SSS3. Ardeshir Bābekān{Part 2}

A Classic children’s story.

Keram – The Worm

In Kujārān, a small city near Pars, lived Haftavād (or Haftān-bokht), a poor but contented farmer. He was called so, as he had seven (haft) sons and one daughter. Most girls of that village, including Haftavad’s daughter used to go daily to a nearby mountain with some cotton wool and a spinning wheel, chat, have lunch, spin yarn and enjoy.  

One day, as the girls were about to have their lunch, Haftavād’s daughter saw an apple roll down a tree. Excited, she picked it up, wiped it and took a bite. As she was just taking the bite, she saw a worm. She gently removed it and kept it on her spinning wheel. After lunch when she started spinning again, she decided to spin all the cotton she had brought. Playful as she was, she asked the worm on her spinning wheel to help her. To her surprise, she realised that she was able to spin much faster and could get double the yarn than she usually did. When she reached home, she was excited about her achievement and told it to her mother, who too was very happy. The next day, the mother gave her more cotton yarn, which too the little girl finished. The mother kept increasing the quantity of cotton yarn and the girl continued to spin as much as she was given, with time to spare. The young girl was convinced that all this was due to the presence of the worm, however she did not reveal it to anybody. She kept the worm with her and lovingly fed it pieces of apple every morning.

Young girl feeding a worm

The young girl’s parents were surprised by the tremendous output of yarn and one day, in jest, asked her whether she had befriended a fairy who was helping her with her work. It was then that she confided in them about the worm and showed it to them.   

Soon Haftavād too prospered in his trade. He attributed it to the good luck brought by the worm. He too started feeding the worm, which became larger and fatter. It assumed a dark brown colour with saffron spots. It had become too big for the spinning wheel, and so a special beautiful wooden case was made for it.

Haftavād’s name and fame started spreading. People from far and wide came to him for guidance and counsel.  His entire family became wealthy.

The chieftain of Kujārān started envying Haftavād’s fame. He tried to harass him, but the entire city rallied around Haftavād. Soon there ensued a battle in which the chieftain was defeated and killed. Haftavād became the chief, took charge of the city and built a new fort on the nearby mountain.

The worm’s increasing influence

The worm kept growing. Soon the wooden case too was small for it and so a huge pond was made on the mountain and the worm was transferred to it. Every morning, an attendant would feed it a pot of rice. Gradually the worm grew bigger. It became so big that its neck and limbs resembled the feet of an elephant. Haftavād was so fond of the worm that he named the fort Kerman, which in Persian means “belonging to the worm.” The girl stayed with the worm all the time and looked after it. Soon it had a retinue of people to attend to its needs. Its food now also included milk and honey.

Feeding the gigantic worm

Haftavād extended his kingdom and also increased the strength of his army. Any enemies that came to take charge of the fort, were defeated on account of the worm’s power. Very soon the fort came to be known as the invincible fort.

Worm defeats Ardeshir

Ardeshir came to know of the growing strength and popularity of Haftavād. He did not like the fact that a subordinate king was becoming so powerful. He dispatched an army to defeat him. When the army started its ascent to the fort, suddenly everything turned dark and it was badly defeated. Scores were killed and the rest retreated.

Ardeshir was dejected at his army’s defeat. He assembled more soldiers and this time he himself went along with them. Haftavād was not worried. He summoned his eldest son Shahui, who was enjoying in a faraway place, to take charge of his army.

A fierce battle ensued, at the end of which Ardeshir’s army was tired and depleted. It’s food and supplies were intercepted by the enemy. The tired and hungry soldiers collected near a lake thinking about their next move.

Just then news came that a man by the name Mehrak Nushzād from the city of Jahrom took advantage of the absence of Ardeshir, and led an army to loot the king’s palace. Ardeshir was heartbroken that one of his own Iranians did this. He realized he should not have undertaken this expedition without adequately covering his own palace. He asked the advisors about his next move. They told him to first deal with the enemy in his own palace and then worry about others. Ardeshir decided to return back the following morning. He asked his soldiers to eat whatever they had and enjoy the rest of the day.

Ardeshir renews his efforts

As they were about to begin their meal, an arrow pierced one of the food items. On closer scrutiny they found a message on it. Ardeshir’s priests read out the Pahlavi writings on the arrow, which said, “O noble king, this arrow has come to you from the top of the fort of Kerman. If I had wished I could have pierced your body, but we need a leader like you in these bad times when this fort is protected by a worm.” All the soldiers thanked God for saving the life of their dear king.

That night, Ardeshir thought of nothing but the worm in the fort. The next morning he proceeded to Pars with his remaining soldiers. Just then, the enemy soldiers attacked and slayed many soldiers from the king’s army. The enemies shouted the slogan “Long live the throne of the worm”. Ardeshir, with some of his commanders retreated in haste.

On the way, they came across a small town. A tired Ardeshir was relieved to see a house where two youthful brothers were standing. Introduced themselves as Borz and Borz-ādar, they asked Ardeshir about his identity. He replied that he was a soldier from the king’s army and was retreating from the soldiers of Haftavād. The youths took pity on him and his associates, invited them to their house and fed them.  They consoled Ardeshir that sooner or later the evil of Haftavād will be exposed and his rule will come to an end. Ardeshir realized that these youths could be his allies, so he revealed his true identity.

Ardeshir asked the youths if they could help him defeat Haftavād. The youths pledged their allegiance to him and assured him their help. They revealed that the worm was in fact a terrible demon sent by Ahriman, the Evil Spirit, to destroy good people.

A relieved Ardeshir took the youths with him, replenished his army and attacked Mehrak Nushzad who had occupied his palace. In the fight, Nushzad and his entire family was killed, except for a princess who had hidden herself.  

Defeating the worm

Ardeshir now devised a plan to kill the worm. He selected seven capable soldiers and along with the two brothers decided to go to the fort in disguise. He instructed Shahargir, his commander, to wait at a distance, and come to the fort after he gave a signal, a smoke signal during the day and a fire if it was night.

Then, Ardeshir and his trusted men dressed as traders. They prepared ten donkeys and loaded them with trunks containing ornaments, clothes and metal pieces, and set off for the fort. When they reached the fort housing the worm, sixty priests tending the worm intercepted them and demanded to check their trunks. Ardeshir introduced himself as a trader from Khorasan, and said, “I was a poor worker in a village. It is on account of the blessings of the worm that I have become rich. Now I have come to express my gratitude to the worm by serving it.”

The priests were convinced and let him in. He gave precious gifts, rich food and fine wine to the priests who fed the worm. He invited the priests to have wine, but they declined since the priests on duty to feed the worm, were not supposed to have wine.

Ardeshir offered to feed the worm himself, saying, “I have enough milk and rice to feed the worm for three days. This way I will be able to show my gratitude and perhaps become wealthier with the worms blessings.  Moreover, you priests have been working very hard. So let me do your duty for now, so that you may enjoy.” The priests agreed to Ardeshir’s request, had lots of wine and became intoxicated.

The worm had become so tall and huge, that in order to feed it, the priests had to climb a special staircase prepared for the purpose, and then pour liquid food into the worm’s mouth from a platform.

Death of the worm

After the priests got inebriated, Ardeshir grabbed the opportunity. He melted pieces of metal, climbed the stairs and fed the hot molten metal to the worm. The worm got burnt from inside, started screaming and fell dead in the pool. Ardeshir’s soldiers killed all the intoxicated priests and guards. The king then sent the smoke signal to Shahrgir, who came to the fort with the army.

Haftavād came to know about the attack and came rushing with his army. Ardeshir ordered Shahrgir to fight fearlessly as the worm which protected Haftavād was dead. Haftavād was soon defeated, taken prisoner along with his eldest son Shahui, and later hanged.

Kerman was taken over by Ardeshir. He re-instated the old king and gave him an army. A fire temple was established in place of the worm’s temple.

In Gujarati, this story is referred to as Kermān no kiro.

End of Ardavan

After taking over Kerman, Ardehsir subdued the kings of Ahvaz and Isfahan. These developments were viewed with considerable alarm by Ardavan at Ctesiphon.

In 224 CE, Ardeshir openly challenged Ardavan, who summoned his army from Gilan and Dilam. He proceeded towards Istakhra, and intercepted Ardeshir’s army which was on its way to take on Ardavan.

There were three fierce battles which lasted for forty days in which many soldiers from both sides lost lives. In the last battle at Hormuzgān, suddenly a huge storm appeared from nowhere over Ardavan’s army. This was considered a divine sign indicating Ardavan’s end. Soon Ardavan was killed. Two of his sons fled towards India and the other two were imprisoned by Ardeshir. Ardeshir overpowered Ctesiphon, and brought an end to the lineage of Arash, from whom the Arshkanian dynasty descended.

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