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In the name of love
Many are not familiar with "mehhr" obviously because this word is not used much in colloquial Persian for its meaning as love


August 22, 2005

In response to Maziar Shirazi's "Love in Persian":

Love in Persian is mehhr and to love is mehhr varzidan. Other words connected to this are mehhrbaan, mehhrbaani and mehhrgaan.

Mehhr is another name for Mithra (the sun god/god of light) before the Zoroastrian religion became the official religion in Sassanid period (226-649 AD). Mithraism was widely spread towards the west up to the river Danube. But some traces of Mithra worship have been also found in Ireland.

When Ahura Mazda was recognised as the dominant god in Zoroastrianism Mithra like other deities was declared as an angel. In this way Mehhr / Mithra became an angel of light. For the Romans however Mithraism remained a flourishing cult for men in the late Roman Empire.

Mehhr/Mithra was of course seen as very important for the growth and a good harvest in autumn, hence the festivities for this god/angel in the month of mehhr namely jashn-e mehhrgaan which continued to be celebrated in Sassanid Persia. As harvest was due to the kindness of Mehhr he was also associated with love the word mehhrbaan (=kind) means literally someone who guards love. He was also the guardian of truthfulness and agreement between two people.

The month Mehhr is equal to the sign Libra of the zodiac. Libra is ruled by the planet Venus who is also the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Her equivalent in Greek is the Cypriot goddess Aphrodite, in Babylonian Ishtar (star/setareh) and in Persian Anahita or Nahid (Venus). All four goddesses were also associated with water which in turn is influenced by moon. The harvest festivities have existed in all cultures of the west. There are still some reminiscences of these festivities in many villages in UK for instance.

It would be not incorrect to see Mehhrgan festivities as a festivity which was meant to thank both Mithra and Anahita as the symbols of sun/moon, light/water and growth/nourishment. Not far off from the Chinese concept of YIN and YANG as the female and the male principles. This would also fit well into the sign of Libra which is a scale. An ideal and happy society would be one where the female and the male principles would be well balanced on this symbolic scale.

Now the reason that you, as the second generation Iranian outside Iran, are not familiar with mehhr is obviously because this word is not used much in colloquial Persian for its meaning as love. In my opinion this alone shows that people have not found this word strong enough to express what they really feel. A proof of this is in the words mehhrbaan and mehrgaan which consist of two syllables each. These words have been changed colloquially to mehrabaan and mehregaan which consist of three syllables each (although the same spelling in Persian).

This I believe is by no means coincidental as the sounds of -rabaan and -regaan (oh dear, I am by no means competing with your chosen great teacher Guive Mirfendereski, but I was concerned your beloved may loose her/his patience before his return. Not having the right words for a feeling creates vagueness which doesn't go down well especially with the female species) provide more aural if not verbal satisfaction for both the talker and the listener.

The Arabic word for mehhr varzidan is habb which means love/like/wish. In Persian this root verb is not used but its derivatives are i.e. mahboob and mohabbat. The noun eshgh (ishgh in Arabic pronunciation) in Arabic means passionate love, and the verb is with the same spelling but pronounced ishigh which like other Arabian verbs is not used in the Persian language. Instead the derivative aashegh (lover) is used combined with the auxiliary verb shodan or boodan hence aashegh shodan/boodan.

This is in fact one of the shortcomings of the Persian language that for many verbs a combination of the noun and an auxiliary verb are needed in order to make a new verb. That is why you don't find saying 'doostet daaram' or 'aashegh-e tou hastam' or now 'beh tou mehhr mivarzam' very satisfactory. They are not very strong expressions because they need the verbs daashtan/astan/varzidan which are also used for other words as auxiliary verbs, whereas love is a unique experience and needs its very own language.

Now whether you like it or not Arabic is a rich Semitic language (similar to Hebrew perhaps) with root words mainly with three letters with mostly inbuilt vowels which make creation of many other words possible with a minimum use of letters. Words which are compact hence quite useful in poetry. This is perhaps why the Arabian poetry was already renowned in the area even before the Islam. In pre Islam Mecca there were for instance regular festivals of poetry.

After Islam once the more ordinary people in Persia found access to religious madressahs the potential poets became also able to study the vast area of the Arabic prosody (elm-e arooz) and later they were able to develop their own styles as a result. You only need to ask yourself how it comes that we know of famous Persian poets only after Islam (starting with Rudaki d.940 AD)?

Whereas we know that the famous composer/musician Barbad played at Khusraw Shah's court before Islam we know of no famous Persian poet in verbal history. Was this because only certain castes had access to schools? Were there any schools as such? Were there verbal poets who could not write down their poems? And were the poems somehow remote from people's language and could not sink into collective memory and be recited by people, like Hafez's poems have been, even by people who could not read and write? (I wouldn't call this particular group illiterate).

It is important to bear in mind that a rich language like for instance English has become rich because it has been open -- and still is -- to let new words enter its language. If the English had kept only their original Celtic words they would have very small and limited vocabulary for today's complicated minds in the 21st century. In fact they would not be able to think in a multifaceted way unless of course they had created new Celtic words continuously.

The negative aspects of the foreign occupations by the Romans, Saxons and the French have been long over, but the positive sides have remained to enrich the literature and the science. You may not know that for instance all words ending with "-tion" in English are actually French words which is a Roman language and not Anglo Saxon.  

In any case the word eshgh was too strong a word for all Ajam (as contrast to Arab it means no Arab Moslems) societies including Persians to be ignored. In Arabic language one short word can indicate a complex meaning which may need a whole sentence when translated. If you don't believe me look in a dictionary for the word akhyaf and find another language which gives one word for this rear occurrence. It means someone who has different coloured eyes one being black and one being coloured.

For the time being if you are passionately in love your best bet is aashegh boodan, as apart from having the correct meaning it also has the sound "sh" (letter shin) which in meditative terms has a vibration reaching the higher chakras with an uplifting effect on the spirit. And the sound of "gh" (letter ghaaf) is a full and round sound which vibrates into the speaker's own ear.

In order to make the sentence stronger you could add "I" at the beginning of the sentence: "man aashegh-e tou hastem" with an emphasis on the word aashegh. I don't know about men but any woman who hears that from the object of her desire if not love, will probably feel a tickle in her brain cells. Obviously if it turns to be an unrequited love your beloved will be already getting nervous thinking how to clarify the situation, no matter how passionately you have expressed yourself and you are satisfied with your genuinely heart felt performance.

You are right about the word love being overused and the resulting loss of the meaning. In general every emotion that is verbalized frequently loses its power. That's why talking about one's fears and anger helps to overcome those fears and anger, with other words it makes those emotions weaker, once they are verbalized and recognized as such. It means they have found their name and identity and the person can then move on in life.

Likewise if love is continuously expressed verbally it loses its power in transforming its energy into true care about the loved one. It stops the deeds which could naturally be perceived by the partner as an expression of love. On the other hand if never expressed verbally it will lose its name and identity as a force. And it is the sound of a name for an emotion which makes that emotion complete and workable for today's extensively large human society.

It is a proved fact in the sphere of sociology and the social psychology that 70-80% of the human communication is through non verbal communication when face to face. This leaves only 20-30% for verbal communication which in fact explains why keeping to certain rules regarding form in writing letters even to loved ones is recommendable. A too informal love letter for instance could create the impression that the loved one is taken for granted. On the other hand a good love letter can make full use of the verbal possibilities, without the possible clumsiness or nervousness in expressing love verbally, when in a face to face situation.

Nevertheless nothing can ever substitute the love's energy present in the atmosphere, when two lovers are face to face.

For letters section
To Vida Kashizadeh

Vida Kashizadeh


Book of the day

Borrowed Ware
Medieval Persian Epigrams
Translated by Dick Davis


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