Basic Information

Alternative names: Az, [25] Azi, Ahi / Vrita, [11] Zohak / Zahak / Zahhak, [23] Dahaka, [8] Dahhak, Bivar-asp [13]
Alternative spellings: Azi Dahaka, Azhdahak, Azdahak, Azhi Dahaka, [25] Azi Dahak, Azidahaka, [10] Azai-Dahaka, Azhi, Azi, Azi-dahaka [13]
Translation: Azhi Dahaka means 'fiendish snake' [13] or 'biting snake.' [11] In old Avestan, the prefix azi can be translated to 'snake,' but the modern rendition in Farsi, azidahaka, translates as 'dragon.' [10]
Type/Species: Draconic Hybrid
Origin: Persian Mythology, Zoroastrian Mythology: Avesta, Bundahish / Zandagahih, [15] Indian Mythology, Vedic Mythology, [11] Egyptian Mythology, Iranian Mythology, Shahnameh: The Book of Kings [7]

The Various Names of Azidahaka

Azidahaka has many names because he has multiple incarnations across in various mythologies that span multiple languages. He appeared in Ancient Persian Mythology, the mythic literature of Zoroastrianism, and the literature of the Vedic tradition. In addition, time cultivated Azidahaka's mythic roles as well as the heroes who fought him.

He manifested as Ahi (meaning, 'the throttler') [13] or Vritra in the Vedic tradition. Ahi was the celestial serpent who withheld rain before Indra defeated him. [11] Azidahaka became manifest in the mortal human body of King Zohak, [23] sometimes designated as King Dahaka. [9] He also has the name Vishapa, meaning 'whose saliva is poisonous.' [13]

About Azidahaka / Dahaka

...Azi Dahaka, the three-mouthed, the three-headed, the six-eyed, who has a thousand senses, that most powerful, fiendish Druj, that demon, baleful to the world, the strongest Druj that Angra Mainyu created against the material world, to destroy the world of the good principle.

- Khorda Avesta, Hymn to the Waters, IX: 34 [24]

Azidahaka was an accomplice of Ahriman / Angra Mainyu, the Evil One, and the embodiment of falsehood. [25] He was the son of Angra Mainyu, [13] mothered by the demon Autak. [10] Thus, Azidahaka was a Druj (also called Droudje or Druge), a monstrous demon of lies. [16] When the term Druj referred to a class of demons, the most infamous of them all was Azidahaka. [4] Angra Mainyu, the Great Evil, created Azidahaka to destroy the faithful, [13] and as a powerful demon, he associated with the Bushyansta, which were yellow demons of sloth that caused men to oversleep and neglect their religious responsibilities. [15]

In the Avesta, Azidahaka ruled the second millennium of human history, which corresponded with the eighth millennium of creation. [13] His crimes vary depending on the source. Some say that his hunger was too much, and while he first consumed only cattle, he soon turned his appetite to humanity. [10] Others claim that his greatest desire was to extinguish all mortal life from the earth. [13] Another version claims that the dragon conspired to overthrow the first human being, Yima. [10] Yet another version states that Azidahaka sought to put out the sacred flame, only to be foiled by Yima, the first human. To retaliate, Azidahaka stole Yima's daughter and sawed Yima in two. [4]

Whatever the reason, Azidahaka proved himself to be the most diabolical, powerful, and dangerous emissary of evil and thus demanded a hero like no other to best him.

The manner of Azidahaka's defeat depends on the source. In one story, the son Ahura Mazda and deity of fire, named Atar / Adar / Atarsh, conquered the evil dragon Azidahaka in heaven in a battle for control over Divine Glory. [12] Alternatively, his defeat came by Faridun, who was the deity of war and bringer of fire as well as another deified mortal. [17] Another version claims that Thrita, the godly hero, slew the monster Azidahaka with a thunderbolt. [1]

Thraetaona, an earlier version of Faridun, [17] was invoked against the work of Azidahaka, including itching and fevers, for he defeated the three-headed dragon in a battle which took place across the heavens, Varena. [2] Thraetaona battled the three-headed dragon, [20] clubbing at Azidahaka's neck, head, and heart, but he could not slay him. Thus, he slashed Azidahaka with a sword, which unleashed a tide of horrible creatures that spilled out of his body. [2] Thraetaona refrained from cutting him into pieces for fear that the world would fill up with poisonous bugs and reptiles and instead imprisoned the monster. [3]

Most stories claim that Azidahaka was not defeated, simply contained, and confined to a prison by Atar, Thraetona, [10] or Faridun. [14] The commonly named location of said prison was under Mount Demavand, which is up to 18,000 ft. (5,486 m) above sea level. [4] It is said that, to this day, Azidahaka remains bound there, and from time to time, his furious attempt to escape causes an earthquake. [20]

In one legend, Thrita was represented as the father of Thraetaona. Azidahaka killed Thrita, and to avenge his father's death, Thraetaona imprisoned him. [21] Another myth says that Verethraghna overcame Azidahaka, the symbol of darkness and drought, and tied him to the mountain. [22]

Azidahaka's imprisonment was only temporary; at the world's end, he will break free [18] bringing demonic mischief, [19] and he will destroy a third of the human population. [10] Azidahaka will perpetuate horrific sins and slaughter a third of all animals and vegetation. [3] Keresaspa, the hero, will be resurrected, and taking up his magic club, [19] he will smite Azidahaka [3] and then even Angra Mainyu, who represented all evil in creation, saving the earth from the dragon and his father. [19] Keresaspa will defeat Azidahaka in a final battle in the River of Fire, Ayohsust. [25]

Zohak, the Mortal Manifestation

Zohak was a deified mortal, or more appropriately, a demon. [23] In some accounts, like the Shahnameh: The Book of Kings, Zohak began life as a respectable man until Angra Mainyu, the Great Evil, imbued Zohak with Azidahaka. [23] The exact nature of Azidahaka's assimilation into Zohak remains mysterious. [16]

Merdas, a much-respected prince, had a brave and dynamic son named Zohak. [5] Angra Mainyu appeared at Merdas's court in disguise of a visitor so that he could tempt Zohak. As an innocent youth, Zohak took an oath never to repeat the words of his guest, so what was specifically said wasn't recorded. However, it is clear that the enticement included power, as Angra Mainyu persuaded the youth to kill his father so that he could have the throne. [5]

The next time Angra Mainyu, the Great Evil, appeared, he took the form of a cook. Before this time, all people were vegetarian, but the cook encouraged Zohak to eat meat, leading him further astray. [5] Zphak introduced meat to the people. [23] Finally, to beguile Zohak further, he flattered the youth and begged that he might kiss the shoulders of the great monarch. Zohak allowed this, and afterward Angra Mainyu disappeared into the ground. [5]

Two black snakes erupted from Zohak's shoulders. Every time he cut them off, they grew back just the same again. Angra Mainyu appeared again as a doctor and told Zohak that the only remedy was to feed the serpents. Each snake required a human brain every day. [6]

Zohak's virtue depleted, and he became the incarnation of the Druj Azidahaka. [23] Zohak's power increased as the dominance of Jamshid / Yima waned. People proclaimed Zohak the monarch of all Persia. Jamshid went into hiding, but Zohak hunted him down and ordered his death. [6] Thus, Zohak ruled all of Persia for over a thousand years, which were full of oppression. All virtue declined, sorcery increased, and daily two people died so that Zohak's serpents could feast. [6]

One night, Zohak had a dream that foretold the birth of Faridun / Thraetaona / Thrita, and the monarch tried to kill the child as a babe but failed. He feared an enemy strong enough to fight him, so he raised an army of demons and set out a proclamation to affirm himself as the virtuous king. So great was his power, and so long had been his reign, that no one dared oppose such a monarch. [6]

A humble blacksmith, sometimes called Kava, [17] appeared at court seeking a just release of his imprisoned son. His words were form when he spoke, 'Although you have a dragon's form, you are king and it is your duty to let me have justice.' Zohak granted his request but required the blacksmith's signature on his proclamation. Kava refused to sign and instead retreated with his son and raised an army for Faridun, Zohak's most feared enemy. [6]

Faridun left his palace that had pinnacles that reached the skies and led his forces to Zohak's palace. [6] An angel warned Faridun not to kill Zohak but instead to take over his palace. By the time Zohak, who was absent from the palace, heard of Faridun's activities, he had to march his entire demonic army back to his own palace. [7]

Faridun advanced quickly in on Zohak, smashing his helmet with his mace. Then, Faridun bounded the evil tyrant and carried him off to Mount Demavend. [7] Other account claimed that Faridun killed the evil Zohak with Kava's assistance. [17] Alternatively, Faridun defeated Zohak and chained him to a mountain. [23]

The serpents implanted snakes on the tyrant's shoulders, [5] which symbolized Zohak's threat to the elements and established order. [9] Multiple heroes were called to fight him, depending on the source, including Thraetona (an older name for Faridun) [9] and Kersasp / Sam Kersasp. [8]

Zohak, as represented in art, is characteristic of the reign of wicked kings that cause people to die needlessly. [5] In other interpretations, Zohak was the demon of drought slain by Thraetaona. [23]

Physical Description

In general, images of Azidahaka were painted with more color and clearer than most demons. [4] Azidahaka was variously described as a serpent or a dragon, though his physical image fell between snake and dragon. [10] Azidahaka was a three-headed serpent, a serpent with three mouths, tripled face, and six eyes. [14] In his form as Zohak, he maintained his triplicated heads: two heads were snakes and one was human. [23] Alternatively, he was a three-headed serpent with six eyes and three pairs of fangs [16] or three jaws. [4] Each head represented something: Pain, Death, and Anguish. [10]

Azidahaka was also described as a winged dragon-serpent. His wings were so vast that when he unfolded them, they covered all the heavens. [10] Rarely, Azidahaka is described as having seven heads. [14] He was either covered with scorpions and lizards or his body was full of vile, dangerous creatures. [4]

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Footnotes

  1. Hinnells 38
  2. Hinnells 39
  3. Hinnells 40
  4. Hinnells 54
  5. Hinnells 114
  6. Hinnells 115
  7. Hinnells 117
  8. Leeming 227
  9. Leeming 382
  10. Rose [Dragons] 33
  11. Turner 28
  12. Turner 78
  13. Turner 85
  14. Turner 86
  15. Turner 110
  16. Turner 157
  17. Turner 177
  18. Turner 266
  19. Turner 267
  20. Turner 464
  21. Turner 465
  22. Turner 495
  23. Turner 524
  24. Avesta: Khorda Avesta: Hymn to the Waters: IX
  25. Tables of Ancient Middle Eastern Deities

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.