KAYĀNIĀN i. Kavi: Avestan kauui, Pahlavi kay



i. Kavi: Avestan kauui, Pahlavi kay

Kavi is the Indo-Iranian term for “(visionary) poet.” The Avestan word is declined according to an archaic i-declension, which also includes Young Avestan haxi- “companion”: sing. nom. kauuā (YAv. kauua), acc. kauuaēm (< *kavayam; cf. OInd. sakhāyam), gen. YAv. kauuōiš, plur. nom. kauuaiiō (kāuuaiias-cā), gen. kaoiiąm (cf. haxa, haxāim < *haxāyam, haxaiiō, hášąm < *haxyām). There is an ambiguity in the acc. kauuaēm, which is also a form of the derived adjective kauuaiia found in kauuaēm xᵛarənō (gen. kāuuaiiehe-ca) “the xᵛarənah of the kauuis” (see below, xii).

The term may be older than Indo-Iranian, if Lydian kaveś and the Samothracean title cited by Hesychius as koíēs or kóēs are related and, perhaps, to be compared with Scandinavian skue “see” and English show, German schauen, etc. (Watkins, p. 88).

Indo-Iranian poets also performed the sacrifices (yaj-/yaz-), the primary purpose of which was to fight darkness and evil and reestablish order in the universe by making the sun rise and the rains fall. Of the Iranian kauuis/kays, Kauui Haosrauuah/Kay Husrōy and Kauui Vištāspa/Kay Wištāsp play central roles in the universal eschatology, while the role of the others is more generally to keep the forces of evil at bay.

In the oldest Indic poetry, the Rigveda, the term kaví refers to poets and priests and is frequently applied to gods (Agni, Indra, Soma, Mitra, Varuṇa, and others) performing this function. The kavís of old (pū́rva, pūrvyá) were “singers” (verb gṝ-), “libators” (hotar), and sacrificers (verb yaj-); they “announce” (verb śaṃs-) “words” (vac), “well-spoken words” (sūkta); and they serve as the gods’ charioteers (vahni) in the race to make the sun rise from the “rock” (aśman) and the world ocean. Their poems are made by their thoughts (mati, etc.), and they send their “poetic visions” (dhī) into the divine world. “Sustainers of ṛtá and discoverers of non-ṛtá, they set out on “great paths” (mahás patháḥ, Rigveda 2.24.7); and they find the hidden light and regenerate dawn (Rigveda 7.76.4). They are characterized by krátu, a kind of knowledge that permits them to perform their special functions: note kavíkrátu “having the krátu of the kavís” (Rigveda 3.2.4). The krátus of travelers are compared with charioteers or draft animals pulling chariots (cf. Rigveda 7.48.1, 90.5, etc.; see also Jamison, 2007, pp. 123-24).

In the Old Avesta, the generic term having become daēvic, the poet no longer refers to himself as kauui, but as “singer” (jaritar from gṝ-), “libator” (zaotar = OInd. hótar); he “announces” (verb sə̄ṇgha- = OInd. śaṃs-) “words” (vac), “well-spoken words” (hūxta), fashioned in his thoughts (manah-), and he sends his “visionary thoughts” (daēnā; cf. OInd. dhī) into the divine world. Similar to the krátus of the Old Indic poets, the “(guiding) thoughts” (xratu) of the saošiiaṇts, the successful Gathic poets, serve as the draft animals that pull the chariot of the sun, goaded by the poet’s announcements (Yasna 46.3; cf. Rigveda 7.77.2, 79.1).

The evil kauuis, however, together with the “glutton” (? grə̄hma), deposit their xratus in the glutton’s tangled web (Yasna 32.14), and it is by their incorrect sacrifices that the titles or functions of kauui and karapan have been ruined (Yasna 32.15; Skjærvø, 2001, pp. 352, 358-59; on the “quoting” function of the derivatives in -tāt-, see idem, 2007, p. 903; idem, 2009a, pp. 167-68). By their evil work, they destroy the new existence (Yasna 46.11). Thus  they contrast in detail with the successful sacrificers, and there is no reason to doubt that they too are sacrificers, albeit unsuccessful ones. The Old Indic uśíj, another kind of priest, was also demonized as Old Avestan usixš, mentioned together with the kauui and karapan as mistreating the cow (Yasna 44.20; see Skjærvø, 2001, p. 354).

The term kəuuīna, traditionally thought to refer to a “princeling” whose favor, apparently, Zarathustra failed to win (Yasna 51.12), is more likely to refer to a “poetaster,” and its epithet vaēpiia (cf. OInd. vepī “inspired” [+ song: gir]) to the trembling and shaking (OInd. verb vip-) in pretended poetic ecstasy, rather than to his sexual practices (Avestan vaēpaiia- and vifiia-, to have active and passive anal intercourse; see HOMOSEXUALITY i. IN ZOROASTRIANISM). Note the common juxtaposition of Rigvedic kaví and viprá (e.g., Rigveda 6.15.7, 8.44.21, 9.18.2; see Jamison, 2007, p. 124) and, especially, Rigveda 3.3.7, where Agni is said to be the uśíj with good kratu among the inspired (vip) gods.

In the Old Avesta, only Vištāspa has the epithet/title kauui. His name is mentioned three times in connection with the divine reward, which agrees with his mention at the end of the hymn to Anāhitā (q.v.) as a model of those who won the race (Yašt 5.132). Once, apparently, he has the epithet zaraθuštri (Yasna 53.2), which, in the Young Avesta, is an epithet of the priest, usually paired with mazdaiiasna (e.g., Yasna 12), probably “Zarathustrid” in the sense of “following the tradition of Zarathustra.”

The notion that the title kauui (Middle and New Persian kay) refers to sovereignty is based upon an interpretation of the Pahlavi and Perso-Arabic texts. There, the sequence of heroes and kays is presented as a chronological sequence of rulers (kayān; see, e.g., Skjærvø, 1995, pp. 189-91; Kellens, 1999-2000, pp. 744-51) and Kauui Vištāspa as the benevolent ruler who received Zarathustra’s new religion, and this led 19th- and early 20th-century Western scholars to assume that the Avestan term, too, meant “prince” or “ruler,” an opinion that survives to this day. There is little or no evidence for this, however. It is noteworthy that Balʿami thought that Pahlavi kay meant “good” (niku; ed. Bahār, p. 524; ed. Maškur, p. 46, and Zotenberg, p. 407, have malek-e nik “good king”). The Mojmal al-tawāriḵ reports another tradition (p. 29): “Kay” was applied to all the kings in this line by analogy with Kay Qobād, who had this title (laqab) from Zāl, meaning “origin” (aṣl). Ḵᵛārazmi (p. 100) defined kay as jabbār and kayān as jabāber “giant(s),” followed by Mirḵᵛānd (I, p. 568), who remarks at the beginning of his narrative of the Kayanids that kay was how they said jabbār (giant) in Pahlavi, a meaning the word has in Manicheism (see below). Asadi Ṭusi defined kay as “greatest king,” citing a verse from Daqiqi (p. 177; also in Šams-e Faḵri, p. 381) and also has an entry kāv “a courageous and tall and fit fighter,” citing no authority (p. 170, but doubtful according to Dabirsiāqi in n. 1; see on the use in Manicheism, below) and gav [!] “fighter,” citing Ferdowsi (ed. Khaleghi, II, p. 173, v. 690; also in Šams-e Faḵri, p. 394).

In the Young Avesta, the kauuis are listed together with the karpans (Avestan karapan-/karafn-, Pahlavi karb; see KARAPAN), sorcerers, witches, false teachers (sāstar), and other evil beings. Here, the term denotes unsuccessful priests who have joined with the forces of darkness and evil (the original, literal, meanings of these terms may no longer have been known). The term karpan has been connected with Choresmian karb-, apparently “mumbler” (Henning, 1951, p. 45; see also Skjærvø, 2001, pp. 353-54). In the 19th century, it was connected with Old Indic kalp-, which expresses ritual ordering (e.g., Bartholomae, AirWb., col. 455). The verb kalpaya- takes yajña “sacrifice” as direct object (Rigveda 8.58.1, 10.52.4), and Agni is once said to be priest, sacrificing and ordering the ṛtus (cf. Avestan ratu “ritual models” of the cosmos, Rigveda 10.2.3).

In the Young Avesta, kauui is used in the singular only as epithet or title of a small set of heroes who sacrifice to various deities and, in the plural, together with karpan to denote unsuccessful sacrificers who side with the forces of darkness and evil. It is never used instead of or parallel with daŋ́ hupaiti (lord of the land), which is probably the term closest to our “king.” Similarly, in the Pahlavi texts, kay is never interchangeable with šāh or dahībed (ruler, lord of the land), and Persian kay is never used to mean “king” or “prince” as a homonym of šāh (there is no “Kayān Kay”). Both Pahlavi and Persian kayān refer exclusively to the kays.

There is also no direct evidence that Old and Young Avestan xšaθra refers to secular command. Only the Pishdadid heroes in the Young Avesta (Haošiiaŋha, etc.) are said to ask for xšaθra- “(royal or ritual) command” or are said to have “ruled” (xšaiia-), the objects of the rule being members of the evil creation: daēuuas (see DAIVA) and men, sorcerers and witches, and the like. Their xšaθra- is therefore not necessarily different from that of the Old Avestan poetsacrificer, who, by his sacrifice, (re)generates for himself and Ahura Mazdā the command that permits them to overcome the powers of evil and darkness (see Yasna 8.5-6). Only in the Old Persian inscriptions (e.g., DB I) does the word (xša.a) clearly refer to the secular political power of the king, the ruler (xšāyaθiya), whose xša.a was given to him by god as his chosen earthly representative.

In Manicheism. The word was used in Iranian Manichean texts in the form kaw and kāw in the sense of “giant”; for instance, the Book of Giants (see GIANTS, BOOK OF THE) was the Kāwān. The term is also applied to the Twelve Eons, second of the Five Greatnesses, a group of inhabitants of the Light Paradise (Waldschmidt and Lentz, pp. 553-54), as well as to the messengers or prophets who appeared at intervals in the history of the world to bring Gnosis to mankind, the last of whom was Mani, also invoked as kāw (Durkin-Meisterernst and Morano, p. 155, sec. 497b; see also the review by Skjærvø). Christian Sogdian par kawyāq “by (their) being kaws” renders Syriac gaṉbārāʾīṯ “like gabbārs” (Sims-Williams, ed., 1985, pp. 142, 144, 152).  



(Prods Oktor Skjærvø)

Originally Published: May 15, 2013

Last Updated: May 15, 2013

Cite this entry:

Prods Oktor Skjærvø, “KAYĀNIĀN i. Kavi: Avestan kauui, Pahlavi kay,” Encyclopaedia Iranica,online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/kayanian-i (accessed on 20 September 2016).