This year, the pre-spring festival of Vasant Panchami coincides with Valentine’s Day on 14th February, 2024. Vasant (meaning spring) Panchami (meaning fifth or the festival falling on the fifth day of the Hindu month of Magha), is considered an auspicious day to begin any new venture. In like manner, Zoroastrians, especially in Iran celebrated Jashn-e-Sadeh on 30th January, 2024, fifty days before the Spring Festival – Navroze.
Valentine’s Day started out as a Christian feast in honour of Saint Valentine of Rome – the Patron Saint of love because at a time when Rome had forbidden soldiers getting married, he secretly solemnized marriages of several soldiers in love and keen to tie the knot.
Vasant Panchami is the festival dedicated to Saraswati the Divinity presiding over knowledge, language, music and all arts. Saraswati symbolizes creative energy and power in all its form, including love. Thus, this auspicious day celebrates creativity through knowledge, wisdom and love. Vasant Panchami is also celebrated as the day when Kamadeva (the Divinity of love) was asked to stir Shiva’s desire for Parvati. Devotees believe that worshipping Saraswati, Lord Brahma’s Divine consort, makes the world a better place by ushering enlightenment, knowledge, creativity and purity. How amazing that both festivals celebrating love coincide on 14th February, 2024!
The Festival of Vasant Panchami
Celebrated as the birthday of Goddess Saraswati, on Vasant Panchami, devotees wear yellow or saffron coloured clothes, offer yellow flowers while praying before Saraswati and eat halva (a sweet dish) made with saffron, which gives this dish a distinct saffron-yellow colour. Even agricultural fields are resplendent with yellow mustard flowers in bloom during this time. Yellow is the colour of the sun, the sunflower and the mustard flower. It is Mother Nature’s choice of colour ushering light and new life. While saffron is a sacred color in Hinduism, representing fire and the burning away of impurities, yellow is the color of knowledge, learning, happiness and peace. Lord Vishnu, Lord Krishna and Ganesha are traditionally depicted wearing yellow. On this day, Surya – the sun is thanked for bringing winter to an end and helping life blossom once again, after the cold winter.
The Festival of Sadeh
Like Vasant Panchami, this Iranian festival reminds people that spring or Navroze is not too far away, thereby celebrating hope. Sadeh is celebrated in Zoroastrian strongholds like Yazd and Kerman, in open spaces with devout Zoroastrians dressed in white clothes, gathering in large numbers, with contributions of firewood for the fire and food to be shared and eaten together. Huge bonfires are lit after sunset, symbolizing light over darkness, warmth over cold, and life over death.
To the blazing fires, Iranians plea: “Sorkhie to az man, Zardieh man az to,” – or to bestow its red glow of heath and take away the devotee’s yellow pallor of illness! As per legend, Sadeh also celebrates the discovery of fire by Shah Hooshang (Peshdadian dynasty). The festival celebrates life, good health and strong community bonding.
The Divinity Of Knowledge
In the Zoroastrian tradition, Avan is the equivalent of Saraswati. According to Zoroastrian theology, Avan is a purifying force and the bestower of life, knowledge and wisdom. Praying the Avan Niyaesh and the Avan Yasht regularly, bestows the devotee with not just wisdom, but also the power to fight all forces of evil. Various Kings and Paladins of ancient Iran used to invoke Avan before going into battle. However, according to Zoroastrian Scriptures, Avan granted boons only to those who were Righteous in thoughts, words and deeds and not to those who were wicked.
The Joy Of Love
What is love and how does religion or spirituality conceptualize love? Love is a series of varied emotions and behaviors characterized by intimacy, passion, bonding and commitment. It involves care, bonding, protectiveness, attraction, affection and trust. Love varies in intensity and over time. It could nurture happiness, exhilaration, fulfillment and joy or result in negative emotions like jealousy, anger and stress! However, true love is whole and beyond suffering.
As per an ancient Indian myth, love originated with a super-being called Purusha, who initially felt no craving, fear, or any desire whatsoever. However, Brahma (the Creator), with a divine sword, split Purusha in two, separating the sky from earth, darkness from light, life from death and male from female. Each of these equal opposites set off passionately to reunite with the severed half. Humans – male and female, continue to seek unity with the severed half through the journey we call love.
In the Vedic tradition, love has five forms/stages – Kama or sensory craving; Shringara or joyful intimacy beyond sensory craving; Maitri or compassion; Bhakti or impersonal devotion; and Atma-Prema or unconditional self-love. Though the first four stages of love are directed outward, when these are crossed, one comes full circle, and back to the self that exists at our very core. Love is about seeing ourselves in others and others in ourselves, the attainment of ‘oneness’ – the ultimate manifestation of love!
We find a similar theory in Plato’s dialogue, ‘The Symposium’, where the playwright, Aristophanes, suggests that the origins of love lie in a desire to complete ourselves by finding a long lost ‘other half’.
In Christian tradition, love is seen as bonding and comprises four forms – Storge or the bonding that emanates from empathy towards another; Philia or the bond of friendship; Eros or the bond of romantic love; and Agape or the unconditional love or bonding with Divinity. In the Bible, (Corinthians 13:4-8) love is glorified as, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends.” Corinthians 16:14 also affirms: “Let all that you do be done in love“
Zarathushtra’s Love Of Mazda
In the Gatha, Zarathushtra addresses Mazda (Divine Wisdom) as his Friya (Sanskrit Priya) or beloved! Indeed, to Zarathushtra, the essence of Divinity was Wisdom and Zarathustra lovingly worshiped Wisdom. In the Gatha he prays: “Thee do I lovingly entreat, for the best for Frashaoshtra,” (Yasna 28.8)! Zarathushtra also believed that worship or prayer requires two key ingredients – ‘good purpose’ and ‘love’. He affirms this in Yasna 28.10: “For I know that words deriving from good purpose and from love are not to be left wanting by you.”
In Yasna 70, He chants: “I will worship those who are Amesha Spenta and I will approach them with love.” The Amesha Spenta are Ahura Mazda’s Divine attributes and Zarathushtra chants that he will lovingly imbibe these attributes. Zarathushtra believed salvation could be attained by imbibing the good qualities of Ahura Mazda with love.
One cannot but help conclude, in the words of Lao Tzu, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Indeed we are most alive when we love!