'Farr' is a transcription
of the old Persian
word meaning divine glory
. In the modern Perso-Arabic script it is written fa+ra with a doubled last consonant
, but originally it comes from the Pahlavi
language (or old Persian) and was written 'khwarna'.
Before the coming of Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persians believed that every rightful king of the royal bloodline was surrounded by a kind of invisible halo or aura consisting of divine qualities, which somehow made the king more than a human - a representative of the divine. The king himself didn't benefit from bearing the 'farr' - the tradition suggests that it was definitely not an active protective force, but according to the legends, a horrible fate would follow any man who killed a king surrounded by this divine favour. In fact, if a king was slain, not a drop of his blood was to be allowed to touch the ground, because otherwise the farr surrounding the dead would cause the whole land to be accursed. Thus we have a plentiful supply of ancient Iranian stories (like that of Siavush in the Shahname) where kings are beheaded above golden dinner trays to prevent their blood from staining the earth.
Interestingly it was possible for the ruler to lose his farr. If the king acted unjustly or tyrannically, the farr would immediately desert him and the god-chosen king would revert back to the status of an ordinary human being. This was crucial when determining the legitimacy of a ruler, because the Iranian tradition puts great weight on the idea of divine kingship. A ruler had to have a divine mandate for his actions, otherwise he would no longer be a valid king.
In the old reliefs of the Achaemenids, as well as those found in the ruins of Persepolis (a maginificent ruined city in Iran), farr is represented by a crowned bird-like figure reminiscent of the Egyptian Horus hovering above the ruler's head. Until recently, it was believed that the winged creature was a representation of Ahura Mazda, one of the two Zoroastrian deities, but most modern researchers agree that the 'farr' interpretation is correct.
A similar figure was also employed by the Pahlavi dynasty of Iran (overthrown in 1979) to emphasise their right to rule and evoke images of the past in the present day.