Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sizdah Bedar

Sizdah Bedar (سیزده بدر) is the Persian festival of nature and is celebrated on the 13th day of the new year in the month of Farvardin (corresponding to April 2), the last day of the Norooz period. This is the last phase of the New Year's celebrations which begins with the fire festival of Chaharshanbeh Soori of the Persian New Year. As Chaharshanbeh Soori is part of the traditions to welcome Norooz, Sizdah Bedar is one to escort the celebrations away. The first 12 days of the year hold special importance as they symbolize order in the world and in the lives of people. The 13th day marks the beginning of the return to ordinary daily life and inaugurates a happy new year. The custom is to spend the day outdoors, in the parks or the countryside. It is believed that joy and laughter clean the mind from all evil thoughts and the picnic is a festive or happy event. This day was not celebrated in this manner before Islam and might be the result of several rituals combined into one. This day was devoted to the deity Tishtrya (Tir), the protector of rain which is depicted as a horse. In the Zoroastrian calendar each day is named after a deity with this particular day in the month of Farvardin named after Tishtrya. In the past there were outdoor festivities to pray to this deity in hope of rain that was essential for agriculture. The act of throwing away the sabzeh from Haft Sin into rivers and running waters on this day also indicates veneration for a water deity. The act symbolically represents an offering made to such a deity.  

In Zoroastrian cosmology there was a mythical river out of which all rivers flow. Clouds also took up rain from the same mythical river. Every year Tishtrya goes to the river in shape of a white stallion to fight the Demon of Dearth, appearing in shape of a black stallion. After his victory, Trishtrya rushes into the sea and water flows and is dispersed. Some of the water is mixed with seeds of plants which sprout as the rain falls. Ancient Iranian rituals quite often enacted their mythologies; waters were respected and many rites existed with respect to waters. It is very likely that several of these were combined to preserve some aspect of the ancient celebrations venerating waters. Up until the 19th Century, there was horseracing occurring on this day, which very likely represented the fight between the two stallions. The supposed bad luck associated with this day (and perhaps also with the number 13 in general) stems from the fact that ancient Persians believed that the twelve constellations in the Zodiac controlled the months of the year. Each ruled the earth for a thousand years at the end of which the sky and earth collapsed in chaos. Therefore the thirteenth is identified with chaos, and unluckiness of the thirteenth day of the feast represents the final collapse of the universe and its order. As a result the Persians attempt to symbolically avoid bad luck on the thirteenth day of the Persian Calendar by leaving their houses and spending the day outside of their native dwelling. On this day carrying out daily tasks and observance of the general order should accordingly be interrupted and instead should be spent partaking in festivities out in the open to celebrate the eventual triumph of nature and the beginning of a new year. 

In modern times people go to parks, have a picnic and throw their sabzeh into a river, symbolizing the cycle of life. Iranian people have a tradition of gathering their family members and grouping them together with the other families to spend a full day of picnic outdoors among the other countrymen at the beauty of the nature on the 13th day of Norooz celebrations. This kind of joy and solidarity has been celebrated among Iranian people for thousands of years, every year, in the same day, 13th day of the first month of the Iranian Calendar. People will also release their Haft Sin goldfish into a pond or river. The festivities continue all day until sunset. Various kinds of food and delicacies are prepared with tea, local drinks, fruits, bread, cheese and fresh herbs, noodle soup (ash’e reshteh). 

Traditionally, people play practical jokes on each other and tell white lies on this day, calling it the thirteenth lie (this is very similar to April Fools Day). It is believed to be the oldest prank-tradition in the world still alive today, which has led many to believe that the origins of the April Fools Day goes back to this tradition which is believed to have been celebrated by Persians as far back as 536 BC. 

Another tradition on the Sizdah Bedar, is the knotting of blades of grass by unmarried girls in hope of finding a good companion at these kinds of celebrations. The other family members may also meet the others at the festival and find possible candidates for their unmarried daughters, as well as sons, and to make arrangements for their proper introduction at later time. The knotting of the grass represents the wish for good fortune in life and love and the bond between a man and a woman. As the blade grows and eventually the knot is opened, it symbolizes finding a solution to hardships and wishes coming true. 

A ritual performed at the end of the picnic day is to throw away the sabzeh from the Norooz Haftsin table. The sabzeh is supposed to have collected all the sickness, pain and ill fate hiding on the path of the family throughout the coming year. Touching someone else's sabzeh on this thirteenth day or bringing it home, therefore, is considered to be a bad omen and may invite other peoples' pain and hardship to oneself. By throwing the sabzeh in running water, lethargy, lassitude and wariness are believed to be washed away.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Osku (اسکو) is a city in northwestern Iran in the East Azerbaijan province. It is located southwest of Tabriz and sits on the Sahand mountain range. Based on historical evidence it appears that Osku has replaced its predecessor city, Oshkaya. Osku consists of many gardens, a fact that can be confirmed based on the view from surrounding mountains. It was known as one of the more habitable spots in Azerbaijan and its residents were noted for joining forces with the people of Tabriz in protest of the Soviets during the days of the Constitutional Revolution of Iran.  Osku has a number of historical tourist attractions. It was home to the Susian Cemetery, believed to date back to the Sassanid era, which was demolished in the 80s to make way for a gym. A number of mosques and imamzadehs also add some historical value and local charm to Osku. 

Of the pleasant natural attractions of Osku, one can take note of Osku Chay River which takes its source in the northern sector of Soltan Dagh in the mountainous region of Sahand Mountains. In its course it flows through a number of villages of which the picturesque villages of Kandovan and Kohanmoo are worth mentioning. Finally flowing into the Uromieh Lake areas surrounding the river provide places for recreation.  

The general area around Osku has traditionally been known as having a very cultured and educated population. The oldest school in Osku is a solid structure located adjacent to the Jameh Mosque and has four chambers. Its exact date of construction is unclear although it is assumed to have been built the same time as the mosque. In 1289 of the Iranian calendar, a second floor was added too the chambers which enabled the founding of Osku’s first elementary school, Razavieh School. A few years after its opening, a plaque for it was produced which in part read “Knowledge or death”.  

Dooshab, which in some aspects resembles doogh, and is made from grape or date extracts, is a common and unique treat of the area. Various nuts such as hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts are also popular souvenirs from Osku. For the more adventurous a local treat called mianpor, made of pealed pears, sugar, apricots, plums and peaches is recommended.  



In the proximity of Osku is Hillevar Historical Village, an underground historical village in Osku county near Kandovan. It is currently uninhabited. It is claimed it was built before the Islamic period while it was destroyed during the Mongol attack on Iran. Houses still remain intact. Different sections of the houses such as the kitchen or indoor holding places for animals are identifiable. Excavation operations are going on by the government to find out more about the village. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Simorgh Park

Simorgh Park is a recently developed park located in Semnan. This Park is relatively new to the point where its trees barely cast a shadow and from afar it even resembles a desert like plane. A large sized pool and some internal decorations are gradually breathing some life into the Park.

Simorgh Park’s main structure is home to a hall called Iranzamin which is suitable for hosting events such as weddings and other celebrations. With its decorations, reliefs and figurines, this hall gives Simorgh Park much of its unique characteristics. Iranzamin is a huge hall resembling a fortified structure with crenellated walls such as Takht’e Jamshid. On the top of one of its crenellations, a statue of Arash Kamangir is situated as he is releasing an arrow to determine the border of Iran and Turan. Adjacent to Arash Kamangir, a roaring lion represents another symbol of Ancient Iran. Further along an eagle can also be spotted.

Approaching the main entrance to Iranzamin, a plaque above the door reads “everywhere in Iran is my home” and “without Iran may I not exist”. Further up on the wall the Zoroastrian saying of “good thoughts, good words, good deeds” is on display while underneath it reads “let’s learn from the past, think today for a prosperous Iran and a better world”.

The hall consists of many paintings and statues that bring a mix of Iran’s mythology and history to the present time. Many of such decorations are inspired from the heroes in Shahnameh. A statue of Rostam from his battle with his son Sohrab is displayed while another relief shows Sohrab dying in Rostam’s arms. Indeed Sohrab seems to be the most portrayed character in these reliefs; his battle scenes with both Godafarid and Rostam are present. Another relief depicts the affection of Tahmineh for Rostam.

Further along a relief displays Ardeshir Babakan, founder of the Sassanid dynasty, on the back of a horse, escaping the clutches of an attacking lion while taking aim at him with his bow and arrow. Bahram Goor is also present as he slays two lions and retrieves his crown from them. Post Islamic Iran is also represented by a relief of Sultan Jaleleddin Kharazmshah passing the Indus River and Nader Shah Afshar in a battle scene in Damghan.

Paintings of scientists such as Abu Reyhan Birooni d Abu Nasr Farabi also adorn Iranzamin. Adjacent Iranzamin is Fazilat School which in itself is home to other sources of Iranian pride. Above its main entrance is a mural of Zal, Rostam’s father, facing Sam Nariman in a field while Simorgh is flying about them. Furthermore the portrait of a number of scientists and poets from the Semnan region provide some local flair to the Park and School.

Simorgh Park surely has touched upon many aspects of Iran’s shinning and proud past and presents its guests with an immaculate collection of Iran’s history and mythology.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010



Norooz (نوروز) is the beginning of the year for the people of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Tajikistan and other common cultural heritage countries. It is also celebrated as the New Year by the people of the Iranian stock, particularly the Kurds, in the neighboring countries of Georgia, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. It begins precisely with the beginning of spring on vernal equinox, on or about March 21st. The term Norooz in writing, first appeared in Persian records in the second century AD.

Tradition takes Norooz as far back as 15,000 years--before the last ice age. The Shahnameh, dates Norooz as far back to the time of Jamshid, who in Zoroastrian texts saved mankind from a killer winter that was destined to kill every living creature. The mythical Persian King Jamshid perhaps symbolizes the transition of the Indo-Iranians from animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history. In the Shahnameh and Iranian mythology, he is credited with the foundation of Norooz.


Avestan and later scriptures show that Zoroaster improved, as early as 1725 B.C., the old Indo-Iranian calendar. The prevailing calendar was lunisolar. The lunar year is of 354 days. An intercalation of one month after every thirty months kept the calendar almost in line with the seasons. Zoroaster, the Founder of the Good Religion, himself an astronomer, founded an observatory and he reformed the calendar by introducing an eleven-day intercalary period to make it into a lunisolar year of 365 days, 5 hours and a fraction. Later the year was made solely a solar year with each month of thirty days. An intercalation of five days, and a further addition of one day every four years, was introduced to make the year 365 days, 5 hours, and a fraction. Still later, the calendar was further corrected to be a purely solar year of 365 days 5 hr 48 min 45.5 sec. The year began precisely with the vernal equinox every time and therefore, there was no particular need of adding one day every four years and there was no need of a leap year. This was the best and most correct calendar produced that far.


Some 12 centuries later, in 487 B.C., Darius the Great of the Achaemenid dynasty celebrated Norooz at his newly built Persepolis in Iran. A recent research shows that it was a very special occasion. On that day, the first rays of the rising sun fell on the observatory in the great hall of audience at 6:30 a.m., an event which repeats itself once every 1,400 years. It also happened to coincide with the Babylonian and Jewish New Years. It was, therefore, a highly auspicious occasion for the ancient peoples. Persepolis was the place the Achaemenid King received, on Norooz, his people from all over the vast empire. The walls of the great royal palace depict the scenes of the celebrations.


We know that the Parthians celebrated the occasion but we do not know the details. It should have, more or less, followed the Achaemenid pattern. During the Sassanid time, preparations began at least 25 days before Norooz. Twelve pillars of mud bricks, each dedicated to one month of the year, were erected in the royal court. Various vegetable seeds -- wheat, barley, lentils, beans, and others -- were sown on top of the pillars. They grew into luxurious greens by the New Year Day. The great king held his public audience and the High Priest of the empire was the first to greet him. Government officials followed next. Each person offered a gift and received a present. The audience lasted for five days, each day for the people of a certain profession. Then on the sixth day, called the Greater Norooz, the king held his special audience. He received members of the Royal family and courtiers. Also a general amnesty was declared for convicts of minor crimes. The pillars were removed on the 16th day and the festival came to a close. The occasion was celebrated, on a lower level, by all peoples throughout the empire.

Since then, the peoples of the Iranian stock, whether Zoroastrians, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Bahai, or other, have celebrated Norooz precisely at the time of vernal equinox, the first day of the first month, on or about March 21st.


Today, the ceremony has been simplified. In association with the "rebirth of nature", extensive spring-cleaning is a national tradition observed by almost every household in Iran. This is also extended to personal attire, and it is customary to buy at least one set of new clothes. On the New Year's day, families dress in their new clothes and start the twelve-day celebrations by visiting the elders of their family, then the rest of their family and finally their friends. Wheat, barley, lentils, and other vegetables seeds are soaked to grow on china plates and round earthenware vessels some ten days in advance, so that the sprouts are three to four inches in height by Norooz. A table is laid. It has a copy of the sacred book, a mirror, candles, incense burner, bowl of water with live gold fish, the plates and vessels with green sprouts, flowers, fruits, coins, bread, sugar cone, various grains, fresh vegetables, colorfully painted boiled eggs like the "Easter eggs," and above all, seven articles with their names beginning in Persian with the letter "s".

The whole table, beautifully laid, symbolizes the Message and the Messenger, light, reflection, warmth, life, love, joy, production, prosperity, and nature. It is, in fact, a very elaborate thanksgiving table for all the good, beautifully bestowed by God.

Family members, all dressed in their best, sit around the table and eagerly await the announcement of the exact time of vernal equinox over radio or television. Elders give gifts to younger members. Next the rounds of visits to neighbors, relatives, and friends begin. Each visit is reciprocated.



Celebrations are, more or less for the first two weeks, a daily routine. The festivity continues for 12 days, and on the 13th morning, the mass picnic to countryside begins. It is called sizdeh bedar, meaning "thirteen-in-the-outdoors." Cities and villages turn into ghost towns with almost all the inhabitants gone to enjoy the day in woods and mountains along stream and riversides. People sing, dance, and make merry. Girls of marriageable age tie wild grass tops into knots and make a wish that the following Norooz may find them married and carrying their bonny babies.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Haft Sin



Haft Sin (هفت سین) or the seven 'S's is a major tradition of Norooz, the traditional Iranian new year. It is possible that Haft Sin was initially Haft Sini, or seven trays of essential symbols, which gradually was shortened to Haft Sin. The haft sin table includes seven items specifically starting with the letter S or Sin. The items symbolically correspond to seven creations and holy immortals protecting them. Another interpretation is that Haft Sin represents the seven planets that rule human destiny and are responsible for the sacredness of the number seven. It was thought that if anybody would have access to all the seven – that implies that one attracts the blessing of all these seven planets – one would attain happiness. 


While Haft Sin has evolved over time, but it has kept its symbolism. Traditionally, families attempt to set as beautiful a Haft Sin table as they can, as it is not only of traditional and spiritual value, but also noticed by visitors during Norooz visitations and is a reflection of their good taste. Possible and common Haft Sin items are:

  • Sabzeh - Wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing a few inches tall in a dish, symbolizing rebirth. In the ancient times, twenty-five days before New Year, 12 large cylindrical shaped containers made from raw brick were erected in the city center (one for each month). Different seeds were planted in each including wheat, barley, lentils and rice. On the sixth day of Farvardin, the new growths were pulled out and scattered around with music, songs and dancing. This was done to estimate the growth of various seeds for the new season and to know how good a crop they could expect in the coming year.
  • Samanoo - A sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence and was assumed to enhance sexual powers. It is associated with Anahita and is traditionally prepared by women, especially those wanting children.
  • Senjed, the dried fruit of the oleaster tree, symbolizing love.
  • Sir – Garlic, symbolizing medicine. Garlic was used by the Iranians as medicine and a means of warding off demonic powers and bad omens.
  • Sib, apples, symbolizing beauty and health.
  • Somaq symbolizing the color of sunrise.
  • Serkeh – Vinegar, symbolizing age and patience, having originated as grapes and undergone many transformations. Wine was always present since it represented liquid gold and was used at all religious ceremonies, however, after the Arab conquest it has been replaced by vinegar as alcohol is banned in Islam.
  • Sonbol - The fragrant hyacinth flower, symbolizing the coming of spring. In ancient times they symbolized the two deities Khordad and Amurdad.
  • Sekkeh – Coins, symbolizing prosperity and wealth and in ancient times were associated with the deity Sharivar.

Other items on the table may include:

  • Traditional Iranian pastries such as baklava and also toot, noon-nokhodchi, dried nuts, berries and raisins. Iranians believed that by eating such sweets their life would be sweet and good in the coming year.
  • Lit candles for enlightenment and happiness and traditionally according to the number of the children in the household. Lit candles are a symbol of purifying fire.
  • A mirror. Mirrors were significant items in Zoroastrian symbolism, art and architecture and still are an integral part of most Iranian celebrations including marriage ceremonies.
  • Decorated eggs, sometimes one for each member of the family and a universal symbol of fertility representing Mother Earth.
  • A bowl with goldfish for life and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving. The fish represent the mythical fish Kara Mahi, which swims in the mythical Vouruka Sea and wards off harmful creatures.
  • A bowl of water with an orange in it symbolizing the earth floating in space. Anahita is represented by rain water collected especially for this occasion and the fish are also normally placed in this water.
  •  Esfand, seeds of wild rue, often placed in a small incense burner and burned just after the turn of the year.
  • Rose water for its magical cleansing powers.
  • The national colors, for a patriotic touch.
  • A holy book.
  • The Shahnameh or Divan of Hafez.



The history of the custom is obscure. There is a dubious and isolated reference to it in a Persian manuscript attributed to the Safavid period but otherwise it is rarely mentioned in the eyewitness accounts of the Norooz ceremonies by nineteenth-century travelers and historians. Only Heinrich Brugsch, who was in Tehran in 1860 and described the Norooz festival in some detail, claims that the Iranians greeted the national festival by planting in their gardens flowers with names beginning with the letter S. However, if one considers the Norooz spread as a whole and disregards the letter sin, its essential items perfectly afford reasonable explanation as the reflections of the pastoral and sedentary conditions of ancient Iranians and of their belief that the souls of the departed come down and partake of the table. 


The real significance of seven may have been to represent the "Seven Eternal Laws", which embodies the Teachings of Zoroaster. It was a way of preserving and a reminder of the teachings of Zoroaster. Further evidence are the reliefs at Persepolis which depict seven people from each country carrying Norooz gifts, thus emphasizing the importance of seven.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kaveh Ahangar

Kaveh Ahangar (کاوه آهنگر) is a mythical figure in Iranian mythology that leads a popular uprising against a ruthless foreign ruler, Zahhak, and is the most famous of Persian mythological characters in resistance against despotic foreign rule in Iran. The 10th century poet Ferdosi narrates his story in the Epic of Shahnameh. After losing 18 of his sons to Zahhak's serpents, he rebels against the Arab ruler of Persia and leads the people to overthrow the tyrant king and end his rule. Based on Avestan tradition, Zahhak, or more correctly Azhi Dahaka, is from Babylonia and more or less a demon, not human. 


Zahhak was the son of Mardas an Arab ruler in Iran. Stories have it that Zahhak killed his father in order to earn the kingdom. It was believed that the devil had presented himself to Zahhak as a marvelous cook and forged a special relationship between the two. As a result of his services, Zahhak permits the devil to kiss each of his shoulders. Upon doing so, from each shoulder a snake emerges, prompting Zahhak to seek treatment. This time the devil appears in front of Zahhak as a doctor and advises him to feast on the brains of young Iranians in order to satisfy the needs of the bloodthirsty snakes. One night Zahhak dreams that three men came to his palace and killed him. He wakes up in horror and calls upon the dream interpreter whom in turn tells him that a man with a name of Fereydoon will come and take his kingdom away. Hence Zahhak sends for Fereydoon to be found and killed.  

Fereydoon's mother, Faranak, hears the command and takes Fereydoon to a village in Larijan in Mazandaran. Ferdosi further writes that Fereydoon was left to a farmer in Larijan and milked by a cow whose every hair was of a different color. Zahhak soon hears of this unusual cow and comes to the North to find it. Faranak hears of this and takes Fereydoon to an old man who wandered in the mountains to take care of him. Meanwhile Zahhak kills the beautiful cow. Once Fereydoon reaches the age of sixteen he leaves in search of his mother. When he finds his mother, he was told all that had happened to him. Fereydoon upon hearing his disturbed life becomes eager to take revenge. As Fereydoon intensifies his plans for revenge he meets Kaveh at a gathering. Having lost 18 of his sons to Zahhak's serpents, Kaveh, a working class blacksmith with nothing more than a brave heart and the support of his people, decides to end this vicious cycle and destroy this evil king. With bravery he approaches Zahhak and demands freedom. As a symbol of resistance and unity, he takes off his leather apron and puts it on top of a long spear to make a flag out of it (called Derafsh Kaviani) and rallies the Iranians. It is written that Kaveh, Fereydoon and his two brothers, Kianoosh and Shadkam, united the people and went to war with Zahhak. Meanwhile Zahhak flees to India while his army was fighting with Fereydoon. Fereydoon defeats Zahhak's army and proceeds to track down Zahhak. After finding Zahhak, Fereydoon takes him to Mount Damavand and imprisons him in a cave by binding him with a lion's pelt tied to great nails fixed into the walls of the cave.  

The day that Fereydoon destroyed Zahhak and his kingdom may also be the day that the Persians celebrate the Mehregan Festival, a day that good destroys evil. Some historians believe the story originated during the Medes kingdom in western Iran & Zahhak was in fact the unpopular king Astyages.  

By the late Sassanid era a real Derafsh Kaviani had emerged as the standard of the Sassanid dynasty. It was thus also representative of the Sassanid state and may so be considered to have been the first national flag of Iran. It was customary in the ancient Persia that every king would add jewelry to the Derafsh as it became the symbol of Persian independence, resistance and resilience, as well as the revolutionary symbol of the masses in their fight against foreign invaders. When Arab Muslims invaded Iran, the Derafsh was seized in a bloody battle fought around Nahavand (a city with the same name in today's Hamadan province in the mid-western Iran) and taken, among many other war spoils. The Arabs burned the flag and took possession of the valuable items.