Iran-tea

Tea first reached Iran by caravans traveling the Silk Road 450 years before the modern Christian era. Residents were largely coffee drinkers until the seventeenth century but now consume four times the world average for tea.

The beverage is served hot at almost all social occasions and family gatherings.

Every morning, in houses all over Iran, a gas burner flickers to life under a kettle that will continue to boil all day. It boils through morning prayers, lunches of rice and kebabs, afternoon conversation and late into the evening meal, sustaining talk of politics, gossip and news well into the night.

The kettle contains tea, one of the most important cornerstones of Iranian culture, and the tea house is its centuries-old keeper.

culture

culture

 

Tea production is a major industry in the Caspian Sea area and a large part of its economy. Before 1900, there was no tea production in Iran, but in 1895, an Iranian diplomat named Kashef Al Saltaneh decided to change that.

At the time the English had a strict monopoly of tea production in India, with rigid rules against non-Europeans engaging in this trade. Kashef Al Saltaneh, who had studied in Paris as a young man and was fluent in French, went to India, posed as a French businessman, learned the trade and smuggled some tea saplings and seeds to Iran.

lwjxLXeV_Ethnology

After six years of experimentation, he introduced his first product to the market, and started the industry that revolutionalized the economy of two northern states, Gilan and Mazandaran, and made Iranians avid tea drinkers.

He is known today as the father of Iranian Tea, and his mausoleum, in the city of Lahijan, houses the tea museum.

kashefolsaltane

Further reading reveals that Kashef Al Saltaneh’s other honorable titles include Prince Mohammad Mirza, Iranian ambassador to India, and first mayor of Tehran.  Moreover, the stash that commenced the tea plantation might have actually been 3,000 saplings!

Tea houses, or chaikhanehs, have been in existence since the Persian Empire. They gained prominence after the 15th century, when coffee was abandoned in favour of tea leaves that were easier to come by through China’s Silk Road.

Though once the purview of men, chaikhanehs have increasingly become frequented by all members of society, and especially by Iran’s large youth population.

kerman tea house by travfotos

Iranian tea comes in a variety of subtle flavours, but its defining characteristic is its deep reddish-brown colour, which tea-drinkers can choose to dilute with water depending on their preference. Despite its cultivation in the country’s northern provinces, other teas from Sri Lanka and India are also widely consumed as the country imports a majority of its tea in order to meet the large demand.

tea-party

 

Most chaikhanehs will serve tea on the stronger side unless otherwise indicated by the drinker. The stronger the tea, the higher the concentration of tannin and caffeine, so a good cup of tea is like a good cup of coffee for those who take it straight. Because of its bitterness, many prefer to have sugar with their tea. The traditional way to do this is to take a sugar cube and place it between your teeth. You then sip the tea and allow the sugar to melt. Iranians, especially in colder regions of the country, find this a convenient way to drink multiple cups. Crystal, or rock sugar, can be found throughout the country and bought in spice shops for this specific purpose.

 

The taking of tea is a ritual unto itself: most meetings or formal occasions will begin with the offering of tea, and most meals will end with it. Some chaikhanehs have takhts, or low-rise platforms covered in rugs and pillows that you may recline on. Remove your shoes before doing so; most meals are served on a tablecloth laid at your feet.

Traditionally, tea is served from a samovar, a heating vessel originally imported into Persia from Russia. Literally meaning “self-boiler”, the samovar is used to keep water hot for prolonged periods of time through a fuel-filled pipe in the middle of the structure that heats the contents surrounding it. Made from copper, brass, silver or gold, the samovar is still used throughout Russia, central Asia and Iran, and ornate versions from the -Qajar dynasty may still be found in use.

Chaikhanehs come in all shapes and forms, from the simple kitchen-turned-tea room in villages to ornate venues in urban centres, and from underground venues to popular tourist destinations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Azari Tea House in Tehran is one of the most famous chaikhanehs known to tourists and locals, with its detailed architecture and traditional decoration. In existence since the 14th century, this chaikhaneh on Vali Asr street contains one of the more interesting embellishments to emerge from tea house culture: teahouse painting.

cycling-in-Iran

Don’t believe what people tell you about Iran

Iran was undoubtedly the most surprising country for positive experiences. After months of being told that I would be killed there, and the media reporting that it’s a country full of terrorists, I was humbled to enter a country of incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and kind people. I shared many nights in the houses of strangers and wouldn’t be allowed to leave in the morning without having my bags filled with food and gifts. They have many problems of their own in Iran, and are also aware of how the Western media portrays then, yet they still took it upon themselves to help me as best they could.

The beauty of travel by bike is how slow it is, and how it offers intimate view of the lives of strangers. I cycled between 60 and 80 miles a day, occasionally much more, sometimes much less due to weather, altitude or people I would meet on the way. It’s been hard, but the experiences it has given me sure beats working in an office. My freedom and lack of deadlines or destinations led to aimless wandering, mainly guided by the avoidance of bad weather systems and fitting around the seasons. All I really knew was that I wanted to circumnavigate the world and that I was doing that in an easterly direction.

Whenever I struggled to motivate myself to continue, it was the strangers I met on the road that helped me carry on. I’ve lost count of the favors I’ve been granted and the times I’ve been offered assistance. Wherever I went, human goodness shone through.

Although the majority of Iranian are Muslims and follow Islamic practices, one can find a mysterious ritual practice  too.

What is Zar?

In southern coastal regions of Iran such as Qeshm Island, people believe in the existence of winds that can be either vicious or peaceful, believer (Muslim) or non-believer (infidel). The latter are considered more dangerous than the former and Zar belongs to this group of winds. Most types of Zar are very dangerous and cause disease, discomfort, and at times serious illnesses for the victim. Everyone is subject to the action of the Zar, but the poor and the deprived seem to be the most common victims. These beliefs are common to many areas in south and southwest Iran, including Baluchistan where harmful winds are usually called Gowat (wind or air).

Zar is a disease?

Special ceremonies are held to calm down the Zar and lessen the patient’s symptoms. These ceremonies, called by a leader, bring together the patient and those previously afflicted by the Zar and involve incense, music, and movement. Based on records regarding the Zar ceremony in Qeshm Island, roughly two phases in the ritual can be recognized: separation and incorporation. Preparations for the Zar constitute the separation phase. This phase begins with a person complaining from feelings of disease and discomfort to cult leaders (the male Baba Zar or the female Mama Zar). As some cult leaders have already been possessed by Zars and have managed to control them, they can help others in controlling their Zars.

Baba Zar & Mama Zar

Having opted for a remedy from Baba or Mama Zar, the patient will prepare to stay in isolation for up to seven days. During this period, only Baba Zar or Mama Zar can visit the patient and use specific treatments such as rubbing a combination of aromatic herbs, such as Guraku and Gešt, and spices on the patient’s body. After the separation phase ends, the patient’s body is cleaned and washed, and preparations are made for the incorporation phase. Members of the cult inform everyone about the upcoming ceremony and, as it is considered a sin not to attend a ceremony, every member of the cult attends.

How is it done?

Everyone gathers in a circle with the patient in the center while a piece of cloth, with eggs, dates, confetti, and aromatic herbs, is spread on the floor. After the patient’s head is covered with a piece of white cloth to keep him/her from the glances of strangers, a tray holding aromatic herbs on charcoal is passed around and the patient and the participants are frequently incensed with the smoke from the mixture. The Zar leader takes the lead on music (drums) and is followed by musicians and others present. The leader usually knows the name of the Zars and the music (specific beat of drums) that goes with them. Baba or Mama Zars also sing and the participants respond in turn. During the singing of the incantations, which can be in different languages or dialects or pure melodic sounds containing no discernible words, a Zar makes itself known by means of a sign that is recognized by the possessed person, who then feels a strong inner urge to move. Every piece of music goes with a specific spirit; with each type of music, some members of the cult may start moving and shaking. If there is no reaction from the patient, musicians change the tune until they see a reaction that helps the healer identify the spirit who has taken over the afflicted. The reaction is usually expressed as a swinging of the upper body, vertical movements of the head, and the shaking of the shoulders. When the Zar is identified, the healer starts a conversation where she/he tries to find out what the spirit wants in exchange for leaving the patient alone. Mama Zar or Baba Zar speak with the spirit through the patient and ask the Zar about the reasons behind the affliction as well as its demands for leaving the patient alone.

The belief among the cult is that if the Zar’s wishes are not granted, the Zar will return and create more problems for the patient. If the demands of the Zar can be easily obtained, they are quickly attended to through the initiation of a ceremony with music, food, and the offering that the Zar has demanded. Otherwise, the demands will be met at a later time in a similar ceremony. For example, if the Zar asks for a sacrifice or blood, there will be a ceremony where the sacrificial animal is brought in (with the patient riding it) and slaughtered, after which the blood is drunk by the leader and the patient. At this point, the incorporation phase is completed, the patient becomes a member of the cult and is expected to participate in all future ceremonies. These ceremonies may take up to seven days beyond the separation phase. Members of the cult must follow certain rules regarding their outfits (clean and white) and must adhere to prohibitions on the touching of corpses (animal or human), the drinking of alcohol, sex with unlawful partners Selling or letting go of the object the Zar has asked for is prohibited as well; if the Zar has asked for an outfit or an accessory, the patient must have that particular outfit/accessory on in all future ceremonies. It is believed that if these rules are broken, the Zars will rise again, thus necessitating another ceremony to appease them.

Nomad Tradition

Part  1:  Sar Agha seyyed Village

Between the nomad’s tradition (migration by season)(summer and winter quarters) and settlement.

In the seclusion of Zagros, which known as a famous mountain range of Iran, the habitation of the settled Bakhtiyarian rises, that still undiscovered by the world.

Like honeycombs, one house get related to each other as they offer one of the country’s greatest sights. Living in this village called “Sar Agha Seyed” is a very traditional way of giving up nomadism. To reach there, we have to pass along a meander bumpy gravel road that leads us through the massive mountainous landscape of the Zagros straight into the heartland of the Bakhtiyarian, one of the country’s traditional way of living of nomadic populations.

Cattle herds already passing by and the pitched camps are seen and testify a different life of a traditional tribe; Bakhtiyaries, which seems to have been conserved here over the centuries.

Against the vertiginous view into the frightening abyss and the never-ending curves only focusing on the magnificent mountain landscape with the over 4,000-meter-high Zard Kooh as the coronation of the Zagros would be attractive. And now, a small settlement of Bakhtiyarian still tries to outstare the unique beauty of the landscape and show its influence on the nature.

Qashqai Nomad

After hours of driving, the destination is waiting for us as the most beautiful villages in the world.

Everyone can confess that the world does not seem to have become attentive to this secluded manifestation of Bakhtiyarian culture and architecture.

Thanks to this picturesque village, which little houses seem to spring from the mountainside, the Bakhtiyary tribe that decided to settle down with the foundation stone of this settlement has been very prosperous.

The local people proudly and enthusiastically tell the story of how this decision came about. The nomadic life of the Bakhtiyarian meant that every spring they pulled their herds to the high-altitude summer pastures, before returning to the lower winter camps in the fall. One summer, in the midst of the lush pastures of Zagros, the head of the tribe died. In the place where this old and holy man has rested in peace, the members of the tribe began to build a sanctuary and consequently more and more houses.

nomad

nomad

They didn’t tend to leave the resting place of the holy man they worshiped so much, and from now on, this settlement has become their year-round homeland, and all the people living here today are deeply connected to the deceased saint, who is supposed to be their common ancestor. History pervades and is omnipresent in the village and the sanctuary is cherished and maintained by the whole community. Each year, every family resides with each other to go there to worship also to protect the key to the holy of holies.

nomad

nomad

Breakneck Migration

The Bakhtiyarian belong to the Lor tribes and their Bakhtiyari dialect is of the Lori language.

Also we can witness a province of the country Iran, still bears the name of this nomadic population group. Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari is the heartland of the Bakhtiyarian. Around 50,000 nomads of this tribe still live like their traditional nomadic life of their ancestors but the tendency is dropping. But the obvious point which we can see on the way to the village is that we will meet those Bakhtiyaries who continue to maintain their nomadic culture.

The great crossing of the Zagros passes is considered one of the most spectacular migrations in the world which is done twice a year by the traditional and nomadic Bakhtiyarian. When the pastures in the Zagros Mountains are covered in snow, the cattle herds have long been in the more southerly plains of Khuzestan between Lali and Izeh. The fact that the pastures of the winter camps, is being used more and more for agriculture, causes increasing some conflicts between the last nomadic and the peasant populations. The traditional nomads, marched on the Zagros, which lasts three weeks, are already largely a point of the past. The great dangers of such a migration for humans and animals happen for most Bakhtiyarian. After all, there is now also the opportunity to manage the route with an eight-hour drive. Nevertheless, a few families dare to march each year with packed donkeys and little sheep in their arms. Even the youngest ones will join in the hike. Wrapped in cloth, so babies on the back of their mothers are worn the long way.

Flock of sheep in the Zagros Iran

Conflicts and everyday life

Every morning, when the locals gather on the rooftops of the houses and nestled in each other, the little village comes to life again to do the first works of the day. Then the consistent strong women carry heavy loads across the whole village and the elders sit together and talk about upcoming village decisions.

The mayor, himself who has not be an old gentleman and not more than his mid-40s either. This fact that in his younger years he was honored to make decisions for the whole village, he has done it with his elementary education. It was a main condition that all the village community had agreed that the mayor should at least have a basic school leaving certificate in view of his committee. The slightly too modern-looking man, who now officially has the last word, is in the duty to solve this trekking conflicts within the village community. A newly built house in the middle of the dense settlement is somewhere once cause for displeasure. A whole order of structure gets mixed up, when there is a new house and roof there, where the snow covered everywhere.

Child in the zagros

With the harsh winters in the Zagros, the burden of snow is a hard work and the all the people trying for the elimination of the danger but easy given the densely interlaced houses. While the families quarrel at one end of the village, bread is made in other houses in a dark bakery. There is a lot of work behind the idyll of the village facade. Yoghurt is made, wild animals are hunted and houses are maintained.

Outlook – A question of the generation

As so often elsewhere, Iran has a large gap between the nomadic / semi-nomadic and urban populations. The position of nomadic people in the Iranian society is something we can talk about, but the satisfactory for the Bakhtiyarian is a question. Especially the people from the big cities like Isfahan face the Bakhtiyarian with a certain dismiss. Their simplicity and their low level of education are important, they say. It is undisputed that two completely different worlds of life clash and the world-wide common urban-rural contradiction is intensified when they believe as a nomadic tradition in the background. And indeed, these different kinds of living worlds meet more and more often, because many of the younger Bakhtiyarian break with the nomadic or even traditional life and move to the city. After all, this younger generation not only faces the nosy city population, but also has a strong headwind from its own family. A certain generation conflict is not avoidable when the older family members insist on nomadic way of life or at least small-town life and the younger tend to live in the city.

The new opportunities now which young people face, make the conflict more exacerbated. Since the 1960s, nomadic children have also been taught by teachers, some teachers drive long distances to teach reading, writing and arithmetic to children. Due to the elementary education they receive, many of them dream to continue studying or even study in urban schools in cities. Whether it will already be possible for the dreaming children, who still guard goats today or jump from roof to roof in the village, to remain on this path, make the children uncertain. And especially the girls are not allowed to make this decision alone, at most they have the luck to marry a man who wants to follow the same path as they do, given the strictly patriarchal structured society. All these questions and developments take place behind the idyll of the village and the mountain landscape. This fact that at least the building inside of the village remains as it is, and does not keep up with the times, is already provided by Iranian authorities. The Iranian preference for lovely mountain villages and the appreciation of the cultural assets of the country, it is probably due to the fact that the Bakhtiyarians traditional image of the village (more) may change. Therefore, more modern and larger houses are built only outside the village center. Thus, for the next few years, the uniquely beautiful view of the village is seen.

Traditional Ceremonies: Wedding Party

Traditional Ceremonies: Wedding Party

 

Like in any other cultures, since very ancient times, Iranians have also had special occasions to celebrate and revive traditions. Feasts are not necessarily happy gatherings. At times, people gather together to commemorate and honor an event a person, etc.

The Categorization of Feasts in Iran

Here is a categorization of the gatherings in Iran:

  1. Ancient, Mythical and seasonal feasts;
  2. Religious feasts;
  3. National and Governmental feasts;
  4. Family feats; and,
  5. Regional feasts.

The most commonly celebrated feasts, at present, in Iran are briefly introduced here.

Since ancient times, many feasts were accompanied by myths or legends as their sources of origination like Nowruz, Tirgan, Mehrgan, Yalda and Sadeh.

Some Ceremonies in Iran

Nowruz

When the Sun reaches the vernal equinox on the meridian, the 20th or 21st of March, days and nights are approximately equal. This very same day has long been called Nowruz (“now” means new and “ruz” means day). Since thousands of years ago, Iranians knew this and regarded it as the first day of the New Year in Iranian solar calendar.

The first mythical king, Jamshid, is said to have celebrated this occasion as the beginning of his establishing justice and defeating demons.

To celebrate Nowruz, there are some preparatory traditions observed by Iranians like: last Wednesday feast (firecrackers, etc), deceased day and the last Thursday (Honoring the Deceased in the cemeteries, etc), khaneh tekany (house cleaning, etc), cereal planting, haftseen (special combination of symbolic stuff at everyone’s home), new clothes, Nowruz dishes, visiting each other, the first Nowruz, its presents, its post cards, Sizdah-Beh-Dar (national day for picnicking) and so forth.

Tirgan

At the evening of the 12th day of the fourth month of their own calendar (Tir), the 2nd or 3rd of July, people in Mazandaran province celebrate Tirgan. Tir means arrow and Titgan refers to the occasion when Arash, the legendary bowman, shot an arrow to indicate the borderline between Iran and Turan. Arash lost his entire energy and died afterward. The feast includes many traditions like plays, poem reading, singing, eating, drinking, etc.

Mehrgan

Mehr is the 7th month of Iranian calendar, app Sept 21st to Oct 20th, and the name of the goddess of the Sun. At this harvest time, Zoroastrian people in Kerman celebrate the occasion by sacrificing a sheep or a chicken and honor it by feasting, etc.

Yalda (Chelleh)

It is the longest night of the year, the 21st or 22nd of September, and as some believe, the birthday of Mehr the undefeatable. They said at the end of this night, darkness is defeated and light gains victory. It is also the day of harvesting crops and the beginning of farmers’ rest period.

People gather together in the house of the eldest member of the entire family enjoying themselves eating summer fruits as well as nuts. They also read poems of Hafez and have a lot of chat.

Sadeh

It means emergence and refers to forty days after the birth of Mehr, 10th of Bahman (Jan 29th or 30th). People celebrate this occasion by setting huge fire outside some cities that, of course, can be interpreted differently. It is not celebrated by the whole nation nowadays.

Sadeh is a very ancient non-religious celebratory occasion during which all religions take part in the feast, have a special soup, and eat nuts and fruits. They all wear colorful clothes and make-ups and enjoy themselves.

Pir-e-Chak-Chak

It is a pilgrimage site for the Zoroastrians from all around the world who gather together at the 62km northeast of Yazd at the heart of desert once a year in the 21st or 22nd of June.

During their stay there, they go two or three times to the temple with their heads covered. They burn candles, pray, vow, wear special white dresses and bands around their waists. Votive soup and bread are served for everyone in addition to other foodstuff.

It is also a time for renewing the meetings, entertaining, water sprinkling, etc. Note that water sprinkling is customary in different parts of Iran during Nowruz or other feasts.

Qara Kelisa

It is a famous ancient church near Maku, West Azerbaijan province in Iran. Qara Kelisa or Tade’oos church is a pilgrimage site for the Armenians who go there as groups or families after mid August each year.

They stay there at least for three days of feasting, praying, singing in choir, entertaining, dancing, horse/mule/donkey ridding, etc.

Armenians who converted to Christianity in 300 were an ethnic group within the Iranian empire and Tade’oos is said to have been Jesus disciple who was evangelizing, was martyred and buried there. Later, this church was built at his burial place.

Carpet Washing in Mashad-e-Ardehal

To commemorate the martyrdom of one the descendants of the 5th Imam of Shiite Twelvers, people around Ardehal and Kashan perform a special ceremony once a year. It includes washing the carpet of his mausoleum in the spring nearby to commemorate the event during which the dead body was wrapped in a carpet and later the carpet was washed there.

During the ceremony, people also damn his enemies who murdered him and wave clubs up in the air to show their feeling of hatred toward his enemies. The feast includes going on picnic, shopping, etc. But it is a very unique feast because of its peculiar ceremonies.

Other Sites & Rites

There are thousands of tombs in Iran in which the descendants of Imams are buried. That is why there are called Imamzadeh (born of Imam). They are pilgrimage sites for Shiites, both local and non-local people. Some of the buildings of these tombs are very old, for example, 800 year old.

In each area of Iran, various ethnic and religious groups are living at the same neighborhood. Therefore, there can be found different varieties of the same feasts or different local ones.

Nowruz, Iranian New Year, has got deep roots among ancient Iranians, particularly farmers. As their lives depended largely on agriculture and producing food, it has got strong connection to such lifestyle. You need to know Nowruz history and roots of Nowruz Celebration to understand it better.

Preparing for Nowruz Celebration in Persepolis

Preparing for Nowruz Celebration in Persepolis

When no agricultural activities were possible in Winter, each individual used to go home and try to keep warm on his/her own. The end of Winter and beginning of Spring, when it got warm again and the people, most of whom were farmers, could get out and come together for work and produce food, the time for togetherness started. This could be a solid reason for Nowruz celebration!

Nowruz & Mythology

According to the ancient myths, when Iranian mythological king, Jamshid, ruled in Iran for 1000 years, everything was good. Food was abundant, lies didn’t exist, plants didn’t go dry, people didn’t suffer from extreme cold and hot weather conditions, nobody got old, jealous, etc.

During such time and at the beginning of first day of the first month of Spring, Jamshid sat on his throne decorated with gems and put on a crown encrusted with jewels, against the East. When the Sun started shining at him and the throne, people saw him glittering like the Sun. Therefore, this brought plenty of happiness and joy to the nation. They celebrated that day and called it a new day, Nowruz. The happy ceremonies took five days and everyone celebrated the New Year and the revival of nature.

Nowruz & History

Since 3rd millenium BC, Nowruz was commemorated with joy in Iranian plateau, but not in the Eastern half of Iran. At the same time, it was celebrated in the Mesopotamia. Nowruz history doesn’t originally go back to a Zoroastrian nor an Aryan tradition.

Nowruz Celebration by Ancient Iranians

Nowruz Celebration by Ancient Iranians

 

There was another festivity popularly celebrated after the time of harvest around early November. During that time, Iranian calendar had 7 months of Summer and 5 months of Winter. Mehregan was at the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter. The cause of joy was the crops harvested, meaning food for people.

Nowruz and Mehregan were celebrated in several other adjacent countries. For example they were popular among Semites, Arabs of Medina, etc. These annual celebration have continued till now in various countries.

When you study Nowruz history, you find out it wasn’t a Zoroastrian festivity, because Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrians, hasn’t mentioned it. On the other hand, it wasn’t celebrated at the Eastern half of Iran, where the main concentration of Zoroastrians used to live. One fact is for sure: Nowruz was celebrated in Persepolis.

Nowruz Festivity in Ancient Calendars

In Achaemenian era, people and officials commemorated Nowruz in form of an annual tradition everywhere – at home and in Persepolis. Some researchers believe that during early Achaemenian era, Mehregan was celebrated in Fall, but under Darius I, the beginning of Spring was determined to be the time for the annual festivity in Persepolis.

The Persian king was sitting in a particular direction and specific spot in Persepolis so that daylight could shine at his face at sunrise. This is why Persepolis is known as the throne of Jamshid and Iranians call it Takht-e-Jamshid.

In Parthian and Sassanian eras, various calendars caused the day of Nowruz to move to other days as the calculation for different calendars were not the same.

Iranians continued celebrating Nowruz even after Arabs’ invasion, which brought Islam to Iran. Arab caliphs weren’t happy about this at all, but Iranian Muslims kept on honoring and celebrating their national rituals.

Under Seljuks, when Turk authorities were very much against Nowruz festivities, Iranian calendar went through several manipulative changes. Eventually, a group of mathematicians were assigned a project to correct the calendar including Omar Khayyam. They fixed Nowruz time at the beginning day of Spring, almost the same as 21st of March, when Iranians celebrate Nowruz these days.

When Safavids ruled in Iran from 16th to 18th centuries, Nowruz celebration was mixed with some Islamic rituals. Religious leaders narrated traditions from Imams to approve that the prophet Mohammad and others did great things at such a day. Therefore, today Iranian Shiites celebrate Nowruz as an annual Iranian-Islamic event and even recognize it as a holy and blessed day.

Special Items to Buy for Nowruz Ceremonies

Special Items to Buy for Nowruz Ceremonies

 

This is the second part of the series of activities people are involved in before Nowruz and after that.

More Customs and Traditions before Nowruz

Below is the list of more customs and traditions of the Iranian New Year:

Making Noise with Spoon

Young girls/women hit the bowls at Chaharshanbeh Soori

Young girls/women hit the bowls at Chaharshanbeh Soori

Decent girls and women, who had wishes like getting married, walked out at night with copper bowls and hit them with spoons at the threshold of seven doors without saying anything. The house dwellers knew they had certain wishes and replied with putting certain things like nuts, cookies, rice, legumes, etc at their bowls.

Refusing to give away anything would mean to those women that their needs wouldn’t be met. Receiving something, on the other hand, had the opposite meaning of the former.

Unlocking the Lock

According to various local customs and traditions before Nowruz, single girls who wanted better luck in getting married, went through different rituals. Sometimes, a mother chased her daughter with a piece of burning wood. It was symbolic of giving her away to her husband.

Sometimes, girls took bath in a particular spring to get married or married women did the same thing to push out the bad luck from their home and win their husbands’ love.

Several similar works were carried out at the night before the last Wednesday of the year to unlock the locked happiness of their lives.

Jar Breaking

Women used to break jars to keep their household safe

Women used to break jars to keep their household safe

 

The women, who wanted to keep away evil from their household, went to the roof or some designated tower in their communities to throw down a new (not used) jars to break them. They believed this could keep their families safe.

Taking Amen by Jars

Women used to come together with a narrow-spout jar and everyone threw some object into it. Another woman wrote some love poems on small pieces of paper and threw them into the same jar. Then, a very young girls (who wasn’t grown up yet), was asked to take out an object and a piece of paper. The poem would say something about the life of the owner of the object.

Breaking Spells

Some made a particular liquid mixture with vinegar and sprinkled it at four corners of their houses, the rooms and the entrance to break the spells and let the blessing flow in their lives.

Chaharshanbeh Soori Soup

Special soup is prepared for Chaharshanbeh Soori celebration

Special soup is prepared for Chaharshanbeh Soori celebration

 

If someone was ill, his/her family made a votive soup at the night before the last Wednesday of the year. Some of it was given to the ill person and the rest was distributed among the poor. This was to bring back health to the ill person by some charitable act.

Distributing Chaharshanbeh Soori Nuts

Some nuts were bought by the women who had particular wishes. They bought a combination of seven different nuts, cleaned and unshelled them to eat the kernels with family, relatives and friends. While having the nuts, they narrated a particular story. Today this tradition is just to have something to eat and enjoy.

Remembering the Deceased

This pre-Nowruz tradition, like in many other nations, has got roots in the antiquity. Even in different religions, people tend to remember the beloved ones they have lost in specific days.
In some areas of Iran, people still keep this tradition in various ways. Some light up lanterns or put some fire on the roofs and turn on lights sooner at the last day of the year and keep them going until the dawn of the first day of the New Year.

In some other areas, firework on hilltops and outdoor is the tradition to remember the deceased. Other forms of such remembering are like burning candles at different corners of home. In particular cities, illumination of shops and fireworks symbolized such occasion. Today firework at the night before the last Wednesday of the year, Chaharshanbeh Soori, is another form of this tradition.

Conclusion

In general, people have been keeping several customs and traditions before Nowruz indicating the end of the old and the beginning of the new. They need to remember the dead ones and keep living in happiness and health.

Once a year, people get prepared for another year at Nowruz, 21st of March, by keeping such customs and traditions. This creates a state of bliss and joyfulness in everyone.

 

Nowruz Entertainer

Nowruz Entertainer

 

Since ancient times, Iranians have observed various customs and traditions before Nowruz (Iranian New Year) and after that. These are a series of activities that take different forms in various parts of Iran. Below is a list of some activities people have been involved to get prepared for this annual festivity.

Main Customs and Traditions before Nowruz

There are several activities going on among Iranians before the new year starts. You can read some of the main ones here and continue learning about them on the next part!

Nowruz Messengers

They are some groups of entertainers who bring the message of the New Year at public places by singing, dancing, acting, etc to make people happy. Such tradition has had various names and forms at different parts of Iran. What has been common among all of them is the intention to bring happy time to the people regardless of the clothes they wear, songs they sing and appearances they make.

At such days before Nowruz and sometimes several days after the equinox, people give presents to one another and to those messengers who entertain the whole community.

To Get Prepared for Nowruz

In ancient times, Iranians who have been mostly farmers, planted seven types of seeds of wheat, barley, beans, corn, chickpeas, rice, etc on top of column-like cylinders so that the green plants could grow at the outset of the New Year. This could bring the good news of the blessed New Year ahead. The plant growing better could be a sign of better crop from that seed in the year to come.

Today people plant seeds likewise about 2 or 3 weeks before Nowruz at small plates or vessels. At the end of Nowruz holidays, they take them out of their homes and leave them in nature and sometimes throw them into the running water. Here are some of the customs and traditions before Nowruz:

Home Clean-up before Nowruz

This happens at all levels at homes. People take dust away from walls, floors, household stuff, etc. They also wash vessels, clothes, curtains, carpets, etc and bleach copper vessels and soothe-stricken walls. Old broken things are thrown out or given away. Instead, new stuff replaces them so that everything is renewed. This is done every year before Nowruz.

All such cleaning customs at home symbolize the removal of evil from home and living environment and prepare a clean home to welcome the spirits of their beloved ones who had lost their lives.

Chaharshanbeh Soori

Jumping over fire at Chaharshanbeh Soori

Jumping over fire at Chaharshanbeh Soori

The last Wednesday of the year is celebrated by fireworks one night before it comes. Soor means celebration. Among some Iranians like Kurds, it means red. Ancient Iranians celebrated the end of the year by setting up the red flames of fire at the roofs of their houses showing the way to the spirits of their lost ones so that they could reunite with them.

Another tradition kept by the people is to put 3, 5 or 7 heaps of dry bushes and thorns in a row, set them on fire and jump over them one after another. In various parts of Iran, they sing different songs while jumping. The content of all such short songs are focused on giving away their pain, sorrow and illness to gain health, happiness and fresh lives. Then, ashes are thrown into running water.

Water Sprinkling Games

Another tradition before Nowruz is water sprinkling games. Women used to go to water springs to bring water home to sprinkle it over everything. They believed this would bring freshness and health to their lives. Some Kurds fetch water from a spring before sunrise in jars and jumped over them three times. They made up their eyes with charcoal, drank from these jars and offer them to their neighbors and friends. Some women trim their fingernails or cut a little of their hair and left them to rivers so that water took their misery and pain away.

Eavesdropping

An interesting custom among Iranians before Nowruz is eavesdropping. Girls and women who would like to get married, go on pilgrimage, journeys, etc, used to go out and stand at crossroads and corners for overhearing what others say. If they heard pleasant happy words, it would indicate a happy blessed year was ahead of them. If bitter and sorrowful words were heard, they wouldn’t reach their goals and their wishes wouldn’t come true.

 

shovel-turning

shovel-turning

 

An athlete participating in “Shovel Turning” Ceremonies in Nimvar

People of Nimvar, near Mahalat, central Iran, still keep shovel turning ceremonies to cherish water and thank Anahita, the ancient goddess of water. “Bil” is shovel and “gardani” means turning in Persian. It symbolizes the joint effort and empathy among the people living in a community carried out every year at the beginning of the spring. This rain prayer ceremony in Iran is deeply rooted in irrigation culture and showing off the power to the enemies, those who steal the water, etc. In addition, Nimvar inhabitants believe they gain more water and blessing if they continue to keep observing it.

I must add that Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization has registered this tradition as “National Intangible Cultural Heritage” and every year more people are learning about this local annual festivity and participate in it.

How Shovel Turning Ceremonies Are Held

Late winter and early spring are the time periods when the local people and farmers go out to Shajoob, the main river of Nimvar. They unblock the water brooks anywhere the course of water is clogged by mud or wild grass. This is to make sure water reaches its destination. When water gets to the main sub-branch leading to a brook called “Vargoo”, the bilgardani ceremonies begin. Therefore, farmers can achieve their goals to irrigate their farms and be certain they would get the crops they’ve planted for.

Nimvar people marching to start Bilgardani Ceremonies

Nimvar people marching to start Bilgardani Ceremonies

 

When the elders of the town announce it’s time to clear the brooks off the obstacles, people collaborate to let water flow all the way to the farms. When this stage is left behind and the farms are irrigated, farmers and athletes of the region begin to go to the ceremonies location where a large crowd participates to watch it.

The festivity goes on for several days. Every day, farmers march with their shovels to the ceremonies location, which is at the center of Nimvar on a platform. The athletes of the region bring two sets of shovels tied in a bunch of 4 and 3 tied together separately. Now an athlete can go to the middle of the gathering and hold each set in one hand and start turning shovels. This requires a lot of physical strength and skill, which is something only the trained ones can do.

Each bunch of shovels could weight approximately 30 kg. Athletes are supposed to turn them from 5 to 30 times around their heads in opposite directions. During this time, people begin to pray for rain, the heavenly blessing. This involves the wish for the seven skies to start moving around and let the rain come down upon the area where they live. They want the divine mercy in form of rain for their farms as their lives depend on the crops they harvest each year.

Performing shovel turning on Nimvar platform for the spectators

Performing shovel turning on Nimvar platform for the spectators

The History of Shovel Turning Ceremonies

The people of Nimvar used to hold this public ritual of Bilgardani since 2000 years ago in central Iran. In addition to asking for heavenly blessing, they took the opportunity to show their physical strength to their enemies so that they could remain in peace without any outside threat to their peaceful lives. Also, this is a rain prayer ceremony in Iran out of several held in various parts of Iran.

Some also analyze this event as an example of ancient people’s encounter with natural challenges. People have always tried to tackle the obstacles in nature and in life reach to their goals. In doing so, some efforts have turned into traditions and accompanied by certain ceremonies. This is another example of such efforts by ancient Iranians.

Today’s Ceremonies

I know the following video isn’t in English, but imagine you’ve traveled to Iran and participated in a 15-minutes bilgardani gathering in which English isn’t spoken. Just go through the entire clip and see which activities it involves:

Iran isn’t the only ancient country in the world holding such ceremonies. You can find similar ones in other parts of the world too. What happens in Iran these days, is a lot more organized than the old times. Certain types of local food and soup are cooked and served. Traditional local music is played and people enjoy watching and listening to it. Sometimes, particular water-related plays are performed.

All this is a reminder of the importance of water and its vital role in today’s life. No matter how advanced we are, water is always a necessity and resources are scarce. All of us need to think twice about our models of water consumption. Industries need to think again about how they use water to reach their goals. What do you think about our usage of water today?