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The six agricultural festivals of ancient Persia

Zarathushtra lived in an agrarian society so it is natural that farmers and those who toiled the soil were honoured and major festivals revolved around seasonal activities such as sowing and harvesting. There were six such festivals called saredha in Avesta and gahanbar in Persian (gahambar in Gujrati). Later, each of the gahanbars became associated with a creation of Ahura Mazda.

Gahambar Meaning Date Association
Maidyozarem Mid-spring April 30 - May 4 Sky
Maidyoshahem Mid-summer June 29 - July 3 Water
Paitishahem Bringing in the harvest September 12 - Sep 16 Earth
Ayathrem Bringing in the herds October 12 - 16 Plants
Maidyarem Mid-winter December 31 - January Animals
Hamaspathmaidyem Remembering fravashis of the departed Mar 16 - Mar 20 Humans

Paitishahem Gahanbar, the third gahanbar of the year, celebrates bringing in the harvest'. Associated with the creation earth, it is generally observed from 12th September to 16th September. Traditionally, the gahanbars were joyous festivals that lasted five days and provided an opportunity for the whole village to get together to share the labour required to finish the tasks associated with the season. The first four days were spent in preparing for the feast. Able-bodied men, women and children worked in the fields to complete the seasonal tasks. Priests recited prayers remembering righteous ancestors, and praying for the collective good of the village and those who resided in the seven regions of the world.
Feasting took place on the fifth day. An old Avesta injunction, later called Afringan e Gahanbar (or gahambar blessing), directed all participants to bring a contribution of whatever they could afford to add to the communal pot - meat, vegetables, grains. People could also contribute firewood. For those who could not afford any contribution in kind, the Afringan suggested that they donate their time and labour. The stew made up of multiple ingredients (the forerunner of the Iranian dish aush or the Parsi staple dhansak) was then shared at a communal feast.

In today‟s world, when majority of Zarathushtis live in urban areas, gahanbars may seem redundant rituals harking back to our past with little meaning to our fast-paced lives. In some cases, people even scoff at them because, according to current Shahenshahi and Kadmi calendars, they do not even fall within their appointed seasonal times. However, if we examine the elements behind the gahanbar celebration, we see that they celebrate core Zarathushti values that are as relevant today as they were 5000 years ago:

1. Equality and acceptance
2. Fellowship and unity ("hamazor") with those in our community and globally
3. Generosity (not as charity, but sharing and volunteering)
4. Gratitude for our blessings
5. Hard work
6. Honouring the righteous, departed and living
7. Interdependence and teamwork

One of the reasons the gahanbar celebration have lost their meaning in our lives today is that the focus is on turning up to eat catered food. Perhaps a swingback to everyone contributing what they can to the meal, if not the ingredients for the stew, then as a „pot luck‟ dinner, would revive the inherent essence of gahanbars again.**

Source: Zarathushtrian Ceremonies: a reconstruction based on the Gathas. Dr. Ali Jafarey. Ushta Publications. 1992 Zoroastrian Rituals:Afrinagan of the Gahambars.

Thanks to USHAO