Gahambar – A Time For Collecting… Blessings Or Popularity?

Gahambar (Pahlavi gāsānbār) literally means, ‘a time for collection’. Some scholars believe, that ‘collection’ refers to the community collecting and connecting in prayer, and giving (their contribution of grain or service in cooking or serving food or fire wood) and feasting together – rich and poor, all at the same table. Others feel it is more likely the religious festival of collecting Nature’s Blessings on specifically appointed days of the year.

Unfortunately, since 2008 (i.e., since the system of Universal Adult Franchise was introduced for electing trustees of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet), the religious significance of Gahambar has been eroded and ‘time for collecting Nature’s Blessings’ has been reduced to ‘time for collecting popularity’, and collecting votes of a community whose greatest weakness is love for ‘free food’… or ‘free almost anything’!

Very recently, there was a ‘Khushali no Gahambar’ (Read: a free dinner party to celebrate happiness). What was the happy occasion for the host family? Was the happiness over an old lady slipping over gravy in the kitchen and allegedly sustaining a serious hip fracture or was the happiness over the same old lady stepping down as Chairperson (though not as trustee) and paving the way for the scion of the host family to become chairman? Indeed, those who believe that politics and religion do not mix, understand neither!

Modern So-called Gahambar:

In recent times, we, as a community, have unfortunately reduced Gahambar to a farce. In not-so-distant history, we had witnessed Gahambar hosted by individuals who had aspired to become Trustees of certain community institutions or by those who won elections. There is also a variety known as the ‘fee no Gahambar,’ which is a regular community lunch or dinner with a ‘cover charge’ that follows a community event. This sort of Gahambar is mainly to entice people to come for the event – generally the kind where there are a few boring speakers who wax eloquent, and lots of garlands and shawls get exchanged.

Sometimes, to manage the crowds, there is a Gahambar only for men or only for women, as is common in Pune city. Some within the community also observe Gahambar in memory of a dear departed one.

Unfortunately, from what was once a pious and disciplined religious event, we have reduced Gahambar to a black comedy circus, where tickets reportedly are sometimes sold in black and people shout and push each other during mealtime, as if they have just returned from a famine-stricken district! Perhaps, it is time for us to understand the true importance and significance of this solemn event.

How A Great King Was Humbled

We recently heard that the host of the recent so-called ‘Khushali no Gahambar’ told someone how great his ‘party’ was and the large numbers in which community members turned up. It reminded us of an interesting story described in Bahman Punjya’s Rivayat. The story reflects the importance of sincerity, humility, and the intent with which Gahambar must be observed.

The great emperor of the Sasanian empire, Noshirvan-e-Adal (Noshirvan the Just) celebrated Gahambar in the Havan-geh of the Ahunavad Gatha. Thousands from his extensive empire, rich and poor, participated in the festival and a large sum, befitting the great king, was expended on it. Noshirvan thought that no one before him had acquired such recognition or spiritual merit as he had on that auspicious day. The same night he saw a handsome youth in a dream, who told him that one Marzban – a poor subject of his vast empire had that same day acquired, through his own celebration of the Gahambar, great spiritual merit, which could not even be compared to that accruing to Noshirvan.

The king sent for Marzban and asked him how he had celebrated his Gahambar. Marzban told the king that he was unable to attend the Royal celebration of the Gahambar and hence he sold one part of the double door of his house and out of that income, he celebrated the Gahambar as best as he could.

Noshirvan asked his wise ministers how Marzban’s simple Gahambar could have attained more merit than the king’s lavish Gahambar? The wise ministers explained to the king what while Noshirvan did spend an enormous sum of money by comparison, the humble Marzban had spent far more. The amount that Marzban spent was half his personal fortune whereas what the king spent was only a fraction of the Royal treasury.

Religious Significance

The primary purpose for celebrating Gahambar is Shukraguzari (gratitude) to express or offer thanks to Ahura Mazda and not Khushali (happiness) and certainly not over acquiring a political post through a poorly scripted and choreographed drama.

According to the Vispared, Gahambar were celebrations of events in the agricultural cycle – a form of thanksgiving and time to enjoy the fruits of human labour. They were originally celebrated in the farms with plenty of food and wine, and with dance, music, and merriment over a period of five days.

According to Firdausi’s Shahnameh, the legendary Iranian king, Shah Jamsheed celebrated the first Gahambar and down the centuries so did King Noshirwan-e-Adel (Noshirwan the Just) on the Ahunawad Gatha day, in the Haavan Geh, inviting everyone to a Gahambar feast, serving them naan va gosht va naqlai mae (bread, meat, and wine).

Gahambar – The Six Great Thanksgiving Feasts

Gahambar is traditionally observed to thank Ahura Mazda for the proper seasons since the world’s prosperity depends on climate. The celebration of Ahura Mazda’s six creations appears to have been added later. In the religious and traditional context, the six Gahambar are six great Zoroastrian holidays of five days’ duration each in a year – the first four days of each Gahambar for preliminary preparation and the last day for the main feast.

How Gahambar Should Be Celebrated: 

There are two aspects of celebrating the Gahambar:

  1. Liturgical services (which include the AfringanBajYasna and Pavi of Gahambar); and
  2. Feasting (Gahambar-ni-chasni).

Traditionally, Zoroastrians contribute cash, grain, wine, or manual services for the Gahambar. The poorest of poor may contribute a token piece of wood or fuel for cooking. According to the Shayast la Shayest, on returning from a Gahambar, a Zoroastrian should recite four Yatha Ahu Vairyos (the priests recite four Yatha before the Afrin of Gahambar).

The four words used in the Aafrin of Gahambar are ‘Yazad’, ‘Sazad’, ‘Khurad’, and ‘Dehad’, which mean:

  1. Yazad – join in the prayers recited by the priests and pray.
  2. Saazad – perform some manual service (chopping, cooking, cleaning, or serving).
  3. Khurad – participate in the feast by offering grain, vegetables, oil, spices etc. and consume the food blessed with prayers as a community.
  4. Dehad – donate in-kind (e.g. fire wood) or monetarily.

According to the Zoroastrian scriptures, Gahambar should be celebrated at the correct time during the year to commemorate firstly, the seasons and their regularity on which the prosperity of the world depends; and secondly, Ahura Mazda’s Good Creations in the order of their evolution. The following table shows the six Gahambars, the time of the year when these should be celebrated and the corresponding season or creation they commemorate:

Name of Gahambar: Celebrating: Creation:
MAIDHYOZAREM Mid-spring: 41st to 45th day after Navroze

[Mah Ardibehesht – Roj Khorshed to Daepmeher]

Heavens / Sky


MAIDHYOSHEM Mid-summer: 101st to 105th day after Navroze

[Mah Tir, Roj Khorshed to Daepmeher]

PAITISHHAYEM Autumn: 176th to 180th day after Navroze

[Mah Shehrevar, Roj Ashtad to Aneran]

AYATHREM Time of prosperity and breeding cattle: 206th to 210th day after Navroze

[Mah Meher, Roj Ashtad to Aneran]



MAIDHYAREM Mid-winter: 286th to 290th day after Navroze

[Mah Dae, Roj Meher to Behram]

HAMASPATHMAEDAEM Vernal equinox and the arrival of the Fravashi of our dear departed: 361st to 365th day after Navroze [The Gatha days – Ahunavad to Vahishtoisht Gatha] Humanbeing

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