Iranian ancient Nowruz

Nowruz, or “New Day”, that also spells “Norouz”, “Norooz”, “Noruz”, etc. is the most joyful festival of Iranians (Persians). The Persian Nowruz begins on the first day of spring (usually the 21st of March). The 21st of March, therefore, is equal to the 1st day of Farvardin, the first month of the Persian Year. As far back as records go, Nowruz has been, either in fact or by intention, a celebration of early spring, when the sun begins to regain strength and overcome winter’s cold and darkness and when there is a renewal of growth and vigor in nature. The return of spring would have represented an annual victory for the Spirit of the sun; and Zoroaster saw in it also, it appears, the symbol of a still more glorious victory to come Today, the festival of Nowruz is celebrated in many countries that were territories of the Great Persia: Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Kashmir, Albania, etc. It is also celebrated by the Zoroastrians in Pakistan and India, by Parsis in the Indian subcontinent, and by Aryans in China, Balkans, etc. According to Britannica, The Jewish festival of Purim is probably adopted from the Persian New Year.

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Ancient Nowruz History

Tradition takes Nowruz as far back as 15,000 years and that goes beyond the last ice age. The mythical Persian King Jamshid (Yima or Yama of the Indo-Iranian lore) symbolizes the transition of the Indo-Iranians from animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history. Seasons played a vital part then. Everything depended on the four seasons. After a sever winter, the beginning of spring was a great occasion with mother nature rising up in a green robe of colorful flowers and the cattle delivering their young. It was the dawn of abundance. Jamshid symbolizes the person/people who introduced Nowruz celebrations. The Shahnameh, dates Nowruz as far back to the reign of Jamshid, who in Zoroastrian texts saved mankind from a killer winter that was destined to kill every living creature. In the Shahnama, Jamshid constructed a throne studded with gems. He had demons raise him above the earth into the heavens; there he sat on his throne like the sun shining in the sky. The world’s creatures gathered in wonder about him and scattered jewels around him, and called this day the New Day or Now-Ruz. This was the first day of the month of Farvardin.

The famous Persepolis complex, or at least the palace of Apadana and the Hundred Columns Hall, were built for the specific purpose of celebrating Nowruz. In 487 BCE, Darius the Great celebrated the Nowruz at his newly built Persepolis in Iran. There is a detailed account by Xenophon of Nowruz celebration taking place in Persepolis and the continuity of this festival in the Achaemenid tradition. The Nowruznama, Omar Khayyam, provides a vivid description of the celebration in the courts of the Kings of Persia. In addition, the Arsacid period provides the earliest description of Nowruz festivities. This comes from the romantic epic Vis u Ramin, which was identified by V. M. Minorsky as by origin a Parthian oral work.

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Nowruz Traditions

Known as the traditional herald of the Nowruz, Haji Firuz is a black-faced character clad in bright red clothes and a felt hat playing a tambourine and singing, “Haji Firuze, sali ye ruze.” (It is Haji Firuz time, it happens once a year!). Haji Firuz is believed to be based in a tradition called “Mir-Nowruzi”. Mir-Nowruzi was a comical figure chosen to rule the municipality for the last five days of the year (also called Panjeh). The temporary five-day king would often parade the city with a group of singers and dancers for the Nowruz Celebrations. The sound of his songs and the sight of his dance is often analogous to hearing Christmas music in a shopping mall, telling all that Nowruz is in the air.

Spring Cleaning (Khaneh Tekani) , is commonly performed before Nowruz. In association with the “rebirth of nature”, extensive spring-cleaning is a national tradition observed by almost every household in Iran. The purchase of new clothes to wear for the new year (Nowruz Shopping or “Kharid Eid”) is an ancient tradition. On the first hours of New Year’s Day (Sal Tahvil) , families dress in their new clothes and start the two weeks celebrations by visiting family and friends (Didd va Bazdid). Each visit is reciprocated. Elders give gifts (Eydi) to younger members. On the thirteenth day families leave their homes for an outdoor picnic (13-bedar) . People sing, dance, and eat “Ashe Reshte”. In the past, girls of marriageable age tie wild grass tops into knots and make a wish that the following Nowruz may find them married and carrying their bonny babies! We later would write more about these alive Nowruz traditions in Iran, i.e. Kharid Eid (Nowruz Shopping) , Khaneh Tekani (Nowruz Cleaning), Haft Siin (Nowruz Table) , Eydi (Nowruz Gift), 13-bedar (13-outdoor), Sabzeh (green sprouts) , Sabzi-Polo (dish of rice, chopped herbs, and fish) , Sal Tahvil (Hours of New year), Didd va Bazdid (visits), etc

Nowruz and Islam

The Islamic conquest altered many Iranian traditions specifically associated with national ideology and Zoroastrian rituals. But Nowruz survived. The Arabs captured the capital of the Sasanian Empire on a Nowruz day, taking the celebrating inhabitants by surprise. In 897CE, the Abbasid caliph al-Motazed forbade the people of Baghdad (that was part of Iran) “to kindle bonfire on New Year’s Eve and pour water [on passersby] on New Year’s Day,” but fearing riot he rescinded the order. Today, the Mullahs and the Islamic regime try to define an Islamic identity, and fight against the Iranian Identity. But the majority of Iranians think that the Iranian Identity is much more important than Islam and specially the Mullah’s Islam. We would write more about it later

For further reading:

[1] Iranica Encyclopedia [2] Zarathusahtrian Assembly
[3] The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
[4] Iranian Studies at Harvard University

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