THE GAHANBARS AND THE GATHAS
THE MESSAGE OF ZARATHUSHTRA
THE GAHANBARS AND THE GATHAS
Zarathushtra, himself born in an agricultural environment, preached and spread his Good Religion among people engaged in crop cultivation and animal husbandry. Hid 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, and harmful deeds, but helped to strengthen and promote all the then-existing constructive activities of a good living.
The agricultural 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 kept in step with saredha, the tropical solar year of 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45.5 seconds, but differed a little on certain points. Their activities were scheduled to correspond with various phases of their agricultural life. 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 festivals were known as Yâirya Ratu, the rightful yearly rite. Yâirimeans “year”, solar or not, perhaps because the festivals were not precisely based on regular on regular seasonal changes, but as said, to suit the particular climate of the people concerned. And this is a particular point to note. The six seasonal festivals were:
- Hamaspathmaidhaya, 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.
- Maidhyoi-zaremaya (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 cops sown in late winter or early spring.
- Maidhyoi-shema (Mid-summer), 12th day of Tir, on or about 3rd July, was the beginning of the harvesting season.
- Paitish-hahya (Grain-reaping), 25th day of Shahrivar, on or about 16th September, marked the end of harvesting.
- Ayâthrima (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.
- Maidhyâirya (Mid-year), 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 activity.
It may be noted that the seasonal quarters and semi-quarters fall the 1st and 16th days of Fasli or “seasonal” months, on or about 4th May, 22nd June, 7th August, 23rd September, 7th November, 22nd December, and 5th February. 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 “calenderically” or traditionally bound but were very practical people, a point to note.
Most probably the festivals were celebrated by pre-Zarathushtrian people with sacrifices to gods and goddesses and by indulging in a joyous festivity.
CHANTING AND FEASTING
Avestan evidences, particularly the book of the Vispered, show that the early Zarathushtrians turned the seasonal festivity into a 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-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 âsh or the Parsi spiced dhansâk, both relished on the occasion. Merrymaking was the fold music and dances still observed among Iranian tribes all over the Iranian Plateau and beyond.
The word Gâthâ was eased into Gâs and Gâh in Pahlavi or Middle Persian. Gâsân or Gâhân is the plural form and in Pahlavi and Zoroastrian Persian, it always means the “five Gathas” and nothing else. Bâr in Pahlavi and Persian means “occasion, time, turn.” The Persian name for the festival is Gâhânbâr, the turn (to turn to) the Gathas. The folk etymology of gâh-anbâr (time-stack), which should grammatically be anbâr+gâh (stack-time), is of only recent interpretation by persons either not knowing Pahlavi and Zoroastrian Persian or not understanding the significance of the festival in connection with the Gatha recitation. Ghambâr is Parsi Gujarati.
Why so much importance was given to the Gathas? The answer is provided by the Yasna (chapters 55 and 58) and the Vispered (chapters 13-14, 16, 18-24). They say: The Gathas “are the Primal Principles of Life, [and] we wish to maintain our lives fresh as is the will [of Ahura Mazda] … They are our guardians and protectors. They are food for our minds, in fact, they are food and clothing for our souls. …. We recite, sing, learn, memorize, chant from memory, practice, and teach them. … We esteem each and every word, line, stanza, and song-the entire bound (book) of the Gathas. …. We also esteem all the questions and answers exchanged in regards to them.”
The Gathas, as said earlier, are prayers to God and guidance for humanity. They are communion with God, and at the same time, they impart an eternally modern message. The Gathas lead humanity, with all its modern science, to Mazda Ahura, the Super-Wise God. With the Gathas as the guide in thought, word, and deed, one may devote one¦s good life in learning, practicing, teaching and preaching the divine doctrine.
The Zarathushtrian Assembly has revived the true Gâhânbâr spirit. It celebrates the Gâhânbârs by an opening prayer appropriate to the Gâhânbâr concerned; the recitation, explanation, and questions-and-answers of one Gathic song; an enlightening talk; collectively provided stewed dish (both âsh and dhansâk), potluck, and refreshments; and music and dance.