Armenians were busy dousing each other with buckets of water on July 7 both to cool down in the scorching summer heat and to celebrate the miracle of Jesus Christ. Or the pagan goddess Astghik. Or Noah and his ark. Or just to get wet.
Mention Vardavar in Armenia and the locals “will look at you with big and scared eyes,” according to one travel site. This is the time when anyone who ventures outside, be it locals or unsuspecting visitors, risks getting showered with water thrown from the balconies or by people in the street.
The Armenian Apostolic Church says it has it on good authority that the sight pleases the Lord. The festival marks the Transfiguration, the episode in the Bible when a radiant Christ appears alongside the prophets Moses and Elijah. Jesus may have left no specific instructions to go around throwing water in honor of the event, but that’s what Armenia, the first state to go Christian, religiously does every year, 98 days after Easter.
Some trace the roots of the water-throwing fest further into Armenia’s ancient history, to pagan festivities dedicated to Astghik, a goddess of water, love and fertility. Pagan Armenians are believed to have thrown doves and presented roses (“vard” in Armenian) to Astghik, who, as one publication put it, sowed “the seeds of love” in Armenian soil.
Others look to Noah, who, according to legend, anchored his ark on the Armenian national symbol of Mount Ararat, now located in neighboring Turkey.
A few years ago, the Armenian government looked to UNESCO, hoping that the UN body would name the holiday an “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.” But Vardavar failed to make the cut.
Among other shortcomings in Armenia’s application, UN envoys expressed confusion about “the strength of traditional modes of transmission” for the holiday, “the demographics of its practitioners and audience,” and its “sustainability.”
But for most Armenians, it’s all quite simple. As long as there will be water in Armenia and a receptacle with which to throw it, there will be Vardavar.
“We are all soaked in water,” one man in Yerevan told Voice of Russia Radio. “We all carry buckets and bottles. And nobody gets upset.”