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PRECISE IRANIAN CALENDAR,
Human beings, like all
other animals, have reckoned the seasons right from the dawn of their evolving
existence. With the progress of
time, they based the month on the waxing and waning phases of the moon, and also
found out that there are twelve "moons" and a fraction of a day in a
solar year. Those to whom the
seasons were not of great importance counted the twelve moons only and cared
less for the solar year. They
followed, and still follow, a lunar year. Muslims
have a lunar calendar. Those who were to abide by regular seasons for their
flocks and fields, had to count and, as far as possible, synchronize the lunar
and solar years. Some did it by
intercalating one moon every three years and later learned to have further
adjustments to keep the year in tune with the seasons.
Lunisolar year is still used by many, and this includes the Buddhists,
Hindus, and Jews. Those who
followed a solar year and did not base the beginning of their year from the
first of one of the four seasons are the Christians.
Their year begins, close to Christmas, from 1st of January, formerly the
eleventh month of the pre-Christian Romans.
Months of the Christian Era are not, as far as their beginnings and ends
are concerned, in harmony with the seasons.
True solar year, also
known as tropical year, was a still later discovery.
One has to take equinox or solstice into account to keep an accurate
track of the solar year. The
equinoxes are the two intersections of the sun's apparent annual path with the
celestial equator. The sun reaches the vernal equinox on 1st of Farvardin,
on or about 21st March, the summer solstice on 1st of Tir, on about 22nd
June, the autumnal equinox on 1st Mehr, on or about 23rd September, and
the winter solstice on 1st of Dey, on or about 22 December. Because the
two planes, the path of the sun and the celestial equator move in opposite
directions, the equinoxes and solstices do not occur at the same points every
year. This anti-clock movement of the intersection point is called precession.
It moves one degree in 72 years, one Zodiac sign of 30 degrees in 2,156 years
and one circle in 25,868 years. For further information on calendar, solar or
tropical year, precession, and other astronomical data, refer to any good
encyclopedia or a publication on astronomy and astrology.
The tropical year,
based on the four seasons, is precise. It is 365.24224 solar days (365 days 5 hr
48 min 45.5 sec), and the tropical lunar year is 354.36708 solar days, a
difference of 10.87516 solar days. We
need not go far to find a workable calendar. Of all the present calendars, the
official Iranian calendar, based on the astronomical system, is the most
scientific calendar in use and bears the names of what are known as Zoroastrian
months. It rightly has the vernal equinox (on or about 21st March) at the
beginning of the spring and the year. The fourth month begins on the summer
solstice (on or about 22 June), the seventh month on the autumnal equinox (on or
about 23 September), and the ninth month on the winter solstice (on or about 22
In the true seasonal
year, the first half contains 186 days and the second half about 179.242 days.
This means that the first six months are of 31 days each, the following five
months of 30 days each, and the last month of 29 days, but which automatically
becomes of 30 days in the so-called "leap" year. The four seasons
begin on the first days of the seasonal quarters.
This is exactly what
the Iranian calendar follows: The first six months are of 31 days each, the next
five months of 30 days each and the last month is of 29 days but of 30 days in
the “leap” year. Reports indicate that the Central Asian republics may
that the five Gatha days were added at the end of summer proves that the early
"Zoroastrian" calendar had this fact in view.
Evidences from the
Avesta and the Vedas show that the Indo-Iranians, like many other people,
followed a lunisolar year for their animal husbandry and agricultural purpose.
The names of the six Gâhânbârs, six parts of the Vedic year and
the Achaemenian months, as seen below, show that the calendar was based on
various seasonal phases of the year.
The Gathas speak of
the paths of the sun and the stars, and speaks about the waxing and waning
phases of the moon, a sure sign of an accurate lunisolar year. The language used
is astronomical, and it confirms the reports written in ancient Middle Eastern
and Mediterranean writings that Zarathushtra was an outstanding astronomer also.
It also confirms the statement in post-Sassanian Iranian astronomy books
that Zarathushtra built an observatory in Zabol, Sistan (eastern Iran)
and that it was inaugurated on 21st March 1725 BCE, the day King Vishtaspa and
his courtiers converted, chose the Good Religion and joined the Zarathushtrian
Fellowship. It also provides us
with the clue that the Good Religion was founded by Zarathushtra, exactly twelve
years earlier on vernal equinox of 1737 BCE.
dedicated only to the six seasonal festivals, the "Gâhânbârs",
also shows that the early Zarathushtrian calendar was almost the old
Indo-Iranian lunisolar calendar with its waxing and waning lunar phases. The
month was based on moon's phases, and the year was calculated on the solar
basis. The difference was corrected
by an intercalation of eleven days at the end of the year on the Hamaspathmaidhaya
Gahanbar of the vernal equinox. This was 0.12484 day or 2.99616 hours shorter.
Only a further intercalation of one day after eight years (precisely after
8.010253 years), could keep the seasonal festivals in their proper places. How
did the Gathic people correct it, we do not know. We know this much that no
complaint has been recorded by them about the festivals drifting away from their
relevant agricultural seasons.
Sometime during the
later Avestan age, the year was made into a purely solar year of 365 days with
twelve months of thirty days and the five "Gatha" days as the
intercalary period. Should we believe a 9th century Pahlavi tradition, the
correction of five hours and a fraction was made good every four years, or the
community had to wait for 40 years to intercalate 10 days or still more for 120
years to add a thirteenth month of 30 days. The usual reference to one month
intercalation at the end of 120 years only reminds us of the disorder that
prevailed during the last days of the Sassanian Empire and its subsequent
THE LEAP YEAR
A point about
intercalation in a “leap year:” The precise time of vernal equinox is
determined by the International Meridian, at present Greenwich. The usual way is
to count the year of 365 days and 6 hours. Four 6 hours, or one day, is added to
bring back the year on the right track. This fourth year is called the “leap
year” because it “leaps” one day ahead. But the actual length of the year
is 6 hours but 5 hours 48 minutes and 45.5 seconds, a difference of 11 minutes
and 14.5 seconds. This amount to
one day in 128 days. It was to correct this that the leap years are those eras
which are divisible by 400. Even this makes the Christian or Common year 26
seconds longer than the tropical year.
The Iranian calendar
does not have this problem. Its new year begins exactly at the beginning of the
equinox. Although the formal Iranian year of the present days has its “leap
year,” it should never worry about it. All
it has to do is to see that if the “right” times falls after midnight – 0
hours 00 minutes and 01 seconds to 0 hours 00 minutes and 00 seconds -- the
first day of the year also begins with it. This is because the Avestan day
begins with the “Ushahin Gâh,” the Dawn Time, which begins from
midnight. Yes, the Iranians have been counting their day from midnight for, at
least, 3738 years and it is the West that has adopted it very late in our times.
The Iranian calendar DOES NOT need a leap year at all. It is automatically
within the right time. I hope that one day the authorities concerned would
realize this FACT and amend the calendar by eliminating the so-called leap
Each of the twelve
Avestan months and thirty days were named after a deity, some of them old Aryan
gods and goddesses discarded by Zarathushtra but reintroduced later by
authoritative priests, and some of them Gathic principles personified by the
same priests into divine entities, all now called yazatas, meaning
"venerated, venerable." "Year"
in general was called "yâiri" or "yâri", but
the intercalated solar year was known as "saredha", Old Persian
of the Achaemenians "tharda", and Pahlavi and modern Persian
"sâl" (compared Sanskrit "sharad", autumn,
This calendar is
followed to this day by Iranian Zartoshtis and some Parsis. It is called Fasli,
a modern Persian-Arabic word meaning "seasonal"
However, majority of
Parsis use Shahenshahi, the "Imperial" calendar. The Parsis
have not intercalated since 1126 CE. It
now begins in the last week of August – 21st, full seven months
plus one day earlier. The Iranian Zoroastrians, who follow the Qadimi
Calendar, have abandoned intercalation since 1006 CE and the 365-day year has
now forwarded their new year day by eight months. As seen, the two calendars are
neither precisely "Gathic" nor astronomically scientific. So is the
present Zoroastrian era of 1370 followed by the Shahenshahis, Qadimis and Parsi
Faslis. It is based on the ascension of the last Sassanian king Yazdegerd III
(632-642 CE + 10 years of wandering until his murder by Khosrow the miller) and
has no religious significance at all.
Fortunately, with the
exception of a minute number, mostly residing in India, all Iranian Zoroastrians
have given up the Qadimi calendar in favor of the Fasli one, and they reckon the
Zarathushtrian Religious Era as the beginning. At present there is a move to
unify all Zoroastrians, at least in North America and Europe, to adopt the Fasli
NAMES OF SEASONAL
people were in tune with nature in their day-to-day life. They fully knew the
solar and lunar movements and the changes in the seasons. They had timed their
activities to suit the climate in which they lived. This timetable was kept in
step with saredha, the tropical solar year of 365 days, 5 hr, 48 min, and
45.5 sec, but differed a little on certain points.
Their activities were
scheduled to correspond with various phases of their agricultural life on the
Iranian Plateau. It was divided into six phases. The end of one phase and the
beginning of other were celebrated as a special time of festivity. The six
seasonal festivals were:
meaning "vernal equinox," the 1st day of Farvardin, the beginning of
spring, on or about 21st March, was to celebrate the end of the old year and the
beginning of the new year. It was, according to the Avesta, the time to
"properly set" everything and prepare for the new year.
(Mid-spring), 14th day of Ardibehesht, on or about 4th May, was the time to
celebrate the occasion for the cattle having delivered their young and yielded
"abundance of milk" and also for appraising the crops sown in late
winter or early spring.
(Midsummer), 12th day of Tir, on or about 3rd July, was the beginning of the
(Grain-reaping), 25th day of Shahrivar, on or about 16th September, marked the
end of harvesting.
(5) Ayâthrema (no-travel),
24th day of Mehr, on or about 16th October, was to enjoy the end of trade
caravans and the time to mate cattle before the winter set in.
(Midyear), 15th day of Dey, on or about 4th January, heralded the passing of the
winter peak and for making preparations to meet the spring with agricultural
Only the first two
festivals coincided with the solar seasonal changes. The others were purposely
put off to meet the living conditions. They were not calendarically or
traditionally bound but were very practical people, a point to note.
Most probably the
festivals were celebrated with sacrifices to gods and goddesses and by indulging
in a joyous festivity.
born in an agricultural environment, preached and spread his Good Religion among
people engaged in crop cultivation and animal husbandry. His dynamic message
introduced a completely new order in spiritual, or better, as he put it, mental
sphere and purged out all evil and superstitious thoughts, misleading words,
harmful deeds, and superficial, superfluous rituals, but helped to strengthen
and promote all the then-existing constructive activities of a good living.
And the Gahanbars were one of the constructively enjoyable festivals.
particularly the book of Vispered, show that the early Zarathushtrians turned
the Gahanbar into an occasion to fit into their new pattern of life. Each
festival was traditionally celebrated for one and later for five days. They were
devoted to reciting, chanting, explaining, understanding, and holding
questions-and-answers on each of the five Gathas of Asho Zarathushtra. The
festival was rounded up with a feast prepared by collective participation and
efforts, and merrymaking.
A piece in the Avesta
directs that all participants should bring whatever they can afford – dairy
products, meat, vegetables, legumes, grain, other food ingredients, and
firewood. If one was not in a position to contribute in kind, one might put his
or her labor in preparing the food in a common pot, or just join the prayers.
The food, with a large variety of ingredients, was a tasty stew, resembling
today's more sophisticated Iranian "âsh" or the Parsi spiced
"dhansâk", both relished on the occasion. Merrymaking was the
folk music and dances still observed among Iranian tribes all over the Iranian
Plateau and beyond.
Assembly celebrates the Gahanbars with a relevant Gahanbar prayer, Gatha recital
and explanation, a brief talk on an interesting subject, potluck lunch, friendly
conversation, and music and dance.
It may be noted that
the Indo-Aryans had also six seasons (Sanskrit rtu, Avestan ratu)
evidently modified to meet the climate in the Indus Valley. They were: Vasanta
(Spring), Grishma (Summer), Varsha (The Rains), Sharad
(Autumn), Hemanta (Winter), and Shishira (the Cool season).
Other Iranian Calendar:
Sogdians, Chorasmians, and Armenians, all Zoroastrians by faith, had their own
names for their months. The names of the Achaemenian months, as given in the
bas-reliefs of Darius the Great are rendered to convey (1)
Irrigation-canal-cleaning month, (2) Vigorous spring, (3) Garlic-collecting
month, (4) Hot-step, (7) God-veneration, (8) Wolf-birth, (9) Fire-veneration,
(10) “Anâmaka -- Nameless” month, and (12) Digging-up. Three names have not
been given in Old Persian but we have their Elamite pronunciations and all,
except two, are nonreligious terms. The Achaemenians had numbers instead of
names for the days of the month. (see Old Persian, Ronald G. Kent, 2nd ed., New
Haven, 1953). That confirms that
the months as well as the days named after pre-Zarathushtrian deities and post-Zarathushtrian
personifications of Gathic abstracts is a later addition.
There are indications that it was done during the reign of Artaxerxes II
(405-359 BCE), and that naming the months and days in honor of deities were
adopted from the Egyptians.
The names of the
Gahanbars, and those of the Vedic, Achaemenian, Sogdian, Chorasmian, and
Armenian months show that the names of the pre-Zarathushtrian and Gathic months
must have been based on the seasons and social activities, and not on deities.
These old names have, however, been so well obliterated by the
authoritarian priests that we do not have any inkling of what they were.
The names of the
twelve months in modern Persian and their Avestan forms with their corresponding
Zodiac names are:
Khshathra Vairya Virgo
Note: Of these
only those in bold letters are the Gathic "Primal Principles of Life,"
Âzar/Âthra has been mentioned in the Gathas as the symbol of the
Progressive Mentality (Spenta Mainyu), and “ap” (water) is also
mentioned in the Gathic texts, but the rest are later Avestan names.
The early Avestan
people had no notion of the week, a period of seven days now in universal use as
a division of time. Week is a man-made unit. Its length has, among various
people, been from five to ten days. But since the lunar month, one of the
earliest ways of reckoning time, is alternately of 29 and 30 days with two
phases of waxing and waning moon, it was quite easy to further divide it and
have four quarters of seven and eight days accommodated in it. The seven planets
visible to the naked eye may have also played a part in its formation. That is
why weekdays are named after celestial bodies. However, the present universal
week is most probably of Chaldean or Hebrew origin, and has been generalized by
Jewish, Christian and Islamic persuasion.
The later Avestan
solar calendar, based on thirty days in a month, has four quarters -- the first
two of seven days and the last two of eight days. But Avesta and Pahlavi do not
have any names for each of these quarters or for the weekdays. Modern Persian
follows the Hebrew pattern of having Saturday as Shanbeh, Persianized
form of "Shabbath", and then counting from one to five as Yek-shanbeh,
Do-shanbeh, Se-shanbeh, Chahâr-shanbeh, Panj-shanbeh,
and under the Islamic influence, Âdineh or Jom'eh for Friday, the
day of mass prayers.
Pahlavi writings tell
us that the religious era began from the day Zarathushtra proclaimed his Divine
Mission to humanity. This era,
based on the astronomical calculations that Zarathushtra declared his mission on
the vernal equinox when, according to the precession, the period of Aries is
supposed to have begun, comes to be 3738/39 in 2001 CE i.e. 1737 BCE. It has
been called the "Year of Religion" in Pahlavi writings. The
Zarathushtrian Assembly calls it the Zarathushtrian Religious Era (Z.E.R./ZRE)
and has, since its establishment in 1990, observed it as the beginning of the
Zarathushtrian calendar. The
Zartoshti community in Iran joined in to observe ZRE as its calendar in 1993,
and many Irani Zartoshtis in diaspora have also accepted it.
Earlier, each of the
Iranian kings, following the pattern set by other Middle Eastern rulers,
particularly the Babylonians, observed a new era from his own ascension to the
throne. With as many as 80 rulers
on the Iranian throne during the thousand and odd years of Achaemenians,
Macedonians, Parthians, and Sassanians, much confusion in chronology has arisen,
and many dates have been misinformed, misused, misplaced, misinterpreted,
miscalculated, and missed. The Yazdgerdi
era reminds one of the last Emperor who got overthrown by Arab invaders.
It is not a happy recollection.
Sassanians and Two
continued to maintain both the "yâiri" of 365 days and the
"saredha" of 365.24224 days.
The first they called "oshmurdîk" meaning "rememberable,
reckonable" and the second "vihezakîk" meaning
"moving, progressive, intercalary."
While the "rememberable" was easy for the laity to memorize and
count them by names, the "intercalary" belonged to the astronomer
priests, linked with the imperial court, to keep the formal year precise and in
tune with the seasons. The fall of
the Sassanian Empire fell the astronomer priests of their high position.
Nevertheless, the intercalary year was, Pahlavi books and the present
position of the Qadimi and Shahenshahi calendars tell, kept until the 11th
century CE. The decline of
astronomer priests put an end to Vihezakîk and the lay priests have
continued with their "Ushmordîk," advancing about one day in
every four years out of the season and the solar year.
Economic and seasonal
revenue collection, however, forced the Muslim Caliphs to maintain, evidently by
those astronomer priests who had embraced Islam, the intercalary year in
addition to the Islamic calendar of a purely lunar year.
It was this Vihezakîk
year maintained halfheartedly by Muslim rulers, which was improved, perfected
and formally restored by Omar Khayyam and other Iranian scientists.
It was named the "Jalâli" calendar after its patron,
Sultan Jalal al-Din Malekshah Saljuqi (1072-1092 CE).
The Fasli year,
officially observed by Iranians -- Zartoshtis, Jews, Christians, and Muslims --
in modern Iran, is the "saredha" of the Avestan people, "tharda"
of the Achaemenian, "Vihezakîk" of the Sassanians, and the
"Jalali" of Omar Khayyam.
The precise solar
year also reckoned by all observatories in the world. It is the Universal
Astronomical and Scientific Year.
It is this Vihezakîk (Persian "Behizaki") calendar, now called "Khorshidi" (solar), the official Iranian calendar, the precise calendar, with its dates numbered, that the Zarathushtrian Assembly follows. It is astronomically precise. It is progressively Zarathushtrian.
* * * *
Narrator: Zartoshtis have six seasonal thanksgiving festivals to celebrate in a year. Vernal Equinox, called Hamaspathmaidhaya in Avesta, meaning “Middle of Equal Paths, vernal equinox” is the top celebration. It is the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere.
Every house gets a thorough cleaning almost a month before. Wheat, barley, lentils, and other vegetable 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 Nowruz.
A table is laid. It has a copy of the sacred book (the Gathas for Zarathushtrians), picture of Zarathushtra, 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, colorfully painted boiled eggs like “Easter eggs,” and above all, seven articles with their names beginning in Persian with the s or sh. The usual things with s are vinegar, sumac, garlic, samanu (consistency of germinating wheat), apple, senjed (sorb), and herbs. Those with an initial sh include wine, sugar, syrup, honey, candy, milk, and rice-pudding. The seven articles are prominently exhibited in small bowls or plates on the table.
Here we have a table with its white cloth. White
represents spotless purity. We have seven young men and women to help us lay the
table. They will personify and explain the main items. We shall begin with each
of the seven s first, followed by seven sh:
First person: I am serkeh, the vinegar. I am sour but I am a good preservative. I add taste to the things you want to preserve and relish. I symbolize tasty preservation. (places the bowl on the table on the left side and then returns with wine).
Second person: I was sharâb, the wine. I am the nectar. I symbolize health and happiness, of course, if taken in moderation! To your health! (places the bowl on the right side of the table)
Third person: I am sumac, a little tasteless, but I do make your favorite kabobs have a tangy taste, a taste you relish. I symbolize taste. (left side)
Fourth person: I was shakar, sugar. I give your favorite foods their sweetness. Very sweet, I symbolize sweetness. (right side) Third person: I am sir, garlic. Some do not like my smell and others love my aroma. I lower blood pressure. I pacify. I symbolize peace. (left side)
Fifth person: I am sîr, garlic.Some do not ike my smell and others love my flavor. I lower blood pressure. I pacify. I symbolize "peace." (left side)
Sixth person: I was shîr, milk, the first food one tastes in this world. I symbolize nourishing food. (right side)
Seventh person: I am samanu, a sweetish paste, a kind of halwa, made from germinating wheat. I symbolize the sprouting spring, the time for happy growth. (left side)
Eighth person: I was shireh, syrup. I am the sap, the fluid essential for life, health and vigor. I symbolize vigorous health. (right side)
Ninth person:: I am sib, apple. I symbolize the fruitful world of ours. (left side)
Tenth person: I was shahd, honey. I am the sweet produce of the cooperative bees. I symbolize the sweet result of team work. (right side)
Eleventh person: I am senjed, the tasteless berry of the sorb tree. I am the fruit of a tree which provides shade in summer. I symbolize the shade you need when you want a rest. (left side)
Twelfth person: I was shirini, candy, loved by those have a sweet tooth. I simply symbolize sweetness with no sign of bitterness. (right side)
Thirteenth person: I am sabzi, fresh green herbs. I come from green fields. I symbolize prosperity. (left side)
Fourteenth person: I was shir-berenj,
rice-pudding, a tasty food. I symbolize food for taste and health. (right side)
(The children bring other articles and place them on the table and fill the table)
Narrator: As you see, we have a copy of the Gathas. They symbolize guidance for a good life. The picture of Asho Zarathushtra reminds us of the author of the Gathas, the founder of the Good Religion and the Conveyer of the Divine Message. The mirror reflects our past and shows us our present so that we thoughtfully plan our future. The candles are light, warmth, and energy to lead a righteous life that would, in turn, radiate light, give warmth, and provide energy for others. The incense burner gives the fragrance we need to meditate, pray to God, and ask for help and guidance. The gold fish symbolizes a happy life, full of activity and movement. The plates of green sprouts represent creativity and productivity, and so do the colorfully painted eggs.
* * * * *
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