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Vedic origin of Persians

The Persians first appear in 837 BCE, when Assyrian king Shalmaneser received tributes from 27 parsuwa kings. However, the Persians were still localized around the Lake Urmia region in Northwest Iran at this time and had not yet intruded into the Iranian plateau and Persis(The Elamite regions and modern mainland Iran). There was no prior presence of Persians in this region. Prominent Iranologist scholars ascribe an eastern origin to the Persians.

What clues does archeology provide us about the origin of Persians?

The old Persians were most certainly associated with a type of pottery called West Iranian Buff ware. This pottery is considered proto-Persian as well as Proto-median. The origins of this pottery lie much to the east of their Kurdistan homeland, showing that they migrated from the east. Most specifically, this pottery has its origins in the Gorgan region.

Western archeologists confirm this fact - “The coming of Persians is linked with the appearance of Late West Iranian Buff Ware, an entirely new pottery in every respect, which is clearly ancestral to Achaemenid ceramics and originates from buff wares that appears in the gurgan region during 11th century BCE” Source - The Indo Aryans of southeast Asia by George Erdosy and Asko Parpola Page 259

The Gorgan culture was in turn related to the Tepe Hissar site. Tepe Hissar 3B bears the representation of a horse-drawn chariot. Horse bones were found at shah tepe in Gorgan. Trumpets, which were needed for directing chariots at Battle were found at both Gorgan and Bactria. they were identical to each other. As we know, horse indicates the presence of Aryans during this early age. We will return to this issue in a moment!

What are the earliest references to Persians in literature?

The Persians do not appear at all in the old (and young!) Avestan texts. They were simply outside the horizon of Zarathustra whose Gathic hymns betray an archaic pastoral culture. But a tribe having the name ‘Parsu’ appears already in the earliest Rigvedic literature(circa 1500 BCE according to most scholars). The parshus in the Rigveda seem to be a Hindukush tribe, closely allied to their neighbors such as Bhalanas(Bolan people), Alinas(Nuristani), Pakhtas(probably Pakhtuns), and Sivis(Punjabi tribe)

“Together came the Pakthas, the Bhalanas, the Alinas, the Sivas, the Visanins. Yet to the Trtsus came the rya’s Comrade, through love of spoil and heroes’ war, to lead them.” -Rigveda 7.18

In the Rigveda, the Parshus march east and fight the Battle of ten kings against the king sudas. In Rigveda 8.46, there is mention of a Tirindira who was already called a Parsa(persian). Now, Tirinda has been connected to such Iranian names as Tiridates and Tiri Nabaka. Harvard linguist Michael Witzel says names such as Tirindira and parsu could be of pre-Iranian origin. He identifies Vedic Parsu with Persian.

In a late Vedic text, Baudhayana Srauta sutra 18.44, the parsuvas were remembered as western cousins of vedic people. It reads-

“Ayu went east, his are the Kuru Panchala and the Kasi-Videha”, while “Amavasu went west, his are Aratta, Parshuva and Gandhari”. This sutra looks back at a time before kuru-panchala and kasi videha expanded east and Gandhari-parsu west respectively. Here, the parsuvas are clubbed with Gandharis who belonged to the Northwest of Indian subcontinent, and Aratta who were associated with lapis lazuli of Badakhshan. This sutra says that parshus expanded west. In the later literature, the parshus who went west were totally forgotten.

What is the etymology of the word ‘Parshu’?

Most linguists are of the opinion that Parshu and Pashtu(Pashto) are etymologically related to each other. Both terms denote backside and ultimately ‘hill people’. This ultimately fits well with the location of Parsus and Pashtuns.

Have the Persians retained any traces of the east?

Yes, the Persian have retained clear linguistic, religious and cultural traces of the east.

How was the religion of old Persian Achaemenids different from Avestan? Are there any eastern traces?

Although the Parsu worshiped Indra when in Hindukush, they came under the ambit of Zoroastrianism so soon as they entered the Iranian regions. Yet, there are eastern traces in the old Persian religion. The chief god of old Persians as recorded in the Elamite inscriptions is ‘Asara mazas’ We should notice that his name is strikingly distinct from Ahura Mazda of Avesta but related to Asura medha(Varuna) of Rigveda.

In fact, the old Persian name of their supreme god agrees with Indic ‘asura’ and not Iranian ‘Ahura’. Even after adopting western Iranian languages, the parsus could have retained the true name of their high lord. Also, the old Persians extensively worshiped Baga. Baga appears very frequently in old Persian inscriptions. Baga is totally absent in Avesta. However, Bhaga(Baga) is one of the chief gods in the Rigveda.

Have the old Persians retained eastern dynastic names?

The early Achaemenid kings called themselves kurus and Kambujiya. Strikingly, Indo Aryan literature also mentions ruling clans having names ‘kuru’ and ‘kamboja’. In fact, Mahabharata narrates that kurus in alliance with sudakshina Kamboja routed the forces of Pandavas and panchalas. These names are altogether absent in the Avestan scriptures. They are of neither Iranian nor Proto Indo-Iranian origin.

What is the etymology of these names? Where did they come from?

Kuru-Kuru is absent in early Rigvedic literature. It is a late development and occurred only from late Rigvedic (book 10) onwards(the earlier form being Rigvedic/Avestan krno). It is a verbal stem.

Kambujiya-The word Kambujiya is a non Aryan word.It is of Munda origin. Munda languages are generally located deep into India proper. Kamboja is a late word not even mentioned in Vedas but first occurs in Vamsa Brahmana.

Did the Persians retain the memory of subcontinental flora and fauna?

Yes, Kuiper’s list of loanwords in Vedic has the word ‘khadga’(rhinoceros) as an entry. Even Witzel includes it in his list of loanwords.

*kart-ka “rhinoceros”: Ved. khadga “rhinoceros” MS+; cf. N.P. karka-dan, , Aelianus kartazonos (*kargazonos) “Indian rhinoceros”; Two things of note-

  1. The Old Persians did not loan this word from ‘Vedic. In fact, the Persian language retains the borrowing in a purer form. Curiously, Avestan does not know of such a word. How would the Persians loan this word if they were based in Sistan or Bactria where Indian rhinos never existed? 2)The absence of such words in Avestan shows that the speakers of old Persian had first hand contact with the tribes the inhabited the regions where Indian rhinos existed, once again pushing the origin of old Persians into the Khyber/Hindukush/Swat/Peshawar (NWFP) region

Some more borrowed words:

  1. Sanskrit Magha=Avesta ‘Maga’
  2. Sanskrit ‘Bhrata’=Avestan ‘Brata’
  3. Sanskrit ‘Gharma’=Avestan ‘Garama’

Nauroz vs Navreh

On a Persian Nauroz table, you find wheat, fruit, pudding, vinegar, Avesta (Quran if Muslim). On a Kashmiri Navreh table, you find rice, walnuts, curd, pen, Panchanga. Nauroz was also followed by 9 days(and nights) of celebration just like Navaratra.


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