Sha’aban 15: The festival of Culture and Faith

Madi Jahangir – A group of young guys are handing out food and drinks in the streets, offering glasses of juice & candy to cars passing by: “May your mouth be sweet !” They say out of Ta’arof. Today is Sha’aban 15 based on the Islamic calendar and the day is celebrated in Iran as the birthday of 12th Shiite Imam. 

The word Al-Mahdi means the person who is rightly-guided and according to Islamic traditions, he will come  together with prophet Jesus as the savior mentioned in many religions before the end of time and will fill the earth with justice. The concept of Al Mahdi exists in both Shiite and Sunni schools of thought, even though the quality of the story is different.

Sha’aban 15 is one of the most celebrated feasts in Iran. Each year numerous festivities are held all over the country to mark the day. Iranians decorate and light up the streets. They enjoy firework displays, specially the ones on Tehran’s Milad Tower, the 4th tallest telecommunication tower in the world. There are even concerts with the concept of waiting, like the one in Tabriz this year.

Everywhere in Iran, Iranians celebrate this day in a different way. A day before the festival, People of Birjand in the Southern Khorasan province visit the graveyards. Name of this tradition is Cheraq-e-Barat in which they wash the grave-stone, light up candles and recite Quran. Many Iranians also take time and go to Jamkaran mosque, a popular pilgrimage site for Shi’ite Muslims in the outskirt of religious city of Qum. But in Yazd, the festival is observed differently. From all the culture that Iranians inject in the their celebrations, people in the city of Yazd have a type of significant style.

The city of Yazd is located in the central Iran, surrounded by plain dessert. But Yazdis for generations have adapted to that lifestyle and made the city architecturally very beautiful and unique. To celebrate the birthday of Imam Mahdi, there is tradition in Yazd to install chandeliers and mirrors in Gholam Ali Siah bazaar.

Gholam Ali Siah bazaar has seen better days. This market was once the most famous trading center in the city. Nowadays it is not as popular as before but still is very crowded during the Sha’aban festival. People come to witness the effort of the shop owners in the market, the chandeliers which are hanging from the arches and the big mirrors with wooden frames installed in raw on both sides of the walls. This celebration is named ‘Ayene-Bandi’, which literally means installing mirrors.

Installing mirrors in Yazd have a long history. Yazd has been somehow protected by the surrounding dessert and remained less affected by the outsider’s culture. In Yazd, decorating roads and streets with mirrors was a common scene for most festivals in the past. But these days it is solely observed for the birthday of Al Mahdi.

The decorations are not only in Gholam Ali Siah bazaar though. There is a famous mosque named Saheb el Zaman in the Imam Mahdi street and for that matter, the street is decorated all along with mirrors and carpets given by the residents. From the beginning to the end of the street, people offer food and juice. The place is very crowded on the Shaaban festival that the cars are not allowed to pass through the road. The other decorated street is Musa bin Jaafar boulevard. The boulevard lies on the main north to south highway and many passing cars, enter or exit the city from this street. On the sides of the street, residents make stalls every year and just like every part of Iran, they also hand out sweets, candy, juice and Yazd’s famous product, sugar cube: “May your mouth be sweet!” they say. Even though this Persian expression is just out of Ta’arof, at the end of this day as is the Iranian tradition of spreading  sweets in every festival, the mouth will be definitely sweet.

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