The Zoroastrian Festival of Mihragan (Jashan-e Mihragan)

J.H. Peterson, © June 1996.

Mihragan is one of the most ancient festivals known, dating back at least as far as the earliest Indo-Europeans. According to Taqizadeh, (1938, p. 38: "The feast of Mithra or baga was, no doubt, one of the most popular if not the greatest of all the festivals in ancient Iran, where it was celebrated with the greatest attention. This was originally a pre-Zoroastrian and old Aryan feast consecrated to the sun god, and its place in the Old-Persian calendar was surely in the month belonging to this deity. This month was called Bagayadi or Bagayadish and almost certainly corresponded to the seventh Babylonian month Tishritu, the patron of which was also Shamash, the Babylonian sun god. This month was, as has already been stated, probably the first month of the Old-Persian year, and its more or less fixed place was in the early part of the autumn. The feast was in all probability Old-Persian rather than Old- or Young-Avestan, and it was perhaps the survival of an earlier Iranian New Year festival dating from some prehistoric phase of the Aryo-Iranian [Indo-Iranian] calendar, when the year began at the autumnal equinox. It was connected with the worship of one of the oldest Aryan dieties (Baga-Mithra), of whom traces are found as far back as in the fourteenth century B.C."

In the Zoroastrian religious calendar, Mihragan is celebrated on the sixteenth day of the seventh month. According to Fasli reckoning, this occurs on October 1. Modi (1922), pg 463, states that Mihragan should properly fall on the fall equinox (which is the first day of the seventh month), but it is usually performed on the name day of Mithra (16th day).

Meherjirana (1869, tr 1982 by Kotwal and Boyd, pg 161) says that this feast is important for the following reasons: "This jashan is called Mihragan and is a time for love and gratitude for life. [In ancient times] King Zohak was very cruel to the people. So a blacksmith named Kaveh, with the help of others, sought out Faridoon who then caught Zohak and killed him on Mount Damawand. Faridoon then became king and the peoples' lives were saved. For these reasons, King Faridoon and all the people had a great jashan on that day. It is so stated in the Persian Vajarkard Dini."

According to Zoroastrian angelology, Mithra is the greatest of the angels, and is an angel of light, associated with the sun (but distinct from it), and of the legal contract (mithra is also a common noun in the Avesta meaning contract). He has a thousand ears, ten-thousand eyes.

The feast of Mihragan is a community celebration (Jashan), and prayers of thanskgiving and blessings of the community (Afrinagan) figure prominently in the observances.

In the Rig Veda, Mitra figures prominantly, mentioned over 200 times. The Sun is said to be the eye of Mitra, or of the compound Asura "Mitravaruna" analogous to Mithra-Ahura in Avesta), who wield dominion by means of maya (occult power). They are guardians of the whole world, upholders of order, barriers against falsehood. (The Vedic language also has a common noun mitra meaning 'friend'.)

In the angelology of Jewish mysticism, Mithra appears as Metatron, the highest of the angels. He also appeared as Mithras, god of the Mithraic religion popular among the Roman military. He can also be found in Manichaeism and in Buddhist Sogdian texts.

Mihragan, Tiragan, and No Ruz, were the only Zoroastrian feasts be mentioned in the Talmud, which is an indication of their popularity.