Zoroastrians are pioneers of the Iranian culture

On 30th Bahman 1401 (February 2023), Negarestan Garden-Museum in Tehran organized a specialized meeting on Zoroastrian embroidery art. In this meeting a number of eminent members of the Zoroastrian community and researchers in this field delivered speeches. This meeting, held under the title “Flower and design exhibition” started with speeches by well known Zoroastrian figures, of Zoroastrianism and continued with the speeches of three researchers. The lectures were about the position of women in the culture of Iran and the art of Zoroastrian embroidery.

In the beginning, Zeinab Haghi Moghadam, moderator of the meeting, opened the session by thanking Dr. Esfandiar Ekhtiari, the representative of Iranian Zoroastrians in the Islamic Council; Dr. Afshin Nimiranian, president of the Zoroastrian Association of Tehran; Mehrangiz Shahzadi, the president of the Zoroastrian Women’s Organization, Mobed Hormoz Khosrovani, the representative of the Mobedan Association, Babak Salahli, the editor of Amordad Weekly, and the speakers. Shirin Mazdapour, Ali Golshan, and Reza Majidi Majdabadi for attending the meeting. Then, Majid Montazer Zohouri, head of the museums and cultural spaces Department of Tehran University, was asked to follow up the meeting with his speech.

Zoroastrians are pioneers of part of Iranian culture

In a short speech, Dr. Majid Montazerzahori thanked the organizers of the exhibition and the speakers of the specialized meeting. He said: “Our intention is that this meeting is host to part of the esteemed Zoroastrian community and a more focused gathering on ancient Iran’s art and culture. The exhibition of Zoroastrian embroidery art and paintings of two sisters, Efat-ul-Maluk and Shaukat-ul-Maluk Shaghaghi, is an excuse to host Zoroastrian friends who are the flagship of Iranian culture. We Iranians owe many of our cultural parts, whether micro-cultures or macro-cultures, to the sacrifice of Zoroastrians. This society has made sacrifices over the centuries and preserved part of our rich culture.”

Next, Dr. Akhzarian, Director General of Tehran University’s Department of Cultural and Social Affairs, gave a speech. In the beginning, he said: “I have met friends from the Zoroastrian Association in various meetings and participated in the speeches of these dignitaries, and have benefited from their knowledge and the valuable points that they have raised.”

Akhzarian added: “Not in my administrative position, but as a fair person, I must say that the services, blessings, and valuable works of the Zoroastrian community in Iran are many times more than their population. Although Zoroastrians are small in population, they produce goods and blessings exponentially. I am very happy to be in the company of those who each have virtues and are the source of beautiful and valuable works.”

Pointing out that the escuse for holding this meeting is clothing, assadian added: “Culture is the main source of identity. And, a sign of culture is clothing.  clothing identifies the person and human society. This is why religions have rules for clothing etiquette. Because what can separate a nation and the followers of a religion  is the clothing of the nation.”

He continued: “The clothing of Zoroastrians is one of the identities of their civilization, that has the colors of our flag: “red, white and green”, which has remained upto this day.  We live in a world where clothing has changed; one of our responsibilities today is to have a fresh review of the characteristics of our identity. Zoroastrians have preserved these characteristics. Maybe, we could have saved it better. In other words, we, the non-zoroastrians of Iran, have paid less attention to our clothes.  But the Zoroastrians have paid proper attention, and the designs in their clothing and symbols such as cedars and birds engraved on the clothing are a turning point that can be a valuable resource for all of us.

In the end, Akhzarian added: “One of the role creations of Zoroastrians throughout history is the transmission of knowledge and culture of ancient Iran to the post-Islamic era. They transmitted both medical knowledge and wisdom, and philosophy. I think this opportunity is available for us today to be able (and we need) to imitate the things that you Zoroastrians have preserved, one of the most important of which is Iranian clothing. We need covers that are happy in their colors and are also beautiful. So, I consider your presence in this exhibition a good omen, and we thank you.”

Women have a special place in Iranian culture

The meeting continued with the speech of dr Esfandiar Ekhtiari, representative of Zoroastrians in the parliament. He began his speech by thanking the organizers of the exhibition and while conveying his greetings on this important day, he said:  “The pride of Zoroastrians is that they grew up with the culture of Iran and have kept this culture throughout history. Zoroastrians were torn into pieces, but did not allow the precious Iranian culture to disappear. We Zoroastrians are proud to say that although we are in the minority from a demographic point of view, we are considered the cultural majority of the Iranian land, and we were able to preserve the Iranian culture.”

Ekhtiari continued: “One of the main aspects of Iranian culture, which is sometimes not given proper attention,, is the position of women in this culture. In the ancient texts that we see that the position of women is stressed on, which is considered equal to the position of men. Also, it is important to note that the position that women and men held in society has been defined with wisdom and good thought. This culture demonstrates its greatness when Ashu zarathushtra tells his daughter, Poruchista, to choose her husband with her own wisdom and in full freedom. I do not need to say what was done to women in certain periods of time in other countries, but in Iran, women became queens and ruled.”

About the value of Esfandgan, Ekhtiari said: “Many celebrations are rooted fin political or personal events. Therefore, sometimes they lose their importance and value because, with time, another view may emerge about an event that was considered good, or the person for whom the celebration was held is no longer known as a good person. But Iranian celebrations are different from this. For example, Esfandgan is to celebrate Spanta armaiti, meaning “holy thoughts” which is the symbol of women. Whoever wants to reach perfection must go through this stage of wisdom and perfection.

In the end EkhtiRI ADDED: “The festival of esfandgan is based on its own essence and not dependent on a person, and it has a deep meaning. This celebration originates from the culture of Iran, which clarifies the position of women as “holy wisdom and thoughts”, and gives them equal position as men.”

Women create nations

Mehrangiz Shahzadi, another speaker in this meeting, started her speech by mentioning Esfandgan festival and said: “Esfandgan is a celebration to commemorate the role of women and the earth. They are both tolerant, fertile, and offer their love unconditionally. That is why women and our earth are compared with each other. An example of the respect given to women is in one of the Pahlavi texts, which states that  a father does not have the financial ability to send his daughter and son to school at the same time, he should first send his daughter to study, then his son.”

Shahzadi referred to the academic position of women worldwide and said: “The first teacher in one’s life is mother. In her poem, Parvin Etesami says “The mother’s arms are the first teacher of a child; how can a child educate if raised by an ignorant mother?” If a mother is wise and capable, she can raise worthy children. These children form families, and these families together form nations, and nations for the world. So it is not an exaggeration to say that mothers are running the world. If mothers are educated and wise, they can build a safe world, but if mothers are ignorant, the world will become full of anger, violence and selfishness.”

Shahzadi continued by speaking about women’s clothing. “In ancient  Iran, most people were farmers and ranchers, and women worked side by side with men. They worked for hours under the sun and in the agricultural fields. So they should wear comfortable clothes and keep their feet and hands from harm. Therefore, they wore long sleeves, pants, and shoes that would not get thorns on their feet  while walking in the fields.  they wove and stitched their clothes themselves, which were mainly inspired by the cheerful colors of nature.”

Shahzadi added: “The blue color in the clothes was a symbol of water and sky; The green color was the symbol of plants, greenness, and prosperity, and the yellow, orange and red colors symbolized the sun. Each nation and tribe also had its special dress. We can see examples in the clothes worn by our tribal people of Lorestan and Kordestan.”

Regarding the color of Zoroastrian clothing, Shahzadi said: “The favorite color of Zoroastrians is green. In the past, at weddings, they wore green clothes and Makna. Nowadays, in Zoroastrian villages, women wear white scarves and men wear white caps. The only top covering that is specific of Zoroastrians is “sadra”, which white and is worn as an underwear because it is wornuinder the dress. This is the spiritual part of our clothing.”

At the end of her speech, Shahzadi said: “I hope that we all wear clothes that fit our bodies; not so tight that it tear and not so loose that it makes us uncomfortable.”

Thoughts make our destiny

The next to speak was Mobed Hormozd Khosraviani. He said: “We are grateful to God who created women; it is by her that the man flourished and ascended. I had to mention this because we always suffer from a huge historic negligence and have ignored the powerful women who stood by the side of great men of history. Women are always willing to give up their own needs and wishes for the success of their loved ones. Undoubtedly, behind every successful man, there is a selfless woman.  Self-sacrifice is embedded in the word “Sepandarmazd” or Sepanta Armaiti”.  Therefore, we have chosen this day to honor the role of women.”

Referring to the equal rights of men and women, Khosraviani added: “We should follow God’s will regarding the equality of men and women. Both are created as creatures of the same God with equal rights and are evaluated and valued by their thoughts, words, and actions. As the divine prophets have pointed out, the reward and the reward given to people after death has nothing to do with their gender.”

In the end, Khosrowiani read Hat 30 from the 2nd paragraph of the Gathas and said: “Ashu zarathushtra says in this Hat that: “O people, stand up and try to spread the word of truth, before it is late.” As we can see, “people” is referred to everyone without categorizing the gender. Therefore, it is the thought and the power of thinking that determines the fate of people. As we find out, people are referred to everywhere, without specific categories. So it is thinking that determines the fate of everyone.” At the end of the first part of the meeting, a short film about the exhibition of flowers and plants and Zoroastrian embroidered fabrics from the collection of Dr. Mohsen Moghadam was shown.

Clothes are a symbol of culture

At the beginning of the second part of the meeting, dedicated to specialized lectures, Ali Golshan presented his speech entitled “A study of the clothing patterns of Zoroastrians of Iran.” At the beginning of his speech, he said: “From historical texts and documents, it is clear that women’s clothing has played a key role in creating culture and identity. For thousands of years, in our country, women have been “producing content,” shaped stories, Creating stories, composing lullabies and creating handicrafts. In every field of art that we can think of it has been women who have done cultural work and handed them to the next generation. We should be grateful towards women who have created art and this unique culture that we are so proud of.”

This speaker continued: “In every society, it is the mother tongue and traditional dress that shape the identity of everyone. If someone cannot speak his/her mother tongue and wants to ignore his/her traditional clothing, it means that he/she has lost part of his/her identity.”

Referring to the different cultures of Iranian peoples, Golshan said: “We Iranians have cultural diversity. Every culture has customs and traditions that are compatible with its climate, Especially in traditional and indigenous clothing. Clothing reflects the climate of a region. We learn from people’s clothes what beliefs they have, where they come from, and what climate they live in. We can also find out their way of living and working. This can be seen from the fabrics they used in their clothes and arrays and the colors in their clothes. Clothing can reflect people’s likes and tastes. So the cover is not just a dress; “Clothes talk and give us information and awareness about our identity.”

According to Golshan, there are signs in clothes that show the occasion for wearing them. It is a prayer dress or a festive or mourning dress. Unfortunately, this is a very important issue that is being forgotten, and every year, we see that the natives avoid wearing their local clothes. With the excuse that they want to be up-to-date and modern!

Golshan continued: “How disappointing it is to know that a society does not pay attention to preserve its clothing culture. But, to those who identify and reproduce native clothing and all kinds of needlework, and put their time and effort for this purpose, we owe our gratitude. A clear example of such people, who is also present in this meeting, is Mrs shirin Mazdapour.”

About Zoroastrian clothing, Golshan said, “During my trip to France, the lady director of the Anthropology Museum there spoke of her interest in Zoroastrian clothing. She has worn the clothes of Zoroastrian women and taken photos. It is good that the traditional dress of Zoroastrians is preserved in the world’s museums. “Alas, in Iran, these clothes remain in the archives and museum chests, and it is impossible for museum visitors to see them.”

Golshan also counted the types of clothes that Zoroastrian women wear, and said:  “In the Zoroastrian villages lachak, makna, shaval and dresses with affordable fabrics and without any “flower and design” can be seen in these photos. Expensive Zoroastrian clothes embroidered with silk and flower motifs were damaged during work, and so they avoided wearing them at such times. The women of the family sewed all these clothes, and very beautiful examples of them are kept in the archives of the Moghadam Museum. Their colors are also beautiful and happy and bring freshness. The maknas (head cover) have beautiful designs on them and can be a source of inspiration for those who do research or do creative work in this field.

In the end, Ali Golshan said: “Zoroastrian clothing speaks of their thought and worldview, there are many good symbols and signs in their clothing, and they do not use dark colors.” Among the designs of flowers and nature there are also beneficial animals and birds. Rooster symbolizes Sorush Izad, who goes to war against laziness and sleep. Similarly, cedar is a sign of freedom, and peacocks and fish are characters in clothes that symbolize the movement. The dog symbolizes protection, and the chicks and hens are also a sign and symbol of reproduction.”

The art of “flower and design” is facing oblivion

Another speaker at the meeting was Shirin Mazdapour, who gave her entitled “flower and design”: a remembrance of old days. She started by saying: “Flower and design” is the name of Zoroastrian needlework, which is also called Zoroastrian stitches”. This needlework was mostly done on silk cloth and with silk thread.  accordingly, some of its features appear as follows: One is that the silk fabric is scarce and expensive, and therefore fabrics on which “flower and design” was sown belonged to the rich people and those who could afford such material. Another point is that among ancient Zoroastrians there was a kind of division by class in the ancient Iranian periods of time. On this basis, such clothing belonged to rich families. And the third point is that “flower and design” had special importance and an air of aristocratism, therefore this needlework was only used in special occasions. In any case, “flower and design” is very rare now-a-days, and in danger of extinction.

Mazdapour continued: “Before I speak about the use of fabrics on which flowers and design were sown, one main point should be mentioned here.” Flower and design” was sown on women’s clothing as well as men’s and children’s clothing. The art of “flower and design” that was sown on women’s dresses in a very special manner, was completely transformed and became rare, and belong to special occasions such as engagement, marriage and wedding ceremonies. The flower and design on children’s clothes gave themselves to other similar patterns, and as a result the “flower and design” lost its place, and new designs took its place.  In other words, “flower and design” disappeared, due to the past century’s changes in the old traditions, in the Zoroastrian society in the last century. Now, only a faint relic of this domestic art remains. The point is that the owners of these flowered fabrics do not know how and in what new ways to use and protect them.  This is how the art of flower and design is forgotten. Since a hundred years ago, this art has changed, and the art and craft of sewing flowers have been forgotten.”

According to Mazdapour, in ancient times, needlework was a noble and rare art; secondly, the use of clothes and tools on which flowers were sewn was few. In addition, sowing and embroidering on silk fabrics or other similar fabrics was difficult.  On the other hand, since these designs were only used on special occasions, they were mostly kept in trunks and suitcases.  Some of them have remained and are in dire need of maintenance. Mazdapour added: “Flower and design was mostly sown on women’s clothes. cotton pants were more popular for their flower designs on the lowest part of the pants, which is not covered by the dress. Second comes makna. Makna or maghna-e (head cover) is made of rectangular piece of fabric, its length being less than twice the height of the person who wears it, its width reaches up to the wrist. The obvious thing about Makna is that the hands remain open and free in this cover, and by wearing it, doing work with the hands has not become a problem.”

Mazdapour then addressed the dress called “tir va sikh” and said: “After shaval (pants) and makna, another piece on which flower and design was sown is “tir va sikh” dress. The dress was sown in the old fashion, with a special cut and was loose and free. About the lachak (front piece of the head cover) she said: “Lachak covers the front part of the head and the hair, so that together with makna the hair is covered completely. They used to sow the flower and design on this front part called lachak.”

An unknown part of Zoroastrian embroidery art

In the continuation of his speech, Shirin Mazdapour pointed to a lesser-known part of Zoroastrian embroidery art and said: “Unlike lachak, whose examples remain, the other part of Zoroastrian women’s clothing has only its name left, which is called “sayeh kuie”. Only the name is left of sayeh kuie.” There is only one name left of Sayehkui. At the time of Shadrovan Arbab Jamshid Saroushian, the author of the book “Gooyesh Behdinan” and after him, late Keykhosrow Keshavarz, the author of the book “Farhang Zoroastrian Yazd,” Sayehkoyi was unknown. It turns out that this old part of women’s clothing was especially used to fasten and keep the makna on the head and the lace, and it is tied on the head so that the head covering stays on the head and does not fall. Sayeh kuie lost its need and was forgotten, because it has not been used since then.

About “charghad” (a square piece of cotton cloth, like a large scarf) in Zoroastrian women’s clothing, Mazdapour explained: “The big “charghad” that was tied on the head and was the outermost covering was called by various names. This charghad had different types. It was used by both women and men. It was also tied on top of the bay’s diaper.”

This speaker then addressed the clothes of small girls: “Girls used to cover their heads with small scarfs called “klutte” It is worth mentioning that the girls, in those days, were called “klutte sarog” (wearing scarf). It means the one who wears klotte. This name and way of saying it has been forgotten for over fifty years and the origin of Klotte has also been forgotten. However, this part of the clothing of women has remained as part of the official and mandatory clothing of women.

Mazdapour added: “A lot of different designs are mostly flower and tree patterns and also abstract prints of birds and grazing animals. These designs, like the ancient Zoroastrian images, are all lively and joyful. For example, we don’t see any traces of killing or hunting animals. This is the beautiful image of the ecosystem and the life that came from the ancient Iranian and Zoroastrian mentality.”

According to Mazdapour “flower and design” patterns are full of imaginative ideas and thoughts that are full of joy and sweetness of life. These ancient patterns can be used with modern needles and sewing machines, and they can be used for new clothing products. These industries may be home sewing machines, manual and electric sewing machines, and factory industries for mass production. These tools can be used in today’s world to revive and re-arrange the flowers and present this ancient art in a modern way and modern style. At the end of her speech, Shirin Mazdapour insisted on the importance of planning in this field and  finding methods for preserving the remaining fabrics with the “flower and design” pattern. She considered it necessary  to support the researchers and sympathizers trying to save this art from destruction from oblivion.

Zoroastrian embroideries of Moghadam Museum

The final speaker of the meeting was Reza Majidi Najafabadi, who spoke about the “Historical Fabrics of Moghadam Museum – Zoroastrian Embroidery Collection.” In this regard, he said: “The collection of Zoroastrian embroidery fabrics of Moghadam Museum is a small collection of the precious and large collection of fabrics of Moghadam Museum. The collection of historical fabrics of Moghadam Museum is a valuable collection of historical and archeological fabrics, various weaving techniques, and different constituent materials from different ethnicities and nations. The collection of the fabrics kept in this museum were used either as curtains, tablecloth, in frames, or in fabric albums.

Majidi further added: “the collection of Moghadam Museum’s fabrics was made in three ways:  buying historic fabrics from sellers or antique dealers; Second, due to the very good relations that Mohsen Moghadam and his wife Selma had with foreign diplomats, they received many historical fabrics as gifts from diplomats. The third was to buy fabrics during their trips abroad.”

This speaker then introduced some Zoroastrian embroidery fabrics from the Moghadam Museum and mentioned the fabrics’ colors and their animal, plant, and geometric patterns by presenting pictures. Then he mentioned the method of fiber analysis and color analysis of historical Zoroastrian fabrics and said: “For fiber analysis and color analysis of fabric, we need to sample historical fabrics. However, according to the convention and international laws that prohibit the destruction of historical fabrics, only 5 mm fibers were used for fiber analysis of the fabrics. But their color recognition was impossible due to the need for more fabric and the ban on destroying historical fabrics.”

The final part of Majidi’s speech enumerated other examples of historical Zoroastrian embroideries in the Moghadam Museum. A short film was shown about Efat-ul Moluk Khaje Nouri and Showkat-ul-Muluk Shaghaqi, two female painters (two sisters) of the Qajar period known as the first women painters of the Kamal-ul-Mulk school. An exhibition of the works of these two pioneers of the art of painting titled “Woman in the Mirror of Iranian Art” has been held in Nagaristan Museum Garden for one month. The meeting of the Moghadam Museum was held on Sunday, 27th of Bahman.


Photos by Homayoun Mehrzad



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June 5, 2023