The festival of Nauroz

Nauroz means “new day” in the Persian language and the festivity marks the beginning of the solar year as well as the new year on the Iranian national calendars as well as several others, and usually falls on March 21. Nauroz is also celebrated in our Kashmir, neighboring countries of the Iran and the Persian-speaking countries. The message of Nauroz is social interaction, solidarity, unity, social justice, joy, companionship, happiness, freedom of expression, real democracy, and peace and prosperity for humanity.

At its core, the Nauroz festival celebrates the rebirth of nature. This reawakening symbolizes the triumph of good over the evil forces of darkness, which are represented by winter. Nauroz is the point when the oppressive presence of the cold winter finally begins to recede with the commencement of the lively and hopeful spring.

The most prominent theme in the emergence of the Nauroz festival is the spring equinox, which occurs on the first day of spring. Nauroz represents much of what Iranian character, history, politics, and religion are all about. For centuries, Persians have applied the Nauroz spirit to every dark challenge that has come their way. This spirit has made Nauroz far more than just a new year celebration over the course of history.

Nauroz is the most glorious of Iran’s national spring festivities and dates back to the beginning of Persian history from time immemorial. Both foreign and domestic historians admit they do not know precisely when nor how the festival of Nauroz emerged in ancient Persia and have expressed divergent opinions concerning the festival’s historical background. It is not known exactly when and how the festival of Nauroz emerged in ancient Persia, and historians express different views concerning its historical background, although it seems that Iranians have always celebrated Nauroz.

History of Iran says that during the reign of Jamshid, a legendary king of Persia, a typhoon lasting three years struck the land. At the beginning of spring, the typhoon gradually subsided. The people celebrated a great feast called “Nauroz” after the devastating typhoon subsided, and at the end of the long winter, people came out from their caves and shelters to celebrate spring.

The great Iranian epic poet Abulqasem Ferdowsi (940-1020) in his masterpiece the Shahnameh, as well as Abu Raihan Biruni, and celebrated Persian poet Hakim Omar Khayyam in his book Noruznameh along with many other classical scholars and Iranian poets have attributed the Nauroz festival to the Iranian king Jamshid.

Throughout their often stormy history, the Persian people have endured the darkest times of hardship, civil wars, world wars, foreign occupation, and the like. Persians have celebrated the height of human civilization and scientific and military achievement through the spirit of Nauroz. Such a unifying spirit has often made Nauroz the target of much animosity by foreign invaders and anti-national forces throughout the history of Iran.

Nauroz has other joyful and interesting traditions that are still celebrated by Iranians and it is difficult to present a full picture of them. Once the day of Nauroz comes, the younger members of the family pays respect to the elders by wishing them a ‘Happy Nauroz’ and kissing their face and sometimes their hands (a sign of ultimate respect). Relatives kiss and hug, and presents, traditionally cash or coins, are exchanged. Sweets are offered to all to symbolically sweeten their lives for the rest of the year.

The first few days are spent visiting older members of the family, relatives, and friends. Children receive presents; sweets and special meals are consumed. Spring, Farvardin, and Nauroz are symbolic manifestations of the efforts to reestablish social justice for Iranians, who have always been leaders in the struggle for human rights, as the great Persian civilization clearly shows.

One of the reasons Iranians enthusiastically embraced Islam was that they were seeking social justice and the great Iranian Empire could not ignore the splendid slogans such as “Brotherhood and Equality”, which were proclaimed by the army of Islam. Many different researchers, both Eastern and Western, as well as prominent Persian and Arab scholars, have embarked on extensive surveys of the festival and Iranians’ relentless advocacy of social justice.

According to historian George Zeidan, Persians would pay 5,000 to 10,000 silver coins for permission to celebrate Nauroz in the Omayyad era. Iranians made strenuous efforts to celebrate the occasion, even though they had to pay a high price. Omayyad rulers greedy for wealth and power sought to strengthen their hegemony, apparently only resorting to Islam as a shield to protect their interests.

Nauroz, a symbol of cultural resistance, has withstood the sociopolitical effects of foreign dominance and has always carried an everlasting message of peace and prosperity for Iranians, enabling them to maintain their identity in the face of foreign onslaughts.

The Nauroz festival has held out against many disastrous events and incursions, and the people of Iran have demonstrated their firm belief and determination to keep their traditions alive, expelling invaders sooner or later. Eventually expelled from Iran, the invaders realized Iranians would lead a free and independent life in their motherland safeguarding their ancient national culture.

As I mention that historians differ when and how the festival of Nauroz emerged, some historians believe that natural changes in weathers gave rise to the festivities. Some consider it a national festival of Iran, while others regard it as a religious ritual.

According to Zoroastrians, the month of Farvardin (the first month of the Iranian solar calendar) refers to Faravashis, or spirits, which return to the material world during the last 10 days of the year. Thus, they honor the 10-day period in order to appease the spirits of their deceased ancestors. The Iranian tradition of visiting cemeteries on the last Thursday of the year may have originated from this belief.

According to lexicographer Mirza Ali Akbar Dehkhoda of Iran, ancient Iranians celebrated a feast called Farvardegan (Farvardyan) that lasted 10 days. Farvardegan was performed at the end of the year and was apparently a mourning ceremony and not a celebration welcoming the rebirth of nature. In ancient times the feast started on the first day of Farvardin (March 21) but it is unclear how long it did last. In royal courts, the festivities continued for one month.

The festival, according to some documents, was observed until the fifth of Farvardin, and then the special celebrations followed until the end of the month. Possibly, in the first five days, the festivities were of a public and national nature, while during the rest of the month it assumed a private and royal character. Undoubtedly, the Nauroz celebrations are an ancient, national Iranian custom, but details of it prior to the Achaemenid era are unknown. There is no mention of it in Avesta ­- the holy book of Zoroastrians.

In the ancient times, Iran was the cradle of civilizations for thousands of years and regarded as one of the most powerful countries in the world. As time passed, the Empire of Persia disintegrated gradually due to the invasions by the enemies of this land. Even until the 19th and 20th centuries, no one knew the spoken languages of ancient Persia as some parts was revealed by foreign Iranologists and linguists who shed light on these uncertainties, but it is not enough and more studies are required.

There is not sufficient information in the history about the great Persian personalities and renowned figures and their traditions and customs. Every now and then and specially when some celebrations took place, the name of them like Nauroz and Mehregan festivals in Persian literature have been mentioned. But reliable sources do not confirm them to the extent that even the written documents are not reliable in this particular condition.

We should also remember that Iran is not restricted by its borders. Its spirit is bestowed with spiritual, cultural, religious, and national values inherited from centuries of hard work. The most outstanding feature of these values is found in Iran’s national history, literature, Ferdowsi’s masterpiece epic the Shahnameh, the poems of Hafez, Sadi, Rumi, and Baba Taher Hamedani, the couplets of Nezami, the Rubaiyat of Khayyam, Iranian traditional music, the intricate designs of the azure tiles of historical monuments, and Nauroz.


(Courtesy: Kashmir Monitor )