as in Persian, meaning "vast". The ending is ôkart" or "kash" or "kasheh". This combination also means "many-shored" and "vast-bordered" and in Persian, it has changed into "Farākh-kard"!

 

The other form of "kash" in the Avesta is "karsh", which constitutes the first part of "karsh-vareh", equal to the Persian word "keshvar" (country), and altogether, "keshvar" is a place that has been marked by a "kasheh" ("khat" or "khad" in Persian, meaning "line"), which is the line made by on the ground with the use of a plough. Our ancestors separated their land from their neighbours by ploughing the border or making demarcation lines that appeared as if they were ploughed.

 

But the Avestan "zarayangeh" has been changed to "zereh" in Pahlavi, and in Persian, the 'z' has changed into 'd' making it "daryā", in the same way that the Old Persian word "dran-yah" is equivalent to the Avestan word "zran-yah" and the Sanskrit "hran-yah", from which two words in Persian have been derived: ôdinaar" from "dran-yah" (meaning "money" or "gold", and "zar" from "zran-yah" (meaning "gold"), with both evidently meaning the same thing!

 

From the Pahlavi form of this word, the author knows of two names surviving in today's Iran: "Gudeh-zereh" in Sistan and the "Zeryvaar" Lake in Marivaan of Oraaman in Kurdistan. In other localities, the word "darya" has been substituted for "zereh"!

 

 

(2) "FARAAKH KART ZEREH" or "VAÆOORU-KASH"

In the remaining "nask"s (books) of the Avesta, the "Faraakh Kart" sea is mentioned twenty seven times[1]. Every allusion to it is accompanied by an expression of awe, such as the following:

 

"When they are thrown like comets in between the sky and the earth, they will arrive at the beautiful, powerful and deep Faraakh Kart Sea, whose waters cover a vast expanse."

Verse 8 from Tir-Yasht's Kardeh (Chapter) 5, Volume 1, page 235.

 

"All the shores of the Faraakh Kart Sea shall boil and its waters shall rise ... it has a thousand lakes and a thousand rivers. Each of these lakes and every one of these rivers is as long as the 40-day travel of a fast rider." From Verse 4 of Abān-Yasht, Volume 1, page 235.

 

"From these waters of mine one river flows to all seven countries of the world (the known countries of the world at that time, one of which was Iran). These waters of mine flow the same in summer and in winter ..."

Verse 5, Abān-Yasht.

 

These grand references indicate an impressive sea, and thus, in Bon Dahishn [2], in the chapter on the seas, the Faraakh Kart Sea is mentioned as follows:

 

"It covers one third of the Earth; it is called Farākh Kart because it is as large as a thousand seas." Bon Dahishn, translated by Mehrdād Bahār, page 73.

 

According to this evidence, the Va'ooru-Kash or Farākh-Kart Sea is the same sea called "Bahr-e Mohit" (the surrounding sea) mentioned in texts written after the coming of Islam. But as we shall see, part of the "Bahr-e Mohit" belonged to Iran and was called by another name and some other adjoining seas have also been mentioned in Iranian writings.

   

 

THE SEA OF CHINA

By the hundredth year, upon the Sea of China,
Came that King of evil religion."

From the Shahnameh

 

 

THE INDIAN SEA

" ... again it arises from the Farākh Kart Sea, the powerful and magnificent 'Satvis'[3] also arises from Farākh Kart and after that, from beyond India, all of it arises from a mountain in the middle of the Farākh-kart Sea".

 

From this passage, it is evident that part of the Farākh-kart Sea that was called the Indian Sea, is on the other side of India, between India and China, known today as the Gulf of Bengal.

 

 

THE MOKRAAN SEA

It was a sea beside today's Korea. In the Shahnameh, the following verses are written about the expedition of Kavoos to Asia and towards the Pacific Ocean:

 

"From Iran he went to Mokraan and China,
He passed across the land of Mokraan,
From Mokraan, he went all the way to 'Zereh',
They did not rest for a moment."

 

From this text, it appears that Mokraan was a land between China and "Ab-e Zereh" or the Faraakh Kart Zereh, through which one reached the Faraakh Kart Sea. There is another part of the Shahnameh on Key-Khosrow's expedition to Turan and who, following his victory, intended to go back to Iran by sea. From this passage, it can be deduced that in order to reach Mokraan from Central Asia, one had to pass through China and Mokraan was the first land over which the Sun shone! Thus, quite accurately, one can surmise that the land of Mokraan, or Korea in those days, was a more expansive country than the present-day Korean peninsula, as today, one only needs to pass through upper China to reach the sea. But in those days, this could not be done without passing through Mokraan! According to the Shahnameh, the Iranian army traveled through China in peace and then had to fight the army of Mokraan. They conquered Mokraan, after which they traveled towards the Mokraan Sea where the Sun rose.

 

 

THE RED SEA

This was the sea through which the Iranians made their first long-range voyage. Centuries before, when the claim to the throne was raised in Egypt and Palestine and they liberated themselves from Kavoos (the Kassians = the Caspians), the Iranians were afraid to lose their army if they made the long crossing through the Syrian desert. They found it easier to sail across the seas and go from Ab Zereh to the sea between Arabia and Africa, so as to reach Egypt, Palestine and Haamavaraan (the land of the Hittites).

 

 

THE PUYITIC SEA

In the eighth chapter of Bon Dahishn (the seas), the seas on the border of Iran are mentioned as follows:

 

"There are three saline seas, one Puyitic, one Kamrood and one Siah Bon! Of these, the Puyitic is the largest... it has ebbs and tides ..."

 

 

EBBS AND TIDES

Most fascinating in the above text is the evidence that ancient Iranians knew about ebbs and tides, using this information to sail across the seas during the tides to transport their goods to villages situated far from the seas. The ships were loaded when the waters ebbed. Then, they would sail with the tides through the risen waters of the river, to the Zereh (or Puyitic) Sea. The Iranians cherished and worshiped this natural phenomenon.

 

More interesting is the fact that they were aware this phenomenon depended on the Moon.

 

"It says about the ebbs and the tides that before the Moon, two winds blow whose abodes are in the Satvis Sea. One is called 'Forood Ahang'(heading downward). When 'Bar Ahang'(heading upward) blows there will be tide, and when 'Forood-Ahang' blows there will be ebb.

 

In other seas over which the Moon does not travel, there are no ebbs and tides; among them is the Kamrōd Sea, which passes near Tabaristān."[8]

 

This also shows that Iranians observed that tides only appear in open seas and not in small lakes nor in the Kamrood Sea, also called Hirkan, Mazandaran, Khezerre and Guilan (the Caspian Sea). They also knew that this phenomenon depended on the Moon (and the Sun), as Sohrevardi who had access to Pahlavi and Avestan texts wrote thousands of years later:

 

"Among the effects of both bright objects - the great King, the Sun, and its vizier, the Moon - are, the ripening and coloration of fruits, as well as the ebbs and tides of the waters at the increase and decrease of the Moon!"[9]

 

 

THE SATVIS SEA

In the Avesta, this sea is recorded as the "Sata-Vaesa", a word that means ôhaving one hundred quarters or one hundred abodesö. It is the name of a star in the "nimroozan" (noon) sky that today is called the "Soheil-e Yamani" (the Canopus). This Arabic name has been given because from Iran, the star is seen over the Yemenite sky. In ancient Iran, the sea south of Iran, which today is called the Indian Ocean, was called the Sata-Vaesa Sea after the Sata-Vaesa Star. In Pahlavi, this name was changed to Satvis.

 

In Islamic culture, the reddening of the apple is attributed to the Canopus. In pre-Islamic tradition, the rain and the irrigation of all lands on the face of the Earth, as well as the cleansing of water of dirt and filth, was one of the functions of the Satvis Sea:

 

"We worship Satvis, the tool the God has created to cleanse the water". From Little Siroozeh (Thirty Days), Verse 13 [11].

 

In the Great 'Siroozeh', there is a similar reference:

   

"Satvis, the cleanser of the waters, the tool of Hormozd-daad; it cleanses the waters, as every water that flows into the land of the Seven Territories, arrives in Satvis and Satvis cleanses it, the pure water flows into Faraakh Kart Zereh."[12]

 

This is another instance of the knowledge of ancient Iranians who thousands of years ago already knew that the impure waters of the Earth flow into the seas where salt and other compounds in the seawater cleanse them. Another point to note is that Iranians knew the Satvis was connected to the Faraakh Kart Sea.

 

Another passage from the Bon Dahishn shows that the Satvis was located between the Puyitic Sea and the Faraakh Kart Sea:

 

"... the neighbor of the Faraakh Kart Sea is connected to it; between Faraakh-Kart and next to it the Puyitic, is a sea called Satvis. Any impurity from the Puyitic is cleansed by Satvis before it enters the Faraakh Kart, and everything that is pure and bright enters Faraakh Kart and the 'Ardavisoor' springs. This sea is connected to the Moon and its winds; it rises and falls as the Moon glows and fades."[13]

 

 

THE LOCATION OF THE PUYITIC SEA

As the Puyitic Sea is by the border of Iran and is described as being larger than the 'Tabaristan' and the 'Siah Bon' seas, has ebbs and tides, as well as the fact that it is connected to the Satvis Sea and through it to the Farākh Kart Sea, it must refer to the Persian Sea, named after the Persians since the Achaemenids. However, all Pahlavi literature and religious and cultural writings seen to date has dubbed this sea the Puyitic [14].

 

 

THE STRAIGHT LINE

During the reign of the Caspians (Kāvoos in the Shāhnameh), Iranians came to know of the Earth's 'straight line', known today as the equator [15], and built an observatory there [16]:

 

"He built an abode on the straight line,
Where neither day was dominant nor night,
Where Tamooz (July) was no different from Dey (January),
The climate was sweetly scented and wine was the rain,
From Yemenite onyx, a dome he built,
A Mobed of fame, he assigned to it,
Thus he built such a place,
Whereby science would not diminish."

From the Shāhnameh.

 

 

THE NAAREH ISLAND

This was the place chosen along the "straight line" to build the observatory. It was located on the Satvis Sea on a line that divided the day into two equal parts in the then known world (from east of Japan to Iceland). This line, which was first called 'nimrooz' (noon), was later called 'nesf al-nahar' (half of the day). Europeans, after becoming familiar with Islamic culture, translated it into their own language (the meridian). Amazingly, Europeans assumed there is a meridian everywhere and took the reference meridian to Greenwich located at the edge of the day and the beginning of the night!

 

To find the location of that observatory in the middle of the Satvis Sea, we must look at a verse from the Mehr-Yasht where the borders of the ancient Aryan lands are mentioned:

"... the one whose long arms (Mehr) captures the unfaithful, whether they are east of India or west of 'Nighaneh' or at the mouth of the river 'Arang' or in the center of the Earth." Mehr Yasht, Kardeh 27, Verse 104.

 

This verse sets out the geography of ancient pre-Achaemenid Iran before our eyes. The mouth of the river Arang (Syr Darya = Golzaryon = Arang = Seyhoon), which flowed into the Khwarazm Sea (the Aral Sea) had shifted since ancient times, as in that time Amu Darya (Djeyhoon, Vahrood) flowed towards the Mazandaran Sea (the Caspian Sea) from somewhere around Chaarjoo. Moreover, the Khwarazm Sea was not as expansive as it is today. A line drawn from the mouth of Arang would pass by Zābul and if we take this line as our zero degree line, considering that Japan lies 90 geographical degrees to the east and Iceland lies 90 degrees to the west, it becomes clear that the extension of this line towards the Satvis Sea takes us to the middle of the Earth and the lowest border of ancient Iran at its intersection with the 'straight line' (the equator).

 

This location, so far as the author has researched, is not mentioned in any of the extant literature, except for the important book "Hoodood al-Ālam" (The Borders of the World), which in the chapter on the islands of the world remarks:

 

"The eleventh island is Nāreh (or Faareh) on the equator in the middle of the civilized world. Its distance from the east and the west is 90 degrees and astronomical tables, as well as all observations and all locations of the planets and the stars have been measured relative to this island. In old astronomical tables, this island was called 'the equator at day and night'."

 

The equator at day and night, or the equality of day and night, is the same thing we previously mentioned from the Shāhnāmeh, and this island in the Satvis Sea, belonged to the Iranians. That sea also had an Iranian name and Iranian literature are the most ancient written evidence for the oldest name of the Persian Sea.

 

Notes:

  1. Vandidād: Fargard 5: Verses 15,16,17,19, 23; and Fargard 19; Verse 25. Abān Yasht: Verses 3,4,38,42. Farvardin Yasht: Verse 59. Yasnā 65: Verses 3,4. Yasnā 42: Verses 2,4,6. Khordeh Avestā (small Avestā): Verses 2,4,6. Ōrmazd Setayesh: Verse 12.
  2. Bon Dahishn or 'The Root of Creation' is a text written after Islam from the 'Damdat Nask' of the Avesta, that discusses the creation of the stars, the Earth, the mountains, the seas, and living creatures ....
  3. I will talk about Satvis at a later time.
  4. Iranian Bon Dahishn (the Pahlavi text), page 69. Pahlavi texts: parts of Bon Dahishn, Zand-e Hōman Yasht, Dinkard, page 44, and also a translation by Mehrdad Bahar, page 74.
  5. 'Alvāh-e Emādi', the first 'Loah' in the complete works of Sheikh-e Eshrāq, page 121.
  6. Page 7, the 'Little Sirūzeh' and the 'Great Sirōzeh'.
  7. ibid., page 63.
  8. Some of the respectable speakers of the Persian Gulf Congress mentioned some Assyrian texts as the source of the name 'Persian Sea', even though the origin of the name 'Puyitic' dated farther back than the emergence of the Assyrian state.
  9. "In the oldest inscriptions of Uruk (5500 years ago), the name of this sea has been mentioned as 'Post'", the notes of Mohammad Reza Ryazi, during his talk in Kish; as can be seen with the change of 'y' to 's' (as in 'Pay' to 'Pas', meaning 'after' or 'following' in Persian), 'Post' is another form of 'Puyt' in Puyitic.
  10. In Avestan language, the word for 'sphere' is 'sekarena', and as evidenced by the Avesta, the Iranians knew since ancient times that the Earth was a sphere [16] The ancient Persian word is 'zuleh-gāh' and the verb "zul zadan' (to stare) in modern Persian is from the same root. In Arabic, the word 'zuleh-gāh' has been transformed into 'mazvaleh' and some writers, such as Zabih Behrooz and Mohammad Moghaddam, have unknowingly equated 'mazvaleh' with 'Zābul = Zavāl'!

 

 

 

 

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