Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Tirgan Celebration (Jashne Tirgan)

JASHN-E TIRGAN (The Rain Festival) The festival of Tiragan is observed on July 1st, and it is primarily a rain festival and it is one of the three most widely celebrated feasts amongst Iranian peoples. Tir in modern Persian,Tishtar in Middle Persian or Pahlavi; and Avestan Tishtrya, is the Yazad presiding over the Star Sirius, brightest star in the sky, and of rain, and thus Tir Yazad especially invoked to enhance harvest and counter drought . Besides an Afrainagân or Jashn dedicated to Tir, there appear to have been many customs associated with Tiragan.Tiragan is also associated with the legend of the arrow (tir), (a referral to 'Arash of the swift arrow, and in modern Persian, known as Arash-e Kamangir) was the best archer in the Iranian army. When Manouchehr and Afrasiyab determined to make peace and to fix the boundary between Iran and Turan, it was stipulated that Arash should ascend Mount Damavand, and from thence discharge an arrow towards the east; and that the place in which the arrow fell should form the boundary between the two kingdoms. Arash thereupon ascended the mountain, and discharged towards the east an arrow, the flight of which continued from the dawn of day until noon, when it fell on the banks of the Jeyhun (the Oxus).
The following Tirgan story is also from the Persian culture: It is related that when the wicked Afrasiyab, the Tur, ruled over the country of Iran, it did not rain, at that time, for 8 years. Afrasiyab, the Tur, asked the wise and the astrologers why it was not raining. Zu Tahmasp answered: "You turned faithless, because Faridoun had allotted to you Turkestan (only) and entrusted it to you whereas he had allotted Iran to us and given it to us. You turned away from that covenant and set it aside. It is for this reason that, owing to this sin of yours, it does not rain." Afrasiyab asked how this could be ascertained. Zu Tahmurasp said: "I shall throw an arrow from here, and where my arrow falls, there will be the boundaries (of your territory)." Afrasiyab accepted it and entered into a compact thus: "I shall consent to have as the boundaries (of my territory) that place where your arrow settles and I shall go out of Iran." When this compact was entered into, it was on the day Tir of the month Tir that Zu Tahmasp uttered the name of God and threw the arrow from the country of Iran and that arrow fell in the country of Turan by the command of Lord Ohrmazd. When that arrow settled in the country of Turan, Afrasiyab took this witness that the rains did not come on account of his faithlessness. Then Afrasiyab arose from that place and went out of Iran with his army and settled in the country of Turan. The intelligence of this spread on the day Govad and heavy rains poured down on the day Govad. Then they assented to institute a festival in the country of Iran on the day Tir of the month Tir and up to now the Dasturs of Iran write a Nirang (formula) and tie it on the hands of the faithful and remove it from their hands on the day Govad, throw it into the sea on that day for the reason that the glad tidings of the return of Afrasiyab to Turan had reached on the day Govad. It is for this reason that this nirang is untied from the hands and thrown into the sea so that all calamities may sink into the sea.

Picture of Afrasiab beeing killed by KHosrow:

Picture of Arash the Archer:

Haji Pirooz (Haji-Firooz)

The traditional herald of the Noe-Rooz season is called Haji Firooz. He symbolizes the rebirth of the Sumerian god of sacrifice, Domuzi, who was killed at the end of each year and reborn at the beginning of the New Year. Wearing black make up and a red costume, Haji Firooz sings and dances through the streets with tambourines and trumpets spreading good cheer and the news of the coming New Year.
The sound of his songs and the sight of his dance is often analogous to hearing Christmas music in a shopping mall, telling all that Nowrooz is in the air. Although the blackness of his skin has been the source of some racial controversy in Iranian intellectual circles, Haji's intentions and spirit have always been well received and loved by the people.
Others believe that the appearance of haji_firouz is related to creating a happy atmosphere in the families. The New Year’s day must begin with joy, happiness and laughter so that during the rest of the year the families will continue to be happy. If the families are not happy, the FARVAHARS who are guests of the families will leave the households which may result in the loss of abundance and blessings from the household. It is for this reason that during these days there are people with funny makeups and joyful songs who will bring laughter and joy to families and with their comical jests and songs bring laughter to houses, streets and market places.
In the king’s court also during such celebrations clowns whose profession was to perform mockery and comical acts would perform their skills while musicians played pleasant instruments. It appears that this task in ancient times was performed by black skinned slaves who, with their rather imperfect and strange accents and use of rather unfamiliar expressions combined with their humorous nature, brought laughter to people's faces.
Haji Firooz was originally called haji-pirooz, but after the Arabs conquired Persia, the sound of some words changed since in Arabic language they lacked a number of letters. One of these letters was "P" which they replaced with "F".

Pictures of Haji-Firouz (Haji-Pirooz):

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Zarathushtra (Zoroaster), the Ancient Prophet of Persia

The primary religion in Iran today is the Shia sect of Islam but the far older faith of the prophet Zoroaster is still openly practiced, particularly in the central and northwestern regions of the country. The name of the founding Prophet of Zoroastrianism is not Zoroaster, which is a Greek transliteration of the name, but Zarathushtra, which means, in ancient Iranian, "yellow camel."(zara = yellow, ushtra = camel). An alternate reading is "old camel." Animals such as camels and horses were essential and even sacred to the people of Zarathushtra's age, and thus a name containing one of these animals marks a person as important. A similar naming practice occurred among the ancient Greeks where names containing "-ippos" or horse denoted high birth - such as Philippos(lover of horses), Aristippos (best horse), or Xanthippos(yellow horse).
The later Zoroastrians said that the name meant "Golden Light," deriving their meaning from the word zara and the word ushas, light or dawn. There is no doubt about Zarathushtra's clan name, which is Spitama - perhaps meaning "white."Zarathushtra's father was named Pouruchaspa (many horses) and his mother was named Dughdova (milkmaid). His birthday is celebrated on March 26, as part of the Iranian New Year Festival.
No one knows where or when the Prophet was born. Some legends place his birth in western Iran; others, place his birthplace in the east. As for the date of his birth, it has been since ancient times a matter of controversy. The traditional Zoroastrian date for Zarathushtra's birth and ministry is around 600 B.C. This is derived from a Greek source that places him "300 years before Alexander" which would give that date; other rationales for the 600 BC date identify the King Vishtaspa of Zarathushtra's Gathas with the father of the Persian King Darius, who lived around that time.
As the linguists of both Europe and India worked on the Gathas, however, it became clear that the language of the Gathas attributed to Zarathushtra was far older than the language spoken in Iran at the time of King Darius' father. Gathic Avestan was very close to the Sanskrit of the Indian Rig-Vedas, which can be dated from the period 1500-1200 BC. Recent work by Martin Schwartz and Almut Hintze tends to discount this theory, as the linguists show that the Gathas are not the work of an academic writing in a dead language; they show all the signs of poetry composed and recited in an oral tradition, similar to the heroic poetry of Homer or the Rig-Vedas.
Zarathushtra received his prophetic calling in about his thirtieth year, in which he envisioned God through Vohu Manah, or "Good Mind." His prophecies were not foretellings of the future, but prophecy in the sense of the later Hebrew prophets: revolutionary messages of religious purity and social justice, speaking out against corrupt priests and potentates. There is very little biographical material in the Gathas. What is there indicates that Zarathushtra was cast out of his original home, wherever that was, and forced to wander, along with his followers and their animals. Yasna 46 begins with a sad verse about this:

"To what land should I turn? Where should I turn to go?
They hold me back from folk and friends.
Neither the community I follow pleases me,
nor do the wrongful rulers of the land...
I know... that I am powerless.
I have a few cattle and also a few men."

He and his followers wandered until they found a sympathetic friend in King Vishtaspa, who was not the father of King Darius but an earlier ruler of the same name, who may have lived in eastern Persia or in Bactria, modern Afghanistan. There, Zarathushtra won over the king, and his court, and became the court prophet.
Zarathushtra is said to have had six children, three boys and three girls. This is not exact information, since the number and gender equals that of the six Amesha Spentas and may be only symbolic. But the last Gatha is composed for the marriage of Zarathushtra's daughter Pouruchista (Full of Wisdom) so he is known to have had at least one child. Zarathushtra, in the legends, had three wives of whom the last was Hvovi the daughter of King Vishtaspa's prime minister. There is no exact or provable information about Zarathushtra's life at court, though it may be assumed that it was here that he composed the Gathas, and the names of king and court appear in the poetry as if, in oral recitation, they were there listening to him. The prophet may have spent almost three decades there, before his death at age 77.
Again, no one knows how Zarathushtra died. Many legends, and Zoroastrian tradition, say that he was killed, while praying in the sanctuary, by a foreign enemy of the king. But there is no holiday commemorating the martyrdom of the Prophet, as there would be in other religions (Christianity, for instance) and other Zoroastrian traditions, and scholars, say that Zarathushtra died peacefully.
In the later Avesta, Zarathushtra is used as a character in dialogue with Ahura Mazda; he is featured in ritual texts and in law- texts, and great amounts of ritual and doctrine are thus attributed to him, whether he was their originator or not. In much later Zoroastrian traditions, some of which were not recorded until centuries after the Arab conquest, the life of the Prophet abounds with miracles and divine interventions.

The Legend of Zoroaster:
His mother glowed with the divine Glory usually reserved for kings; the soul of the prophet was placed by God in the sacred Haoma plant (which Z. condemned in the Gathas)and the prophet was conceived through the essence of Haoma in milk (though the birth is not a virgin birth, but the natural product of two special, but earthly parents.). The child laughed at his birth instead of crying, and he glowed so brightly that the villagers around him were frightened and tried to destroy him. All attempts to destroy young Zarathushtra failed; fire would not burn him nor would animals crush him in stampedes; he was cared for by a mother wolf in the wilderness.
He spent years in the wilderness communing with God before his first vision, in which Vohu Manah came to him in the form of a huge Angel. All the heavenly entities, the Amesha Spentas, instructed Zarathushtra in heaven, and he received perfect knowledge of past, present, and future. Zarathushtra's preaching to King Vishtaspa was enhanced by miracles, especially the healing of a paralyzed horse that convinced the king to accept the new religion.

Most of these motifs are familiar from the lives of other culture heroes such as Romulus, Moses, and Jesus. Whether any of this literally happened is a matter for belief, not scholarship. Tradition-minded Zoroastrians do accept these legends as truth about Zarathushtra. Other, more modern Zoroastrians, who rely more on the Gathas as a scriptural source, discount the legends as pious fantasies, noting that there are no miracles or supernatural interventions in the Gathas.
Ever since ancient Greek times the name of Zoroaster has stood for mysterious Eastern wisdom. In Hellenistic times many esoteric and magical texts were written using his name (though none of those texts had anything to do with the real Zarathushtra) and Zoroaster was thought of as one of the greatest magicians. Once the Avesta had been brought to the West in the 18th century, his name again became famous in the West - this time not for magic, but for the humanistic, monotheistic, moral philosophy found in the Gathas. Enlightenment philosophers such as Kant and Diderot mentioned him as a model; the playwright Voltaire wrote a play called "Zoroastre." Here was a philosopher from "pagan" antiquity who was monotheistic and moral without any help from the Christian Church! The French composer Rameau wrote an opera called "Zoroastre" and the free-thinking Mozart used a variant of the name for his character Sarastro in "The Magic Flute;" Sarastro is the priest of the Sun and Light who defeats the Queen of the Night. In the 20th century Nietszche was inspired by Zarathushtra's example when expounding his philosophy in THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSHTRA, though there is no identifiable Zoroastrian teaching in the Nietszche work. The German composer Richard Strauss, inspired by the Nietzsche work, wrote the tone-poem of the same name, which became famous in the 1960s as the theme for the Stanley Kubrick film 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY.
Zarathushtra was never divine, not even in the most extravagant legends. He remained a man like all others, though divinely gifted with inspiration and closeness to Ahura Mazda. His life is an inspiration for Zoroastrians of all persuasions, traditionalist and modern - in his innovation, loving relationship with God, and spiritual courage he is a model for all his followers. After his death. Zarathushtra's great soul attains almost the level of a Bounteous Immortal, but still is not merged in the divinity.
Today there are still a number of fire temples around the world that burn in the memory of Zoroaster. One of the most famous ones is the temple of Chak Chak near Yazd in Iran ( i will elaburate on the theme of temples in the near future).

Pictures of Zoroaster:

To read Gatha in English visit:

To read Avesta in English visit:

Picture of the Temple of Chak Chak near Yazd-Iran:

Picture of Temple of Pir-e-Naraki near Yazd:

Friday, March 12, 2004

Persian New Year (Norouz)

No Ruz, new day or New Year as the Iranians call it, is celebrated in harmony with the rebirth of nature and always begins on the first day of spring. It has been celebrated by all the major cultures of ancient Masopotamia. Sumerians 3000BC, Babylonians 2000 BC, the ancient kingdom of Elam in Southern Persia 2000BC, Akaddians all have been celebrating it in one form or another. What we have today as No Ruz with its’ uniquely Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3000 years and is deeply rooted in the traditions of Zoroastrian belief system.
The origins of Norouz has been associated with a number of historical concepts, the Zoroastrian Religious, a mean for an agrarian celebration, and kings Jamshid.
Zoroastrian Religion was the religion of Ancient Persia before the advent of Islam 1400 years ago. It is known as the mother religion in the area. The familiar concepts of Hell, Heaven, Resurrection, coming of the Messiah, individual and last judgment were for the first time incorporated into this belief system. They still exist in Judo-Christian and Islamic traditions. In order to understand No Ruz we have to know about Zoroastrians’ cosmology. These people believed in two primal forces. In their ancient text, Bundahishn foundation of creation, we read that The Lord of Wisdom residing in the eternal light was not God. He created all that was good and became God. The Hostile Spirit, Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), residing in the eternal darkness created all that was bad and became the Hostile Spirit (The word anger in English comes from the same origin).
Everything that produced life, protected and enriched it was regarded as good. This included all forces of nature beneficial to humans. Earth, waters, sky, animals, plants were all good. Justice, honesty, peace, health, beauty, joy and happiness were regarded as belonging to the good forces. All that threatened life and created disorder belonged to the hostile spirits. In order to protect his creations the Lord of Wisdom also created six holy immortals, Amesha Spenta one for each creation. Khashtra (Sharivar), the protector of sky, Asha-Vahishta (Ordibehesht) protected fire. Vahu Manah (Bahman) for all animals, Haurvatat (Khordad) protected all waters, Spenta Armaiti (Esphand) a female deity protector of mother earth and Ameratat (Amurdad) supported all plant life. Ahura Mazda himself became the protector of all humans and the holy fire. There was one problem with this material world, it did not have a life cycle. The sun did not move. There were no days or nights and no seasons. The three prototypes of life were sacrificed. From the plant came the seeds of all plants. The bull produced all animals and from the human came the first male and female. The rest of the humanity was created from their union. The cycle of life started. Sun moved, there was day, night and the seasons. This was called the first No Ruz.
The oldest archaeological record for No Ruz celebration comes from the Achaemenian (Hakhamaneshi) period over 2500 years ago.
What we have today as No Ruz goes back to the Sassanid period. They were the last great Persian Empire before the advent of Islam 1400 years ago. Their celebrations would start five days prior to the New Year. They believed the guardian angles (Fourohars) would come down to earth within these five days to visit their human counter parts. A major spring-cleaning was carried out to welcome them with feasts and celebrations. Bon fires would be set on rooftops at night to indicate to the guardian angles that humans were ready to receive them. This was called Suri Festival.
It may be safely assumed, however, that the Now Ruz festival, essentially an agrarian celebration. owes its origin, at least in part, to the fertility cult, so common among the ancient Near and Middle Eastern nations. Some of the customs observed at Now Ruz are reminiscent of Babylonian Zagmuk. The growing of sabzeh (fresh green roots), which are later thrown into water, particularly brings to mind the Syrian cult of Adonis. But it is the Ancient and Zoroastrian Persia which provides the background for most of the customs and ceremonies of Now Ruz.
Also, the origin of Now Ruz has been traditionally attributed to Jamshid, the mightiest and the most glorious of the legendary kings of Persia. The legend is recorded by the celebrated historians Tabari and Biruni, as well as by Ferdowsi. One version says that after Jamshid had taught his people the art of building, weaving, mining and making arms, and devided them into four appropriate classes, he then set out to conquer the demon hosts. Then he defeated and reduced to hard labour for the benefit of men. Next he ordered the demons to build him a special crystal carriage. When it was ready, he entered the carriage and, to the joy and amazement of all the people, the demons lifted it into the air and Jamshid rode thus from Demavand to Babylon. The day was called Now Ruz (the New Day) and was made an annual celebration.
Modern Iranians still carry out the spring-cleaning and celebrate Wednesday Suri.
Bon fires are made and all people will jump over the fire on the last Tuesday of the year. This is a purification rite and Iranians believe by going over the fire they will get rid of all their illnesses and misfortunes. Wednesday Suri did not exist before Islam and very likely is a combination of more than one ritual to make it last.

Haft Seen:
A few days prior to the New Year, a special cover is spread on to the Persian carpet or on a table in every Persian household. This ceremonial table is called cloth of seven dishes, (each one beginning with the Persian letter Sinn). The number seven has been sacred in Iran since the ancient times, and the seven dishes stand for the seven angelic heralds of life-rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience, and beauty.

The symbolic dishes consist of (haftseen, 7S's) :

1. Sabzeh or sprouts, usually wheat or lentil representing rebirth.
2. Samanu is a pudding in which common wheat sprouts are transformed and given new life as a sweet, creamy pudding and represents the ultimate sophistication of Persian cooking.
3. Seeb means apple and represents health and beauty.
4. Senjed the sweet, dry fruit of the Lotus tree, represents love. It has been said that when lotus tree is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to all else.
5. Seer which is garlic in Persian, represents medicine.
6. Somaq sumac berries, represent the color of sunrise; with the appearance of the sun Good conquers Evil.
7. Serkeh or vinegar, represents age and patience.

To reconfirm all hopes and wishes expressed by the traditional foods, other elements and symbols are also on the sofreh:
1. a few coins placed on the sofreh represent prosperity and wealth;
2. a basket of painted eggs represents fertility.
3. a Seville orange floating in a bowl of water represents the earth floating in space.
4. a goldfish in a bowl represents life and the end of astral year-picas.
5. a flask of rose water known for its magical cleansing power, is also included on the tablecloth. Nearby is a brazier for burning wild rue ,a sacred herb whose smoldering fumes ward off evil spirits.
6. A pot of flowering hyacinth or narcissus is also set on the sofreh.
7. A mirror which represents the images and reflections of Creation as we celebrate anew the ancient Persian traditions and beliefs that creation took place on the first day of spring.
8. On either side of the mirror are two candlesticks holding a flickering candle for each child in the family. The candles represent enlightenment and happiness.
Also see Sizdah Bedar.