Spenta Armaiti was one of the six great Amesha Spentas (holy immortals) who with Ahura Mazda made up the Zoroastrian Heptad that dominated the Zoroastrian cosmology of the Sasanian period. Armaiti means devotion and this female deity represented Holy Devotion and Bounteous. Her task was to guide people to good life and to salvation, and also nurturing of creatures. It is stated in the Yasht (1.27) that her “bountifulness is such that all creatures live through her.” She is also associated with medicinal herbs and has healing powers. The wild rue, (esfand) that is placed on the ceremonial spread, Haft Sin at Nowruz, is a symbol of this deity.
photo by My Persian Kitchen
In the book Bundahishn (Foundation of Creation) she is the protector of earth, and gives people “good dwelling, enduring and desired strength of good purpose”. In Indian Vedic literature she is also associated with earth. In the oldest part of Avesta the Gathas, Armaiti as the guardian of the earth and women is associated with Khashtra (Shahrivar), who protects sky and men. Her association with earth is so strong that in parts of the Young Avesta her name is used as a synonym for earth itself.
The oldest reference to her is from the Achaemenid period, where Artaxerxes II is assumed to have prayed to her for the heath of his daughter-wife Atossa. In Pahlavi texts of the Sasanian period it is mentioned that, “He who wishes to please Spandarmad in the world, he should please and make joyful the earth and virtuous woman.”
When the Zoroastrian calendar was created around fourth century BCE, the first seven days were each named after Ahura Mazda and the six Amesha Spentas. The fifth day was dedicated to Spenta Armaiti. Also the twelfth month was named after her, as it is today, the month of Esfand. It was the Zoroastrian tradition when the name of the month and the name of the day were the same, that day was celebrated in a Festival dedicated to the deity the day and the month were named after. So the Festival of Spandarmad was celebrated on the fifth day of the month Esfand. This day was celebrated as a festival for women and also for earth. According to Abu Rayhan Biruni in his book Asar al-Bagheyeh, this festival was still celebrated in Isfahan and Ray and some other districts in his time. According to Biruni, on this day men gave generous presents to their wives, and her festival was also a favoured time for courtship, and on that day “maidens chose husbands for themselves.”
Because of the association of Armaiti with earth, the festival also celebrated the Earth and the farmers and there was a jashn-e barzegaran as well. Part of the Earth Festival included eradicating insects and reptiles that were regarded as demonic (Ahrimanic) and harmful forces by the Zoroastrians. In the main rituals celebrating and dedicating to Armaiti, she was physically represented by earth. Even today the Zoroastrian priests during the festival rituals, seat cross-legged on the floor to be in contact with the ground/earth
By the 11th century the one-day festival had become a ten-day observance amongst the Zoroastrians of Iran. However, the festival was lost amongst the Muslim Iranians. The Zoroastrians divided the ten-day festival into two, known as the “Lesser and Greater Feast of Seven.” During the early part of the ten-day festival they visited the dakhmas, the burial place for the Zoroastrians and prayed and honored the souls of their departed relatives and ancestors. The last day of the Festival coincided with the fifth of the month named after Armaiti. In the morning they had a celebration for her in their temples with fire and prayers. In the afternoon they had the celebration and the feast with partying and merry-making. Today many modern Zoroastrians still celebrate this day, women do not do any work and are treated by their husbands and end the day with feasts and partying. With the popularity of the Valentine’s Day on February 14, and International Women’s Day on March 8 amongst Iranians, there is a revival of this festival as an Iranian version of the Women’s Day.
Happy Women’s and Earth Day
Massoume Price, Anahita Productions
Based on article by Professor Mary Boyce
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