Ebrahim Poordavood
K Movaghar,

The pains I took during so many long years were not for wealth and reward. The only worthy reward for me is that the children of this land revive the bright and shining days of their ancestors and rebuild the ruins of the present Iran in the memory of the prosperity of the homeland of their forefathers.

Poordavood 1952

He was undoubtedly Iran’s greatest scholar of the 20th century. He knew German, French, English, Turkish, Arabic and of course Persian among the current languages and had an excellent command of Avestan Persian which was the field of study that occupied the longest stretch of his life.

His daughter Poorandokht says: “My father was always busy working on his books about Iran. Our house was a center for scholars and students who worked under his supervision. Even the Iranology Association held its meetings at our home. But all this work did not divert my father’s attention away from his home and family.”

Poordavood was a very kind father, an excellent friend and a very compassionate human being. He was outspoken, frank yet very modest. “My mother used to say, quite often, that my father was in love with Iran before all,” says Poorandokht, “but the truth is that he loved us just as much; not more, but no less. But Mother thought that Father loved Iran before all, then me, then his books and then Mother.”

Ebrahim Poordavood was born on 9th February 1885 in Rasht from a mother who was the daughter of a clergyman and a father who was a reputable trader and landlord. He began the traditional schooling that was the norm of the day, at the age of five. At 20 he moved to Tehran to study traditional medicine, but medicine did not agree with his delicate temperament.

In 1908, at the age of 23, he went to Beirut where he studied French literature for two-anda- half years. He then returned to Iran to visit his family but was soon on his way, this time to France where he wanted to study law. In France he published a periodical with the title of Iranshahr (the Land of Iran). The first was published
in April 1914 and the fourth and last on the day WWI erupted. On his way to Beirut via Iraq, he visited the monument of Bisotoon in the present province of Kermanshah as well as Madaen Palace, the western palace of the Sassanid kings, built in what was once the western part of the Persian Empire and is today part of Iraq.

He was deeply moved by the majesty of the remains of the Persian Empire. This is why he spent the rest of his life in an attempt at glorifying ancient Iranian civilization and culture. During WWI he returned to the Middle East, established himself in Baghdad and began to publish the periodical Rastakhiz (Resurrection), which he
continued to publish till March 1916 (altogether 25 issues).

He then moved to Berlin where he studied ancient Persian languages and culture. In 1924 he returned to Iran and continued his efforts towards learning – and now teaching as well – ancient Persian languages particularly the Avestan language. While in Germany his studies led him to Zoroastrian history and teachings and thereby to Zoroastrians of his time notably those who lived in India, the descendants of the Persians who moved from Persia to India after the collapse of the Persian Empire at the hands of the Moslem army.

On his return to Iran Poordavood founded the School of Ancient Languages in which he both taught and learnt ancient languages and ancient history. He was undoubtedly the greatest Iranian scholar in Iranian languages, culture and history and was thus accepted all over the world.

Being a child of the Constitutional Movement he was a great patriot and one of the resistance fighters during the years Iran was occupied by the allied forces in WWI. He was the best scholar of Avesta in his time and his works on this holy book are considered as most reliable sources.

Poordavood’s greatest contribution to Iranian studies was his translation of Avesta in six volumes. Many authors are convinced that this translation is the best literary work on Iranian civilization produced from the Constitutional Movement onwards. This is an accurate, reliable and delightful translation which occupied Poordavood over most of his life. It is not just a translation of Avesta, but an interpretation, a unique literary
treasure encompassing vast information about Iranian culture, religions, myths and ancient Persian history.

When he first began to work on this interpretation of Avesta he was not aware that he had commenced an undertaking, a great task, that would take 40 precious years of his life. He himself has said about this work:
“My greatest desire was to introduce ancient Iran to contemporary Iranians, the descendant of Ancient Persians, thus instilling a deep love of their homeland in their hearts. I hoped that in this way I could induce them to rebuild their country. Whatever writing of mine one may come across, in books and periodicals, that I have written about ancient Iran, its culture and history, or about the languages and religions of ancient Iran or about Iranian traditions… they have all been written with the same purpose in mind.”

Poordavood’s works can be put into three categories:
1) the translations of Avesta,
2) researches carried out with respect to Avestan languages, interpretations of the contents, terms and expressions used in Avesta and its signs and symbols, and
3) articles on the people, animals, plants… and especially weapons of ancient Persia and on how these weapons were used.

Some authors have claimed that Poordavood resented Arabic being mixed with Persian. The truth is that he had nothing against Arabic; he was simply against the contamination of the Persian language with foreign words and terms no matter from which language. This was more obvious in case of Arabic because there were and still are more Arabic words and expressions in Persian than from any other language.

As pointed out earlier Poordavood was well-learned in French, German, English, Arabic, and Turkish besides the ancient Iranian languages. He had a copy of each and every book written about Iran in any of these modern languages. When he died he had donated many of the books in his library to the library of Tehran University.

The rest, the university paid for and took over. While he was still in Germany, he married a German girl who was a professional dentist and two years later his one and only child, Poorandokht, was born. Again while he was in Germany, Deenshah Irani, the head of the Zoroastrian Society of Bombay, invited him to India to help in the
translation and compilation of ancient religious texts. After he returned to Iran in 1924 he was again invited to India in 1927 to complete his greatest work, the translation/interpretation of Avesta.

In 1945, Tehran University celebrated the 60th anniversary of the birth of Poordavood, and at the same time a book was published about him and his works, written by the great literary scholar, Mohammad Moin. An English translation was also published at the same time.

In the same year (1945) Poordavood founded the Iranology Society and, soon after, the School of Iranology.
A decade later (1955) Germany awarded its highest academic honor to Poordavood, a medal being granted to him by the then German President. Soon after, India awarded him with the Tagore Medal which is bestowed upon unique literary scholars in the name of Tagore, the renowned Indian poet. Then, in 1965, the Pope’s representative in Tehran gave Poordavood the status of Chevalier St Sylvester.

In the morning of 17th November 1968 his family found him dead behind his desk with a heap of books and papers before him. He left the world leaving behind many research works as books and articles, on Iranology, on Avesta and on many other aspects of ancient Iranian civilization.


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