Monday, December 26, 2011

The Archer Who Brought The Rain

Statue of Arash Kamangir,
Sa'ad Abad Palace, Tehran
According to ancient Persian legend, King Manuchehr of Iran and Afrasiab of Turan (which covered the territory of present-day Central Asia) waged a long and bitter war over the disputed border between their countries. The war raged on for many years without either side gaining an advantage until even the rain stopped falling and an eight-year drought ensued. Presumably the war angered Tishtar, the Zoroastrian angel in charge of rain and fertility, and he figured a good, long drought would bring the two embattled kings to their senses.

The angel was right (aren’t they always?), for eventually the two combatants decided to settle their differences once and for all. They found a brave archer named Arash Kamangir (literally: Arash the Arrow-Thrower), who was known for the lightning speed of his arrows. He was to go to the top of Mount Damavand in Iran’s Alborz Range, shoot an arrow to the east, and wherever the arrow landed would be the new border between the two countries.

Arash climbed the mountain and remained under the stars all night, praying to the god, Ahura Mazda, to give him strength. When dawn crept over the land, he released his arrow, putting all his vigor into the effort so that afterwards he lay down and died. The arrow flew for thirteen days and finally landed on the bank of the Oxus River, which is known today as the Amu Darya, the longest river in Central Asia. As soon as the new border between Iran and Turan was established, the rain began, bringing peace and prosperity to the whole region.

Arash Kamangir is one of the most popular heroes in Persian folklore. Iranian children learn about him from a story in the Shahnameh by the 11th-century Persian poet, Ferdowsi, and an account can also be found in the Zoroastrian holy book, Avesta. Some Iranians today—mainly in the northern province of Mazandaran (believed to be Arash’s birthplace)—still celebrate his remarkable feat with a rain festival known as Tiregan. It falls on the thirteenth day of the Iranian month of Tir (one of the names of the angel, Tishtar), around July 1 on the Gregorian calendar.

Many of the traditional rituals associated with Tiregan have to do with water. Children swim and splash about in streams or, where no natural body of water is handy (and they can get away with it), run through fountains and man-made pools. In Iran, where the old Zoroastrian belief in the sacred power of water still can be felt, fountains and reflecting pools are found in nearly every public space.

Three days before the festival, people perform a rite known as chokadula, where each member of a family places a precious object in a clay pot, usually gold coins and rings or objects made of iron such as keys and locks. They fill the pot with water, tie a cloth over the top, and place it under a pomegranate tree. On Tiregan, they remove the pot, and each person pulls out his or her artifact while the family elders sing or recite a poem. Then they interpret the poem to see what the future will hold.

In another ritual, people take strips of cloth in seven different colors and twist them into bracelets, which they wear for nine days. On the tenth day, they remove the bracelets and toss them into running streams in a symbolic act of casting out bad luck.

A third custom is to hide bowls of water behind walls or on balconies and pour them over the heads of people passing in the street below. This may seem like a nasty, practical joke, but when you consider that summer temperatures in Iran can reach 100 degrees or more, it probably feels like the rains returning after a long drought.

Many of these traditional rituals have been lost over time, and Tiregan is not widely practiced in Iran anymore. A pity, for who can resist a celebration that involves splashing about in cool water on a hot summer day?


  1. This is an interesting legend. There's a festival in Thailand where people throw water on each other all day. I've always thought that sounded like fun. I agree that having water thrown on you on a hot day would be refreshing.

  2. Interesting legend, yes, but having a water balloon thrown on you out of the blue? No, not nice. ;)

  3. Patricia, that Thai festival sounds like fun. Do you know what it's called?

    Supriya, you might feel differently after a few weeks sweltering under hejab in a hot Iranian summer. I often wished someone would pour a bowl of water over me (or look the other way while I threw myself in one of those reflecting pools they have everywhere).

  4. Ooooh, water throwing, loads of fun! I love this legend and the rituals, so fascinating.

  5. Thanks, Alli! I've been asking my Iranian friends about this legend. Like my husband, none of them have heard of Tiregan but everyone knows Arash Kamangir. :)