Zoroastrianism is a most happy religion with many joyous festivals. The reason being that Zoroastrianism does NOT cherish suffering or lamentation, and considers doom and gloom as evil, (See the ancient Baghan Commentary of Yasna 31.20, Yasna 32.5 and Yasna 51.1.)
The focus of the Zoroastrian religion is on “úshtá.” úshtá” refers to the “beams of early light, the all-cheering sunrise, purity of being, new splendors and a renewed life.” úshtá can be compared with Proto.Germanic. “Ôstarâ,” Austrōn, from Proto Indo European root *aus- “to shine, be bright” especially brightness/splendor breaking in the direction of DAWN; Old.Irish. “usah,” Lithuanian. auszra.
According to Zoroastrian beliefs suffering is FAR from being indispensable to spiritual progress. The greatest spiritual progress is made through a brilliant and cheerful mind/spirit. Since the world is full of sufferings and sorrow, our role should be to bring new light, smile and joy to the world; and never to be the cause of any suffering. All depression and gloom is created by the “daävás” or the demonic forces who are never so pleased as when throwing us into sadness and despair. We should NEVER lament over our mistakes, a hundred mistakes do not matter when with a smile we resolve not to repeat the folly in the future.
Hence, we find many festivals in Zoroastrianism. The most important Zoroastrian festivities are seasonal thanksgiving festivals; these six thanksgivings form the framework of the sacred/religious year, and it is a sin not to observe them. On these thanksgiving holidays, all but necessary work is forbidden. The word “gāhān-bār” is Middle Persian. Gāhān refers to gāthās or the enchanting songs of the prophet; Compare with Lithuanian. giedoti “to sing”. It is highly meritorious to recite the Gāthās or the most ancient sacred verses of the Avesta on these holidays. “bār” means produce, fruit, what the earth bears forth.
So as its name implies gāhān-bār holidays are celebrated by reciting the sacred verses/charms, musical melodies, seasonal fruits, nuts, food and wine. These thanksgiving banquets bring rich and poor together, and are times for fellowship, family and generosity. All members of the community have the duty to take part in gāhān-bārs by bringing some offering, and if someone is destitute, an ever-green branch or a simple heartfelt prayer or good wish would be sufficient.
The Avestan formulas of “Āfrīnagān ī Gāhānbār,” were put together for recital at these six thanksgiving festivals. Āfrīnagān is a Persian word and comes from the Avestan root “fríná;”Compare with Proto.Germanic. *frijojanan “to love.” Āfrīnagān literally means “lovely formuals/prayers.” The foremost recital during gāhān-bārs is however “Visp-e-rad.” Visp is the same as sanskrit vishva; “all.” And “rad” comes from “ratü,” compare Old.Church.Slavic. raditi “to take thought, contemplate, to solve a riddle” Old.Irish. im-radim “to deliberate, consider, think.”
Visp-e-rad is a concise Avestan text, written as a summary/footnote to gathic chapters. Visp-e-rad literally means “all the counsels/highlights” of the gathic chapters.
In Avesta, Gāhānbārs are called “yāiryā ratavö” or “yearly counsels.” ratavö comes from “ratü” also; and is related to Old.High.German. ratan, German. raten “to advise, counsel.” Words from this root all mean “counsel, advise.”
The order of Gāhānbārs is as follows:
1. Maiδyö.zarəm (mid spring; lit: mid green season); Compare Avestan zarəm with Lithuanian. zalias “green,” Old.Church.Slavic. zelenu, Polish. zielony, Russian. zelenyj “green.” According to Avestan passages this holiday is dedicated to “sap ,milk, nectar and syrups.” It falls in the middle of spring; it starts from April 30th and ends on May 4th.
2. Maiδyö.šam (midsummer); Compare Avestan šam with Old.Irish. sam, Old.English. sumor, from Proto.Germanic. sumur, Proto Indo European base *sem, “summer.” This holiday falls almost a week after the summer solstice; it starts from June 29th and ends on July 3rd.
Also, on July 1st the great festival of “Tir” in honor of the brightest star in heaven and rain, is celebrated. This holiday is associated with a great heroic archer, warrior spirit, peacemaking, justice and defeat of tyranny.
3. Paiti-šhahya (bringing in the grain/do the harvest; Lit: reaping what is sowed, ); Compare with Lithuanian. seju, seti “to sow,” Proto.Germanic. sæjanan, Old Norse. sa, Gothic. saian, German. säen, Proto Indo European *sæ-se- “to sow.” This holiday falls almost a week before the autumnal equinox; starts from September 12th and ends on September 16th.
The great festival of “Mehr,” amore; love and red wine. It starts from October 2nd and ends on October 8th. This autumnal festival was the second most joyous and important celebration in ancient iran.
4. Ayāthrimā (homecoming, lit:gathering); The fourth festival is thought to celebrate bringing herds to shelter before winter sets in. It starts from October 12th and ends on October 16th.
The “Winter Solstice;” celebrating the longest and most joyous night of the year. Traditionally, people stay awake till very late, and ideally celebrate till dawn.
5. Maiδ-yaar (midyear); Proto.Germanic. *jæram “year”, Dutch. jaar, German. Jahr, Gothic. jer “year.” This winter festival falls in about two weeks after the Winter Solstice. This holiday starts from December 30th and ends on January 4th.
The great festival of Sade or most accurately Cardä is celebrated on the 40th day after the Winter Solstice, about January 30th. As its name implies; Cardä combats COLD and FROST by making huge bonfires.
6. Hamaspathmaäδ; is an Avestan term that refers to the the “equinox.” Hamaspathmaäδ alludes to when the PATHS are equal/HAMA or at SAME distant from each other. maäδ means MID-, in the MIDDLE. The time of equinox refers to the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and EQUALIZES night and day. At the time of the equinox, sunlight is EVENLY divided between the north and south hemispheres. Spring equinox is considered especially auspicious in Zoroastrian religion. Accordingly, the veil/boundary between our dimension and other dimensions becomes very thin during this period; and fravashis or psyche energies/prototypes of past and future can inspire us at this time. This is the most important holiday with elaborate cleansing and illumination rituals. It starts from March 16th and ends on March 20th.
The day after “ Hamaspathmaäδ” or spring equinox; is called “nava-raöchá,” the new light or new day. Compare Avestan raöchá with Old.Irish. loche O.Fris. liacht, Middle.Dutch. lucht, German. Licht, leuchten, Gothic. liuhtjanor. Nava-raöchá is “naúv-rooz;” the first light/dawn/day of the ancient iranian new year.
The Āfrīnagān ī Gāthābyö was created to be recited during the five days of this holiday, with invocation of each of the Gathas/enchanting charms by name, forming thus an addition to the Sīröza (Darmesteter, II, pp. 726-27).
Almost a week after the equinox, on March the 26th, the birthday of the sage/seer Zarathushtra is celebrated. Celebrating one’s birthday is of profound importance in the Zoroastrian religion, and its importance among ancient Iranians has been corroborated by Herodotus accounts.
In about two weeks, on April 8th is yet another festival of fravashis; the PROTOTYPES of all creation.
In other articles i will address the other Zoroastrian festive celebrations.