Every year the Uzbekistan Armenian community celebrates the joyful and beloved holiday of Vardavar. This ancient holiday is quite timely in the mid-July summer heat, when the thermometer index in the region regularly inches over 40°C (more than 100°F). Young people become its major participants. Armed with the basins, buckets, and other containers, they spill water on each other with cheerful merriment.
According to tradition, our first Catholicos, St. Gregory the Illuminator, after adopting Christianity, did not deprive the people of this memorable summer tradition, which dated back centuries. In Armenian churches today, services on the occasion of the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ are held, and the holiday is traditionally celebrated on the successive 14th Sunday (98th day) after Saint Easter.
The parish priest of the Uzbekistan Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, Ter Garnik Loretsyan, is a great advocate of the summer ritual. (There are two Armenian churches in this Central Asian country, Samarkand St. Virgin and Tashkent St. Philippos.) As a rule, the generous first splash comes from Loretsyan, and only then can the young parishioners of the local Armenian Cultural Center turn into inveterate irrigators. They suddenly burst into tantrums, rendering everyone they meet on the road astonished, confused, and wet.
Many nations in the world have holidays similar to Vardavar. For example, the Dai ethnic minority group in south-west China, Yunnan province, hold three days of the traditional Water Splashing Feast to commemorate the beginning of the Buddhist New Year. On the eve of Easter Day, the Poles refer simply to “Wet Monday.” And on July 7, the Slavic Orthodox tradition marks Ivan Kupala Day with any kind of water, including morning dew, believed to be endowed with healing powers. Children and teenagers lift barrels of water over their heads, pouring them to bless all with a happy life and good health.
Yet, it’s a shame that nowadays, in the urban bustle, the Armenian elders usually refrain from participating in Vardavar. They cannot be inspired to become targets of the water that rains down around them. In vain, they try to avoid it. According to legend, however, the Vardavar water symbolizes a purification of the soul, to rinse away human minds from evil spirits; almost every adult has an abundance of them. Therefore, it’s not the immeasurably joyful children, but the adults, who need that bucket of water on their heads to guarantee their piety and spiritual harmony.
I propose introducing this ancient Armenian tradition to various parts of the world as part of a humanitarian exchange. For instance, to another power-hungry minister whose actions aren’t geared towards improving the lives of his ordinary citizens; or to an important politician who incites massacres in Syria and other “hot” places; or to some terrorist who is prepared to use his “infernal machine” against innocent people. It’s possible that the miraculous properties of the water may work wonders.
The history of Vardavar tells us that our ancestors, with a two-day supply of food, started their way to the sanctuaries, taking with them the decorated sacrificial animals, relying on the mercy of the gods, and above all, Astghik goddess. The holiday is intimately connected with this goddess. According to the legend, the Armenian “showering roses” goddess of love and beauty sowed the seeds of love in all the Armenian country, and her beloved fearless Vahagn guarded the seeds from the forces of evil. That is why pilgrims always place bouquets of roses on a sacred place on the feast day and sacrificed in Astghik’s temple.
The holiday is related to the Great Flood, as well. In memory of the flood Noah, who found his refuge on Mt. Ararat, ordered his sons to pour water on each other. Thus water and roses became symbols of the national feast.
“Water! You are tasteless, colorless, odorless. You can not be described. You’re enjoyed. We cannot say you’re needed to live. You are that very life!” Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said. During his time, science could already show that water wasn’t just a chemical structure with one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms contained in its molecule. Essential to humans, this vital substance plays a crucial role as custodian of the world. Healers relate to water as the indispensable healer of bodies and souls. While noting that the structure of water changes every month, they claim that at the beginning of July water begins to circle the energy on Earth, “from the beauty and harmony to the peace of mind.” They add that in July, the frozen water’s hexagonal crystal is characterized by faith, hope, compassion, and kindness. The holiday, then, not only hardens the body but positively affects internal human energy.
Nevertheless we successfully ignore the scientific information, only because we used to consider the real secular values through their outer side not noticing the principal ones. In our daily routine, we have come to deprive ourselves of the awareness our ancestors on the highlands had achieved for millennia. We regularly go to church, stay for the Divine Liturgy, leave it with a sense of duty, and learn so little. And the remarkable tradition is expressed today through the primitive picnic where the spiritual hunger is satisfied by the tasteful dishes accompanied by the fiery Rabiz-style music. Having spilled water, with a sense of duty we get a portion of emotional wealth for a while (those who desperately resist do not get it) while keeping God-loving qualities of our heritage by our own way.
But there is a tiny need to stand still, alone, with nature next to that very river in the countryside that no longer freezes in winter and violently floods in the summer. You may see, perhaps, our globally dim mind will be clarified again and harmony in human relations will recover. And perhaps as from immemorial time, a pair of adorable white pigeons will circle above in the sky. That is another admirable symbol of Vardavar.