NOWRUZ IN THE PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD
Ebn Faqih (p. 165) specifies that “this ancient custom is still observed in Hamadan, Isfahan, Dinavar, and the surrounding regions,” and the Tarjoma-ye Tafsir-e Tabari (I, p. 148, n. 1) adds that in so doing people said: “May you live long! (zenda bashia!zenda bashia!).” We may add that to this day traditional households sprinkle rose water on relatives and guests. According to Kushyar (apud Taqizada, p. 191), the sixth day of Nowruz was called “Water-pouring [day]” (sabb-e al-ma) and was revered as the Great Nowruz and “the Day of Hope,” because it commemorated the completion of the act of creation. Ghazali (I, p. 522) strongly disapproved of Muslims celebrating Nowruz by decorating the bazaars, preparing sweets, and making or selling children’s toys, wooden shields, sword, trumpets, and so on.”
In 897, the Abbasid caliph al-Motazed (r. 892-902) forbade the people of Baghdad “to kindle bonfire on New Year’s Eve and pour water [on passersby] on New Year’s Day,” but fearing riot he rescinded the order (Tabari, III, p. 2163). The Fatimid caliphs also repeatedly forbade the kindling of fire and sprinkling of water at Nowruz (Maqrizi, p. 394). ل¹¢abi described the rules issued against Nowruz celebration in the fourth century Baghdad as follows: “A Muslim was forbidden to dress like a demmi [that is, people of the book, namely Jews, Christiams, and ل¹¢abians, and by extension Zoroastrians], ... to give an apple to someone on Nawrüz to honor the day, to color eggs at their feast,” and, in general, “sharing in jollifications on that occasion was condemned.” Some non-Muslims “hired a special cook to work during the night to have the dishes fresh in the morning, gave parties for relatives and friends, at which they served green melons, plums, peaches, and dates if they were in season.” Women bought special Nowruz perfumes, and “eggs were dyed in various colors. To sprinkle perfume on a man ... and tread seven times on him was a means of driving away the evil eye, laziness and fever. Antimony and rue were used to improve the sight during the coming year. Colleges were shut and the students played. ... Muslims drank wine in public and ate cleaned lentils like the ل¸ڈemmis and joined them in throwing water on folks.” Respectable peoples threw water on each other in their houses or gardens; the commoners did this on the street (Ketab al-Hafawat, tr. Tritton, pp. 144-45).
A detailed account of Nowruz celebration in the 10th-century Isfahan is given by Ebn ل¸¤awqal (p. 364): “During the Nowruz festival, people gather for seven days in the bazaar of Karina, a suburb of Isfahan, engaged in merriment; they enjoy various food and go around visiting decorated shops. The inhabitants and those coming from other places to participate in this festival, spend a good deal of money, wear beautiful clothes, and take part in gatherings for plays and merrymaking. Skillful singers, both male and female, take their places side by side on the riverside along the palaces. The whole atmosphere is filled with joy and happiness. Many assemble on rooftops and in the markets, engage in festivities, drinking, eating, and consuming sweets, not letting an idle moment to pass by. ... No one disturbs them, for their rulers have allowed this festival, and it is a well-established tradition. It is said that besides the abundance of fruits, drinks, and food brought in and sold for a meager price, the expenses of the night of the spring equinox amount to 200,000 dirhams. As for the prices, 2,000-dirham weight of finest grapes costs a mere five dirhams” (see also the eyewitness description by Mafarroل¸µi [tr., pp. 17-18] and the testimony of Nasafi, p. 168).
A particular custom was the enthroning of the “Nowruzian ruler” (mir-e Nowruzi, somewhat similar to the lord of misrule in Medieval Western literature and folklore). A commoner was elected as “king” and provided with regalia (often mockingly old and unseemly), a throne, court officials, and a number of troops, and he ruled for a few days and was fully obeyed. Then he was dethroned, beaten, and forced to flee (Qazvini, 1944; Idem, 1945). In some regions, particularly in Kurdistan, this ancient tradition is still practiced (Wilson, p. 245; Keyvan, p. 119; Bois, p. 477; Mostowfi, I, pp. 351-53).
Religious views on Nowruz. Opposition to ancient Iranian observances was natural in a strictly Muslim society, and a few attempts at restricting Nowruz rites have already been noted. Some claimed that the Prophet had told those who celebrated Nowruz and Mehragan that God had given them two superior feasts, namely, al-Fetr (end of fasting month) and al-Nahr (the Feast of Sacrifice; al-Alusi, p. 336). Others asserted that Ali b. Abi Taleb (A.S)(d. 661) had said “for me a feast day is that on which I do not sin” (Ghazali, II, p. 566). Naser-e Khosrow (cited by Honari, p. 194) expressed “shame” when hearing about the auspiciousness of Nowruz: “although throughout the world Nowruz is dear and pleasant to the ignorant to me it verily appears as unsavory and demeaning.” Abu Hamed Mohammad Ghazali (1058-1111) declared that all festive acts must be abandoned and one should fast on such days and not even mention the name of Nowruz and Sada so that these “Zoroastrian observances” become “degraded and turned into perfectly ordinary days and no name or trace of them shall remain” (Ghazali, I, p. 522). In contrast, many legitimized Nowruz as an Islamic Iranian feast. A tradition attributed to the Prophet (hadith) describes him accepting a bowl of sweets as the Nowruz gift and blessing the day as the occasion of renovation of life with its special custom of sprinkling water on each other as the symbol of divine rainfall (Biruni, p. 215). Another report claims that Ali b. Abi Taleb (A.S) received Nowruz gifts from a Persian landlord (dehqanan) and said: “May every day of ours be a Nowruz!”.
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)