view of damavand summit with cloud

Iran Through Mount Damavand Mythology

Time to read: 9 Mins | Published on September 7, 2020
How important is Mount Damavand for Iranians? The key to understanding what Damavand means for Iranians is through Mount Damavand mythology.

Living in a big and crowded city such as Tehran can get very tiresome. I have spent my whole life living in Tehran, and I’ve lived most of it in a routine of going to school or work. I know very well that things which might seem small can add spice to your boring daily life. What I’m talking about is more like watching a spectacular sunset or a group of birds flying over the buildings. But my most favorite one is always there right in front of me whenever I go out of my house. It’s a huge mystical mountain with a head in the clouds called Damavand.

Many might know Damavand as the highest mountain in Iran or the most popular destination for trekking in Iran. But apart from Damavand trekking, it’s more than just a mountain. Damavand is a symbol that unites the whole country. Also, some of the most famous Iranian myths happen in Damavand. I believe the best way of knowing what Damavand means for Iranians is through learning about Mount Damavand mythology. In other words, Mount Damavand facts are not enough for knowing this mountain! Following, I will tell you more about some of the most famous Damavand Myths so that you can learn more about this magnificent beauty.

Mount Damavand Mythology in Ancient Iran

The roots of Mount Damavand in the Iranian Mythology date back to thousands of years ago. Mount Damavand has always been enigmatic to the ancient Iranians. Therefore, it has always been bound with magical and holy beliefs.

 What Does Damavand Originally Mean?

There are different ideas about the origin of this name. Some say that we should separate the word Damavand into two parts: “Dama” and “Vand.” The word Dama means breath and “Vand” is a suffix showing ownership. In other words, people thought of the smokes coming out of this volcanic summit as its breaths. There is another opinion saying that Damavand is the changed form of Dunbāvant. Dunbāvant is a word dating back to the Sassanid era meaning “the mountain of many faces.”

Ancient Iranians and Mount Damavand Mythology

As the tallest peak in the Alborz mountains, Damavand has always had great significance for the Iranians. The Mount Damavand mythology of ancient Persia is extensive and here we will point out only some of them. According to the beliefs of the ancient Iranians, earth and sky were a mountain in the first place. Its hillsides formed the earth and its peak formed the sky. It took 800 years for the main peak of Alborz (Damavand) to rise from the ground. This way, Alborz was the center of the universe connecting the sky and the earth. Also, they believed that the Alborz mountains had roots in the ground and the roots can make new mountains as well.

view of the mount Damavand from Alimestan

According to the beliefs of the ancient Iranians, earth and sky were a mountain in the first place.

Another belief of ancient Iranians held about Damavand is related to the afterlife. They thought that the dead souls have to pass through Damavand on their way to heaven or hell. Also, there is another belief that calls the summit of Damavand the bridge of destiny. The dead have to pass the Bridge of Destiny to reach heaven or hell.

The Divinity of Sun Lives in Damavand

Before the emersion of the Zoroastrian religion, Mithraism was very popular among Iranians. Mithra was the divinity of sun, justice, friendship, and oath. The importance of Mithra for the Iranians is so immense that Zoroastrian books mention its name. Also, The Yashts, Zoroastrian holy hymns, mention Damavand Mount as the place of Mithra. It says there is no place for the darkness, light, illnesses, hot and cold on the summit of Damavand Mount. Therefore, according to Mount Damavand mythology, it’s the place of Mithra, the divinity of the sun.

A Festival to Celebrate Autumn

One of the ancient Iranian Festivals is Mehregan Festival when Iranians celebrate the beginning of Autumn. This celebration dates back to more than 4000 years ago, begins on the 16th day of Autumn, and lasts six days. However, you can find the traces of Mount Damavand mythology in it. Many believe that Iranians celebrated it because they believe Fereydun defeated Zahaak on this day and imprisoned him in Mount Damavand. The story of Zahaak and Fereydun is one of the most famous stories in the Shahnameh epic. Shahnameh or “Book of The Kings” is an epic poetry book by the great Iranian poet Ferdowsi. You can find out the complete story of Zahaak and Fereydun in the next section. Also, you can understand why celebrating this day is celebrating the ruling of evil.

Instrument, song and dance in Mehregan celebration

Mehregan is the biggest celebration of ancient Iranians after Nowruz

In this ancient ceremony in the Iranian culture, people thanked Mithra for the blessings it gave them. They used to set a table almost similar to the Nowruz, the Persian new year. The only difference was that the items on the table including the tablecloth had to be purple. Also, during the Achaemenid era, this festival was held in Persepolis. Rulers from different regions of the Persian empire would gather in Perspolis to pay their taxes.

Mount Damavand Mythology in Shahnameh Epic

You can find a considerable part of Mount Damavand mythology in the Shahnameh epic, Ferdowsi’s poetry book. Mount Damavand has an important role in the story of characters in Shahnameh. Keyumars, Jamshid, Arash, Zahاak, Arash, and the White Devil are some of these characters.

Damavand, Home to The First King

Shahnameh mentions Keyumars’s name as the first king in the world. He landed on Damavand Mount from the heavens and was the first king who brought justice to the people. Also, he taught his sons and the others to make and wear clothes. This legendary king found the caves of Damavand to be the best site for the ruling. This way, his kingdom would be safe from the attack of other armies. He and his companions wore clothes made of leopard skin.

Miniature painting of Shahnameh, the ascension of Keyumars with the throne

Keyumars landed on Damavand Mount from the heavens and was the first king who brought justice to the people.

Moreover, he had a handsome son whom everybody loved except for the devil (Ahriman). Devil’s son gathered an army to attack Keyumars and Keyumars ordered his son, Siyamak, to fight the devil’s son back. Finally, the Devil deceives Siyamak into single combat and kills him which makes Keyumars very upset. Keyumars orders his grandson, Hushang to fight the devil’s son again. Hushang defeats the devil’s son and finally takes his father’s vengeance.

King Jamshid Flying Over Damavand

Another story related to the Mount Damavand mythology in Shahnameh is the story of King Jamshid. King Jamshid, the fourth Shah of the Pishdadian Dynasty bravely fought with demons, fairies, and pucks and defeated them. He started ruling them and ordered them to build a glass chariot. Then, he forced the demons to take the chariot to the highest place they knew of, Damavand. When they arrived, he tied the demons to the chariot and sat on it. They flew over Mount Damavand to Babylon in just one day and people called that day Nowruz. Nowruz is the Persian new year and its name means “New Day.” It indicates how what happened in this story is essential as a rebirth for the Persian land. After arriving at Babylon, King Jamshid told the people to have fun and be happy for five days.

On the sixth day, King Jamshid said that god approves his holy emperor. Therefore, people will no longer have to feel the cold, hot, jealousy, and illness as long as he rules. King Jamshid ruled for 300 more years and people experienced calmness in all of those years.

The White Devil Hiding in Damavand

One of the other Characters in the Mount Damavand mythology is the White Devil. The White Devil (Div-e Sefid) was the ruler of the demons in Mazandaran and lived in Damavand Mount. After King Kay Kāvus and his army attack Mazandaran, the White Devil defeats them with a magical storm. Then, he blinds them all and holds them captive in a dungeon in the Mount Damavand. Rostam, the mythical Persian hero, decides to save his king. Therefore, he goes after the White Devil, fights with him and defeats him. Then, he uses the blood of the White Devil to cure the blind king and his army. He also makes a helmet out of the White Devil’s skull and wears it from that day on. You can see Rostam’s famous helmet in the paintings of Shahnameh.

Battle of Rostam and Div-e Sepid in Damavand

Rostam made a helmet out of the White Devil’s skull and wears it from that day on.

The story of the White Devil reflects in contemporary Iranian literature as well. Mohammad-Taqi Bahar, the Iranian poet, has a protest poem about Damavand in which he uses Damavand as a metaphor. He calls Damavand the “Shackled White Devil,” referring to the living of White Devil in Damavand mountain. The poem starts with:

O’ Shackled White Evil!

O’ dome of the world, Damavand!

This beautiful poem uses Damavand as a metaphor. The poet calls Damavand the symbol of resistance, a fist raised in protest, and the sore heart of the people.

The Archer on Damavand Peak

Arash the Archer is the symbol of losing life for saving Iran in Iranian mythology. Damavand has an important role in this story, and it is one of the most significant myths in Mount Damavand mythology. It is the place where Arash dies to save his country. During the ruling of Manuchehr, the Iranian king, a battle occurred between the two kingdoms of Iran and Turan. The battle lasted for a long time. So, the Iranian king decided to make a peace offering which both sides of the war accepted. He offered that the strongest Iranian champion should climb Damavand Mountain and shoot an arrow. Wherever the arrow landed, would become the border of Iran and Turan.

Sculpture of Arash the Archer

Tirgan festival, is celebrating the day Arash shot the arrow.

The problem was that it was a great responsibility, and none of the champions would accept it. So, to humiliate the Iranians, the Turanians offered Arash to be the champion who shoots the arrow. Arash had no choice other than taking this offer, and the other champions blamed him. They said that he could not do this task correctly and would bring shame to Iran. However, Arash didn’t pay attention to what they said. He climbed Damavand, put his soul and all of his power into the arrow and shot the arrow. He died instantly after shooting it but the arrow continued going from the morning till the dawn. Finally, it landed beside the Amu Darya river on a walnut tree. Arash died to save the dignity of Iran and the lives of many Iranian soldiers. This way, he became a legend in mount Damavand mythology.

One of the most famous ancient Iranian festival, Tirgan festival, is celebrating the day Arash shot the arrow. Iranians used to celebrate Tirgan Festival on the 13th day of Summer. Still, people in a few regions of Iran celebrate this day by reading poetry and cooking special food.

Damavand, Zahaak’s Prison

One of the most famous stories in Mount Damavand mythology is Zahaak’s story. Zahhak, son of King Merdas was a handsome man who didn’t have a stable character. Ahriman (the Devil) chose to reach its goals. At first, Ahriman came to Zahaak in the shape of a wise man and deceived him into killing his father.

Then, Ahriman appeared in the shape of a cook who made food made of meat for Zahaak. It was the first time that meat appeared in the human’s vegan cuisine. Zahaak became affiliated with the meat and began to like the cook. He asked the cook if he has any request, and the cook asked to kiss the king’s two shoulders. Right after Ahriman kissed Zahaak’s shoulders, two black snakes grew out of them. The king tried cutting the snakes off but every time they grew back. Then, Ahriman came to Zahaak as a doctor and told him he has no other choice other than keeping the snakes alive. He said that Zahaak has to feed the snakes with brains of young men. So, each day Zahaak ordered the killing of two men and fed their brains to the snakes.

Miniature painting of Zahaak imprisoned in Damavand by Fereydoun

Fereydun imprisoned Zahaak in a cave in Mount Damavand.

One night Zahaak dreams about a young man called Fereydun who takes over his kingdom. So, he sends his soldiers to find Fereydun and kill him. Meanwhile, Fereydun’s mother hides his infant child in Damavand Mount, and a holy cow brings him up. On the other hand, people start to protest against Zahaak’s tyranny and start searching for Fereydun. After finding him, Fereydun accepted leading the protestors and began a fight against Zahaak. Soon, Zahaak had to run away and Fereydun captured him. Instead of killing him, Fereydun imprisoned Zahaak in a cave in Mount Damavand. Therefore, in Mount Damavand mythology, Zahaak has to stay in Damavand until the end of the world.

Damavand, The Valuable Iranian Symbol

From a magical mountain as the center of the world to Shanameh myths, Damavand has always been mystical for Iranians. The most momentous parts of Iranian stories take place in Damavand. So, by taking a look at Mount Damavand Mythology, it’s not hard to guess how valuable it is for Iranians. But, there is another thing that makes Damavand more special. Damavand is the symbol of union, and this is why all the Iranians respect this mountain. So, whenever they look at this white beauty, they remember that they should stay together no matter what happens.

Iran Through Mount Damavand Mythology

Newsha Hoseiny

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