Friday, March 19, 2010
Kaveh Ahangar is a mythical figure in Iranian mythology that leads a popular uprising against a ruthless foreign ruler, Zahhak, and is the most famous of Persian mythological characters in resistance against despotic foreign rule in Iran. The 10th century poet Ferdosi narrates his story in the Epic of Shahnameh. After losing 18 of his sons to Zahhak's serpents, he rebels against the Arab ruler of Persia and leads the people to overthrow the tyrant king and end his rule. Based on Avestan tradition, Zahhak, or more correctly Azhi Dahaka, is from Babylonia and more or less a demon, not human.
Zahhak was the son of Mardas an Arab ruler in Iran. Stories have it that Zahhak killed his father in order to earn the kingdom. It was believed that the devil had presented himself to Zahhak as a marvelous cook and forged a special relationship between the two. As a result of his services, Zahhak permits the devil to kiss each of his shoulders. Upon doing so, from each shoulder a snake emerges, prompting Zahhak to seek treatment. This time the devil appears in front of Zahhak as a doctor and advises him to feast on the brains of young Iranians in order to satisfy the needs of the bloodthirsty snakes. One night Zahhak dreams that three men came to his palace and killed him. He wakes up in horror and calls upon the dream interpreter whom in turn tells him that a man with a name of Fereydoon will come and take his kingdom away. Hence Zahhak sends for Fereydoon to be found and killed.
Fereydoon's mother, Faranak, hears the command and takes Fereydoon to a village in Larijan in Mazandaran. Ferdosi further writes that Fereydoon was left to a farmer in Larijan and milked by a cow whose every hair was of a different color. Zahhak soon hears of this unusual cow and comes to the North to find it. Faranak hears of this and takes Fereydoon to an old man who wandered in the mountains to take care of him. Meanwhile Zahhak kills the beautiful cow.
Once Fereydoon reaches the age of sixteen he leaves in search of his mother. When he finds his mother, he was told all that had happened to him. Fereydoon upon hearing his disturbed life becomes eager to take revenge. As Fereydoon intensifies his plans for revenge he meets Kaveh at a gathering. Having lost 18 of his sons to Zahhak's serpents, Kaveh, a working class blacksmith with nothing more than a brave heart and the support of his people, decides to end this vicious cycle and destroy this evil king. With bravery he approaches Zahhak and demands freedom. As a symbol of resistance and unity, he takes off his leather apron and puts it on top of a long spear to make a flag out of it (called Derafsh Kaviani) and rallies the Iranians. It is written that Kaveh, Fereydoon and his two brothers, Kianoosh and Shadkam, united the people and went to war with Zahhak. Meanwhile Zahhak flees to India while his army was fighting with Fereydoon. Fereydoon defeats Zahhak's army and proceeds to track down Zahhak. After finding Zahhak, Fereydoon takes him to Mount Damavand and imprisons him in a cave by binding him with a lion's pelt tied to great nails fixed into the walls of the cave.
The day that Fereydoon destroyed Zahhak and his kingdom may also be the day that the Persians celebrate the Mehregan Festival, a day that good destroys evil. Some historians believe the story originated during the Medes kingdom in western Iran & Zahhak was in fact the unpopular king Astyages.
By the late Sassanid era a real Derafsh Kaviani had emerged as the standard of the Sassanid dynasty. It was thus also representative of the Sassanid state and may so be considered to have been the first national flag of Iran. It was customary in the ancient Persia that every king would add jewelry to the Derafsh as it became the symbol of Persian independence, resistance and resilience, as well as the revolutionary symbol of the masses in their fight against foreign invaders. When Arab Muslims invaded Iran, the Derafsh was seized in a bloody battle fought around Nahavand (a city with the same name in today's Hamadan province in the mid-western Iran) and taken, among many other war spoils. The Arabs burned the flag and took possession of the valuable items.