NOWRUZ IN THE ISLAMIC PERIOD
Nader Shah Afshar (r. 1736-47) always celebrated Nowruz by holding a feast and distributing gifts and robes of honor, as did Karim Khan Zand (r. 1751-79) and his successors (see bibliography). In the Qajar period (1779-1925), the public practices were similar to the contemporary observances (see below), but the official celebration (salam, lit. ‘greeting’) underwent elaborations. Generally, the shah received guests consisting of kinsmen, military and civil official, leading religious figures, tribal chiefs, poets, heads of various guilds, and, increasingly, foreign notables. Naل¹£er-al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96) began to regiment the festivities by introducing military bands, sending invitation cards, and holding salam into three audience sessions. The salam-e tawil (‘greeting for the turn of the year’) started an hour before the turning of the year and lasted for about four hours. The table of haft sin was prepared in front of the Peacock Throne in the Museum Hall (talar-e muza), and dignitaries gathered around it: military officials headed by the crown prince on the one side, civil officials headed by the chief finance minister (mostowfi-al-mamalek) on the other side; the leading clergy, Qajar princes carrying royal arms and insignia, and cabinet ministers headed by the prime minister (sadr-e azam) flanked the throne. The Master of Ceremonies announced the arrival of the shah, who appeared bedecked in jewelry and proceeded, among the bowing of the silent audience, to the throne and took his seat. The court orator (Khaل¹ib-al-mamalek) would read a sermon in praise of the Prophet and the first Imam until the court astronomer announced the turning of the year. The shah offered his felicitations first to the ulama and then to the officials, recited some verses of the Qorت¾an, drank a sip of water, and presented gifts (coins inside small red-silk bags) to the clergymen, who took their leave forthwith. Then the music band played cheerful tunes, and the shah distributed gifts to the audience and left for the inner quarter of the palace (andarun). On the second day, a general audience was held in the Marble Palace (salam-e jamm-e taKht-e marmar). The shah and senior Qajar princes carrying royal regalia assembled, together with civil and military officials, received foreign envoys and presented them with gifts, paying particular attention to the Ottoman ambassador. Then the shah sat on a bejeweled chair placed upon the Marble Throne, and his aid announced the start of the public audience, whereupon music bands played, cannons roared, drums beat, and trumpets sounded. The poet laureate recited a poem in honor of Nowruz and in praise of the shah, and the official orator closed the ceremony with a flamboyantly eulogistic address. On the third day, the salam-e sar-e dar, a truly jovial public occasion, was held in the Marble Palace. The shah appeared on a balcony accompanied by officials as well as favorite womenfolk and attendants, and the public participated in the festivities. Ropedancers, keepers, and trainers monkeys, bears, and fighting rams entertained the crowd in front of the palace, and received their rewards. Court jesters made everyone laugh, and wrestlers fought for the highly coveted position of the supreme paladin (pahlavan-e payetaKht), which entailed receiving a special armband. On the thirteenth day (sizdah bedar) people moved out of the towns and celebrated the end of Nowruz in parks, gardens, and along the streams (see below).
In recent times, the official celebrations were condensed into one day of public audience, broadcast since the 1940s by the radio and since the 1960s by the television. These media have tended to standardize the Nowruz ceremonies and, consequently, a great deal of regional variations is fast disappearing.
At present, government offices are closed for five fays and educational institutions for thirteen. Houses are cleaned, and new clothes obtained. A fortnight before Nowruz, wheat (or barley, or both, sometimes lentil and other seeds as well) are grown in earthenware plates or in a bag of thin cloth wrapped around a clay jar. In rural areas the nowruz-Khanan, that is, minstrels consisting of boys, youths, and even adults, go around at evenings before Nowruz and stop before doors; they recite chants in praise of Nowruz, play on drums (tonbak) and tambourines, and receive rewards in kind or money. In 1842 Alexander Chodzko collected a good selection of such chants in Mazandaran (for contemporary chants see Maleki; Darvishi; Honari, pp. 107-16; Purkarim). Nowadays in cities, especially Tehran, Haji Firuz performs the nowruz-Khani.
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