Astghik and Vardavar, the Festival of Roses

Have you guys ever had the opportunity to be in Armenia during the Vardavar festival? I had the chance to be there this summer and attend it for the first time, and even though my family had told me about it, I would have never imagined how huge of an event it is in Yerevan! Vardavar is a one-day festival that takes place 98 days after Easter every July in Armenia, and people celebrate it by literally drenching each other with buckets of water. Whether you want to participate or explicitly refuse to, it doesn’t matter, as soon as you take a step outdoors during this day, you will end up soaking wet! Family, friends or even strangers will throw water at you, and the only way to remain dry is to either cancel all your plans during that day, or take a day trip somewhere calmer. In Yerevan’s center, hundreds of people dive into the Swan Lake or in the fountains of the Republic Square to play and refresh each other under the unbearable Yerevan summer heat. Even firefighters stand on their trucks and drench the passerby with their fire hose, and don’t think you are safe in your car, you will have to make sure all your windows are totally closed or you will be an easy target for the group of kids or young adults around you. If you want to have an idea of the scale of Vardavar, take a look at this video.

This summer, after my little diaspora body got mercilessly and joyfully targeted by the locals both in Yerevan and in my parents’ neighborhood, Vardashen, I decided to research what the festivities were about and I was amazed about their origins. Vardavar is actually an ancient festival which dates back to pagan times, and is associated with Astghik, the pre-Christian Goddess of love and beauty. Astghik would present roses and spray rosewater onto people to spread love in Armenian land. Consequently, the religious observance of Astghik was named Vardavar (vard means “rose” and var means “rise”), and people would celebrate it offering her roses, spraying each other with water, and flying doves. When Armenia adopted Christianity, the Armenian church decided to keep this holiday because of how much people appreciated it. But it then started to symbolize the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, though the water spraying of Astghik together with the flying of doves was kept. During this holiday, it is considered that everybody should get at least a few drops of water on them for healing, health and good luck. If you want to experience it next year, it will take place on July 8, 2018!

In 1989, Director Yuri Muradyan created the short wordless animated film “The Festival of Roses” that tells about Vardavar and the survival of the festival throughout history and despite the different episodes in Armenian history that threatened Armenian culture and traditions. The film starts by showing the celebration of Vardavar in pagan times, it then shows what seems to be the Roman conquest of Armenia, the birth of Christian Armenia with the christianization of the country and the creation of the alphabet, and finally the Ottoman conquest that then led to the Armenian genocide. The film finishes with roses falling from the sky as a gesture from Astghik and a symbol of the survival of ancient Armenian traditions and life despite hardship, and a man starts rebuilding what was destroyed. You can watch this beautiful film here.

 

 

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