Saturday, July 31, 2010


Rostam (رستم) is a mythical hero of Iran and son of Zal and Rudabeh. He was immortalized by the 10th century poet Ferdosi in the Shahnameh, which contains pre-Islamic folklore and history. Rostam is a champion who defends a series of very inadequate Shahs. He has become the Persian exemplar of that rare creature, a disinterested hero who does his duty for its own sake. He became an unparalleled champion, serving one Shah after another, never seeking their power even in the face of repeated attempts of people to unseat their flawed monarchs and replace them with the honorable Rostam. In Ferdosi's Shahnameh, Rostam is the champion of champions and is involved in numerous stories, constituting some of the most popular (and arguably some of most masterfully created) parts of the Shahnameh. Rostam has a magical birth. In Persian mythology, Rudabeh's labor of Rostam was prolonged due to the extraordinary size of her baby. As an infant, Zal, Rudabeh’s lover and husband, was deserted on a mountaintop upon his birth because his own father considered the white-haired baby a bad omen. He was thus nurtured by Simorgh, a great mystical mother bird. When Zal grew up, the Simorgh gave him a feather to burn at a time of great need. As Zal’s wife was close to death in childbirth because of the enormous size of her baby, Zal decided to summon the Simorgh. The Simorgh appeared and instructed him upon how to perform a "Rostamzad" (Persian equivalent for cesarean section), thus saving Rudabeh and the child and healing Rudabeh's wound with her magical feathers. Within 5 days Rostam had grown into a boy, and within weeks he had grown to the height and strength of a young man. As a young child at age 3, he slays the maddened white elephant of the king Manoochehr with just one blow of the mace owned by his grand father Sam, son of Nariman. He then tames his legendary stallion, Rakhsh.

When Key Kavoos's expedition to Mazandaran fails and the army is captured by the Divs. Div’e Sepid destroys the army of Key Kavoos by conjuring a dark storm of hail, boulders, and tree trunks using his magical skills. He then captures Kay Kavoos, his commanders, and paladins, blinds them, and imprisons them in a dungeon. Rostam passes through a hero's journey to save his sovereign. This journey is called Rostam's Seven Labors. The story of the Seven Labors is a pivotal point in Rostam's life. It takes place when he is a teenager, who although possessed of enormous physical power, is still a mere pawn in the hands of his father. 

The traditional order of the Labors is: 

1. Rostam goes to sleep among the reeds. Shortly afterwards, a fierce lion appears and attacks his horse Rakhsh. Rakhsh slays the Lion of Neyestan, defending Rostam while he is sleeping. 

2. Rostam enters a desert, in which no water is to be found. Under the influence of a raging sun, Rostam sees a sheep pass by, which he hails as the harbinger of good. Rising up and grasping his sword in his band, he follows the animal and comes to a fountain of water, where he devoutly returns thanks to God for the blessing which had preserved his existence. Eventually Rostam and Rakhsh cross the Desert.  

3. At midnight, with Rostam sleeping, a monstrous dragon emerges from the forest. Rakhsh approaches his master and neighs and beats the ground furiously awakening Rostam. The dragon vanishes and Rostam goes to sleep again. The dragon reappears and the faithful horse tries to rouse his sleeping master. Rostam is reawakened and this time there is sufficient light for him to see the prodigious cause of alarm. Rostam succeeds in slaying the dragon. 

4. Rostam continues his journey through an enchanted territory and in the evening comes to a beautifully green spot, refreshed by flowing rivulets where he finds, to his surprise, a ready roasted deer, some bread and salt and later on a tambourine and a flask of wine. Taking up the instrument, he plays it while singing about his own wanderings and the exploits which he most loves. The song happens to reach the ears of a sorceress who, arrayed in all the charms of beauty, suddenly approaches him in the form of an enchantress and sits down by his side. Not knowing that the enchantress was a demon in disguise, Rostam places a cup of wine in her hands in the name of God. But at the mention of the Creator, the enchanted form is converted into a black fiend. Seeing this, Rostam throws his lasso, and secures the demon. Drawing his sword, he slices the body in half. 

5. Rostam punishes the Horse Master of Mazani hero, Olad. The Horse Master calls on Olad. Olad then combats Rostam to avenge the humiliation of his Horse Master. Rostam captures Olad, sparing his life on the condition of Olad helping him to track down the Div’e Sepid, the chieftain of Divs. 

6. Rostam battles Div’e Sepid's castellan, Arjang’e Div, slaying the demon. He recovers the key to the stronghold of the White Demon. He finds Key Kavoos and the other captives who are still blind by the sorcery of the demons. 


7. Rostam battles the Div’e Sepid in an epic battle and frees all of the captives. He cuts out the monster's liver and restores the captives' sight by applying some of the gore to their eyes. The blood of the Div's heart restores Key Kavoos's sight. 

By far, the most famous and popular story of Rostam in the Shahnameh is Rostam and Sohrab. Rostam has only one sexual encounter mentioned; with a very beautiful and superior princess. After an instant marriage and one night of love, Rostam leaves his bride with the gift of a bracelet to be given to the yet to be born child. A son, Sohrab, is born who appears to have the attributes of his father. Upon adolescence, his mother sends Sohrab into the world to seek his father. The two finally meet on the battlefield, unaware of the identity of their opponent both known to their respective kings, who fear telling them the truth. Each king imagines that he could lose his throne to the combined might of father and son, should they know each other and join forces. The boy keeps asking if the other champion is Rostam, without saying why he asks. Rostam fears that this new young blood may be his nemesis and denies that he is Rostam. The two fight, and through a trick, Rostam wounds his son and during their final conversation the two realize they were father and son. 

Another of Rostam's most famous exploits was his struggle against the div named Akvan, who had initially transmogrified as a beautiful onager, ravaging the horse-herds of Persia. When the king was informed of this on-going problem, he realizes that it is not just an onager and it has to be Ahrimanic disguise to damage Aryan Land. After thinking long about who he wants to assign to this task, the king finally decides that nobody other than Rostam can handle the matter. So he commissions Rostam to take care of this problem. Various parts of this exploit are the subject of many beautiful illustrations. The story is fully allegorical but at the same time quite entertaining on the face value. Rostam is shown to be a staunch defender of good against evil, and he attempts to keep his kings on the straight and narrow. One of his kings takes it into his head that he wants to fly; he attached four eagles to his throne and hangs meat just out of range of their mouths. The eagles take off, and Rostam is compelled to rescue the silly king. Other kings engage in ill-advised military ventures, which Rostam must help resolve. These Shahs are shown to be vain and often foolish and Rostam is frequently annoyed to the point of quitting. He himself is not without flaws; he is thin-skinned and quick to take offense and is an enormous glutton and binge drinker when the mood seizes him, but somehow he always comes around and is recalled to his duty. The Shahs are often shown to be both dependent upon, and afraid of Rostam. Rostam’s Seven Labors has been inscribed on the walls of the ancient underground city in the Persian Gulf resort island of Kish. It is depicted on sections of the walls of the Shahnameh Tunnel of the underground city to help tourists become acquainted with the Shahnameh and get an insight into the rich Iranian rich culture. According to plans, boats will be moored along the canals of the underground city to guide tourists through Shahnameh Tunnel, where water is still flowing, and listen to the story as told by Ferdosi.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tagh'e Bostan

Tagh’e Bostan (طاق بستان) is a series of large rock reliefs from the Sassanid Era located 5 kilometers from the city center of Kermanshah. It is located in the heart of the Zagros Mountains, where it has endured almost 1,700 years of wind and rain. The carvings, some of the finest and best-preserved examples of Persian sculpture under the Sassanids, include representations of the investitures of Ardeshir II (379–383) and Shapur III (383–388). Like other Sassanid symbols, Tagh’e Bostan and its relief patterns accentuate power, religious tendencies, glory, honor, the vastness of the court, game and fighting spirit, festivity, joy, and rejoicing.  

Sassanid Kings chose a beautiful setting for their rock reliefs along an historic Silk Road caravan route waypoint and campground. The reliefs are adjacent a sacred spring that empties into a large reflecting pool at the base of a mountain cliff. Tagh’e Bostan and its rock reliefs comprise two big and small arches. They illustrate the crowning ceremonies of Ardeshir I and his son, Shapur I, Shapur II and Khosro II. They also depict the hunting scenes of Khosro II.  

The first Taq-e Bostan relief, and apparently the oldest, is a rock relief measuring 4.07 meters wide and 3.9 meters high. It includes the figures of four people with swords, helmets, and lotus, the latter being the flower cultivated extensively by Iranians. The figure standing to the right wears a jagged crown. He has turned to the middle figure and holds out a ribbon-decked royal ring. The middle figure wears a helmet. Both figures have robes that cover their bodies to the knees. Behind the middle figure, another figure stands in a halo of light around his head. Researchers have long debated the identities of the figures in this relief, although most are agreed on the identity of the fallen figure, Artabanus IV, the last Parthian King whose rule terminated in 226 AD. It is now believed that the figures represent Ardeshir I and his son Shapur I, stomping over the dead body of Artabanus IV, delighted and intoxicated with victory over their enemy. Izad, the Zoroastrian name for God, stands behind Ardeshir as a symbol of protection. This rock relief depicts the demise of the Parthian dynasty, where Artabanus's figure has fallen under the feet of new rulers.  

The smaller arch bears two Pahlavi scriptures and carvings of Shapur II, or Shapur the Great, and his son Shapur III facing each other. The figures of the two Kings have been carved in silhouette and each figure stands 2.97 meters tall. Shapur II is on the right and Shapur III is on the left with each figure's hands placed on a long straight sword which points downwards. The right hand is holding the grip and the left rests on the sheath. Both figures wear loose trousers, necklaces, curled hair, and a pointed beard ending in a ring.  

The smaller cave within the arch's vestibule measures 6 x 5 x 3.6 meters. It was believed to have been built during the reign of Shapur III. Some put the date of its completion at 385 AD. The Pahlavi inscriptions clearly introduces the two figures. The translation of the text of Shapur II and Shapur III respectively reads: This is the figure of the good worshiper of Izad (God), Shapur, the King of Iran and Aniran (non-Iran), divine race from God. Son of the good worshipper of God, Hormizd, the king of Iran and Aniran, divine race, grandson of Nersi, the Shahanshah (King of Kings). This is the figure of the good worshiper of Izad (God), Shapur, the King of Iran and Aniran, divine race from God. Son of the good worshiper of God, Shapur, the King of Iran and Aniran, from divine race.  

One of the most impressive reliefs inside the largest grotto or ivan is the gigantic equestrian figure of the Sassanid King Khosro II (591-628 CE) mounted on his favorite charger, Shabdiz. Both horse and rider are arrayed in full battle armor. The arch rests on two columns that bear delicately carved patterns showing the tree of life or the sacred tree. Above the arch and located on two opposite sides are figures of two winged angles with diadems. Around the outer layer of the arch, a conspicuous margin has been carved, jagged with flower patterns. The equestrian relief panel measures 7.45 meters across and 4.25 meters high.  

There are two hunting scenes on each side of the ivan. One scene depicts the imperial boar hunt , and in a similar spirit, the other scene shows the King stalking deer. Five elephants flush out the fleeing boars from a marshy lake for the King who stands poised with bow and arrow in hand while being serenaded by female musicians. In the next scene, another boat carries female harpists and shows that the King has killed two large boars. The next boat shows the King standing with a semicircular halo around his head and a loose bow in his hand, meaning the hunt is over. Under this picture, elephants are retrieving the game with their trunks and putting them on their backs. Each hunting relief measures approximately 6 meters wide and 4.3 meters tall.  

Fast forwarding 1300 years in time the upper relief shows the 19th century Qajar King Fath Ali Shah holding court. The depiction was so poorly done that in an effort to mask its inferior quality in comparison to the rest of Tagh’e Bostan, color was added to it. The new addition and poor workmanship was even criticized by later Qajar King, Nasereddin Shah.  

The beauty and authenticity of the Sasanian site of Tagh’e Bostan has been spoilt by unwarranted additions. Throughout history Tagh’e Bostan has had a strange attraction for graffitists, would-be artists, royal inscribers and vandals and these additions have spoilt the beauty and authenticity of the original monument. One of such vandals has carved the name of the former Dutch footballer Ruud Gullit on the underside of the larger arch. Tectonic movements of the earth has caused some cracks to appear in Tagh’e Bostan, particularly on its ceiling. These cracks are getting wider due to water leaking through the stones.  

Years of quarrel between cultural heritage experts and Iran’s Ministry of Transportation as well as the local authorities did not yield any results as construction of the Seyed’e Shirazi Bridge in the vicinity of Tagh’e Bostan was finally completed. Furthermore construction of a city train to reduce the heavy traffic of Kermanshah to a large extent has now become a huge concern for Iranian cultural heritage authorities and experts. Cultural heritage experts have warned that construction of a railway in the city of Kermanshah in the north-south direction will endanger Tagh’e Bostan ancient site and greatly reduce its chance of being inscribed in the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.