On the 13th day of the Persian New Year (usually on April 2), the residents of Tehran, Iran head outside to the numerous parks within the city to celebrate Sizdehbedar. However, in a country known for its strict adherence to Islam, this particular festival has little to do with it, and much to do with the rain god named Tishtrya.
Sizdehbedar (Sizdeh meaning thirteen) is translated as “getting rid of the thirteen” an unlucky number. The celebration is supposed to represent the will and power to fend off all evils in the year to come - as well as to celebrate the arrival of spring. It’s been a part of the Persian tradition since the days when Zoroastrian deities such as Tishtrya were prayed to.
Zoroastrianism is the oldest religion in existence and is still practiced throughout the small pockets in Iran, Europe and the United States. Also, it has had a profound effect on major religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Tishtrya (also known in Middle and Modern Persian as Tir) is one of its major deity. He is the benevolent god who brought rainfall to the land, and is associated with fertility. He is also the protector against the drought-bringing demon named Apaosha.
The hymn of the “Avesta” told the story of Tishtrya and his battle with Apaosha. “The Avesta” was the most important collection of sacred texts of the Zoroastrianism. It was composed in the Avestan language, an East Iranian language known primarily for its use in the collection. The source of this language is unknown.
In the collection, Tishtrya took on the form of a pure white horse and went to battle with Apaosha, who was in the form of a black demon horse. At first, Apaosha was looking to be the victor. The problem was that Tishtrya was powered by the prayers and sacrifices from humankind and none, if little was coming his way.
Not all was lost, however. Tishtrya had friends in high places. According to the text, divine forces known as the yazata (a general term for “worthy of worship” which may refer to priests or people) prayed to the Creator Ahura Mazda. The Creator intervened by offering a sacrifice to help the rain god.
With this intervention, along with an infusion of prayers and sacrifices from humankind, Tishtrya turned the table on his nemesis. His rains reached the parched land and overwhelmed Apaosha and his drought.
In later years, during the era known as the Achaemenid period (also known as the Persian Empire between circa 550-330 BCE), Tishtrya was combined with the Semitic God Nabu-Tiri and was recognized as being Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.
Tishtrya is possibly one of the few ancient deities to remain significant. One particular incident illustrated the god’s importance to some modern Iranians. In a region where ten rivers flow, nine of them were running dry in 2008. Many villagers in the region were reported to be praying to Tishtrya to end the drought that had caused the rivers’ dry spell.
Islam may be the official religion of Iran; however, old gods in the country are not entirely forgotten. Tishtrya was and still is a significant part of the people’s belief system whether he is directly worshipped or honored in a festival that signifies the desire for a prosperous year to come.
“Tishtrya (retrieved 2010)”: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tishtrya
“Tishtrya (2010)” Encyclopedia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/596976/Tishtrya
“Tehran Residents Mark Sizehbedar by spending a day outdoors (April 3, 2009)” Payvand Iran News: http://www.payvand.com/news/09/apr/1028.html