Paradise found: Hamed Khosravi

July 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

The beginning of an essay on the concept of paradise by my friend and collague Hamed Khosravi (

The word Paradise, as the very image of a celestial garden, ultimately entered most European languages (cf. French paradis, German Paradies, Italian paradiso, Latin paradisus) via Greek παραδεισος  [paradeisos]. However, its Persian origin is more of a political concept rather  than its later (religious) derivations. Etymologically, the very root of the word can be traced in the Old Persian term pairi-daêzã. It is combined of two parts: ‘pairi’ (cf. Sanskrit pįri, Greek περι), which literally means ‘around’, and ‘daêzã’ as ‘pile or heap’. The second part, however, is the origin of the words ‘دژ’ [dezh] or ‘diza’, in modern Persian all stand for ‘fort’ or ‘enclosure’. ‘Daeza’ also has another root in the Indo-Iranian verb ‘dhaizh’ that originally means ‘to construct out of earth’, and the noun ‘dhaizha’, ‘that which has been built out of earth’.

This definition implies on the presence of the ‘wall’ constructed out of earth; a fortified space surrounded by formidable walls. It exactly matches the Persian translation of the Avestan word ‘pairi-daêzã’ (in Vendidad, Fargard 3 sec. 18) as ‘چينه’ [chineh], which literally means ‘clay wall’– used to mark a territory or land belonging to someone, like the wall of a garden, village or a city. It implicitly indicates the non-defensive characteristics of this wall; it separates to define it. However there is an historical and archaeological evidence of topological differences between this kind of border and the defensive wall. This ‘enclosed estate’ occurs only once in the entire Avesta, but that occurrence is an extremely significant one. It is where Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord/ God) describes an earthly place:

There, on that place, shall the worshippers of Mazda erect an enclosure, and therein shall they establish him with food, therein shall they establish him with clothes, with the coarsest food and with the most worn-out clothes. That food he shall live on, those clothes he shall wear, and thus shall they let him live, until he has grown to the age of a Hana, or of a Zaurura, or of a Pairishta-khshudra.

Hana means, literally, ‘an old man;’ Zaurura, ‘a man broken down by age;’ Pairishta-khshudra, ‘one whose seed is dried up.’ These words have acquired the technical meanings of ‘fifty, sixty, and seventy years old.’ can be summarised in three points: paradise literally (and originally) means ‘walled (enclosed) estate;’ it insists on the idea of the wall as the ‘divider of space’ when it defines what does and what does not belong to the dominant power (the owner). The wall here is not a defensive wall; the word ‘daeza’ is literally rooted in a verb that means ‘to construct from the earth’ or ‘to be made of clay’.

It divides and separates therefore it produces space. The original description of paradise in the Avesta explicitly illustrates an image of an earthly place. “It signifies and has the sense of a dwelling place, earthen enclosure, of those intimately associated with death”: the place where you should eat and wear clothes, the place that you should live in: the city.

This idea of city for the Persians was firmly bound to the ultimate goal of creation, which according to Mazdaean-Zoroastrian ideology is ‘happiness for mankind’ (cf. Old Persian šiyãti martyahyã); the word šiyãti (happiness) appears in Modern Persian as شادی ‭[šãdi‭]‬.‭ ‬It is the divine power‭ (‬the sovereign state, the ‬emperor‭)‬,‭ ‬which should re-establish this happiness throughout the empire by literally constructing the‭ ‬perfect‭ ‬model.‭ ‬This‭ ‘‬ideal state of peace‭”‬,’‭ ‬appears in the form of the walled estate,‭ ‬by preventing the main three evil forces:‭ ‬enemy,‭ ‬lie and famine.‭ ‬It is in a way the restoration of the ideal moment of creation.‭ ‬Therefore, Paradise is‭ “‬a space of re-creation in the most precise and most profound sense.‭ ‬The surviving descriptions of‭ ‬paradeisos‭ ‬consistently emphasize their exquisite beauty,‭ ‬their abundance of water,‭ ‬and the profusion of plants and/or animals with which they were filled:‭ ‬that is,‭ ‬the elements which constitute the sustenance—and,‭ ‬more important—the happiness of mankind.‭”

Consequently, Paradise becomes an apparatus to divide the evil form the good, enemy from friend and the city from the rest of the territory, to fundamentally build the state of well-being. Thus, it becomes the archetype of power to expand the empire, to expand peace and happiness in such an extent that “the earth would become part of the empire, the empire would become paradise.”



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