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Month: March 2016

Zoroastrianism and Iranian rituals today

 

Farvahar

The Proto Indo Iranian people, sometimes called the Arians were a tribe of people who lived together in 3000 BC in Eurasian Steppe in central Asia. Proto Indo Iranian people had formed a distinct culture after so many centuries of living together and had their own legends, myths and believe system long before any historical documentation and prior to them having a written religious book. Many centuries later the tribe split into three groups. One group later settled in the Iranian plateau, one group headed towards India and the other settled somewhere around Jerusalem. Later in about 1200 BC a prophet raised from the Iranian Plateau who organized a religion called Zoroastrianism. Iran today has a modern society with a majority of99.4% Muslim population. However it is astonishing to witness the remnants of Iranian ancestral culture still observed in Iran.

Zoroastrianism is one of the very first formed religions of humanity and in fact the very first organized Monotheistic religion. Therefore it had an enormous impact on the formation of later religions and some consider it to be the mother of all other monotheistic religions. Another significance of Zoroastrianism is also that it pinpoints a religious shift in humanity where polytheism started to give in to monotheism. A key reason that the monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism was mistaken as a polytheistic one was the element of fire.

Atashkadeh in Yazd

People mistakenly considered Zoroastrians to be fire worshipers since most of their religious rituals evolved around fire. As Zoroaster said in his Gathas or book of poets he preferred the worship of God to take place around fire that is an excellent example of divine’s powerful creation. Fire has a symbolic significance in Zoroastrianism that represents luminosity, warmth and energy, which are attributes of God. Fire also represents wisdom and illuminated mind and spiritual enlightenment.

Once the glorious religion of Islam was brought to Iran, it only took about 200 years for the most of Persian Empire to convert to Islam. While Iranians chose Islam as their faith right away, they preserved many rituals and customs from their ancestral ancient culture. Even though many of these rituals have been fading with the passing of centuries, there are still some that dominantly signify Iranian Culture. The most important elements of Iranians culture that trace back to the ancient times include the Persian Calendar, The New Year or Norooz, Sizadah bedar, Charshanbeh Soori and Yalda.

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Zoroastrian Calendar started in 1738 BCE and it consists of twelve months. It starts on the first day of spring that usually falls around march 20th and it is celebrated as Iranian New year or Norooz. Amongst other rituals that Iranians have kept that directly trace back to the Zoroastrian times, Charshanbeh Souri stands out that takes place on the evening of the last Tuesday of the last month of the year and is a part of preparation for Norooz or new-year. Fire is the center of this dynamic festival where people make bonfires up on their roofs, in the backyards or in the street. Jumping over the bonfire they say: “Zardi e Man az to, Sorkhi e to az man”. Basically it means that they give their yellow color as a sign of sickness of the last year to the fire and exchange it for the red color of fire as a signification of health for the New Year to come.

Haft Seen

As Norooz or the Persian New Year is the most important national holiday of Iran, the preparations and rituals associated with it have also been embedded in Iranian culture for thousands of years. Sofreh Haft Seen, which is an essential part of Norooz celebration, literally means a spread of seven S. A spread gathered from special symbolic items each representing an important aspect of life and seven of them start with the letter S or Seen in Farsi.

Haft Seen Items

Haft Seen Items

Iranians start preparing for their Haft Seen spread with love and excitement a month before the New Year and beautifully assemble and decorate it a few days before. At the count down of the Norooz or the Sal Tahvil moment, families gather and sit together around their Haft Seen spread while quietly contemplating, praying and making resolutions for the New Year to come right before staring the festive celebration of the new year with music, hugs, kisses and gift exchanges.

People Shopping for their Haft seen items at a lively market

People Shopping for their Haft seen items at a lively market

Preparing for their Haft Seen Iranians sprout their Sabzeh. They soak to grow grains like wheat and lentils to represent rebirth and growth. Sabzeh is present on Haft Seen and kept till the 13th day of Norooz. A clove of Garlic or Sir is set on the table to assemble health and medicine. A red apple or Sib sits on the spread to portray health and Beauty. Serkeh or vinegar demonstrates age and patience. Sekkeh or gold coins stand as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Samanou that is a rich and sweet meal represents affluence and opulence while Sumac romantically depicts the color of sunrise for a new beginning and the light wiping out the evil and darkness. Senjed that is a special berry symbolizes love.

norooz There are some other essential elements placed on the Haft Seen that do not start with the letter S in Farsi. Gold Fish are placed in a fish bowl to represent life and candles are lit to inspire enlightenment. A holly Book, usually Quran or others depending on the family’s faith, is placed on the spread as a sign of God’s presence and protection. Some prefer to replace or complement the holly book with the book of Poetries of Hafez or Shahname. A mirror is placed on the Haft Seen as a symbol of self-reflection and colored eggs symbolize fertility.

Right before the moment of Tahvil all Persians joyously wear their new beautiful clothes, groom themselves to look their best and happily sit around the Haft Seen with their family for a very emotionally charged moment of ending one year and starting a new one.

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