According to Avestan geography, the region of the Haētumant River extends in a southwest direction from the point of confluence of the Arḡandāb with the Helmand (Gnoli, 1980, p. 66) and since relatively ancient times has had an important position within the Zoroastrian tradition. In particular, this is mentioned in the text of Yašt 19.66-69, which contains some strophes dedicated to a celebration of the Haētumant and some of its affluent rivers, such as the Xᵛāstrā, Hvaspā, Fradaθā, Xᵛarənahvaitī, Uštavaitī, Urvā, Ǝrəzī, and Zarənumatī. These have a number of parallels in both the Pahlavi texts and, especially, in the list of rivers in the Tāriḵ-e Sistān (ed. Bahār, 1935, pp. 15 f.; Gold, 1976, p. 12), where the following rivers are mentioned: Rud-e Hirmand (the Helmand), the Ruḵḵad-rud (the Arḡandāb or the Haraxᵛaitī of Vd. 1.12), the Ḵāš-rud (Xᵛāstrā, the Wādi Nesal or Nahr Nišak of the Arabs), Farāh-rud (Fradaθā, the Ophradus of Pliny, Natural History 6.94), the Ḵošk-rud (Uštavaitī, between the Farah-rud and the Harrut-rud), and the Harrut rud (Xᵛarənahvaitī, the Pharnacotis of Pliny, loc. cit.). Moreover, the Zamyād Yašt (Pirart, 1992; Hintze, 1994; Humbach and Ichaporia, 1998) celebrates Lake Kąsaoya; and in the Pahlavi texts the Kayānsih (the name formed with the plural word kayān, meaning “the Kavis” or “the Kayanids”) is the Hāmun-e Helmand; and also the Ušaδā mountain can be identified with the Kuh-e Ḵᵛāja. It must also be acknowledged that Yašt 19 supplies a singularly detailed description of a specific territory, the only such case to be found throughout the entire Avesta. As seen in the first chapter of the Widēwdād, the country of the Haētumant seems to have had a privileged position (Vd. 1.13-14); because, compared to the other fourteen countries also mentioned in the text, its description occupies twice as much space, with the exception of Airyana Vaēǰah (Vd. 1.1-2). The identification of these rivers, lakes, and mountains within historical geography has been part of several in-depth studies, especially those of A. Stein, J. Markwart, E. Herzfeld, D. Monchi-Zadeh, and G. Gnoli.

The important role that the Helmand River and its region have played in Zoroastrian tradition is linked to the special connection between them and the kavaēm xᵛarənō, and therefore also to the xᵛarənah (farrah, farr) of the Kavis, the Kayanids of the national tradition (Gershevitch, 1959, pp. 185 f.). In fact, the Kavyān or Kayān-ian dynasty reigned “there where is Lake Kąsaoya” (Yt. 19.66), the point at which the Helmand ends along the southeastern border between Iran and Afghanistan. Not only is Lake Kąsaoya the center of this dynasty’s power with Vištāspa, the protector of Zoroaster, as its last sovereign, but it is also the lake in which the seed of the prophet is cared for and protected by the 99,999 fravašis (Yt. 19.89-96), from which will be born the three saošyants (“saviors”): Uxšyaṱ.ərəta (Pahl. Ušēdar), Uxšyaṱ.nəmah (Pahl. Ušēdarmāh), and Astvaṱ.ərəta, the Sōšāns par excellence. In the eschatological myth there is a correspondence between the sea Vouru.kaša and Lake Kąsaoya (Christensen, 1931, p. 22; Gnoli, 1977, p. 315; Gnoli, 1980, pp. 132 ff.); and it is significant that the Zamyād Yašt, after having celebrated the kavaēm xᵛarənō and all the Kavis, (Yt. 19.70 ff.), ends with a triumphal celebration of the frašō.kərəti and the saošyant Astvaṱ.ərəta, who was born from the water of the Kąsaoya (Yt. 19.89-96). This theme has a strong presence in both the Avesta (Vd. 19.5) and the Pahlavi literature, in which a kind of spiritualization of the Avestan geography occurs, particularly with fluvial elements, as has been correctly pointed out by J. de Menasce (Gnoli, 1974).

Several pieces of Pahlavi evidence confirm the position of excellence of the Haētumant and its region in the Zoroastrian tradition. Without a doubt, the most important of these is that of the treatise, Abdīh ud sahīgīh ī Sagistān (Utas, 1983), which lists the wonders of Sistān, collecting all of those themes already present in the Avesta. Thus we find: the river Hētūmand; the war ī Frazdān, which may be the Gawd-e Zira (Jackson, 1928, p. 283; Herzfeld, 1930, p. 91; Herzfeld, 1947, p. 62; Gnoli, 1967, pp. 14 ff.); the lake Kayānsih; the mountain Ušdaštar (the Kuh-e Ḵᵛāja); Ušēdar, Ušēdarmāh, and Sōšāns; the descendants of the Kayanids; Frēdōn and his three sons, Salm, Tūč, and Ērēč, etc.; Manuščihr; Wištāsp; Sēn, son of Ahūmstūt from Bust, etc. (Gnoli, 1989, p. 135).

The Helmand River and its region have therefore played a great role in the entire Zoroastrian tradition (Geldner, 1906, p. 221; Bartholomae, 1924, p. 9). Such a position was not necessarily acquired secondarily, as has been sometimes thought in the past (Nyberg, 1938, pp. 304 ff.; Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, pp. 274, 293; Hintze, 1994, p. 21, n. 39). Sistān is part of the vast horizon of the “Aryan lands,” the airyå daiŋ́hāvō of the Avesta, inside of which is also placed Airyana Vaēǰah. Numerous indications lead to the assumption that in an unspecific but archaic period, probably during the course of the 6th century B.C.E., a process occurred in which the Helmand and other localities of its region were identified with elements of traditional cosmography and mythical geography. This is well demonstrated by the concurrence of these places with the Avestan Vaŋuhī Dāityā—the Wehrōd of some Pahlavi texts, as was already pointed out by J. Markwart (1938, p. 122, n. 3; p. 159, note from the previous page; Gnoli, 1967, pp. 13f., 38; 1980, p. 133).



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D. Monchi-Zadeh, Topographisch-historische Studien zum iranischen Nationalepos, Wiesbaden, 1975.

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A. Stein, “Afghanistan in Avestic Geography,” Indian Antiquary 15, 1886, pp. 21-33.

B. Utas, “The Pahlavi Treatise Avdēh u sahīkēh ī Sakistān or ‘Wonders and Magnificence of Sistan’,” AAASH 28, 1980, pp. 259-67.

(Gherardo Gnoli)

Originally Published: December 15, 2003

Last Updated: March 22, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XII, Fasc. 2, pp. 171-172