BĀḴTAR, designation of the “west” in Modern Persian, but its Pahlavi equivalent abāxtar means “north,” probably borrowed from Parthian (cf. Man. Parth. abāxtar, see M. Boyce, A Reader in Manichean Middle Persian and Parthian, pp. 115-16); the Manichean Middle Persian word for “north” is abarag (ibid., pp. 62, 65, text y 4.14). It is derived from Av. apāxtara “north.” In the Zoroastrian cosmogonical division, the northern part (nēmag/kanārag “side”) is called abāxtar, which is under the superintendence of the star Haptōrang “Ursa Major” (Bundahišn 2.7). The Zoroastrians also supposed hell to be located in the north, where Ahreman and the demons reside (Vd. 7.2, 8.16, 19.1; Hādōxt nask 2.25; Bundahišn, loc. cit.; Dēnkard 7.4.36, 7.6.7, Dādestān ī dēnīg 33.5, etc.). It is, therefore, maintained that during the religious ceremonies one should not point the tips of the barsom-twigs toward the north (Šāyest nē šāyest, ed. Kotwal, 14.2 and p. 107); no one is allowed to throw any food or flower or to pour out water or wine to the north during the night (Šāyest nē šāyest, ed. Tavadia, 10.7, and ed. Kotwal, 12.18; Ṣad dar-e naṯr, ed. Dhabhar, 30; Dēnkard 9.19.2).
According to the Pahlavi and Arabo-Persian books and the geography of Moses of Khorene, the Iranian empire was divided, on the pattern of the four cardinal points, into four parts or sides (kustag, sōg, kanārag, nēmag, pāygōs; see Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 352, 370ff.; V. G. Lukonin in Camb. Hist. Iran 3/2, pp. 732; C. Brunner, ibid., pp. 747ff.). This division seems to be more mythological and mental rather than real and administrative (see Gignoux, AION 44, 1984, pp. 555ff;). Whatever the case, the northern part in this division is called abāxtar in Pahlavi (Mādayān ī čatrang 26, in Pahl. Texts, p. 118), bāxtar/βāxtar in Arabic sources (Masʿūdi, Tanbīh, p. 31; Ebn Rosta, p. 103). As the north was believed by the Zoroastrians to be the abode of the Evil Spirit (Ahreman), the word abāxtar was generally replaced by the name Ādurbādagān, Arab. Āḏarbāyajān, the most famous province of the northern part of the empire (Šahrīhā ī Ērān, ed. Markwart, par. 58; Gardīzī, p. 21, Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafātīḥ, p. 115; Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, Masālek, p. 118), or by Kapkoh “Caucasus” (Moses of Khorene, see Markwart, Ērānšahr, pp. 17, 94). The same religious belief probably motivated the author or the scribe of the Pahlavi treatise Sūr saxwan, par. 12 (ed. Tavadia, Journal of the K. M. Cama Oriental Institute 29, 1935, pp. 33, 64, 65) to delete the title abāxtar spāhbad “commander-in-chief of the north,” when enumerating the four commanders in chief of the Sasanian empire.
There is a confusion as to the usage of bāḵtar in the early New Persian literature. It is rarely used in its original meaning “north” (Tārīḵ-eSīstān, p. 23; Šāh-nāma, Moscow, V, p. 157 v. 1271; IX, p. 195 v. 3131, p. 204 v. 3271), but generally signifies “east” (Moqaddama-ye Šāh-nāma-ye abū-manṣūrī in Hazāra-ye Ferdowsī, Tehran, 1944, p. 139; Šāh-nāma III, p. 197 v. 3008; V, p. 285 v. 832; VII, p. 84 v. 1421) or “west” (Šāh-nāma I, p. 18 v. 78; VI, p. 177 v. 191, p. 188 v. 376; VII, p. 224 v. 89, p. 232 v. 232, etc.). There is a unique example recorded by Bīrūnī (Āṯār, p. 217, 1.72), quoting Zādūya as his source, in which abāxtar (written afāhtar i.e. aβāxtar) is used in the sense of “south.” It is apparently a lapsus either by Bīrūnī or by the author of his source. The above-mentioned variety of usage may be due to the different literary and geographical traditions. After the northern region of Iran had ceased to be called abāxtar and ḵᵛarāsān (Pahl. xwārasān) “east” became the name of the eastern province in the early Islamic period, the word bāḵtar was gradually used for the “east” and later on for the “west.”
See also K. Inostrantsev, “Arabisch-persische Miszellen zur Bedeutung der Himmelsgegenden,” WZKM 25, 1911, pp. 91-97.
A. Kasrawī, “Čār sū,” Peymān, 1312 Š./1933, pp. 1-2, repr. in Y. Ḏokāʾ, ed., Kārvand-e Kasrawī, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973, pp. 391-99.
E. Pūr-e Dāvūd, “Čār sū,” in Hormazd-nāma, Tehran, 1331 Š./1953, pp. 389-402.
D. Monchi-Zadeh, Topographisch-historische Studien zum iranischen Nationalepos, Wiesbaden, 1975, pp. 164ff.
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: December 15, 1988
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Vol. III, Fasc. 5, pp. 539-540