The Bundahišn (q.v.) contains interesting pseudo-scientific, mythical, and sometimes inconsistent information about fishes. The fifth (and last) ēwēnag (class?) of animals created by Ahura Mazdā (q.v.) was that of aquatic (ābīg) creatures, of which the kar-māhīg (kar-fish; cf. the kar shark below) was the biggest, and namatū (?; probably “shrimp” according to Bahār, p. 79) the smallest (tr. Anklesaria, 13.10, pp. 120-21). These aquatic creatures included ten sardags (genera?) of fishes, all unidentifiable: araz, arzūkā, marzūkā, warzūkā, takāweryo (?), pašmāzak (?), sūmakčīt (?), wāsī pančā sadwarām (?), and kar (13.26-27, pp. 122-23, 15A.1-8, 10, pp. 142-45; tr. Bahār, pp. 79, 85-86). Then, within each sardag, there developed other sardags (species and subspecies?) so that the total number of fishes (species?) reached two-hundred and eighty-two (13.27, pp. 122-23; in Bahār’s tr., p. 79, two-hundred and sixty-two). All fishes (just like water, earth, and plants) are said to be female (mādag) “and are never otherwise” (15A.1, pp. 142-43; tr. Bahār, p. 85). Although all female, fishes mate like heterosexual creatures: At the time of pus-xwāhišnīh (lit., “son-desiring”; estrus), the fish pair up, go down in deep water as much as one hāsar (about 1 mile), and then come back to the surface; during that coming and going, they rub each other, thus secreting a xwēy (lit., sweat) by which they both become pregnant. In seas such as Frāxkard (q.v.) and Kamrōd, which are unaffected by tides (sic), “fish mate in shallow water but lay eggs in deep water” (15A.2-4, pp. 142-43; tr. Bahār, pp. 85-86). These ten (species of) fish yearly beget “children” as many as follows: kar, 200,000 young; arzūkā, 9,000; marzūkā, 8,000; warzūkā, 7,000; takāweryo, 6,000; sūmakčīt, 5,000; pašmāzag, 4,000, but wāsī pančā-sadwarām only 500 (15A.5, pp. 144-45; tr. Bahār, p. 86). The propagation of fishes is parthenogenetic (because, like all plants, “they have no male”). However, the fertilization and conception are internal: “The eggs develop like [the fetuses of] cattle (gōspandān) in the womb, and when mature enough, they are ejected. The eggs continue their maturation in water; then they hatch, giving birth to small fry.” Fishes “become pregnant in the month of Šahrīvar, and give birth in Farvardīn” (15A.7, 10, pp. 144-45; tr. Bahār, p. 86).

Most remarkable among fishes are the wāsī pančā sadwarām and the kar-fish, both living in the Frāxkard Sea. The former is so long that, “if it moves fast from morning till sunset, it cannot cover a distance as long as its length….Most aquatic creatures live under its sālārīh” (chieftainship, authority; 24.6-7, pp. 192-93; tr. Bahār, p. 101). The kar-fish, elsewhere equated with araz (see above), is also said to be “the rad (chief) of water creatures” (17.14, pp. 154-55; tr. Bahār, p. 89). It is “the biggest animal created by Ahura Mazdā.” Two [specimens of] kar-fish are charged with continually watching over the miraculous white hōm (see HAOMA) in that sea, because the latter is threatened by a gigantic wazaγ (frog; “lizard” [sic] in Anklesaria) created by Ahriman (q.v.) against fishes, to counter the two kar-fishes, and to destroy the white hōm (5.3, pp. 56-57; tr. Bahār, p. 56). To restrain that wazaγ, which is Ahriman’s largest living creature, the kar-fishes keep on circling the white hōm, and in order to be always on guard, they “do not need anything to eat,” because “they are provided with mēnōg xwarišn (spiritual food). Further, “they are so perceptive that they sense any increase or decrease in sea water as much as the volume of a sharp needle” (24.1-5, pp. 192-93; tr. Bahār, pp. 100-101).


Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

Bundahišn, tr. M. Bahār as Bondaheš, Tehran, 1369 Š./1990.

(Hušang Aʿlam)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: January 1, 2000

Cite this entry:

Hušang Aʿlam, “FISH iii. IN PRE-ISLAMIC PERSIAN LORE,” Encyclopædia Iranica, available online at (accessed online at 17 August 2012).