Zoroastrian FESTIVALS

Festivals are days of religious, seasonal or historical importance celebrated by a religious community. They are generally associated with the religious calendar.  Since there are three religious calendars among the Parsi-Irani Zoroastrians  – Shahenshai, Kadimi and Fasali, most festivals can be technically celebrated thrice in a year. However, since the followers of the Shahenshahi calendar are maximum, the festivals according to the Shahenshahi calendar are more widely celebrated.

On account of the cultural and calendar differences between the Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians, some festivals are more emphasized in one culture than the other.

Festivals could be solemn or happy occasions. In Zoroastrianism, most festivals – either solemn or happy – are celebrated with the performance of a Jashan ritual which may have a thanksgiving or commemorative purpose.  On solemn festivals the devout devote their time to prayers and religious ceremonies. On happy festivals, people decorate their homes, put on new clothes, prepare special food and visit the fire temple.

The main Zoroastrian festivals are:

NAVROZE – The Parsi New Year day. The Zoroastrian religion, followed by around 60,000 people in India will shortly be celebrating their New Year, around 16th of August. This new Year is celebrated by the majority of the Zoroastrians, also known as Parsis, who follow the Shahenshahi religious calendar. The last days of this calendar are very holy and known as the Gatha days, which is followed by the Parsi New Year  day known as the NAVROZ or the New year Day.

On Navroz day, Zoroastrians put a Ses – a metallic tray with auspicious symbols in it in the house. They anoint members of the house especially youngsters, with a red vermillion mark on the forehead as a mark of an auspicious beginning, They wear new clothes, go to the fire temple and thank God for his bounties. They eat special food cooked for auspicious days. They give charity to the poor and the needy. In the evening they socialize. They meet and greet family members and friends and spend the day in joy and happiness.

PATETI : (Wrongly called Papeti) The word Pateti means “The day for repentance”. It is the last day of the Zoroastrian calendar year, which falls on the Vahishtoisht Gahta. It is technically the day of repentance, as the word literally suggests. One has to sincerely repent, for mistakes committed knowingly or unknowingly during the past year which may have hurt others, may have caused damage to nature or may have displeased Ahura Mazda and other divine beings.  Since the New Year’s eve is known as Pateti, many people also call the New Year day as Pateti, but that is not correct.

The Zoroastrians have a tradition to recite the Patet Pashemani prayer from the Khordeh Avesta, preferably in the last Geh (Ushahin) on this last day of the religious year, and renew one’s commitment of being faithful to Ahura Mazda and opposing Angra Mainyu.

MUKTAD/ FARVARDEGAN – The days of remembering all Fravashis “guardian spirits.” Zoroastrians all over the world celebrate the last ten days of their religious calendar year, from roj Ashtad of mah Spandarmad to the Vahishtoisht Gatha, as the  Muktad. The word Muktad, also  referred to as Muktāt, is derived from mukt ātmān, the Sanskrit rendering of the Avestan word ashāunām “righteous.”

Muktad is a joyous occasion for remembering and welcoming the Fravashis. It’s the time when we can show our love and gratitude to them, as they have helped us in many ways. We have to thank the Fravashis helping in Nature, as well as those helping individual souls of men – living as well as departed. Celebrating the Muktad is regarded as one of the foremost duties of a Zoroastrian.

During the days of Muktad, the Fravashis come collectively to this world and go to their respective houses.  Whenever the Muktad are properly celebrated and the Fravashis are duly propitiated, the affairs of those people are successful, and there is all round prosperity. People are blessed with health, strength, happiness, protection and abundance of waters. The souls of the departed too come down to the earth, accompanied by their guardian Fravashis.

Muktad is a time for REPAYING the debt of gratitude to our ancestors – those whom we know and the countless others whom we don’t know, but who have made a difference to our lives. These days also help us to renew the MEMORY of our dear departed ones.

JAMSHEDI NAVROZ – The festival of spring on 21st March.

Jamshedi Navroz festival is celebrated with great joy by Zoroastrians. Navroz means  “New  (Year’s) Day” and Jamshed-i means “of Jamshed”.   

The festival of Jasmshedi Navroz is celebrated to remember King Jamshed who saved the world from a great flood by taking a pair of each species of animal and established a settlement called ‘Var-e-Jam-Kard’, “the settlement of Jamshed.” 

As Jamshedi Navroz comes during spring season, it is equated with colour and life. The Indian festival of Holi has similar significance of victory of good over evil, life over death, and comes around the same time to celebrate the spring with colours and festivity.

The day of Jamshedi Navroz falls on 21st March, when the day and night are of equal duration. On this day the sun completes its journey around the 12 constellations, and re-enters the first house of Aries.

Muslims in Iran and Afghanistan celebrate Jamshedi Navroz as a springtime  holiday.  This festival, in Iran, coming after a harsh winter and before spring, is much looked forward to.

This festival is celebrated by cleaning the house and buying new clothes. Some Iranians  set up a circular table in the house keep seven items on it starting with the letters ‘s’.

Jamshedi Navroz is considered a festival of hope, life and colour. May this Jamshedi Navroz bring a happy, cheerful and bright year for all humanity. 

KHORDĀD SĀL – It is the festival to mark the birthday of prophet Zarathushtra. It is celebrated according to the religious calendar on the sixth day (Khordād) of the first month (Farvardin).  On this day, Zoroastrian houses all over the world garland the picture of prophet Zarathushtra and wish each other “Khordād Sāl Mubarak.”

ZARTHOSHT NO DISO – It is a solemn festival to mark the day on which Prophet Zarathushtra  passed away at the age of 77 years and 11 days. The meaning of the word Zarthosht no diso is “the (death) day of Zarthosht.” It is observed on the day Khorshed of the month Mah Dae of the Zoroastrian calendar.

SADEH – Sadeh is a festival, especially celebrated by Iranian Zoroastrians since ancient times. The word Sadeh means “a hundred”. The festival is celebrated on roj Avan of mah Bahman, 50 days before Jamshedi Navroz, to celebrate the discovery of the divine element in fire. Since 50 days and 50 nights amount to a hundred, some believe that the name of the festival ‘Sadeh’ comes from this reason.

The discovery of the divine element in fire dates back to the time of Peshdadian King Hushang, who had once gone hunting. One of his soldiers hurled a huge rock to kill a gigantic snake like creature. The rock missed the mark, struck another rock and ignited the dry twigs of the Sadeh tree. Initially the soldiers fled the scene, being afraid of fire, but king Hoshang realised the majesty and glory of fire, and asked the soldiers to honour it. According to the Shahnameh, he said, “Don’t fear this majestic Fire. It is the radiance of Ahura Mazda. He who is wise shall revere it.” Later in the evening king Hoshang celebrated the discovery of the magnificence of fire by the performance of a Jashan.

In Iran, Sadeh is a mid-winter festival. Zoroastrians light a huge fire in their town or city, gather around it and perform rituals to thank God and seek His blessings. The priests recite religious texts and pray for the sovereignty of the country. The annual Jashn-e Sadeh festival celebrated in the Kushk-e-Varjavand gardens in Karaj town of Tehran province is a festivity looked forward by one and all.

PARABH – The word parabh means “festival.” It is derived from the Sanskrit /Gujarati word parva. The day in the religious calendar when the divine being of the day (roj) coincides with the divine being of the month (mah) is said to be the Parabh for that particular Ameshaspand or Yazad. For instance Khordad roj in the month Khordad is a Parabh of Khordad Ameshaspand.  In each of the twelve Zoroastrian months there is a Parabh, but in the Dae month there are four Parabhs- on roj Hormazd, as well as on roj Dae-pa-adar, Dae-pa-meher and Dae-pa-din. Five of the most important Parabhs are: Mehrangān, Tirangān, Farvardiyān, Āvāgān and Ādargān.

  1. Mehrangān: It is the Jashan performed on roj Meher of mah Meher. It is a historic Jashan to commemorate the victory of Peshdadian king Faridun over the evil Zohak. This festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil.  In Iranian calendar, this day also marks the autumnal equinox.
  2. Tirangān: It is the festival celebrated on roj Tir of mah Tir with the performance, to honour star Tishtrya and Tir  Yazad by the performance of a Jashan. This day also commemorates the peaceful settlement of boundary dispute between Peshdadian king Minocheher and Turanian king Afrasiyab, averting the possibility of a certain war. The dispute was settled by the shooting of an arrow by Āresh, an Iranian archer, in favor of Iran, giving it a larger territory. This festival is celebrated by the performance of a Jashan. It is celebrated more in Iran where delicacies such as spinach soup and sholeh zard (a traditional Iranian dessert made with rice, sugar, oil, saffron, rosewater as well as crushed pistachio, almond and cinnamon) are prepared and children rejoice by swimming in streams and tying rainbow-colored bands on their wrists.
  3. Farvardiyān:  It is the special day reserved in the year to thank the Fravashis. It comes on Farvardin roj of Farvardin mah. It could be compared to the “All Souls Day” of the Christians. On this day, people go to the Towers of Silence where the Farokhshi ritual is performed and also a group (Anjuman) Jashan may be performed. A Farvardiyan on a smaller scale is also celebrated on Farvardin roj of Ādar mah. (See entry in Zarthoshti-pedia)
  4. Āvāgān: It is celebrated on Avan roj of mah Avan as the birthday of the waters, when people flock to natural sources of water like the sea and the well offer prayers to Avan Yazad and also offer a special sweet preparation called the dār ni pori. It is celebrated by a performance of a group Jashan, preferably near a natural water source.
  5. Ādargān: It is celebrated on Adar roj or Adar mah. There are no special Jashans done, but this auspicious day is marked with the anniversary celebrations of several fire temples including the Iranshah at Udvada.

The day prior to this Parabh is celebrated as the birthday of the hearth (Chulā nu Varas), when the hearth is specially decorated with patterns made of lime powder (Guj. chok) and paste made from vermillion and turmeric. The fire censor (afarganyu) tong and ladle (Guj. Chipyo and chamach) are drawn near the hearth with turmeric paste and on top is written in Gujarati Shri pāk dādār hormazdni madad hojo “May the help of glorious creator Ahura Mazda reach us.” Some people also draw the Swastik design.

GAHAMBARS – The 6 seasonal festivals of 5 days each, spread through the year.

The Gahambars are a special set of days in a year to thank God for His six Good Creations – Sky, Water, Earth, Vegetation, Animal & Man –  in their evolutionary order. The word Gahambar comes from the Pahlavi gāsānbār which literally means “the time for collection.”  The ‘collection’ here refers to collecting Nature’s Blessings. It is the time when nature is most generous in distributing her blessings.

The celebration of Gahambar includes two components: 1. Performance of rituals like Afringan, Baj, Visparad and Yasna, and 2. Feasting, where traditionally rich and poor eat on a common platform, without barriers of rank and class. Hence Gahambar is a time for community bonding.

Presently, in India, a Gahambar is celebrated as a community event where Zoroastrians congregate for thanks giving lunch or dinner generally preceded by the performance of a ritual. The feasting may be sponsored either for a living person or in memory of dear departed or simply as an act of spiritual merit. Generous Zoroastrians sponsor a Gahambar in memory of their dear departed one as an act of spiritual merit. In Iran the Gahambars are still celebrated in the original spirit, with prayers and communal food.

Each of the six Gahambars is celebrated during the Zoroastrian calendar year for a period of five days each.  The Gahambars, their periods and the creations and seasons to which they are connected are:

1Maedhyozarem11 to 15ArdibaheshtMid-springSky
2Maedhyoshem11to 15TirMid-summerWater
3Paetishahem26 to 30ShahrevarHarvestingEarth
4Ayathrem26 to 30MeherEnd of summerPlants
5Maedhyarem16 to 20DaeMid-winterAnimals
6Hamaspathmaedhem5 GathasEquinox/springHumans

Religious texts like the Shāyast la Shāyast and the Sad-dar consider the celebration of Gahambar as an act of highest religious merit. Celebrating Gahambars is considered one of man’s religious duties. However nowadays, since some Zoroastrians may fail to celebrate Gahambars when they are alive, Gahambars are celebrated in their honour after their passing away.

The celebration of Gahambar can foster the spirit of unity and harmony in the Community. It can lead beyond the rich and poor divide, beyond the rank and class barriers. Its celebration is an opportunity for the community to come together forgetting the differences and work towards the common end of progress and prosperity.

RAPITHWAN CONSECRATIONThis festival is to welcome back Rapithwan – the divine being of noon. It is celebrated on roj Ardibahesht mah Farvardin, that is the third day of the first month of the Zoroastrian calendar year. It is a solemn festival celebrated mainly in fire temples by the performance of a special Yasna or Jashan rituals in which community members are expected to participate. This festival is meant to welcome back Rapithwan Yazad, the divine being presiding over the mid part of the day, who is believed to have gone inside the earth during the winter months to give warmth to mother earth.