Centuries—old Iranian new year celebrates life and all its glory
By Shahnawaz Khan
LAHORE: Parsis and Iranians in Lahore sang songs and held feasts on Sunday to mark Nowruz, the first day of the Iranian calendar.
The Iranian New Year was celebrated in Karachi and Ber Valley in Hunza as well. The people celebrated with singing songs and hosting feasts.
Dr Dara J Hormasji, representative of the Parsi community in Lahore said Nowruz celebrations started early in the morning and the entire Parsi community of 47 men, women and children offered prayers. Later, the participants gathered for a dinner.
Dr Hormasji said Nowruz was celebrated rather simply in Pakistan.
Explaining its tradition, he said ‘Nowruz’ is Persian for new-year-day. It marks the beginning of a new year for people of Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and the Central Asian Republics.
It is also celebrated by the people of Iranian stock, particularly by the Kurds in neighbouring Georgia, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
Dr Hormasji said Nowruz is a beautiful celebration that reflects the enriched Iranian cultural heritage. He said Nowruz not only embodies a colourful historical or mythical basis but also demonstrates the ancient Iranians’ approach towards science and astronomy.
“Nowruz celebrates life in all its glory. It is a celebration of universal and timeless values and ideals — truth, compassion, wisdom, justice and peace. It is a celebration of the first day of spring, and the renewal of life and the world. As flowers blossom and the world awakens to the beauty of spring, so we celebrate the glorious gift of life and new beginnings,” said Dr Hormasjii
“It begins precisely with the beginning of spring on vernal equinox, on or about March 21,” Dr Hormasji said.
“Traditions trace Nowruz as far back as 15,000 years — before the last ice age. King Jamshed (Yima or Yama of the Indo-Iranian lore) symbolises the transition of the Indo-Iranians from animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history,” said he.
“Seasons used to play a vital part then and everything depended on them. After a severe winter, the beginning of spring was a great occasion, mother nature rising up in a robe of colourful flowers and the cattle delivering their young.
“It was the dawn of abundance and King Jamshed is accredited with introducing Nowruz,” he added.
1,200 years later, Darius the Great from the Achaemenian dynasty celebrated Nowruz at his newly built Persepolis in Iran, in 487 BC.
“On that day, the first rays of the rising sun fell on the observatory in the great hall of audience at 6.30am, an event, which can only be witnessed every 1,400 years. It also happened to coincide with the Babylonian and Jewish new years. It was, therefore, a highly auspicious occasion for the ancient people,” said he.
“Twelve pillars of mud-bricks, each attributed to a month of the year, were erected in the royal court. Various vegetable seeds—wheat, barley, lentils, beans, and others were sown on top of the pillars. They germinated into lush greens by the new year day. The great king held an audience and the High Priest of the empire was the first to greet him.
“Government officials followed next. Every person presented and received a gift. The audience lasted for five days, each day for the people of a certain profession.
Then on the sixth day, called the Greater Nowruz, the king held his special audience. He received members of the Royal family and courtiers. Also a general amnesty was declared for convicts of minor crimes. The pillars were removed on the 16th day and the festival came to a close,” he added.
“Since then, Nowruz has been a part of the Iranian culture, and all Iranians, be they Zartoshtis, Kurdish, Christians, or Muslims, have celebrated it at the time of vernal equinox, the first day of the first month, on about March 21,” said Dr Hormasji.
He said nowadays they observe a simple ceremony, and each house is cleaned thoroughly. Wheat, barley, lentils, and other vegetables seeds are soaked to grow on china plates and round earthenware vessels some ten days in advance, so that the sprouts are three to four inches in height by Nowruz.
“In some parts of Iran a table is laid and family members, all dressed in their best, sit around the table and eagerly await the announcement of the exact time of vernal equinox over radio or television.
“The head of the family recites the Nowruz prayers, and after the time is announced, greetings are exchanged. Elders give gifts to younger members followed by the beginning of visiting to neighbours, relatives, and friends, who reciprocate each visit,” added Dr Hormasji.
“Cities and villages turn into ghost towns because almost all inhabitants go out into woods and mountains, along streams and riversides, to celebrate. People sing, dance, and make merry. Girls tie wild grass knots and pray the following Nowruz may find them married and carrying babies,” said Dr Hormasji.