Zoroastrianism - Important Zoroastrian or Parsi Festivals

Zarathushtra or Zoroaster, the Founder of Zoroastrianism

by Jayaram V

The Zoroastrians, especially the Parsi community in India, celebrate some important festivals each year. However as a religious rule, these festivals are celebrated in an austere manner without pomp by the community among themselves or in their homes and temples. Zoroastrian festivals can be divided into seasonal festivals, monthly festivals and annual festivals which are celebrated on a particular day in a year according to the Zoroastrian calendar.

Gahambars

These are the six seasonal festivals celebrated by the Zoroastrians to commemorate the six universal creations of God and reaffirm the sanctity of God's creation. They are celebrated for five days each, during different seasons of the year. The actual dates on which they fall vary, depending upon the Zoroastrian calendar. During the five festive days of Gahambar, the five material creations are honored, namely earth, water, plants, animals and humans. The first four days are spend reciting verses from the scriptures and on the fifth day people come together and enjoy a feast. The six Gahambar festivals are:

  • Maidyozarem Gahambar. It is the mid spring festival, comes in April or May each year.
  • Maidyoi-shema Gahambar. It is the mid summer festival, falls in June or July each year.
  • Paitishahema Gahambar. It is celebrated on the occasion of bringing the harvest home, falls in September every year.
  • Ayathrem Gahambar is celebrated to mark the return of the herd of cattle from grazing in far away lands, which was the custom in ancient days. It usually falls in October.
  • Maidyarem Gahambar is celebrated to mark the mid year winter festivals, falls either in December or January.
  • Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar. It is called festival of all souls, celebrated usually in March.

Monthly Festivals

The monthly festivals are celebrated in honor of the divine entities to whom a day of the month and a month of the year are dedicated. They are also known as jashn days. Thus the six Amesha Spendas or the Immortal beings are honored on six days in each month, in addition to six times each year in the months dedicated to them individually, as shown below.

  • Jashan of Asha Vahishta, dedicated to fire and all other luminaries.
  • Jashan of Hauravata, dedicated to the waters.
  • Jashan of Ameretat, dedicated to plants.
  • Jashan of Kshatra Vairya, dedicated to metals and minerals.
  • Jashan of Vohu Manah, dedicated to animal creation.
  • Jashan of Aramaiti, dedicated to the earth.

Other important name day festivals are:

  • Farwardigan, dedicated to Fravashis, the guardian angels
  • Tiregan, dedicated to to Tishtrya, the rains
  • Abanagan, dedicated to of Apas, the waters
  • Adargan, dedicated to of Atar, fire. Adargan
  • Mehregan, in honor of Mithra

Annual Festivals

Nouruz.The most important festival of Parsis is Nouruz, or the New Year Day, which according to one version of the Zoroastiran calendar falls on March 21st. Some Parsis follow the Shahenshai and Kadami calendars and celebrate the spring-Equinox as Jamshed-i-Nouroz and the actual New Year Day in July/August. Nouruz is celebrated as a mark of respect for the creation of god, the birth of the spiritual and material world, the elements of earth, sky, water, air, plants and animals. In Zoroastrianism God symbolizes light and life and Nouruz is a celebration of God and the life He has created upon earth as an extension of Himself. On the New Year Day, Zoroastrians visit the fire temple, offer prayers, meet relatives and friends and spend the evening in Jashn.

Thanksgiving. A thanksgiving ceremony or a ceremony of blessings is performed occasionally outside the premises of a fire temple, in a clean place, by two or three priests to commemorate some important and auspicious occasion or an important public event. The ritual is used to enhance the purity and integrity of the visible and invisible worlds and bring good tidings to the assembly of the followers as well as the departed souls. As in yasna, the implements used Jashan also represent symbolically the six immortal and universal aspects of God and the seven material aspects of visible creation, namely earth, water, sky, fire, plants, animals and humans.

Khordad Sal is the birth anniversary of Zoroaster. It falls on the 6th day in the first month of Parsi calendar around August/September.

Ancient Zoroastrian Festivals

Following are some of the ancient festivals of Zoroastrians which are not celebrated now, but important for our understanding of the Zoroastrian traditions and practices.

Zartosht No Deeso or Zartosht no-diso is the symbolic death anniversary of Zoroaster which falls on 11th day of the 10th month or approximately in June. On this day special prayers are offered and followers visit fire temples to pray.

Mihragan or the feast of Mithra is one of the most popular festivals ancient Zoroastrian world, whose origin is considered to be rooted in pre-Zoroastrian or Indo-Iranian festival to the sun god. It was celebrated in first month of old Persian calendar, which fell in the early part of the autumn. According to the current Zoroastrian calendar, Mihragan falls on the sixteenth day of the seventh month which usually corresponds with October 1, but celebrated 16th the name day of Mithra in the month.

Tiragan or Jashan-e Tiragan was one of the most celebrated festivals of ancient Iran which fell on July 1st. Primarily a rain festival it was celebrated in honor of Testar Yazad to enhance harvest and counter drought.

Sadeh was another ancient Zoroastrian festival celebrated with a bonfire by the entire community during the winter season to drive away Ahirman (represented in cold). The festival is similar to the one performed in southern India by Hindus on the occasion of Sankranti. Verses were recited on the occasion seeking blessings for the entire community. The wood used in the bonfire was usually collected from the members of the community.

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