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The Fire Festival

Cultural Events and Festivals

Di.r Ali A. Jafarey



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Take away fire and man will revert to wilderness like any other animal! The greatest discovery made by man and woman alone on this good earth is the art of making and maintaining fire. The human being, like any other animal, had seen fire striking from clouds, devouring bushes and trees, and devastating large tracts of green land. He had also seen fire being spewed by a volcano and the molten lava snaking and snarling its way down the slopes. He also knew it gave heat and scared ferocious animals. Though this has still not been proven by paleoanthropologists, most probably he knew how to keep it burning. It provided him and his associates with light, warmth, and a device to keep ferocious animals away.  He must have also learned to control fire which, in the long run, helped him to smelt metal ores.

But man did not know how to kindle it. The day he discovered this art, he separated from the animal kingdom that roamed the earth. He had discovered the source of light, heat, and energy--the very basis of civilization. Fire helped man to reduce nomadism and develop social and political institutions connected with a fixed abode.

No wonder the blazing fire soon became the object of veneration and represented all that is divine.

Legends of how man learned to make fire are as numerous as there are ancient nations. The notion that a god brought or stole it down from the sky is but an allusion to lightning striking and starting a fire. The idea that fire was thrown up by the earth reminds us of a volcanic eruption. The idea that fire was brought down from a tree by a wise man indicates that it was obtained from a burning tree. Legends that fire is a product of two rubbing branches or a “child of ten mothers” points to the much later discovery of creating friction by placing a stick in a wooden groove and rubbing, or rather rotating the stick with two palms, the ten fingers, the ten mothers.

The most striking is the Iranian legend, preserved, among other writings, in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh. Fire was accidentally discovered when a flint-axe, thrown by King Hushang to kill a snake, missed, struck a rock and threw a spark. That sparked the idea to kindle fire by striking two pieces of flint together--a theory confirmed by archeologists to be the most probable means of its discovery in the early stone stage.

Hushang, the Iranian legend says, celebrated the discovery by throwing a feast, a feast that has been kept alive through ages. It is held every year on 10 Bahman (30 January), almost mid-winter. It is called Sadeh, meaning "century" because according to one popular tradition, it falls on the hundredth day from October, the beginning of winter in Iranian names. Or, it is the contracted form of the Avestan saredha, Persian sard, meaning "cold, winter."

On that afternoon, people gather outside their town, make a hill of dry shrubs, bushes, weeds, and branches. Priests lead the prayers, exalting fire as the divine light, warmth, and energy, ask God for an ever-progressing life to eternal happiness, and as the sun sets in the blazing west, set the hill ablaze. It is a glorious sight to watch huge leaping flames. Those at home light little bonfires on top of their flat mud-plastered "fire-safe" roofs--a tribute to the civilized blessings given by the discovery of kindling fire.