Similarities of Thought of Early People and Their Writings on the Social Strata of the Aryans


Abdul Hai Habibi


When Huen Tsang, the Chinese traveler passed through the northeastern parts of Iran during the 7th century he classified its people, living along the banks of the Indus river, into four strata:

  1. Brahman: The protectors of religion and those who considered religious rites sacred who were chaste and possessed religious virtues.
  2. Keshtarbah: The kings, ruling class and soldiers who lived in favor.
  3. Weyseya: Merchants and businessmen engaged in trading of goods.
  4. Sowdra: Farmers engaged in the growth of crops.[1]

These four classes of people lived in the lands east of Iran until the advent of Islam. Their ancient Aryan religious and traditional values were similar to those of the people of India.

This social stratification has deep roots in history, the source of which is the ancient books of Veda and Avesta. The old signs of these ideas and other Aryan traditions which were practiced  west of Khorasan, is evident from ancient times. When the Aryans went east from the mountains of Hindu Kush and Bactria to the vast plains of India where they dispersed (around 4,000 B.C) they found the ancient dark complexioned Dravidian Indian people.[2] They considered these people to be dasyo meaning enemy and non-tangible. According to Veda: “Maroot, the god of wind, blew on the dasyo and obliterated them and distributed their land and fields to his white friends.[3]

When these people were conquered by the Aryan rulers they were referred in Veda as being dirty, wicked, dark complexioned, and having the noses like sheep.[4]


In the East:

Historians believe that the caste system which is called varna meaning color did not exist among the ancient Aryans in Bactria but started once they migrated east to the Indian sub-continent.[5] We do not see such discrimination of classes in the first books of Veda. It is mentioned for the first time in 10th Veda, 90th part which is called Purusha where it is stated: “when the body of Purusha (the breath of the universe) came into being, Brahman was formed from its mouth, Rajena (Keshteria) from its arm, Weisa from its loin and Sowdar from its feet.”[6] As evident from later Vedic writings the Indian Aryans believed the mouth to be superior to other parts of the body therefore the Brahmans belong to a higher class as the mouth provides education and guidance. The Keshteri, having formed from the arm has the duty of guardianship, war and administration. Weis who was formed from the lion has the responsibility of farming and the Sudar class, which was formed from the foot will always be the working and serving class.[7]


In Balkh:

In the fabled history of Keyanids who are from Bactria (Balkh) and the lands east of Iran, the story of the three sons of Feridoon and the distribution of the lands to these three sons is mentioned. In Israeli narratives and in the Torah (Pentateuch) the three sons are Saam, Haam and Yafs. The narrative of the three sons of Feridoon is mentioned in the ancient Khudainama and Shahnama of Ferdowsi. Feridoon names these three sons Salm, Tor and Iraj and distributed the kingdom among them. The first kingdom was known as Khawar-e Khudaye (god’s eastern land), the second Turan Sha (land of Turan) and the third Iran-e Khudaye (god’s Iran).

According to Pahlavi writings, Tur was the elder of the three sons and he became the king of Tranoxiana, the second son Salm, the ancestor of the warrior tribes, became the commander of Rome while the third, Iraj, became the ruler of Iran. In Yashta, a part of Avesta the word tura has been used instead of Iranian. These inconsistencies in the story should not be considered as original. They are inconsistencies between a settled race that was engaged in agriculture and the raising of animals and rural dwellers that lived in tents in the open.[8]

The story of Feridoon’s three sons was known in the fables of the tribal Aryan groups and shows this is an old adage. Beside the Aryans, vestiges of the story of three sons of Noah are seen among the Samanid tribes. This division, however, was not based on the caste system.

George Dumsil, historian of the East writes about Zoroastrians and states: The ancient Aryan society had three strata, the priests, warriors, and creators of wealth. The fundamental castes of old Indian society were also based on the three classes of the Brahmans (priests), warriors and farmers. In the vast Iranian land stretching from the Indus to the shores of the Tigris river three social classes existed, each one associated to one of the three sons of Zoroaster. The first son was a priest, the second a warrior and the third a shepherd. With the development of society a fourth class was added which was composed of the industrialists and merchants. According to other texts, during the Sassanid period, toward the beginning of the Islamic era some of the classes were abandoned and replaced by other classes. For example, according to Taalubi, during the Islamic time the class of farmers was abandoned and replaced by administrative workers, and the warriors were elevated to first class status while the priests and healers became the second class. These three classes were also present in European lands where the Aryans lived. Herodotus, the renowned Greek historian, in his 4th books, writes about the origins of the Saks as follows: The first person who came to this uninhabited land was Targitaos, son of Zeus, whose mother was the daughter of Borysthene. He had three sons, Lipoxir, Arpoxais and Kolaxais. One day an iron oxen with a gold yolk, gold axe and a gold goblet fell from the skies. The elder son ran to the oxen to claim the bounty but when he touched the objects the gold burned his hand. The second son had the same fate and both abandoned claim to the bounty. The youngest son managed to claim the objects and the elder brothers accepted him as their king. In this interesting story the oxen, iron and yolk represent farming, the axe symbolizes war and the goblet embodies religious formalities and spirituality. This account is still narrated by the Saks of the Caucasus region. Of the three large families, to which epic heroes are associated, one is the owner of large herds of livestock, the other is a warrior family while the third is an intellectual family.[9] This is the fable of the Saks and the first three sons. The land of Sakistan (Seistan) is named after them and in Avesta this narrative is related to Zoroaster and his three sons as such:

1. The elder son. Isat Vastra, the first  Athravan who was the leader of the priests i.e. the fire keeper or protector of fire.

  1. Urvatatnara, the first Vastrya, who was the leader of farmers and shepherds.
  2. Hvare Chithra, meaning sun, was the first Ratha-eshtra, who was the leader of warriors.[10]

According to this narrative of the Zoroastrian books three of his sons were the leaders of the priests, farmers and warriors and a fourth class[11] which in Pahlavi was called Hutoxsh was also added.[12] According to Sassanid names these four classes existed until the advent of Islam. They were:

  1. Azrawan: religious scholars and priests.
  2. Arteshtaran: soldiers and warriors.
  3. Daberan: clerks and government workers and writers.
  4. Astaryushan: Farmers and sheep herders and Hotakshan, servents and workers.[13]

Tenser around 57 A.D. mentions these classes with some slight changes in the classification of Veda and Avesta and the narratives of the Saks. The people living in the Iranian lands at the beginning of the Islam period were divided into these four social stratum, the fourth strata was composed of producers and were held responsible for paying the main grunt of taxes.

Now we will discuss social stratification of the people of eastern Khorasan and the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. Among the great tribes of Afghans, who number 15 million, the tradition of three sons, such as that of Zoroaster and the Saks, also exists. In their tradition these people are of the belief to be the progeny of one father by the name of Keis.[14] It is said this father of the Pashtuns had three sons also: Gharghasht, Betnai and Sarban.

The father and sons lived with their families near Kesi mountain. The father was always looking for the welfare of his sons and prayed for them. The first son was bestowed erudition and he became a man of good speech, knowledge and spirituality. Until this day most of the scholars and holy people among the Pashtuns are related to this group. The Kakar tribe of Zhobe and Peshin are the progeny of this branch.

The second son was bestowed with strength and the Ghanji and Karlani tribes are related to him that live in the Zabulistan valleys between Kandahar and Ghazni and those of Suleiman mountain and the Spinghar range, south of Peshawar valley. They have maintained their warrior status. Famous generals and leaders such as Mirwais Khan Ghalji, his son Shah Mahmud, commander-in-chief, Saydal Khan Naser, and Khushal Khan Khatak were people of the sword and pen.

Sarban, the third son was bestowed with the wisdom of administration. The Abdali and Durrani tribes take root from him. They have been gifted administrators from the dawn of Islam up to this time. Ahmad Shah Abdali, the founder of present day Afghanistan, is a famous leader from the 18th century who successfully united the Afghan tribes and expanded his empire as far as India.

This Afghan tradition is similar to what has been said in Avesta about the three sons of Zoroaster or what Herodotus has written about the three classes of the Saks. The original source of this tradition is Veda.

Delving into ancient narratives we see similarities in the structure of thought and spirituality among the people of Asia from the Tigris to the Ganges. History portrays many such similarities reflecting our ancient tradition.




[1]  Si-yu-ki, Second Book, p. 138. Translated into English by Beil, Calcutta.

[2] Civilization of Eastern Iranians. Geiger, p. 64-70.

[3] Rig Veda, 1, 22.

[4] Vedic India by Banuragozan. Urdu translation p. 220, Hyderabad.

[5] Cambridge History of India. 1, 92.

[6] Vedic India, p. 217.

[7] Rig Veda, Vol. 1, Purusha Sukata.

[8] Marquat’s article in Iranshahr of Berlin, p 1-77, 1922.

[9] History of Iranian Civilization, p. 54 onwards, Tehran 1950. Iranian Civilization, p 47. Tehran 1948.

[10] Feridoon Yasht, part 98.

[11] Yabsana, 19 part 17.

[12] Masdesta and its influence on Persian literature, p 408 nd Irannama 1, 380.

[13] Christensen, Sassanids p 126, Urdu translation.

[14] Keis comes from the adverb kasl meaning sight. A large number of people and tribal names are related to this word such as Kasey, a tribe near Quetta, Kesi Ghar (Suleiman mountain) and kesi meaning people.