Persian Proverb: Karmas

My grandmother used to have a wealth of Persian proverbs that she would tell me and my other cousins in both Farsi and in English. It was a way for her to help instill within us moral and social lessons but also a way to facilitate language learning; for her she was practicing her English, while for my cousins and I, it was a way for use to get more exposure listening and speaking Farsi. There were seemingly endless proverbs that she would have on hand at any given moment to meet the unique circumstances of a situation, which I thought was quite comedic. Still, there is one that I would like to include in this collection because it is the only one I can remember that relates back to ancient folktales, one about the richness of the Tigris River.

The proverb my grandmother would say is, “give charity to the river Tigris, God will return that charity in the barren desert.” Essentially it is stating that one when puts effort or kindness into certain situations, that effort and kindness is likely to return to them at another time, kind of like the idea of karma coming back to return the energy one puts out into the universe through one’s deeds. In English, it is typically states as “what goes around comes around.” I wanted to find the actual translation of this into Farsai and found a site that had a similar one. It reads to niki mikon o dar dejle andāz ke izad dar biyābānat dahad bāz, or the literal translation of “you toss charity in the Tigris, and God shall return it in the desert.”

Although the proverb itself speaks of a monotheist God, for my family we assumed it was the Hebrew God, but it is also interpreted as the Christian God or Allah in Islam. However, the mentioning of the divine origins of the Tigris River actually harkens back to ancient Sumerian and Hittite folktales and mythology. The Tigris River is supposed to be an extension of the early pagan gods, with the Hittite culture believing it was actually a god in and of itself. Through good acts that pleased the god, the river would provide enough water for good farming seasons. Yet, if the people displeased the god, the river would enter into a period of drought or flooding, either one would bring destruction and instability to the population. This folktale does border on more of religious mythology, but I find that its survival through the ages has allowed it to transcend the dogma of a single religion. Instead, it has entered into the realm of folk mythology because even as the ancient religions faded away, there was still a connection to pleasing some force in order to receive positive results from the river.

Source: University of Texas at Austin. “Proverbs & Maxims.”