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7-SEEN (Haft Seen) (Seven "S"s)

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posted by alias iRAN Project on Wednesday 23rd of March 2005 01:50:26 PM

A look at the ancient tradition of 'Haft Seen'... For many people 'Haft Seen' just means putting seven objects beginning with 'S' in the Persian alphabet on a table. However, the roots of Haft Seen are actually far more spiritual and were not based on a letter of the alphabet and were not limited to seven objects! Below we look at the roots of this tradition and the symbolism of the the New Year Table. The New Year laid tablecloth In ancient Iranian traditions, in every celebration and ceremony, a table cloth (on a small table) was laid down. On this table cloth apart from religious objects of blessing, such as a fire pot and Virsem’s angel, the season’s various food products and meals were placed. Eating this 'holy' meal was a tradition called MAYZAD and was recommended. This arrangement was placed on a platform higher than ground level and the person assigned to distribution of the meal was called MIZADPAN which means the person who serves the meals (MIZBAN). Today MAYZAD by the use of the word MYZAD (or MYZ) and MAYZADPAN (or MIZBAN) are used in every day language. The arrangement of objects on the tablecloth is special and has religious intonations and sacred numbers must be considered in such arrangements. Efforts were made to decorate the New Year’s tablecloth with the best and most precious plates, candle holders, and fire pots. This is still practiced in weddings and in mourning rituals and is considered as a religious activity. Haft Seen, the phrase In the Sassanid’s era, beautifully painted and precious plates made out of CAOLINE were imported into Iran from China. This was one of the precious commercial exchanges with China and the plates were later called after the name of their manufacturers and location of origin and thus they were called "Chiny". In other words they were also referred to as SINEE, which finds its root in Arabic language. "Chiney" or SEENEY, which means from china or Sina. In Iran in order to differentiate between different imported plates from China, those which were made of metal were called "SINEE" and those made out of CAOLINE were called "Chinie". In any case during the New Year’s celebrations these precious and picturesque plates from China were used on the New Year’s table. These plates were filled with sugar, candies and sweets and they were seven plates named after the seven AMSHASEPAND which included the months of Ordibehesht, Khordad, Amordad, Shahrivar, Bahman, Espandasmad and Ahooramazda. It was in this season that this tradition was referred to as seven SEENIE or seven plates and later on it was referred to as seven seen. This is pronounced as seven SEENEE in some of the villages. i.e. rather than saying 'Haft Seen' some villagers pronouce it as 'Haft Seenee'. Usually in name of each AMSHEPANDAN, a large picturesque SEENIE plate was placed on the tablecloth and other meals were placed on other plates around the table. Other things placed on the New Year’s table are as follows: Freshly grown greens The greens were grown a few days before the new year in seven plates and at times in twelve precious plates, which is the number of the holy months. In royal palaces twenty days before the New Year, twelve pillars of clay were built and on each of these they grew one of the cereal grains. The good growth of each grain was considered as a good omen. They were of the belief that the well grown grain will be a sign of abundance in the coming year. Wheat, oat, rice, beans, lentils, millets, lima beans, peas, and sesame seeds were grown on the clay pillars. On the sixth day of the New Year the greens were then harvested and distributed all over the hall floor as a sign of abundance. Families usually placed these plates of greens on the table cloth symbolizing HOOMET (Andisheye Nik - good thoughts), HOOKHT (Goftare Nik - good words) and HOOVERESHT (Kerdare Nik - good deeds). On the side of these plates they grew wheat, oats and millet, which formed the important essentials for feeding people in order to cause the abundance of these grains during the New Year. The green color of this vegetation was the national and religious color of Iranians and they beautified the appearance of the New Year tablecloth. They represented the Amordad of EMSHASPAND, which had to be placed on the tablecloth. People intended to have the FARVARS visit these greens and the seeds during the spring. Bowl of fire The bowl of fire taken from the ancestor’s fire, which was used in all religious rituals and along with other traditional and religious objects were placed in the middle of the tablecloth. Blessed grains, wild rue and incense were also placed on the New Year’s tablecloth. Moon Crescent shaped Barsam (Mahrooye Va Barsam) One of the important objects on the New Year’s tablecloth was the moon crescent shaped Barsamdan. They cut thin and short branches of pomegranate tree or willow tree or fig tree or olive tree in the length of one finger and they assigned these on the New Year table in bunches of three, seven, twelve or twenty one. Barsam was usually also placed on the New Year’s table, and this symbolized abundance resulting through blessings. People held a bunch of these in their hands while praying before they commenced eating. In the Sassanid’s era, in order to increase the majestic appearance of the royal dinning table, they made these BARSAMS out of gold. They were placed in the New Year’s table and they called them golden Tarkeh (Thin golden branch). Gradually metallic BARSAMS found their way into religious rituals and they were used instead of wood BARSAMS. (Barsam is a bunch of thin and short branches normally of pomegranate trees used by Zoroastrians who poured water on them and the water dripping down from these branches was considered as blessed water. They were sometimes made out of metal as well and were crescent shaped.) Holy Book One of the objects that was placed on the New Year’s table was the Holy Book. In view of the fact that these celebrations were considered national events, each family would place their own religious book on the New Year’s table. In the Sassanid’s era they placed the book of AVESTA on the table and they read a part of it which usually was the Farvardine Yasht and they recalled the FARVARS of the royal families, the innocent ones, the pious and the courageous whose names were mentioned in the Frvardin Yasht of AVESTA. Today on the New Year table the holy Quran is usually placed by Iranian (Islamic) families and a verse from it is cited. Familites of other religions use their own holy book and many Iranian families also put the book of poems by Hafez, the famous Iranian poet. Clay Water Jug (KOOZEH-E-AB) Clay water jugs which were filled with water from down stream of mills were filled by young girls and they were placed on the New Year’s table decorated with necklaces. Even today many Iranians use small decanters on the outer surface of which they grow lentils or wheat or oats and are decorated by ribbons. Bread Bread symbolizes abundance and in Sassanid’s era they baked bread the size of the palm of the hand or smaller which were called DRON. These were placed on the New Year’s table and they were blessed by a prayer. Today some people still put a plate of bread or a large SANGAK bread on the New Year’s table, and this is done also in wedding ceremonies. At times they wrote congratulations on this bread by sesame seeds. In the Sassanid’s era on the corners of New Year’s tablecloth, they wrote "to be increased" which was supposed to bring abundance of things every year. They also engraved this on the coins of the time. Candle holder On two sides of the bowel of fire, they placed precious candle holders or lights and these were lit. Light and brightness were considered an important principle by Iranians. The lighted and bright world was the land of AHOORAMAZDA and wherever there was light, AHREEMAN (the devil) could not enter. Milk Fresh milk on the New Year’s table is an image of the food for the newly born of the skies, as according to the Zoroastrian story of creation, the human being was born on the cradle of HAMSEDATMEDAM or the three hundred and sixty fifth day of the year. Therefore in celebrating the creation of the human being, similar to the need for milk by the newly born babies, the heavenly newly born also needs fresh milk. This was considered highly sacred in ancient Iranian religions. In religious rituals milk was treated as sacred and, at times, they mixed it with crushed HOOM before drinking. HOOM is a plant found in Iran and mountains of Afganistan which has a short branch and a milky juice and they crushed it while the holy AVESTA book was cited. Cheese was also placed on New Year’s table as it was composed of milk, yeast, symbolizing fertility and transformation within it. Sassanid’s kings ate a date, which was submerged in milk along with fresh cheese, and this was meant to add to the abundance of things to come. Eggs Egg is considered the root and the foundation of the New Year table and all kinds of white and painted eggs should be placed on haft seen. This was based on the belief that eggs symbolized fertility. The egg skin (shell) is an image of the sky and the ceiling of universe. The god of MITRA, according to a story, came from an egg from the sky. In villages, it is customary to place an egg on a mirror and they believe that at the instant of changing of the year, when the cow from the sky, shifts the world from one horn to the other, the egg moves on the mirror. This story comes from the ancient beliefs on fertility, as the mirror represents the power of ADVENAK, which is to come down to FARVARS and draws its shape from heaven. The movement of the egg on the mirror is an image of birth and movement in the New Year. This interpretation still stands among some villagers. Mirror The word mirror (Ayneh) comes from ADVENAK which means to see and ADVENAK is one of the forces which assists in the creation of man. The word ADVENAK is formed by a prefix of AD and a root of VEN which means to see and mirror is an object with which one can see images. During the first day of the New Year when the people of the world mix with the heavenly FARVARS and other forces, the mirror symbolizes an image of that on the New Year table. For this reason a mirror is placed on top of the New Year’s table cloth and another mirror is placed under the egg. Placing of a mirror in front of the bride and groom in wedding ceremonies is to have the same objective, as marriage is an introduction for fertility and FARVARS assist with the creation of sperm (egg) and birth of children. Samanoo Samanoo is made of juice of germinating wheat. It is generally stated that FARVARS cause the growing of vegetation and germination. FARVARS make sprouts (buds) fertile and eating these fertile sprouts result in gaining strength and fertility in the years to come. Senjed (kind of tree with fruit resembling the mountain ash) Senjed is a fruit, which is to be placed on the New Year table as the aroma of its leaves, and its blossoms stimulate love which is of fundamental and primary importance in fertility and having children. Placing Sanjed on the New Year table was to motivate the world’s births. Fish The month of Esfand is in the HOOT (large fish) period. On the eve of the New Year the month of HOOT (Esfand) gives its place to the HAMAL (the month of Farvardin) and this is the reason for placing an image of changing of the year on the New Year’s table. Additionally, the fish is one of the symbols of ANAHITA, which is the angel of water and fertility and carries the main duty of the New Year, which is fertility. Its placement on the New Year’s tablecloth therefore results in abundance and fertility. Eating fish on the eve of the New Year is based on the same thinking. Apple Apple is one of the fruits, which was and is still placed on the New Year’s table. Villagers kept the apples in special cases and gave them to friends and acquaintances before the New Year as gifts to be placed on the New Year’s table. In ancient Iranian stories, the apple was very much related to giving birth. More often the medical men (Dervishes) split the apple in two halves and gave one half to the man and the other half to the woman. This was supposed to prevent infertility and sterility. It can therefore be concluded that the placement of apple on the New Year’s table represents another image of fertility and giving birth. Yellow and white coins Yellow and white coins placed on New Year’s table is an image of Shahrivar month from AMSHASPAND which represents metals and their being on the New Year’s table is intended to result in abundance and enormous amount of money in the wallets and purses. Pussy willow flower (Bidmeshk) Pussy willow flower is an image from SEPANDARMAD AMSHSPAND and is the special flower of the month of Esfand. Orange Orange symbolizes the globe and when it floats on a bowl of water, and it still makes an appearance on some 'Haft Seen' tables, it symbolizes the globe within the universe. When it rotates in the water, it symbolizes the twelve months of the year and announces the arrival of the New Year. The Espand Seeds The Espand seed finds its root in the ancient AVESTA term of "SPENTA" which means sacred. These seeds existed in ancient sacred times and were used during prayers. Even today, they are burnt over the fire in order to protect people from the cast of an evil eye. Villagers these days pass thread through the seeds and use them as decorations in their rural houses. Other objects are also put on the New Year table. Of these one can name sweets and also candies, which symbolize objects of gratification and also flour which symbolizes abundance. All these are to result in abundance, prosperity and health during the New Year. Locations,
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