Zoroastrian Calendar

The Zoroastrian calendar is a religious calendar used by members of the Zoroastrian faith, and it is an approximation of the (tropical) solar calendar. To this day, Zoroastrians, irrespective of geographic location, adhere to (variations of) this calendar for religious purposes. Prior to the calendar reform of Sassanid emperor Ardashir I (226-241 CE), the calendar in common use in Persia had a 360-day year, and was based systemically on the Babylonian calendar. Under that system, the Kabiseh that accumulated over time was leveled out by the periodic intercalcation of a thirteenth month, as determined by observation. The tradition of naming the days and months after divinities was based on a similar Egyptian custom, and had been previously instituted by Achaemenid kings (648-330 BCE).

The calendar introduced by Ardashir I had a 365-day year based even more closely on the Egyptian calendar. It still had 12 months of 30 days each, and the months and days of the month that had been named in Achaemenid times remained as they were. However, the 12th month was followed by five additional Gatha or Gah days, after the ancient Avesta hymns of the same name. In addition, all forms of intercalation were discarded.

The new system created confusion and was met with resistance, and many Zoroastrian feasts and celebrations had two dates, a tradition that is maintained by some Zoroastrians to this day. Many rites were practiced over many days instead of one day and duplication of observances was continued to make sure no holy days were missed.

The situation got so complicated that another calendar reform was implemented by Ardeshir's grandson Hormizd I (272-273 CE). The new and old holy days were linked together to form continual six-day feasts. Norouz (or Navroz), the first day of spring, was an exception - The first and the sixth day of the month were celebrated as different occasions and the sixth day became more significant as Zoroasters' birthday rather than as a continuation of the spring festival celebrations.

Since the reforms of Ardashir I also did away with all forms of intercalation, the calendar and seasons had diverged by four months by the time Yazdegerd III (632-651 CE) ascended the throne. This resulted in the Gahambars (the seasonal festivals) being celebrated at the wrong times of the year. Yazdegerd III had another reform prepared, but it was not implemented when the Arabs overthrew the dynasty.

Following Alexander's conquest of Persia in 330 BCE, the Seleucids (312-248 BCE) instituted the Hellenic practice of dating by era, as opposed to dating by the reign of individual kings, and began the era of Alexander (now referred to as the Seleucid era). This practice was not considered acceptable to the Zoroastrian priests, who consequently founded a new era, the era of Zoroaster - which incidentally led to the first serious attempt to establish a historical date for the prophet. The Parthians (150 BCE-224 CE), who succeeded the Seleucids, continued the Seleucid/Hellenic tradition, and it was not until the calendar reform of Ardashir I that dating by regnal year was reinstituted. The Zoroastrian calendar uses the Y.Z. suffix for its calendar era (year numbering system), indicating the number of years since the coronation in 632 CE of Yezdegerd III, the last monarch of the Sassanian dynasty.

As a result of the lack of intercalation embodied in the calendar reforms of Ardashir I, the calendar and the seasons were, over time, no long synchronized. In 1006, the roaming New Year's day once again coincided with the day of the vernal equinox, and it was resolved - in both India and Iran - that the Zoroastrian calendar henceforth intercalate an additional month every 120 years as prescribed by the Denkard and the Bundahishn.

At some point between 1126 and 1129, the Parsi-Zoroastrians in India remembered to do so, and an embolismic month, named Aspandarmad vahizak (the month of Aspandarmad but with a vahizak suffix), was inserted. That month would also be the last month intercalated - subsequent generations of Parsis neglected to insert a thirteenth month.At the time of the decision to intercalate every 120 years, the calendar was called the Shahenshahi (== imperial) calendar. The Parsis, not aware that they were not intercalating correctly, continued to call their calendar Shahenshahi. This practice has survived to this day, and adherants of other variants of the Zoroastrian calendar denigrate the Shahenshahi as "royalist".

Meanwhile, the Zoroastrians who remained in Iran never once intercalated a thirteenth month. Around 1720, an Irani-Zoroastrian priest named Jamasp Peshotan Velati travelled from Iran to India. Upon his arrival, he discovered that there was a difference of a month between the Parsi calendar and his own calendar. Velati brought this discrepancy to the attention of the priests of Surat, but no consensus as to which calendar was correct was reached. Around 1740, some influential priests argued that since their visitor had been from the ancient 'homeland', his version of the calendar must be correct, and their own must be wrong. On June 6th, 1745, a number of Parsis in and around Surat adjusted their calendars according to the recommendation of their priests. This calendar became known as the Kadimi calendar in both India and Iran, which in due course became contracted to Kadmi or Quadmi.

In 1906, Khurshedji Cama, a Bombay Parsi, founded the "Zarthosti Fasili Sal Mandal", or Zoroastrian Seasonal-Year Society. The Fasili or Fasli calendar, as it became known, had two salient points: 1) It was in harmony with the seasons and New Year's day coincided with vernal equinox. 2) It intercalated a leap day every four years - the leap day, called Avardad-sal-Gah, followed the five existing Gah days at the end of the year. The society also claimed that their calendar was an accurate religious calendar, as opposed to the other two calendars, which they asserted were only political.

The new calendar received little support from the Indian Zoroastrian community as it was considered to have no foundation in scripture. In Iran, however, the Fasli calendar gained momentum following a campaign in 1930 to persuade the Iranian Zoroastrians to adopt the new calendar of the seasons, which they called the Bastani calendar. In 1925, the Iranian Parliament had introduced a new Iranian calendar, which (independent of the Fasli movement) incorporated both points proposed by the Fasili Society, and since the Iranian national calendar had also retained the Zoroastrian names of the months, it was not a big step to integrate the two. The Bastani calendar was duly accepted by the majority of the Zoroastrians. In Yazd, however, the Zoroastrian community resisted, and to this day follow the Kadmi calendar.

In 1992, all three calendars happened to have the first day of a month on the same day, and although many Zoroastrians suggested a consolidation of the calendars, no consensus could be reached. Some priests also objected on the grounds that the religious implements would require re-consecration, at not insignificant expense.

Month and Day Dames

The months and the days of the month in the Zoroastrian calendar are - with one exception - dedicated to, and named after, an Amesha Spenta (Bounteous Immortal) or a Yazata (Adorable Spiritual Being). The exception is the month Dae (root of Dadvah, Creator) and the first day of the month, Hormuzd, both of which are synonyms for Ahura Mazda.

The religious importance of the calendar dedications is very significant. Not only does it establish the hierarchy of the major divinities, it ensures the frequent invocation of their names since the divinities of both day and month are mentioned at every Zoroastrian act of worship.

The divinities to which month-names are dedicated also have days of the month dedicated to them, and the month-name dedications additionally establish which of the twelve divinities were/are considered to rank higher than the others. In addition to Dae's dedication to Ahura Mazda, six are dedicated to the Amesha Spentas, the 'divine sparks' of the Creator. The remaining five are considered to be the most significant of the Yazatas: Farvadin (Avestan: Farvashi), Tir (Tishtrya), Mehr (Mithra), Aban, and Adar (Atar).

There is some evidence that suggests that in ancient Persia Dae, and not Fravardin, was the first month of the year. For one, the first day of every month is dedicated to the Creator, but the month that is also dedicated to Him is well into the year. In a 9th century text, Zoroaster's age at the time of his death is stated to have been 77 years and 40 days (Zadspram 23.9), but this age cannot be verified unless Dae was the first month of the year. It is also worth noting that Pateti - the day of introspection - is on the first day of the month of Fravardin - which, as New Year's day, is a day of celebration.