Celebrating the triumph of good

Editor's note: This corrects the headline. The holiday is celebrated by Iranians. This also corrects the sub-head and third paragraph. The event takes place Sept. 25 and 26. 

More than 1,000 years ago, a great Persian poet could see his country changing. A new language and atmosphere was taking shape.

He used his poetic talent to preserve his culture for years to come. He told the stories of Persia — heroes, kings, art, dance, sunrises and sunsets — from the moment the world was believed to have been created until the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th Century.

In today's world, Ferdowsi's "Shahnameh: The Epic of Kings" is regarded as a masterpiece in Persian literature and the savior of the Persian language and culture.

Shahnameh's spirit, its message of peace, humanity and freedom, is the theme of this year's Mehregan, the Persian Festival of Autumn, said Hossein Hosseini, board member of the Irvine-based Network of Persian American Professionals of Orange County, (NIPOC), which has organized Mehregan since 1994.

"Mehregan is a celebration of the Goddess of Mehr, which has roots in the mysticism of old Persia," Hosseini said. "And when celebrated, it's celebrating the overcoming of good over evil."

This year's 14th annual Persian Festival of Autumn will take place at Lakeside Lagoon Park in Irvine Sept 25 to 26. Iranians and other Middle Easterners from throughout Orange County and all of Southern California come to attend the autumnal festival that celebrates love, knowledge and commitment.

Mehregan promises to be bigger than ever with a variety of entertainment that celebrates Iranian culture with music, dance, cuisine and traditions. Some 25,000 revelers are expected, rather than the usual 15,000 to 20,000.

The Irvine Mehregan event was canceled last year following the Green Movement in Iran, when thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mehregan is one of two festivals celebrated by ancient Persians. Norooz, the Persian New Year, is celebrated in the beginning of the spring.

"In 1994, we realized that all Iranian-Americans here celebrate the New Year," Hosseini said. "But when it comes to fall, there's Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"So we were thinking we should have this special celebration called Mehregan. And what a better way of showing our kids and neighbors that we do also have a celebration in the fall, and it's Mehregan."

The purpose of celebrating Mehregan goes beyond the festivities — its message echoes back to nearly 2,700 years ago, a time when Persepolis represented a modern Iran.

For Iranian-Americans, Mehregan allows them to hang onto the culture of Iran, and for Iranian children who were born here, it marks the difference between old Persia and the current Iran, whose regime does not endorse such celebration, Hosseini said.

"To them, Iran is what they see and hear in the news, and it's what their parents told them," he said. "When they go to the festival, they feel what it feels like, and see what it looks like, so they could somehow connect to all the stories they've been hearing from their parents."

For those who might have a slim interest in knowing what Iran's people and culture are all about, Mehregan is the perfect place to start, said Mansour Djadali, a Costa Mesa resident who attended and volunteered for the festival for many years.

"Mehregan … is a very convenient one-stop shop for people to get a flavor of what the country is about, instead of narrow subjects and the things that dominate headlines," he said. "To those who have the slightest interest in Iran, it's the perfect time to learn about the country."

Mehregan will have 12 tents, representing each of the provinces of Iran, decorated with the traditional clothes and artifacts of that province.

For kids who have never been to Iran, Mehregan will take them on a safari to their ancestors' land.

Aside from the provinces, the arts, cultural dances stage and the 42 artists, Mehregan will feature the Hall of Shahnameh, where art of Ferdowsi, copies of his book, poetry, and writings will be on display for visitors.

Artists will also be reciting live verses from Shahnameh's nearly 60,000 couplets for the audience, said Reza Sepahdari, Mehregan's arts coordinator, who's also a member of NIPOC.

A replica of Ferdowsi, sculpted by Sepahdari, will also be on display. The finishing touches of the replica are underway, he said.

Arash Karami, a Costa Mesa resident, plans to attend Mehregan for the first time. Obsessed with Ferdowsi's contribution through Shahnameh, he happens to be working on a documentary about the book.

"Ferdowsi was a Muslim, he was not against Islam in any way, but he wanted to glorify the Persian heroes," Karami said. "He created stories, put them in verses, and it became a code, and it's one of the reasons why the Persian language never died, and one of the reason why it didn't fade away."

Karami plans to take a journey to discover and question whether Iranian Americans and the Iranian generation to come should hang onto and embrace Shahnameh's contributions.

"What I want to do is, I want to explore if Shahnameh is relevant for the Iranian American community today, especially among the youth," he said.

If You Go:

What: The 14th Annual Mehregan, The Persian Festival of Autumn

When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sept 25 and 26

Where: Lakeside Lagoon Park, 8800 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine

Tickets: Pre-sale: $23; at the gate: $30

For more information, visit: http://www.nipoc.org.

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