Sometimes Spelled Mehregan, Mihregan or Mehrigan is an ancient Persian festival dating back almost 3000 years ago. Mehregān (Persian: مهرگان or Jašn-e Mehr جشن مهر Mithra Festival) is a Zoroastrian and Persian festival celebrated to honor the yazata Mithra (Persian: Mehr), which is responsible for friendship, affection and love. It is also widely referred to as the Persian Festival of Autumn.
It was originally a feast honoring the Zoroastrian Angel Mithra. By the 4th century BCE, it was observed as one of the name-day feasts, a form it retains in today. Still, in a predominantly Muslim Iran, it is one of the two pre-Islamic festivals that continue to be celebrated by the public at large: Mehrgān, dedicated to Mithra (modern Mehr), and Tirgan, dedicated to Tishtrya (modern Tir).
Name-day feasts are festivals celebrated on the day of the year when the day-name and month-name dedicated to a particular angel or virtue intersect. The Mehr day in the Mehr month corresponded to the day farmers harvested their crops. They thus also celebrated the fact God had given them food to survive the coming cold months.
Irrespective of which calendar is observed, Mehrgān falls on the 196th day of the calendar year.
It is celebrated on the 16th of the seventh month (Mehr) at the time of the harvest festivals and beginning of the winter. This feast would be celebrated for 6 days, starting on the 16th the "Mehr Ruz" and ending on the 21st known as "Raam Ruz". The first day was called "Mehregan'e Khord" and the last day "Mehregan'e Bouzorg". In these days, farmers had taken their harvest and they could pray God for it and relax.
There are many accounts to the beginning of Mehregan which are listed below:
First, Avestan texts (the Zoroastrians' holy book) divide the Iranian year into two equal parts or seasons. The first season was summer and the second was winter. The coming of the two seasons would be celebrated through, Norouz and Mehregan.
Second, ancient Iranian's calendar had 12 months and each month contained 30 days. Each day had its own name and 12 days in each month had month's names as Farvadin, Ordibehesht, Khordad, etc and Iranians celebrated the day, which its name was like the month's name, such as 19th of Farvardin, 2nd of Ordibehesht and 4th of Khordad, etc. The name of 16th day of month was Mehr, so they celebrated this day as Mehregan. Now in our new calendar 6 first months of year have 31 days so Mehregan has come 6 days earlier, at 10th of Mehr. I should probably mention that in such a day the length of day and night are exactly equal.
Third, Mehr day is mentioned as the day when the first male and female, Mashi and Mashiane were created from Gayo-maretan. Ancient Iranians believed, Mashi & Mashiane asked God to change them from plant to human shape, and God accepted their wish in such a day.
Fourth, Feraydon's victory over Azydahak (Zahak in king's letter) happened on this day. Mehregan is a day of victory when Angels helped Fereydoon and Kaveh become victorious over Zahak. They imprisoned him in the Damavand Mountain where he died from his wounds 6 days later! This fragment of the legend is part of a greater cycle that ties Mehrgan with Nowruz; Zahak vanquished Jamshid (who the legends have as the one establishing Nowruz or New Year's Day), and Fereydun vanquishes Zahak, so restoring the balance. Mehrgan is the association of the polarity of spring/autumn, sowing/harvest and the birth/rebirth cycle, for as Biruni noted, "they consider Mihragān as a sign of resurrection and the end of the world, because at Mihragān that which grows reaches perfection."
And at last some people have believed that Mehregan is the day God gave light to the world that had previously been dark. The seventh month in the Persian calendar is named Mehr and is dedicated to the Goddess of Light -- Mithra or Mehr. Her followers believed that she defeated evil and darkness, a scene that is often depicted with a triumphant lion residing over a bull. (Mithra is also a common noun in the Holy Book Avesta meaning contract).
Some scholars believe that the month of Mehr was the beginning month of the calendar year during the Achaemenian era. The Mehregan feast celebrated the beginning of a new year. Later, Mehregan was especially important for the people of southern Iran who considered it still to be their Norouz.
In a non-Zoroastrian context, where Mehr-Mithra is no longer worshipped, Mehregan remains a celebration involving family and friends. However, it is today recognized as a harvest festival.
In some form or another, the feast day of Mehregan has always been honored for many hundreds of years in Iran. Long ago, Mehregan was celebrated by Iranians with the same magnificence and pageantry as Norouz. It has been the second most elaborate celebration after Norouz .Though most Iranians have heard about Mehregan, unlike Norouz it is not celebrated by all and is mainly regarded as a Zoroastrian festival. In the recent years, there has been a revival of this joyful and merry occasion and more Iranians are participating in this festival.
Mehrgān was celebrated in an extravagant style at Persepolis. Not only was it the time for harvest, but it was also the time when the taxes were collected. Visitors from different parts of the Persian Empire brought gifts for the king all contributing to a lively festival.
It was customary for people to send or give their king, and each other gifts. It was common for people to give presents that they personally liked themselves! Rich people usually gave gold and silver coins, heroes and warriors gave horses while others gave gifts according to their ability, even an apple. Those fortunate enough, will help the poor with gifts.
Gifts to the royal court of over ten thousand gold coins were registered. If the gift-giver needed money at a later time, the court would then return twice the gift amount. Kings gave two audiences a year: one audience at Nowruz and other at Mehregān. During the Mehregān celebrations, the king wore a fur robe and gave away all his summer clothes.
After the Mongul invasion, the feast celebration of Mehregan lost its popularity. Zoroastrians of Yazd and Kerman continued to celebrate Mehregan in an extravagant way.
In part 2, how this festival is celebrated in recent years will be discussed.