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Esfandgan Celebration

The monthEsfand, particularly its fifth day which is called “Esfandrouz” in all Iranian calendars has been regarded as the month and day of celebrating fertile earth and women in Iranian culture.

The Persian word “esfand” is derived from the Pahlavi word “sependarmad” and Avestan word “sepantaharmaiti” whose core is “armaiti” to which the word “sepant/ sepand” is added for more respect and celebration.

‘Armaiti” is usually considered as “modesty and calm” but it does not seem correct and many researchers have not accepted it. In his Early Zoroastrianism, L. Moltonhas considered it as “aramata” meaning “the mother of the earth” which is close in meaning to the Sanskrit and vedai word “aramti” meaning “earth”. In Zoroastrian “gatha” (poem 45, section 4) the word has been used as “earth” describing “dogedar”(Ahuramazda’s daughter), the same word which is used by Zaroast for his daughter, “porochista” (in translations done by Bartolume, Darmester and Pourdavood). In the Sanskrit translation of ‘neriosang” from the same section of Avesta, “armeiti” is also translated to “earth” and in the Pahlavi text “zandva human yasn” it is used in the same way. This name is current in Iranian Armenians too. They regard ‘sepandarmad”as “sepandarmat” and consider her as “the goddess of fertility”.

Therefore, “armeiti” or “sepantaharmeiti” in early times was the name of“earth”, particularly “fertile earth” or “the mother of earth”. Then it was hinted at the supporting angel of earth. After that he became one of “amshasepandan” or “ahura’scompanions”.

The author belives that the Mesopotamian goddess “sarpanito” or “eroa” who was the wife of “mardok, the great god, has a common origin with sepandarmat.Because eroa was the goddess of fertility and its meaning was fertility. In ancient Mesopotamia, after that “kasian” migrated there, a custom named “hashado” was conducted which was a symbolic marriage of mardok and eroa. Other customs were also conducted related to the “sacred marriage”. Any way, if armeiti had not meant modesty and calm, but meant the mother of eath, we should not neglect the link and relationship between “calm”and “mother bosom” in Indo-European languages.

As in ancient beliefs, the earth was regarded as fertile and nurturing like women and all creatures were nurtured in its bosom, they presume its gender as female. It is from this origin that such beautiful terms as “mother of homeland”and “motherland” has been derived. Our ancestors considered the earth as woman or mother and the sky as man or father. Such terms as “mother of earth” and “father of sky” have the same origins. No doubt, they felt some resemblance among woman and man on the one hand and earth, sky, rain and growing plants on the other. Also we know that in ancient Iranianbeliefs, the mankind generation or the first man and woman of the world, named “mashi and mashianeh” were created from the roots of a plant named “mehrgiah” at the heart of the earth. In fact, the earth or sependarmat was regarded as the mother of mankind generation.

There are numerous functions for aremiti and sepandarmat in Iranian culture and literature. In Zoroaster’s “gatha” it is mentioned eighteen times. Zoroaster calls its help for clean life, for fertilizing farms, pastures and animals, for emerging a good governor and for helping his daughter “Porochista” in choosing her husband. In Iranian myths, s/he suggested Manuchehr to make an arc-and-arrow for ArashKamangir in order to expand Iran’s territory for next generation. The Pahlavi text “sad darbandahesh” regards him as the companion for writers as the creators of thought. Ploutark said that Acmenid king, Adrdashir the Second demands Sependarmat to cure his wife, Atousa and he helps them. All Avesta, particularly “farvardinyesht” is full of words praising for women and earth.

It is mentionable that the three words of armeiti, zamin and zan are of ancient Arian or Indo-European words which were current in many Indo-European languages with some structural and syntax differences. I should also mention that the word“zan” (woman) is relatedto life but the word “mard” (man) to death. Our ancestors regarded woman as alive and full of life due to her fertility but they regarded man as sterile and his death as the end of life. Because of such a belief they considered the generation from their mother. This was not related to matriarchy. Even in Ilamian period during which matriarchy did not exist, people introduced themselves using their mother name.

Naming the last month of winter as “esfand” or “sepandarmat” is also originated from the fertility of earth. It is in this month that the first sprouts grow from the earth and promise the new fertility of earth.

Thus Iranians regarded this month, particularly its fifth day (namely “esfandruz”from “esfandmah”) as the day for celebrating the fertile earth and woman. In this day, men conducted some ceremonies for their wives and gave them some gifts (unfortunately there are not any information about these ceremonies).

Nowadays this celebration is still held in some central areas of Iran, including Eghlid, Kashan and Mahalat. On this day, women cook a kind of soup named “asheesfandi” for satisfying their fertility goddess. The ceremony is held in the countryside of Kashan in such villages as Nashlaj, Esrak and Niasar on the first day of Esfand. In her book about the history of Zoroastrianism, Mary Bois reports that until recently, Kermani Zoroastrians went to the deserts and killed a lot of insects and birds that damaged their farms.

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