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Ârash-e Kamângir

The Heroic Archer of Iranian Legend


By: Ahmad Tafazzoli


Arash_Kamangir1.jpg (60847 bytes)

  Statue of Arash, in a Partho-Sasanian Outfi - S'adabad Palace, Tehran


Avestan Erəxša, Middle Persian Ēraš, a heroic archer in Iranian legend. The Avesta (Yašt 8.6) refers to what was apparently a familiar episode in the epic tradition.


The Avesta (Yašt 8.6) refers to what was apparently a familiar episode in the epic tradition: Erəxša “of the swift arrow, having the swiftest arrow among the Aryans” shot an arrow from Mount Airyō.xšaoθa to Mount Xᵛanvant. The identity of these places is unknown. V. Minorsky tentatively identified the latter mountain with the Homāvan mentioned in Šāh-nāma and Vīs o Rāmīn, apparently a peak in northeastern Khorasan (BSOAS 9, 1943, p. 760). Thus his shot was supposed to be eastward, perhaps to the Harī-rūd region. The Mid. Pers. text Māh ī Frawardīn Rōz ī Xurdād (sec. 22, Pahlavi Texts, p. 104) also alludes to this event; it was on the auspicious 6th of Frawardīn that “Manūčihr and Ēraš of the swift arrow (šēbāg-tīr) took back the land from Afrāsyāb the Turanian.” By contrast, Dādistān ī Mēnōg ī Xrad 27.44 (ed. T. D. Anklesaria, Bombay, 1913) refers simply to Manūčehr as the one who retook the Iranian territory from Padišxwār-gar (Ṭabarestān) to Bun ī Gōzag. The latter region is probably to be located between Gōzgān and the Oxus (see J. Markwart, Wehrot und Arang, Leiden, 1938, p. 14; Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, tr. and comm. Minorsky, p. 331).


The legend of Āraš is given with full details only in sources of the Islamic period, though these vary somewhat among themselves; e.g., Tha'ālebī, although he does allude to the common tradition, places Āraš in the reign of Zav, son of Tahmāsp (Ghorar, pp. 108, 133), and Bīrūnī (Āthār al-bāqīa, p. 220) and Gardīzī (Zayn al-akhbār, p.243), in contrast with the Mid. Pers. Māh ī Frawardīn text, give the date of the mighty bowshot as the 13th of the month Tīr, i.e., during the festival of Tīragān. Presumably this difference is due to the attraction exercised by the homonymy of “Tīr” (identified later with the god Tištār) or tīr “arrow.”


The archer’s name appears as follows: Ēraš (Tabarī, I, p. 435.7, II, p. 997; Ebn al-Athīr, I, p. 166); Āraššēbātīr, a later form of the name but including the epithet with it (Ṭabarī, I, p. 435.6, II, p. 992); Āraš-e Šewātīr (Mojmal, p. 90); Araš, for Āraš (Tha'ālebī, ghorar, p. 107; Bīrūnī, loc. cit.) and Āraš (Maqdesī, Badʾ III, p. 146; Bal'amī, Tarikhnama-ye Tārī-e Tabarī, Tehran, 1337 Š., p. 36; Moǰmal, p. 43; Šāh-nāma, Moscow ed., VIII, p. 66.235, IX, p. 273.317; Gorgānī, Vīs o Rāmīn, Tehran, 1337 Š., line 330; Maqdašī, Tārīkh-e Tabarestān, ed. B. Dorn, St. Petersburg, 1850, p. 18). His feat occurred in these circumstances: After Afrāsīāb had surrounded the Pišdadian king, Manūčehr, in Ṭabarestān, both agreed to make peace. Manūčehr requested that the Turanian return to him a piece of land the width of a bow-shot, and Afrāsīāb assented. An angel (in Bīrūnī it is “Esfandārmaḏ,” i.e., the Beneficent Immortal Spandārmad) instructed Manūčehr to prepare a special bow and arrow; wood, feather, and iron point were taken from a special forest, eagle, and mine (GHorar, p. 133). The skilled archer Āraš was commanded to shoot. According to Bīrūnī, Āraš displayed himself naked and said: “Behold! my body is free of any wound or sickness; but after this bowshot I will be destroyed.” At dawn he shot and was immediately torn to pieces. (Tha'ālebī agrees with this. A later tradition has him survive and become head of the archers; see Tabarī and Tabaqāt-e Nāserī, ed. Tabībī, Kabul, 1342 Š., I, p. 140.) God commanded the wind to bear the arrow as far as the remote regions of Khorasan, and in this way the boundary between the Iranian and Turanian kingdoms was established.


The place Āraš shot the arrow is variously idenlified: Tabarestān (Tabarī, Tha'ālebī, Maqdesī, Ebn al-Athīr, Maqdašī), a mountain of Rūyān (Bīrūnī; Gardīzī), the fortress of Āmol (Mojmal), Mount Damāvand (Bal'amī), or Sārī (Vīs o Rāmīn). The place where it landed (or was borne by the wind or an angel) is also reported differently but with general geographical harmony: by the river of Balkh (Tabarī , Ebn al-Athīr), Tokhārestān (Maqdesī, Gardīzī), the banks of the Oxus (Bal'amī). Bīrūnī has it descend between “Farghāna” and “Tabarestān;” these are probably to be understood as Farkhār and Tāleqān or Tokhārestān (Minorsky, Hodūd al-'ālam, p. 330). In Tha'ālebī’s account the arrow was borne to the district of Ḵolm (east of Balḵ); it landed at sunset at a place called “Kūzīn,” a name easily emended to *Gōzbon, the Bun ī Gōzag of the Mid. Pers. account (see also Hodūd al-'ālam, ibid.). This name also accounts for Bīrūnī’s idea that the arrow struck a walnut tree (Jowz). Other accounts deviate from the older tradition represented in these texts, probably under the influence of fluctuations in the understanding of where Iran’s eastern border actually lay. The Mojmal gives the landing place as 'Aqaba-ye Mozdūrān, which was between Nīšāpūr and Saraḵs (Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, p. 202). Marv is named in Vīs o Rāmīn and in Maṛʿašī, Tārīkh-e Tabarestān.




Th. Nöldeke, “Der Beste der arischen Pfeilschützen im Awesta und im Tabarî,” ZDMG 35, 1881, pp. 445-47. 

R. v. Stackelberg, “Iranica,” ZDMG 45, 1891, pp. 620-28. 

On the suggested identification of Āraš with the bowman on the reverse of Arsacid coins see V. G. Lukonin, in Camb. Hist. Iran III, 1983, p. 686 with references.





Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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