King Behram V, Behram-gur – The brave, daring, dashing, adventurous, ace hunter, warrior king (Part 3)
Last time, we shared a few stories about the exploits and adventures of King Behram–gur. This time we will see a few more stories connected to the king:
1) The king marries three sisters
2) Ārzu, the versatile queen
3) A lesson to the miser village-chief
4) Trapping the Hephthalite king
Once, the king set out for a hunt with his soldiers, hunting dogs and hunting birds. While following a hunting bird named Tugrol, the king came across a huge palace surrounded by a garden, in which was seated Barzin, the nobleman who owned the palace. Along with him were his three young daughters Māh-Āfrid, Frānak and Sham-balid. When the king asked the nobleman about his lost bird, he replied that he had seen it landing on a walnut tree in the garden. On searching, the king got back his prized bird. When he saw the three beautiful daughters, he took a liking for them. After some food and drinks, Barzin asked his daughters to entertain the king. Each of them excelled in the arts of singing, music and dancing, and they displayed their skills. The king was highly impressed and asked for their hands in marriage, to which Barzin readily agreed.
After some food and drinks, Barzin asked his daughters to entertain the king. Each of them excelled in the arts of singing, music and dancing, and they displayed their skills.
The king was highly impressed and asked for their hands in marriage, to which Barzin readily agreed. The three sisters were taken to the palace in golden carriages with maids in attendance.
2) Ārzu, the versatile queen
After a few days, the king once again went for a hunt. He hunted a few ferocious lions. While the king was returning with the hunted lions, a passing shepherd saw them, and thanked the king for hunting these lions as they were killing his cattle when he took them for grazing. He further added that the cattle belonged to Mahiyar, a rich jeweler, who had an extremely beautiful daughter called Ārzu. The king decided to meet the jeweler and his daughter.
At night when the king approached the jeweler’s house, he heard the sound of a silk-stringed musical instrument called Chang, which was being played by Ārzu. He went inside disguised as a soldier, while his soldiers kept his horse whip at the door, as was their practice.
Mahiyar was very hospitable to the king, though he was disguised as the soldier. The king expressed the desire to hear the song accompanied by Chang, sung by his versatile daughter. Ārzu came and sang, after which the king asked for Ārzu’s hand from his father. On being asked, the daughter willingly agreed to marry this person who, she felt, looked regal like a king.
Mahiyar wanted to have the marriage the following morning, but the king insisted on marrying Ārzu that very night, to which Mahiyar reluctantly agreed, and the marriage was solemnised.
The following morning the king’s soldiers collected outside the house and bowed to the horse whip placed outside. Soon Mahiyar realised that his guest was none other than king Behram himself, and informed his daughter accordingly. Mahiyar was afraid that he may have taken undue liberties with the king, whom he took to be an ordinary soldier. However, when the king summoned him and shared jokes with him, Mahiyar was relieved. Thereafter Ārzu was ceremoniously taken to the queen’s palace.
However, the king’s chief minister was not happy with the king’s attitude of collecting queens, as he now had hundreds of queens in his queen’s palace.
3) A lesson to the miser village-chief
After spending a couple of days in his palace, the king once again set out hunting with his minister Ruzbeh. Whenever the king and his entourage did a lot of hunting, the hunted animals were sold to people at very reduced prices.
After a month of hunting, on their way back, Behram desired to visit a village on the way. He asked his group to leave and went alone to the village, where he came across a decrepit house which belonged to Frashidvard, an old man. The king entered the house and asked for something to sit on, something to eat and some water to drink, but the man said he did not have a single thing in his house. He asked the king to leave as he felt that the valuables in his house were not safe and he feared that the guest may steal things from his. The king went away with a smirk on his face and rejoined his group, which was passing through a thick forest.
In the forest, the king saw Delāfruz, a wood-cutter, chopping trees. He asked him about the head of the nearby village, and was surprised that Frashidvard was its chief. The wood cutter further elaborated that he had thousands of cattle and lots of land but was so stingy that he neither wore proper clothes nor ate proper meals.
The king asked him to lead his minister and an accountant to take stock of the cattle, and promised him a hundredth share of Frashidvard’s wealth. The count of the animals exceeded every expectation. There were thousands of cows, horses, camels and lots of smaller animals. It was also reported that a large quantity of gold and ornaments were hidden somewhere. The king realised that Frashidvard had a lot of unused wealth about which he had lied, so he had most of Frashidvard’s wealth confiscated and distributed among the poor.
The regular hunting forays of king Behram resulted in his prolonged absence from the court, and earned him the reputation of being a careless ruler. Neighbouring countries like India, Rome, Turkistan, Hetal and China considered Iran vulnerable without the king, and took opportunity of this situation.
The Hetali king collected his army and marched towards Iran. The Hetalis referred in the Shahnameh are the Hephthalites. They were the White Huns who had Turkik, Hun and Mongolian ancestry. They dominated Central Asia, having taken over Tokharistan, Badakhshan, Balkh and Sogdia. Modern historians mention that in 420 CE an army of the Hephthalites marched into Iran.
The Iranian commanders went to their king and drew his attention to this imminent danger. Behram assured them not to worry, continued his merry ways and went to a hunting expedition to Azarbaizan. The commanders thought their king to be reckless, but they had not understood him correctly. He knew his responsibilities well. However, since he did not exhibit or express any signs of anxiety, they thought he was shrugging off his responsibility. In fact, the king had laid a trap for the Hephthalites, and had kept a hundred thousand strong army ready to counter their attack.
The king summoned several commanders like Gastaham, Meher-Firuz bin Behzad, Meher-Barzin bin Kharrad, and Behram bin Firuze-Behramian. He also called upon allies like Kharzvan of Gilan, Rohham of Rae, and Rād-Barzin of Zabulistan and explained his strategy to them.
He then went towards Azarbaizan entrusting his kingdom to his brother Narseh, after explaining him his strategy. Iranian people and junior commanders under-estimated their king’s strategy, and jumped to the conclusion that their king had fled from the oncoming army. They rued that their king had deserted them. They decided to approach the Hephthalite king with a plea of mercy. Narseh reprimanded them for losing faith in their king and having such reprehensible thoughts about him.
The ministers did not listen to Narseh. Fearing the ignominy of being defeated, they decided to tide the dam before it was too late. They sent Homā, a wise man, to the Hephthalite leader accepting his superiority and agreeing to pay taxes, if he agreed to evacuate. The Hephthalite leader was overjoyed at this meek surrender and accepted their offer. He marched into Marv and asked the ministers to quickly give him taxes so that he can soon return.
King Behram, alert to the happenings, lay in wait for the developments. When he came to know that the Hephthalite leader was in Marv, he swiftly and secretly went there with a few soldiers, advancing only at night.
Before attacking, Behram sent several spare horses with sacks full of rocks on them. The rumbling sound of the rocks, totally distracted the Hephthalite army and caused confusion among them. Taking advantage of this, Behram attacked the Hephthalite leader. Taken by surprise, he was imprisoned and defeated.
After that, Behram did not rest, but pursued them and went on to destroy the retreating Hephthalites and the Turks who had come with them. He went to Bokhara through Amui, crossed the Farab river and the desert, passed through Māe and Mārg and wreaked havoc among the Turks, who pleaded for mercy. They reasoned that the Hephthalite leader was already in his custody and they were ready to pay taxes, so why was he still continuing the war. Behram felt sympathy for them and terminated the attack. He succeeded in pushing out the Hephthalites from Central Asia.
Behram had a stone column erected at the border to mark the boundary. He summoned the Hephthalite commanders and ordered them not to cross the boundary and enter Iran without his permission. He instituted Shahreh, a wise commander from his army, as the governor of this territory.
Behram sent a letter to his brother Narseh, in which he also addressed other seniors of the court and stated how he had humiliated the army and taken their leader captive. When Narseh conveyed this good tidings, the noblemen who had doubted their king felt very bad. About one hundred and thirty noblemen went to Narseh requesting him to convey their apology to the king for their shameful behaviour.
The king returned to his capital Ctesiphon through Istakhra and met Narseh and his ministers. He did a lot of charity, pardoned prisoners and announced tax-exemption for the next seven years. He gave admonitions to his people to be good, honest and righteous. He then gifted the province of Khorasan to his brother Narseh and asked him to settle there.
(All drawings are by Mrs. Katy Bagli)