Holy Days and Celebrations

Ceremonies are a time for people to gather; jashans can be celebrations with the wording changed to suit the occasion. These include, a blessing for a new home (in which case it is held in the home), to celebrate an important event or as a petition, for example, for rain. For these there should be at least 4 priests with any number of devotees from few to several hundred. However, worship remains individual as worshippers gain spiritual sustenance through watching the priestly rituals.

The main Zoroastrian liturgy is the Yasna, which may be attended only by Zoroastrian initiates. The Yasna, which consists of 72 chapters of text, is performed as the sun rises in order to symbolise the fire of asha (the empowering force of Ashura Mazda) scattering light and heat over creation and dispelling the darkness of ignorance and evil.

There are six seasonal festivals which probably predate Zoroaster which are known as the gahambars when it is customary for Zoroastrians to gather in worship (celebrate a rite known as the jashan, with many layers of symbolism including the priestly exchange of flowers symbolising the passage of the soul (urvan) from one life to the next) and in joyous fellowship over food. These were originally agricultural festivals but have acquired a very Zoroastrian symbolism representing together with No Ruz the seven creations sky, water, earth, plants, cattle, man and No Ruz celebrating fire (see symbols).

No Ruz is the Iranian New Year (Jamshedi No Ruz March 21st) celebrated by all Iranians, Zoroastrian or Muslim and is observed by many Parsis.

The gahambars have been celebrated in Iran for centuries as obligatory festivals but they largely died out among the Parsis in India as the community became highly urbanised in Bombay/Mumbai thereby losing the agricultural roots. In the diaspora, however, under Iranian Zoroastrian influence, they have again become important and popular community festivals, though there are three different calendars among Zoroastrians. Shenshai, is the most common in India (their No Ruz is in August), Kadmi, the minority reformed calendar, and the twentieth-century Fasli which seeks harmony with the Gregorian calendar.

A popular festival is Khordad Sal, the birthday of Zoroaster (mid-August for the Shenshai); Zartusht-no-diso remembers the death of Zoroaster (Shenshai late May) and particularly holy are what the Iranians know as Farvardigan (Parsis Muktad, Shenshai mid August) the last 10 days of the year when the souls of the departed are welcomed and entertained and during which time the Gathas of Zoroaster are recited.

Zoroastrians recite their prayers in the sacred language of Avestan believing that the words have spiritual power, that is true of the festival prayers but they are also joyous times of coming together as a community be that in Iran or the Diaspora.

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