NOWRUZ IN THE PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD
There exists a small and difficult Pahlavi text (ed. and elucidated by de Blois, 2003, pp. 139-43) which is dated 377 Yazdegirdi, just two years later and this sheds, uniquely, a diret light on the perplexities that must also have attended the two earlier calendar changes.
It represents a letter written by the priests of Abarshahr (northern Khorasan) apparently to brethren in Pars (Fars), saying that they have accepted the wihezag (“movement”), and have “performed worship” (yazishn) according to that “ritual regulation”. But (they continue) one student-priest (hawisht) says: ‘Untile such time as it is clear to me why they carried out this wihezagi it will have no validity for me, for I met Mobad Farrah-Srosh, and he wrote an explanation and he made many considerations, but still I do not know why he has carried out this wihezag.’ Then a letter arrived from the land of Baghdad from Ustad Abu Miswar Yazdan-pas, son of Marzban… saying: ‘We have looked in the books of the religion and have accepted the wihezag of the leader of the people of the Good Religion’”, undoubtedly the Mobadan Mobad of Pars. But still the student-priest was unconvinced, saying that the Ustad was “a man of the government” (that is, presumably, a respected Zoroastrian scribe employed by the Buyid ruler of that time), and “does not know about the religion”. There was no longer a Zoroastrian great king to enforce the reform, and so the priests of Khorasan (who had, it seems, been shaken by their student’s doubts on this matter) ask for a further ruling. The evidence provided by this letter is corroborated by Biruni, who, writing in 1030 CE (Qanun, I, p. 76; commented on by de Blois, 1996, p. 42), says that in the days of the Daylamites (Buyids) the 5 days had been moved to the end of Isfandarmad Mah – after, he explains, the neglect of four intercalations of one month, so that the calendar was four months in arrears. He accepted the Zoroastrian priests’ claim that such intercalation had frequently been practised from the time of Zoroaster; and he also explains, evidently on similar authority (Aل¹¯ar, p. 44), why it had been thought impossible by the Zoroastrians to insert quarter-days instead of months, because it would disturb the order of the days of prayer “according to the laws”. But in the Qanun he says that the moving of the 5 days back to the end of Isfandarmad was not widely recognized beyond those parts of Iran where the Buyids ruled – that is, in the west – and that “many of the Magians of Khurasan have rejected it”. It is further known that Naser Khosrow, writing in 1045 and 1052, gives a number of dates in both Yazdegirdi and Hijri years, and the synchronisms are only accurate if the 5 days then still followed Aban Mah (though de Blois, 1966, p. 42, indicates the possibility that he was using “some old handbook of astronomy or astrology”).
at Biruni writes in the Atar in his chapter on the festivals of the Persians is of particular value as portraying the actual practice of the Zoroastrian community in about 1000 CE.
This was just before the 5 days were moved, and he records the celebration of “Farwardijan” at the end of Aban month, giving details of the entertainment of the Fravashis for ten days, from 25 Aban to the last day of the Andargah (Atar, p. 224). There is then a lacuna affecting the end of Aban Mah, where the lost text may have covered the departure of those visitants. As it is, his account of the beginning of Adar Mah is also defective, and in the little that survives concerning the Nowruz of the Priests’ Reckoning there are only a few lines of any real interest. These tell (p. 225) of a day called Bahar ashan, which used to be “the beginning of spring” at the time of the Kings of Persia. In those days a “thin-bearded man used to ride about, fanning himself… to express his rejoicing at the end of the cold season and the coming of the warm season” Biruni adds, was being kept up only for fun. Other notices of it tell how if the old man were still to be seen after noon he was chased and beaten, for clearly he represented the Spirit of winter, due to depart before Rapiowin’s return at midday of Nowruz. The reason why the mime no longer had this significance is explained by Biruni: Adar Mah, having receded against the natural year by three to four months, had become a winter month, and so was inappropriate for the celebration of spring. Since this recession had brought 1 Fravardin back from summer to spring, it was reasonable to move the “Between Days” back to before Fravardin, and thus to unite the Nowruz of the Priests’ and the Royal Reckonings; and this appear to have been a calendar reform based on a natural development and probably led by popular sentiment.
It is possibly for this reason that the Parsis of Gujarat, the founders of whose community cannot have left Iran later than the early ninth century CE, came to adopt this reform (which is one of the indications of effective communication existing between them and their co-religionists in the motherland for some time after their migration). It is, however, an interesting fact, since the seasons in Gujarat are quite different from those in Iran, and so the natural compulsion towards this reform seems lacking in their case. Another interesting fact is that sometime, it is thought, between 1125 and 1250 CE the Parsis were sufficiently well organized and disciplined to carry out the only intercalation of a month known ever to have taken place. To do this they repeated the 12th month, Spendarmad, so that in the year of reform 6 Spendarmad II = the previous 1 Fravardin; and in consequence still in the twentieth century, nearly a thousand years later, Parsis kept 6 Spendarmad as a holy day, called the “Abandoned New Day”, Sodi Nahroj (M. P. Kharegat, pp. 118-30), and celebrated 19 Spendarmad, that is, Ruz Fravardin, as a special jashn of the Fravashis (Modi, pp. 423-34).
A number of accounts survive by Moslem writers of the celebration of Nowruz in Fravardin month, and several of these were either composed before the Sasanian calendar reform or demonstrably use sources which were ??? (see de Blois, 1996, pp. 39-41. Selections from these writings were made by J. Markwart, pp. 724-38 and A. Christensen, 1934, pp. 145-54.) The principal accounts are by Tha‘alebi, Ya‘qubi, Biruni and Ferdowsi, with that by Biruni in his Atar (pp. 215-19) being by far the longest and most comprehensive, while that by Tha‘alebi is sometimes more vivid.
Persian Cuisine, a Brief History (part 2)
Iranian Girl Names (part 2)
Iranian Girl Names (part 3)
Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia (part 2)
Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia (part 3)