What is a Gahambar / Gahanbar?
Gahambars / gahanbars are six seasonal festivals or high feasts when Zoroastrians assemble to eat and share food communally. They are joyous occasions at which rich and poor met together, new friendships are formed and old disputes resolved. While each gahambar traditionally spans five days, nowadays it is the last day that is usually observed. The Gahambars are the only festivals mentioned in the Zoroastrian scriptures, the Avesta. Some authors such as Mary Boyce feel it is reasonable to conclude that the Gahambars were instituted by Zarathushtra himself.
The food eaten and shared is both fresh food and dried food (see below). The dried food is taken away by each person in a small bag.
Name & Meaning
While the Zoroastrian scriptures, the Avesta does not use the word "gahambar or gahanbar", the books of Yasna at 1.9 and Visperad at 1.2 mention the names of the six different gahambars/gahanbars in connection with the "yairya" [said to stem from the Avestan "yare" meaning a (solar) year and which might mean annual (feasts)] and with the saredhaeibyo, the solar year or seasons. We find the word "gasanbar" in Pahlavi, Middle Persian texts. The Lesser and Greater Bundahishns at 25.1 mention the division of the year into the period of the six gahambars and calls them "gas", divisions (some translate as "seasons"), of the religious calendar.
Seven Acts of Piety
The gahambars are seen as a manifestation of seven acts of piety and goodness:
The number seven plays a significant role in all Zoroastrian and Zoroastrian-based customs and rituals. Seven stands for the divine seven, God and God's six archangels. There are also seven aspects to the corporeal creation (gaiety): fire, air, water, earth, plants, animals and human beings.
The Six Gahambars
There are six gahambars - each with its own theme - observed during the year.
The last gahambar celebrated during the five days before Nowruz, is the most significant. This sixth gahambar, the Hamaspathmaidyem (or Hamaspathmaedaya) Gahambar, is a gahambar devoted to remembering the fravashis (farohars/guardian angels/souls) of those who have passed away. Mid-path of all could refer to the vernal equinox with other meanings attached.
Kermani Tuji Gahanbar
In addition to the six gahambars / gahanbars mentioned above, the Kermanis of Iran celebrate an additional gahanbar called the Tuji Gahanbar. According to Bahman Noruziaan tuji means 'shared' or 'contributed to' and further that "Tuji Gahanbars are gahanbars that are organized by a segment of the community for various reasons and occasions." Bahman Noruziaan and Ardeshir Farhmand add that the Kermani Tuji Gahanbar's origins go back to the Second World War. The British and Russian occupation of Iran during the war caused food shortages. Food stuffs such as oil and flour were rationed and the quality of the food that was available, was very poor. Those Zoroastrians who had access to supplies of better quality foods distributed their good fortune to the other members of the community during the gahanbars. A Zoroastrian benefactor declared that at the end of the war, the community should institute another gahanbar in commemoration of the Zoroastrian spirit of sharing and the end of the war. The appointed day was Vahram (Bahram) day, Aspandmard (Spandmard / Spendarmaiti) month, March 5 of the Gregorian calendar. As with any gahanbar, the community members contribute food for consumption and distribution to the extent of their ability and desire at this Tuji Gahanbar which continues to be celebrated to this day.
Observance of the Gahambar/Gahambar
There are two principle segments to the observance of the Gahambars/Gahambars:
In the Indian tradition, one of the dishes commonly prepared for a gahambar is called 'papeta ma gosht' meaning meat-in-potatoes (recipe offsite).
In addition to hot meals eaten at the gahambars, dried fruits and nuts called ajil or lork / lorg are distributed for the participant to take away. Ajil / lork is a mixture of seven (seven being the auspicious number) dried nuts and fruits: pistachios, roasted chic peas, almonds, hazelnuts, figs, apricots, and raisins (keshmesh). Some substitutions are made according to locale, availability, taste (salty or sweet) and family preferences. Roasted squash seeds (tokhmeh kadoo), roasted melon seeds (tokhmeh hendooneh), walnuts, cashews, and dried mulberries (tut) are possible substitutes.
Sharing & Building Community