Zoroastrian festivals plate

Type: Plates
Date: 650-700
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Afghanistan
Medium: Gilt-silver
Dimensions: diam. 25 cm
Description: This circular plate depicts at its center a woman riding sidesaddle on a griffin; in addition to its animal and bird traits, the composite creature also has an unusual leafy tail. At the top and bottom are personifications of the spring and fall equinoxes (the crescent moon and the young man), and in between are four pairs of women. Most are dancing, and many hold distinctive objects in their hands. The pairs represent the four seasons and specific Zoroastrian festivals in which those objects were used.

These festivals can be "read" in counterclockwise order, with Nowruz, the new year, represented by the pair at the left who hold a flower, a falcon, and an incense burner. A white hawk was freed on each day of Nowruz, and the non-dancing right-hand woman seems to commemorate the dead, for whom incense was burned in the days before the festival. The cup that floats to her right may signify the one offered to the shahanshah on Nowruz. The paired figures at the bottom represent the late-summer festival of Tiragan; the bowl contains a special dish of wheat and fruit eaten then. At the right the two women represent the early winter fire festival of Khurshid-Adar-jashn, at which public drinking occurred (suggested by the torch, cup, and goatskin). At the top, where the only attribute is a bucket, the women personify the water-pouring festival of Abrezagan, which took place at the end of winter. Because of imprecisions in the Zoroastrian calendar, feast days across the Iranian world had shifted from their original dates, and the holidays no longer corresponded to their original seasons in the solar year. The plate shows the disposition of feast days as they were celebrated in the late seventh century.

Stylistically, the depicted women reveal inspiration from northern India (braided hair and long sarilike shawls), whereas the figure posed on an animal derives from Greek art. This dual artistic heritage points to Bactria (Tokharistan), which was subdued by Alexander "the Great" in the fourth century BCE and later by the Parthians and Sasanians; Arab Muslims conquered it in the early eighth century CE. The plate was probably found in the northern Urals, where later users incised Turkish runes and other designs.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 4
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Marie-Lan Nguyen; Linda Safran

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Zoroastrian festivals plate (BnF)