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By: Prof. A. Shapur Shahbazi

February 19, 2004



ZÂL (also called Dastân, Zar, and Zâl-e Zar), legendary prince of Sistân, father of Rostam, and a leading paladin of the Iranian traditional history.

His story is given in the Shâh-nâma (partially retold in prose by Yarshater, 1959, pp. 83-9, 93-133), so closely paralleled in Tha'âlebi's Gh(pp. 68-10, 114, 119-22, 127-9, 138-41, 143 ff., 355-57, 379 ff., 383-88) as to suggest a common source, the Shah-nâma-ye Abu Mansáuri. Sâm, lord of Sistân and the chief paladin of Iran, had no child. A woman of his harem gave birth to a beautiful boy whose "hair was all white." Sâm was ashamed, likening the infant to a child of "de@v" or "Ahriman" (Shâh-nâma, ed. Khaleghi, I, pp. 164, v. 45, p. 166, vv. 63, 65; all references are to this edition and volume unless given otherwise), and he abandoned it on the Alborz Mountain, but the fabulous bird, Simorgh, which nested there, nursed the boy, and he grew to become a dashingly handsome young man endowed with great physical power and a brilliant mind, whom travelers saw and admired (I, pp.167-68). One night Sâm dreamt that a mounted warrior rode in from India and informed him that he had a grown-up son. Sâm consulted wise men, but they all blamed him for having destroyed his God-given child. Again he dreamt that from the mountain of India there appeared an army led by a youth flanked by a Zoroastrian priest (mo@bad) and an advisor, and that these companions condemned his act: "If you needed a bird as the nurse for your son, what use of this royal and heroic state? If white hair is a cause of shame, what say you of your own white hair and beard?" Profoundly ashamed, Sâm went to the Alborz, besought God for forgiveness, and discovered his son: "a figure worthy of royal crown and throne, with side and arms of a lion, Sun-like face, heroic heart, sword-seeking hands, deep black eyes and lashes, coralloid lips and (red-)blood face (I, pp. 169-73, vv. 104-49). The youth was unwilling at first to leave Simorgh, but the bird assured him of a glorious future, and gave him samples of his feather, which contained God-given fortune (farr), to use when in peril: "put one of my feathers onto fire, at once shall you behold my farr" (I, pp. 171-72). The boy, now called Dastân (cf. Yarshater, 1983, pp. 432, 453), Zâl, or Zar, (on zar "old," see Bailey, Dictionary, p. 346) or Zâl-e zar, came with Sâm to Sistân and was clothed in a paladin's garb (pahlavâni qabây).

King Manuchehr heard the wonderful story and summoned Zâl to his court and recognized that he possessed the Royal Glory (farr-e kayân), the heart of the wise, and the courage of a lion" (I p. 175). The story of Simorgh and Zâl "spread throughout the world" (ibid., p. 176, v. 185), and court astronomers cast his horoscope and predicted that he would be a mighty and wise paladin. The king invested Sâm with "a throne of turquoise and crown of gold, a ruby signet-ring and golden girdle," made him lord over "the whole of Kabul, Donbor, Mây and Hend, from Zâbolestân to the other side of Bost," and entitled him the chief paladin (jahân pahlavân) (I, pp. 177-78). All these Sâm delegated to Zâl when they returned to Zâbolestân as he himself had to lead an expedition against the Gorgsârs and Mâzandarân. Zâl ruled with justice and became an avid learner and surpassed others in mastering astronomy, religion, and art of war (I, pp. 178-81). Zâl met and fell in love with Rudâba, daughter of Mehrâb, king of Kabul, and married her after overcoming many difficulties and proving his skills in horsemanship, archery, and other military traits as well as in explaining some (Zurvanite) riddles (Zaehner, pp. 242-44, 444-46) at the court of Manuchehr. Zâl and Rudâba begot two sons, Rostam and Zavâra. Later a slave girl from Kabul bore Zâl another son, Shaghâd (V, pp. 241-42).

The career of Zâl span the entire Kayanid period (Yarshater, 1983, pp., 373-74, 377, 389, 432). He served as a military commander under all kings, but usually in an advisory role, and was regarded as the last bastion of hope. He defeated two Turanian paladins who had attacked Mehrâb at Kabul, clashed with Afrâsiâb (q.v.) after the murder of Nowdòar, rejected Tus and Gostahm in favor of electing Zaw as the successor of Nowdòar, and sent Rostam to fetch Kay Qobâd from the Alborz mountain and offered him the crown, thereby establishing the Kayanid dynasty (I, pp. 309-14, 317-27, 338-44). He initially opposed Kay Khosrow's nomination of Lohrâsp as heir to the throne and played host to Goætâsp for two years (Daqiqi, in Shâh-nâma V, pp. 171-72), tried to dissuade Rostam from fighting Esfandiâr (V, pp. 371-72), and when he saw his son severely wounded and his family threatened, he once more appealed to Simorgh for help. Guided by the bird, Rostam killed Esfandiâr, but he and Zavâra fell victim to Shaghâd's treachery and were killed (V, pp. 396-422, 442-56). Bahman, son of Esfandiâr (qq.v.), then invaded Sistân, overthrew the house of Rostam, imprisoned Zâl, and took his treasures, but released him after his own uncle, Paæo@tan, intervened on his behalf (V, pp. 471-83). But Mas'udi of Marv, who had composed a versed Shâh-nâma early in the 10th century stated (apud Tha'âlebi, Ghorar, p. 388; cf. Tabari, I, p. 687 and Ma'udi, Moruj II, p. 127), that Bahman killed Zâl and slaughtered his family. Epic narratives other than the Shâh-nâma (e.g., Bahman-nâma, Farâmarz-nâma, Borzu-nâma (qq.v.) and Shahriâr-nâma; see GOÚDARZIÂN) ascribe to Zâl many heroic deeds, especially in wars with Afrâsiâb and Bahman. The Mojmal al-tawârikò (ed. Bahâr, p. 54) asserts that Zâl wrote several books on the history of the House of Bahman and maligned Goætâsp. The Târikò-e Sistân (ed. Bahâr, pp. 22-23) states that Zarang owed its name and prosperity to Zâl-e Zar, and according to the Bundahiæn (36.40; tr. Markwart, Provincial Capitals, p. 52), Sâm divided his realm between his six sons, giving Sistân and the region of south (Nimro@z) to the leading one, Dastân, Aparæahr to Aparnak, Rey to Khosrow, Patiæxwârgar to Mârgandag, Isfahan to Sparnag, and Aso@restân to Damnag.

The origins of the stories about the House of Rostam go back to the Saka people (Yarshater, 1983, pp. 454-55), but there are reasons for connecting the names of these brothers with the names of the provinces of the Parthian Empire and seeing the fully developed accounts of the House of Rostam as reflections of an Arsacid family which ruled over Zarang (Old Pers. Zarannka, Gk. Drangiana, the old Sistân; Kent, Old Persian, p. 211) and was annihilated by Ardaæir I, the historical model of Ardaæir Bahman (Shahbazi, pp.158-59).

Unaware of the reports on Zâl's death, some have considered him as the manifestation of eternity, connecting zâl/zar with Zurwan, god of Time (Wikander, pp. 324-26). It is more probable, however, that Zâl/Zar was named after the land Zarang (cf. Zar-bânu "Lady of Zar," a daughter of Rostam: Irânæâh, pp. 210, 270-73; for an attempt to explain Dastân as a compound *dast-tanu "with a capable body" or as representing a family name "of the descendants of *Dast'," see Skjœrvø, pp. 165-63).

Zâl's personality has been the subject of much speculation. Shehâb-al-Din Sohrevardi explained him as a mystic figure (Parhâm, pp. 334-47, with literature). His white hair at birth would have been viewed as a sign of future greatness, similar to the case of Pâbak, father of Ardaæir, who was born with long hair (Tabari, I, 814), which his mother took as presaging future glory (Bal'ami, ed. Bahâr, pp. 875-76). The nursing by a mighty bird was another sign of unusual fame and achievement, analogous to the legend of the rearing of Achaemenes (q.v.) by an eagle (Aelianus, Nature of Animals 12.21, with Spiegel, II, p. 262; cf. Nöldeke, p. 4). These stories are common-place with the type of "the feared child," whose lordly sire is warned by signs of the infant's future greatness and tries to dispose of him but fails because the child is saved and reared by a miraculous beast and finally replaces the guilty potentate (Yarshater, 1991, pp. 67-68). That some revered Zâl as an extraordinary, wise and mystic personality is borne out by the fact that to this day the mystic order of Ahl-e Haqq (q.v.) in Kurdistan regard Simorgh, Zâl, and Rostam as the duns, the incarnation of the light of God. And the Malek Tâwusi tribes of northwestern Iran, Iraq and Syria also count Kâva, Zâl, Rostam, and Simorgh as the incarnations of Malek Tâwus, himself the highest manifestation of God on earth (see, with literature, Amir Mo'ezzi, p. 80).



Moháammad-'Ali Amir Mo'ezzi, "Nokât-i Chand dar bâr-ye ta'âbir-e 'erfâni-e Shâh-nâma,"Iran-nâma/Iran Nameh 10/1, Winter 1992, pp. 76-82. 

Irânæâh/Irânæân b. Abi'l-Khayr, Bahma-nâma, ed. Raháim 'Afifi, Tehran, 1991.

Marijan Molé, "Le partage de monde dans la tradition iranienne," JA, 240, 1952, pp. 455-63. Theodor Nöldeke, Das iranisches Nationalepos, 2nd rev. ed., Leipzig, 1920.

Bâqer Parhâm, "Ta÷ammol-i dar ta'bir-e Sohravardi az sar-anjâm-e nabard-e Esfandiâr bâ Rostam dar Shâh-nâma wa âthâr wa natâyej-e ân dar târikò-e andiæa wa siâsat dar Irân," Iran-æenâsi/Iranshenasi 5/2, Summer 1993, pp. 324-52. 

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. 

Friedrich Spiegel, Erânische Altertumskunde, 3vols., Leipzig, 1871-78. 

Stig Wikander, Sur les fonds commun indo-iranien des épopées de la Perse et de l'Inde," La Novelle Clio 2, 1950, pp. 300-29. 

Ehsan Yarshater, Dâstânhâ-ye Šâh-nâma, Tehran, 1959. Idem, "The Feared Child in Iranian Mythology," 

K. R. Cama Oriental Institute International Congress Proceedings (5th to 8th January 1989), Bombay, 1991, pp. 65-68. Idem, "Iranian National History," in Camb. Hist. Iran III, pp. 359-477.

Robert Charles Zaehner, Zurvan: A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Oxford, 1955.






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