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Iranian Traditions and Celebrations

An Outline on Noruz & Iranians


 

Dr David N. Rahni

Edited by Shapour Suren-Pahlav

 

 

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The Noruz (Norooz, Nowruz, Nevruz, Newruz, Navruz) Festival is immortalized in the Decree of Cyrus the Great, founder of the second Iranian dynasty, the Achaemenid Empire, granting national, cultural and religious freedoms to the peoples of the conquered lands, from Babylon and beyond in 542 BCE.

"When I entered Babylon (on Noruz) and other lands I conquered, I did not allow anyone to terrorize the land or its people... I kept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well-being. The citizens of Babylon... I lifted their unbecoming yoke (slavery). Their dilapidated dwellings I restored. I put an end to their misfortunes." ...Thus said the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have beholden (Isaiah, XLV-1-3).

Noruz, the new day in Persian, is the cyclical celebration of the Spring Equinox. Instituted by the Zoroastrians well over 3800 years ago, and it is the most cherished and celebrated of all Iranian festivals; - it has been observed by all peoples of the broad Iranian world for millennia. Noruz commemorates the periodic rebirth and rejuvenation of nature, and has been observed in one form or another by all the major cultures that came in touch with Iranian culture, known as 'Persianate Societies'.

Today, Noruz is still celebrated annually in a wide arc of territory extending from the Anatolia and Indus River to the east, the Caspian Sea to the north, the Black and Mediterranean Seas to the west, and the Persian Gulf to the south. Iranian peoples (Persians, Azaris, Kurds, Lurs, Tajiks, Balochis, Bakhtiaris and Gilanis, Pashtons, Arranis) as well as other non-Iranian peoples in the proximity (e.g., Armenians, Assyrians, Kazakhs and Kashmiris, Uzbeks, Turkmen) all participate in the Noruz celebration.

The roots of Noruz can be traced to 18th century BCE and advent of Zoroastrianism, which is the world's first monotheistic religion. Zoroastrianism considers Noruz as the last day of the seven day creation epoch; thus the ritual of the Haftsin, or the seven life-related, mostly plant based, symbolic heralds. 

 

During the Noruz holidays, families and friends visit each other, pay their respect to the elderly, reach out and reconcile with adversaries, visit the resting places of the deceased, and make gifts to the impoverished and the sick. They give and receive presents during the thirteen day period that ends on April 1st (April fool's day) when everyone spends the whole day in the country dancing, singing and playing. The commemoration of Noruz recalls the seventh day of creation, when homage is paid to the Creator or Mother Nature, with rest, play and party activities.

Noruz celebrates the 'Ahura Mazda', the Lord of Wisdom and the holy "halo" fire in anticipation of the Spring Equinox. The oldest archaeological record for Noruz celebrations comes from the recordings of over 2500 year old Persepolis. 

 

An inscription on Persepolis Palace, the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BCE) ceremonial capital, depicts the Darius the Great, accepting gifts from diverse subjects who lived in Persian territories, stretching from India to Europe and North Africa. Cyrus the Great, the founder of the empire is cited as the world's first true supreme emperor who ruled his vast realm with compassion and justice, a legacy acknowledged by the Greek historian Herodotus. His declaration of Human Rights on a clay cylinder, known as Cyrus Cylinder is kept at the British Museum.

Historically speaking, back in 1821 a young Englishman, following his passion for unearthing the lost world of the ancient east, came upon a peculiar monument in the heart of the Iranian plateau. He wrote in his diary:

"The very venerable appearance of this historical ruin instantly awed me. I found I had no right conception of it. I sat for near an hour on the steps contemplating it until the moon rose on it, and I began to think that this, in reality, must be the tomb of the best, the most illustrious, and the most interesting of Oriental sovereigns."


The resting place of Cyrus the Great, the father of Iranian nation and the founder of the Achaemenid dynastic Empire in 550 BCE had been identified, followed by the identification of ancient Pasargadae, the first capital of the Empire, in the nearby plain. The few sources on Cyrus portrayed him not just as an empire builder, but a man possessing rare qualities, deeply rooted in his ancestral sportsmanship of horseback riding, with an appreciation of earth's bounties, the cultural diversity of humanity and the celestial objects in the sky. In the Bible (Old Testament), the Book of Ezra tells of Cyrus's liberating the scattered Jews of Babylon, restoring their temple which had been destroyed by Assyrian king Nabopolassar. Cyrus invited the scattered new subjects return to Jerusalem to freely practice their cultural and religious rituals without fear of persecution.

Median and Persian tribes of Iranian (Aryan) race, had settled in the Iranian plateau as late as the eleventh century BCE. This plateau has always been regarded as a crossroad between East and West for cultural, scientific, and technological discourse. 

 

The name Iran is derived from the ancient Iranian genitive plural aryanam, meaning, The Land of the Aryans


Cyrus the Great's ultimate dream of unifying nations under Iranian umbrella from south Asia to Asia Minor and North Africa was finally realised during the reign of his son's successor, Darius the Great.

 

In Choga Zanbil, a "ziggurat" or sacred city multi-level high rise urban structure, built by the Elamite king Untash-Gal around 1250 BCE, substantiates the vast contributions of these inhabitants. Going further back, one can discern the existence of organized tribes of hunters/gatherers in northwestern Iran dating as back as 12,000 years ago. There have been a plethora of discoveries of early successive settlements built atop one another. These have been excavated in northwestern Iran's Godin Tepe, a region dating back to at least 8,000 years ago. Iran has been a unified cultural and historical entity for at least 2500 years.

In recent times, although there have been sporadic numbers of Iranians who have immigrated to Europe and North America starting in the 19th century, a mass exodus has occurred since 1979 revolution due to the Islamic regime excessive force, oppression and political turmoil in Iran. Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Islamic regime, made no secret of his contempt for the non-Muslim dimensions of Iranian life, and claimed that the evolution was not for Iran but for Islam. He branded the observance and celebration of ‘Noruz’ and other Persian feasts and ceremonies to be reactionary and anti-revolutionary, which should be replaced with Arabic and Islamic ones -- but as popular as he was in those early days of the revolution, the Iranian public's backlash against his stance on Iranian New Year.


There are an estimated four million Iranians living abroad today, and
the total number of peoples of Iranian stock, including 70 million living in Iran-porper, is estimated at about 200 million worldwide.

 

 

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Page Keywords: Noruz, Newrooz, Newruz, Navruz, Nowrooz, Nowruz, Vernal Equinox, New Year, نوروز جمشيدي

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