• Counter :
  • 542
  • Date :
  • 3/6/2012


(part 12)


Two striking characteristics of Nowruz customs – emphasis, at this 7th feast, on the number seven, and on newness to match the newness of spring – are only just touched on in Biruni’s account, but are prominent in that given by Pseudo-Jahiz, Ketab al-mahasen wa’l-azdad (ed. G. van Vloten).  This collection of mixed materials, assigned to perhaps as late as the twelfth century CE, contains two sections about Nowruz as it was celebrated at the Sasanian court (brought together and tr. by R. Ehrlich, pp. 95-101).  Because the author is unknown, as are his sources, and because it appears in some respects fanciful, this account has been latterly disregarded; but the descriptions are basically in harmony with the spirit of the festival and with its usages (as known from later practice), and this points to the existence at some stage of a genuine Zoroastrian source that has been embroidered on.  There is moreover a characteristic Zoroastrian stress on white as the colour of purity, and therefore appropriate to the New Day of unsullied beginnings.  So, it is said, there was placed before the King after his rising a table on which were twigs of 7 kinds of trees which were brought auspicious, and 7 white earthenware plates, and 7 white dirhams of the year’s coinage.  There was brought to him a vessel containing white sugar, with freshly pared nuts; and all the Kings of Persia thought it was propitious to begin the day with a mouthful of pure fresh milk.  Well before Nowruz different kinds of seeds were sown in separate containers, and on the 6th day of Nowruz what had grown was cut with songs and music and mirth.  The second Zoroastrian section of the Ketab al-mahasen describes the presents given at Nowruz to the King, from magnificent ones from foreign rulers down to humble gifts from lowly subjects, all of which were listed by a scribe, with the present given to each in return (cf. Biruni, Atar, p. 219).

There is also mention by Pseudo-Jahiz of what is better stated by Biruni, (Atar, p. 218) in the following words: “After the time of Jam, the Kings made this whole month, i.e., Farvardin Mah, one festival, distributed over its six parts. The first five days were feast days for the princes, the second for the nobility, the third for the servants of the princes, the fourth for their clients, the fifth for the people, and the sixth for the herdsmen”‌.

 This appears to be one of the schematizations produced by scholastics, which have little or no relation to reality; but it is very possible that the King with his nobles may have chosen to prolong the festivities for this length of time.  The religious Nowruz was 18 days long, beginning as it did on the 25th of the 12th month and lasting till the day after the Great Nowruz began only on 1 Fravardin so temptation to extend it must have existed.

Nowruz in modern times:  There are some brief notices about Nowruz from the following centuries, but it is not until modern times – that is, from fairly late in the nineteenth century – that its observations have been fully described, in the case of the Parsis mostly by themselves.  By then, and roughly for the next one hundred years, the festival was being kept with some marked differences by three broad groupings: traditionalists, strongly represented in the old centres of Zoroastrianism in Iran (mostly in the Yazdi region) and in Gujarat; a majority of moderate progressives, yielding gradually to the pressures of city life and increase in scientific knowledge, but still retaining many old beliefs and observances; and the radical reformists, sweeping most of these away.  For trying to trace the history of Nowruz the data provided by the traditionalists is vital, especially since what the Parsi and Irani traditionalists have in common – which is a surprising amount – is likely to go back in general at least to the Sasanian period, and is demonstrated in details much older.  It needs to be noted, however, that although the Iranis and Parsis used what was essentially the same calendars, the 365-day one of the Achaemenian reform, there was the difference of a month between their reckonings because of the solitary Parsi intercalatic of a month in the 12th or 13th century CE.  Priests of both communities knew of this discrepancy and accepted it; but in the 15th century a group of pious Parsi laymen, thinking that the usage of the motherland must be older and more valid than their own, adopted the Irani version of the calendar, calling it the Qadimi, “Old”‌, modified by Gujarati speakers into Kadmi.  This movement roused furious indignation among most Parsis, as slur on their own devotedly cherished tradition, and they sprang to the defence of their own version of the calendar, which came to be called, objectively, SHenshai, a term developed from the dignified SHahanshahi, “Royal”‌.  At its height the dispute was very bitter, with some bloodshed.  This is long past, but religious Parsis, other than reformists, remain divided into the large body of SHahanshahis, and the small one of the Kadmis.

The Parsi reform movement was initiated fairly early in the 19th century, but in Iran for nearly another hundred years there was only the one kind of Zoroastrians, who may be named collectively simply Traditionalists; and the most conservative of these held out against the reformists there down to the 1960’s.  They were then still keeping 3 Nowruzes: a secular one at the spring equinox, in their calendar month of Aban, and the two religious ones in their month of Fravardin.  What is at first sight remarkable is that it was the secular one which they called Nowruz, giving other names to the religious festivals; but this was perhaps because “New Day”‌ is so fitting a name for a spring celebration.

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)  

  • Print

    Send to a friend

    Comment (0)