Yesterday I went to the Garni temple in the Kotayk region with Onnik Krikorian,
my wife, and two guests to attend the annual pagan ritual, something I had wanted to capture on video for years to use in a short film. The event was less flamboyant as I imagined but it was a crazy experience nevertheless.
Vardavar occurs on a Sunday in July, but the actual date changes every year for some reason and I can’t figure out who determines the day of the month. It is a traditional Armenian holiday that dates back to pre-Christian times, but I don’t know how far back exactly. Back in the days when Armenians were worshiping fire and various gods and goddesses, the day was set aside specifically for praising the magnificent glory of the goddess Astghik. Somewhere along the way, the mutual drenching with water, primarily performed by children, came into play in the celebration. For some reason the Catholicos of All Armenians is responsible for declaring at one time during the day Vardavar begins and I think ends, but I don’t suppose kids care very much about what he has to say at all. I noticed they were soaking each other as early as 10:00 am.
The pagan ceremony was conducted by the National Union of Armenian Aryans, which is one of about five different organizations of such in Armenia (even the pagans are split apparently). The pagans also perform their rituals on Terendes
in February, dedicated to Vahakn, who is the primary Armenian Aryan/Zoroastrian god of fire and probably the same known as Ahura Mazda to other cultures. The ceremony was conducted in front of a crucible of fire, and the priest, flanked by his assistant priests, was wearing a bright red cape with a strange concentric cross printed on the back. He held a dagger which he occasionally warmed up over the fire during the ceremony and read from a Zoroastrian holy scripture before giving a sermon. Once in a while during the rite the priest would announce “holy!” and everyone would shoot up their right arm shouting out the word again.
Afterwards there was a mass christening, with two or three guys taking part as well as an entire family complete with a two-year-old kid. One of those being christened was an Armenian from Germany who calls himself a Christian Aryan Buddhist, whatever that means. It was performed more or less the same way as a Christian ceremony, with the pouring of water over the head and so forth, which leads me to believe that it was another tradition that carried over into Christianity with the priests approaching the alter, using wine in place of the crucible of fire, et cetera. When the ceremony was over they hug and kissed each other—one of them seemed as though he was shedding tears.
I spoke to the head honchos for a few minutes and when I asked whether they recognize the Armenian Church they told me they accept all Armenians so long as they serve their nation and are good, regardless of their religious faith or allegiance to political parties.
Although I was videographing the event some twerps running around with plastic water-filled bottles felt compelled to squirt water all over my camera, which annoyed me but I dealt with it by wiping it down promptly. Hopefully it will work when I am ready to import the footage into my laptop for editing.
I recommend to anyone residing or visiting Armenia during the month of July to discover on exactly what Sunday will Vardavar be celebrated and then head out to Garni around noontime. It is a worthwhile experience but be sure to bring a change of clothing. If you plan on meaning business take along plenty of bottles of water with you.
Photo: Garni Temple, Kotayk, Armenia
Labels: Personal Experiences, Photography, Social and Cultural