The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
By: Homayoon San'ati-zadeh
1 - INTRODUCTION
The influence of the
'Behizaki' 1440-year cycle of the Avestan system of chronology , perhaps can
be seen in every irrigation system where the water is divided into 1440 portions
or into multiples of it. For example, the complicated and elaborate irrigation
system of 'Baagh-e Sar-Aassiab', located on the suburbs of Kerman, which has
most probably survived from the Sasanian times, involves dividing water into
2880 portions. It mostly resembles a water bank rather than a simple irrigation
arrangement ('nasagh'). The important difference between the concepts of
'distorted hour' and 'proportionate hour' , is simply reflected in the
differences between the irrigation traditions of Naayin and the 'Qanaat-e
Ghastaan' village in Kerman. In both places the day is divided into two day-time
and night-time 'taaq's. Each 'taaq' is then divided into 72 parts which is
called 'sorqeh' in Nayin, and 'jor'eh' or 'jorreh' in Qanaat-e Ghastaan. In
Naayin the tradition was to reduce the number of the 'sorqeh's in the night-time
'taaq' and add to those of the day-time 'taaq' as days grew longer. In the
longest days of the year the day-time 'taaq' consisted of 83 'sorqeh's and the
night-time 'taaq' consisted of 61 'sorqeh's. But in Qanaat-e Ghastaan, each 'jor'eh'
is further divided into 3 'tashteh' and the number of 'jor'eh's in the day-time
'taaq' and night-time 'taaq' always remain constant. Rather, the number of the 'tashteh's
in each 'jor'eh' changes in winter and summer. On the first day of summer, the
longest day of year, each 'jor'eh' is 3.5 'tashteh's during the day, and 2.5 'tashteh's
during the night. Of the multitude of traditions, customs, tools and devices
used for chronometry and for allocating water, in various corners of the Iranian
plateau, what has been the custom in Yazd's Ardakaan, is the most interesting
one. It's a pity that this system is being forgotten and is falling out of use.
2 - THE LOCAL
CALENDAR OF ARDAKAAN
It can be assumed
that the common Ardakaan calendar is a vestige of the famous 'Yazdgirdian'
calendar. According to Mas'oodi:
Yazdgirdian year, is the year that was common in the Iranian calendar. It
consisted of 12 thirty-day months and five days in 'pandjeh-e mustaragheh'."
calendar is very much similar to the ancient Egyptian calendar. In the Persian
Encyclopedia (Mussaaheb's Encyclopedia), it is written:
times the Egyptians celebrated the dawning of Sirius, since its appearance just
preceded with the annual rising of the Nile water. The Egyptians based their
calendar on this event. The Egyptian year consisted of 365 days, each year had
twelve 30-day months and the remaining 5 days were celebrated."
The local Ardakaan calendar, has other relatively major differences with other local calendars and with old calendars of the Iranian plateau. One of these differences is the fact that in contrast to the customary division of day into 24, twelve, or six parts, the Ardakaanis divide the day into 8 parts as follows:
Each of the above
parts, equal to three hours, is call a 'tasooj'. Each tasooj is further divided
to 24 parts, which is called 'saboo' and is equal to 7.5 minutes. The day
comprises 192 saboos, divided into two night and day taaqs (each taaq = 96
of the local Ardakaan calendar with other common calendars in the Iranian
plateau, as related to irrigation, is that they start counting time from
midnight, and this is not to be taken lightly. In this land, it has been
customary to start counting the hours from the sunrise or the sunset. But in
astronomy, this is not a desirable origin, since the length of the day is
variable. In ancient times, the astronomers, and only they, used noon or
midnight as the origin for their calculations. The fact that in modern times,
midnight is used as the origin of time all over the world, is a recent event and
is a result of the development of radio and television and aerial navigation.
There is evidence that among the ancient Iranian astronomers, the use of
midnight as the origin of time was common. In his book, "Aassar al-Baqieh",
"Other astronomers have chosen the invisible half of the meridionical circle and begin a day from midnight, as the author of the Shahriaran Shah astronomical tables had chosen to do." 
There are many
strange stories about the 'Shahriaran Shah' or 'Malek al-Mulook' astronomical
tables. The most influential Iranian astronomer after Islam and a forgotten
genius, Abu Ma'shar-e Balkhi, is quoted to have said that this astronomical
table had been devised before Noah's Storm, and it had been preserved in an
elevated and safe place, somewhere near today's Isfahan.
Outside the Iranian
plateau, only in China midnight was used as the origin of time in a day. In
"Sharh-e Beest Baab" (the exegesis of twenty chapters), Mulla Muzaffar
writes about the Chinese calendar:
"... and they
use midnight as the beginning of the day as we mentioned before." 
3 - ARDAKAAN'S
ASTRONOMY AND ASTRONOMERS
The writer of this
report was fortunate enough to meet and talk to some of these astronomers, and
to be amazed to meet old men who did not know alphabet, but who had measured
accurately the longest day and shortest night of the year, and had done this
several times during their lives. One of them was Haadj Huseyn Ghaane'i, son of
Abu-Taaleb, and another was Haadj Seyyed Ali Khebreh. Haadj Huseyn is a lively
and witty old man, eighty-some years old, he is the oldest astronomer of
Ardakaan. He has personally experienced the fact that contrary to the common
belief, it is not on the first day of Farvardin (March 21st, the first day of
the first month of the Iranian calendar) that day and night are of equal
lengths. According to his experimentation, it is on the fifth of Farvardin (Farvardin
5th of the local calendar = Farvardin 5th in the governmental calendar) that the
lengths are equal.
The result is that
we find some local version of constellations which are different from the ones
related to the solar calendar and the zodiac, and also different from those
related to the stations of the Moon.
This can be put another way: in Yazd's Ardakaan and its suburbs, using the sequence of star-rises and the peaks and troughs of the mountains located at the east of Ardakaan, the people have created an enormous heavenly astral clock in their imagination, and use it during the whole period when the water from the qanaats is used for farming, i.e. from Esfand 12th to the end of Azar (March 3rd to December 21st) they would know:
What comes below, is
a picture of this imaginary clock in the minds and memories of two relatively
young astronomers and dashtbaans of Ahmad-abaad which is one of the suburbs of
"On Monday Mehr 14th according to the local calendar, equivalent to Mehr 8th of the government calendar (September 30th), accompanied by Mr. Iraj Afshar-Yazdi and Mr. Muhammad Huseyn Islam-panaah, we talked with Haaj Mirza Hasan Mirzayi and Mirza Muhammad Kermanian, in the back-alleys of Ardakaan's Ahamad-aabaad village. They said:
From the first day of Sagittarius (November 22nd), the dashtbaan has complete control over the water. From Esfand 9th to Esfand 12th (End of February to March 3rd), water is free. From midnight Esfand 12th (March 3rd) the accounting begins on the following basis:
Each of these
stars rise half a saboo earlier each night."
heavenly astral clock of Yazd's Ardakaan, which until before the qanaats
dried up and wrist watches became popular, was used by everyone in Ardakaan
and the surrounding villages; a magnificent, immense, bright, and
scintillating clock, slow and mild, with no need for batteries, electricity,
or winding up.
Every tourist who is fortunate enough to see this clock, after overcoming the initial amazement at such a useful and intelligent scheme, will have many questions to ask, including:
-How does this
clock work? What is its mechanism? How was its
To the extent
that it is possible, we will try to answer these questions in the rest of
4 - THE
OPERATION AND THE STRUCTURE OF ARDAKAAN'S ASTRAL CLOCK
(a) The clock is
made of stars and it cannot be seen during the day.
Night is the
shadow of the planet Earth.
Due to Earth's
rotation, every 24 hours we alternately observe the bright day and the dark
night. When we move towards the illuminated side of the planet, we imagine
that the sun is dawning and the day is arriving. And, when we move towards
the dark side of the planet we imagine the sun is setting and night is
approaching. What we consider to be 'sunrise' and 'sunset' are results of
mental habits. And a concise definition of 'East' could be the following:
East is the
common direction of Earth's rotation and orbital motion.
above definitions, the person watching the horizon at night, is like a
traveller flying in an airplane at night at an altitude of 30 to 40 thousand
feet, and looking outside through the airplane's window. The difference is
that he is now riding the planet Earth. In the same way that the airplane
traveller sees the lights of the cities and the villages in the dark
background of the earth, the traveller riding on the planet Earth will
observe the heavenly cities and villages (the stars and the other planets)
as the Earth moves in its orbit around the Sun.
If the airplane
repeats its path, as the Earth does, and maintains a constant speed, as the
Earth, from the sequence in which the city and village lights appear, the
traveller can deduce how much of the path has been covered or what time of
night it is. Any pilot or traveller who has covered this predetermined path
several times during the night, can feel and understand these concepts.
5 - THE DAILY
SHIFT OF THE STARS BY HALF A SABOO
6 - THE
HISTORY OF ARDAKAAN'S ASTRAL CLOCK
As far as I
know, no direct document or evidence has yet been found as to when this
innovation was introduced. Nor did I meet anyone who had anything to say
that was directly related to this question. One might proceed in the way a
historic monument is dated from the material used in its construction. As an
example, one can say - and this is just speculation - that the face of the
clock introduced by Ahmad-abaad's astronomers corresponds to September 22nd.
How can we conclude this? We see that there is a total of 96 'saboo's,
exactly half the number included in a complete day and night. There are only
two nights when day and night are of equal lengths. Farvardin 5th and Mehr
5th. How do we know that the face of the clock does not correspond to the
Spring? From the fact that Canopus is in the list. An old Persian proverb
says: "An apple who does not see Canopus, will have no color."
Since, Canopus is one of the stars of the southern hemisphere, on the
Iranian plateau it can only be observed in Fall.
Perhaps there is
one other clue to this question. We can look for the answer to the following
7 - IS THERE
ANOTHER ASTRAL CLOCK?
And the answer
is positive. There are many documents that show such an astral clock was in
use in ancient Egypt, between the 21st and 16th centuries B.C. These
documents consist of the name of stars and constellations which were painted
or inscribed upon the water clocks, on the burial boxes of the mummies, and
on the gates and the walls of the temples, in ancient Egypt. These tables
which the Egyptians originally called "oblique calendars", have
exactly the same function as Ardakaan's astral clock, and they are based on
the same principle. Neugebauer , the famous science historian, has
written about these 'oblique hours' in his book, "The Exact Sciences in
Ancient Times" :
is that what we are facing here is not a calendar, rather it is a clock
constructed from the stars. The owner of this table could refer to the list
to find the time each of the 'dahgaan's (decades)  would rise within each
of the ten days of the month and determine what time of the night it is. Now
we will investigate how such a clock would work " 
When the day
dawned in the mountains,
astral clock, the Egyptians' oblique clock could only be used during the
night. The Egyptian clock was a caravan of thirty six stars whose appearance
at dawn indicated the arrival of one of the thirty six decades within each
year. The train was headed by the famous star Sha'raa (Sirius or the
Dog-star known in Iran also by the names Shabaahang = Tishtar = Tir) ,
whose first dawning was a short time before the tides of the River Nile, and
the constituted the origin of the Egyptian calendar.
The dawn of
Sirius in the morning and its burning has been described by Naasser Khosrow
Ghobaadiani as follows:
Sha'raa is like
a cup of ice,
other Egyptologists believe that from the beginning, the astral clock of
Egypt was beset with problems. The problem was the skeleton of Egyptian
calendar, whereby, as in the Yazdgirdian calendar, the year was divided into
365 complete days, and account was not taken of the additional hours of the
solar year. The Egyptologists say that due to this technical problem, the
usefulness of the 'oblique hour' did not even last a thousand years. The
first examples of the astral clock belong to the Pharaohs of the 9th and
10th dynasties who ruled from 2190 to 2050 B.C. and a later example has been
carved in the tomb of Setti I (1317 - 1301 B.C.)
was in the late 14th century B.C. when the Egyptian priests and the tomb
servants realized the deficiencies of their astral clock and devised new
methods for keeping hours at night. In this respect, Neugebauer says:
tombs of Rameses V, Rameses VII, and Rameses IX, we encounter new
astronomical texts. We see drawings of certain observations performed for
the purpose of keeping hours at nights during the year. For the first and
sixteenth days of the month, we see the image of a man sitting cross-legged
(the eleventh plate). Above his head, or rather, behind his neck, there is a
lattice of axes on which the signs of stars have been drawn. The inscription
accompanying the drawing explains how at nights, at the beginning of each
hour, which star would be seen 'above the left ear', which 'above the right
ear', or 'above the left shoulder' or 'above the right shoulder'." 
writer of this report, has seen with his own eyes and has heard with his own
ears old farmers and shepherds from the "Baarez mountains", such
as Mashhadi Hemmat-Ali Haadjizaadeh a resident of the Djoghdari village, or
Mashhadi Nassrollah Haadjizaadeh, an old shepherd in the Laalehzaar valley
of Kerman, using exactly this same method, and these same words and
expressions, to determine the hours of night with an accuracy of fifteen
our discussion of the ancient Egyptian clock, it is useful to note that the
basis of the Egyptian 'oblique clock' - serving both as a calendar and as a
clock, a fact giving rise to the technical problem associated with it - was
the division of the year into 36 ten-day periods and one shorter five-day
period. In other words the use of a 'decade' instead of a 'week'. There is
little doubt that the concept of 'decade', unlike the concept of 'week', did
originate within the Iranian plateau. The reason is that even today, the
concept of 'decade' is prevalent all over the Iranian plateau and is used by
peasants and shepherds. Be it Azerbayjan, Kurdistan, Luristan, and Ishahan,
or in Yazd, Kerman, Baluchistan, Qandahar, Kabul, Varzabad valley in
Tajikistan, or the Badakhshan province in Pamir Mountains, the peasants and
the shepherds all use the terms 'chehellom' (fortieth), 'shastom'
(sixtieth), 'haftadom' (seventieth), 'navadom' (ninetieth), 'yeksad-o bistom'
(one hundred and twentieth), etc.
mentioned about the use and the importance of the decade unit in the farming
calculations reminds one of the following sentence in 'Qabus Naameh':
"If you are
a peasant, know about time. Everything that you want to farm, do not allow
its time to pass. It is better to do something 10 days early rather than ten
days late." (Chapter 43).
ARDAKAAN'S ASTRAL CLOCK AND BUNDAHISHN
has encountered the name "Gaz" as the name of a star in another
place: in the article "Stars in Ardestaan" written by Mr. Ehsaan
Hashemi published in the journal, Ayandeh, Nos. 6 & 7, Shahrivar and
Mehr of 1364 (Aug 22 - Oct 21 1985). At the end of his highly readable
article, under the title of "Khooshh-ye Parvin, Djabbaar (the Orion),
Sha'raa-ye Yamaani (the Sirius)" , Mr. Hashemi writes:
addition to these, they also know the constellations of "Khoosheh-ye
Parvin" (or "Aqd-e Sorayya", the Pleiades), "Djabbaar"
(or 'the Hunter', Orion) and the star "Sha'raa-ye Yamaani"
(Sirius) which are located near each other in the sky, and they hold certain
beliefs about them"
call "Khoosheh-ye Parvin", "Par" (the feather) and
"Khoosheh-ye Angoor" (the grape cluster)"
dawn of this group of stars at June 22nd, the weather changes."
"Djabbaar (Orion) is also called 'Gaz va Tarazoo' (Gaz and the Balance), 'Gaz va Gheychi' (Gaz and the Scissors), 'Gaz va Peymaan' (Gaz and the Measuring Cup), 'Seh Ghooti' (Three Tins), and sometimes it is called the Hunter, who holding a balance in his hands, is in pursuit of 'Par' (the Feather) believed to be the hunted animal in flight. The Hunter intends to divide its meat with the help of the balance after he has hunted it down."
Yamaani (Sirius) which is always distinct because of its brightness, is also
sometimes called 'Gaz's Horse' (or 'Gaz's tail') or 'the Tail'."
three constellations are mostly used to determine the time of day and as a
clock during the night."
 The 1440
year Behizaki cycle: It is said that during the reign of the Achaemenids,
who at the time, ruled over most of the civilized world except for China and
Greece, the Iranians had created a complex and elegant calendar by combining
several kinds of year and month. Most probably the Iranians had acquired
this kind of chronometry from the Egyptians of the age of the Pharaohs and
after some reforms and renovations, promulgated it all over their domain
including the present-day countries of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Caucuses
(= Armenia), and Turkey (Asia Minor). This system of chronometry had
survived up to the time of Abu-Reyhaan, in the aforementioned lands.
innovations the Iranians had introduced in this calendar, was the Behizaki
1440 year cycle, formed by having twelve leap months - during the seasonal
year. For this reason, every 120 years, celebrations were held all over the
Iranian empire and all taxes were annulled during that year. With this
procedure, the Iranians succeeded to match the days of the two kinds of year
- the 365-day year and the 365-and-1/4-day year - and to use the same names
for the days of the month. The 365-day year was called the 'normal' or
'rotating' year, and the 365-and-1/4-day year was called the 'seasonal' or 'Behizaki'
distorted or oblique hour: This chronological unit is obtained by dividing
the day and the night into twelve parts each. But starting from the
beginning of winter until the beginning of summer, the hours of the night
are continually shortened and the hours of the day are elongated. And from
the beginning of summer until the beginning of winter, the hours of day are
shortened and the hours of night are stretched. This kind of distorted hour
was used by the astronomers in ancient times.
Proportionate hour: It is the same kind of hour presently in use, obtained
from dividing the length of a full day into 24 equal parts.
 'Aassaar al-Baaghieh'
by Abu-Reyhaan Biruni, page 3, translated by Daana Seresht.
fifteenth chapter "On The Science of the Khataayides".
Sciences in Antiquity', Persian translation: Entesharat-e Elmi va Farhangi
(The Scientific and Cultural Publications), Tehran, 1996, page 113.
Sciences in Antiquity', section 39a.
 'Exact Sciences in Antiquity', the Persian translation, page 121.
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