Tag Archives: Culture

Chaharshanbe Suri – An Ancient Iranian Fire Festival to celebrate the last wednesday eve of the year

Chaharshanbe Suri is a fire jumping festival celebrated by Iranic people (Persians, Azerbaijani people, Armenians, Kurdish people, Assyrians, Bahá’í, Jews, Christian and Zoroastrians). The event takes place on the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowruz.

“Red Wednesday”, the words Chahar Shanbeh mean Wednesday and Suri means red, is an ancient Iranian festival dating back to at least 1700 BCE of the early Zoroastrian era. Also called the Festival of Fire, it is a prelude to Nowruz, which marks the arrival of spring. Bonfires are lit to “keep the sun alive” until early morning.

The celebration usually starts in the evening, with people making bonfires in the streets and jumping over them singing “zardi-ye man az toh, sorkhi-ye toh az man”. The literal translation is, my yellow is yours, your red is mine. This is a purification rite; you want the fire to take your pallor, sickness, and problems and in turn give you redness, warmth, and energy. There is Zoroastrian religious significance attached to Chaharshanbeh Suri and it serves as a cultural festival for Iranian and Iranic peoples.

Another tradition of this day is to make special Chaharshanbe Suri Ajil, or mixed nuts and berries. People wear disguises and go door to door knocking on doors as similar to trick-or-treat. Receiving of the Ajeel is customary, as is receiving of a bucket of water.

Sources: Wikipedia | Chaharshanbe Suri, ISNA 1, ISNA 2, ISNA 3, IRNA 1, IRNA 2

Chinese New Year Festival in Tehran, Iran

More than 1,000 people took part in “Happy Chinese New Year in Iran” celebration in Tehran ahead of the date by enjoying Chinese food and martial arts performance.

The event, organized by the Chinese Embassy, was a chance for the participants to learn about Chinese traditions, such as Chinese medicine with a doctor from the University of Tehran showing the practice of acupuncture. The doctor said the Chinese medical clinic set up by the university receives dozens of patients every day as Chinese medicine has been gaining popularity in Iran in recent years.

Red Dragon, directed by Ahmad Rastgou, and co-produced by Iran and China was displayed at the event and a children’s workshop brought together Iranian and Chinese children through Chinese national games and entertainments. A charity shop presented Chinese traditional handicrafts including calligraphy and Chinese miniature along with fireworks entertained the guests.

Performers from a local martial arts club wowed the crowd with their stunning acts and lion dances. A treat to traditional Chinese snacks such as dumplings and noodles also attracted a long queue.

“This is my first time to join Chinese Spring Festival celebration. I think it’s very interesting. Spring Festival is the most important festival in China. I saw lion dances just now. It’s fantastic,” said a student studying Chinese language at university.

The Chinese ambassador, Mr. Pang Sen and the chairman of the Iran-China Friendship Society officially opened the New Year by painting the eyes of the dragon as a symbol of resurrection of the dragon. Mr. Sen accompanied guests in visiting pavilions designed to introduce Chinese culture and traditions.

China’s Ambassador to Tehran expressed gratitude for the guests and dignitaries in the ceremony and congratulated them on Chinese New Year; “Chinese New Year, like that of Iranians, is the spring and renewal of the life on earth, and is one of the greatest traditional festivities, which is widely celebrated across China with magnificent events,” he told the participants.

Wikipedia on the origins of Sino-Iranian relations:
The Parthians were apparently very intent on maintaining good relations with China and also sent their own embassies, starting around 110 BC: “When the Han envoy first visited the kingdom of Anxi (Parthia), the king of Anxi dispatched a party of 20,000 horsemen to meet them on the eastern border of the kingdom… When the Han envoys set out again to return to China, the king of Anxi dispatched envoys of his own to accompany them… The emperor was delighted at this.” (Shiji, 123, trans. Burton Watson).

In this link you can find a video of this year’s Chinese New Year Festival (with Chinese speaking Iranians): CCTV News Content

Here is a video report of last year’s Chinese New Year celebrations in Tehran (in English):

Sources: IRNA | Photos, wikipedia, Mehr News Agency, CCTV News Content

 

Photo gallery: Bisutun Inscription – Iranian Rosetta Stone from 522BC in a 116 hectar UNESCO World Heritage Site

Bisutun Inscription (Behistun Inscription) is a multi-lingual inscription located on Mount Bisutun in the Kermanshah Province of Iran, near the city of Kermanshah in western Iran.

Authored by Darius the Great sometime between his coronation as king of the Persian Empire in the summer of 522 BC and his death in autumn of 486 BC, the inscription includes three versions of the same text, written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (a later form of Akkadian). In effect, then, the inscription is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs: the document most crucial in the decipherment of a previously lost script.

The inscription is approximately 15 metres high by 25 metres wide and 100 metres up a limestone cliff from an ancient road connecting the capitals of Babylonia and Media (Babylon and Ecbatana, respectively). The Old Persian text contains 414 lines in five columns; the Elamite text includes 593 lines in eight columns, and the Babylonian text is in 112 lines.

The monument suffered some damage from Allied soldiers using it for target practice in World War II, during the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran.


In 1999, Iranian archeologists began the documentation and assessment of damages to the site incurred during the 20th century. Malieh Mehdiabadi, who was project manager for the effort, described a photogrammetric process by which two-dimensional photos were taken of the inscriptions using two cameras and later transmuted into 3-D images.

In recent years, Iranian archaeologists have been undertaking conservation works. The site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. In 2012, the Bisotun Cultural Heritage Center organized an international effort to re-examine the inscription.

The site covers an area of 116 hectares. Archeological evidence indicates that this region became a human shelter 40,000 years ago. There are 18 historical monuments other than the inscription of Darius the Great in the Behistun complex that have been registered in the Iranian national list of historical sites.

Sources: Tasnim News | PhotosWikipedia | Behistun Inscription

Kerman holds biggest Zoroastrian Sadeh Festival

The Zoroastrians marked Sadeh, an ancient feast celebrating the creation of fire, in Kerman. Sadeh has been observed since the days when Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in the powerful Persian empire.

Every year, on January 30th, thousands of Zoroastrians or even the Muslims from all over Iran as well as other countries gather in Kerman, the city with the greatest Zoroastrian population, to celebrate the religious feast of Jashn-e Sadeh by burning firewood in an open space to signify the coming of spring and to defeat the forces of darkness, frost and cold.

Sadeh celebrates 50 days before Nowrouz, the Persian New Year. Sadeh (meaning ‘hundred’ in Persian) is a mid-winter festival that refers to one hundred days and nights past the end of summer.

Mohammad Ali Golabzadeh, researcher and expert on Kerman, told Mehr News that the ceremony is still celebrated like the ancient times in Kerman, Yazd, and some other Iranian cities.

“Although Sadeh is attributed to Zoroastrians, the ceremony itself has its roots in Kerman’s rituals and even the Muslims participate in it,” he said, adding that for the majority of Iranians Sadeh had no religious significance and everyone gathered to have a good time and celebrate the precious things God has granted humanity.

Source: Payvand News of Iran

A walk through the old pastry shops of downtown Tehran

Tehranis do not take their pastries lightly – literally. Baked goods are sold in boxes of a minimum 500g (1.1lb) going all the way to 2kg (4.4lb). It isn’t strange to see someone walking out carrying several boxes heaped in a precarious pile.

The Iranian palette is no stranger to sweets – from the haji badomi (sugary almond balls) of Yazd to the kolompeh (crisp, date-stuffed cookies) of Kerman. But Tehran has managed to take the European pastry and make its own, a bread pastry that is the perfect complement to afternoon tea.

“Armenians introduced Tehran to the European pastry,” the owner of Lord tells me. His father opened the shop in 1964, he explains, decades after Tehran’s first Armenian pastry store was opened in the bustling, now almost mythical Lalehzar Street. “They packed up and left for the United States after the revolution, but we had thick skin.”

There is no shortage of good pastry shops in downtown. Upscale bakeries have taken over in north Tehran, but this is still the Mecca of shirini (baked sweets). Walking a few minutes south from Lord, on Taleqani Street you will find one of Tehran’s best pastry stores: Shirini Danmarki (Danish Pastry), where the pastries have undergone an Iranian metamorphosis.

The shop offers custard or apricot jam in a buttery crust, apple filled tarts, and Iranian style puff pastry. People come in especially on the half hour (from 8:30 am onward) as the famed noon danmarki – slices of flaky bread stuffed with their own special crème patisserie and sprinkled with sugar – emerges fresh from the oven. […]

For me, an ideal day is roaming downtown’s old districts, then stopping at Danish Pastry for sweets. Then, going for lunch at Soren, an Armenian sandwich store located between Danish and Lord at the intersection of Villa and Warsaw streets: it has been making sumptuous, reasonably priced steak sandwiches sprinkled with diced herbs for generations of downtown dwellers. Then, back to Lord for coffee. Or the whole ritual can be practised in reverse.

West of Lord, on Aban street, in a quaint corner with old houses, stands Hans Bakery. If you didn’t notice the sign on the green door, you’d mistake it for another home. Inside, there are flowers in the yard, and from the kitchen comes the sound of banging pots and pans. The sweet smells of caramel, vanilla and cake lead the way.

The claim to fame of Hans is the delicious sponge cake layered with vanilla cream and strawberries. To get your hands on one, you must arrive before noon, or call to have them save you one. Go earlier and you will find the owners barking rapid Armenian to people over the phone as customers call in to make sure their cake is reserved. The store also sells tarts, an assortment of cookies and cream pastries, but it is their strawberry vanilla cake that makes up for their usually grumpy manners.

To find good natured folks, Orient Cafe, in what was once Roosevelt Avenue (now Moffateh) is the place to go: a brightly lit, spacious Armenian bakery and cafe, where Mr Sevak and his mother manage day-to-day operations. Their coffee is among the best in the city and the chocolate covered orange slices are always tender and full of flavour. Orient also offers delightful perok, a light apricot cake, and nazook, a crisp Armenian pastry baked here with a walnut filling. […]

Orient was established in 1943 by immigrants from Soviet Armenia. Mr Sevak’s family bought the cafe and bakery 15 years ago, following their successful experience with the Anahita Bakery in Sohrevardi Street. His mother oversees the workers in the bakery, and some from the original store were still here until around ten years ago. Bakers serve as the memory of their establishments, learning and perfecting recipes and passing them on.

Many Armenian bakeries also operate as cafes, the most well-known of these being Naderi Cafe, in Jomhoori Street, where generations of writers and artists and students have gathered, and still do. Naderi no longer bakes sweets – but offers raisin cake and roulette (cake roll) brought in. Both always taste stale, but how can you refuse Reza Khan, the jolly waiter, as he insists you’ll enjoy a slice of cake with your coffee?

For the best accompaniment to a cup of coffee, you once walked to Nobel, an Armenian bakery in Mirzayeh Shirazi Street, not far from Lord. Opened in 1963, Nobel baked Tehran’s best cream cookie: layer upon layer of light, airy biscuit covered with crème patisserie and their own distinct cookie powder. Nobel also baked sour cherry and peach pies.

But last summer the owners sold up and moved to the United States.

At least Talaie, another Armenian bakery on Mirzayeh Shirazi Street is still here, next door to the Armenian owned toy and greeting card stores. A small hole-in-the-wall kind of bakery, it sells the best Armenian gata – sweet bread – you can find in Tehran.

Expect long lines at 4 pm when the day’s bread is brought out. Gata is finely layered and in Tehran usually has koritz, a filling of flour, butter and sugar. Nothing goes better with a cup of Turkish coffee than a slice of gata and homemade jam.

Armenians are known not only for their pastries, they opened some of Tehran’s first chocolate shops. In the historic areas of Sadi and Hedayat streets, you will find Mignon bakery and chocolatier. The staff will tell you the shop has been here for 80 years and offer to show you a bound album with pictures of their California stores in Glendale and Pasadena.

The Boghossian family has managed Mignon since 1935, after fleeing to Iran from communist Ukraine where their father was imprisoned – he joined them a few years later. The youngest son, 73-year-old Roben, still runs the Tehran store and can be occasionally found there. My favourite at Mignon is dark chocolate covered marzipan with a hint of orange peel. At Christmas, the store is splendidly decorated and boxes of cakes and chocolates, wrapped in colourful ribbons, are piled everywhere.

Source: The Guardian | Iran Blog

Majid Derakhshani: Iranian composer and tar expert

Iranian-tar-musician-Majid-Derakhshani-HRMajid Derakhshani (born 13/09/1957 in Sangesar, Iran) is an acclaimed Iranian musician and composer.

He was born into a family of artists from the Iranian province Semnan. During his studies of string instruments and composition at the University of Tehran, the legendary Mohammad Reza Lotfi became his teacher.

Subsequent to his emigration to Germany he founded the Nawa Musikzentrum in Cologne; the primary and most active center for Persian classical music outside of Iran. In Iran Majid Derakhshani is deemed to be amongst the best on his instrument – the tar. Hence he carries the venerable title Ostad, denoting him as a master of his instrument. His virtuosity has been celebrated worldwide in festivals, concerts, radio and television productions. He is now considered as the best tar player in the world. He has composed for myriads of international musicians, such as the greatly renowned Iranian singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian (Album Dar Khial).

Here a video of his performance with the wonderful Mah Banoo ensemble:

More information and a list of his CDs: wikipedia | Majid Derakshani

More music-related posts: The other Iran | Music

 

Series Iranian Art: Handicrafts – The art of turquoise inlaying

Iran is one of the world’s most prolific countries in producing decorative gemstones, and its sky-blue turquoise has always been a magnet for beauty seekers throughout history.

The word turquoise, which dates to the 16th century, is derived from an Old French word for “Turkish”, because the mineral was first brought to Europe through Turkey from the mines in Iran. The Iranians named it “pirouzeh” (meaning victory) and the Aztecs knew it as Teoxihuitl.

It is an opaque stone, which differs in shade from blue, green and blue-green depending on its origin. It is rare and valuable in finer grades and has been prized as a gem and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue. It takes a fine polish and does not lose color with time.

Persian turquoise is extensively found in Iran’s northeastern city of Neyshabur (Nishapur) and dates back to 4,000 BCE. Neyshabur turquoise mines, located 53 kilometers northwest of the city and near the old caravan routes, are believed to be among the world’s oldest known turquoise mines, which supplied the stone to Europe, Western Asia and America.

In Persia, turquoise was the de facto national stone for millennia, extensively used to decorate objects (from turbans to bridles), mosques, palaces and other important buildings. The massive, robin’s egg blue Persian turquoise is used in making jewelry and creating mosaics, inlays or overlays that have adorned numerous monuments over the centuries.

The Persian style and use of turquoise was later brought to India, its influence seen in high purity gold jewellery (together with ruby and diamond) and in such buildings as the Taj Mahal. Archeological excavations have yielded Persian turquoise in ancient graves in Turkistan and throughout the Caucasus dating back to the first to third century BCE.

Iranian artists use turquoise in various forms of art including calligraphy and handicrafts. Inlaid turquoise is one of the most beautiful Iranian artworks. It is made by implanting small pieces of turquoise stone in mosaic fashion on the surface of the dishes, ornaments and decorative objects with copper, brass, silver or bronze bases.

Sources:
wikipedia
Press TV
Photos by Alieh Sa’adatpour for Mehr News Agency