IRANIAN ZOROASTRIAN (Zartoshti) FESTIVALS AND RITUALS
It is essential and necessary for every Zoroastrian(Zartoshti) to try to keep alive the religious traditions and customs, that have been passed from generation to generation to this day. The great history of our forefathers, that glowed with a special color in each period is a mirror of the culture and human characteristics of the period
The more we, Zoroastrians, think about and study our past history and customs, we realize the more about the greatness and broad-mindedness of our ancestors and good social consequences.
In Iran, the researchers of ancient Iran and Avesta language, think that Zartosht was born on Khordad Rooz in the month of Farvardin (March 26th) in the year 1768 BC Some historians have said that Zartosht was born about 680 BC. While Plato, who praised Zartosht, gives Zartosht’s birthdate around 6000 BC.
Zoroastrianism teaches hard work: every Zoroastrian has a duty to advance the cause of human progress, and work for the advancement of the civilization with his or her useful and constructive work. It teaches not to hinder the progress of humanity with idleness. Idleness, begging, withdrawing from life, are forbidden. Zartosht teaches free thinking and generosity to his followers. Zoroastrians should try to live in freedom and express their thoughts truthfully and freely. Zartosht does not force his religion on anyone, but asks everyone to listen to his teachings. Then every man and woman is to choose and decide for himself or herself.
In ancient Iran, people believed in working and feasting together. They believed that crying was a sin. They tried to have festivals throughout the year. Every month, when the name of the day and the name of the month was the same, that day would be celebrated at feast day. Hence twelve feast days for the twelve months.
1. Farvardingan or Froodog: On the day of Farvardin in the month of Farvardin
This day is for remembrance of those who have passed away The words Farvardin and Fravahar are from the same root. It means a spirit which dwells in every man and animal for guidance and protection. People go to the cemetery on this day and remember the dead with a prayer. Iranian Zoroastians call this day Froodog.
Hindus also have a ceremony like this called Pitara. The Catholics on the first day of November, which is called Toussaint (for the dead) go to the cemeteries and put flowers and plants on graves.
2. Jashn-e-Ardibeheshtgan: On the day of Ardibehesht in the month of Ardibehesht.
Ardibehesht, (its Avesta word is Ashavahishta) represents cleanliness, purity and truth. It protects fire in all shapes everywhere.
3. Jashn-c-Khordadgan: On the day of Khordad in the month of Khordad.
Its Avesta word is Orvatata, which means health and well-being. It protects water in any form in rivers, lakes seas and oceans.
4. Jashn-e-Tirgan: On the day of Tir in the month of Tir.
The day before Tirgan day, people cleaned their houses and on Tirgan day, people wore new clothes and a silken thread around their wrists. The feast lasted for ten days. Tir in Avesta is Teshtar, which is the name of a bright start. Avesta scholars have translated it to Sirius and is named as the Rain-Star.
There is a legend that during the war between Iranians and Touranians, in the kingdom of Manuchehr, the Pishdadian king, Afrasiab was winning the war and had encircled Manuchehr with his forces. They agreed that someone would spring an arrow from the top of the Damavand Mountain. Wherever the arrow landed that would become the borderline between the two countries. Aarash who was great with the bow and arrow, went to the top of the Damavand and released an arrow. It is said that the arrow landed on a tree near Gaihoon River. This is were they selected to be the border line between the two countries.
Another legend is that during the reign of Firooz, who was a descendant of King Anooshiravan, there was no rain or snow for seven years and there was famine. After seven years, it rained on Tir day in the month of Tir. Zoroastrians in Iran still celebrate on this day.
5. Jashn-e-Amordadgan: On the day of Amordad in the month of Amordad. This angel protects the plants and vegetables.
6. Jashn-e-Shahrivargan: On the day of Shahrivar in the month of Sharivar.
In the Avesta language Shahrivar is Khashatra Vairya, this angel protects the minerals.
7. Jashn-e-Mehrgan: On the day of Mehr in the month of Mehr.
8. Jashn-e-Abangan: On the day of Aban in the month of Aban.
Aban means Water. On this day, people go near a river, stream, sea, or ocean and recite the Abzoor prayer.
9. Jashn-e-Azargan: On the day of Azar in the month of Azar. Azar means fire.
10. Jashn-e-Daegan: On the day of Dae in the month of Dae.
Dae or Datoshu means the Creator and in Avesta literature it is often used in place of Ahura Mazda. In our 30 day month, there are three days using the word Dae. Hence, in every month, there are four days named for God. In the month of Dae, there are four feast days. Hormozd, Dae, Be-Adar, Dae-Be-Mehr, and Dae-Be-Din.
Abou Reihan-e-Birouni in Asar-al-boghieh writes that on the first day of the month of Dae, Hormozd, The King with his retinue would wear white clothes and go out into an open field and invite the public to go out and join him. Thus he would have an open court to listen to the citizens and also feast together.
11. Jashn-e-Bahmangan: On the day of Bahman in the month of Bahman.
In Avesta, Bahman is Vohiiman, which means good thought (mind). This angel protects useful animals.
12. Jashn-e-Spandarmazd: On the day of Esfand in the month of Esfand.
The Avesta word for it is Spamta Armaiti. This angel protects the earth.
In addition to these feasts, there are other feasts which are:
3 Jashn-e-Sadeh and
4 Gahanbars or the Six-Season Festivals.
Now-Rooze Festival: This festival has been one of the greatest festivals It has been continued since a very ancient time. All the writers attribute Now-Rooz to King Jamshid. Ferdousi said, “Now-Rooz starts on the first day of spring – Hormozd day – in the month of Farvardin.” In ancient times, the festival would last for a month. Today in Iran this festival lasts for thirteen days.
Omar Khayyam in his book of Now-Rooz writes, “the sun completes its circle in 365 1/4 days and every four years a day is added. This extra day is called Avardad. King Jamshid learned about this and called it Now-Rooz, a new day and called for celebration. This occasion is celebrated every year on that day.
Five days before the new year, Panjeh or Muktad, Zoroastrians in Yazd, Kerman, and other cities and villages used to plant and grow Shesha. On the day of Now-Rooz all Zoroastrians prayed and gave thanks to Ahura Mazda. Afterwards, they would greet each other and wish each other a happy Now-Rooz and new year. They would use rose-water and sweets to greet each other.
If there had been a death in a family, the family members would first go to visit that family and express their condolences. Thereafter, all would go to Atash-Bahram, or Aderian, or Dar-e-Mehr to pray and thank Ahura Mazda. Then they would wish each other a happy new year.
The Zoroastrian association in each locale would arange for the community to come together at a center on the second day, Bahman-Rooz, to celebrate the Now-Rooz, together.
Today in Iran there is a big festival during Now-Rooz and new year Family members and friends visit each other and send greeting cards to those who are away Khordad-Rooz in the month of Farvardin is the birthday of our prophet, Zartosht This day falls on the 26th of March. Zoroastrians celebrate this day.
Mehrgan Festival; This is on the day of Mehr in the month of Mehr (Mehr in Avesta is Mitra.) This was one of the great festivals in ancient Iran. Our ancestors considered this festival equal to Now-Rooz Festival. Saasanian kings had a public meeting on this day. It is said that on this day King Faraidoon won the war against Zahhak. This festival used to last for six days.
Sadeh Festival: This festival is for the discovery of fire. Ferdousi in his book ShahNameh (book of kings) wrote, “one day King Hooshang of Pishdadian had gone hunting. At a place, he suddenly saw a snake. He picked up a stone and threw it at the snake. The stone hit a rock which caused a spark which ignited some bushes nearby. King Hooshang celebrated this occasion for the discovery of fire on this day.
Gahanbar: Gahanbar is for thanksgiving. There are six Gahanbars in every year It is a combination of two words:
Gahan: which means time or season and Bar: which means fruit, harvest and public meeting.
Professor Pour Dawood has written, “the creator created the world on six occasions.” Torah, and Koran also talk of the creation of the world in six days and God rested on the seventh day. This legend is rooted in the Mazdayasnian religion and shows very useful facts.
Avesta talks of the creation of the world in six sessions, each separated from the other by a period of time. It is in Bondehesh that Ahura Mazda created the world in Six seasons in 365 days. Therefore, in ancient Iran they celebrated six periods during each year for the creation of the world. Each of these periods lasts for five days.
These six periods are:
1. Maidyozarem Gahanbar
2. Maidyoshem Gahanbar
3. Paitishahyem Gahanbar
4. Ayathrema Gahanbar
5. Maidharim Gahanbar
6. Hamaspathmaedaya Gahanbar
1. Maidyozarem Gahanbar: This is in the middle of spring. It is fourty-five days after
(April 30 – May 4) Now-Rooz. It starts from the day of Khor or Khorshed, in
the month of Ardibehesht and continues to Dae-Be-Mehr During this period, Ahura Mazda created the sky
2. Maidyoshem Gahanbar: This period begins on the day of Khor or Khorshed, in the
(June 29 – July 3) month of Tir and continues to Dae-Be-Mehr During this
period Ahura Mazda created water.
3. Paitishahyem Gahanbar: This period is 180 days after Now-Rooz, and starts on the
(September 12-16) day of Ashtad, in the month of Shahrivar and continues to
Anaram. During this period, Ahura Mazda created the earth.
4. Ayathrema Gahanbar: This period starts on the day of Ashtad, in the month of
(October 12-16) Mehr and continues to Anaram. During this period, Ahura
Mazda created plants and vegtables.
5. Maidharim Gahanbar: This period starts on the day of Mehr, in the month of Dac (December 31-January 4) and continues to Verhram. During this period, Ahura Mazda
created the animals.
6. Hamaspathmaedaya Gahanbar: This period is called Panjeh or Muktad. During this
(March 16 – March 20) period, Ahura Mazda created human beings (This
period is the last five days of the year.)
We started Gahanbar with Afiingan. Afrina or Afriti means good and blessing There are six Afringans:
a. Afringan Soroosh
b. Afringan Dahman
c. Afringan Gahenbar
d. Hamazoor Dahman
e. Hamazoor Farvardingan
f. Gahanbar Panjah
For each Gahanbar, we start with Afringan Gahanbar, follow by Afringan Dahman, Kardah Soroosh, and Hamazoor Dahman.
During Panjah Gahanbar or Muktad, we start the prayer with Afringan Panjah and this is followed in order with
– Afringan Dahman,
– Kardah Soroosh,
– Hamazoor Dahman to Vieshaftad-Bad,
– Hamazoor Farvardingan to Rowshan-Grooseman, Hama-khara,
– and again from Hamazoor Dahman onto Hamazoor Yazeshn and Doroon to the
The mobeds or dastoors at the time of reciting Afringan, pick up the cup of water, with the branches of flowers, in it, and go around the tray of fruits or Lork (dried fruits and nuts) and touch the four corners and center of the tray three times Dr. Modi and Dastoor Oshidari have written that this symbolizes the shining of the sunlight to the four corners as well as the center of the earth. Thus it is prayed and hoped that the preaching of Zartosht also would spread to all corners of the world.
Fravahar or Fravashi
Fravahar which is called Fravashi in Avesta means progress and that man should aim high and try to lead a progressive life. Fravahar is like a luminous torch which shines and makes light all around it. In religious books, Fravahar is presented as an old man with a bright hallow who has two wings which are spread out and is going through a ring. The top as well as the bottom of the man is divided into three layers
o- The spread out wings are symbols of progress and advancing forward.
o- The top three layers are symbols of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds
o- The circle in the middle through which the old man is going symbolizes the world and
man’s desires for the earthly things, which one must face, o- The three layers at the bottom represent Dodgmat, Dodghookht, and Dodgvaresht, bad
thoughts, bad words, and bad deed from which man has to stay away.
This figure of Fravahar was on coins, various engravings on rocks, on top of Dare-Mehr and government buildings. This was a reminder that we are Iranians. Some scholars have called it Ahura Mazda, which is not correct. Ahura Mazda means the creator of wisdom or Wise Lord.
Wearing Sedrah and Koshti or Naviote
The symbols for a Zoroastrian are:
1 Good thought, good word, and good deed
2. Sedrah and Koshti, which are outward symbols.
Sedrah is a loose shirt with short sleeves and without collar made from a white cloth. In the front, there is a cut from the neck to near the chest at the end of which is a small pocket. This pocket is called Kissah-e-Kerfah.
In Avesta, sedrah is called Vohwnanu Vaslra, which means the clothes of good thought. In ancient times, sedrah was made of hide, wool, cotton and silk.
Koshti is made of seventy two strings of lamb wool. The seventy two strings represent the seventy two Yasnas. It is divided into six sections. Each of which has twelve strings, which represents the six Gahanbars and twelve months. Tying it around the waist three times, represents good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. With the first knot, Zoroastrians acknowledge that there is one God. The second knot represents that Zoroastrian religion was sent to us by God. The third knot represents Zartosht as our prophet The fourth knot is the symbol that we accept the principle of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.
Sedrah and Koshti are said to have been before Zartosht and ascribed them to King Jamshid of Pishdadian. In ancient times, Zoroastrians used to make their children wear sedrah and koshti at the age of fifteen. In Tiryasht, Kardeh six, paragraphs four and five, it is written, ” Oh Zartosht Spintaman – Teshtar Rayoumand and Kharoumand wise appeared in the first ten nights in the shape of 15-year old youth. Bright with shinning eyes, tall and very strong. This is taken as the age for wearing sedrah and koshti. It is an age when a youth becomes mature and strong…”
On the day of ceremony, a large white cloth is spread in the middle of a room. A light or candle is placed on its four corners. An Afringan, with fire in it is placed in the middle of the cloth, along with a plate of sandal wood, etc. There is also a tray of dried fruits and nuts such as almonds and walnuts As well as coconuts and sweets which the Iranian Zoroastrians call Lork. There are also flowers, oregano (Abshen) rice, and sanjed.
The boy or girl, after a bath, wears sedrah and white clothes and enters the room and sits in such a way that he or she faces the sun. The mobed(s) sits facing the boy or girl The mobed(s) first recite Hormazd Yasht or Atash Nyaish. Then move to the side where the boy or girl is standing at this time and helps him or her to wear and tie the koshti with the Koshti Avesta. After this, the mobed(s) recite Mazda Yasnu Ahmi and then Pyman-e-Din or Din-No-Kalmoh. The mobed(s) then finishes his prayer with Tandorosti prayer.
Dastoor Ardeshir Azargoshasb has said that it is good for our community to accept those who marry non-zoroastrians. His reason for this is that our numbers are small and we can’t let them exit our community and religion. He also reasons that our religion is based on free thinking and freedom of choice. The meaning of Din-No-Kalmoh is as follows:
“O most truthful knowledge, concerning the noble religion of (the)Mazda-worshippers, given by Mazda (and) affecting ‘Asha’ the Divine Law of Righteousness. A religion (which is) noble (and) just, as well as complete and effectual, which God has made known for the people of this world; such it is which Zarathushtra has (himself) brought, a religion which is the religion of Zarathushtra (and) which is the religion of Ahura Mazda [and is] given unto Holy and Righteous Zarathushtra (for spreading it among mankind).
In Iran when a Zoroastrian dies, they immediately close his or her eyes and put his/her hands on the chest and fold his/her legs from the knees. The dead is covered with a white cloth and taken to the funeral place, where it is washed with water and soap and is dressed in white cloth and a koshti is tied around the waist. Then two mobeds stand in front of the dead and recite Ahnovadgah. After which the body is taken to the cemetery and buried The burial has to be within twenty four hours of passing.
Burial Rituals in ancient Iran:
In ancient times, people believed that when some one dies, he/she comes back (reincarnation). Thus they used to bury with the dead clothes, food, implements, and even some would kill a horse or other animals to bury with the dead. However, other people did not believe in reincarnation and believed that it is the spirit that remains. For this reason, they would think of ways to arrange for the body to disintegrate as soon as possible. That is why the people who used to live near a sea or ocean would throw the dead into the water. People who lived in planes and vast fields, buried their deads, and those who lived near a forest or woods would burn them.
According to Vandidad, Pargard 1 -63, in the city of Kakhura, which was near Mashhad, the people used to burn their dead. The citizens of Harahvaiti, which was in the south of Iran, used to bury their deads. In the north and west of Iran, they had Dakhmahs or Tower of Silence and would put their deads inside Dakhmas.
Aeryena Vaija, which in Avesta means the birthplace of Aryans, was a very cold place. According to Vandidad, it was very cold and frozen for ten months of the year. The weather there was moderate for only two months of the year In the first Pargard of Vandidad, which talks of the creation of the countries of the world, it says that the first place that Ahura Mazda created was Aeryena Vaija. In the fifth Pargard of Vandidad, where it describes the burial in Dakhma, it asks, “if the summer has passed and winter has come, what should the Mazdayasnian do?” It answers that in each place, Mazdayasnians
should build a room for the deads and place their bodies in there until the birds are flying again and the plants start to grow and the winds dry the ground. Then people should carry the deads to Dakhmas. Since Aeryena Vaija was a very cold, freezing, and mountainous place, the Aryans could not dig the ground to bury the dead. The wood was scarce so they could not burn their deads. Therefore, the best way for them was to put the deads on top of high mountains far from the residential areas, for the vultures to eat Thus the dead bodies would be devoured by the vultures. This was to prevent the spread of various diseases. We can see that the main reason for Dakhma in ancient Iran was the very cold climate and frozen land of Aeryena Vaija. As you see there were different ways of doing away with the deads and none had any religious or legal reasons, in ancient Iran
It should be said that Zoroastrian religion is basically an ethical religion, which never changes. Its belief in Ahura Mazda and good thought, good word, and good deed. Rituals and traditions have been set up and changed in places and times accordingly In 1977 Iranian Council of Mobeds and the Zoroastrian Association of Tehran in Tehran, Iran decided to buy and build a crematorium. They built the room and bought the equipment for it. However, due to the change in the system, they abandoned it.
The Avesta prayers during the funeral are:
1. Vedardagan Patet
2. Ahnovadgah – in the cemetery
3. Soroosh Yasht for the first three nights
4. At dawn on the fourth day, the mobeds recite the necessary Avesta prayers.
5. On the thenth day and 30th day and monthly thereafter, for one year and then yearly afterwards, a religious ritual is carried out.
In ancient Iran a woman had a high position in the family and in the community Men and women worked together, and they were considered equal. In Ahmai Raeshcha, we pray to Ahura Mazda for health, and happiness. Ahmai-Asnamchit-Frazantim means we pray for a healthy child, either a boy or girl.
During that time, women learned to ride horses, to hunt, and to use the swords They could participate in hunting and war. Marriage was encouraged and a man could have only one wife This was changed after Arabs came to Iran After the invasion women stayed at home.
Now Zoudi Ceremony
Now-Zoudi means a new mobed, or a mobed-zadeh just becomeing a mobed. The sons of mobeds would learn the necessary Avesta and Yasnas and then take an exam After passing the exam, there would be a ceremony one day. On that day, all mobeds got together with the mobed-to-be and together recited the Avestas and place a crown-like head piece on the head of the Now-Zoud. Then they recited Atash-Niayesh while circling around a fire which is placed in an open place. All behdins participated in the ceremony and congratulated the new mobed.
Until 1941, Barashnum and Nirang were in use in Iran. According to the research, these were related to very ancient times when there were no antiseptics or medicines as we know it today.
In Early times when a person used to travel from one place to another, there used to be a special room at the border, where the new arrived person would be kept for nine days. They would wash him or her with nirang, which has Ammonia, and would give him or her nirang to drink. This was to treat him/her for any disease that he/she might have had and thus prevent spread of any disease from the outside world There are no nirang in Iran today.
Everywhere in Iran where there are a group of Zoroastrians, the local Zoroastrian organization plans a day of feast. This day is usually at Atash-Bahram or Adorian or Darbe-Mehr, where a majority of the people gather to meet each other and to celebrate together. In such gatherings, usually there are one or two speakers who talk about the Zoroastrian religion and its philosophy. There is also music and sometimes short plays presented by the youth. The associations encourage the youths to participate in the community activities and thus learn to cooperate with each other. On such occasions, people participate and gather in a Dare-Mehr or the like places with new and formal clothing.
Keikhosrow Mobed, Illinois, Feb 1994.
1 Mobed Ardeshir Azargoshasb, Iranian Zartoshti festival and rituals
2 Morad Owrang. Jashns and festivals in Ancient Iran
Ahura Mazda is an Avesta language word. Ahura means creator, and Mazda means wisdom. This collection means literally, the wise Lord, Ahura Mazda respectively, designating God in all cases.