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Iranian Religions & Beliefs

The Cypress of Kashmar and Zoroaster


By Abraham Jackson

From "Zoroastrian Studies"

The Iranian Religion and Various Monographs



Persepolis050.jpg (256640 bytes)

 Persepolis relief depicting an Immortal Guard soldier and the cypress tree  (Click to enlarge)


In my Zoroaster (p. 80, 163-164, 217) allusion was made several times to the story told by Firdausi, and referred to likewise by other Persian and Arabic writers, to the effect that Zoroaster (or else his patron King Gushtasp, i.e. Vishtaspa) had planted a wonderful cypress-tree before the door of the fire-temple at Kashmar, in the district of Turshiz, Khurasan, and recorded upon its trunk that 'Gushtasp had accepted the Good Religion.[1]


In addition to the Firdausi and other references, (cf. Zor. p. 80, n. I) some further memoranda may now be included concerning the cypress of Kashmar, owing to the fact that this far-famed tree is of special significance in connection with Zoroaster.

Simply for convenience of reference I first include here a rendering of the Firdausi passage regarding the cypress, to which I had previously referred (op. cit. p. 80, n. I), but without inserting a version of the excerpt itself. The text of the verses with which we have to deal maybe translated approximately thus:[2]

Firdausi, ed. V-L. 3. 1498, 59-86; also M. 4. 362-365. ‘The noble-born Gushtasp ascended to the throne, and sent troops to every part of the country. He distributed troops throughout the world, and founded domed temples of fire on the heights.[3] He first established the fire of Mihr Burzin;[4] see what a cult he set up in the country! Zardusht[5] planted a noble cypress in front of the portal of the fire within, and inscribed upon that noble erect tree: “Gushtasp accepted the Good Religion.” He made this noble cypress a witness; thus, God[6] was disseminating justice.


When some years passed in this way, the tree grew in height and bulk amidst, until it became a cypress so noble and lofty that a lasso could not encircle it. When it had sent many branches aloft, he (Gushtasp, 1. 74) threw around it a goodly edifice.[7] [Description of the gorgeous structure is omitted here.] The King of the Earth made his abode in it. He sent this message to every part of the country. “Where in the world is there the like of the cypress of Kashmar? God sent it to me from heaven, saying, ‘Ascend from here to heaven.’ Now hearken, all of you, to this counsel of mine, Wend ye on foot to the cypress of Kashmar, follow ye each the pathway of Zardusht.” … At his command all that wore, crowns turned their faces toward the cypress of Kashmar. The house of worship thus became a paradise, wherein Zardusht incarcerated the Divs. Call it (the tree) of Paradise, if you do not know why you should call it the cypress of Kashmar.’

When I was in Mashhad for the first time, in June 1907, I spoke with a high Persian functionary, the Kar Guzar, about the story and found him well acquainted with it, even as to the detail that the Abbasid caliph Mutawakkil had caused the famous cypress of Kashmar (sarv-I Kasmar) to be cut down, as narrated in the Dabistan and still earlier by Kazvini.[8] He explained to me the location of Kashmar in the Turshiz district, southwest of Mashhad, and stated that the name is to be pronounced Kashmar, not Kishmar.[9] Again, in April 1926, when making the journey up the eastern side of Persia from Duzdap to Mashhad, upon reaching the vicinity of Turbat-i Haidari (or simply Turbat), I conversed with a Persian merchant, who was riding in our motor car, and he pointed out the road that led from there to Kashmar (as he, too, pronounced it) some sixty or more miles to the west. He knew nothing, however, about the tradition of the cypress, but I was glad to see at least the road, and to have his confirmation as to how the Persians call the place today.

Although I had not with me the necessary books, I was aware that Major (now Brigadier-General Sir) Percy Sykes had visited the region in one of his many journeys in Persia. Upon gaining access to my library, I found at once an interesting half page in his report of ‘A sixth Journey in Persia’ (Journ. Roy. Geograph. Society, 37.160, with Map appended, p. 166, Jan.-Feb. 191I), devoted to 'the village of Kishmar’ (as he prefers to spell it). He describes the historic place as built around a striking minar, which minaret is a hundred feet high and is probably to be assigned to the end of our tenth century. He mentions the tradition already recorded about the tree as associated with Zoroaster, and gives the year when the Caliph Mutawakkil caused the cypress to be felled as A.H. 247= A.D. 861. He has no occasion to allude to the date for Zoroaster, which can be deduced from the Mohammedan authors who touch on the subject.[10]

On my shelves I likewise looked up an earlier and valuable paper on Marco Polo’s travels by the late Sir Albert Houtum-Schindler, in JRAS. 1909, p. 154-162, in which he shows that Marco Polo’s abre sol stands for the Persian dirakht-i sum, ‘cypress tree,’ thus recalling, with Yule (3d ed. Cordier), I. 131,the legend of the cypress at Kashmar, near Turshiz (p. 158).[11]

Before proceeding further with the general subject, it is appropriate to include here a reference, which I had previously overlooked.[12] It is found in Kazvini (A.D.1275),who alludes to the tree as planted by King Vishtaspa (Ar. Kushtasb),and tells also the fate of Mutawakkil who had caused it to be cut down (see above, note 10). Kazvini's account runs as follows.[13]

Kazvini , Cosmography, 2. 299: 'Kashmar,[14] a village, is one of the scattered settlements in the district of Nishabur (Nishiipfir). In it there was a cypress tree, one of the noble straight cypresses, which was planted by Kushtasb the King. It’s like in beauty, height, and size was not to be seen; and it was one of the wonders of Khurasan. Al-Mutawakkil was told about it and was anxious to see it. As it was not possible for him to make the journey to Khurasan, he wrote to Tahir ibn 'Abdullah, giving him orders to cut it down, load the pieces of its trunk and branches upon camels, and bring it to him personally, because he wanted to see it. His counselors advised against this and sought to frighten him by an augury, but their advice concerning the cypress was of no avail.

When the people of the district (around Kashmar) were told of this they gathered together, implored, and offered money for its preservation, but without effect. The cypress was cut down. The grief of the people (assembling) around it was great; lamentations arose and tears were (shed) upon it. Wrapping it in wool, they sent it on camels to Baghdad. And ‘Ali ibn Jahm[15] composed the verses:-

They said al-Mutawakkilsent it (i.e. the cypress) on its way; the cypress moves onward, but fate (too) is advancing. It (the cypress?) was covered, because our Imam (Mutawakkil) Was to be covered (killed) by a sword of his own children.”


But before the arrival of the cypress, al-Mutawakkil had been killed at the hands of his slaves; the ill omen became a reality.’[16]

It will be observed that Kazviniin this passage definitely assigns the planting of the tree to Zoroaster's patron, King Vishtasp, as I pointed out above (note I) in connection with the excerpt from Firdausi. In any case the association of the famous cypress must rest upon some ancient tradition.

As a supplement to Kazvini's notice, we may add (cf. Zor. p. 80 n. I) a picturesque account of our cypress, which is found in a Persian lexicon of the seventeenth century, the Burhan-i Kati, and practically identically in the Farhang-i Jahangiri, of the same century[17] (both thus indicating an older source). Merely as a matter of convenience I make use of the text of the Burhan entry as printed in Vullers, Fragmente uber d. Relig. des Zor. p. 113-115,with a German version; compare likewise the kindred passage in the Farhang according to the Latin version by Hyde (I ed.), Hist. relig. vet. Persarum, p. 327-328. The Burhan passage may be rendered thus:-

Burhan-i Kati' ,loc. cit. 'Kashmar (sic)is the name of a village of the district of Turshiz in the province of Khurasan. They (i.e. the Magians) say Zardusht planted, with auspicious horoscope, two cypress-trees, one in this same village (i.e. Kashmar), the other in Faramad, which is one of the villages of T u s in the province of Khurasan.[18] The claim of the Magians is that Zardusht brought the two cypress-shoots from paradise and planted them in these two villages.


When Mutawakkil the Abbasid was building the Jafarid palace[19] at Samarrahhe sent orders to Tahir ibn 'Abdullah, the governor of Khurasan, in writing, that he should cut down that tree, put the trunk upon a cart, load the branches upon camels, and send it to Baghdad. An assemblage of the Magians offered Tahir 50,000 dinars, but he would not accept, and he ordered the tree to be hewn down. At the time when the tree fell, the earth underwent such a quaking that great damage was done- to the aqueducts and the buildings in that vicinity.


They say the age of the tree was 1450 years, and that the circuit of its trunk was 28 whip-lash lengths, and under its shadow more than 2000 cattle and sheep took rest. Moreover, birds of various kinds, beyond limit and count, had built their nests in it, so that at the time of the tree's fall the face of the sun was veiled by the multitude of the birds, and the sky became dark. Its branches were loaded upon 1300 camels, and the cost of (transporting) the trunk to Baghdad was 500,000 dihrams. When the cypress arrived one station before the Jafarid palace, Mutawakkil the Abbasid was hacked to pieces that same night by his servants.'

Two other references to the Kashmar cypress by the Persian geographer Mustaufi (Hamd-Allah Mustaufi) , A.D. 1340,have likewise become available in recent years. Both of these are found in his Nuzkat al-Kulub, edited and translated by G. Le Strange, London, 1919 (Gibb Memorial Series, xxiii,part I, Persian text, p. 144;part 2, English translation, p. 142). The passage on Kashmar in the section relating to the district of Turshiz reads thus in Le Strange's rendering (Part 2, p. 142):

Kashmar[20] is a provincial town of this district, and here of old was a cypress tree, taller than any other in all the rest of the world. It was planted, it is said, by Jamasp the Wise , and more than once in the Shah Namah the Cypress of Kashmaris mentioned, as for instance in the couplet:


And a branch of cypress from Paradise they brought[21]

Which he planted before the gate of Kashmar.


In the village of Kashmar no earthquake is ever felt, although in various other places, of all the neighborhood round and about, earthquakes are common.[22]

Notice in this passage that Mustaufi assigns the planting of the cypress to Jamasp the Wise, who was Zoroaster's associate and successor, instead of to his royal patron or to the Prophet himself. As Mustaufi wrote three centuries after Firdausi, this difference may be due to another tradition or to some manuscript variant, but more likely it is due to an oversight, since he seems to be quoting from memory.[23]

In one other passage, which occurs a little earlier in the same work, Mustaufi (see Le Strange, op. cit. text p.122, esp. lines 7-8; transl. p.120 bottom) alludes to the Kashmar cypress, but simply as one of the two historic trees with which to compare a notable cypress that flourished in his own day at Abarkuh (located about three hundred milesor more southwest of Kashmar).[24] Mustaufi states that the Abarkuh cypress of his time was famous throughout the world, even as from the days of the Kayanian kings the cypress trees of Kashmar[25] and of Balkh were famous. And at this present time the cypress here (i.e. at Abarkuh) is taller and of greater girth than those others,[26] and in the Land of Iran there is none now it’s equal.’ 

From this additional allusion in Mustaufi we can see how celebrated was the Kashmar cypress, and the allusion is for that reason worth including. But concerning the cypress of Balkh (which may have been equally historic), no information appears to have been recorded, so far as I know. More light, perhaps, may some time be thrown upon that subject, because Zoroaster’s name in his later days is intimately associated with Balkh and Bactriana.

Thus far search has failed to reveal any reference to Kashmar or its famous cypress in the Pahlavi texts. Some one may be more fortunate than I have been in examining these Middle Persian sources, or perhaps some unpublished texts may be made accessible.

It must not be forgotten that notable cypress-trees of remarkable size and apparently great longevity exist in Persia and the adjoining lands to bear out the tradition of the Kashmar tree. For example, concerning a giant cypress found by Sykes in 1899 at the village of Sangun, in the Sarhad district, Southeastern Persia, see Sykes, Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, p. 354. In Seistan moreover, there are today a number of noteworthy cypress-trees as described by G. P. Tate, Seistan,I. 188-190 Calcutta, 1910. Tate thinks it not impossible, for example, that the cypresses of Darg in Seistan and of Sangun in Southeastern Persia (cf. Sykes, above) ‘may have been propagated from the famous tree of Kishmar to commemorate some event of importance at Sarhad and in Seistan, connected with the spread of the doctrines of Zoroaster.’ Something similar may have been the case with the cypress at Abarkuh, mentioned above.

In conclusion, we may say that the subject of the Kashmar cypress deserves still further attention, and no doubt other references may be added, or a visit to Kashmar itself might result in finding local traditions still connected with the tree of ancient Zoroastrian fame.




[1] The question whether Zoroaster himself or King Gushtasp, his patron, planted the cypress is not of material importance here, and depends upon a manuscript variation in a line of the Shah- namah, as immediately mentioned. In the edition by Vullers and Landauer, Schahname, 3. 1499, line 62, the text adopted reads: yaki sarv-i azadah ra Zarduhist … bikist, ‘Zoroaster planted a noble cypress’; with regard to which reading the editors call attention in a footnote (n. I) to the similar metrical form and rhyming of Zoroaster’s name in line 84, at the same time drawing attention to the different reading in the Paris manuscript that was naturally followed earlier by Mohl in his folio edition of the text (1855), 4.364, lines 60-62(cf. likewise, still earlier, Mohl’s printed text of this special section in his Fragmentsrelatifs a la religion d e Zoroastre, p.19, bottom, Paris, 1829). The Paris edition gives the half-line as: yaki sarv-i azadah bud az bahist etc., 'ily avait un noble cypress venudu paradis; Guschtasp (not found in the ms.) le planta devant la portedu temple du feu’ (cf. also the smaller edition of the French translation, Le Livre des rois, 4. 291), which manuscript reading, however, equally implies that it was Zoroaster who had brought the sprout from heaven just as he had miraculously brought the fire-censer alluded to a few lines preceding (see below, note 21).

While it is not possible just now to consult other codexes of the Shah-namah, nor is the point of essential significance at the moment, this much can be said as at present sufficing. We may concede that the Paris manuscript is consistent throughout the entire section in making Gushtaspthe zealous agent in each act of religious propaganda after his conversion to the Faith, having previously made appropriate mention of Zoroaster and of how he was led to adopt the Prophet’s divine message. Evidently in the same tone, for Gushtasp, Barbier de Meynard, Dict. geog. De la Perse, p.390, n.1, translates from a manuscript of Mustaufi’s Zinat-al-Majlis a short passage, relating to the district of Turshiz, which praises the beauty of the cypress of Kashmar and records the tradition that 'il fut plante par Gushtasp le Sage.’ Cf. below, p.263 ('Jamasp the Wise').

For a considerable time during this past twelve months, I was tempted, because of that, to remodel my former view as expressed in Zor. p.80 (compare also the footnote references there given, n. 1) and to assign the planting to Gushtasp (Vishtaspa), but careful consideration (weighing also the Dabistan and other allusions) has led me to abide by my former view, and the generally accepted opinion, that it was Zoroaster himself who planted the cypress for his patron king and added the inscription. In any case there is hardly a whit of difference after all, because it is clear that the tree was presumed to beof celestial origin, like the fire-censer which Zardusht brought from heaven (see below, note 21), and was emblematic of the spreading tree of Zoroaster’s creed, an image with which Firdausi (or his predecessor Dakiki) introduces the whole narrative of the spread of the religion. We may incidentally recall here, as iswell known, that Firdausi ascribes the entire account of Zoroaster and the Fireworshipers to Dakiki.

[2] Consult the editions cited above, V-L. 3. 1498-1500; M.4. 362-364 (cf. MF. = Mohl, Fragmens, p. 18-20); compare likewise the translations of the Shah-namah by Mohl (folio), Le Livre des rois, 4. 363-365, idem (small), Le Livre, 4. 291-293; Pizzi, It Libro deire, 4. 83-85; A. G. and E. Warner.  The Shah-nama, 5. 34-35; cf. also the German translation (made from Mohl’s Fragmens) by J. A. Vullers, Fragmente uber die Religion des Zoroaster, p. 71-72, Bonn, 1831.

[3] M. has b-ayin ,‘selon les regles.’

[4] In the volume From Constantinople, etc., p. 210-216, upon the basis of the Pahlavi texts, I was inclined, though with some hesitation, to locate the Burzin Mitro Fire on Mount Mihr, between Damghan and Sabzavar, on the road from Teheran to Mashhad. Firdausi, however (perhaps following another tradition), places this noted fire at Kashmar.

[5] See above, note I, for a discussion of the text here.

[6] So M. xuda, but V-L. xirad, ‘wisdom.’

[7] For the verb, I have here followed the text of Mohl, afgand girdas.

[8] See the citation from the Dabistan in Zoroaster, p. 163-164, and the earlier one from Kazvini, translated below, p. 260-261.

[9] For this and other reasons, I adopt the spelling Kashmar, although I had written Kishmar in Zor. p.161, n. 1 end. The latter form, however, is used by some modern authorities, cited below. Possibly the pronunciation of the name may vary in different localities.

[10] See the Dabistan, as cited in Zor. p. 163-164, n.1 and 2. Unlike the author of the Dabistan, the earlier writer Kazvini (quoted below, p. 260-261) does not refer to the number of years which had elapsed from Zoroaster's time to the time when the cypress was felled at the order of Mutawakkil. He merely records that the caravan transporting the pieces of its trunk and branches did not reach Baghdad before Mutawakkilwas assassinated. As this event occurred on the night of December 9-10, 861 A.D., Kazvini’s statement gives us the year when the historic tree was cut down. Cf. also Sykes, op. c i t . p. 160.

[11] Houtum-Schindler (p. 158) spells the name as ‘Kashmar,’ but adds in a footnote (n. 1) other variants in the Persian lexicons.

[12] Now referred to in Le Strange, Lands of the Eastern Caliphate, p. 355, 356 n. 1, Cambridge, 1905.

[13] For the Arabic text see F. Wustenfeld, Caswini's Kosmograhie, 2. 299, Goettingen, 1848. For a translation of the passage I am indebted to the kindness of Dr. Nicholas N. Martinovitch, Columbia University, whose literal rendering I have followed with some slight modifications in phraseology. The translation of the verses is one made for me by Professor Richard Gottheil.

[14] As observed by Le Strange, p. 356, n. 1, ‘the name is printed by mistake K(i)shm'-ksm[r].

[15] Ali ibn Jahm as-Sami was a poet at the court of Mutawakkil, cf. Browne, Lit. Hist. of Persia, I. 345. These verses, foreboding the Caliph’s violent end, are important as containing the earliest allusion to the cypress.

[16] For the date of Mutawakkil's assassination, see above, note 10.

[17] For some remarks on these two later Persian works, see my article on the Farnbag Fire, in JAOS. 41. 101-102.

[18] Faramad,or Farumad,is situated 100miles east of Shahrudand 16 miles north of the highroad to Mashahad,according to Houtum-Schindler, JRAS. 1909, p. 158, n. 2.

[19] This palace at Samarra on the east bank of the Tigris in Irak was so called after his name Ja'far al-Mutawakkil.

[20] Observe that Le Strange here adopts the spelling with a, not i.

[21] The Shah-namah in the edition of Vullers-Landauer, 3. 1498, 45, mentions a 'basin of fire' (mijmar-iatas) brought by Zardusht from paradise; probably the same idea was applied also to the cypress (compare, in this connection, note 1 above).

[22] Perhaps the ordinary folk ascribed this immunity to some benign influence of their beloved tree, cf. Le Strange, Landsof the Eastern Caliphate, p. 355, who gave there a paraphrase of this passage from Mustaufi.

[23] Simply to show Zoroastrian associations in this region from olden times, we may add that Mustaufi (loc. cit.) mentions a Fire-temple (atashgah)among the many strong castles in the Turshiz district, some of which he names. While this temple evidently was not the noteworthy shrine in Kashmar, at the door of which the cypress was planted, it was situated in the same territory, being located about thirty miles to the east. Attention was drawn to this ancient site by Sykes who, in 1908, visited the ruins, which are still called Kala Atish Gah, or 'Fire-temple Fort,' and their location is thus marked on his map (see the article above cited, 'Sixth Journey,' p. 159, and map at end).

[24] Concerning Zoroastrianism at Abarkuh, see Jackson, Persia Past and Present, p. 341-344.

[25] Here the text reads Kashmir.

[26] Lit. ‘is taller and greater than those (two), and no cypress tree in the Land of Iranis like that.’



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