“Chu dasht az peya gasht chun pernayaan;
Be-bastand gordaane Turan meyaan”
When the fields turned green with abundant jungle grass, the Turanian nobles and warriors tightened their waistbands and girded their loins!”
With this poetic verse, Firdausi begins the description of the first war between the Iranians and the Turanians. This war, as many later on which we shall see, were started without any provocation by the Turanians, in the old hope of taking revenge for the killing of the brothers Salm and Tur by the Iranians, (notwithstanding the fact that it was these two brothers who got jealous of their sibling Irach and murdered him first.)
Firdausi gives great and detailed descriptions of the war, the nature and composition of the two armies, the various nobles who led the different wings of the military, the strategies employed by both sides, narrations of the man-to-man combat as well as the general cavalry and infantry wars.
As the Turanians with the massive army of over one million crossed the Jayhun river (modern day Amu Darya or Amu river, in Central Asia), the Iranians gathered under the leadership of King Navdar. The army, numbering merely 140,000 was commanded by the valiant Iranian noble Kaaran. Afrasiab was sure that the war would end soon and the Iranians would be routed. But the heroic Kaaran put up a brave fight and Afrasiab had to retreat and regroup, after re-thinking his strategy.
In all this fighting and day to day swings from one side to the other, it ultimately so happened that King Navdar had to be escorted from the battlefield for his own safety and put up in a high fort nearby, while Kaaran continued the fight with the Turanians. In the ensuing battle, Barman challenged Kaaran to a one-to-one fight. After a long and tough encounter, Kaaran stood up on the stirrups of his horse and using his immense strength struck a spear into Barman’s armour, cleaving it and killing the son of Vese and the nephew of King Pashang. Now it so happened that in a miscalculation and under some apprehension that he would get trapped in the fort, King Navdar despite being asked to remain in the fort, went out and tried to go towards Pars. But Afrasiab realized the mistake and gave a furious chase to the Iranian King, ultimately capturing him.
Meanwhile, another contingent of the Turanian army under the leadership of noble Shamasas arrived in the region of Kabul, which was ruled by Mehrab, the father-in-law of Zaal. Playing a double role, Mehrab flaunted his Turanian ancestry and assured Shamasas that he would hand over the city to him without any bloodshed. At the same time, he sent an SOS to Zaal, informing him of the developments. Zaal realized the gravity of the situation and disguised himself, secretly entering the city of Kabul. He then put on his armour and entered the battlefield. One look at Zaal and his fearsome Goraz was enough for the Turanians to begin a hasty retreat. But as they were retreating, they were caught up by Iranian reinforcements sent by Kaaran under the leadership of Kaveh, who decimated them.
When the news of these defeats, as well as the death of Barman reached Afrasiab, he was infuriated. In his anger, and despite many pleas from his brother Agreras, Afrasiab killed the Iranian King Navdar, who was in his captivity. The many nobles accompanying King Navdar were also imprisoned in the Fort of Sari, awaiting a slow and painful death.
When the news of the murder of King Navdar by Afrasiab reached Iran, there was great anger and sorrow. Both Zaal and Rostam took an oath before the rising sun: Firdausi writes beautifully:
Zabaan daad Dastaan ke taa Rastakhiz
Nabinad meyaane maraa tighe teez;
Hamaan charmeh dar zir takhte manast
Sanaandaar nizeh darakhte manast
Rekibast paaye maraa jaayegaah
Yaki tarke tirah saramraa kolaah
Barin kineh aaraamsho khaab nist
Bamaanande chashmam bazuye aab nist!
“Dastan (Zaal) took an oath: “My sword shall not return to its scabbard till the Day of Judgement! My horse shall be my throne, my sharp lance shall serve as my tree to rest under! The stirrups of my horse shall be my standing place and this black helmet shall be my crown! No talk of sleep or dreams till this revenge is mine! The river flowing out of my eyes is like no other river ever seen!
Readers of Frashogard, I am presenting these lines of Firdausi in Persian for a special reason. Even though we may not understand their meaning, or may not be able to pronounce the words properly, just reading them in English and mouthing the syllables will arouse in you a strange feeling – a feeling of oneness with these valiant warriors, a feeling of wonder and awe at their spiritual stature. The magic of Firdausi will work on you and you will be literally transported to that very time, and perhaps in your mind’s eye you will be able to picturize the very scene we are writing about! And maybe there will also arise in you that feeling of intense longing, as it burns so deeply in my heart, and that eternal hope, that someday, somehow, we will be able to see these great heroes of Iran through our eyes and be one with them, to talk to them, to feel them! When will that day come?
As Zaal took the oath, he made preparations for the next round of battle. His first priority was the get Afrasiab out of Iran. The second was to free the Iranian nobles held captive at the Fort of Sari in the city of Amul by Afrasiab, who were in grave danger of being massacred at any time. The third priority was to help Iran select a new King in place of the murdered Navdar.
Meanwhile the captured Iranian nobles in the Fort of Sari appealed to Agreras to ensure their safety. Agreras had been instructed by his brother to keep a watch on them and, when given the signal, kill them all. But Agreras was not willing to do so. In fact, he indicated that if an Iranian army approached the fort, he would willingly handover the nobles who had been wrongly imprisoned by his brother. When this news reached Zaal, he immediately dispatched an army under the leadership of Iranian noble Keshvad towards Amul. When this army reached the Fort of Sari, Agreras, as promised, did not engage with them and instead, freed the Iranian nobles in his charge. The nobles were quickly taken back to Zabulistan by Keshvad.
Now when Afrasiab heard this news he was incensed. He immediately summoned his brother Agreras and asked for an explanation. The pious Agreras pleaded that the way forward was to forget the old wounds of the past and concentrate on the safety and welfare of his subjects. He asked Afrasiab to stop the unjust war he had started and return whatever land he had taken over back to Iran. As the argument between the two brothers continued, Afrasiab became more and more angry. Finally, unable to control his violent temper anymore, Afrasiab drew out his sword and hacked his brother into two pieces from the waist. Thus ended the life of the pious Agreras, who is remembered even today in our prayers with the name ‘Agreras Nar Asho.’
Thus in the ultimate analysis, what did the war started by Afrasiab achieve? It ended with no side winning, but both sides suffered grave losses. Besides the lives of lakhs of soldiers, Turan lost its heroes like Barman. Iran lost its King Navdar and many other nobles. But perhaps the greatest loss of the battle was the murder of Agreras. Our Master, Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowroji Shroff explained that the spiritual calibre of Agreras was of the loftiest nature. In the entire Zravane Darego Khadata cycle of 81,000 years, only 12 personages are born who belong to the ‘Nar Asho’ category. Agreras, and his son Gopatshah were two of them. In killing Agreras, Afrasiab not only murdered his own brother, but also took on the terrible spiritual burden of killing a Nar Asho. These burdens would haunt Afrasiab for the rest of his life.
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Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram
Roj Sherevar Mah Fravardin, 1383 Yz. 21 August 2013.