Spiritual Might And Myths Of Holy Mountains

Having recently spent two wonderful weeks in Iran, I asked myself what I felt most attracted to, or connected with, in the land of our Zoroastrian ancestors. The answer, clearly, was the majestic mountain ranges, starting with the Alborz in the North and the Zagros in the South. There’s something amazingly vibrant about them – they exude a rare energy that can only be experienced. Lofty and towering above the plains, they are majestic and mystical and almost literally form a ‘stairway to heaven’, acting as the Gateway to Divinity.

Message Of The Mountains

Mountains awaken a sense of the sacred. Through millennia, prophets and saints have scaled the serene heights of various mountains to meditate, pray and seek self-realization. The soaring summits, the swirling clouds about their peaks, the life-giving waters that flow from their heights… and other characteristics imbue mountains with an aura of mystery and sanctity.

Eternally exposed to the elements of the weather, mountains stand ever enduring, and teach us equanimity in the face of adverse conditions. Mountains symbolize eternity, spiritual elevation and steadfastness even amid calamity.

Holy Mountains

Mountains instill us with a sense of freedom but with deep humility. Mountains and spirituality are inextricably linked, especially in Eastern cultures. Mountains have traditionally been regarded as abodes of Divine entities, like Mount Kailasha, in Tibet, is regarded as home of Lord Shiva, while Mount Sinai, in Egypt, is regarded as the place where God spoke to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments. In Japan, Mount Fuji is venerated as a gateway to heaven, a holy ground for pilgrimage, a site for receiving revelations, a dwelling place for deities and ancestors, and a portal to an ascetic otherworld.

In Greek mythology, the twelve Olympians were the major deities of the Greek pantheon, commonly considered to be Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter, Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, Apollo, Ares, Hephaestus, Hermes, and Hestia / Dionysus. They were called Olympians because, according to tradition, they resided on Mount Olympus. In Italy, Mount Etna is believed to have been the home of Vulcan, the Roman God of Fire.

Why Zoroastrians Revere Mountains?

Since ancient times, mountains have held a place of special reverence in Zoroastrian lore. All devout Zoroastrians have been enjoined with a sacred duty to look after, respect and revere all the good creations of Ahura Mazda. In the prayer pertaining to homage unto mountains, we pray: “Vispao garayo asha-khvathrao pouru-khvathrao mazdadhata ashavana ashahe ratavo yazamaide.” (We praise all holy mountains which are full of goodness and exude purity and Asha). Thus, mountains are seen as spiritual strongholds that represent strength and emanate positive energy.

In esoteric circles, mountains signify, among other things, ‘cosmic or spiritual consciousness.’ It is little wonder that Asho Zarathushtra lived for ten years on Mount Ushidarena, contemplating the Truth of this universe. Some researchers claim that this mountain is Mount Asnavant, now known as Ushenai, in the Azerbaijan region near the sacred lake of Chaechasta (also known as Urumiah).

In Karda VIII of Sarosh Yasht Vadi, we pray: “Sraoshem ashim huraodhem verethrajanem, fradat-gaethem ashavanem ashahe ratum yazamaide. Yim yazata Haomo Frashmish baeshazyo, sriro, khshathrayo, zairi-doithro, barezishte paiti barezahi Haraithyo paiti Berezayao.”, (We worship the righteous and Holy Sarosh (Yazata), beautiful, victorious, bringing-prosperity to the world, (and) the Lord of righteousness; whom Haomo, prosperity-bringer, healing, beautiful, kingly (and) golden-eyed worshipped upon the highest peak of the Mount Alborz.”

This verse literally affirms that Mount Damavand (the highest peak of Mount Alborz) is the abode of Sarosh Yazata, the guardian of the souls of the living and the dead, and according to Vendidad 19.30, “The soul of the pious proceeds by way of Alborz, crossing the Chinwad Bridge.”

Holy Mount Damavand

In Zoroastrianism, Hara Berezaiti is believed to be a holy mountain or range. Scholars interpret Avestan Hara Berezaiti as Middle Persian (Pahlavi) Harborz or modern Alborz, the mountain range that runs from Tabriz to the Caspian coast and all along the north to Khorasan. This range fuses with the Hindukush and Himalayan ranges in Afghanistan and India. The highest peak in the Alborz range in Iran is Mount Damavand, located centrally, with a high point of 5,610.27 meters, and higher than all West Asian and European mountain peaks. Damavand peak is situated in Larijan district, about seventy kilometers north-east of Tehran.

The slopes and skirts of this mountain are filled with volcanic lava, with sulfur gases flowing out of many peaks. The lava and other volcanic substances have been piled in layers on a sediment base composed of the stones belonging to the first and second eras. A small lake likes inside Damavand’s volcanic crater, frozen for most of the year with the ice melting slightly during summer.

Mount Damavand is the epicenter of an earthquake belt, which stretches along Mazandaran province, with many hot springs. The hot springs of Larijan village are a popular tourist spot. Water flows from the ground into Larijan hot springs at a rate of one thousand liters per minute, with a temperature of sixty-five to seventy degrees Celcius. The unpleasant scent of the water (smell of rotten eggs) is due to hydrogen sulfide. It also contains magnesium bicarbonate and other minerals. The water, however, is crystal clear. Larijan hot springs have many healing effects beneficial for skin conditions, scars, respiratory diseases, rheumatism, and neurological disorders. All springs flowing from Mount Damavand pour into the river Haraz.

To devout Zoroastrians, Mount Damavand is as sacred as Mount Kailash is to Hindus or Mount Fuji to the Japanese.

The Legend Of Zohak

According to legend, King Faridoon of the Peshdad dynasty, with his spiritual powers, has enchained Azhi Dahaka or Zohak (the embodiment of all evil) to this sacred mountain. They say, by night (when the forces of darkness and evil gain strength) Azhi Dahaka’s allegorical chains begin to weaken and melt but, at the crack of dawn, when the rooster crows, ushering in the forces of light and purity, the chains, once again, bind the demon securely. This is a Truth of Nature, brilliantly expressed in allegorical form. Evil and darkness have no existence. Evil is the absence of good while darkness is the absence of light. Only with light can darkness be dispelled, and only with increase in goodness, will evil decrease.

In the eighth verse of the Pazand prayer, Afreen-i-haft Ameshaspandan we chant: “Hama-zor Daemavand koh ke dravand Bivarasp andar oye basta ested.” [Be in accord (or attuned) with Daemavand Koh (mountain) in which is enchained the demon Bivarasp, the demon (with power) of ten thousand horses.] This means attune with this great spiritual mountain which has the power to bind all forces of evil and keep this world safe from the onslaught of the demon Bivarasp!

The Legend Of Arash

Arash the Archer is a heroic archer of Persian mythology. According to Firdosi’s Shah-nameh, when the bloody and long-lasting war between Iran and Turan ended, the rulers of both countries decided to make peace and fix the boundary between their kingdoms. Iran was asked to shoot an arrow towards Turan. It was agreed that where the arrow would land, would mark the border between the two countries.

Arash the Archer agreed to shoot the arrow from the peak of Mount Damavand. It happened to be Roj Tir of Mah Tir and facing Turan, Arash pulled his bow with all his might. According to legend, Govad Yazata (Divinity of air/wind) let the arrow fly all morning and land around noon on the bank of the river Oxus, now in Central Asia. The river remained the boundary between Iran and Turan for centuries.

When Arash shot the arrow, he fell to the ground on Mount Damavand and passed away. His body was never found. However, stories by travelers who, in the past were lost on the mountain, reveal that they heard Arash’s voice which helped them find their way back and saved their lives. Every year, Iranians celebrate the feast of Tirangan, in July (Roj Tir, Mah Tir as per Fasali calendar) and remember Arash with reverence.

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