Gahambars are seasonal festivals of special significance to the Zoroastrians and occur six times in a year. Each Gahambar spans 5 days and the Avesta refers to them as agricultural festivals but the later writings connect them to cosmogony.
The word Gahambar, Gasanbar in Pahalavi, has been linked to the word Yairya in the Avesta. The Avestan word Yare means year and Yairya means seasonal divisions of the year .
The first Gahambar is called Maidyoizarem and is celebrated from the 41st to 45th day after Navroz, which occurs on the day of Spring Equinox, March 21. Its name signifies Midspring, as maidhya means middle and zaremya means spring.
The second Gahambar occurs from 101th to 105th day and is called Maidhyoshem meaning Midsummer, as shem means summer.
The third Gahambar occurs in early fall from 176th to 180th day and is called Paitishhayem . The word comes from the terms paiti and hahya (corn) and means bringing in the harvest.
The fourth Gahambar occurs in the fall from 206th to 210th day and is called Ayathrem . This time of the year is usually linked with the breeding season of the cattle.
The fifth Gahambar occurs in mid-winter from 286th to 290th day and is called Maidhyarem, which means “midst of rest” because during winter agricultural work generally stops.
The sixth Gahambar occurs from 361th to 365th day and is called Hamaspathmadae. Hama means same, pathan means path and madha means middle so it signifies the time of the year when day and night are equal.
A prayer called Afrin of Gahambar links the seasonal festivals with six principal creations of Ahura Mazda: Sky, Water, Earth, Plants, Animals and Humans. The primary object of the Gahambars was to thank Ahura Mazda for the different seasons as the prosperity of the world depended on it. Later on the object of thanking Ahura Mazda for the six creations mentioned above was added.
The Liturgies usually performed on the Gahambar days are:
Afringan of Gahambar
Baj of Gahambar
Yasna of Gahamber, also known as the Visperad
The Achaemenians are known to have celebrated the Gahambars which were linked to Ahura Mazda’s creations and the Amesha Spentas, the guardians of these creations. Each Gahambar was celebrated in honour of one of the creations:
Gahambar Creation Amesha Spenta Maidyoizarem Sky Khshathra Vairya (Sovereign Kingdom) Maidhyoshem Water Haurvatat (Perfection) Paitishhayem Earth Spenta Armaiti (Holy Devotion) Ayathrem Plants Ameratat (Immortality) Maidhyarem Animals Vohu Manah (Good Mind) Hamaspathmadae Humans Spenta Mainyu (Bounteous Spirit)
On the last day of each Gahambar there is a solemn feast where members of a family or residents of a town assemble to eat and share food communally. The members volunteer to donate their time and money, prepare the food and serve the meals without regard to status. During the meal, Zoroastrians from all walks of life sit together, and the equal sharing of food with everyone serves to help build and strengthen the community. Universal Brotherhood was one of the principal objects aimed at in the public Gahambars, where King and common person, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak together shared a common meal.
The Gahambars are considered to be the principal occasions for ceremonial gatherings. The Afringhan of Gahambar mentions that it is the duty of a Zoroastrian to celebrate and participate in a Gahambar. The four words used in the Afrin are:
Yazad, sazad, khurad, dehad
Pray, perform, eat, give
These words suggest the different ways every Zoroastrian can participate in celebrating the Gahambars. The seasonal festival reminds the Zoroastrians of their roots and the good deeds, such as radih (charity) and ratish (being truthful), they must perform in life.
. Dhalla, M.K., "History of Zoroastrianism", published by K.R. Cama Oriental Institute, Mumbai, India, 1963.