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In search of lost meanings
Part 3: Alvand the inspirational


May 11, 2005

In my prepubescent years I roamed Darband, Pasqaleh, Abshar Dogolou and Shirpala in the company of my father, to whom on the anniversary of his passing this May I dedicate this piece. Thank you, sir, also for patiently breaking your stride mid-mountain so that I can savor the cherries at Haft Hoz, the hot potato with salt at the river's edge in Pasqaleh and clip golpar at Shirpala. I also dedicate this essay to Bahman Khan Nassehi whose scientific training as a mountaineer taught us to look less than roaming goats and more like seasoned hikers.

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Where there is a “vand” or “band” meaning mountain, there can also be a “fand.” This obtains on one level under the rules of substitution of sounds (“ebdal”). In Persian “fand” is recognized expressly (Dehkhoda, vol. 37, p. 325) as a form of “band.” On another level, “fand” is also an acceptable form for “vand,” particularly in Arabic transformation of Persian or other foreign words. A relevant example of this in Arabic is offered by the proper noun “Fandal,” which is the Arabic for Vandal, a Germanic people who ruled parts of North Africa from 429 to 534 AD. Another example of this “v” to “f”’ substitution is offered in the place-name Sarvandkar/Sarfandkar in Sham (Syria) as reported in the geographical work of Abulfeda (died: 1331).

Yaqut al-Hamavi’s geographical dictionary (ca. 1224) defined “fand” as “a section of a jabal [mountain], and the name of a jabal located between Mecca and Madina toward the sea.” His work also contained references to a number of place-names that contained the morpheme “f-nd” -- Fendalau was in Sham, Fandavayn in Marv, Fandisajan in Nahavand (Iran) and Sarfandeh was a village in the Sur region of Syria. In Persian, too, the noun “fand” denotes (Steingass, Dehkhoda) a range of mountain-related meanings, including “mountain.”

However, with the exception of a few place-names that have retained the morpheme “f-nd” there is no mountain in modern Iran that is referred to as “fand” or “fend.” In the list of Yaqut’s fand-bearing place-names two -- Fandavayn in Marv and Fandisajan in Nahavand regions of Iran -- are decidedly mountainous in character. Among less than a handful of contemporary fand-bearing toponyms in Iran, Fandoglu near Miyaneh in Azarbaijan and Fandokht near Birjand in Kohrasan are mountainy places, too, as are Fand in the Damavand region, and Fenderesk northeast of Gorgan.

The appearance of “fand” in Iranian place-names could have been therefore a function of ebdal from the Persian “band” or an Arabic import on its own merit as a noun that meant mountain.

It is not clear exactly when “fand” entered the nomenclature of place-names in north-central Iran other than it would have been associated with Islamic conquest of Mazandaran and the ensuing 8th century migrations from Hejaz, Syria and Iraq into areas of present-day Amol, Babol (formerly Barforush, earlier Mamtir) and Babolsar (formerly Mashadsar), Qaemshahr (formerly Shahi, earlier Aliababd), Sari and Gorgan (formerly Astarabad).

When the new Arabic-speaking arrivals reached Mazandaran they became neighbors to the Padusban rulers and by the 9th century had influenced even their most intimate identity: The sixth Padusban ruler was no longer known by a name of Persian origin, but by the name Abdullah (ruled: 824-857). At the same time, the Padusban abandoned their title of Ostandar and adopted the Arabicized title Malik. It may well be about this time that they also witnessed a change in the name of the administrative office of Ostandari to Fanderi, in which the word “fand” replaced “ostan.”

The evidence of this practice is preserved in the place-name Fanderi Namavar. Now called simply Fanderi, this is a rural district located at the foot of the mountains nineteen miles of Babol and five miles south-southwest of Qaemshahr in the Bala Taijan area. In the name “Fanderi Namavar,” Fanderi was clearly an administrative designation. The name Namavar itself was borne by many among the Padusban ruling-family of the Amol region, first among them being Namavar ibn Shahriyar, the son of the fourth ruler Shahriyar ibn Padusban (ruled about 762-794 AD).

Elsewhere already by the 9th century “fand” had begun to replace “band” in Iranian place-names. As recorded by Yahya b. Jaber al-Baladhuri [d. 892], one example of this occurred with Ashband, a district near Naishahpur, in Khorasan, which became Ashfand.

Its existence as an Arabic noun for “mountain” or its identification by Yaqut as the name of a mountain between Mecca and Medina notwithstanding, the word “fand” in Arabic is not used with frequency, if at all, to denote “mountain.” The preferred term is “jabal” as “kuh” is in Iran. The name of the mountain that Yaqut identified as Fand is extinct in modern geography of Arabia.

This dismal fate can be explained by the name’s etymological instability born from its superficial and alien roots. The use -- albeit infrequent -- of “fand” in Persian on the other hand would explain itself by the suggestion that “fand” was perhaps a foreign word or an inconvenient variation of a native word. The persistence of “fand” in Iranian place-names, however, could suggest that the latter was the case, with “fand” being rooted in a Persian word. I believe that “vand” and “band” were the Persian predecessors for the Arabic word “fand.”

If rooted in the Persian “vand,” where did the Arabic “fand” meaning “mountain” get its inspiration? I believe, where the Arabic and Iranian speaking worlds met, the majestic Alvand Mountain provided the model for “fand.” Alvand Mountain is located just south of Hamadan in west-central Iran. “The people of Hamadan,” wrote Yaqut, “have its name on their lips, and they insert it in their poetry and prose, proclaiming it to be the marvel of Persia, comparable to none in the whole world.”

According to Dehkhoda, the name Alvand itself can be traced back to Iranian mythical times and the Avestan word “aurvant,” among whose meanings “rapid,” “brave” and “glory” were preserved in the form of “arvand” in prose and verse. The orthography of the name in the form of Alvand is a Persian form based on ebdal of “l” and “r.”

Arvand was the father of Lohrasp, a legendary king of the Kyanian dynasty. The mountain however probably inspired the name of other historical figures called Alvand. In the Safavid period (1501-1736) reference is found to a Safavid commander named Alvand Soltan who in 1597-98 was the ruler of Tankabon in Mazandaran. In the following year, one Alvand Div, who ruled Savadkuh near Shahi, submitted to Shah Abbas I the Great (ruled: 1587-1629). The name Alvand Kya (? mountain lord), referred to one of the tribes of Kordmahaleh, near Gorgan. Alvand (ruled: 1499-1501) was also the name of the eleventh ruler of the Ak Kuyunlu tribe, which controlled parts of Azarbaijan, eastern Anatolia and northern Iraq from 1378 to1508.

To conclude with the obvious, Mount Alvand entered the Arabic vernacular as al-Fand, a proper noun that then became a generic representation for a mountain usually detached from others, just as Yaqut had defined it in the 13th century.
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Guive Mirfendereski practices law in Massachusetts (JD, Boston College Law School, 1988). His latest book is A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea: Treaties, Diaries, and Other Stories (New York and London: Palgrave 2001)

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