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Intersections: It's water over the head

A curious event that kids worldwide can only dream of has been taking place in Armenia for thousands of years: a nationwide water fight where you have free rein to dump water on the nearest friend or stranger without any repercussions.

Known as Vartavar, this festival is a national tradition where the only way you can escape being drenched with homemade super soakers or full buckets from conspicuous balconies is staying cooped up indoors on a dry, hot summer day.

Although it has been somewhat absorbed into the Armenian Apostolic Church, Vartavar's pagan origins give some insight into the traditions Armenians observed before the country came to have its much-touted status as the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion.

The holiday was an homage to the goddess Astghik, who symbolized water, love and fertility. Roses were offered to her as gifts, which is how the holiday got its name — “Vart” in Armenian, meaning rose.

While the countries of the Caucasus, having coexisted for eons, share much in culture, dance and food, the festival has remained uniquely Armenian.

With water fights taking place all over the nation, a symbolic place where many gather to honor their pagan roots and, most importantly, see how many locals and tourists they can soak from head to toe, is the Garni Temple, a 3rd century BC complex built by King Tiridates I of Armenia with money received from the Roman emperor Nero.

The towering structure played host this year, as it does every year, to an afternoon water party where no one leaves its clutches even remotely dry.

As I watched young girls and boys in Garni run around and target anyone they could get their hands, or buckets on, I was envious of the nationwide freedom awarded to them to spend a day not having a care in the world except to make sure everyone they encountered received an informal water baptism. Growing up in Los Angeles meant the only people I could soak without fear of verbal or physical assault were immediate family members, and let's face it, that's never fun.

While they whizzed back and forth from the tap, dripping with water and enormous smiles, I realized how lovely it would be if all countries would take a day off from their problems and relieve some stress by way of a water fight. The pressure and anxiety would melt away with every splash, at least for a while.

In the West, letting go isn't something we do very often. Our problems and worries are carried with us, sometimes spilling over into areas of our life they have no business being in. As I stood in the chaos of Vartavar, trying hard to avoid a potential drenching and then realizing fighting it was futile, I became pretty convinced that a water fight is an enticing and even logical solution to relieving humans from the pressures of, well, being human.

And I'm sure that's a scenario we could all use from time to time, in between dealing with life, love and a complicated world with no shortage of dilemmas.

LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a writer and editor who has been covering arts, culture and news in print and online for a number of years.
 
 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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