NOWRUZ IN THE PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD
Among elder Parsis in Navsari there was a fading memory of the next day, Roz Amordad, being celebrated out of doors, in garden or orchard (verbal communication from F. M. Kotwal), but although this custom has been abandoned, the conviction remains firm among Parsi traditionalists that this day belongs to Moktad (Ceremony to remember the departed souls) More often, however, when a custom is observed by one community but not by the other it is not possible to tell whether it has been added or dropped. Thus traditionalist Parsis do not imbibe nirang on the eve of Pateti or parahom at Nowruz, and Iranis do not exchange the hamazor (q.v.) at any Nowruz, whereas this is – or was – a feature of Parsi observance at Pateti (Modi, pp. 382-83; Seevai and Patel, p. 219).
The return of the Rapiowin, so important a part of Nowruz, was joyfully acknowledged by both communities, but his rites were earlier reduced in Iran, because of the rapidly dwindling in the number of priests fairly there early in the twentieth century. Before then, in both communities, because most priests were heavily engaged with other duties on 1 Fravardin it was left to those of the Atash Bahrams to perform the rituals of welcome to Rapiowin at noon that day. (Cf. Darmesteter, Zend-Avesta, II 736-37. Information about Irani practice was received verbally by the writer, in 1964, from Mobed Khodadad Neryosangi and Mobed Rostam Khodabakhshi, both of Yazd.) It was the third day of the month, dedicated to Ardibehesht, which was kept as the jashn of Rapiowin, and in Mumbai gatherings of laity attended “an imposing ceremony” at a chief Atash Bahram (Karaka, I, p. 145. For the priestly observances see briefly Modi, p. 429 with p. 431, and in detail for Navsari, where the jashn is greatly beloved, F. M. Kotwal apud Boyce, 1969, pp. 205-09. Rapiowin rituals are treated with technical precision in the Persian Rivayats, ed. Unvala, I, pp. 316-25. tr. Dhabhar, pp. 300-03.)
Another point on which the Iranis and the Parsi traditionalists were in accord was in the shared participation by priests and laity, in their different roles, in the labours and fulfillments of these high holy days.
In Navsari still, devout families keep a room, or at least an alcove, ritually clean, like the Irani ganza pak, and they too whitewash it afresh each year for Moktad. They set out vases of flowers there for the departed family souls, and the women prepare ritually pure food in their own scrupulously clean kitchens, and portions of particular dishes are carried to the Wadi Dar-e Mehr to be consecrated there at an “inner” religious service. All but the priest’s prescribed share is brought back for the family to divide among themselves in communion, as in Iran; and at some point there too the family priest comes to each house to solemnize an Afrinagan service for departed souls, thus blessing the Moktad flower and food offerings. The flowers are renewed at a minimum of five-day intervals, that is, three times between 25 Spendarmad and 5 Fravardin. (Greenery was necessitated in the Yazdi area of Iran within living experience, because there are no flowers in the villages in the heat of summer.)
The tendency among many Parsis to simplify these ancient observances can be traced from early in the nineteenth century, when a large number had already become city dwellers, chiefly in Mumbai, and so were meeting inevitable difficulties in maintaining them strictly. Not all lived any longer within walking distance of a fire temple, and even for those who did it was not easy to carry pure objects through busy streets without coming into physical contact with unbelievers; and the private of the laity became even busier, with increasing financial pressures and manifold activities. So it was a natural development that the responsibility for preparing Moktad food for consecration was transferred to priests, with the work being carried out under their supervision in temple kitchens; and that the Moktad flowers were likewise procured by priests and set out on family tables in temple precincts, the laity’s contribution being to give instructions, to pay, and to attend in order to say their own prayers for the departed. These were thus said in halls fragrant with the scented flowers and filled at times with murmured Avesta. A movement to reduce the 18-day Moktad to 10 days also began early, with ample authority for this being cited from the Avesta (Yt. 13:49) and Pahlavi and Persian books; but there was a confusion here in terminology, for all these passages refer to the Rozan Fravardigan (26 Spendarmad to the 5th “Between Day”), whereas Parsi “Moktad” applies to the period from 25 Spendarmad to 5 Farvardin, and the Irani parallel proves this to reflect long-established usage.
This was no longer, however, accepted by all as a decisive defence, and a movement to sweep away all observance of Pateti and Khordad-Sal came into being with the founding in 1906 of the Zartoshti Fasli Sal Mandal, the “Zoroastrian Seasonal Year Society”.
This was the work of the distinguished layman K.R. Cama (q.v.), who was troubled by the calendar problems dividing the community, and saw the solution to them in adopting the Gregorian year with a fixed Jamshidi Nowruz on 21 March; and since he thought, like the priests of the Sasanian calendar reform, that the calendar supposed have been used by Zoroaster must have been in harmony with the seasons, he became convinced that it had been in fact the Gregorian one, with the intercalation of an extra leap day approximately every four years having simply become neglected. His society attracted members, who called themselves Faslis; but the overwhelming majority of Parsis was as firm as their Sasanian predecessors in rejecting this calendar, with the rogue leap-day, so that the immediate effect of his proposal was to add a third element to the Parsi calendar conflict.
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Iranian Girl Names (part 3)
Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia (part 2)
Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia (part 3)