Vahrām or Bahrām (modern Persian, var: "Behrām"; middle Persian: "Warahran") is the Zoroastrian concept of "victory over resistance" and, as the hypostasis of victory, is one of the principal figures in the Zoroastrian pantheon of "yazata"s.
Bahram's alter ego in the
Avestais "Dāmōiš Upamana", and in the "Bahram Yasht" is addressed as "Verethragna" ("Vɘrɘθraγna"), meaning 'smiting of resistance', related to Avestan "verethra", 'obstacle' and "verethragnan", 'victorious'. (Gnoli, 2002:510/512)
Although exact correspondences are lacking, parallels have been drawn between the highly complex figure of Bahram/"Verethragna" and (variously) Armenian
Vahagnand "Vram" , Vedic Indra, Puranic Vishnu, Sogdian "Wshn" , Parthian "Wryhrm", Manichean "Adamas" , Chaldean/Babylonian Nergal, Kushan "Orlagno" , Egyptian Horus, Hellenic Aresand the Greek hero Heracles.
In the Avesta
In the "Bahram Yasht"
In the texts of the
Avesta, in particular in the "Bahram Yasht", which is one of the older sections of the Younger Avesta, Bahram has the attributes of a mighty force that overcomes all resistance. There, Bahram is addressed as "Verethragna", "the most highly armed" ("Yasht" 14.1), the "best equipped with might" (14.13), with "effervescent glory" (14.3), has "conquering superiority" (14.64), and is in constant battle with men and daemons (14.4, 14.62).
However, also evident in the "Bahram Yasht", Bahram/"Verethragna" was not exclusively associated with military might and victory. So, for instance, he connected with sexual potency and "confers virility" ("Yasht" 14.29), has the "ability to heal" (14.3) and "renders wonderful". The "Yasht" begins with an enumeration of the ten forms in which the divinity appears: As an impetuous wind (14.2-5); as an armed warrior (14.27) and as an adolescent of fifteen (14.17); and in the remaining seven forms as animals: a bull with horns of gold (14.7); a white horse with ears and a muzzle of gold (14.9); a camel in heat (14.11-13); a boar (14.15); a bird of prey ("veregna", 14.19-21); a ram (14.23); and a wild goat (14.25). Many of these incarnations are also shared with other divinities, for instance, the youth, the bull and the horse are also attributed to "Tishtrya". Likewise, the bird, the camel and the wind to "
Vayu-Vata", another member of the Zoroastrian pantheon associated with martial victory.
In other texts
Together with "Čistā", "Verethragna" is a principal companion of
Mithra("Mihr Yasht" 10.70). Several sections of the "Bahram Yasht" also appear in hymns dedicated to other divinities, but it is rarely possible to determine in which direction those sections were copied.
In culture and tradition
In the Zoroastrian hierarchy
In the Zoroastrian hierarchy of angels, Bahram is a helper of "Asha Vahishta" (Avestan, middle Persian: "Ardvahisht"), the
Amesha Spentaresponsible for the luminaries. In the Zoroastrian calendarinstituted during the late Achaemenid era (648–330 BCE), the twentieth day of the month is dedicated to Bahram ("Siroza" 1.20).
In the later middle Persian texts "Bahram" is especially venerated as the seventh of the
Amesha Spentas, effectively giving him the rank of an archangel for his success in driving back Angra Mainyufrom hell (de Menasce, 1948:5-18; loc. Cit. Gnoli, 2002:513).
As the name of a planet
In the astronomical and calendrical reforms of the Sassanids (205-651 CE), the planet Mars was named Bahram. Zaehner attributes this to the syncretic influences of the
Chaldeanastral-theological system, where Babylonian Nergalis both the god of war and the name of the red planet. (Zaehner, 1955:147ff.; see also: "Fatalistic" Zurvanism).
In the name of a class of fire
According to Boyce, the present-day expression "Atash-Behram" as the name of the most sacred class of fires is a confusion of the adjectival "Victorious Fire" with "Fire of Bahram" (Boyce, 1997:222ff). The former is the way it appears in Middle Persian inscriptions such as the
Kartirinscription at "Kabah-i Zardusht", while the latter is what is now understood by the term "Atash-Behram".
In art and iconography
The only evidence of a cult appears in
Strabo's "Geographika", who reports, probably on authority of Nearchus, that the Karmanians worshipped a divinity of victory ("Geographika", 15.2.14). Whether this god was Bahram/"Verethragna" is unlikely if, as per Strabo, he was their only god. However, the account does reveal that divinities of war were not unknown to the people who were not of the Iranian plateau, evidence for which also comes from Herodotus(4.59.62).
Under the Seleucids (330–150 BCE) and Aracids (250 BCE–226 CE), that is, in the Empires influenced by Hellenic culture, "Verethragna" was both identified as
Aresand associated with Heracles, and given the Greek name "Artagnes" (Duchesne-Guillemin, 1984). This syncretism is well attested in statuary and iconography, most notably in that of the inscription of Antiochus I Theos of Commagene, in which all three names occur together.
That Bahram was considered the patron divinity of travelers is perhaps reflected by the life-size rock sculpture of the divinity on the main highway at Behistun. There Bahram reclines with a goblet in his hand, a club at his feet and a lion-skin beneath him.
In the early Sassanid period Bahram is still represented as the Greek Heracles. In the relief of
Ardeshir Iat Naqs-e Rajab III (ref?), Bahram appears as one of the two smaller figures between Ahura Mazdaand the king. There, he is has a lion's skin in his left hand and brandishes a club in his right. The other small figure - who appears to be paying homage to Bahram - is the future king Bahram I.
Bahram also appears as wings, or as a bird of prey, in the crowns of the Sassanid kings. This iconography first appears in the crown of
Bahram IIwhich also bears the name of the divinity. A similar image is adopted by Peroz (whose name also means 'victorious') as well as by Khosrau Parwez (again, Parwez meaning 'ever victorious'). Similarly, boar and eagle heads on caps crown the heads of princes. Boar figures are widespread in Sassanid art, appearing in everything from textiles to stucco and in silver ornaments, coins, and seals. Other animal motifs have been found that recall the aspects of Bahram (see the ten forms of Bahram in the Avesta, above). The bird motif on Sassanid-era fire altars are also believed to represent Bahram.
As the name of kings
Bahrām was the name of six Sassanid kings:
* Bahrām I, "r." 273-276. Son and successor of Shapur I
* Bahrām II, "r." 276-293. Son and successor of Bahrām I
* Bahrām III, "r." 293. Son and successor of Bahrām II
* Bahrām IV, "r." 388–399. Son and successor of Shapur III
* Bahrām V Gōr, "r." 421–438. Son and successor of Yazdegerd I
* Bahrām VI Čōbīn, "r." 590 - 591. Successor of Hormizd IVIn addition,
Ardashir II("r."' 379–383), half-brother of Shapur II, is distinguished (from the founder of the Empire) by the name 'Ardashir Vahram'.
In Avestan scholarship
The interpretation of the divinity is one of the more widely debated fields in Zoroastrian scholarship since the theories of origin reflect a radical revolution in ethical, moral and religious values. (For a summary of the various theories, their implications and their detractors, see Boyce, 1996:62-64).
Primarily because the Avestan adjective "verethragnan" (victorious) has a corresponding Vedic term "vrtrahan" where it appears "preponderantly [as] a qualification of Indra", one theory (Benveniste/Renou, 1934; loc. Cit. Boyce, 1996:62-64) proposes that in Indo-Iranian times there existed a dragon-slaying warrior god "*Indra" and that Avestan "Verethragna" derives from that divine figure.
The arguments against this theory are manifold: For one, there is no hint of "Verethragna" (or any other Zoroastrian divinity) having dragon-slaying functions. In the Avesta, it is the hero warrior-priest "Thraetaona" who battles the serpent "Aži Dahāka" (which, for the virtue of 'Azi' being cognate with Sanskrit 'Ahi', snake, is – by proponents of the theory - associated with Vedic
Vritra). Moreover, in the Vedas, the epithet 'hero' ("sura") is itself almost exclusively reserved for "Indra", while in the Avesta it is applied to "Thraetaona" and other non-divine figures. The term "victorious" too is not restricted to "Verethragna", but is also a property of a number of other figures, both divine and mortal, including "Thraetaona". Then, while in the Vedas it is "Indra" who discovers Soma, in the Avesta it is humans who first press Haomaand "Thraetaona" is attributed with being the "inventor of medicine". In the Vedas, "Indra" strikes with "vajra", but in the Avesta "vazra" is Mithra's weapon. Finally, and from a point of basic doctrine far more important than any of the other arguments, "Indra" is a " daeva", precisely that class of divinity that Zoroasterexhorts his followers to reject. Indeed, "Indra" is explicitly named as one of the six evil demons in "Vendidad" 10.9 – directly opposing the Amesha Spenta"Asha Vahishta", with whom "Verethragna" is associated.
Attempts to resolve these objections led to the development of another theory, in which, in addition to the pre-historical divinity of victory, there was also a dragon-slaying hero "*Indra". Then, while the Iranians retained the figures independently of one another, the Indians conflated the two (leaving an echo in the character of "Trita Aptya").
This theory too has its problems, in particular the fact that "Indra" was already evidently a divine figure, and not a man, in the
Mittanitreaties, where he appears in the company of Mitra and Varuna. That again raises more questions since the treaties echo the Rig Veda's invocation of all three as protectors of contract, again, not a property associated with "Verethragna".
However, as Benveniste and Renou demonstrated, many of the objections to the first theory can be negated if the evidence is reviewed in light of the fact that the principal feature of "Verethragna" is not to slay noxious creatures but to overcome obstacles ("verethra"), in particular to unblock the flow of
Aban, the waters, the holiest of the elements. (Benveniste & Renou, 1934:182; loc. Cit. Boyce, 1996)
Paul Thieme agrees with this principal feature, but clarifies that while the wealth of archaic elements in the "Bahram Yasht" clearly point to the pre-Zoroastrian era, the interpretation of proper names is "highly conjectural", and "in no case do we get a decisive argument against their Indo-Aryan or old Indic character" (Thieme, 1960:302). Adopting "the exact linguistic and exegetic analysis" of Benveniste and Renou, Thieme concludes "Proto-Aryan "*Indra" has assumed the functions of a Proto-Aryan god "*Vrtraghna"." Noting that "Vrtrahan" is the name of Indra only in the later Sanskrit texts (but not in the Rig Veda), Thieme adds "there is no valid justification for supposing that the Proto-Aryan adjective "*vrtraghan" was specifically connected with "*Indra" or any other particular god." (Thieme 1960:312-313)
Drawing attention to the fact that "Indra" is specifically named as a demon in both the Avesta ("Vendidad" 10.9) and also in later middle Persian texts (e.g. "Bundahishn" 21.6), Boyce adds that it is preferable to see individual developments rather than elements inherited from a different past (Boyce, 1996:283).
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