In the month of March, when the day and night become equal in length — vernal equinox, the Sun enters the first degree of Aries completing its journey of all its 12 stations and it begins to regain strength and overcome winter’s cold and darkness, it is a time to welcome the New year and say: Navroz Mubarak!
‘Nav’ means ‘new’ and ‘roz’ means ‘day’. Navroz or “(festival of the) New Day” is a time that signifies the end of winter and the beginning of the spring and, perhaps, the most visually spectacular of the Persian festivals, celebrated amongst the nations of Iranian background. It is the first day of the month of Farvardin that ushers in the loveliest season of the year, a time that is a moment of celebration of the rejuvenation of growth and vigour in nature. It marks a moment of joyous festivities for people across the globe, to share and convey to the world a message of renewed hope of happiness and optimism.
The celebrations of Navroz are commemorated among the people of various communities around the globe with their own customs and traditions, diverse although, but all preserve a Persian zest. Some of the traditions of ancient Persian culture have survived till today, modified and evolved through passage of time. For example, one of the tradition that has survived is ‘the table of haft sin (which includes arranging a table with seven basic items, each beginning with the letter ‘s’ ) remains a prominent sign of Navroz celebrations.
The celebrations are partially rooted in ancient Persian traditions and Old Avestan texts attributed to Zoroaster. In Zoroastrianism, the seven most important Zoroastrian festivals are the six Gahambar festivals and Navroz. Among Parsis, the festival is called Jamshed-e-Navroz, a time for a high feast when Parsis assemble to eat and share food communally. It is mentioned in the Persian ‘Book of Kings’ or Shah Nemeh by Firdausi. According to the legend this festival was first celebrated to commemorate the ascent of King Jamshed on the day of Navroz. The day also marks the first day of the Bahá’í calendar year. For Bahá’ís the celebrations of this day has a great significance as it is one of their nine holy days.
Navroz has survived in a Persian Muslim society, may be because it was immensely embedded in Persian cultural memory and identity, as part of traditions and long history. The advent of the Safavids legitimized it as ancient national festival and allowed it to flourish with slight modifications or elaborations. Today the celebrations are held among Shia and Ismaili Muslim communities across the globe, particularly in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Northern Pakistan.
In Afghanistan, Navroz, in the Balḵh area, is also called “the Feast of Red Roses” (jashn-e gol-e sorḵ). In Tajikistan, particularly in the province of Badakshān, where Ismaili community live in majority, Navroz is “the Great Festival” and, people have preserved some core Persian traditions on this day which include special cuisine for the day, more prominent of which is ‘Haft Mawa‘, which includes oleaster tree, walnut, almond, pistachio nut, raisin, dry apricot and plum fruit. Other special cuisine for the feast of Navroz eve may include dishes for Nāvroz, like Sabzi Chalaw, a dish made from rice and spinach. In anticipation, families gather around the haft-sin table, many reciting prayers intended to impart good will to all. Moreover, on the eve of Navroz special kinds of bread are baked called Kulcha-e nowruzī. Another dish which is prepared mostly for the Navroz days is Māhī wa Jelabī (Fried Fish and Jelabi) and it is the most common meal in picnics.
The observance of New Year is very much centred around food, family gatherings and feast which is accompanied with devotional and artistic presentations, which again are diverse depending upon the diverse cultures people live in. It is essentially a time of spiritual recuperation and communal reunion, which must inspire one to strive to make the necessary readjustments in their spiritual and material life. Its a time to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in one’s soul on one hand and to revive with a new spirit to implement the commitment, at individual and communal level : “to make this world a better place we found ourselves in”, on the other hand. Arranging a table of haft seen with ‘seven’ different dry fruits is a way the Ancient Persian culture used to celebrate diversity in the world. Seven fruits reflected HAFT KESHVAR (seven regions), the usual seven-fold division of the earth according to persian tradition. The tradition has survied till today, as a sign to celebrate diversity, and the day itself to welcome the colors of spring, as it seems to me, symbolizes that we welcome diversity of humankind in terms of different ethnic, tribal, religious, or social groups and a harmonious co-existence of them in our society. A time to make commitment that we are here to build our society that is based on priciples of pluralism, a commitment that reminds us that we are to engage with others, while keeping our own idendity in its confident place with those of others as we all walk together along the road to a better tommorrow.
A graduate from Quaid-e-Azam University, Pakistan, Sujjawal is a Pakistan based writer and science student. He is author of several articles on philosophical traditions of the world religions.