Eternal Spring

The court of Kyumars, first mythical king of Iran, reigning on an Edenic land in an eternal spring. Illustration of the Book of Ferdowsi Kings. Shâhnâmeh of Shah Tahmasp (Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp: A Book of Illustrated Kings of the 16th Century), Tabriz, c. 1537.


At the center, King Gayumars (first king of Persia according to the legend) is seated cross-legged and levitating above his many courtiers. On his sides, his son, Siyamak, is standing on the right, while his grandson, Hushang, is seated on the left. The harmony between the lavish vegetation, which goes beyond the margin, and the people is to be noted. In addition, the stylistic similarities with Chinese art in this Persian work show how cultural exchange happened even within the arts during the time.

For those who are wondering, here’s a rough translation of the lines on the folio:

When the sun reached the lamb constellation,9 when the world became glorious, When the sun shined from the lamb constellation to rejuvenate the living beings entirely, It was then when Gayumars became the King of the World. He first built his residence in the mountains. His prosperity and his palace rose from the mountains, and he and his people wore leopard pelts. Cultivation began from him, and the garments and food were ample and fresh.


The Eternal  Spring

In Chinese painting, the seasons correspond to feelings born of the Invisible, to combinations of yin and yang and aspects of the contemplative heart. The seasons of the miniature are analogous: they manifest a periodization of the soul and an activity of God. Persian painters almost never describe winter; the preferred seasons are spring or autumn, as in Behzad and his school. However, thriving vegetation, bright colors, birds and eggs in the nests, constantly suggest a spring idea of time, and this symbolic choice, which we will analyze here, is eminently revealing of the miniature paradise’s way.

In Islam, as in other civilizations, spring is the emblem of Eden. In Roman antiquity, Ovid spoke of the “eternal spring” of the golden age, and Dante, in the Middle Ages, described the earthly paradise as a spring garden.  Like the medieval troubadours, the Persian poets include in their poems of love or wine, or their panegyrics, an evocation of spring. In the image of a musical mode, this literary convention indicates the symbolic tone of the work and its hermeneutical register. The spring referring to a contemplative time, to the Adamic consciousness, is therefore a spiritual intelligence that will deliver the deep meanings of the poem. This is also true for miniatures: their spring decor is not so much a temporal environment as an Edenic space, a symbolic box, a kaleidoscope of the Spirit. Conversely, autumn can be the season of separation and reflect the pain of lovers, as in the story of Leyla and Madjnun.




In the miniature, the Edenic meaning of spring is underlined by the presence of birds. These can be real (cranes, nightingales, geese, hoopoes, etc.) or mythical, such as Sîmorgh. In the Qur’an, the language of the birds is the initiatory wisdom granted by God to Solomon.( Coran XXVII, 16.)

Sufism frequently uses the image of the bird to symbolize the higher or heavenly soul, a spiritual motion or inspiration, principles and states of Being. The birds are almost always associated with flowering trees, and one can see the symbol of spiritual degrees (birds) in the Divine Reality (the tree), or the symbol of the Sufi saint (the tree). ) and its inner realities (birds). The bird is associated with the soul, its cage with the body, its flight to the freedom of the spiritual consciousness flying in God.

Spring is often mentioned by Ferdowsi in his Book of Kings, particularly in his description of the “heavenly” residence that King Kavus built in the Alborz Mountains. In these sumptuous palaces, of gold, crystal or gems, true spiritual places “where fortune must grow and never fall”, one did not “feel the heat of summer”: “the air was perfumed there Amber, “” The rain was wine, “” The gay spring reigned throughout the year, and the roses were beautiful as the cheeks of women. ”

Elsewhere he describes the palace of King Mihrab’s wives: “The palace looked like a spring garden by its colors, its perfumes, and its paintings of every kind. ”

In Sufi literature, spring enjoys a privileged meaning, with multiple and interdependent connections.

Rumi writes that “outside the spring of the world, it is a hidden spring“.  This secret season, of which the earthly spring is a fleeting reflection, is none other than the divine time of the soul, its eternal rebirth in God.

Sultan Valad recommended to his disciples to imagine “the Essence of God like spring”Ansari (1006-1089) says of God’s vision that it is a spring regeneration of the soul: “The spring of my heart is in the meadow of Your encounter.  It is at the spring equinox, writes Sohravardi, that King Key Khosrow held the Grail “facing the sun,” and in the light of the star “the lines and imprints of the worlds were manifested there.” .

Nezâmî associates with the spring awakening of nature the idea of ​​spiritual immortality (the Source of life) and of an unchanging esotericism (always green), represented by Khidr, mysterious character mentioned by the Qur’an and sometimes identified to Biblical Elijah: “Then, like Khidr Verdoyant, Immortal Prophet, The grass regained youth! Then the water recovered Source of life! “Daqiqi, a poet of the 10th century, exposed in a few verses the symbolic corollaries of spring, woman and paradise:” A paradise cloud, O my idol, has thrown an April parure on the earth. The rose garden in the Garden of Eden is the same, the tree is a hedge covered with ornaments. ”

The meaning of spring is deduced from its characteristics: after the “sour face” of winter,  before the burning of summer and the opposite of autumnal nostalgia, it is a renovation and a transfiguration. More than the cyclical return of a bloom, it is the miracle of the existence arisen from the “winter nothingness”, just as the oasis is the drunkenness of a desert touched by a gift of God. His explosions of colors and scents embody the movement of joy, the expansiveness of Love, the expressive sap of God and the alchemy of a revelation. Spring is also the fulfillment of a promise: that of paradise after the “winter” ordeals of earthly life or after the autumnal sadness of the separation between the soul and God.


By its ascetic nudity, spiritual purification is a winter of the soul, while transmutation is an outbreak of spring, a liberation of hidden potentialities, a flourishing of contemplative perfumes. For Rumi, spring is a symbol of divine spiritual union, mercy and gentleness, of the blossoming of mysteries. Like the Spirit, spring is apparent in its effects, but hidden in its essence.

The alchemist Djabir recommends harvesting the stone in the spring, because it is the most favorable time to collect the raw material on which the alchemical operations will take place. In its deepest sense, spring refers to the absolute activity of the Essence, the ongoing relevance of its possibilities and contents. While man is passive, God is pure act: He determines without being determined. Divine activity is comparable to an eternal blossoming of attributes and essences.

Throughout the spring, Persian painting synthesizes a set of meanings related to an invisible reality. Spring is the spiritual activity of the soul, the love of contemplation, a life-giving knowledge, the quintessence of divine action. Spring is the mirror of a Divinity which does not change and which obeys no cycle: the miniature is the pictorial science of this mystery, where a Eternity without seasons appears under the face of a passing hatching. Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) wrote that “Beauty is the Creator of the Spring of Desire”.


The symbols can thus be linked together: the spring beauty of the miniature engenders the desire of God, whose beauty transforms lovers into immutable spring. The false simplicity of these symbols contains a spirituality for which spring and garden are not the past conventions of a poetry, but the language that God uses to say what he is in himself and in man, what man was in Him and what He will be again in Eternity.

Spring has yet another meaning, relative to the spiritual and cosmic function of kingship. The sovereign organizes his kingdom like a garden, and his good government resembles spring. Here is how Ferdowsi evokes the court of a king: “Whoever sees the beautiful spring, sees nothing comparable to the court of the king; it’s a laughing spring in paradise […]. There is no high mountain like his palace, nor a vast garden like his court.

Any renovation of royalty is comparable to a golden age, and therefore to a spring garden. Wherever King Feridoun “saw an injustice, wherever he saw uncultivated places, he bound by the good the hands of evil, as befits a king. He ordered the world like a paradise, he planted cypresses and roses instead of wild grasses. ” Yet empires pass like the seasons. The story of the Book of Kings is cyclical, and it is inspired by the Mazdean doctrine of history. “What is changeable is the conduct of the times,” so that “the golden age (passes) to the silver age, the silver age to the steel age, the age of steel in the Iron Age.

The birth, the blossoming, the fall of the dynasties are a perpetual recommencement. The sumptuous beginning of a reign is a reflection of the golden age and earthly paradise; then a more or less slow decline leads at its ultimate point to the overthrow of a royalty decreed by another dynasty which inaugurates a new happy period, to which will also succeed a decadence determined by an inexorable destiny.

The gardens of Persian painting thus illustrate the cosmic and human effects of a good kingship. For the Persian court poets, authors of panegyrics with codified and grandiloquent language, the palace and its court are like a world in miniature, a microcosm. The palace garden is like a reflection of paradise inside this world. With its plan, its vegetation, its colors, its scents, it is at the same time a reflection of the harmony of the court, the order of the kingdom, a pacified cosmos, the inner qualities of the king.

Iskandar Finds Khidr and Ilyas at the Fountain of Immortality

It also expresses, on a more metaphysical plane, the relation between the domain of men and the divine activity as well as the order of the world by the divine Word.  By the same token, it is the archetype of the just king, also a patron of court art, who is praised and symbolized through the orderly beauty of the garden. And this righteous king is incarnated in Persian literature by Alexander the Great, on whom Nezami and Djami have written long versified novels, by Solomon, king-prophet of the Bible, or by the first mythical kings of the Book of Kings. Sages and righteous, sometimes invested with a prophetic and even messianic aura, these kings are the reflection of the divine kingship and its attributes.

It would, however, be inaccurate or tendentious to see in this symbolism a “political propaganda”, an expression and a notion that are otherwise modern and anachronistic.

If good kingship is a spring of the world, it is because it prolongs a spiritual order, which is the true spring of the cosmos and beings. The royal significance of the gardens does not make the miniature a pictorial panegyric, it opens on a metaphysical hierarchy and a political esotericism: God is an eternal spring and the supreme King. Terrestrial kings reflect their prototype to the extent that they are the protectors of spiritual laws to which they must obey. It is the divine government which is venerated in Persian painting through the symbolism of paradise, and not such a more or less imperfect royalty which will never be anything but the shadow of the Adamic world and the servant of the only true King: God, the master of the souls and seasons of the worlds, who overthrows the proud kingdoms to manifest his transcendence and remind men of their dust.

Adam’s paradise was a pure reign: his only sovereign was God, and man was the spiritual king of creation. The spring of the miniature symbolizes this heavenly kingship, which directly reflected the spring and the dominion of God. But unlike Spring Eternity, the season of the Adamic Garden has come to an end, culminating in a long history of current events, the darkness of which announces the end of history for Muslims. In the Greco-Roman conception, the golden age corresponds to spring, the silver age to summer, the bronze age to autumn, the iron age to winter. The world is aging, and its winter is a time of decrepitude marked by evils, irreligion, the perversity of men.

If the Garden of Eden has faded, while the angelic paradises are incorruptible, it is because it was a psychic or cosmic paradise, and not spiritual or divine. His existential conditions included the possibility of events with negative repercussions.

In Biblical and Qur’anic symbolism, the devil is an integral part of Eden.  The earthly paradise thus had an ambiguity inherent in its position in the cosmic hierarchy. Unlike the spiritual realm, the psyche is ambivalent, it is subject to non-existent trends and dualities in the Spirit. Psychic consciousness is always capable of emancipating itself from spiritual intelligence.

As spiritualized as it was, the Adamic soul could be tempted or corrupted. In wanting to possess knowledge other than the contemplation of God, Adam provoked the sudden end of the Edenic spring.

The loss of paradise engendered time, the return of seasons and death. Humanity was linked to the duration of things and the time of one’s life. The heavenly state was the conjunction of the soul’s time and the timelessness of the Spirit.

This lost unity, the post-Edenic world is carried away by the only movement of the psyche and the time of the stars. As the world moves ever farther and farther away from paradise, events seem to succeed one another more and more quickly, time to accelerate the disappearance of things faster and even to the destructive and transformative passage that is the end of time.

From a spatial point of view, paradise was situated in the limitless axis of the Spirit; from a temporal point of view, he was at the timeless center of time. Adam’s fault has misled and decentered the world, imprinting on it a dynamic that distances it from the timeless, and closing earthly space on itself. The miniature is the return to a space dilated by the Spirit, and a temporality transmuted by a succession of timeless moments. Renovation of space and renovated time: the two aspects of the spring of God and the spring paradise of the miniature.  ( from Patrick Ringgenberg – Persian painting or the paradisiacal vision, Paris, , pp. 185-192)

  • The Shanameh

Almost two-thirds of the Shahnameh is devoted to the age of heroes, extending from Manuchehr’s reign until the conquest of Alexander the Great (Eskandar). This age is also identified as the kingdom of Keyaniyan, which established a long history of heroic age in which myth and legend are combined.[10] The main feature of this period is the major role played by the Saka or Sistānī heroes who appear as the backbone of the Persian Empire. Garshāsp is briefly mentioned with his son Narimān, whose own son Sām acted as the leading paladin of Manuchehr while reigning in Sistān in his own right. His successors were his son Zāl and Zal’s son Rostam, the bravest of the brave, and then Farāmarz.

Among the stories described in this section are the romance of Zal and Rudāba, the Seven Stages (or Labors) of Rostam, Rostam and Sohrab, Sīyāvash and Sudāba, Rostam and Akvān Dīv, the romance of Bijan and Manijeh, the wars with Afrāsīyāb, Daqiqi’s account of the story of Goshtāsp and Arjāsp, and Rostam and Esfandyār.


Isfandiyar killing a dragon

Rustem Killing the Dragon, a page from a manuscript of the Shah Namah, 1800.









Firdausi, Shah-name – Faridun, dragon coming across his sons



  • The foundation of Nowruz – the Spring

The Shahnameh credits the foundation of Nowruz to the mythical Iranian King Jamshid, who saves mankind from a winter destined to kill every living creature.[41] Jamshid may symbolise the transition of the Proto-Iranians from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to animal husbandry and a more settled life.[citation needed] To defeat the killer winter, Jamshid constructed a throne studded with gems. He had demons raise him above the earth into the heavens; there he sat, shining like the Sun. The world’s creatures gathered and scattered jewels around him and proclaimed that this was the New Day (Now Ruz). This was the first day of Farvardin, which is the first month of the Iranian calendar.[42]

Although it is not clear whether Proto-Indo-Iranians celebrated a feast as the first day of the calendar, there are indications that Iranians may have observed the beginning of both autumn and spring, respectively related to the harvest and the sowing of seeds, for the celebration of the New Year.[43] Mary Boyce and Frantz Grenet explain the traditions for seasonal festivals and comment: “It is possible that the splendor of the Babylonian festivities at this season led the Iranians to develop their own spring festival into an established New Year feast, with the name Navasarda “New Year” (a name which, though first attested through Middle Persian derivatives, is attributed to the Achaemenian period).” Since the communal observations of the ancient Iranians appear in general to have been seasonal ones, and related to agriculture, “it is probable that they traditionally held festivals in both autumn and spring, to mark the major turning points of the natural year.”[43]

Nowruz is partly rooted in the tradition of Iranian religions, such as Mithraism and Zoroastrianism. In Mithraism, festivals had a deep linkage with the Sun’s light. The Iranian festivals such as Mehrgan (autumnal equinox), Tirgan, and the eve of Chelle ye Zemestan (winter solstice) also had an origin in the Sun god (Surya). Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism is the first monotheistic religion that emphasizes broad concepts such as the corresponding work of good and evil in the world, and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Iran. In Zoroastrianism, the seven most important Zoroastrian festivals are the six Gahambar festivals and Nowruz, which occurs at the spring equinox. According to Mary Boyce,[44] “It seems a reasonable surmise that Nowruz, the holiest of them all, with deep doctrinal significance, was founded by Zoroaster himself”; although there is no clear date of origin.[45] Between sunset on the day of the sixth Gahambar and sunrise of Nowruz, Hamaspathmaedaya (later known, in its extended form, as Frawardinegan; and today known as Farvardigan) was celebrated. This and the Gahambars are the only festivals named in the surviving text of the Avesta.

The 10th-century scholar Biruni, in his work Kitab al-Tafhim li Awa’il Sina’at al-Tanjim, provides a description of the calendars of various nations. Besides the Iranian calendar, various festivals of Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Sabians, and other nations are mentioned in the book. In the section on the Iranian calendar, he mentions Nowruz, Sadeh, Tirgan, Mehrgan, the six Gahambars, Farvardigan, Bahmanja, Esfand Armaz and several other festivals. According to him, “It is the belief of the Iranians that Nowruz marks the first day when the universe started its motion.”[46] The Persian historian Gardizi, in his work titled Zayn al-Akhbār, under the section of the Zoroastrians festivals, mentions Nowruz (among other festivals) and specifically points out that Zoroaster highly emphasized the celebration of Nowruz and Mehrgan.[47][48]

After the Muslim conquest

Shah Abbas and his courtiers celebrating Nowruz.

Nowruz, along with the mid-winter celebration Sadeh, survived the Muslim conquest of Persia of 650CE. Other celebrations such the Gahambars and Mehrgan were eventually side-lined or only observed by Zoroastrians. Nowruz became the main royal holiday during the Abbasid period.

Following the demise of the caliphate and the subsequent re-emergence of Iranian dynasties such as the Samanids and Buyids, Nowruz became an even more important event. The Buyids revived the ancient traditions of Sassanian times and restored many smaller celebrations that had been eliminated by the caliphate. The Iranian Buyid ruler ‘Adud al-Dawla (r. 949-83) customarily welcomed Nowruz in a majestic hall, decked with gold and silver plates and vases full of fruit and colorful flowers.[55] The King would sit on the royal throne, and the court astronomer would come forward, kiss the ground, and congratulate him on the arrival of the New Year.[55] The king would then summon musicians and singers, and invited his friends to gather and enjoy a great festive occasion.[55]

Later Turkic and Mongol invaders did not attempt to abolish Nowruz.

Contemporary era

Tajik girls celebrating Navruz in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran was the only country that officially observed the ceremonies of Nowruz. When the Caucasian and Central Asian countries gained independence from the Soviets, they also declared Nowruz as a national holiday.

Nowruz was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.[56][57][58][59][60] To commemorate the UN recognition, Iran unveiled a commemorative postage stamp during the first International Nowruz Celebrations in Tehran on Saturday, 27 March 2010.[61]