Festival of Fire (Chaharshanbe Suri) is held The Last Wednesday of a year (marks the arrival spring). Fire and light hoped for health and happiness through the coming year. This is the ancient festival of Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tajikestan and Turkey and date goes back at least 1700 BCE. Iranians celebrate an old tradition called “Chahar Shanbeh Suri”.
It falls on the last Tuesday evening of every Persian calendar year. Iranians come out with friends and family to celebrate and enjoy this occasion. Chahar Shanbeh Suri or “Festival of Fire” is a prelude to Nowruz which marks the arrival of the spring season.
Chahar Shanbeh Suri celebration usually starts in the evening, with people making bonfires in the streets and jumping over them. Some believe jumping over bonfires is a way of taking away negative energy, sickness, and problems and in turn getting fulfillment, warmth, and energy. Chaharshanbe Suri Suri serves as a cultural festival for many Iranians.
Ancient Origin of the Chaharshanbe Suri
The festival has its origin in ancient Iranian rituals. The ancient Iranians celebrated the festival of Hamaspathmaedaya (Hamaspaθmaēdaya), the last five days of the year in honor of the spirits of the dead, which is today referred to as Farvardinegan.
They believed that the spirits of the dead would come for reunion. The seven holy immortals (Aməša Spənta) were honored, and were bidden a formal ritual farewell at the dawn of the New Year.
The Chaharshanbe Suri festival also coincided with festivals celebrating the creation of fire and humans. By the time of the Sasanian Empire, the festival was divided into two distinct pentads, known as the lesser and the greater panje. The belief had gradually developed that the “lesser panje” belonged to the souls of children and those who died without sin, while the “greater panje” was for all souls.
Chaharshanbe Suri During Qajar Empire
A custom once in vogue in Tehran was to seek the intercession of the so-called “Pearl Cannon” (Tup-e Morvārid) on the occasion of Chaharshanbe Suri. This heavy gun, which was cast by the foundry-man Ismāil Isfahāni in 1800, under the reign of Fath-Ali Shah of the Qajar dynasty, became the focus of many popular myths.
Until the 1920s, it stood in Arg Square, to which the people of Tehran used to flock on the occasion of Chaharshanbe Suri. Spinsters and childless or unhappy wives climbed up and sat on the barrel or crawled under it, and mothers even made ill-behaved and troublesome children pass under it in the belief that doing so would cure their naughtiness.
These customs died out in the 1920s, when the Pearl Cannon was moved to the Army’s Officers’ Club. There was also another Pearl Cannon in Tabriz. Girls and women used to fasten their dakhils (pieces of a paper or cloth inscribed with wishes and prayers) to its barrel on the occasion of Chaharshanbe Suri. In times, the cannon had been used as a sanctuary for political or non-political fugitives to be immune to arrest or to protest from family problems.
Sadegh Hedayat, an Iranian writer of prose fiction and short stories, has a book with the name of this cannon, Tup-e Morvārid, that criticize the old beliefs in Iranian folklore. The book also mentions the origin of the Pearl Cannon.
Today, the Pearl Cannon is placed in the opening of the Building Number 7 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 30th Tir Avenue, and the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran is still in argument with the ministry to displace the gun to a museum.