Fravahar, pictogram of Persian past
Tue, 09 Dec 2008 13:28:10 GMT
By Hedieh Ghavidel,
Press TV, Tehran
Fravahar, the Palace of Xerxes,
The Fravahar, a winged disk with a male upper body, has
since the early part of the 20th century become the definitive
symbol of Zoroastrianism through the efforts of two Parsi
Fravahar is a Pahlavi word derived from the Avestan "fravarane"
which means "I choose". It has also been associated with
"protect" to imply the divine protection of the guardian spirit,
Fravahar-like symbols are recurrent themes in middle and near
eastern cultures, representing divine kingship and rule.
The use of winged figures to symbolize spirits traces back to
ancient Egypt where a winged disk was used to represent the sun
In Assyria and Persia the winged solar disk came to represent
the highest deity and by 500 to 400 BCE it also began appearing
on the cylinder seals of Phoenicia.
The symbol of the God Assur
In Assyrian art it was associated with divinity and divine
protection of the king and people, appearing with and without a
human figure. Without the human figure it is a symbol of the
sun-god Shamash and with the human figure it is the symbol of
the Assyrian national god Assur.
Although later Zoroastrianism rejects anthropomorphic
representations of divine entities, such representations of
Ahura Mazda, Mithra and Anahita can be found in the Sassanid
(226 to 651 CE) reliefs of Fars Province.
From the Achaemenid era (550 to 331 BCE), in addition to
anthropomorphic sculptures of the goddess Anahita, Ahura Mazda
torsos are found emerging from disks or winged rings, some of
which have two paws and a bird tail.
Some scholars hold that these torsos do not represent Ahura
Mazda, as in the Zoroastrian faith god has no image and
therefore cannot be represented by any form.
J.M. Unvala identified the Fravahar as the symbol of the
fravashi or "guardian spirit" in the 1920s. Soon afterwards
Irach Taraporewala identified it with the khvarenah, an Avestan
concept which has the connotations not only of "glory" but of
The Persepolis Fravahar represents divine kingship
Khvarenah is a luminous and radiant force, an attribute of
royalty and of divine and heroic figures in national and
It is a god-given gift, incorporating elements of the Greek
"charisma," the Japanese 'kami', the Chinese 'Tao', the Lakota 'wakan',
which insures and legitimates the King's rule.
If a king proved unworthy, abused this gift and turned to evil,
the khvarenah and subsequently kingship left him.
The Gathas - a collection of 17 hymns believed to have been
composed by Zoroaster - say that Jamshid, the greatest of the
prehistoric kings of Iran, possessed khvarenah but when he
became too proud and arrogant he lost it.
In Sassanid art, a circular halo replaces the winged disk to
The Fravahar can be used to illustrate the basic elements of the
Zoroastrian religion. Each part of the Fravahar signifies an
idea or a philosophy:
The Fravahar can be used to illustrate the basic
elements of Zoroastrianism.
1- The male upper body springing out of the central disk
represents the human soul or, as some would say, the wisdom of
2- His upper hand extended in a blessing, pointing upwards, is a
reminder that the path to heaven lies in higher things or that
the path of righteousness is the only path to choose.
3- The other hand holds the covenant ring urging Zoroastrians to
remember to hold true to their promises. When a Zoroastrian
gives a promise, it is like a ring. It cannot be broken.
4- The ring in the center symbolizes the eternity of universe or
the eternal nature of the soul. As a circle, it has no beginning
and no end.
(Bisotun Fravahar) Some scholars believe the torso
does not represent Ahura Mazda as god has no image
in the Zoroastrian faith.
5- Two streamers which extend outward from the central disc
illustrate Zoroastrian ethics. They symbolize the two choices
humans have between good or evil, or that one should proceed
toward good and turn away from bad.
6- The three-layered wings symbolize "good thoughts, good words,
and good deeds", the Threefold Path of Zoroastrianism.
7- The lower part of the Fravahar consists of three parts
representing "bad reflection, bad words and bad deeds" which
cause misery and misfortune for human beings.
The symbol reached its finest and final form in the
rock-carvings of Persepolis and it is the Persepolis Fravahar
which has become not only a graphic symbol of the Zoroastrian
faith but also a folk motif.
The Fravahar on the fašade of a fire temple, Yazd,
Today the Fravahar decorates Zoroastrian fire temples, has been
made into jewelry, woven into wall hangings, carved into marble
and semi-precious stones and even glazed onto ceramic heirlooms.
Fravahar has become part of the cultural legacy of every
Iranian regardless of their religion. The positive meanings this
emblem embodies have made it worthy of its prominence as a