NOWRUZ IN THE ISLAMIC PERIOD
The Islamic conquest altered many Iranian traditions specifically associated with national ideology, imperial institutions, and Zoroastrian rituals. Although Nowruz was an established symbol of these three aspects, it did survive while less significant festivals were eclipsed by their Islamic rivals and gradually became abandoned by indifferent Mongol and Turkish rulers or hostile clerical authorities during Safavid and Qajar periods. Nowruz survived because it was so profoundly engrained in Iranian traditions, history, and cultural memory that Iranian identity and Nowruz mutually buttressed each other, and the emergence of a distinctly Persian Muslim society””and later the emergence of a nation state with the advent of the Safavids””legitimized the ancient national festival and allowed it to flourish with slight modifications or elaborations. Indeed, as will be set out in subsequent sections, the incremental expansion of Nowruz ceremonies from the Safavids, through the Qajars, to the Pahlavi period enabled the court to parade its power and strengthened its attempts at forming a stronger central authority. Besides, it explains the establishment of increasingly sophisticated and protocol-ridden royal audiences with all the pomp and ceremony they could muster. Like all rituals, therefore, it both manifested a belief or ideology and reinforced it through an annual recital. It was precisely because Nowruz was associated from the outset with cultural memories of the splendor and divinely bestowed power of the royal courts of pre-Islamic Persia that it was attractive to rulers, from the Abbasid caliphs to the Pahlavis. Along with its many ceremonies, and most notably that of gift exchange, it provided the rulers with an alternative source of affirming and enhancing their power and prestige through a strictly non-Islamic channel; for unlike religious festivals, they could appear and be celebrated as the focal point and the peerless heroes of the occasion.
While most of the traditions now associated with Nowruz have been inherited from the past usages, no comprehensive history of Nowruz in the Islamic period has been written. Such an account must be pieced together from occasional notices in general and local histories, brief records by geographers, and scattered references in works of poets and storytellers. Only for recent times do we have detailed information in the form of eyewitness reports by travelers and, more importantly, studies of contemporary practices throughout Persia and countries affected by Persian culture. But even these are problematic, as the former category mainly describes court usages and the latter usually gives uncritical narratives embellished with rhetorical and, frequently, fanciful interpretations.
History up to the Safavid period. The Arabs captured the capital of the Sasanian Empire on a Nowruz day, taking the celebrating inhabitants by surprise (Yaت؟qubi, I, p. 198). Henceforth, the early Arab governors forcefully levied heavy Nowruz and Mehragan taxes on the conquered people (Jahshiari, pp. 15, 24; ل¹¢uli, p. 219). The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs retained this onerous burden of taxation on their conquered subjects, but, at the same time, they also celebrated both Nowruz and Mehragan with considerable relish and pomp, thereby helping to keep alive Nowruz and its many traditions (Masت؟udi, Moruj VII, p. 277; Tanuل¸µi, pp. 145-46; Ahsan, pp. 287-88).
Later, other Islamic dynasties of Persia did the same (for the Taherids, see Jaل¸¥eل؛“, p. 150; for the Samanids, see Biruni, tr. Sachau, p. 217), and the court poets praised the occasion and offered their congratulatory panegyrics. Yaqut reports (Boldan, Cairo, VI, p. 258; cf. Moqaddasi, p. 431) that the Buyid (see BUYIDS) ruler ت؟Aإ¼od-al-Dawla (r. 949-83) customarily welcomed Nowruz in a majestic hall, wherein servants had placed gold and silver plates and vases full of fruit and colorful flowers. He sat on a costly seat (masnad), and the court astronomer came forward, kissed the ground, and congratulated him on the arrival of the New Year. Then the king summoned the musicians and singers and invited his boon companions. They entered and filed in to their assigned places, and all enjoyed a great festive occasion. Beyhaqi describes the lavish celebration of Nowruz at the Ghaznavid (see GHAZNAVIDS) court (Beyhaqi, ed. Fayyaإ¼, pp. 9, 12, 704, 751, 815), and some of the most beautiful descriptive opening passages of Persian courtly panegyrics (especially by Farroل¸µi, Manuؤچehri, and Masت؟ud-e Saت؟d-e Salman) are in praise of Nowruz.Their simple yet melodious rhythms suggest that they may have been accompanied by music. The melodies known as the “Nowruzi” airs, apparently inherited from the Sasanian period, included the Great Nowruz (Nowruz-e bozorg), Nowruz-e Kay Qobad, the Lesser Nowruz (nowruz-e ل¸µordak or ل¸µara), the Edessan Nowruz (Nowruz-e rahawi, comprising the Arabian and Persian melodies), and Nowruz-e ل¹¢aba (Dehل¸µoda, s.v. “Nowruz”; Borumand-e Saت؟id, pp. 302-8). In the 14th century, ل¸¤afeل؛“ says that “the melody of the Nowruz breeze (bad-e nowruzi) rekindles the inner light, and the melody of the “Throne of victory” (taل¸µt-e piruzi) inspires the song of the nightingale intoxicated by flowers.”
The Nowruz festivities were by no means restricted to the royal courts. It was “a solemn feast through all of Persia, ... observed not only in the great cities, but celebrated with extraordinary rejoicings in every little town, village, and hamlet” (Lane, 1848, II, p. 462; see also Biل¸،ami, I, p. 150; Faramarz b. ل¸´odadad, I, p. 49; for testimonies of poets see Borumand-e Saت؟id, pp. 253-384). In Shiraz, Muslims and Zoroastrians celebrated Nowruz together and decorated the bazaars (Moqaddasi, p. 429). Biruni testifies that many ancient Nowruz rites were still observed in his time. People grow, he says, “seven kinds of grains on seven columns and from their growth they draw inferences as regards the crop of the year whether it would be good or bad” (Biruni, Chronology, tr. Sachau, p. 217). They held the first day of Nowruz as particularly auspicious, and the dawn the most auspicious hour (Idem, p. 217). Good omens appearing before Nowruz included fires and light glowing on the western bank of the Tigris opposite Kalwaل¸ڈa, and on the Dena (text: dma) mountain in Fars. Tasting honey thrice in the morning of Nowruz and lighting three candles before speaking were thought to ward off diseases (Idem, p. 216). People exchanged presents (notably sugar), kindled fire (to consume all corruptions), bathed in the streams (Idem, p. 218), and sprinkled water on each other.
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