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Home » National Celebrations of Iran » Jashn e Sadeh
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Jashn e Sadeh
(the Hundredth-day Festival)
Last Updated: October, 2009

Sadeh meaning hundred, is a mid winter feast that was celebrated with grandeur and magnificence in ancient Iran. It was a festivity to honor fire and to defeat the forces of darkness, frost and cold. The demon of winter with help from Ahriman had driven Rapithwin, the spirit of noon underground. Rapithwin once under the earth would protect the roots of plants and springs of water from the demon of frost.  Once the winter was ending, by setting up fires the worshipers would help Rapithwin who was also the Lord of the ideal time and perfect season to come back to the surface of the earth.

Two different days were observed for its veneration. One celebration marked the hundredth day before the religious No Ruz on the first day of the month Farvardin (religious No Ruz is different from spring No Ruz). The other one was the hundredth day after the gahambar of Ayathrima (one of the six feasts of obligation) held to be the beginning of winter. This day coincides with 10th of Bahman in present calendar. It is not clear why there are two Sadeh Festivals and why different regions have had different dates. Many of Zoroastrian holy days were and are celebrated twice; this is most likely caused by the calendar reform in the 3rd century AD.

From Achaemenid times the Iranian calendar had 360 days and was short of 5 days. Ardeshir the first Sasanian king reformed the calendar and 5 days were added in the end. The new calendar receded slowly against the solar year, and the holy days, which with their symbolism were closely linked with the seasons, gradually became divorced from them. The months moved and so did the holy days, to make sure festivals were observed correctly both the old and the new dates were celebrated. The festival celebrated in Yazd until a few decades ago was according to Fasli (seasonal) calendar and in a few villages it was called Hiromba. While other Zoroastrians celebrated the festival in the month of Bahman. There was confusion earlier in the century as to when it should be celebrated, but most Zoroastrians have adopted the 10th of Bahman as the main event.

In Sasanian times huge bon fires were set up. Priests led the prayers specific to fire ‘Atash Niyayesh’ and performed the correct rituals before it was lit at sunset. People danced around the fires. Wine an expensive luxury was served communally and like all other Zoroastrian religious ceremonies the occasion would end with fun, merriment and feasts. The most elaborate report of the celebration comes from the 10th century during the reign of Mardavij Zeyari, the ruler of Isfahan. From Iranian origin, the Zeyari family did their best to keep the old traditions alive after the Arab invasion.

Huge bon fires were set up on both sides of the ‘Zayandeh Rood’, the main river dividing the city. The fires were contained in specially build metal holders to maintain control. Hundreds of birds were released while carrying little fireballs to brighten the sky. There were fireworks, clowns, dance and music with lavish feasts of roasted lamb, beef, chicken and other delicacies.

The tradition was virtually lost even amongst the Zoroastrians. In Pahlavi era it was revived and adopted as a major celebration by the whole Zoroastrian community and it is becoming known and increasingly popular with the rest of the Iranians as well. Until recently, with Zoroastrians the chief preparation for Sadeh was the gathering of wood the day before the festival. Teen-age boys accompanied by a few adult males went to local mountains in order to gather camel’s thorn, a common desert shrub in Iran. For most it was the first time they were away from their families. Wood is a scarce commodity in Iran and the occasion resembles a rite of passage, a noteworthy step for the boys on the way to manhood.

The wood gathered was taken to the local shrine and on their return home if it was their first time there would be a celebration for the boys at home with friends and relatives. However this practice is becoming more difficult these days and attempts are made to preserve it. The work is hard, wood more scarcely than ever, fewer boys are prepared to attempt it and safety is a major concern. In addition massive emigration into the cities or outside the country has significantly reduced the number of boys available for this occasion.

Traditionally young boys went door to door and ask for wood and collected whatever they could get, from a broken spade-handle to logs and broken branches. While knocking on doors they would chant simple verses like "if you give a branch, god will grant your wish, if you don’t, god won’t favor your wish" and similar verses. All wood collected would be taken to the local shrine. Before the sunset, all gathered outside the temple to torch the wood. Prayers were said with chants remembering the great ones of the faith and the deceased. In ancient times the fires were always set near water and temples. The great fire originally meant (like winter fires lit at other occasions) to help revive the declining sun, and bring back the warmth and light of the summer. It was also designed to drive off the demons of frost and cold, which turned water to stone, and thus could kill the roots of plants beneath the earth. For this reasons the fire was lit near and even over water and by the shrine of Mihr, who was lord both of fire and the sun. Biruni in AD 1000 has very accurately described all these reasons for Sadeh Festival.

The fire was kept burning all night. The day after, first thing in the morning, women would go to the fire and each one would carry a small portion back to their homes and new glowing fires were made from the ritually blessed fire. This was done to spread the blessing of the Sadeh fire to every household in the neighborhood. Whatever that is left of the fire was taken back to the shrine to be pilled in one container and was kept at the temple. The festivities would normally go on for three days and the wood gathering by the boys door to door and blessing of the dead happened every night and evenings are spend eating and giving away ‘khairat’ (giving away as a good deed). Food prepared from slaughtered lamb and ‘ash e khairat’ were distributed amongst the less fortunate. Many Zoroastrians living in villages observed such practices as late the seventies, and some still follow many of the observances including setting up fires, the feasts and the communal celebrations.

Today, Sadeh is mainly celebrated on the 10th of Bahman. The fires may or may not be lit outside and most activities take place inside the shrines. The wood gathering activities are reduced though there are efforts to preserve them. However the bulk of the Iranians are becoming more familiar with the occasion and there are gatherings and celebrations outside Iran. Fires are lit music, dancing and merriment of all kinds will go on for the rest of the evening. The occasion for the majority of Iranians has no religious significance and no specific rituals are involved other than torching bon fires at sunset and having a merry time and therefore keeping up with the ancient traditions when merriment was venerated and practiced.

Recommended Readings

Mary Boyce:

  • Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. London: Routledge, 2001.
  • A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism. University Press of America; Reprint Edition, 1989.
  • Iranian Festivals. The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3 (2). The  
    Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods. Cambridge history Press, 1999, p 792-819.

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