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  • 3/6/2012


(part 8)


The earliest text of unquestionably Sasanian date with a bearing on Nowruz is the statement by the prophet Mani, made in or before the year 244 CE, that in the Iranian calendar there were 5 days “which are reckoned as the Panz Gah”‌, that is, the “Five (Day) Times”‌, a variant on Andar Gah.  (F.C. Andreas and W. B. Henning, p. 190.  Henning, 1934, pp. 32-35 = his Selected Works, 1977, I, pp. 346-49, with further discussion by W. Sundermann, 1979, pp. 109-11. Cf The Pazand Mؤ“nog ؤ« ل¸´rad, Ch. 57.13: panj gah ؤ« fravardyan “the 5 [Day] Times of F.”‌) Not so long after this Biruni records, (Aل¹¯ar, p. 218), “Hormizd b. SHapur”‌, that is, Hormizd I, is said to have connected the two Nowruz (Lesser and Great) together, raising to feast days all the days between.  All these days thus became officially holy days of obligation, when only necessary work should be done.  Hormizd reigned only briefly (272-273), but his high priest was Kirdؤ“r, to whom this measure can be attributed.  It also affected the chain of 6 Seasonal Feasts, to which in his inscriptions Kirdؤ“r still referred as rad (Av. ratu-); and in one of them (KZ, I.15) he claimed to have had performed at his own expense 6798 radpassag, that is, religious services for these feasts (D.N. MacKenzie, 1970, pp. 264-66, with further 1989, pp. 65-66, 71, and Boyce under GAHANBARS).  The special service for all 6 festivals (as for Nowruz) is the Visperad (see under Avesta) to which possibly he alluded by this name. The only Seasonal Feast which could not be made to conform to this general pattern was Hamaspaomaedaya, since 8, not 4, days intervened between its celebrations on XII.25 and the last of the “Between Days”‌; and the solution found for it appears to have been to keep XII.25 as the day of its first celebration, and then, after a 5-day gap (the first pentad of the Rozan Fravardؤ«gan) to treat all the 5 “Between Days”‌ as belonging to the rad, making six days in all.  There was thus a further sanctification of the “stolen days”‌ as part of the devotional year.

A number of other notices concerning Nowruz were composed or modified after the Sasanian calendar reform of the early sixth century CE; and so it is necessary to go at once to it, leaving a considerable gap in time.

 It is possible to guess, however, at some of the preparatory activity that must have gone on in the intervening years.  The reform was clearly inspired by the adoption in the Roman empire in 46 BCE of the Julian calendar of 3651/4 days, the quarter days being added as a whole one every 4 years.  This calendar had been introduced to halt the regression against the natural year of the one till then in use by the Romans, and provided the Zoroastrians with a model for checking the similar regression of their own calendar.  But the introduction of a single day in this manner would have presented difficulties for them, not least the repeated dislocation of the established pattern of observances on the eve of Nowruz. There were probably therefore years of intermittent deliberations before the suggestion gathered support that instead a whole month should be inserted every 120 years, which would prevent the regression of the calendar year ever becoming so seriously damaging again.  There was, however, still a problem, for it was evidently believed (presumably after propaganda of the Achaemenian period) that the 365-day calendar had been created by Ohrmazd himself. (Iranian Bundahishn, ed. P. D. Anklesaria, fol. 12.15-13.2)  Now, therefore, it was declared (apparently as a simple assertion) that it became needful thereafter for Zoroaster to “intercalate the years with months”‌, whereby “time returned to its original condition.  There he ordered people in all future times to do so”‌ (Bؤ«rإ«nؤ«, Aل¹¯ar, p. 55).  So since nevertheless the calendar which they were using was defective, their ancestors must have been at fault in failing to carry out the prophet’s command. This interpretation of the facts allowed its supporters to argue for reform not as something new, still less as of foreign inspiration, but as a return to due obedience to the prophet’s wishes and so thoroughly meritorious.

It appears that by no means all were easily convinced, since discussions seem to have been long drawn out before at last the King called a great council to consider the matter. Biruni (Aل¹¯ar, p. 44) refers to such councils as if they had occurred repeatedly, but it is virtually certain that the description he gives is of this one particular meaning.  The council was made up, he says, of “mathematicians, literary celebrities, historiographers and chronicles, priests and judges”‌; but what decision was reached would have rested, formally at least, with the King. The priests’ case must have carried weight with regard to restoring the doctrinal link between natural seasons, for Nowruz especially, but some councilors (most probably ministers of state and other leading figures among the influential order of scribes) must have argued persuasively for the advantages of keeping the calendar as it was, for among them also there were doubtless faithful traditionalists, and 1 Farvardؤ«n had been by now New Year’s day ”” and Nowruz”” from time immemorial.

The solution reached, through an awkward compromise, was to work for several centuries (until long after it had in fact passed its usefulness).

By what may be termed the Royal Reckoning 1 Fravardؤ«n remained New Year’s day, to be used as such for secular purposes, such as taxation and the counting of regnal years; but there was also to be a Priestly Reckoning for the priests were to be allowed to move the official religious observance of Nowruz to the first day of whatever month, at the time the reform was enacted, coincided with the spring equinox.  The intention was obviously to intercalate thereafter a month every 120 years, so that this holiest of festivals would never again be further than a month away from its rightful season.  With Nowruz (the Lesser and the Great) were moved the 6 Seasonal Feasts, with which were the essential communal observances of the devotional year and some other important feasts also.  But loyalty to tradition meant, it seems, that a probably predominantly secular Nowruz was also still kept on 1 Fravardؤ«n, and this was very likely observed by priests among themselves, as well as by the laity generally.  Indeed one may assume that from the outset almost the whole community would have kept both festivals, for there is no reason to doubt that most scribes were devout, as well as that most priests enjoyed festive occasions; and in time the observance in Fravardؤ«n Mah seems to have attracted the legends associating a secular Nowruz with Jamshؤ“d, a development originating probably (according to the hypothesis proposed above) in connection with the Bahar Jashn of the Arsacid period.

Source: iranica

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