THE GREAT KING VISTASP
Even in Death – at God’s Service
by Ervad Marzban Hathiram
Many battles, fought in the course of our history, are replete with instances of bravery and valour, wisdom and cunning, treachery and betrayal. Many battles have also witnessed surprising turns of tide due to the influence of some extraneous factor.
One such battle was fought in the dusty and dry plains of the desert of Iran between the Iranians and their eternal foes, the Turanians, some nine thousand years ago and preserved for posterity by the immortal bard of Iran, Firdausi in his epic Shah Nameh. The great King Vistasp, in whose reign the Prophet Zarathushtra made his advent, led the Iranians. The Turanians were led by the evil and abominable Arjasp.
Vistasp had 38 sons, of whom the most famous was Asfandiar – the Invincible. Another son was Frashivard, whose love for Asfandiar was so great that the two were virtually inseparable. Due to the devious treachery of a jealous courtier Asfandiar was imprisoned by his father Vistasp, where he lay suffering, his heart broken by those he had thought his friends, alone in the darkness, cut off from the sunshine of his father’s favour.
Having put his son behind bars, the King was away to Sistan (Afghanistan), when Arjasp, seizing the opportunity, invaded Iran and started ransacking the country. Vistasp returned post haste from Sistan with an army but was thoroughly routed. In this horrific battle, all the King’s 37 sons were killed, including Frashivard, who lay seriously injured on the carcass strewn battlefield, ruing the bitter pill of fate which had led to his beloved brother Asfandiar being imprisoned and unable to help him and his father, the King.
At this point, Wise Jamasp, the Vazir of Vistasp advised the King that he should free his son Asfandiar as he alone could stem the tide in Iran’s favour. The King took the wise counsel and forgiving his son, asked him to ride forthwith to the battle and restore Iran’s pride. But the embittered son spurned his father’s pardon and refused to fight. Jamasp tried to convince him using every stratagem but Asfandiar refused to budge. In a quandary, the great wizard Jamasp let loose his thought fields (mithra) onto the battle ground, where they picked up the plaintive thoughts of the mortally wounded Frashivard who refused to die till he set his eyes on his beloved brother Asfandiar.
Immediately the great Jamasp scolded Asfandiar thus: “The haze of the sins of your previous lives has severely clouded your judgement today, for even as you stand proud and haughty in your refusal, your dear brother Frashivard lies mortally wounded on the battlefield, holding on to each harrowing breath in the fond hope that his beloved Asfandiar may come and avenge his 36 brothers’ deaths.”
As soon as he heard the wise seer’s words, the haze lifted from Asfandiar’s eyes, his heart melted and lamenting his own ego, the brave son immediately put on his armour, mounted his strong steed and rode out to the battlefield blowing like the mighty Khamsin wind that lashes the deserts of Iran. The sky smoked with the heat-haze caused by his speed and the bleak hills flanking the battlefield seemed to tremble to the steed’s hooves as a sheet of copper under the strokes of a coppersmith’s hammer. Asfandiar’s battle cry echoed far and loud, striking terror into the hearts of Arjasp’s men, and reviving the dying Iranians, goading them on to get up and fight back the evil marauders.
The indomitable warrior rode straight to his beloved brother Frashivard, who lay among the carcasses of his other brothers and they met, their eyes and hearts overflowing with the bitter-sweet tears of sorrow and joy. The dying brother, true to his role in nature, gasped out his last lesson to the deviant brother, who held him in his strong arms, crying unashamedly at his own folly and false ego. His dying wish fulfilled, the wise Frashivard gave up his life force to the waiting jaws of Death. The death of his brother so spurred Asfandiar, that he arose like a man possessed, slaughtered thousands of Arjasp’s brigands and gave the Turanians a beating that broke them and their evil force forever.
Thus did Frashivard, who is remembered in the Avesta as Frash-haam-Vareta, prove to be true to his name, which means “One who Leads Back the Astray to the True Path.” And so, even in dying, the righteous Frash-haam-Vareta led one of God’s many wayward soldiers back to His Path and Service. Thus, he is immortalized in the Fravardin Yasht:
Frash-haam-varetahe ashaono Fravashim yazamaide
We remember, worship and attune ourselves with the Holy Life Force of Frash-Haam-Vareta, who gave his life to forward the cause of Ahura Mazda and Zarathushtra. (Fravardin Yasht Karta 25, para 102).
The epics of our ancient cultures as well as the travails of modern life leave us with the realization of how little the emotions and aspirations of man have changed in all that time. This nine thousand year-old story has lessons that we can learn from, even in today’s context, despite the fact that we are far-removed from the time and period of the event.