Zoroastrianism - The Old Iranian Calendars, Part 4

Zarathushtra or Zoroaster, the Founder of Zoroastrianism

by Jayaram V

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Thus the reform consisted in giving up the Old-Avestan calendar and copying exactly the Egyptian vague year in all respects even in the place of the New Year. The Zoroastrian community adopted the same system of twelve months of thirty days each, with a yearly intercalation of five days at the end of the year instead of making up for the deficiency of eleven or five days in their former year, by a three- or six-yearly intercalation. They kept, however, the essential and most important parts of their former calendar, namely the natural and religious season festivals or gahambars and, of course, they replaced the Egyptian month names by the Old-Avestan (pre-Zoroastrian) month names or (in most cases) by the names of their own supreme deity and archangels.43

If the Zoroastrian names of some months were already in use, the month of the highest divinity (Ahura Mazda), which was till then the seventh month of the year, i.e. at the beginning of the second half-year, coincided at that time with the first Egyptian month Toth, and both corresponded, roughly, to the first month of winter. Therefore that month became the first month of the new calendar. If, however, the month names of the Y.A. calendar were introduced at the same time as the calendar itself was adopted, then it was natural that the first month of the new calendar should be named after the same highest divinity dadhvå (modern Dai), the epithet of Ahura Mazda.

The order of the Amesha Spentas in the month names which has so far puzzled the scholars may, I think, be explained as follows: Putting the month of the creator on the top (the beginning of the year), the order of the Archangels is followed, not according to their well-known and familiar succession, but according to their range in sitting before the throne of Ohrmazd in the heaven on each side in accordance with their age and sex, as given in the Great Bundahishn. Their sequence is only broken now and then by the months consecrated to the older deities. After the supreme divinity comes first Vohu Manah from the right hand, then Spenta Armaiti from the left, then (interrupted by a non-Angelic month) Asha Vahishta from the right, then the twin Angels Haurvatat and Ameretat from the left (though separated again by a stranger) and then at last Khshathra Vairya from the right.

The Egyptian habit of naming their months and days after different divinities also was not apparently without influence in the denomination of the new Mazdayasnian months and days. The name of the first day of the Egyptian months was identical with the name of the first month, likewise in the Y.A. calendar the first day of every month is named Ohrmazd (Ahurahe Mazdao), which is the name of the supreme God, whose epithet was dadhvå (gen. dathushô), the patron of the first month. Again the consecration of the five supplementary days at the end of the year and perhaps also the 19th day of the first month 44 to the reverence of manes in both calendars (Egyptian and Y.A.) does not seem to be wholly incidental.

Now, if we assume the date of this reform as being about 510 BC, we shall obtain the following correspondences: the Egyptian year began at that time on 29th December (Julian) and consequently the beginning of the Iranian year, i.e. the first day of the month Dai, which corresponds to the first day of the Egyptian month Toth, must have been placed also at the same point; the summer solstice fell on the 20th June 45 and the third day of the month Tir, about when the first day of the lunar month in that year (509 BC) also began 46; the Egyptian epagomenae as well as the Persian andargâh or Gatha days (five supplementary days of the year) were after the Egyptian month, Mesori (twelfth month), and the parallel Persian month, Adar, respectively, and corresponded to 24th-28th December; the month Tir corresponded to 27th June-26th July, and thus the helical rising of Sirius in Iran could have fallen in this month.47

If there is any truth in the tradition reported by Biruni (AB., pp. 233-4) to the effect that, after the coming of Zoroaster and the [later] transfer by the Persian Kings of their residence from Balkh (Bactria) to Fars and Babylon, the Persians paid [special] attention to matters relating to their religion, renewed their astronomical observations, and found that in the third year from the [last] intercalation, the summer solstice preceded the beginning of the year by five days, and that they then gave up the older reckoning and adopted the results of their new computation, the explanation may be as follows: by adopting the Egyptian system, an adjustment in the position of the Iranian months in use up to that time was perhaps carried out. The mere act of making the Iranian year conform with the Egyptian by making the seventh month of the Old-Avestan calendar (the later Dai) parallel (i.e. in full and strict correspondence) with Toth, the first Egyptian month, would have necessarily caused a shift in the places of the other Iranian months. For instance, if the month of Tir, which according to our theory was the first month of the Old-Avestan year, normally ought to have begun on, say, 2nd July, given that the reform had not taken place in that year, it was bound to move a few days back when the first day of Dai was put at the same position as the first day of the Egyptian Toth (about 29th December), making Tir to correspond to the Egyptian Phamenoth (27th June-26th July).

This hypothesis will also explain the position of the month of Dai which, according to this, was originally in its logical and right place as the month of the supreme God, whereas, in the later order of the months in the Y.A. year, its position (the tenth month) always seemed anomalous. It will account also for the unexpected length of the gah (yâirya) ending with the gahambar of maidyarem (eighty days instead of seventy-five) and the traditional place of this gahambar on the 20th day of Dai (celebrated from 16th to 20th) instead of 15th, which was to be expected as the second pole of the Old-Avestan year opposite to maidyoshahem on 15th Tir. Both these points can thus be explained. As it has been stated, the Egyptian epagomenae being at the end of the year and immediately preceding the month Toth, the Persian andargâh should have taken their place at the end of the month Adar immediately before the month Dai. This would have made the interval between the 1st Tir and the 1st Dai 185 days instead of 180 days, which was according to our assumption the original interval. Consequently the length of the last yâirya (gâh) of the year ending with maidyarem would have increased from seventy-five to eighty days. In the second and last reform, however, when the Y.A. calendar was officially recognized by the State and was made the civil calendar of the empire, the Gatha days were removed from the end of Adar to the end of Spandarmad, which was fixed at that time as the end of the year. But the length of the yâirya from ayathrem to maidyarem was not readjusted accordingly and still remained in Persian reckoning eighty days in length. Therefore the maidyarem had advanced five days from its usual place in the month of Dai, which must have been at that time on the 15th of that month, to the 20th of the same month where it was then stabilized (in the religious or vihêjakîk year).48 The Khwarazmians, unlike the Persians, carried out correctly the necessary adjustment due on this account, as appears from the length of the intervals between their gahambars corresponding to the Avestan and Persian ayathrem, maidyarem, and hamaspathmaidyem, i.e. arthamîn (?), binkhajâchî raid (?), and maithsokhan raid (?) respectively. The interval between the two former is (AB., p.237-8) seventy-five days, and between the second and the last, eighty days. This may point to the antiquity of the Khwarazmian calendar compared with that of the Armenians or the Cappadocians, etc. The positions of the Khwarazmian gahambars differ from those of the Persian by five months, and from the original places given in Afrin-Gahambar by three months. This fact may suggest that the Khwarazmians followed the Persians in the matter of intercalation up to the third one (presumably executed about 81 BC), after which the former ceased to intercalate, perhaps in consequence of the weakening of the cultural relations between the two peoples, following the Scythian invasion of Bactria and the adjacent countries about 130 BC.

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Suggestions for Further Reading


43. As to the question whether the months with the names of Tishryehe, Mithrahe, and Apam(napâtô) existed in the Old-Avestan calendar, and were not changed in spite of these names being unpopular with the early followers of Zoroaster, or they were received into the Y.A. calendar on the occasion of the second reform (see infra), there is no tangible evidence in favor of one or the other theory. In the second case the introduction of these, names must have followed the admittance of these non-Zoroastrian deities into the Mazdayasnian pantheon. It is possible that the months with these names belonged to the older and popular calendar of Iranian peoples other than the Avestan, especially the Western Magian community, who went over later to Zoroaster's faith. The form of the name of the fourth month (Tir) in the calendar of all the peoples using the Y.A. year may be supposed to point to its Old-Persian origin and to suggest that it was received into the Y.A. calendar in the Persian period.

44. The 19th day of the month Frawardin (the first month of the year in later periods) is called Frawardigan, i.e. by the same name as the five supplementary or Gatha days. It is possible that in the first period the 19th day of the month Dai (then the first month of the year) bore this name and was consecrated to the same duties as the 19th Frawardin in later times. The possibility of the transmission of the name from one to the other on some occasion of the eventual concordance between the two is, from a practical point of view, very remote.

45. More strictly at about 2:30 a.m. of that day in Iran.

46. The new moon was in Iran on 26th June about 6-7 o'clock p.m., thus the day following the first visibility of the crescent was, most probably, the 29th June.

47. According to Nöther's calculation (Geiger, Ostiranische Kultur, p. 309) in the regions with 38 º of latitude, Sirius must have risen in the middle of the seventh century BC on the 1st day of August at 3.3 a.m. Accordingly the time of its rising on 26th July at the end of sixth century BC will be approximately 3:20 a.m. and on the 1st July about 5:10. Thus the first appearance of this star at dawn could have taken place in the last part of Tir. Had the Y.A. year originally, i.e. at the time of its introduction in Persia, began with the first day of Frawardin and the vernal equinox, as some prefer to believe, the month Tir would have corresponded to 26th June-24th July, which brings it to a still earlier date and makes the heliacal rising of Sirius in this month more questionable.

48. In most cases throughout these pages it is the last of the five days of each season festival which is meant by the gahambars, as this is generally believed to be the real or the main day of the feast.

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