Originally Published Online in 2005
A myth (in Persian: Afssaaneh or Osstureh) is an ancient story or set of stories, especially explaining in a literary way the early history of a group of people or about natural events and facts. These stories usually deal with mythical creatures or heroes which are imaginary or not real. Most of the times, a myth relates the events, conditions, and deeds of gods and goddesses or superhuman beings that are outside ordinary human life and yet basic to it. These events are set in a time altogether different from historical time, often at the beginning of creation or at an early stage of prehistory. A culture’s myth is usually closely related to its religious beliefs and rituals. One of the famous myths in Iranian culture is considered to be the Myth of ANAHITA who is also known as the first Iranian Goddess (in Persian: Nakhosteen Khodda Zan-e-Iran). In this article the precedent for early worship in Iran, various names and meanings of ANAHITA, mythological and the historical aspects of ANAHITA, the First Iranian Goddess of Productivity and Values, are studied and discussed.
EARLY WORSHIP IN IRAN:
In studying the ancient religions of the peoples of the Iranian plateau, researchers documented that a powerful sacred group, the Magi (in Persian: Magh-haa), dominated the Median Dynasty or Medes (728-550 BC) and Achaemenid Dynasty or Persian Empire (550-330 BC). According to Greek historian Herodotus, the Magi (the plural of Magus) were the sacred sects of the Medes. But their power was curtailed by Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, and by his son Cambyses II. Then the Magi revolted against Cambyses II and set up a rival claimant to the throne, one of their own, who took the name of Smerdis. The Persians under Darius I (521-486 BC) defeated Smerdis and his forces. The sects of the Magi continued in Persia, though their influence was limited after that political setback. During the Classical era (555 BC to AD 300), some Magi remained in Iran, and some migrated westward, settling in Greece, and then in Rome, Italy.
The Magi were responsible for chanting accounts of the origin and descent of the gods and the goddesses in pre-Zoroastrian times. The chief god of the pre-Zoroastrian era was AHURA MAZDA, the creator of the universe and the one who maintains the cosmic and social order. MITHRA was the second most important deity. Other major deities included ANAHITA, the goddess of productivity and values; RASHNU, the god of justice; and astral deities such as TISHTRYA or Tistriyn, identified with the star Sirius. Until the reign of Achaemenian Artaxerxes II (ruled 404-358 BC), the ancient Iranians did not use to build temples or make images of their gods and goddesses, and they preferred to worship in the open. The central ritual consisted of a festive meal at which the worshipers made animal sacrifices and invited the deity to attend as a guest. Fire was regarded as a sacred element. The sacred drink named Hauma, which contained a mind-altering medicine, was used to inspire worshipers with insight into truth (in Persian: Raasti) and to stimulate warriors (in Persian: Delavaraan or Razmandeggaan) going into battle. The name of the drink was possibly derived from HAOMA or Homa that was the lord of all medicinal plants in the ancient Iranian mythology.
NAME OF ANAHITA IN DIFFERENT CULTURES:
In Persian culture, the myth is called as Anahita, Anahit, Anahiti, and Ardvi Sura Anahita. In Modern Persian, it is called as Nahid (spelled also as Naheed), which is the name of planet Venus. In Greek culture, it is called as Anahitis. The Greeks also associated Anahitis with either Athena or Aphrodite. It should be noted that there is a complete distinction between the Persian Myth of Anahita and Anat or Anath. In contrary to Anahita, Anat or Anath was a goddess of the Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Egyptians, which was regarded as the goddess of war and violence. The Egyptians usually depicted Anat carrying a spear, axe and shield, and wearing a tall crown surmounted by two ostrich feathers.
VARIOUS MEANINGS OF ANAHITA:
Here is the list of the various meanings of Anahita as reported by different groups of researchers: productivity (in Persian: Faraavaresh or Soodmandi), values (Arzesh-haa), fertility (Baarvari), immaculate (Biggonaah-o-Moghadass), perfect (Dorost-o-Tamaam-Ayaar), water (Aab), plants and green (Nabaat-o-Sabz), clean (Paak), untainted (Bi-aib), innocent (Biggonaah-o-Mobaraa), benefactor (Niko-Kaar), patroness or supporter of females (Poshtibaan-e-Zanaan), and pure (Naab-o-Sareh).
THE MYTHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF ANAHITA:
Anahita was and still is regarded as an ancient Persian Myth. She embodied the physical and metaphorical qualities of water, especially the productive flow of water from the fountain in the stars. She also ruled semen and human fertility. She was viewed as the “Golden Mother”, “Goddess of Productivity”, and as a “Warrior Maiden”. She is associated with rivers and lakes, as the “Water of Birth”. Though Anahita as a myth is originally considered as an ancient Persian Myth, some authors have also reported that she may have been a direct borrowing from the Near East, or may have acquired Near Eastern characteristics from a confrontation between Iranian and Mesopotomian cultures. However, there is no reliable evidence to support those reports. Anahita is usually portrayed as a virgin, dressed in a golden cloak, and wearing a diamond tiara (sometimes also carrying a water pitcher). The dove and the peacock are her sacred animals. Anahita is also represented dressed in gleaming gold with a crown and jewels. Anahita is often shown wearing a golden kerchief, square gold earrings, and a jeweled diadem, and wrapped in a golden-embroidered cloak adorned with thirty otter skins. (Otter is a four-legged mammal with short brown fur, which swims well and eats fish). Anahita is also portrayed and honored with offerings of green branches and white heifers. And she is sometimes depicted as driving a chariot drawn by four white horses, representing Wind, Rain, Clouds, and Hail. (A chariot was a two wheeled vehicle used in ancient times for racing and fighting and a horse used to pull it).
THE HISTORICAL ASPECTS OF ANAHITA:
The first Iranian goddess of productivity, and values, ANAHITA, was widely worshiped in ACHAEMENIAN TIMES. Achaemenian Artaxerxus II who reigned from 404 Bc to 358 BC ordered that images of Anahita should be erected in all the principal cities of the Persian Empire. It is documented that many temples were also built in her honor in Susa or Shoosh (the first Iranian federal capital), Ecbatana (city of Hamadaan located 400 km southwest of Tehran in present-day Iran), and in Babylon (about 110 km south of Baghdad in present-day Iraq). Later, Anahita was widely worshiped in various parts of Armenia, Asia Minor and the West. Armenians called out to Anahita as the “Great Lady Anahita, Nation Glory and Life-Giver, Mother of Sobriety, and Benefactor of Humanity”.
Anahita is not present in the earliest parts of the AVESTA; her cult would have been alien or unfamiliar to the Henotheistic Spirit (the devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of other gods) of the Zarathushtra presented in the GATHAS. By the later AVESTIC PERIOD (from about 553 BC to about AD 200) and onward, however, more lenient Zoroastrian Clergies (in Persian: Moabedaan-e-Zartoshti) had adapted the goddess to the new religion. The fifth Yasht, the “Hymn to the Water”, praises Anahita as one “who hates the gods of Daevas (in Persian: Deev-haa) or the enemies of true religion and obeys the laws of Ahura”. By the HELLENISTIC era (330-310 BC), if not before, Anahita’s cult came to be closely associated with that of MITHRA.
The ANAHITA TEMPLES have been built in many Iranian cities like Kangavar, Bishapur ( an ancient city in south of present-day Faliyan) and other places during different eras. An inscription from 200 BC dedicates a SELEUCID temple in western Iran to “Anahita, as the Immaculate Virgin Mother of the Lord Mithra”. The ANAHITA TEMPLE at Kangavar city of Kermanshah (a western province in present-day Iran) is possibly the most important one. It is speculated that the architectural structure of this temple is a combination of the Greek and Persian styles and some researchers suggest that the temple is related to a girl named Anahita, the daughter of Din Mehr, who enjoyed a very high status with the ancient Iranians.
TODAY, DIFFERENT CONSTRUCTIONS (HOUSES, STORES, STREETS, ETC) HAVE BEEN BUILT ON THE SURFACE OF THIS VALUABLE HISTORICAL SITE, AND ONLY A PART OF THE TEMPLE HAS REMAINED INTACT BECAUSE IT NEIGBORS THE MOSQUE OF IMAMZADEH (IN PERSIAN: MASJED-E-EMAAMZAADEH).
Epilogues (Posted July 2012)
1. Anahita is the Old Persian form of the name of an Iranian goddess and appears in complete and earlier form as Aredvi Sura Anahita (Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā); the Avestan language name of an Indo-Iranian cosmological figure venerated as the divinity of ‘the Waters’ (Aban) and hence associated with fertility, healing and wisdom. Aredvi Sura Anahita is Ardwisur Anahid or Nahid in Middle- and Modern Persian, Anahit in Armenian. The Armenian cult of Anahit, as well as the pre-Christian Armenian religion in general, was very closely connected to Persian Zoroastrianism. In present-day Armenia, it is remembered as part of the historical mythological heritage of the nation, and the name Anahid is a popular female given name. In 1997, the Central Bank of Armenia issued a commemorative gold coin with an image of the divinity Anahit on the obverse (View here).
2. The Anahita Temple is the name of one of two archaeological sites in Iran popularly thought to have been attributed to the ancient deity Anahita. The larger and more widely known of the two is located at Kangāvar in Kermanshah Province. The other is located at Bishapur, an ancient city situated south of modern Faliyan in Iran on the ancient road between Persis and Elam (View here 1 and 2).
3. Another temple of Anahita can be also found in at he village of Khanaman in Rafsanjan, Iran. Rafsanjan, also known as Bahrāmābād, is a city in Kerman Province, Iran. (View here).
4. In his poem of “My Iran”, this author referred to the Temple of Anahita in Kangaver as one of the places that he loves most in Iran (View here). Here is also a Persian poem about Anahita (What A Bird Sings/ Parandeh Cheh Mikhaanad) composed by this author
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
1. Statue of Anahita in Maragha, Iran
2. Kermanshah-anahita temple
3. Ruin of Anahita Temple in Kangavar near Kermanshah
4. Anahita’s temple, Bishapur
5. Temple of Anahita at Khanaman of Rafsanjan, Iran
Frye, R. N. (1963): The Heritage of Persia: The pre-Islamic History of One of the World’s Great Civilizations, ed., The World Publishing Company, New York.
Frye, R. N. (1993): The Golden Age of Persia, ed., Weidenfeld, London.
Nazmi Afshar, M. S. (2005): Online Article on “Anahita, the Mother of Gods, Iran the cradle of the early gods”.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Various Articles on Persian Culture and the History of Iran.
Various Sources (2005): Notes & Articles on Anahita.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2005): Online Notes on Anahita (in English & Persian).
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