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  • 3/6/2012


(part 14)


Havzoru being over, the “seven seeds”‌ were no longer watered, and their greenness quickly turned brown in the heat. But not only was the next day, Amordad, still a holiday, purely for pleasure, bu the holiday season was held to last not for 18 but 21 days from 25 Spendarmad. This seems to have developed under the influence of the third, spring Nowruz. One consequence was that any household which had not been visited by the priest during Panji could still properly be visited.

The secular festival, called simply Nowruz, was held at the spring equinox, on a day corresponding to 21 March by the Gregorian calendar. (It is thus kept at the same time as the Moslem holiday.  For a description of its observance in 1964 at the same Yazdi village as the two religious festivals see Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 164-76.)  It was preceded by the usual scrupulous cleaning of houses and their contents, and everyone tried to put on at least one new item of clothing on its first day.  Meantime two places in the house had been prepared for welcoming the new year.  In one small store-room, from which everything black (such as smoke-darkened cooking pots) had been removed, a square of wood (a viju, used ordinarily as a hanging larder) was suspended by ropes from the smoke-hole in the domed roof, and a number of things were set out, in rigidly prescribed order, on the floor beneath, shiw-e viju (which yields a name for the observance): a mirror with a lamp before it, a green-wrapped sugarcane, a pitcher full of curds and a vase holding sprays of evergreen (cypress or pine): a bowl of water containing a pomegranate stuck full of silver coins, and a pitcher of water in which dried fruits had been steeped for three days.  There was a glass full of paluda, a sweet drink, white in colour, and a new earthenware pitcher with pure water, its mouth closed by a green-painted egg; and a little woven basket full of fresh green stuff (such as coriander, parsley or lettuce); and in front was placed a platter with a special sweet dish, ؤچangal or komaؤچ-e Nowruz, cooked for this festival.  The predominant colours were thus green and white, and the objects represented growth, life, purity, prosperity and sweetness.  The tall sugarcane was put in place last, and the door of the room closed; and it was believed that at the moment of the beginning of the new year the viju would turn a full circle overhead, symbolizing presumably the movement of the sun, which according to the Zoroastrian creation myth began at that moment.  There is, notably, no allusion in the observance to the number seven, which belongs exclusively to Havzoru.  (The Persian Moslem Haft Sin, q.v., has been shown to be of recent origin.)

In the main room a table had been set out more simply, with a silver standing mirror, a ل¸´orda Avesta wrapped in green silk, a little picture of Zoroaster (brought from Bombay), and two silver vases with sprays of pine and the purple-flowering Judas tree.  In previous times the New Day would have been welcomed at sunrise with the unseen turning then of the viju, but now it was announced at sunset by Tehran radio, and the master of the house went round the family, sprinkling each with rose-water and wishing them a happy New Day.  Sweets were distributed, and a convivial supper followed with its main dish, as always, fish, a rarity in the Yazdi region.

The next morning, soon after a festive breakfast the first Nowruz visitors appeared. The main groups came then and throughout the firs week of the festival. First, there were those (mainly Moslems) who had worked for the family in any way during the year.

They were given new-year greetings, with two to four painted eggs, a handful of ajil (dried melon and sunflower seeds with pistachio nuts), and sometimes money.  Then there were Zoroastrian children of up to the age of twelve or so.  Those from the better-off families went only to relatives or close friends, but poorer children made their rounds more widely, receiving painted eggs, ajil and little presents – a coin or two, pencils, writing books and the like.  Finally there came friends, relatives and acquaintances to pay formal calls and to exchange greetings and token gifts, typically sprays of cypress and pine, or pomegranates.  In the evenings there were often big gatherings of family and friends; and this was also a favoured time for weddings.  The festival lasted for 21 days, a little longer than the 18 days of the religious one; but it seems natural to have sought an extension of the secular Nowruz roughly to match this, and twenty-one, a multiple of two sacred numbers –three and seven – would have been an auspicious number of days to choose.  There may well have been influence also from the Semitic week, become a familiar measure. But spring also brought urgent farmwork that had to be done.  Even this, however, was reduced as much as possible on the Sizda bedar, “the Thirteenth [Day] out of doors”‌, which everyone sought to spend in the open, in orchard, field or garden, purely in pursuit of pleasure (picnicking, playing games, making music and the like, or just contentedly resting).   The explanation of the origin of this much-loved festival is a little complex, but it seems to be as follows.  When thus in the mid twentieth century the Zoroastrians celebrated their secular Nowruz by the spring equinox, they did so when their calendar month was Azar (Adur), and by it the thirteenth day of the festival has in itself no particular significance.  But when Nowruz is fixed according to the Zoroastrian calendar, then the thirteenth day after 6 Fravardin, the Great Nowruz, is 19 Fravardin; and that is Ruz Fravardin of Mah Fravardin, the yearly jashn of the Fravashis. This had been established in Achaemenian times and was much beloved by the community, it being considered one of the high holy days. (See Modi, p. 431 with n. 2, for how it was kept in the early twentieth century by Parsis.)  Its celebration appears to have been enjoined in deliberate contrast with that of the Rozan Fravardigan, since people left their houses and went out to funerary places, where they would invite the spirits of their family departed to take pleasure as their guests in feasting and merry making.  This observance was outside the period of the religious holy days (18 days from 25 Spendarmad to 8 Fravardin) and was never a part of them; but it was well within the 21 days of the secular Nowruz.  So sometime when a secular Nowruz, celebrated in the spring, was being observed in addition to the religious one, this beloved thirteenth days feast must have been made a part of it; and since it had then lost its connection with 19 Fravardin, the merry-making was carried on out of doors just for itself, and more generally, without any devout intention.  The fact that the Sizdabedar is celebrated by both Zoroastrians and Shi‘i Moslems suggests that it had been incorporated in the 21-day secular Nowruz before Islam gained many converts in Iran.

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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