Love of nature in ancient Iranian culture

June 6, 2019

By Dr. Kazem Moussavi

Without a doubt, one of the significant factors of the emergence and flourishing ancient Iran among the other civilizations was the environmental conditions and abundant natural resources.

Nature and its elements, water, air, earth, and plants, have played an essential role in the thoughts and the way of life of ancient Persians. Protecting nature and taking care of its purity and health had been the task of clerics and political leaders. In ancient Persia, the harmony with the forest and trees highly regarded, and in different narratives, the trees were likened to angels. The soul of the good man, following the death, would be integrated into the soul of the tree and plants to be ready for eternal life. There was a general belief that cutting down old, thick, solid trees or young fruit trees would consider a major sin that culminates to the death of the loved ones that year. It was ominous to fell old trees, and the agent of this shameful act would suffer an unfortunate life. On the contrary, in Persian culture, the cultivation and care of trees have been an indication of affluence and blessedness for family and relatives.

Honoring to grow trees goes back to the time of pre- Zoroastrian and reaches the culture of the ancient Aryan peoples. For them, planting and growing trees was a kind of prayer and being appreciative for the fire, of which trees and the wood were considered to be the heart that should have been protected.

Although pomegranate and palm trees had a special place in Iran’s ancient beliefs, people would even practice planting and preserving fruitless trees with spiny leaves. Planting and the maintenance of the greens had been considered a good deed in accordance with the divine providence. People were encouraged to remove weeds in farms and plant fruit trees as they would call these acts heavenly deeds.

The Zoroastrian religion, fundamentally, has always looked to preserve the forest, plant, and the greens. There are remarkable guidelines in Zoroastrian sacred texts on the importance of nature, the preservation and purity of water and land, conservation of trees, and the upbringing of forests. In verse, Zarathustra asks Ahura Mazda (God): “O Lord, the creator of the earth, which locations of the earth do you bless more? And Ahura Mazda replies: In a place where most of wheat and vegetable are planted, its trees root deeper and grow fuller, irrigated land, where swamps and salt marsh are returned to the fresh, green nature.”

In Zend Avesta, the Zoroastrian sacred writings, comprising the Avesta (the text) and Zend (the commentary,) Zarathustra commands the Persians to plant and grow a tree. He obliges the rulers to accept these religious orders unconditionally and prohibit any disobedience in preserving nature.

It has been reported that the Sasanians Empire, the Neo-Persian Empire, before being concurred by Islam, also showed great interest in the care of the plants and trees. One day, Anushirvan, the twenty-second Sasanian Emperor of Persia (531–579,) saw on a roadside an old farmer busy planting the walnut plantlet. He was pleased with this act and gave him a bag of gold coin and asked: “You know that this walnut seedling matures after many years when you can no longer enjoy its fruit, why do you do it?” The old man replied: “The others had planted in the past so we ate. Now we plant so others can eat in the future.”

The ancient Persians devoted one day of the year to tree-laying together with festivity and joy. Also, people used trees and plants as symbols of greens in festivals and celebrations such as Mehregan (a Zoroastrian and Persian festival celebrated to honor the Yazata Mithra, which is responsible for friendship, affection, and love,) Sadeh (a festival celebrating hundred days and nights remains to the beginning of spring,) and Nowruz (Persian New Year). This tradition has been continued until our time.

Persians’ love and passion for nature have long since opened its place in literature and art. Artists and architects designed the walls of the houses and halls of palaces with patterns from the forest and the tree.

In the ruins of the Persepolis, one can still see the impression of palm trees and olive branches among stone carvings.

The use of the leaf, skin, the sap of trees in generating herbal products, had a special place in ancient Iranian medicine, and sometimes the fame of herbal treatments and well-informed doctors echoed remotely. This discipline had been taught in the field of pharmacology and knowledge of ointments at Academy of Gondishapur (created under the rule of the Sassanid emperor Khosrau I (531-579 A.D.)) The use of wood certainly also played an important role in the industry at the time. The Iranians built large vessels from wood that would call the ship.

In general, it can be claimed that the preservation of the tree and the forest existed in ancient times in the form of trade and profession. Historical narratives say that Cyrus and Darrius called on their mayors to keep up planting trees and appoint some to protect forests.

A few hundred years before the birth of Christ, when Jews rebuilt their temples in Jerusalem, they called on the Iranians to send aid and a number of caregivers to protect forests near them in the land of Lebanon.

The character and habitude of being in harmony with nature and forests have survived during peacetime but has been altered by the wars and invasions of various tribes. Yes, not so long ago, vast parts of the west, south, and north of Iran were covered entirely by the forests, but today the natural life of Iran is in peril of being destroyed.

This article has been written based on Professor Yakhkeshi’s book on forestry in Iran (pages 26-29).

Share Button

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please enter the result below. *