Faravahar essay the winged figure


The following is from my essay “The Winged Figure” published in the
Zarathushtrian Assembly quarterly Spenta, No.1-3, August 1993, and my book
The Zarathushtrian Religion, A Chronological Perspective, Volume 1, Books
N Bits Publication, 2008, page 160 + Note 3, page172-175 with the
addition of the three given-below colored pictures. These are (1) the top one,
which has been reconstructed by an European archeologist working on it in
Persepolis and then in the laboratory to get to the original colors, because we
know that all the Achaemenian bas-relief decorations were colored, which
have faded through ages, (2) the Early Median-Achaemenian (?), and (3)
the colored tile from Susa. The three present three different shapes of the
now-called Faravahar of the Achaemenian time. The bas-reliefs provide
For more information, please visit:
_http://www.crystalinks.com/faravahar.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faravahar and other web sites on the topic.
Wishing all of you more and more USHTA, Radiant Enlightenment,
Ali A. Jafarey
* * * * * *

The color-restored figure of Persepolis Darius speaks about his sculpture and other figures, and Achaemenian kings  speak about the figures on the bas-relief, but neither Darius nor others  ever mention the winged figure hovering over their heads. That figure, taken from Middle Eastern motives and understood by the peoples there as a highly divine sign, most likely provided the Achaemenians with the Royal Aryan Glory (airyanâm khvarenah), said to resemble an eagle, to have it hover over their heads. (3)

3. THE WINGED FIGURE: The winged figure has become so popular among
Iranians, particularly Zartoshtis and Parsis, that it has virtually become a
symbol of “Zoroastrianism” and the “Ancient Iranian Glory.” Its gold and
silver pendants adore male and female chests. The usual name given to it is
fravahr, foruhar or farohar (Avesta fravashi or fravarti), a term, which
originally meant “Choice of Religion,” religious conviction, belief, faith but
later came to be interpreted as the “Guardian Spirit.”
Although there are indications that the Median ossuary rock reliefs have a
have a winged figure, it appears in full, first on the Achaemenian
bas-reliefs. But we know that it is an “achaemenianization” of a much older and
quite evolved Near East figure of the sun disk. The earliest form is the
Egyptian eagle, in several shapes, symbolizing god Osiris. We have, then, its
Assyrian and Babylonian forms in which the eagle’s head is replaced by a
human torso. Yet it continues to represent the Sun god. It is its popularity
among Assyrian and Babylonian bas-reliefs that prompted the Achaemenians to
follow suit in their bas-reliefs. However, they did not care to write
beneath as to what it represented. It appears that they left it to the laity of
the multi-national super-state to make what they, traditionally or not,
believed it to represent.

Egyptian Assyrian

Early Median-Achaemenian (?)
Colored Tile, Susa

Early Achaemenian Late Achaemenian

Presently Popular Version
Since the Achaemenian figure protectively hovers above royal personage
and in spite of the fact that the Achaemenian bas-relief does not specify who
the winged figure is, many scholars, mostly Western, in the past believed
it to be a representing or a communicating motif for Ahura Mazda. Some still
do. But there are some who argue that since Zoroastrian scriptures,
tradition, and practice as well as historical evidences prove that God did not
have an icon representation, the figure should signify something else.
Whatever the significance, as soon as the Achaemenian art was well
introduced in Zoroastrian circles of India, imitation of certain motives,
particularly the winged figure, became very popular and showed up on institutional
architecture. Then came two well-written articles by Dr. J.M. Unvala (1925
and 1930), which strengthened an earlier idea that the figure stood for
fravahr, the Guardian Spirit. It suited the public taste and since then this
popular motive has become a common sight on Zoroastrian institutions and
publications as well as tiepins, broaches, pendants, and other ornaments. It
is slowly becoming a decorative, though not very religious, motive just as
the Cross is, in certain liberal circles.
It was Dr. Eruch J.S. Taraporewala, noted for his scholarly translation
and commentary of the Gathas, who wrote that it represents khvarenah, the
Royal Iranian Glory (1928). Miss Parivash Jamzadeh, then a student of the
California University, Berkeley, joined in with much better arguments that it
represents the Royal Glory of the Achaemenians (“The Winged Ring with Human
Bust in Achaemenid Art as a Dynastic Symbol,” Iranica Antiqua, vol. XVII,
1982, pp 91). Earlier, we have Dr. A. Shapur Shahbazi, famous Iranian
archeologist and scholar (An Achaemenid Symbol 1: A Farewell to “Fravahr” and
Ahuramazda (1974), and An Achaemenid Symbol II: Farnah [God Given Fortune]
Symbolized, 1980). Later, Prof Mary Boyce, the well-known Zoroastrianologist
(A History of Zoroastrianism, vol III, Leiden, 1991), and others have
agreed with the idea that it represents khvarenah.
It may be added that the earliest clue is supplied by the Avesta which
says that the Kavaya Khvarenah, the legendary Kayanian Glory “flies” in form
of an eagle from a falling king or hero to a rising king or hero. (Yasht
19.35-38) The eagle, with its soaring flights, supplied the Iranians with a
soaring fantasy just as it did and does to others, including the Americans.
Let us add to this the frequent references in Persian literature,
folklore, and bedside stories that speak of the farr-e homây, the Glory of the
Auspicious Bird shown in miniature paintings as a long-tailed aquiline bird. It
hovers over the heads of kings and to-be kings.
The final point: While Khvarenah is neuter, Fravashi or Fravarti in
Avesta and Old Persian is feminine in gender. The figure is, no doubt,
masculine. A neuter object, especially when belonging to a male, would obviously be
represented in masculine. Did the Achaemenians made the blunder in
portraying a beautiful lady as a bearded man, or modern interpretation of it is
It is, therefore, very safe to consider the Achaemenian winged figure as
the Royal Glory (Persian farr, Old Persian farna, Middle Persian khvareh,
and Avestan khvarenah) and not fravahr or farohar, the so-called guardian
spirit. Let us call it the Farr, the Royal Glory and join Ferdowsi, the master
epic poet of Persian and recite:
Homâye sepehri be-gostard parr
Hami bar sarash dâsht sâyeh ze farr.
The celestial “homay” spread its wings
Casting the shadow of Glory over his (king’s) head.
(The Shahnameh)
Conclusion: Whether Faravahar (Avesta Fravashi, Pahlavi Fravard and Persian
Fravahr, Faravahar, Foruhar) as the Guardian Spirit and Protecting Soul,
or Farr as the Royal Glory, it has become the very symbol of being Iranian
and every person of the Iranian stock from the Near East to the Chinese
borders takes pride to adore him/herself with it, and it should decorate every
cultural building, both outside and inside. As such, it has to be held as
high as it was held by the Achaemenians, the foremost in democracy and
freedom of culture, faith and language throughout their <<Federation of


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here