The autumn equinox occurs between 21st to 24th September. This year it will occur today (September 23, 2023) at 12:19 pm IST., marking the onset of Autumn in the Northern hemisphere and the onset of Spring in the Southern hemisphere.
In the Northern hemisphere, we celebrate the Spring equinox with much gusto (as Jamshedi Navroze) around 21st March. The autumn equinox is an equally important occasion and celebrated as Mehrgan. Zoroastrians, according to the Fasal or seasonal calendar, traditionally observe Mehrgan on ‘Roj Meher of Mah Meher’, which falls on 2nd October, 2023. However, in Nature, the equinox will occur today.
Firdosi Toosi in his epic Shahnameh avers that the feast of Mehrgan was observed in ancient Iran on the first day (Hormazd) of the month of Meher.
What is Equinox?
The word equinox is derived from two Latin words – aequus (equal) and nox (night). Twice, during the year, the Earth’s axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun, resulting in nearly equal amount of daylight and darkness, across all latitudes. This natural phenomenon is referred to as Equinox.
At the equator, the sun is directly overhead at noon on these two (spring and autumn) equinoxes. The nearly equal hours of day and night are due to refraction of sunlight, or a bending of the light’s rays that causes the sun to appear above the horizon, when the actual position of the sun is below the horizon. Additionally, the days become a little longer at higher latitudes (i.e., those at a distance from the equator) because it takes the sun longer to arise and set.
Therefore, on the equinox and for several days before and after the equinox, the length of day would range from about 12 hours and 6.5 minutes at the Equator; to 12 hours and 8 minutes at thirty degrees latitude; and to 12 hours and 16 minutes at sixty degrees latitude.
Autumn or fall marks the end of summer and prepares all creation for winter. Autumn reminds us that every thing in Nature changes. Green leaves change colour and ultimately fall, leaving most trees bare for the winter. But this is temporary. Come spring, and the trees would once again turn green with new leaves. Autumn reminds us to appreciate what we had and to let go what we must.
The fall equinox represents the balance between the seasons as well as the balance between light and dark. Fall provides an opportunity for us to balance ourself with planet earth. Fall is also a part of the life cycle of loss, regeneration and regrowth. The dead leaves and branches on the ground disintegrate and become part of the soil, acting as fertilizer.
Feast of Mehrgan
Mehrgan commemorates the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter season. It’s the time to offer thanks to Mithra or Meher Yazata. It is also a time for giving food grains and other gifts to those in need. Private and community Jashan ceremonies are also performed to offer gratitude to Ahura Mazda and to Meher Yazata for a good harvest.
Zoroastrians in Iran prepare a Mehrgan table, known as Sofreh Mehregan on the evening of Mehrgan festival. The table is somewhat similar to the Navroze table, with items like a mirror, incense burner, the Avesta, lork (mixed dried fruits), fragrant rose water (to sprinkle on the hands and face by family and friends), fresh flowers, fresh fruits (especially pomegranate), wheat (from the harvest) and wine or sherbet (squash). A sormeh-dan (containing kohl) is also placed to use as eyeliner.
After prayers, family and friends drink the wine or the sherbet; apply kohl from the sormeh-dan and sprinkle rose water and wheat over each other and exchange gifts. The wine or sherbet symbolises sweetness, the kohl is for protection from the ‘evil eye’ and the rosewater is to spread freshness and fragrance.
The feast of Mehrgan celebrates light (Meher is sunlight), justice (Meher is Davar or the judge) as also love, loyalty and friendship (Meher presides over all covenants). May the autumn equinox bless one and all with enlightenment, a higher sense of social responsibility and social justice and above all else, advance love, loyalty and friendship within the community.