The Faravahar is a renowned figure originating in ancient Persia with a deep and rich history surrounding it. It is one of the most well-known images in the Middle East, especially in present day Iran. There are various background stories and representations, one of the most popular being that the winged man residing in the middle of the symbol supposedly signifies the God of Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda. However, there are other interpretations of this holy symbol including Fravashi (the Guardian Angel), Farr (Divine Grace), as well as a representation of royal power and religion/spirituality in general. Although there are various speculations of what this historic symbol actually means, there is no concrete answer as it was not recorded by the people of ancient Persia, leaving it open for interpretation.
What Does the Faravahar Mean?
The winged sun disk is one of the oldest and most highly regarded symbols worldwide. The original meaning was thought to be a sign of power and supremacy, indicating royalty and superiority. This may sound like a negative connotation but it is really a symbol of protection and a tribute to multiple Deities, primarily sun Gods, such as Horace and Ra. This imagery made appearances in ancient art and architecture, especially in the Middle East, primarily in Egypt and Babylonia. The ancient Persian Faravahar is a beautiful and intricately designed depiction of the winged sun disk, which was a well-known symbol across a number of past ancient civilizations.
Over the years, the symbol was lost in translation and, as the Persian culture changed and evolved over many centuries, the original meaning was lost. Today, historians and archeologists can only guess at the initial implication of the Faravahar and what it meant to Persian royalty and common civilians alike. However, the Faravahar can still be seen in artwork and former architecture, as well as in ancient inscriptions, allowing present day people to continue enjoying the imagery and ponder the real meaning. Although it still has connections to Zoroastrianism and religion in general, it has quickly become the national symbol of Iran.
The Elements of the Faravahar
The Faravahar’s original significance can only be guessed at since the meaning has changed and adapted with the times. However, the imagery means a great deal to present day Iranian citizens and each part of the Faravahar’s design has a different connotation associated with it.
- The man centered within the symbol represents the connection to human beings, portraying the innate relationship the image has with mankind and civilization in general. Since the man has an older appearance, wisdom and knowledge gained with age is a likely hidden symbolism.
- On either side of the man, there are wings. The wings have a large span and take up most of the design. Each wing has three main layers of feathers, one stacked on top of the other. Each feather layer has its own separate meaning; “good reflections,” “good words,” and “good deeds.”
- Beneath the man and the wings, there are three more sections which look like long garments and makes up the lower part (legs) of the man. These three sections indicate the opposite of the wings; “bad reflections,” “bad words,” and “bad deeds.” This offsets and balances the meaning of the symbol as a whole.
- Two long loops are encompassed within the design of the Faravahar, one on either side of the man. These symbolize “Sepanta Minu,” and Ankareh Minu,” heavenly, immortal entities rooted in Zoroastrianism. Sepanta Minu is the loop facing the same direction as the man and the Ankareh Minu is the loop located toward the back of the figure. They symbolize positive and negative forces, the positive being the one toward the front, as that is the direction the man is headed, leaving the negative influences behind.
- The large loop encircling the bust of the man symbolizes the endless immortality of the soul, without beginning or end. This means that when a person dies, they are not truly gone and the Iranian people should not mourn their death but rather celebrate their life and the eternity of the universe.
- One hand is raised upward, on a slight diagonal, symbolizing the difficulty of true prosperity. It is an upward battle with a slippery slope.
- The remaining hand grips a small ring, pointed forward. This ring is thought to symbolize faith and fidelity and is often seen during wedding ceremonies, as a promise of devotion.
Today, Zoroastrianism is still celebrated in Iranian culture, through such festivities as Persian New Year or Nowrouz, both originally Zoroastrian traditions. The Faravahar is a constant reminder of your earthly mortality and your heavenly immortality. It is a reminder of your life’s true purpose and intentions. To be righteous is to help progress your soul to reunite with the supreme divinity of Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda.
The Faravahar became the national symbol of Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The lion and sun were removed from Iran’s original flag design and were declared banned symbols to showcase in public due to the constant, painful reminder of life before the revolution. However, the Faravahar symbol remained, giving present day Iranians a kind or crest to wear and honor. It is not only a national icon but also a religious symbol, with Zoroastrian roots!