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The Faravahar, believed to be a depiction of a fravashi
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A fravashi // (Avestan fravaši; Middle Persian fravard, fravahr, fravash, fravaksh) is the guardian spirit mentioned in the Avesta of an individual, who sends out the urvan (often translated as 'soul') into the material world to fight the battle of good versus evil. On the morning of the fourth day after death, the urvan returns to its fravashi, where its experiences in the material world are collected.
In general, fravashi is believed to have at its root var- "to choose." From reconstructed *fravarti (/rt/ clusters in Avestan usually appear as /š/), fravashi could then be interpreted to mean "one who has been selected (for exaltation)." Also following var- "to choose" is the interpretation as "to choose/profess a faith," as also attested in the word fravarane, the name of the Zoroastrian credo.
Other interpretations take other meanings of var- into consideration: Either as var- "to cover" that in a bahuvrihi with fra- "to ward" provides "protective valor," or a derivation from var- "to make/be pregnant" which gives "promoter of birth, birth-spirit." One interpretation considers a derivation from vart- "turn" hence "turning away, departing, death."
The concept of the fravashis, unlike that of many of the other yazatas, does not appear to have an equivalent in other Indo-Iranian religions. Although there are parallels with the Indian pitaras and Greek Prythani, the historical development of the concept is unclear, and there are several conflicting theories as to when and why fravashis received the role they play in the texts of the Avesta. Boyce speculates that perhaps the fravashis are the remnants of the hero-cult of the "Iranian Heroic Age" (c. 1500 BCE onwards), when ancestor-worship was widespread.
Early Zoroastrian texts such as Yasht 17 make a clear departure from ancestor worship[specify], but the fravashis may have been re-integrated later in an effort to make the religion more widely acceptable. The military prowess of the fravashis is celebrated throughout the Yashts, and in two sections they are clearly identified with the urvan. According to Boyce, both are more consistent with the beliefs of the Iranian Heroic Age than with the philosophy expressed in the Gathas, the most important part of the Avesta and thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself.
The fravashis are not mentioned at all in the Gathas. The earliest mention of them is in the Haptan Yasht, where they are mentioned several times. In chapter 57 of the Yasna, the fravashis are responsible for the course of the sun, moon, and stars (and will do so until the renovation of this world), and in nurturing waters and plants, and protecting the unborn in the womb. They would annually strive to ensure that "family, settlement, tribe, and country" had rain.
The principal source of information on the fravashis is Yasht 13 (Farvardin Yasht), the hymn that is addressed to them and in which they appear as beings who inhabit the stratosphere, and aid and protect those who worship them. In this hymn, the farvashis are described as a vast host of "many hundreds, many thousands, many tens of thousands" aiding Ahura Mazda in the creation of the universe.
Although there is no physical description of a fravashi in the Avesta, the faravahar, one of the best known symbols of Zoroastrianism, is commonly believed to be the depiction of one. The attribution of the name (which derives from the Middle Iranian word for fravashi) to the symbol is probably a later development. In Avestan language grammar, the fravashi are unmistakably female, while the faravahar symbol is unmistakably male.
In the hierarchy of the yazatas, the fravashis are the assistants of the Amesha Spenta Haurvatat (Middle Persian: Khordad) of "Wholeness", whose special domain are "the Waters" (Avestan Apo, Middle Persian: Aban).
In the day-name dedications of the Zoroastrian calendar, the fravashis preside over the 19th day of the month and the 1st month of the year, and both are named Farvadin after these yazatas. The Iranian civil calendar of 1925 follows Zoroastrian month-naming conventions and hence also has Farvadin as the name of the first month of the year.
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- Boyce, Mary (2001), "Fravaši", Encyclopedia Iranica 10, Costa Mesa: Mazda
- Malandra, William (1971), The Fravaši Yašt, Ann Arbor: University Microfilms
- Moulton, James Hope (1972), Early Zoroastrianism, London: Philo Press
- Hastings, James, ed. (1913), "Fravashi", Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (2 ed.), Edinburgh: T&T Clark
- Narten, Joanna (1985), "Avestisch frauuaši", Indo-Iranian Journal 28: 35–48
- Boyce, Mary. Fravaši. Encyclopedia Iranica, volume=10, 2001.