Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mehregan


Mehregan or Jashn’e Mehregan is a Zoroastrian and Iranian festival celebrated in honor of Mithra, the divinity of covenant, and hence of interpersonal relationships such as friendship, affection and love. Mehregan falls on the 196th day of the calendar year.


There are many accounts to the beginning of Mehregan:
  • Avestan texts divide the Iranian year into two equal parts or seasons. The first season was summer and the second was winter. The coming of the two seasons would be celebrated through, Norouz and Mehregan. It is celebrated on the 16th of the seventh month (Mehr) at the time of the harvest festivals and beginning of the winter. This feast would be celebrated for 6 days, starting on the 16th the "Mehr Ruz" and ending on the 21st known as "Raam Ruz". The first day was called "Mehregan'e Khord" and the last day "Mehregan'e Bozorg". In these days farmers had taken their harvest and they could pray God for it and relax.
  • Ancient Iranian's calendar had 12 months and each month contained 30 days. Each day had its own name and 12 days in each month had month's names as Farvadin ,Ordibehesht, Khordad,...and Iranians celebrated the day which its name was like the month's name, such as 19th of Farvardin and 2nd of Ordibehesht and 4th of Khordad...The name of 16th day of month was Mehr, so they celebrated this day as Mehregan. Now in our new calendar 6 first months of year have 31 days so Mehregan has come 6 days earlier, at 10th of Mehr.
  • Mehr day is mentioned as the day when the first male and female, Mashi and Mashiane were created from Gayo-maretan . Ancient Iranians believed, Mashi & Mashiane asked God to change them from plant to human shape, and God accepted their wish in such a day.
  • Fourth, Fereydoon's victory over Azydahak (Zahhak in king's letter) happened on this day. Mehregan is a day of victory when Angels helped Fereydoon and Kaveh become victorious over Zahhak. They imprisoned him in the Damavand Mountain where he died from his wounds 6 days later.

In a non-Zoroastrian context, where Mehr-Mithra is no longer worshipped, Mehregan still remains a celebration amongst family and friends, but it is today recognized as a harvest festival. The festival symbolically ends with bonfires and fireworks, but should not be confused with Sadeh, which likewise celebrates with bonfires but occurs at the end of the calendrical year.

In al-Biruni's 11th century Book of Instructions in the Elements of the Art of Astrology, the astronomer observed that some people have given the preference to Mehregan over Norooz by as much as they prefer autumn to spring. The association of Mehregan with the polarity of sprint/autumn, sowing/harvest and the birth/rebirth cycle did not escape al-Biruni either, for as he noted, "they consider Mehregan as a sign of resurrection and the end of the world, because at Mehregan that which grows reaches perfection."


Mehregan was celebrated in an extravagant style at Persepolis. Not only was it the time for harvest, but it was also the time when the taxes were collected. Visitors from different parts of the empire brought gifts for the king all contributing to a lively festival.


During Pre-Islamic and early Islamic Iran, Mehregan was celebrated with the same magnificence and pageantry as Norooz. It was customary for people to send or give their king, and each other gifts. Rich people usually gave gold and silver coins, heroes and warriors gave horses while others gave gifts according to their ability, even an apple.

Gifts over ten thousand gold coins given to the royal court were registered. At a later time, if the gift-giver needed money, the court would then return twice the gift amount. Kings gave two audiences a year; one audience at Norooz and other at Mehregan. During the Mehregan celebrations, the king wore a fur robe and gave away all his summer clothes.

For this celebration, the participants wear new clothes and set a decorative, colorful table. The sides of the tablecloth are decorated with dry wild marjoram. A copy of the Khordeh Avesta ("little Avesta"), a mirror and a sormeh dan (an antimony cellar) are placed on the table together with rose water, sweets, flowers, vegetables and fruits, especially pomegranates and apples, and nuts such as almonds or pistachios. A few silver coins and lotus seeds are placed in a dish of water scented with marjoram extract.

A burner is also part of the table setting for kondor/loban (frankincense) and espand (Syrian Rue seeds) to be thrown on the flames.

At lunch time when the ceremony begins, everyone in the family stands in front of the mirror to pray. Sherbet is drunk and then—as a good omen—antimony is rubbed around the eyes. Handfuls of wild marjoram, lotus and sugar plum seeds are thrown over each other’s heads while they embrace one another.

Until at least the mid-1960s, the Zoroastrians of Yazd would still have a ritual butchering of a sheep on this day. As for the other name day-feasts also, this would occur on the name-day itself, and for three days afterwards. The animal would be butchered between dawn and noon, and then slowly grilled on a spit until evening when the meat would then be eaten during a communal meal.

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