(HIRMAND) RIVER in Zoroastrian Tradition


By: Gherardo Gnoli



Abstract: (Av. Hatumant; modern usage, Hirmand, Halmand), the border river of Afghanistan and Persia. It originates in the mountains in the Hazrajt (q.v) and flows into the Sistn in southeastern Iran and finally drains into the Hmun Lake.


According to Avestan geography [1700 B.C.E.], the region of the Hatumant River extends in a southwest direction from the point of confluence of the Arghandb with the Helmand (Gnoli, 1980, p. 66) and since relatively ancient times has had an important position within the Zoroastrian tradition. In particular, this is mentioned in the text of Yat 19.66-69, which contains some strophes dedicated to a celebration of the Hatumant and some of its affluent rivers, such as the Xstr, Hvasp, Fradaθ, Xarnahvait, Utavait, Urv, Erəz, and Zarənumat. These have a number of parallels in both the Pahlavi texts and, especially, in the list of rivers in the Trikh-e Sistn (ed. Bahr, 1935, pp. 15 f.; Gold, 1976, p. 12), where the following rivers are mentioned: Rud-e Hirmand (the Helmand), the Rukhkhad-rud (the Arghandb or the Haraxait of Vd. 1.12), the Kh-rud (Xstr, the Wdi Nesal or Nahr Niak of the Arabs), Farh-rud (Fradaθ, the Ophradus of Pliny, Natural History 6.94), the Khok-rud (Utavait, between the Farah-rud and the Harrut-rud), and the Harrut rud (Xar, the Pharnacotis of Pliny, loc. cit.). Moreover, the Zamyd Yat (Pirart, 1992; Hintze, 1994; Humbach and Ichaporia, 1998) celebrates Lake Kasaoya; and in the Pahlavi texts the Kaynsih (the name formed with the plural word kayn, meaning "the Kavis" or "the Kayanids") is the Hmun-e Helmand; and also the Ua mountain can be identified with the Kuh-e Khja. It must also be acknowledged that Yat 19 supplies a singularly detailed description of a specific territory, the only such case to be found throughout the entire Avesta. As seen in the first chapter of the Widwdd, the country of the Hatumant seems to have had a privileged position (Vd. 1.13-14); because, compared to the other fourteen countries also mentioned in the text, its description occupies twice as much space, with the exception of Airyana Vaah (Vd. 1.1-2). The identification of these rivers, lakes, and mountains within historical geography has been part of several in-depth studies, especially those of A. Stein, J. Markwart, E. Herzfeld, D. Monchi-Zadeh, and G. Gnoli.

The important role that the Helmand River and its region have played in Zoroastrian tradition is linked to the special connection between them and the kavam xar, and therefore also to the xar (farrah, farr) of the Kavis, the Kayanids of the national tradition (Gershevitch, 1959, pp. 185 f.). In fact, the Kavyn or Kayn-ian dynasty reigned "there where is Lake Kasaoya" (Yt. 19.66), the point at which the Helmand ends along the southeastern border between Iran and Afghanistan. Not only is Lake Kasaoya the center of this dynasty's power with Vitspa, the protector of Zoroaster, as its last sovereign, but it is also the lake in which the seed of the prophet is cared for and protected by the 99,999 fravais (Yt. 19.89-96), from which will be born the three saoyants ("saviors"): Uxyat.ərəta (Pahl. Udar), Uxyat.nəmah (Pahl. Udarmh), and Astvat.ərəta, the Sns par excellence. In the eschatological myth there is a correspondence between the sea Vouru.kaa and Lake Kasaoya (Christensen, 1931, p. 22; Gnoli, 1977, p. 315; Gnoli, 1980, pp. 132 ff.); and it is significant that the Zamyd Yat, after having celebrated the kavam xar and all the Kavis, (Yt. 19.70 ff.), ends with a triumphal celebration of the fra.kərəti and the saoyant Astvat.ərəta, who was born from the water of the Kasaoya (Yt. 19.89-96). This theme has a strong presence in both the Avesta (Vd. 19.5) and the Pahlavi literature, in which a kind of spiritualization of the Avestan geography occurs, particularly with fluvial elements, as has been correctly pointed out by J. de Menasce (Gnoli, 1974).

Several pieces of Pahlavi evidence confirm the position of excellence of the Hatumant and its region in the Zoroastrian tradition. Without a doubt, the most important of these is that of the treatise, Abdh ud sahgh Sagistn (Utas, 1983), which lists the wonders of Sistn, collecting all of those themes already present in the Avesta. Thus we find: the river Htmand; the war Frazdn, which may be the Gawd-e Zira (Jackson, 1928, p. 283; Herzfeld, 1930, p. 91; Herzfeld, 1947, p. 62; Gnoli, 1967, pp. 14 ff.); the lake Kaynsih; the mountain Udatar (the Kuh-e Khvja); Udar, Udarmh, and Sns; the descendants of the Kayanids; Frdn and his three sons, Salm, Tch, and rch, etc.; Manuchihr; Witsp; Sn, son of Ahmstt from Bust, etc. (Gnoli, 1989, p. 135).

The Helmand River and its region have therefore played a great role in the entire Zoroastrian tradition (Geldner, 1906, p. 221; Bartholomae, 1924, p. 9). Such a position was not necessarily acquired secondarily, as has been sometimes thought in the past (Nyberg, 1938, pp. 304 ff.; Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, pp. 274, 293; Hintze, 1994, p. 21, n. 39). Sistn is part of the vast horizon of the "Aryan lands," the airy daiηhv of the Avesta, inside of which is also placed Airyana Vaah. Numerous indications lead to the assumption that in an unspecific but archaic period, probably during the course of the 6th century B.C.E., a process occurred in which the Helmand and other localities of its region were identified with elements of traditional cosmography and mythical geography. This is well demonstrated by the concurrence of these places with the Avestan Vaη uh Ditythe Wehrd of some Pahlavi texts, as was already pointed out by J. Markwart (1938, p. 122, n. 3; p. 159, note from the previous page; Gnoli, 1967, pp. 13f., 38; 1980, p. 133).



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Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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