Sadeh Celebrations in Iran


January 31, 2008


Culture | Customs | Iran

Iran’s Zoroastrian minorities gathered at their temples across Iran on Wednesday to mark Sadeh _ an ancient feast celebrating the creation of fire that has been observed since the days when their religion was the overwhelming belief in the powerful Persian empire.

In Cham, a small mountainous village outside Yazd in central Iran, hundreds of Zoroastrians came for the celebration.

They listened to three priests, all dressed in white to symbolize purity, recite verses from Avesta, the holy Zoroastrian book. The congregation then walked down from the village temple, led by two brightly dressed girls holding torches, to set ablaze a pile of wood.

«Fire is considered sacred in Zoroastrian beliefs, but it is not only a festival,» said priest Kamran Lorian. «What is more important, Sadeh is an opportunity bringing people together in order to love each other and promote understanding, love and affection.

Zoroastrianism lost dominance after Muslim Arabs invaded and conquered Persia in the 7th century. Today, most of Iran’s 70 million people are Shiite Muslims and the ruling establishment is led by hard-line clerics who preach a strict version of Islam. But some 60,000 Zoroastrians remain today _ dwindled down from 300,000 in the 1970s, when many emigrated to the United States _ and make up Iran’s small non-Muslim population which also includes about 150,000 Christians and 25,000 Jews.

Since the 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic has tolerated Zoroastrians, whom they consider a sect, giving it official status and allowing members to practice their rites.
Authorities have also eased on the minority some restrictions that apply for Muslims. Zoroastrian men and women, as well as those of other religious minorities, are permitted to dance as couples and play music in public, but only as part of their worship on special venues in temples and inside covered buildings. In today’s Iranian 290-seat parliament, five seats go religious minorities: one for Zoroastrians, one for Jews, two for Armenian Christians and one for other Christians.

Human rights reports say Zoroastrians _ like Iran’s Jews and Christians _ suffer some discrimination and are kept out of some jobs.

The central theme of Zoroastrianism is the struggle between the good, or Ahura Mazda, and the evil, or Ahriman _ a belief that is thought to have influenced later religions from Judaism to Islam. The religion’s principal tenet is written on the main gates of all Zoroastrian temples: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.
To Zoroastrians, fire represents life but they say they are not fire worshippers as some people mistakenly believe them to be. «We worship one God,» said Zoroastrian Sohrab Yazdani.

Although Sadeh is now observed only by Zoroastrians, some other Zoroastrian rituals have survived Islam and still remain national holidays.
For example, Iranians celebrate Nowruz, or the New Year, in March with Chahar-Shanbe Suri, or the Wednesday Feast. During the rites, Iranians light bonfires in the streets and jump over them and dance, hoping to put failures behind them and start the New Year with prosperity _ and the rite has persisted despite attempts by the ruling clerics to discourage it as un-Islamic.

At the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, Iranians mark the Feast of Yalda, an ancient tradition from Zoroastrian times, when families get together and stay up late, swapping stories and munching snacks.

Original article here