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By Professor A. Shapur Shahbazi



In Shahnameh, a princess of Kabul, wife of Zâl, and mother of Rostam. Her story (Š, ed. Khaleghi, I, pp. 186-270) is "one of the most beautiful narratives in Persian poetry" (Khaleghi, p. 39; cf. Nöldeke, p.71). Tha'âlebi (Gh, pp. 73-106) gives so close a parallel account that a common source (undoubtedly the Šâh-nâma of Abu Mansuri) may be assumed. An eloquent abridged prose version by Ehsan Yarshater (pp. 93-133) appeared in 1959.


The story is briefly as follows. Mehrâb, a vessel Iranian king of Kabul, was a descendant of Zahhâk, and an idolater (i.e., probably a Buddhist, Spiegel, p. 567). His authority reached over Sind (i.e., he ruled over Gandhara, Shahbazi, p. 157), yet he paid yearly tribute to Sâm, prince of Sistân and chief paladin of Iran. On a trip to Kabul, Zâl (q.v), son of Sâm, heard a memorable description of Rudâba, daughter of Mehrâb and queen Sindokht: her face was fairer than the sun and her ivory white figure a teak in height, her cheeks resembled pomegranate blossoms, her eyes twin narcissi in a garden, adorned with long black lashes, and her black hair was so long that it fell in two musky ringlets over her silveren neck down to her ankle. In short, "from head to feet as Paradise – all ornament, learning and beauty." Zâl fell in love with Rudâba, and she in turn lost her heart when her father admiringly described Zâl as a young but wise paladin of unequalled handsomeness, grace and generosity. Rudâba's maids arranged a meeting between the two. When Zâl approached the castle wall, Rudâba let her hair down the parapet so that Zâl could hold it and climb up (as in the story of Rapunzel recorded by Brothers Grimm), but the prince used his lasso for the purpose. The two pledged themselves to each other despite the knowledge that the lineage of Mehrâb and his idolatry meant certain opposition to their marriage from King Manuchehr and religious authorities in Iran. Long negotiations followed, during which the couple's strong will power and unfailing love were tested to the limit. At last Manuchehr gave his consent after Zâl proved his worth in a council of the Magian priests, and astrologers predicted that from the union of the two would issue the greatest hero –"the hope and pillar" -- of the Iranian nation and the truest and mightiest guardian of the royal throne. Zâl married Rudâba amidst great pomp and circumstance, and "not long afterwards," Rudâba became great with a child. As her time approached, she could not deliver her enormously large baby in the normal way, and in agony lost consciousness. Zâl appealed for help to his surrogate parent, the fabulous bird Simorgh, who instructed him to make Rudâba intoxicated and then deliver the child by the caesarian method. Thus Rostam was borne in a miraculous way. Later we hear of another son (not a step-son as in Khaleghi, p. 38, n. 3), Zavâra ('heroic', Justi, Namenbuch, p. 337), who served as a lieutenant of Rostam in the wars with the hosts of Turân and Esfandiâr. The two fell victim to the treachery of a half-brother (Š V, pp. 451-56; Tha'âlebi, Gh, pp. 379-83). Rudâba was so grief-stricken that she temporarily lost her sanity (Šâh-nâma V, pp. 451-56, 464-65; Tha'âlebi, pp. 384-85). She was still alive when Bahman destroyed Sistân (Šâh-nâma V, p. 482).


Rudâba represents an ideal woman (Khaleghi, pp. 31-40; Nâderpur): virtuous, beautiful, devoted, steadfast and cultured. She took an active part in the education of Siâvakhš (Tha'âlebi, p. 168). Her name (Rôdâvad in Tha'âlebi; cf. Rôdduxt, a Sasanian lady mentioned in Shapur I's inscription on the wall of the Ka'ba-ye Zardošt), "means literally 'she of the River Water' " (Skjœrvø, p. 163; cf. Davidson, p. 118: "Brightness of stream'), although a derivation from Av. Rao’a- 'growth, stature', giving 'possessed of bright growth' (Justi, pp. 261, 266), or from *rauta- 'child' (cf. New Pers. rôd 'darling child') cannot be ruled out. It has been argued that the house of Mehrâb came from the Daha- a powerful Iranian tribe who formed the core of the Arsacid invaders of Parthia in the third century B.C.E., and that their enemies later disparagingly identified the eponymous ancestor of this tribe with the demonic king Dahâk/Zahhâk (Shahbazi, p. 159). Down to the fifth-century of the Islamic era, the Sâm dynasty of Ghur traced their descent from "Zahhâk" (for reference see ibid., p. 159 with n. 117 at p. 162).




Olga M. Davidson, Poet and Hero in the Persian Book of Kings, Ithaca. N.Y., 1994. 

Djalal Khaleghi Motlagh, Die Frauen im Schahname, Freiburg , 1971. 

Nâder Nâderpur, "'Ešqi be boland-parvâzi-ye Simorgh" (A love as lofty as Simorgh's high flight), Iran-šenâsi 4/3, Autumn 1993, pp. 458-68. 

Theodor Nöldeke, Das iranisches Nationalepos, 2nd rev. ed., Leipzig, 1920. 

A. Shapur Shahbazi, "The Parthian Origins of the House of Rostam," Bulletin of the Asia Institute, N.S. 7, 1993, pp. 155-63. 

Prods Oktor Skjœrvø, "Eastern Iranian epic traditions," AAASH 51, 1998, pp. 159-70. 

Fr. Spiegel, Eranische Altertumskunde I, Leipzig, 1871. 

Ehsan Yarshater, Dâstânhâ-ye Šâh-nâma (Stories from the Šâh-nâma), Tehran, 1959.





Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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