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Latest Archaeological and Cultural News of Iran and the Iranian World

 

Iranian-Peoples and The Persianate Societies Celebrate Ancient Iranian Celebration of Norouz

 

20 March 2011

 

 

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Gift bearer, Persepolis

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Haft sin

 

By Faranak Suren-Pahlav

 

LONDON, (CAIS) -- Today the Earth enters the spring equinox and Iranians all over the world, irrespective of their religious creed or ethnicity, celebrate Norouz which lasts thirteen days according to the millennia-old Iranian tradition. 

 

For Iranian peoples Norouz (also, Noruz, Nowruz, Nevruz, Newruz, Navruz) which literally (in Persian) means the 'dawn of a new day' is considered to be the most important celebration of the year; it is the greatest symbol of Iranian cultural and national identity, which has outlived all adversities and adversaries.[1]

 

Today Iranian celebration of Norouz is celebrated not only in Iran, but also in former Iranian territories, known as the Greater-Iran or the Persianate-Societies[2], including, Armenia, Arran (nowadays the Republic of Azerbaijan), Afghanistan, Bahrain, Dubai, Georgia, Iraq, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Norouz tradition has also been stretched beyond Iran’s cultural sphere and it is now celebrated by many non-Iranians in the Middle East, Crimea and the Balkan Peninsula.

 

“Iranian oral tradition takes Norouz as far back as 15,000 years ago, before the last ice age. Pre-historic and mythical Iranian King Jamshid (Avestan Yima) is said to be the person who introduced Norouz celebrations to symbolise the transition of the proto-Indo-Iranians from hunter gathering to pastoralism. The Historians however, believe the celebration began circa 3,700 years ago with the prophet Zarathushtra and his Divine revelation (daenā).[3]  

 

Some twelfth centuries later, in 487 BCE, Darius the Great of the second Iranian dynasty, the Achaemenids (550-330 BCE) celebrated Norouz at his newly built ceremonial capital, the Persepolis. Recent research shows that the Persepolis was built not only as the seat of government for the Achaemenid kings, but also as a center for receptions and ceremonial festivities especially Norouz,[4] since it was the place the Achaemenid emperors received gifts on Norouz from his subjects from all over the Persian Empire. The walls of the great royal palace depict scenes of the celebrations.”[5]

 

Iranians under the Parthian dynasty (248 BCE - 224 CE) continued celebrating Norouz but we do not know the details -- it should have, more or less, followed the Achaemenid pattern.  During the Sasanian dynasty (224-651 CE), preparations began at least twenty five days before Norouz.  Twelve pillars of mud-bricks, each dedicated to one month of the year were erected in the imperial court.  Various vegetable seeds--wheat, barley, lentils, beans, and others--were sown on top of the pillars, they grew into luxurious greens by the New Years Day. The pillars were removed on the 16th day and the festival came to a close.  The occasion was celebrated on a lower level by all peoples throughout the empire.”[6] Since then, the peoples of the Iranian culture, whether Zoroastrian, Jews, Christians, Muslims or other faiths have celebrated Norouz precisely at the time of vernal equinox, the first day of the first month of Farvardin (on about March 20/21).[7]

 

After the Arab conquest of Iran in 7th century a new ritual, a mixture of old and new traditions added to the New Year ritual known as Chahār Shanbeh Suri, which is celebrated on the Tuesday night (continues to Wednesday) of before Noruz. A bonfire is prepared to celebrate Chahār Shanbeh Suri, ‘Ember Wednesday’. People of all ages jump over the fire yelling, "Sorkhi-ye to az man; Zardi-ye man az to" (give me your red colour; and take back my sickly pallor), representing the bad fortune being left behind and destroyed by the fire, and prosperity and happiness for the New Year brought by the fire's light, warmth and cleansing power. However, holiday preparations began fifteen days ago with the planting of vegetable seeds in a shallow bowl so the there is several inches of green for the celebration. The family cleans the house wearing new clothes to symbolise purification and the dawning of a new life.[8]

 

On the night of Norouz the family gathers around Norouz table known as haft-seen, which "is prepared with seven objects with the letter 'S' from the Persian alphabet. Apart from seven ‘S’s, number of other items are placed on the spread including a holy scripture revered by the family, or Persian poetry such as Shāhnāmeh (the Book of Kings) and Divān-e Hāfez”[9], hard-boiled decorated eggs, a Mirror with lit candles as a symbol of fire and live gold fish in a fish bowl. In the old days they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them.[10] 

 

Traditionally the Norouz table was consisted of not seven 'S's, but essential items as the reflections of the pastoral and sedentary conditions of ancient Iranian peoples and their beliefs, especially with regard to the Zoroastrian Amesha Spentas. With the widespread of the Zoroastrian religion and the belief that the souls of the departed would come down to earth and partake in the table was behind the preparation for Norouz Table on the eve of celebration.[11] Therefore the essential items for Norouz spread were:[12] 

 

Eggs (tokhm / Tokhm-e Morgh) symbolising people (mardom, from *martiya tauxman- 'mortal seed' (in the town of Khur va Biyabanak, in Isfahan province, eggs are placed under the bench prepared for the bride with the hope that she may bear children and point to the Creator);

 

Milk (Shīr) represents the cattle and Vohu Manah/Bahman (the Good-Mind). The mental capacity to comprehend Asha, to understand the nature of our actual world, and recognise the resulting disparity between the ideal and the real. It is thus the instrument of moral cognition.

 

Candles (Ātash) purifying fire and Asha Vahishtā/Ordibehesht (the Highest/Best Truth, also the Highest form of Righteousness). This Truth describes how the World ought to be in its ideal form. Consequently, the intention to actualise it is 'Righteous Intention', and action according to it the highest form of Righteousness.

 

Coins symbolise wealth, prosperity and Khshathra vairya/Shahrivar (the Ideal Dominion). It is the ideal social (and political) structure of the human world. In human terms, we may call it the ideal society. In theological terms, it is the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Hyacinth (Sonbol) represents both Haurvatāt/Kordād and Ameretāt/(A)Mordād (the state of Immortal Blissas) as do the water.

 

Musk willow (Bīd Meshk/Moshk) represents Spenta Ārmaiti/Spandārmaz (the Holy Attitude), as does the Wild-Rue (Sepand/Esfand), which has kept part of her name -- theologically, it is the attitude of Piety toward the Source of Being and the Ultimate Truth; Ethically, it is the attitude of Benevolence, a concern for the Good. It is characterised as Right-Mindedness. Musk willow (Salix Aegyptica) is one of the first willows to come out of winter hibernation showing off its large yellow catkins.

 

Garlic (Sīr) according to Zoroastrian traditions it possesses one thousand remedies and even ten thousand remedies may be indicated. It was so esteemed by the Iranians as a medicine and a means of warding off the evil eye and demonic power, that the Persians named one of their months thāigarchi- 'Month of garlic'.

 

Samanu, which is mixed with rain-water is absolutely essential for the sofra and is considered so powerful an aphrodisiac that some call it "the strength of the patriarch", it must also be attributed to the deity Anâhid because it is generally prepared only by women, who while stirring the cooking mixture make wishes that they may get good husbands or fine children. Furthermore, since Safavid times and the rise of Shia Islam in Iran, the dish is prepared as an offering in the name of the Fâtema-ye Zahrā-ye ma´sūm "Fāteme the infallible Zahrā" (Zahrā is also the Planet Venus/Anāhid).

 

Fish (Māhī) in the vase, symbolises the Kara Mâhi, which swims in the Vourukasha sea and wards off harmful creatures.

 

Sprouts (Sabzeh and the Sabzi-Khordan) represents Haurvatat (the state of complete Well-being, physical and spiritual integrity). In its full form it is a state of perfection on earth.

   

Also, during vernal equinox the elder members of family were reciting from the Holy Avesta, which is communication from the Divinity and the acceptance of the Creator, and obedience (Saroshā)[13].
 

The essential objects of the Norouz table however are very ancient and meaningful, while the idea of the haft sin having seven items starting with 'S' is recent and the result of popular fancy tastefully developed into this pleasant ritual:[14] (the number of the items however can be higher than seven)

 

Serkeh (vinegar);

Somaq (sumac);

Sir (garlic);

Samanu (a sweetish paste);

Sib (apple);

Senjed (the dry fruit of the jujube-tree);

Sabzeh (sprouts);

Sekkeh (coins);

Sonbol (hyacinth);

 

 

The whole table which energises and involves all our senses symbolises all that is Good: truth, health, light, justice, reflection, warmth, life, love, happiness, production, prosperity, virtue, immortality, generosity, and nature.[15]

 

The Sabza (sprouts) are kept until Sizda-bedar, the 13th day of the New Year when families picnic out in the nature. It is on that day that the Sabza should be thrown in flowing water (symbolises Ābān) so that lethargy, lassitude and wariness are washed away.[16] 

 

"This day inaugurates a happy New Year. Friends and neighbors usually organize a picnic in the countryside at which noodle soup or dishes of rice in sauce are eaten. People go and see the streams and rivers swollen with melted snow. The young play traditional games and sports, and the girls weave together fresh herbs, singing as they do so in a low voice: "The  thirteenth day, next year, at my husband's, a baby in my armsl" (Sizdah bedar - sāle degar - khāne-ye shohar – bacheh baghal). No conflict should be initiated on that day."[17]

 

"In all the rites of Norouz there is one constantly recurring feature: the conflict between light and darkness. It is no coincidence that legend should attribute the invention of this feast to Jamshid, the legendary king and divine heroe who triumphed over the forces of darkness."[18]

 

Vernal Equinox for Norouz 3749 ZRE (Zoroastrian Religious Era)[19] / 2570 Imperial / 2739 Iranian / 1390 Khorshidi

A Very Happy Norouz to all & may the Norouz bring happiness & peace to people around the globe; as the saying in Persian goes: "har rūzetān norūz bād" (May your everyday be Norouz).

 



[1] Ansari, N., 'Noruz and its Symbolism', Iran-va-Jahan (Link)

[2] The term is referring to countries which once were part of Iran, or nations and societies that are either ethnically Iranians or their cultures based on or strongly influenced by the Persian language, Iranian culture, literature, art, and identity.

[3] Suren-Pahlav, Sh., “An Introduction to Daenâ Vanuhi, The Good Religion of Asho Zarathushtra”, CAIS Online (Link).

[4] Oriental Institute, “Persepolis and Ancient Iran”, Oriental Institute Online (Link)

[5] Jafari, A. A., 'Norouz (New Day); The New Year of the Iranian Peoples', CAIS Online (Link)

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Saporito, E., 'ISCA celebrates Persian New Year traditions', The Daily Student Newspaper of the University of Pittsburgh, dated 4/1/03 (Link)

[9] Ibid

[10] Price, M., “Norooz, The Iranian New Year”, CAIS Online (Link)

[11] Shahbazi, A. Sh., 'Haft Sin', CAIS Online (Link)

[12] Ibid, and CAIS, 'Amesha Spentas', CAIS Online (Link)

[13] CAIS, 'Amesha Spentas', CAIS Online (Link)

[14] Shahbazi, A. Sh., 'Haft Sin', CAIS Online (Link)

[15] Ansari, N., 'Noruz and its Symbolism', Iran-va-Jahan (Link)

[16] Ibid

[17] Zarrinkoub, A., “Struggle of Day and Night”, UNESCO Courier, January 1990.

[18] Ibid

[19] Suren-Pahlav, Sh., “An Introduction to Daenâ Vanuhi, The Good Religion of Asho Zarathushtra”, CAIS Online (Link).

 

 

 

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