Significance of Flowers in Zoroastrian Religion
Soroush is the first creation of Ahuramazda who learnt Gathas by heart, offering its worship to Ahuramazda with a branch of Barsam. It is one of Bahaman’s companions. Listening to Soroush is to hear and obey Ahuramazda’s orders.
Barsam represents all trees, vegetations and plants. It is a bundle of small twigs of a tree, usually cut from Pomegranate tree or Myrtle by a special knife called Barsamchin while reciting some prayers during the procedure. The whole process is a ritual and after the barsams are cut and washed they are tied together with a strand of palm leaf.
In the Book of creation called Bon-dahesh, each Amshaspand is symbolized by a flower-plant: Below is the list of Amshaspands and the flower attributed to them:
Ahuramazda is represented by Myrtle, Bahman with white Jasmin, Ordibehesht with Marjoram, Sharivar with Basil, Sepandarmaz with Melissa, Khorda’d with Iris, Morda’d with Lily.
As we will see, flowers and plants seen in the stone-carvings of Persepolis are symbols of the above Amshaspands and other determining principles of Zoroaster’s faith. This is a very important point overlooked by all Iranologists who identified them wrongly as enumerated below:
The Barsam held in the hand of the King Darius is identified as Lotus.
Flowers surrounding Frahvashi (Fravahar) are identified as palm tree.
The decorations around the neck of the cow as lotus bud calling it 12 petal flower.
Lotus actually found a place in Iranian art and architecture as the flower symbolizing the Iranian goddess of water, Anahita enjoying a very important place in Iranian Mythology. Later we will show that considering the climatic environment of Persepolis (a dry mountainous place), the flower identified as Lotus (famous as flower of marshes) in its stone-reliefs, could not possibly be this flower.
Flowers held by the king and the crown prince are thought to be Egyptian due to the presence of a bud between two blossoms and the arrangement of the stem.
In the images of Persepolis, while the first four passages are pictorially represented by the victory of goodness (in the image of the king or a royal hero) over devils, the last two passages through Khorda’d (perfection) and Morda’d (eternal life) representing the highest aspirations, spring of life and creativity, fertility, growth and final unification with Ahuramazda are illustrated masterfully and in a poetical way, in the form of their symbol, the flower Iris (notice the joined stems of images 10 & 11), particularly in those images conveying the concept of holiness.
It is not in vain that the presence of frahvashi (fravahar), symbolizing the whole path of this spiritual journey (passages through the 6 Amshaspands) and attainment of holiness and eternal life (reaching the light of lights (khavarafkhashia) which is the most important part of the Zoroastrian transcendental philosophy is depicted next to Iris (see image 12).
Image 12- Presence of fravashi (fravahar) as the symbol of spiritual evolution (passage through six Amshaspand) and attainment of holiness and eternal life next to Iris.
On the other hand, the flower symbolizing one of the assistants of Amshaspand Morda’d, the divinity Rashn is Eglantine; a flower with a pleasant calming scent seen repeated in the frames of the stone-reliefs between cypresses like a scaffold, protecting the line of guests like a canopy (Image number 13). The continued presence of Eglantine as a symbol of protection and preservation of life (both humans and gardens) can be found in “Ershad-ol-zera’-eh” (a guidebook of gardening) written in 16th century, containing the history of garden-making in ancient Iran.
Now comes the question of lotus and its connection with barsam. As it was mentioned before, a number of researchers have wrongly identified barsam (the symbol of all trees and vegetations) in Darius’ hand as Lotus, and speculated it to be the same flower seen around the neck of animals, overlooking the fact that this flower can hardly grow in dry climatic weather of Pars ( Fars ). In addition to requiring special conditions for its growth, lotus is very sensitive to light and humidity. It is a flower growing in marshes closing its petals when the light fades. Lotus with the sharp end of its blossoms and the inner curving of its petals as well as its sensitivity and impermanence could not be the flower used during long rituals (from the beginning of preparation of barsam to the end of ceremonies) which instead required a longer lasting flower (Image number 14).
Image number 15 shows the similarity of the flower in Darius’ hand, with pomegranate flower. From the bio-ecological point of view, apart from its sacredness and beauty, pomegranate flower is more in harmony with the climatic conditions of the region and physiologically it is more resistant than aquatic flowers, therefore it is a more appropriate flower to be used in long ceremonies.
In Avesta we read: “It is said, the divinity Soroush spreads barsam, three times, five times, seven times and nine times and offers the worship to Ahuramazda.”
In Yasna (chapter 43, paragraph 12) it is said: “When you ordered me ‘Appeal to asha and know her’ you told me unheard words: Try to let Soroush penetrate you to recognize divine graciousness granting reward and punishment to both groups.”
Soroush is one of the divinities playing an important role in the struggle against devils. It is said in Bondahesh: “Soroush received the task of guardianship from Ahuramazda. In the same way that Ahuramazda is the Lord of the heaven and the universe, Soroush is the Lord of the world and it is said, Ahuramazda is a spirit protecting the soul, while Soroush is a spirit protecting the world. For Soroush has not slept well since the creation of living beings in order to guard them. According to Abu Reyhan, Soroush is a divinity guarding the night and some say he is Gabriel. The soul of the dead reaches the Chinvad Bridge protected by Soroush. I praise, the brave pious dutiful Soroush. He is brave because when he turns his club toward Khorasan (East), fear is subsided until he points it to the west. He is dutiful because he obeys the God. And he is astonishing because devils are dispersed by his stroke. He is divine because he rules arzeh (the country of the East) and saveh (the country of the West) (zand akasieh 220, Rahim Afifi, Iranian Mythology and Culture in Pahlavi texts).
That is why holding barsam – whether it is the king or an ordinary Zoroastrian – represents continuous remembrance of the presence of Soroush (Gabriel).
From all that is said above, Zoroastrian religious and ritual beliefs were so blended with everyday life of ancient Iranians that one can trace them in all aspects of life including their architecture. Illustration of the opposition of good and evil, the spiritual presence of Amshaspands in the figure of the king in stone-reliefs and entrapment of devils by using their sculptures as column capital all point to the above integration. Considering that Persepolis was the place where Achaemenids held their religious rites, ceremonies and mysteries, surely the images found there should be an allusion to the ruling ideas and ideals of their era manifested in the form of mythological symbols of their divinities. The subtle intelligent practice of Achaemenids in illustrating their basic religious beliefs for various peoples with different religious faiths living in the vast Persian Empire attending various ceremonies in the Palace is an example of the respect the kings of this dynasty had for the freedom in faith and ethics of their subjects. In all the stone-carvings with an allusion to spiritual beliefs, the Amshaspands Khorda’d and Morda’d have a prominent presence in the figure of Iris flower. Attribution of a flower to each Amshaspand represents the close relationship of Achaemenid religious beliefs with their natural environment and regional climatic conditions in which lotus can not have a logical reasonable place.
The above analysis is an effort made to show the Iranian origin of what is seen in stone-reliefs of Persepolis, their relation with religious beliefs of that era and refutation of non-Iranian root of the images found there. This is a new approach demanding extensive studies for further decoding of the remaining reliefs.
extracted from :
A New Approach to Stone Reliefs of Persepolis
By Khoobchehr Keshavarzi (translated By Roya Monajem, Tehran)
Based on ritual, religious beliefs and the impact of the environment