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  • 3/6/2012

NOWRUZ IN THE PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD

(part 11)

norooz

Biruni begins (p. 215) by dealing briefly with the underlying religious character of the feast on 1 Fravardin, saying that it was an auspicious day because “it is called Hormuz, which is the name of God, who has … created the world”‌; and he then says of 6 Fravardin that this was the “Great Nowruz, for the Persians a feast of great importance.  On this day –the say– God finished the creation, for it is the last of the 6 days”‌; and he lists some of the great past events that have taken place on it, including Zoroaster’s holding on that day “communion with God”‌.  Either out of prudence or courtesy the Zoroastrians evidently did not tell him or any other Moslem scholar of their hopes for Frashegird, with the ultimate triumph everywhere of their religion.

These indications of the basic religious significance of the festival are in any case quite overshadowed by an abundance of material attributing its founding, through popular acclaim, to Jam (Jamshed). One well-known legend told by Biruni (Atar, p. 216) is that Jam was drawn through the air in a chariot by devs, traveling in one day from Demavand to Babylon.

“And people made this day a feast day on account of the wonder which they had seen during it and they amused themselves with swinging in order to imitate Jamshid”‌.  Tha‘alibi’s fuller version (ed. Zotenberg, pp. 13-14) runs: “It was the day of Ohrmazd of the month of Fravardin, the first day of spring which is the beginning of the year, the renewal when the earth revives from its torpor.  People said: ‘It is a new day, a happy festival, a true power, a wondrous King!’ And they made this day, which they called Nowruz, their chief festival, honouring God for having raised their king to such a degree of grandeur and power, and thanking Him for all the ease, well-being, security and wealth which had been granted them through the good fortune of this king and beneath the shadow of his government.  They celebrated the fortunate festival by eating and drinking, playing musical instruments and giving themselves over entirely to amusement and pleasures”‌.

Another story (Biruni, Atar, p. 216) has a different explanation of the feast’s origin: Jamshid was making a progress through Iran and had himself carried into Azarbaijan on a golden throne borne on the necks of men.  Rays of the sun fell on him and when people saw him “they were full of joy and made that day a feast day”‌. Yet another legend also has the motif of Jam’s sun-like brightness, which goes back to Yima’s Avestan epithet, ل¸µshaeta, which can mean “shining, radiant”‌; and this story has an ethical and religious component.  It tells how Iblis destroyed the world, but how at the command of God Jam came and defeated him.  Justice and prosperity returned, and Jam “rose on that day like the sun”‌, light beaming from him.  All dried-up wood became green, so people said “New Day”‌ (roz i naw).

These attempts to explain the origin of Nowruz, the products probably of speculation in priestly schools, remembered by minstrels, are far removed from what seem the much more archaic reference to Jam’s three great deeds at Nowruz given in the Pahlavi text of the wonders of that day, none of which associates him with the founding of the festival.

Biruni does not have much to say about special customs at the festival, but he does record (p. 216) that people gave each other sugar then, and says that according to Adurbad, Mobad of Baghdad, this was because the sugar-cane was first discovered during the reign of Jam on the day of Nowruz (that is, on 1 Fravardin), having before been unknown.  “Jam on seeing a juicy cane which dropped some of its juice, tasted it and found that it had an agreeable sweetness.  Then he ordered the juice of the sugarcane to be pressed out and sugar to be made thereof.  It was ready on the fifth day and then they made each other presents of sugar”‌.

Biruni also says (p. 217) that it was the custom at the Great Nowruz to sow seven kinds of grain around a plate, “and from their growth they drew conclusions regarding the corn of that year, whether it will be good or bad”‌.  This is one of the indications that he depended for his information about the festival on books and the results of verbal inquiries, and never actually attended its celebration, or he would have seen that the seeds had been sown earlier, to be ready for the growth to be studied on the great day itself.

Some of his informants were, however, placing both intelligent and precise.  Thus he received a clear explanation (p.224) of the origin of the 10-day Fravardigan observance, almost 1500 years after it had come into existence; and with regard to various customs with water at the Great Nowruz, he gives a series of anecdotal explanations for them, connecting them with Jam, but also says finally (p.218) that “according to another view”‌ it was simply because the month day of its celebration was sacred to “Haruخ´a, the angel of water”‌.

Source: iranica


Other Links:

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)  

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