Haftseen (week 1)

In this week, we learned about the importance of the cultural-studies approach, an approach that we will take throughout the course.  Prof. Asani’s assertion that “religion is a phenomenon embedded in every dimension of human experience” is one that he himself adopted from Diane Moore’s Overcoming Religious Illiteracy (Asani, 10).  Following the words of Diane Moore, the study of religion therefore “requires multiple lenses through which to understand its multivalent social/cultural influences” and challenges “the assumption that human experience can be studied accurately through discrete disciplinary lenses (e.g., political, economic, cultural, social) and instead posits an approach that recognizes how these lenses are fundamentally entwined” (Moore, 79).

Luckily, since this blog post fell right around the time of Eid Nowruz, the Persian New Year, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity.  I took a photo of the haft seen, an important table that has seven items that serve as symbols.

Haft means seven, and seen is the letter “s”, so haftseen means the seven s’s, or the seven items that begin with s.  These items are: sabzeh, lentil sprouts growing in a dish which represents rebirth; samanu, a sweet pudding made from germinated wheat which represents affluence; senjed, the dried fruit of the oleaster tree which symbolizes love; sir, garlic, which represents medicine; sib, apples, which represents beauty and health; somaq, sumac berries, which represents the sunrise; and serkeh, vinegar, which represents age and patience.  Other items that are generally placed include sonbol, hyacinth; sekkeh, coins; candles, for enlightenment and happiness, a mirror, which represents cleanness and honesty; decorated eggs, which represents fertility; rosewater, which is believed to have cleansing powers; and a holy book, generally the Qur’an, but another option is the Avesta (Zoroastrian holy book).

Now the question becomes, why are these other items placed?  To answer this question, we have to first understand the history of Nowruz, and then we can also see the connection to Islam.  Eid Nowruz is an old Zoroastrian celebration, about 2500 years old.  Initially, the haft seen used to be the haft chin. Here, haft means seven again, but chin means “to place”. The seven items were: mirror, which symbolizes the sky; apple, which symbolizes the earth; candles, which symbolizes fire; rose water, which symbolizes water, sabzeh, which symbolizes plants; goldfish, which represents animals; and painted eggs, which represents humans and fertility.  Notice the similarities: haft chin became haft seen; out of the seven symbolic items on the haftseen, sabzeh is on both; and the six other symbolic items of the haftcheen are also generally placed on the haftseen.  (From Payvand News). These changes also occurred in the 9th century, about two hundred years after the advent of Islam, and the changes occurred to be compatible with Islam.  For example, there is no “ch” sound in Arabic, so we now have a “seen”.  The original seven items symbolized pagan themes, but now the items are more in line with Islamic beliefs.  The original items are also generally included.  We thus have here an example of how Islam was integrated with Zoroastrian traditions, and this is what I thought about when I saw the haftseen this year, and the message that I hoped to convey.

Leave a Comment

Log in