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Yazidi & Ahl-e Haqq religions in Iran
Encyclopedia Iranica

The many similarities shared by these two religious groups do not extend to their festivals. The Yazidis have a relatively large number of festivals, which are the only occasions when communities gather for religious purposes. Ahl-e Ḥaqq (q.v.), on the other hand, congregate several times a year to participate in the performance of the jamʿ ceremony, but only one occasion mentioned in their tradition (on which see below) could be described as a festival.

Yazidi festivals can be divided into local and general occasions. The latter group in turn consists of movable festivals, which are of evidently Islamic origin and follow the lunar calendar, and fixed or seasonal ones, whose dates are now calculated by the Seleucid calendar (see CALENDAR), but which probably go back to the seasonal observances of the ancient Iranian peoples.
In the Šayḵān area of northern Iraq, Yazidi local festivals are known as ewaf (Ar. awāf). Every village with a shrine holds an annualewaf in the name of the holy figure to whom the shrine is dedicated. Although religious rites form part of the proceedings, these events are noted mainly for their festive atmosphere, dancing, and communal meals. Many Yazidis who were evicted from their villages in Northern Iraq in the l980s continue to hold the ewaf of the original village, in order to keep alive the memory of their former home, even if the new place of residence has a ewaf of its own.

The most important movable festivals of the Yazidi calendar are the “Night of Barāt,” the “Feast of Ramażān,” and the “Feast of ʿArafāt.” The “Night of Barāt” is the Yazidi counterpart of the Muslim Laylat al-barāʾa, when God is thought to determine the events of the following year. Like the Muslim observance, the Yazidi festival is celebrated on 15 Šaʿbān. On that night Yazidis gather at the sanctuary of Shaikh ʿAdī, and followers of one group of shaikhs perform a modified form of the Muslim alāt. Shaikhs of another group traditionally disrupt the prayer and steal the prayer mats. This custom perhaps represents a compromise originally intended to ease tensions within the early Yazidi community.

The “Feast of Ramaẓān” is celebrated two days before the Muslim ʿĪd al-fer. The explanation given for this early date is that one year Shaikh Ḵāl Šamsān, a disciple of Shaikh ʿAdī b. Mosāfer, returned to Laleš after a period of imprisonment two days before the end of the fast. Shaikh ʿAdī was overjoyed and promptly ordered the feast to begin.

The Yazidi “Feast of ʿArafāt” falls on 9 Ḏu’l-ḥejja, i.e., on the same date as the sojourn at ʿArafa during the Islamic háajj. It is said that members of the Yazidi “priestly” castes go to Shaikh ʿAdī a few days before the actual feast, and spend their time in pious discourse. On the day of the feast, they prepare various foods, and later climb to the top of Mt. ʿArafāt (a mountain at Laleš) where they stay a short while. Then, near sunset, they run down the mountain to the sanctuary of Shaikh ʿAdī, where they wash their hands and faces in the waters of the Zamzam (a spring in the sanctuary).

The fixed festivals of Yazidism include a spring New Year, and summer, autumn, and winter celebrations. The New Year (Sar-ē sāl) is celebrated on the first Wednesday of April (Seleucid), with bonfires at night, and houses decorated with flowers and eggs colored for the children. The festival also has a more solemn side as a memorial for the dead is held on this occasion.

The “Forty Days of Summer” (Čella-yē hāvīnān) are a period of fasting. On 10 June (Seleucid), a number of religious dignitaries go to Laleš where they fast for three days; after this they continue their fast at home. A few days before the end of the forty-day period they go back to Laleš to complete the fast, this time accompanied by other Yazidis; there are then general celebrations to mark the end of the fast.

The autumn “Festival of the Assembly,” which strongly resembles the Zoroastrian Mehragān (q.v.), is the apex of the Yazidi religious year. It is held fFESANJĀNrom 23 to 30 September (Seleucid). As the name indicates, this is the time when the entire community gathers at Laleš. Some Yazidis believe that the Seven Angels gather at this time to decide the fate of the world for the coming year, and their meeting is mirrored by the gathering of the terrestrial leaders of the faith at the sanctuary of Shaikh ʿAdī. The obligation on every Yazidi to attend the festival is one of the main requirements of the faith. The festival culminates on the fifth day, in the sacrifice of a bull at the shrine of Shaikh Šams, who was once a leader of the faith but is now venerated as an angel, and also represents the sun.

Other observances include performances of the samāʿ, i.e., sessions when Yazidi hymns are chanted and the sacred musical instruments are played by a special group of performers (qawwāl) in the presence of many pilgrims. On the sixth day, the people of the village of ʿAyn Sefnī buy and kill a sheep, which they cook whole in a large pot, tearing up the meat with their bare hands when it is done. On the seventh and last day another ceremony takes place, called “Rug of Netting” (Bar-ē šebākē). This commemorates the death of Shaikh ʿAdī b. Mosāfer, who is believed to have died on the sixth day of the festival. The ceremony consists of creating a “bier” by tying cords together in such a way that they form an oblong net. This is placed upon two bars, and covered with cloth. It is then taken from the Shaikh ʿAdī’s tomb-chamber to a well in the forecourt of the sanctuary, where it is washed; after this it is returned to the tomb-chamber.

At one time, a forty-day period of fasting similar to that of the Čella-yē hāvīvān may have been observed in Yazidism, but modern Yazidis only know a three-day fast in winter. The fast is followed by the festival of Bēlenda on the first of December, the anniversary of Ēzīd (or Yazīd, an important figure originally identical with the Omayyad Yazīd b. Moʿāwīa). A feast of the dead, held on 10 December (Seleucid), is mentioned in older sources, but its observance has now come to be widely associated with Bēlenda. Another winter feast is that of Ḵeżr Elyās, which the Yazidis share with other religious communities in the area.

As in the case of Yazidism, a three-day fast in winter followed by a festival is associated with Solṭān Saḥāk, an early leader of the faitFESTIVALSh, is also found in the tradition of the Ahl-e Ḥaqq; some groups fast another three days after the feast. The occasion is generally said to be in commemoration of the three days which Solṭān Saḥāk spent in a cave when pursued by his brothers, while the feast celebrates his release. Another version claims that seven holy figures (the Qawalās) were dead or covered by snow for three days and then came to life again.


Bibliography: S. S. Būrekeʾī, Neveštahā-ye parākanda dar bāra-ye Yāresān-e Ahl-e Ḥaqq, Tehran 1363 Š./1984. C. J. Edmonds, A Pilgrimage to Lalish, London, 1967. Idem, “The Beliefs and Practices of the Ahl-i Ḥaqq of Iraq,” Iran, 1969, pp. 89-101. G. Furlani, “Le Feste dei Yezidi,” WZKM 45, 1937, pp. 65-97. J. S. Guest, The Yezidis: A Study in Survival, London and New York, 1987. M. R. Hamzeh’ee, The Yaresan: A Sociological, Historical and Religio-historical Study of a Kurdish Community, Berlin, 1990. W. Ivanow, The Truth-Worshippers of Kurdistan: Ahl-i Haqq Texts, Leiden, 1953. P. G. Kreyenbroek, Yezidism: Its Background, Observances and Textual Tradition, Lampeter, Wales, 1995. R. Lescot, Enquête sur les Yezidis de Syrie et du Djebel Sinjār, Beirut, 1938.

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