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Mandaean Information

Along the banks of the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Karoon and the Arvand, there lives a people that has a very long history behind it, and whose members lived till very recent times almost as they did over 2000 years ago. They remain almost entirely unchanged, unadulterated, a simple people in love with simplicity and frugality. They are the followers of John the Baptist who is said to have baptized Jesus Christ, and they speak a language that is very close to Eastern Aramaic.

Mandaeans have their origin in Jerusalem. After the murder of John the Baptist at the order of Herod, the Mandaeans, frustrated under enormous pressure from other religious and ethnic groups, left Jerusalem and immigrated to Mesopotamia. The basic ritual that characterizes and distinguishes this people from peoples of other religions is the ritual of baptizing. They must be baptized or must baptize themselves in the running water of rivers or brooks, every Sunday. This is why they live always close to rivers or brooks. Although they have managed to keep their religion very pure, nonetheless Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam have influenced it. The principles of the religion, however, remain untouched.
mandaeianMandaeans arrived in Mesopotamia at a time when it was a part of the Persian Parthian Empire. The Parthian
rulers had little religious convictions and no bias or prejudice about religion, which they treated rather lightly.
Therefore, Mandaeans had complete freedom of speech and managed to spread their word and teachings throughout the Empire. During the Sassanid Era that followed the Parthian rule, however, they became badly restricted as Zoroastrianism, or rather Sassanid Zoroastrianism did not treat religion quite lightly.

It is interesting to note that Mandaeans are not directly related to Judaism or to Christianity but follow a
completely independent religion though there are similarities among the three. Presently there are about 25,000 Mandaeans living mainly in the cities of Ahwaz, Khorramshahr, Abadan, Shadegan and Susangerd in Iran. There are also 70,000 Mandaeans living in Iraq mainly in Baghdad, Basra and Koot-al-emarah. Another
5,000 are Mandaeans who have left Iraq and immigrated to other countries mainly Britain, Sweden and Australia. Mandaeans are mostly goldsmiths and this profession seems to be a part of their life that suits them well. In all the cities that are close to their centers, such as Ahwaz, 90% of the goldsmiths are Mandaeans.

Mandaeans consider themselves to be direct descendants of Adam with whom, they believe, history of mankind began. On the birthday of Adam – which for them is the 24th of July – they celebrate the new year. On the day before they remain at home and practice the Iranian tradition of house cleaning and they perform certain religious rituals for some hours before the New Year’s Day begins. They spend the second day of the year visiting friends and relatives who will in turn pay back the visits later on the same day. Norouz Rabba is a Persian term that they have adopted for their New Year’s Day. Mandaeans fast during 36 days of the year and their normal diet is made up of grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and less often poultry. They rarely eat red meat.

Besides their New Year’s Day, Mandaeans also celebrate on the 22nd of May and they feast during the five days that immediately follow the Iranian New Year’s Day, the 21st of March (the 20th in leap years). They also consider as holy the day of the death of the people who died in the flood at the time of Noah, which they know as the day of Ashoorieh.

Mandaeans consider men and women as equals: women can even become priests of the highest order and females have equal right to inheritance as males. Divorce does not exist in their religion nor is polygamy
practiced although it is not prohibited. Husband and wife may decide to live separately and announce their separation officially, but they remain man and wife. In addition to their names and surnames Mandaeans also
have religious names in all of which the mother of the bearer is somehow mentioned.

The Mandaean year has twelve months each comprising 30 days, and thus the Mandaean year has 360 days, with the 21st to 25th of March as the most auspicious days of the year. On Sundays, which they call Manda ed Haii (the Day of the Angel), they begin special prayers before sunrise. The priest reads verses from their holy book, the Enyani. He then leads the members of the congregation to the river or brook that always runs nearby
any Mandaean settlement, and there he baptizes everyone while he or she is in the water with knees bent but the head above the water.

The priest pushes the head of the person being baptized three times below the surface of the water, then pours water over his or her head, puts a piece of pehtha bread into his or her mouth and finally anoints his or her forehead with sesame seed oil. During all this time the priest holds a stick, a branch cut from an olive tree, and incense burns in the special burner.

During the 1960s and 1970s the Iranian Mandaeans went through rapid development and became largely integrated into the Iranian community. They were given positions in government departments and were engaged by the private sector as more and more of them completed secondary school and university courses, many becoming doctors and engineers, physicists and chemists etc. Thus Mandaeans shifted from a rural life to offices and desks, sciences and politics. The Islamic Revolution induced Mandaeans to try to preserve their identity and ethnic traditions and demand their social and group rights.

They arranged classes in which Aramaic literature and literary criticism were taught as were the interpretation of their holy book and their own history. Studies were conducted and researches performed into their own history, sociology, ethnography… Mandaeans claim to have kept their blood pure and believe that the world began 445,373 years ago when Adam was born. They further claim that the total life span of this earth is 448,000 years, that is to say the world has only another 2,627 years left. The Mandaean holy book is called Genza Rabba, the Great Treasure, and it contains all the main teachings of this baptist religion.

mandaeinaPrayers Baraxeh or prayer is performed three times a day: In the morning at sunrise, at noon (one hour after noon) at dusk before sunset. Mandaeans say their prayers facing Celestial North. They believe there is a point in the Celestial North where the world and heavens begin (Avathar). There is no nocturnal prayer in Mandaean religion; there are nevertheless two that are read before bedtime and before dawn. All the verses of the prayers show the worshippers’ devotion to Haii. They declare the subject’s obedience to God, calling angels to witness and witnessing God’s greatness.

The stars, the moon and the sun are never worshipped. The verses indicate that Mandaeans are monotheists: a major verse in the prayers is a monotheistic verse part of which appears here:
“In the name of God the Almighty, praised be God with pure hearts. Life exists, God exists, God’s knowledge exists.”

Five auspicious days The five auspicious days, or the Panjeh, begin on March 21st and end on March 25th. No ritual is held on the five days preceding this period (before March 21st) because they are considered to be special days. In the past, during the five auspicious days, Mandaeans held ceremonies and festivities, sacrificed animals, baptized and helped the needy. Currently, during Panjeh, Mandaeans perform baptism in an
indoor temple, 25 kilometers north of Ahwaz, on the river Karun. Baptism is performed magnificently while the
Mandaean banner (Darafs) is hoisted.

mandaeianDuring the year, baptism is forbidden at night time. But, during Panjeh, days and nights are equally good. Mandaean ablution, reciting Rahmi verses, washing of home appliances, official baptism and prayers are among the rituals that are performed during the five auspicious days. 

M Forouzandeh Writer & Researche


Mandaean Association of California

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