Haft Seen

September 13, 2018

Do you know where Haft Seen Table, Sofrey-e Haft Seen, comes from? Do you know how the delightful thing has survived over years thanks to its significantly rich notions?

The great festivity of Nowruz in the ancient land of Persia is held with fun things like gatherings around Sofrey-e Haft Seen, which is a table arranged tastefully with items like Quran, mirror, candles, a glass container of goldfish, flowers, candies and many more.

To my surprise, Haft Seen is not so old; actually, it has evolved over many years. Interestingly, an in-depth study of the Safavid period, 1501 to 1722, shows there hasn’t been such a thing as Haft Seen, except from an uncertain case.  The newly-emerging tradition, which seemingly never existed till 20th century, has its roots and origins in the ancient Persian beliefs and culture.

Historical research indicates that in the past Haft Sheen, Haft Cheen and Haft Meem were common; they have been transformed over years and now Haft Seen stands on top.

According to the history, Iranians used to celebrate the happy occasion of Nowruz with Haft Sheen; that is, 7 items were chosen whose initials were Sh, “ ʃ “, such as: Sham’e or candle, Shirini or sweets, Shahd or honey, Shemshad or boxwood, Shaghayegh or anemones, and Sharab or wine. Once Islam was introduced to Iranians, wine was omitted and replaced with Serkeh or vinegar. It was perhaps a beginning for an advanced transformation.

It is also assumed that Haft Cheen was also common once in the history, in the pre-Islamic era, when Achaemenes served foods in 7 china containers. But this hypothesis doesn’t sound to make any sense; China didn’t have any trade or communications with Iran at the time.

Also there is evidence that Haft Meem, once popular in the country, was composed of 7 items with M initials like Morgh, chicken, Mahi, fish, Mast, yogurt, Maviz, currants and so on. Fascinatingly, in Bushehr, south of the country, Haft Meem is still common and cherished besides Haft Seen.

But why “Haft” or 7 has been chosen for Haft Seen table?

Needless to say, not only Iran but also many countries on the planet, believe in the sacredness of number 7. Its blessedness in Iran comes from the ancient Mehr or Mitra rituals and that’s why the number denotes immortality.

Also as far as the blessedness of 7 is concerned, there are some traces which can be witnessed in the Persian culture:  7 years of childhood, the 7-colored rainbow, 7 Khan-e Rustam in Shahnameh, which suggests tough situations Rustam had to go through in his life, 7 territories, and 7 days of week.

The items present in Sofrey-e Haft Seen should comply with some rules:

They should be pure Farsi words; Arabic names are excluded.

They all have to start with “S” sound.

They should be stemmed from plants.

They should be edibles.

The items don’t involve compound words like Sabzi Polo, and Seer Torshi.

Toady’s Haft Seen involves a deep philosophy and inspiring concepts. The basic iconic items include:

Seer, Garlic, symbolizes Ahura Mazda.

Sabzeh, sprouts of seeds or grains like wheat, lentil and mung beans, marks a brand-new season.

Seeb, apple, means freshness and fertility.

Serkeh, vinegar, represents eternality and immortality.

Samanu, sweet nutritious brown pudding, is an emblem of Shahrivar angle.

Senjed, or Persian olive, signifies true love and effection.

And last but not least, Sumac is a symbol of rain and Bahman’s god.

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