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  • 3/6/2012

NOWRUZ IN THE PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD

(part 7)

nowruz

A difficulty for accepting this straightforwardly as a Parthian account of Nowruz festivities is that during the Arsacid period the month Fravardin continued to recede slowly against the natural year, passing through winter into autumn, while in the poem this joyous celebration is called the Baharjashn, the “Spring Festival”‌.  This expression is recorded by Biruni (Qanإ«n, Vol. I, 1954, pp. 260, 264, see de Blois, 1996, p. 47) for the Greater Nowruz of 6Adar, which belongs to the Sasanian calendar reform of the sixth century C.E.   There are two passages in Vis u Ramin where the text has obviously been adjusted to that calendar change, but this can hardly be a third one, for this spring festival, being an essential part of the story, should belong to the epic’s Parthian core. It seems likely therefore that this is the earliest known attempt by Zoroastrians to solve the problems with regard to Nowruz produced by the Achaemenian calendar reform.  Till that reform, Nowruz would have been kept always in at least approximate relationship to the natural seasons by the intercalation of a month at fairly frequent intervals, and so would always have been celebrated in the spring.  A celebration at that time of year is not only doctrinally appropriate but also natural and delightful, and so, it seems, there came to be a third Nowruz in addition to the “Lesser”‌ and the “Great”‌ ones, held at the spring equinox.  This Nowruz appears then to have acquired in due course its own distinctive legend: that it had been founded through the action of the Pishdadian hero-king, Av. Yima, Pth. Yim, MP Jam, Jamshؤ“d, who figures largely in the Iranian “national”‌ epic, the older parts of which took shape in the Arsacid period; and the association through him of the “Spring Festival”‌ with the holy Avesta gave it still a religious tincture.

Nowruz in Pahlavi literature and under the Sasanians: Materials in Pahlavi literature are often impossible to date.  It is written in the Middle Persian of the later Sasanian period, which had become the literary koine of the Iranian lands ruled by Persia, and had absorbed many non-Persian words, mainly Parthian.  Somewhat similarly its contents were often drawn from various Iranian oral traditions, including Parthian, with generations of anonymous transmitters adding to them.  So as small text glorifying the day Hordad of the month Fravardؤ«n, that is, the Great Nowruz, may well have its origins in priestly schools of the Achaemenian period, passed down and developed in Parthian times.  (Ed. by J. M. Jamasp Asana, pp. 102-08.  Eng. tr. by K.J. Jamasp Asana, pp. 122-29. German tr. by J. Markwart, with reproduction of the text and notes, 1930, pp. 742-65B.)  It has the simplest of structures, being no more than a list of all the great events that are declared either to have happened on that auspicious day or been set in motion then.  This begins with creation by Ohrmazd and proceeds through achievements by Pishdadian kings, down to the golden age of Jam, to whom three memorable deeds are assigned.  The first, that he “made this world immortal and undecaying”‌ derives from the Avestan legend of Yima, but the origin of other two is less obvious. [the second? The institution of the seasonal gahanbar festivals, ed. J. M. Jamasp Asana]. The third being “the making of ossuaries (astodanؤ«ha) and ordering people to make them.”‌  And when they saw what was ordered by Jam, they “made the day ‘New Day’ and called it ‘New Day’”‌ (roz pad nog roz kerd ud nog roz nam nihad), ed. J. M. Jamasp Asana, paragraph 11).  This last statement has little logical justification in what has gone before, and appears to have been inserted irrelevantly by a copyist familiar with the connection of Jam with the spring Nowruz.

There follows a relatively long section on acts performed on that day by kings and heroes of the Kayanian epic, with next the birth of Zoroaster and the conversion of Vishtasp, after which, by what appears to be another arbitrary insertion, comes the only claim put forward for a manifestation of the day’s glory in Sasanian times, that on it “18 events in 18 years”‌ came to ل¸´usrow II (593-628 CE).

This is the only reference to a datable figure in the text, which then passes on to prophecy, foretelling what will happen on this day as time draws to a close, and culminating in Frashegird, which will be brought about on this day by Ohrmazd. This text presumably began as propaganda for the superiority of the Great Nowruz over the “lesser”‌ feast when this was a burning issue, that is in the Achaemenian period, just after the calendar reform, and its core had probably been handed down in priestly schools to Sasanian times, when this controversy no longer raged.  From the outset, however, the “Lesser Nowruz”‌ had enjoyed its own incontrovertible claim to superiority.

There is a Phalavi passage referring to both the Great and the Lesser Nowruz in the difficult text, the Nؤ“rangestan, which cannot be at all closely dated. In the passage concerned (ed. F.M. Kotwal and P.G. Kreyenbroek, vol. III, p. 120) the anonymous priestly authors give the xshnإ«man (dedication) for services celebrated on “The day Hordad… which (is) the Day of the year”‌ (Hordad roz …ؤ« rozؤ« sal), and the Avestan is “(by the grace) of the yearly Haurvatat”‌ (haurvatato …yairyayؤپجٹ). What the meaning is here of yairya- is not certain.   Does it signify uniquely as is usually supposed , of the (New) year”‌, or does it indicate the one important day Hordad of the 12 such month days in every year?  Whatever the precise sense, later usage attests that “ل¸´ordad-Sal”‌ became one of the regular terms used for the Great Nowruz.  The Nؤ“rangestan authors then cite a named authority for the use of a particular expression in the longer term cf. the xshnإ«man for this day, but also another, nameless one who rejects this, suggesting that it was for “[Day] One – for Nowruz”‌ (ؤ“k – pad nog roz).  So at the time when this text was composed, the Lesser Nowruz, on the first day of Fravardؤ«n, was called the “New Day”‌, and the Greater Nowruz was known by this other expression.

Source: iranica


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