ČATR, parasol or umbrella, an attribute of royalty in Iran. The word čatr, which is borrowed from Sanskrit chattrá- “parasol, umbrella,” is found in classical Persian literature from Ferdowsī onward. In poetry it is frequently used in metaphors, such as čatr-e rūz/nūr/zarrīn “the parasol of day/light, the golden parasol,” all meaning “sun”; čatr-e sīmābī/sīmīn “the silvery parasol,” meaning “(full) moon”; and čatr-e ʿambarīn “the parasol of ambergris,” meaning “the (night) sky, darkness of night” (see Dehḵodā, s.v. čatr). In modern Persian čatr-e nejāt is “parachute,” čatr-bāz “parachutist,” and čatr-bāzān “paramilitary.”

The parasol is attested in Egypt (Fischer, pp. 154-55) and in Assyria as early as the 9th century b.c. (Frankfort, pl. 88: the palace at Nimrud; Parrot, pl. 107: Khorsabad, Palace of Sargon II, 8th cent. b.c.) and appears subsequently to have spread throughout Asia; there is pictorial evidence that it was in use as far east as China in the Han period (206 b.c.-a.d. 220; Soper, pls. 34, 36, 47; cf. Lee) and as far west as Byzantium (Beckwith, pls. 47-48). Although primarily a royal symbol, the parasol took on broader cultic and honorific connotations in the East after the spread of Buddhism (cf. Longhurst, pp. 1-3; Hallade, pl. 73).

In Achaemenid Iran the parasol was one element of court panoply; it was used to both honor and shelter the sovereign and thus constituted an ensign of rank. On the door jambs of the northern and southern entrances to the main room of the Council Hall (or Tripylon) at Persepolis (early 5th century b.c.) three sculptures depict the great king (Xerxes I or Artaxerxes I) erect beneath a parasol, which is held aloft by attendants standing behind him (Schmidt, pls. 75-76). At Ṭāq-e Bostān (a.d. 6th-7th century) the Sasanian king Ḵosrow II is sheltered beneath a parasol with a tasseled fringe during a stag hunt (Survey of Persian Art, pl. 163B). In all of these representations the čatr distinguishes the king in a public gathering and symbolizes his sovereignty.

In Islamic Iran the čatr is used in similar contexts albeit in a different art-form: in paintings illustrating classical poetry, especially Ferdowsī’s Šāh-nāma and Neẓāmī’s Ḵamsa, and historical texts, from the 8th/14th century to at least early in the 10th/17th century. An example of the latter is the lines “. . . may the shade of the heaven-scraping parasol of this padishah of Islam [Timur] remain over the heads of this awesome and magnificent dynasty foreveṛ . . .” (Taḏkeratal-šoʿarāʾ, cited in Thackston, p. 17). It seems more frequently represented than in Achaemenid and Sasanian sculpture, and it appears not only in scenes of royal assembly and the hunt but also in depictions of royal progressions, battle, and judgment. One of the earliest such representations is in a miniature from a Šāh-nāma manuscript of the 8th/14th century (Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 51.37.11); the čatr is held above Kay Ḵosrow as he meets the hero Rostam (Grube, cat. 15).

In the double-page frontispiece to the celebrated Šāh-nāma commissioned by the Timurid prince Bāysonḡor and completed in 833/1430 (Golestan Palace Museum, 6; see bāysonḡorī Šāh-nāma) a čatr shades the princely patron as he watches a battue (Binyon et al., pl. XLIV); in the same manuscript Ferēdūn is sheltered by a čatr as he oversees the binding of the tyrant Żaḥḥāk on Mount Damāvand (Binyon et al., pl. XLVI-A). In another copy of the Šāh-nāma, which was commissioned by Bāysonḡor’s brother Moḥammad Jūkī about a decade later, a čatr is held above the head of Esfandīār in a double-page painting of the Persians battling the Turanians led by Arjāsp (Royal Asiatic Society, London, 239, fols. 269b-270a; Stchoukine, pls. LXVI-LXVII, where the caption is wrong). An anthology commissioned by a third brother, Ebrāhīm, in about 823/1420 (Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin, I, 4628, p. 432), includes a scene from the Šāh-nāma in which the hero Eskandar (Alexander the Great), with a čatr above his head, pursues the fleeing Dārā (Darius; Survey of Persian Art, pl. 862A). In an illustrated copy of Šaraf al-Dīn ʿAlī Yazdī’s Ẓafar-nāma, the panegyric history of Ebrāhīm’s grandfather Tīmūr completed in 839/1436, Tīmūr or his son and heir, Šāhroḵ, appears under a čatr in thirteen of thirty-sever illustrations: in audience and reception scenes, in triumph and hunting scenes, and supervising battles (e.g., “Entry of Tīmūr into Samarkand,” Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 48.18; Gray, p. 97). In all of them the čatr identifies the kingly figure—whether literary hero or historical conqueror. In many illustrated manuscripts of Neẓāmī’s Maḵzan al-asrār the čatr is associated with the notion of kingly responsibility for social justice, as in “Sultan Sanjar and the Old Woman” (British Library, Add. 25900, fol. 18a; ca. 895/1490 Stchoukine, pl. LXXVIII). It continued to reflect this expanded royal symbolism under the Safavid dynasty (907-1145/1501-1732), for example, in a miniature of the same subject from a Ḵamsa manuscript illustrated in 946-49/1539-43 (British Library, Or. 2265, fol. 18a; Survey of Persian Art, pl. 899). In this representation the čatr is surmounted by a golden bird, an image of the sun, often combined with the čatr in 10th/16th- and 11th/17th-century paintings and in India as well (Cammann, pp. 21-22).



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(Eleanor Sims)

Originally Published: December 15, 1990

Last Updated: December 15, 1990

This article is available in print.
Vol. V, Fasc. 1, pp. 77-79