Amordad News
Dr Dariush Akbarzadeh

Importance of national and global registration of “Panam”

Translated by Shabboo Goli

The importance of national and global registration of the Zoroastrian “Panam” as a model of the modern mask was recommended by Dr Dariush Akbarzadeh, a scholar of ancient culture and languages.

Thousands of years ago, Iranians wore a mask similar to today’s masks. They called this cover panam, meaning covered and hidden.  Panam in Avesta is pronounced paiti dan and in middle Persian is padam, pandam, and panom. It is a four-cornered cloth with two straps sewn on both ends, and the priests where to cover their mouth and nose when reciting the Avesta or approaching the fire. With the spread of the Coronavirus, the mask became an integral part of our lives. It may be fair to say that we Iranians have been using the mask not only for the past 2 years but from thousands of years ago.

With a view of thousands of years history of the use of masks or panam by the Zoroastrian ancestors of Iran, Dr Dariush Akbarzadeh explained the need for national registration and also follow-up on the global registration, as follows: Zoroastrians are known in the world for respecting fire; Zoroastrian priests always use a mask (covering the mouth and nose) when approaching the fire, which in Sassanid times was called padam. The discovery and invention of the mask by the Zoroastrian ancestors, which is currently needed and used by billions of people in the world under the pretext of the coronavirus, is the smallest reason for introducing and registering it at least in the list of national heritage.

The role that Iranians played in the discovery of fire and the entrance of mankind into an important period of its social life is the most important reason for respecting fire. The role that fire played in lighting, cooking, home heating, industry, agriculture, guarding proves a clear difference between this period and the pre-fire period in human societies. This discovery by Iranians is clearly documented in some texts, such as the Shahnameh, where Hooshang, the Pishdadi king, on his mission to kill the dragon, throws a stone towards a snake, which accidently hits another rock and a fire ignites. While testifying the history of fire in Iran, this story is supposed to be the basis of this story, said to be the basis of a story about the battle of fire and the dragon (atar/agni); and that Indo-Iranian legend clearly reflects the discovery of fire in the depths of times. In the holy Avesta, there are many references to the sanctity of fire and the deity, Azar or ador. This subject can be traced in the Zporoastrian texts in the Pahlavi language in the Sassanid period upto the post-Sassanid period.

The role of Zoraostrianism in the invention of padam (mask)

Did our Zoroastrian ancestors, in history, play a role in the discovery/invention of the mask? Was Zoroastrianism the key to Pad-dahān’s creation? Isn’t the background and documents in hand an opportunity to register this industry in the name of Iran, in the current world situation? Pad (mask) in ancient times, Iranians used various methods to prevent fire from being transmitted through the mouth; this was a unique feature of Iranian culture. The first signs of respect for fire to avoid airborne contamination date back to Achaemenid times.

In ancient times, Iranians used various methods to prevent fire from being contaminated by the mouth as he approaches the fire and the king. This covering-the-mouth has always been a sign of respect for the king/fire not to bet contaminated. It is complicated to interpret this behavior shown in the picture (National Museum of Iran) as only out of respect for the king. Although our data from the Parthian period is little, there is no doubt about the respect for fire and its sanctity. This has been attested by the first Parthian kings in their ancient capital, Ashkabad (in present day Turkemanistan). During the Sassanid period, there is much evidence of respect for fire; Sassanid coins up to Middle Persian Zoroastrian texts are evidence of this.

In the middle Avestan commentary, in the first para of the 18th verse of Vandidad, it explains about padam: “Thus said Ahura Mazda among the people, there is a person who wears a panam (mask), but does not have a religious affiliation and call himself a mobed”.

O pure Zarathushtra! You should not call such a person mobed.” The fire place discovered in Uzbakistan is a seal to prove the creation of padam by Iranians. Also, on an exquisite Zoroastrian artifact found in Uzbakistan, the image of the famous Zoroastrian fireplace and mobeds wearing masks on their mouths can be seen clearly. This fireplace is one of the lesser-known Zoroastrian monuments; At least in Iran, no report has been published. The author had the honor to see this valuable ancestral work from close, during an exhibition of selected Uzbek works at the Seoul National Museum (South Korea). In the picture, the priests are seen with a pad of a kind of cloth on their mouth, held on both sides of the cheek with various “elastic” on both ears. The fact is that the pad in the picture is an accurate prototype of today’s mask.

Its excellent coverage, which covers the mouth and nose well, is a testament to the care in choosing the type of fabric, its size, cut, fringe, and stitching. In the picture, the placement, holding it on the mouth and nose was due to the flexibility of the fabric and careful choice. It is believed that the priests’ padams were made of more valuable material; this is itself proof of their daily responsibilities towards the sacred fire. Though we are well aware of textile manufacturing in Iran from pre-Sassanid times, could it be that some padam may have been made from Chinese silk (in Central Asia)? Now-a-days, in the coronavirus times, although the Academy of Persian language did not use any effort to replace the foreign work “mask” with the Persian word “padam”, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage is expected to respect this Iranian invention by registering it nationally and also applying for global registration.

* “Dr. Dariush Akbarzadeh,” born in 1964, is a graduate of “Ancient Culture and Languages” from the Islamic Azad University of Tehran (Research Sciences Branch). During his studies and his professional life as a researcher. He worked closely with the master of ancient Iranian languages, Dr. Katayoun Mazdapour.

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