Mehrgan is an autumn harvest festival celebrated during or after gathering a harvest. In ancient times, Mehrgan marked the autumn equinox, and according to an old Iranian calendar, celebrated on the mehr day of the mehr month, equal to 8 October. In the Republic of Tajikistan 15 October is the official day of Mehrgan.
The word mehr according to Iranian mythology is the name of the Zoroastrian deity Mithra who is considered the god of consent, friendship, and light of sky. About the genesis of the Mehrgan, there are multiple ancient sources. For example, one such source shāhnāma of Ferdowsi mention king Faredoon as a founder of the festival. King Faredoon struggled with demon ruler Zahhāk and after victory on him gathered people and held the festival Mehrgan.
Mehrgan is an autumn festival and relates to agriculture and gardening. During the spring they plant trees and prune them to be fruitful, and in the autumn, they gather the harvest. Thus, the Mehrgan festival expresses the thankfulness of the people for an abundant harvest given by their god.
During the celebration people organize exhibitions of agriculture products, fruits, and various of grains. Some groups prepare different traditional dishes using fresh products and put them out on a table for an exhibition. The special tablecloth of the Mehrgan contains fruits such apples, pomegranates, grapes, lemons, and pears. The exhibition of folk crafts products is a main part of the festival. Musical groups join the festival with joyful concerts; dancers dance traditional lyric and humor dances.
Main entrance of the Ferdowsi Park of Dushanbe, where the Mehrgan festival is held, Tajikistan © Dilshod Rahimi
On the other side of the square or stadiums are traditional sport games and entertainment, such as wrestling, rope pulling, and rope walking. Holiday strolls are organized in the cities and towns.
In the villages and rural areas, people continue traditional customs, such inviting guests and sending fruits as autumn present to the friends and neighbors.
During the Soviet period when the agricultural societies were united in collective farms, they celebrated Mehrgan as idi hāsilāt (harvest festival). On a certain day in October, heads of the collective farms with the members of farms organized a massive fair to display the samples of the year’s harvest. These fairs would have a very celebratory nature, and music was played, and people congratulated one another for the abundant harvest.
After gaining its independence, the Tajik government directed its attention to revive traditional cultural festivals and as such Mehrgan has been inserted into the event calendar in Tajikistan by the decree of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Leader of the Nation his Excellency Emomali Rahmon.
The Mehrgan festival has several social functions and cultural meanings. People come together despite age, gender, job, social background, ethnicity, and religious affiliation in the celebration yard. They collectively prepare exhibitions of the best products from the field, gardens, and farms and play musical instruments and sing songs. Today the Tajik people consider Mehrgan a celebration of friendship, love, and truth.
Participants share their happiness with other people, respect and congratulate each other. It promotes the mutual understanding and respect each other. As well as no parts of the element harms the surrounding nature, air or water. In the celebration day gardeners will organize exhibition and sell of different fresh fruits and peasants organize the sale of vegetables. Craftsmen, like blacksmiths and carpenters, bring to the exhibition their handmade traditional working instruments and sell them to the peasants, gardeners, farmers, and other people.
Young people enjoying the Mehrgan festival, Tajikistan © Dilshod Rahimi
Mehrgan festival also serves as symbol for stability of national identity for the Tajik people. Tajiks consider the festival a big national celebration related to nature. In this regard, it should be noted that the Nowruz holiday marks the spring equinox, and the Mehrgan means also the autumn equinox.
In the Sughd region where gardening traditions have developed, Mehrgan is a lovely festival of gardeners. The elder gardeners coach the younger generations to learn the traditional knowledge and skills related to the element. There are many famous gardeners who have learned from their fathers and grandfathers, or uncles, and they work to pass their knowledge and skills of gardening and holding festival.
Beyond of Tajikistan the Mehrgan festival is observed among Zoroastrian groups in Iran and India as well. In 2019, ICH experts of Tajikistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran prepared the necessary documents and submitted Mehrgan festival as a multinational nomination file for inscription on the Representative List of UNESCO.