KARAPAN (or Karpan), designation of members of a class of daivic priests opposed to the religion of Zarathustra. These priests were a part of the general society in which Zarathustra was active, as reflected in his Gāthās, but they seem to have receded into legendary status already in the formulaic sāθrąm kaoyąm karafnąmca “of tyrants, kawis and karpans” of more recent Yašt compositions; and in the Pahlavi literature they figure prominently only in the legends of Zarathustra.

In the Gāthās the term scans metrically as a disyllabic stem karpan-. Only the nom. sg. karand nom. pl. karpanō are attested in Gāthic, while Standard Avestan has only the gen. pl. karfnąm (cf. marəθnō). Chr. Bartholomae (AirWb., col. 455) compared OInd. kálpa- masc. ‘ritus,’ thus approximately ‘ritualist.’ However, the existence of the OInd. verb √kalp- or its derivatives in Iranian is quite dubious (see Mayrhofer, 1986, p. 324). Still, a formation parallel to mąθrān- would not be impossible; though one would expect *karpānō in the plural. V. I. Abaev’s (1956) attempt to connect with Av. xrafstra- was in error. Most likely is W. B. Henning’s comparison (1951, p. 45) of Xwar. karb- ‘to moan, mumble.’ Rather than originally a pejorative designation ‘mumbler,’ as supposed by Henning, it would have referred to a priestly functionary, as shown by M. Schwartz (1985, pp. 479-81), who cogently derived the term from *√karp- (OInd. √krap- /kṛp-‘to pray for, implore; lament’) with the meaning ‘supplicator, hymnist.’ Alternatively, if Henning’s ‘mumbler’ were to be retained, the karpan would have been similar to the Vedic adhvaryu, who recited in an undertone while performing his duties. Although it may be pure coincidence, in the Dēnkard (IX.3.20; ed. Madan, p. 618.2-3) we find dandīd Brātrōrēš ī karb “Brātrōrēš the karb muttered.” However that may be, karpan- may best be taken as a primary derivative in -an- (IE -en-). Since Vedic √krap-is a seṭ-root, its derivatives kṛpaṇyá-, kṛpaṇyú- and kṛpaṇá- suggest that the vocalization of our word may have been *kṛpan-/kṛfn-. A secondary derivative, karapō.tāt- (karpatāt-) fem. ‘karpan-ship’ is also attested. The Pahlavi glosses give only karb (klp).

Central to Zarathustra’s complicated conceptual system was the Cow, who, because of his metaphorical use of language, can be the cow in the pasture or hieratic poetry or both simultaneously (see ZOROASTER, online). At Y. 44.20 Zarathustra asks if the Daiwas have ever been good rulers, “through whom the karpan and the usij [another priestly designation; OInd. uśíj-] have given the Cow to Wrath, and whom (?) the kawi made to lament for (her) soul.” At 32.12 a certain karpan is singled out as an abuser of the Cow: “Mazdā speaks bad (words) to those who ruin the life of the Cow with sayings of bliss [see Schwartz, 2006, p. 87, n. 6], because of whom Grāhma the karpan chose the rule of the *violent and the Lie over Truth.” The Cow also figures at 51.14: “the karpans are not allies, contrary (as they are) to the laws of pasturage, intolerant of the stranger’s cow.” In alliance with evil rulers the karpans also afflict men. Thus, 48.10: “When will he smite the piss of this drunkenness by which, maliciously, the karpans inflict racking pain (on people) and by which, deliberately, the evil rulers of the countries (rob them)?” Again, now specifically allied with kawis, Y. 46.11: “By virtue of their powers the karpans and kawis yoke to evil deeds a mortal in order to destroy existence.” Zarathustra’s attitude toward the karpans and the kawis appears to be that, although they had held legitimate offices in society, “they [viz. Grāhma and the kawis] squandered the karpanship and the kawiship” (Y. 32.15). An exception, of course, was Kawi Wištāspa, who exercised good rulership by becoming Zarathustra’s patron and protector. Irrespective of the usage of kaví- in OIndic, kawi was a princely title (as AirWb., col. 442; Schwartz, 1985, p. 479). The reason that they are cited together with the karpans is that each exercised power in their respective domains of the temporal and the sacred.

The association of the karpans with wielders of temporal power (xšaθra) carries over to the repeated formula of the Yašts: sāθrąm kaoyąm karafnąmca “of tyrants, kawis and karpans,” where the first two terms form a kind of hendiadys for those exercising misrule, in contrast to those abusing the sacerdotal function. Restricted as they are to only formulaic status, the karpans had become only a distant memory by the time they are mentioned in the Yašts.

Turning to the Pahlavi literature, we find the term karb restricted almost exclusively to the legend of Zardušt, where, both individually and as a group, they figure prominently in attempts to murder the young Zardušt. Individual karbs are named in the sources. Such names may possibly have some root in historical reality, though this is impossible to verify; and, in any case, they are so much a part of the “romance” genre of literature that their activities are altogether in the realm of fantasy. Prominent among those mentioned by name are Dūrāsraw the karb and Tūr ī *Brādrōrēš, both of whom were particularly adept in the art of sorcery. For the literature see the following: Dēnkard VII, especially chap. III (tr. West, 1897, pp. 35-50; Molé, 1967, pp. 28-41); Zatsparam, chaps. IX-XII; Zand ī Wohuman Yasn III.3; Pahlavi Rivāyat, chap. 36).



V. I. Abaev, “Skifskiĭ byt i reforma Zoroastra,” Archiv Orientální 24, 1956, pp. 23-56.

Chr. Bartolomae Altiranisches Wörterbuch, 2nd ed., Berlin, 1961, col. 455.

W. B. Henning Zoroaster, Politician or Witch-Doctor? London, 1951, p. 45.

D. M. Madan The Complete Text of the Pahlavi Dinkard, Bombay, 1911, p. 618.

M. Mayrhofer, Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoarischen I, Heidelberg, 1986, pp. 324, 409.

M. Molé, Le légende de Zoroastre, Paris, 1967, pp. 28-41.

[Pahlavi Rivayat] The Pahlavi Rivāyat Accompanying the Dādestān ī Dēnīg, Pt. II, tr. A. V. Williams, Copenhagen, 1990, pp. 63-64, 192.

M. Schwartz, “The HymnTo Haoma In Gathic Transformation: Traces Of Iranian

Poetry Before Zarathushtra,” in A. Panaino The Scholarly Contribution of Ilya Gershevitch, Milan, 2006, pp.85-106.

Idem, “Scatology and Eschatology in Zoroaster ...,” in Papers in Honor of Professor Mary Boyce, Leiden, 1985, pp. 473-96.

E. W. West, Pahlavi Texts, Part V, Sacred Books of the East XLVII, Oxford, 1897, pp. 35-50.

Zand-ī Vohūman Yasn, ed. and tr. B. T. Anklesaria, Bombay, 1957, p. 103.

[Zatsparam] Vichitakiha-i Zatsparam, Pt. I, ed. and tr. B. T. Anklesaria, Bombay, 1964, pp. lxxxvi-xc.

(William Malandra)

Originally Published: December 15, 2010

Last Updated: April 24, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 5, p. 550