For Iranian Zoroastrians, summer begins with the pilgrimage to Pir-e-Sabz; literally the “ancient green” or “greenness/verdure from ancient past.” This remote mountain site is the most popular and most visited of the Zoroastrian mountain shrines today.
Zoroastrianism never had the notion of an anthropomorphic GD, and has felt the presence of the divine in nature. Mountains, sacred trees, springs, waterfalls, woods, lakes are thought to be charged with manö “creative spiritual energy” and serve as ideal shrines or places of worship.
Herodotus also confirms this. He writes; “the Persians have no images of the gods, no temples nor altars, and consider the use of them a sign of folly. This comes, I think, from their not believing the gods to have the same nature with men, as the Greeks imagine. They ascend the summits of the loftiest mountains, and there offer their worship to the sun and moon, to the earth, to fire, to water, and to the winds.”
As the prosecuted Zoroastrians had to seek refuge in the most inhospitable, arid and desolate parts of central Iran, they stood out by creating marvels of agriculture and lush, amazing fruit gardens in the middle of the most inhospitable high deserts of Iran. They did not have towering mosques or majestic domes, but worshipped high in their secret mountain shrines by the sacred springs and waterfalls.
The Ancient Green or “Pir e Sabz” is the most sacred of such mountain shrines near the city of Ardakan in Yazd Province. It is a pilgrimage point for thousands of Zoroastrians from Iran, India and North America from June 14-June 19. Notable features of this mountain shrine include the ever-dripping spring (chak-chak) located at the cave high above. Legend has it that these drops are tears of grief that the mountain sheds in remembrance of Nik- bánou, the daughter of the last Sassanid monarch. Growing beside the holy spring is an immense and ancient tree.
The actual shrine is the high cave above and is sheltered by two large bronze doors. The shrine enclosure is floored with marble and its walls are darkened by incense and fires kept eternally burning in the sanctuary. In the cliffs below are several roofed pavilions constructed to accommodate pilgrims.
In popular belief, this shrine is where Nik- bánou, second daughter of the last pre-Islamic Persian Monarch, Yazdegerd III of the Sassanid Empire, was cornered by the invading Arab army. Fearing capture Nikbanou prayed a heartfelt prayer. In response, the mountain cliffs miraculously opened up and sheltered her into the mountain spring or cave before the bewildered Arab eyes.
The legend is identical to that of Bibi Shahr-bánou. Shahr-bánou is the older sister and the Sassanid princess whose mountain shrine lies near Ray (Avestan Riga, south of Tehran.) Both of these mountain shrines are beside a living spring and an ancient sacred tree; dedicated to Bánou-Pars, “Grand Lady of Persia.”
The other notable mountain shrines in Zoroastrian inhabited areas of the high desert province of Yazd are:
Säeti Pir; east of Yazd, often visited on the way to the shrine of Pir-e Sabz.
Pir-e Náräestounæ; in the mountains, six miles east of Yazd; pilgrimage period later part of June, after Pir-e Sabz.
Pir-e Bánou-Pars; near Sharif-ábád; pilgrimage period in early July.
Pir-e Náraki; at the foot of Mt. Naräekæ, south of Yazd; pilgrimage period in mid-August.
Pir-e Häerisht; near Sharif-ábád.
In recent times in mid-spring, Zoroastrians again after a thousand years; take pilgrimage to the lush foothills of the highest peak in Iran or Mount Damavand (5,610 m (18,406 ft high) and perform their ancient worship there. Also, pilgrimage to the ruins of the once most glorious Royal Sassanid fire temple in the mountains of the northwestern Azerbaijan region by the banks of a sacred lake high in the mountains, has become possible again.