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Fravahar, pictogram of Persian past
Tue, 09 Dec 2008 13:28:10 GMT
By Hedieh Ghavidel, Press TV, Tehran


Fravahar, the Palace of Xerxes, Persepolis, Iran

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 scholars.

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, Fravashi.

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 god Horus.

The symbol of the God Assur
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.

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.

 
The Persepolis Fravahar represents divine kingship and rule.
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 "divine grace."

Khvarenah is a luminous and radiant force, an attribute of royalty and of divine and heroic figures in national and religious tradition.

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 depict khvarenah.
 
The Fravahar can be used to illustrate the basic elements of Zoroastrianism.
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:

1- The male upper body springing out of the central disk represents the human soul or, as some would say, the wisdom of age.

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.

 
(Bisotun Fravahar) Some scholars believe the torso does not represent Ahura Mazda as god has no image in the Zoroastrian faith.
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.

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 Fravahar on the fašade of a fire temple, Yazd, Iran
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.

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 national symbol.
 


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