KARŠIFT (Av. Karšiptar), the mythical bird, appears once in the Avesta (Vd. 2.42). In the Vidēvdād, Ahura Mazdā describes to Yima how to build an “enclosure” (Av. vara-, MPers. war; on this word, see Cantera, pp. 55-62) as a refuge to keep samples of all his creatures (Vd. 2.27-28 and 35-36) alive during the great winter (Vd. 2.22 staxrō mrūrō ziiā̊) that was to ravage the world. It was Karšift that brought the Zoroastrian religion into the vara. The same information is told by Middle Persian texts (Bundahišn 17.10; 24g25). Furthermore, according to Bundahišn (24g25), karšift possesses the gift of speech, and according to Zādspram (23.2) and the Pahlavi Visperad (1.1) is the chief (MPers. rad) of birds.
As regards to the meaning of Avestan karšiptar, a literal translation would be “the black-winged” from karši- “black” (the expected Avestan compound form of *kršna; cf. Sk. kṛṣṇa) and -ptar “wing” (Gershevitch, p. 88; the second term has been already recognized by Pagliaro in 1954). To complete the evidence on Karšift, three other Middle Persian terms may be added: 1. caxrawāk, which appears in a gloss for karšift: caxrawāk ī pad axw ī mēnišn abāz šawēd, “caxrawāk who will return to the spiritual world” (PV 2.42); 2. carg, a gloss from Bundahišn 17.19 attested in mss. K20 and M51: karšift rad kē carg xwānēnd “Karšift is the chief that they call carg”; 3. cixrāz (the only possible reading, despite the regular transcription cihrāb [Redard, p.198]), which, according to Dādestān ī Mēnōy ī Xrad 60.9, is the chief of birds (here without mention of karšift). The three terms mentioned here may be etymologically related: cakrawāk <*cakra-vāka- “the one who says cakra”, with a historical spelling; cixrāz, which is a different suffix, yet semantically identical <*cakra-vāca-; and carg, which would be a form without a suffix and displaying a metathesis. The word has survived until the present time, as pointed out by Daryaee and Malekzadeh, who add a cognate in the Persian language: the bird čakāvak “lark” associated with heavenly singing; they also point to a poem by Manučehri Dāmḡāni (11th cent.), where čakāvak occurs “in relation to a treasure Ganj-e Gāv, which is said to have been one of Yima’s treasures in his Vara” (p. 112). Despite all these materials, the identification of Karšift remains difficult, but Gershevitch’s (1975, p. 88) proposal to identify it as a raven certainly has merit. He based his hypothesis on a mythological parallel in Armenian, where a raven guides the hero, Mehr, to the rock (see Boyle, for the complete story). Note, incidentally, the regular role of the raven fulfilling the role of messenger in Indo-Europeans legends (cf. Redard, 2012). Though there is another word for raven in Middle Persian, warāɣ (cf. Av. vārǝɣna- “falcon”), this must not be taken as a problem. An inherited name (warāɣ) and a metonymic one (karšift) could easily have coexisted, a current phenomenon for the names of animals. Even if there is no decisive argument to support it, the hypothesis of the raven is tempting because it combines the etymological signification with the role of messenger between the two worlds that are attributed to him.
See also JAMŠID i. MYTH OF JAMŠID
J. A. Boyle, “Raven’s Rock: A Mithraic Spelaeum in Armenian Folklore?,” Études Mithriaques: Actes du 2e Congrès International, Acta Iranica 17, Teheran, 1978, pp. 59-74.
Bundahišn, ed. and tr. Behramgore T. Anklesaria as Zand-ākāsīh: Iranian or Greater Bundahišn, Bombay, 1956; tr. Mehrdād Bahār as Bondahešn, Tehran, 1990; ed. Fazlollah Pakzad, Bundahišn Zoroastrische Kosmogonie und Kosmologie, Tehran, 2005.
A. Cantera, “Yima, son vara- et la daēnā mazdéenne,” in S. Azarnouche and C. Redard, eds., Yama-Yima: Variations indo-iraniennes sur la geste mythique, Paris, 2012, pp. 45-66.
T. Daryaee and S. Malekzadeh, “King Huviška, Yima, and the Bird: Observations on a Paradisiacal State,” Electrum 22, 2015, pp. 107-114.
I. Gershevitch, “Die Sonne das Beste,” in J. R. Hinnells, ed., Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies I, Manchester, 1975, pp. 68-89.
Mēnōy ī xrad, ed. Tahmuras D. Anklesaria as Dânâk-u mainyô-i khard, Bombay, 1913; tr. E. W. West as “Dînâ-î maînôgî khirad,” in idem, tr., Pahlevi Texts, Part 3, Sacred Books of the East 24, 3rd ed., Delhi, 1970, pp. 3-113; tr. Aḥmad Tafażżoli as Minu-ye ḵerad, Tehran, 1975; repr. Tehran, 1995.
A. Pagliaro, “Il nome del turchese,” Archivio Glottologico Italiano 39, 1954, pp. 142-165.
C. Redard, “L’oiseau Karšiptar (V2.42),” in S. Azarnouche and C. Redard, eds, Yama-Yima: Variations indo-iraniennes sur la geste mythique, Paris, 2012, pp. 193-205.
[Zādspram] Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram, ed. and tr. Ph. Gignoux and A. Tafazzoli as Anthologie de Zādspram: Edition critique du texte pehlevi, Studia Iranica. Cahier 13, Paris, 1993.
Originally Published: May 7, 2018
Last Updated: May 7, 2018Cite this entry:
Céline Redard, “KARŠIFT,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2018, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/karsift (accessed on 07 May 2018).