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Thread: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

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    Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Hi,

    In Avestan (Aban yasht 30:129) for describing Anahiti, it says she wore a garment made of bawra fur. This word appears in Menog-i-khrad (also as Pahl. water baprak) as a sacred animal killing of whom is a great sin. Originally meaning brown, Bawra is a root-cognate of beaver, as it is translated as beaver in English and Persian Avestas.Two problems are here:

    First, it seems beaver had never lived in (greater Iran). Its habitat is more in Northern steps. Therefore, such a command "not to kill it" is out f place.
    Second, Iranians were familiar with beaver's castoreum, calling it in NPers gond-e-bidester. This indicates that they have probably seen the animal.

    Considering the Zoroasterian zoology was not a big deal, can the original bawra in Avesta mean "otter" (considering its "brown" skin is more valuable)? And later Iranian have confused it when seeing beavers (with its so-called medical castoreum)?
    Last edited by Treaty; 11th March 2013 at 2:09 PM.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    baβra- (old transliteration bawra-) is assumed to mean “beaver” mainly on the basis of the IE (specifically: Germanic) etymology. The textual attestations do not really make it clear what animal it is.

    Quote Originally Posted by Treaty View Post
    it seems beaver had never lived in (greater Iran). Its habitat is more in Northern steps. Therefore, such a command "not to kill it" is out f place.

    We do not actually know when and where the Avestan texts where composed, but most scholars assume that it was very much to the north of “greater Iran”.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    I wondered about this, because I'd read a web article that used this debate (beaver's habitat, originally by Ghirshmann) for understanding Avestan geography.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Treaty View Post

    First, it seems beaver had never lived in (greater Iran). Its habitat is more in Northern steps.
    How can beavers live in the steppes when it needs plenty of flowing water, mostly in small rivers and streams? Aren't the steppes rather poorly equipped with running water?

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    I have so far drafted it in my dictionary as follows:
    71 бо́бр bóbr babhru बभ्रु
    bobr beaver deep-brown, reddish-brown, tawny; a reddish-brown animal
    A generally accepted common I.E. word. Compare AV bawri, bawra, O.H.G bibar, GER biber, SW bäver, LAT fiver (Vasmer, 1,180-181). It is unclear whether this name derives from its red-brown colour, or the red-brown colour came to be called so after this animal (see бур bur). In SA the primarily meaning is ‘deep-brown, reddish-brown, tawny’ while the meaning ‘a reddish-brown animal’ appears secondary. Traditionally, it is also reconstructed as *bhe-bhru- ‘brown’. Derksen (2008, 34) reluctantly supports this view but Trubačev (1974, 146), while admitting the antiquity of this word, prefers not to derive it directly from the brown colour. Instead he cautiously mentioned an attempt to explain its semantics through SA bharv भर्व् ‘to chew, devour, eat; to injure’ which is rather plausible. However, native grammarians tended to connect bharv भर्व् to the root bhṛ भृ ‘to bear, carry’. Its reduplicated derivative babhri बभ्रि ‘bearing, carrying’ is indeed stinkingly similar and appears particularly suitable to explain the Avestan bawri, bawra. It should also be kept in mind that beavers are best known for their natural habit to construct huge nests and river dams. They spend most of their active life carrying large quantities of wood. Therefore, the meaning ‘brown‘ could be a secondary derivative. Despite the semantic difficulties his word is a good example of the variation of vowels from /o/ in RU and some other Slavonic languages to /a/ in SA and SRB, /e/ in LT and LV, /i/ in UA. O.RU бебръ, бобръ; UA бiбр; бе́бер, BG бъ́бър, бо́бър, бе́бер; SRB да̏бар; SLO bóbǝr, bébǝr, brébǝr; CZ bobr, PL bóbr, U.LU bobr, bě́br; L.LU bober, bobεr; O.PR bebrus; LT bebras, bebrùs; LV bebrs. GILF, 47, VAS; ILE; CHO 5
    Last edited by Dhira Simha; 11th March 2013 at 10:08 PM.
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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Jamin View Post
    How can beavers live in the steppes when it needs plenty of flowing water, mostly in small rivers and streams? Aren't the steppes rather poorly equipped with running water?
    Yes they need water and wood (and cool weather). But, in past much of current steppes in Kazakh-Russian border were more vegetated and taiga-like. So their habitat was much vaster than what we have now.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    She could have bought the garment -- why do you think the animal was endemic to the region (I mean traded it). It will be a beaver, not an otter -- both animals need a lot of water, and a colder climate. She could have just gotten it from somewhere else. Otter comes from wodr* in PIE. Was it a sacred animal in the Zoroastrian religion?

    Added: I think dogs were sacred in Zoroastrianism, and any "gentle animal", so in this sense all animals of a more gentle nature were sacred. Killing with joy was also considered something forbidden. The animals did not even have to live in the region to be considered sacred -- maybe all fury animals were considered sacred, or even all animals. Animal sacrifice was forbidden.
    Last edited by LilianaB; 12th March 2013 at 1:48 PM.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Quote Originally Posted by LilianaB View Post
    She could have bought the garment -- why do you think the animal was endemic to the region (I mean traded it). It will be a beaver, not an otter -- both animals need a lot of water, and a colder climate. She could have just gotten it from somewhere else. Otter comes from wodra* in PIE. Was it a sacred animal in the Zoroastrian religion?

    Added: I think dogs were sacred in Zoroastrianism, and any "gentle animal", so in this sense all animals of a more gentle nature were sacred. Killing with joy was also considered something forbidden. The animals did not even have to live in the region to be considered sacred -- maybe all fury animals were considered sacred, or even all animals. Animal sacrifice was forbidden.
    I cannot imagine the goddess of water buying the fur of an animal of her own territory.
    In Avesta all carnivorous mammals not belonging to cat and bear families were considered dogs (still in Persian we say "water-dog" for beaver). Therefore both otter and beaver were sacred.
    In Vendidad 14:1, it seems the word udra (as you said PIE wodra) is translated as otter.
    Maybe because Anahita was a symbol of water (coldness) it was associated with beaver that is an aquatic animal from a cold habitat.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Just another idea, can bawra be related to babr (and Pahlavi bopar = tiger)? Its skin is also beautiful. Besides tigers were endemic to Iran (near Caspian sea).

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Hi. I did not realize she was a goddess -- I thought she was a queen. They are both water animals -- and otter is definitely considered a dog in many languages, as well, or at least the male is called a dog, even in English. Yes, udra is the word (Lithunaian udra, Polish Wydra) Why were you concerned that a beaver should really be an otter to fit the myhtology -- they are both gentle water animals, and thus most likely considered sacred. If an otter can live in Iran, or could in the past, beaver could live there as well -- they require similar conditions, except beavers like trees -- to chew on. There are also sea otters, but their name would be also more similar to udra (just modified). The word water apparently comes wrom otter.

    Going back to your tiger theory -- bars is a tiger in Tatar -- Aq bars is a snow leopard. I am not sure from which word these two are derived.
    Last edited by LilianaB; 12th March 2013 at 9:45 AM.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Apologies: beaver is not carnivorous though it's considered a dog.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Hi, Liliana, Tatar bars seems to derive from or at least be related to Old Turkic jolbars < Proto-Turkic *jolbars "panther, leopard, tiger".
    Regarding Avestan bawra: Since Iranian and Indo-Aryan are closely related, why don't we assume that the meaning of Iranian bawra would be closer to Sanskrit बभ्रु bábru "mongoose; ichneumon"?
    Last edited by Skatinginbc; 12th March 2013 at 10:57 AM.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Treaty View Post
    Just another idea, can bawra be related to babr (and Pahlavi bopar = tiger)? Its skin is also beautiful. Besides tigers were endemic to Iran (near Caspian sea).
    I think Avestan baβra- is cognate to Sanskrit babhru- and the English brown and beaver. So, it would be unrelated to babr in my opinion. The latter might be a possible cognate to the Sanskrit vyaaghra- "tiger". But this could be an outdated etymology.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Quote Originally Posted by LilianaB View Post
    The word water apparently comes wrom otter.
    No, they're actually cognates. They're both derived from a PIE root that meant water.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Hi, yes -- that must have been what I meant. I think they come from *wodr.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Treaty View Post
    In Vendidad 14:1, it seems the word udra (as you said PIE wodra) is translated as otter.
    You are right. Vendidad mentions both baβra- and udra- as two different animals, so presumably “beaver” and “otter”. And the latter does indeed belong to the same root as “water” etc.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    The animals themselves don't belong to the same families although they both love water -- beavers are rodents (the biggest rodents, or some of the biggest) -- otters are not. And, I think you meant the former, fdb, not the latter.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Is there a remote possibility that this bawra could be related with buğra which means "camel" and also "spirit horse" in Turkic?

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Quote Originally Posted by ancalimon View Post
    Is there a remote possibility that this bawra could be related with buğra which means "camel" and also "spirit horse" in Turkic?
    I don't even remotely think so. Apart from linguistic difference, Avestan bawra is related to water while camel and horse are not.

    About tiger (babr), there are two interesting points: the only place where it lived in Iran was around Caspian sea. However, a word for it in Mazeruni dialect (south of Caspian) is "red lion" (sorxe shir). This suggests babr was probably first used to indicate the colour of its skin (it is more reddish and brown than any other big cats of Iran. Bawr and boor are still used in Persian for blonde and brown).

    Another (third) point is that tiger is the only big cat (shir) that demonstrates its skill in water (although this point is not proven for the extinct Caspian tigers). However, this is unlikely to make confusion between beaver and tiger even for someone who has never seen a beaver.
    Last edited by Treaty; 13th March 2013 at 1:37 AM.

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    Re: Avestan "bawra" = beaver or otter?

    Turkish word for beaver is Kunduz. Kunduz River is a tributary of the Amu Darya. Amu Darya (Oxus) Valley was a main hub of ancient Aryans. The Eurasian beaver has been hunted to near-extinction. Are we sure that there was no beaver along the Oxus in ancient times?

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