THE CALENDAR AND FESTIVALS
Back to top of page Back to top of page Back to top of page
The Zarathushti calendar has always been an important part of the Zarathushti culture but during the Sasanian period it also became part of the religion. The Zarathushti calendar was a solar calendar because all the festivals are based on the seasons. The year commenced on the vernal equinox that is about the 21st of March when the sun is right above the equator. It also marks the rejuvenation of nature being the first day of spring and so an appropriate moment in time to start a New Year.
In 'Haptan Yasht' Ha-3, we are repeatedly told of: ' the coming of the season at the proper time of the solar year.'______
In Yasna Ha 1.9 it says. ‘I learn about and I work with the solar year, the righteous period." This is repeated in other Ha’s including Yasna Ha 3.11, Ha 4.14
So also in the ‘Visparad Karda 1.4" it says " I learn about and I work with the solar year, the righteous period, singing Ahuna Vairya ...."
The ancient Zarathushties knew that the time taken by the earth to revolve around the sun involved a fraction when calculated in terms of its rotation round its axis. They were aware that the 365-day year and the leap year once in four year were not equal to one. Their calculations showed them that the vernal equinox would coincide with sunrise at a particular longitude only once in a few centuries whereby the fraction would be solved. This event in nature they celebrated, as the Nou Rouz (New Day). This fact was recorded by naming that year and years that followed, in the name of the king in whose reign the Nou Rouz had occurred. Thus we have the Nou Rouz called ‘Nou Rouz-e-Kiaumarz’ and Nou Rouz-e-Jamshidi. In 487 BCE this event was celebrated at Takth e Jamshid making it the point on earth where the sunrise would coincide with the equinox. But today we still say Nou Rouz e Jamshidi because it was widely recorded. The Iranians, although they no longer recognize the difference, have to this day knowingly or unknowingly preserved the two different words for the New Year as Nou Rouz and Sal-e-Nou.
Further the year was divided into six irregular parts called 'Gahambars' to coincide with the various activities in connection with nature. Each period is celebrated over a five-day period. It is recorded in the Visparad Karda 1.2
Maidh-yo-zarema (mid spring) when fresh vegetables are in plenty. April 30 to May4.
Maidh-yo-shema (mid-summer) the time for harvesting corn. June 29 to July 3.
Paiti-shahem (harvesting of fruits). Sept. 12 through 16.
Aya-threm (sowing of winter crops) and that closes the summer season. Oct. 13 to 17.
Maidh-ya-rem (the period of perfect rest). January 1 to 5.
Hamas-path-maedem (equality of heat and cold). March 16 to 20.
The calendar for the Zarathushties was a tool to keep track of the happenings in nature, which it did perfectly. It had no heavenly mission and would not disrupt the harmony in nature if kept otherwise. The only effect would be that human activities would not be in harmony with nature. The calendar was a tool and not the doctrine or the goal. In whatever fashion the records were kept the fact that the earth takes 365.24190 days to go around the sun, would not be effected. The present day system of adding a day every four years has not solved the problem in fact it adds an extra .0324 days which is about 46 minutes and 39.36 seconds. Every 120 years they have tried to set it right but even that leaves a fraction ( .0324 x (116/4) = .9396 extra day) which is set right by not having a leap year in the 120th year. Whereby again the year starts short by [ .9396 - (.24190 X 4 =.9676) = .028. In simple terms 120 X 365 +116\4 = 43829 days accounted for by our system of recording leap years. While in fact the earth has taken 365.24190 X 120 = 43829.028 days. Thus Nou Rouz as recorded by the ancient Zarathushties was the only way to do away with all fractions and start the calendar anew at zero.
Even today the Zarathushties in Iran (and for that matter the Iranian Nation also) start the new year at exactly the time when the equinox occurs in nature and so every year the time of ushering in the new year varies by 5 hours 48 minutes and 20.16 seconds whereby every forth equinox is 23:13:20.64 hours ahead and so a new day is added to the end of that year. Starting the year short by 46 minutes and 39.36 seconds. Not only has the ancient knowledge of Nou Rouz been lost but after the Islamic conquest of Iran for centuries the solar calendar was converted to a lunar calendar under the influence of the Muslims. Many Zarathushties today keep on following this wrong lunar system in spite of all the evidence in the scriptures about the solar year.
The Zarathushties were even instrumental in influencing other communities to change to the solar calendar. The Dead Sea Scrolls have shed light on Zarathushtian influence on the people in Qumran.______
' The Qumran sect rejected this seemingly artificial system and adopted instead a chronological reckoning, PROBABLY OF PRIESTLY ORIGIN, based on the sun.'______
During those days every one of the civilizations kept their days based on the moon except the Zarathushties. Thus modern scholars like G. Vermes who do not know of Zarathushtian calendar think the solar calendar could have been introduced by some priests. Had he known of the 'Haptan Yasht' Ha-3 he would have made a different comment.
Herodotus writes ' Of all the days in a year a Persian most distinguishes his birthday, and celebrates it with a dinner of special magnificence. '
This shows the Zarathushti considered himself more important than everything else. The reason for this is that the Zarathushti saw himself as an Image of God, he knew he could achieve Khordad (Perfection) become Amordad (Immortal by conquering the fear of Time and Space) and become part of Ahuramazda. This was why his own birth was an occasion to celebrate and more important than any other event. Later, under the influence of the pagan converts, Death Anniversaries became more important, to the extent of replacing Birth Anniversaries.
Zarathushtism believed in happiness, optimism and positive thinking; it used every opportunity to bring the community together and have a happy time. So we have many happy occasions in a year, which are more of cultural nature than religious. Even pagan festivals were celebrated but by getting rid of the paganistic philosophy.
One of the most important Zarathushtrian festivals is Nou Rouz or the New Day, which is celebrated on the vernal equinox in spring. It is the rejuvenation of nature, the beginning of a new life and naturally the most appropriate time to start a New Year.
In 'Haptan Yasht' Ha-3, and the Yasna we are repeatedly told of: ' the coming of the season at the proper time of the solar year.'______ Which indicates that the Zarathushtian calendar was a solar one.
Nou Rouz dates back to ancient times and the two Nou Rouz’s that have been recorded are; Nou Rouz e Jamshidi and Nou Rouz e Phirouz. The most famous being Nou Rouz e Jamshidi because that lasted while the Zarathushtrian Empire was at its zenith. As such it has been recorded, repeated, and remembered more than the others.
As explained earlier under the topic ‘Calendar’, Nou Rouz occurred once in a few centuries and was the day when the New Year, the vernal equinox, coincided with sunrise at a given longitude. We all know that the earth goes around the sun and when the sun is exactly over the equator it is called the vernal equinox and that 24-hour period is equally dived between night and day. Now every year when this happens, at a given longitude the time differs by 5 hours 48 minutes and 20.16 seconds. Thus the New Year is ushered in, each year at different hours of the day, coinciding exactly with the equinox. While the Western World is used to ushering in their New Year at the stroke of 12 at mid night.
The journey around the sun takes 365.24190 days which gives us the 5:48:20.16 hours time difference every other year, whereby every fourth equinox is 23:13:20.64 hours ahead and so a day is added to the end of that year hoping to solve the equation. While in fact the fifth year is started short by 46 minutes and 39.36 seconds or .0324 days. Every 120 years a leap year is skipped to cover this shortfall. But even that leaves a fraction 120 X 365 +116\4 = 43829 days accounted for by our system of recording leap years. While in fact the earth has taken 365.24190 X 120 = 43829.028 days. Thus the 120 Th year starts short by .028, which only reduces the difference but does not zero it out.
The only way to zero it out was to wait for the sunrise to coincide with the equinox at the same longitude and that is what the ancient Zarathushties did and called it Nou Rouz and named it after the ruling king. With the Zarathushties having lost their kingdom were very soon influenced by the Semitic calendar and they gave up their solar calendar to adopt the alien lunar calendar. Which even today is being followed by many.
For the purpose of calculations let us suppose that the Nou Ruz e Jamshidi occurred on sunrise which was at 5:48:20.16 Hrs. In the fifth year the new year would be at 5:01:40.80 Hrs and the ninth year it would be at 4:15:01.44 Hrs but the sunrise would be at 5:48:20.16. Thus every fifth year it would occur 0:46:39.36 hrs earlier, which is equal to .0324 day. In this manner the equinox would take centuries before it would again coincide with sunrise and that day would have the effect of zeroing out all fractions.
Nou Rouz as a festival is celebrated by arranging a table with seven items laid on it. In Yazd and Kerman upto the 1940’s they laid seven trays which contained various items that were available to that family and each item stood either for a future goal or as a sign of thanks giving for the abundance of the past year. Today in Iran seven items that start with the letter Sheen or Seen are arranged. The Muslims use items starting with Seen because they cannot place wine (Sharab) on the table. In either case the items have philosophic meanings but are not necessarily known to all the people. They do it as a tradition. The Zarathushties may only know of the new philosophic meanings but not the real meaning, because those are the ones that have been repeated over and over again to disguise the real meaning.
Like every thing else to preserve the ancient Zarathushtian culture and custom in Islamic Iran, the real meaning were disguised and even Sheen was changed to Seen and wine to vinegar. A few generation later even the Zarathushties lost the real meaning and started believing in the new philosophic meanings given to the items, and today the scholars discuss if Sheen is correct or Seen.
With a view to the fact that even in the near past seven trays were placed with various items in them, not necessarily starting with the letter Sheen or Seen, discounts the very belief that we have today.
The real significance of the seven items or seven trays was to represent the Seven Am Asha Spentas that is the seven Eternal Laws on which the philosophy of Zarathushtra is based. It was a reminder and a way of preserving the teachings of Zarathushtra.
The celebration begins on the stroke of the clock indicating the time of the equinox. A fire, a lamp, or a candle is lit; Avesta prayers are said and then the members of the family sitting round the table greet each other by sprinkling rose water and showing each other a mirror. Usually they say, ‘May you be as fragrant as the rose and as bright as the mirror.’ Then the elders give the others a gift. With view to the fact that the equinox is at different parts of the day each year, the sequence of programs differs. In any case, at the next appropriate moment, a visit is paid to the Fire Temple where prayers are recited and then a visit is made to the house of the elders in the family, where usually the kids get their gifts. If some one among the family or friends or neighbours has expired in the previous year, a visit is made to that house to pay homage to the memory of the deceased. Zarathushties believed in enjoyment and making the best of life and any and every occasion was taken advantage of, thus visiting friends and family, parties and function continue for the first 21 days of the New Year.
Zarathushtra preached respect and coexistence with nature. The Asha Vahista _ _that the Zarathushties had amassed taught them ways of making use of nature to their advantage without disturbing the balance in nature. They knew the secrets of the plant and animal kingdom and used this knowledge.
They had learned to communicate with nature. Gahambars were a way of expressing their thanks to the plants and animals. In the past Gahambars were performed in the open fields and marked the various activities in connection with nature. As recorded in the Visparad Karda 1.2 the year was divided into six irregular parts called 'Gahambars'.
Maidh-yo-zarem - mid spring - when fresh vegetables are in plenty. April 30 to May4.
Maidh-yo-shema midsummer the time for harvesting corns. June 29 to July 3.
Paiti-shahem -harvesting of fruits. Sept. 12 through 16.
Aya-threm -sowing of winter crops and that closes the summer season. Oct. 13 to 17.
Maidh-ya-rem - the period of perfect rest - is directed towards animals. January 1 to 5.
Hamas-path-maedem - equality of heat and cold - is in preparation for the revival in Nature. March 16 to 20.
Communication with plants and animals is neither weird nor supernatural. If we think we need supernatural powers to be able to communicate, it is because of our way of life, which has been directed towards mechanism, and all our natural abilities have thus been forsaken. A simple example is the use of calculators in school. Not in the very distant past, calculators were not allowed in schools. Today students cannot do maths without a calculator. With computers doing most of the thinking a day will come when simple things that were done before the days of the computers, will be deemed supernatural and only experimented by a few scholars. Like the experiments that are being conducted with plants today, and are less important than baseball or basketball to be reported or to be invested in.
Praising plants to get better fruits or playing music to cows to double their milk is back in mode because it increases wealth. But otherwise recent experiments in Japan and the former USSR have mostly gone unnoticed. Here is a quote to prove the point.
‘ Transformed and amplified by Dr. Hashimot’s electronic equipment, the sound produced by the plant was like the high pitched hum of very high voltage wires heard from a distance, except that it was more like a song, the rhythm and the tone being varied and pleasant, at times even warm and jolly. John Francis Dougherty, further reports that the Hashimotos became so intimate with the plants that they were soon able to teach it to count and add up to twenty. In answer to a query as to how much two and two make, the plant would respond with sounds which when transcribed back into inked tracing, produced four distinct and conjoined peaks. ---- Dr. Hashimoto has since demonstrated the adding capacities of his cactus to audiences all over Japan.’
The understanding of nature helped Zarathushties to create beautiful gardens, which surprised the Greeks who have reported it and coined the word Paradise. The very description of Persian Paradises has later been used to describe the Garden of Eden in the Genesis.
Yashts in Roman script with translation By T R Sethna.
Yasna & Visparad English Version by T R Sethna
See chapter on Deed sea Scrolls
(The Dead Sea Scrolls in English By G Vermes III Edition 1987 Penguin Books. pg 47)
Yashts in Roman script with translation By T R Sethna.
The Secret Life Of Plants, pgs.43 -44. Copyright Peter Hopkins & Christopher Bird, 1972, Harper & Row Publisher