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  • 3/6/2012

NOWRUZ IN THE PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD

(part 15)

eidnorooz

The Parsis have, historically, no secular observance of Nowruz presumably because the climate of Gujarat did not demand a spring celebration so insistently, and there would have been no local tradition to support one.  A “Jamshedi Nowruz”‌, celebrated on the Gregorian March 21st, has become popular but cannot be traced to earlier than the nineteenth century (Anquetil du Perron, seeking knowledge in the 18th century of Parsi feasts, did not hear of this one, see his Zend-Avesta, Tome II, p. 574); and it appears to have evolved from the secular Iranian festival after Parsis had learnt at school about their community’s links with Cyrus and Darius, had visited Iran and seen the ruined glories of Persepolis, the “Takht-e Jamshid”‌, and had read in the Gujarati translation of Ferdowsi’s SHahname of Jamshid’s association with Nowruz.  The festival, which lasts one day and has no special observances, is much enjoyed, and new-year greetings cards are increasingly exchanged in Western fashion; but it is still ignored by a few strict traditionalists.

As individuals such traditionalists probably exist throughout the community; but the stronghold of Parsi traditonalism is recognized to be Navsari, the centre of the Bhagaria (q.v.) priesthood, and down to the first part of the twentieth century a quiet little country town whose religious practices provide valuable parallels to (and some differences from) those of the Yazdi villages.

The Parsis use the term Moktad, Skt mukta atman, “released soul”‌ (by origin a rendering of fravashi), as a general term for the whole period leading up to and including 6 Fravardin.  They welcome the Fravashis, that is, on 25 Spendarmad, the day of Ahrishwang (Ard) (see Unvala, Rivayats, I, p. 506  1.13. tr. Dhabhar, p. 337);  and perform a ritual of farewell to them (briefer than that of the Iranis) on the 5th “Gatha day, and again on 5 Fravardin, a day which they call the valana-ni rat “eve of farewell”‌ (F.M. Kotwal apud M. Boyce, 1970, p. 521).  They thus maintain, with a fidelity equaling that of the Iranis, the repetitions that followed the Achaemenian calendar reform, with the Lesser Nowruz embedded within the extended Fravashi days.  The name given this festival by all Parsis is Pateti “[Day] of Confession”‌, and of it a lay Parsi wrote in 1884 (D.F. Karala, pp. 144-45): “Of all the Zoroastrian festivals the so-called Pateti holiday is observed with more or less religious fervour by Parsis of every rank and condition.  It … should properly be called Naoroz…. The name Pateti … denotes the day on which one prays to God for absolution from sins committed in the past year.  On this day the Zoroastrian rises earlier than usual, makes ablutions … dresses himself in new clothes and offers prayers imploring the mercy of Ahura Mazda … He … asks forgiveness for his bad actions during the past year, and finally with offerings of sandal-wood he attends the Atash Behram and again prays … His prayers over, he offers alms to the poor priests and indigent people.  The rest of the day is spent in enjoyment with other members of his family.  On this day visits of New Year’s congratulations are paid and received”‌.  He was plainly untroubled by what may seem the curious mixture here of contrition with rejoicing, but two other Parsi laymen, writing at about the same time (Kh. N. Seervai and B.B. Patel, p. 218) state as if it were fact that the last of the 5 “Gaoa days”‌ was formerly called Pateti or “Day of Penitence”‌, and the first of the new year ‘Nowruz’ or New Year’s Day. By some misunderstanding the names have been reversed, and the last day is now called Naoroz and the new day Pateti”‌.  This is reasonable but purely speculative, since there is no evidence to support it; and there is the Irani practice of going to the dama on the “Dadg h-e Panji”‌, that is, 1 Fravardin, Nowruz having dropped out of the feast’s name with them also.  So it seems that the embedding of the Lesser Nowruz in the prolonged Fravashi days has affected its observance and naming in ways similar but not the same in these two branches of the Zoroastrian community.

Their practice is again similar but not the same with regard to the name each gives to 6 Fravardin, since both are practical and seek simply to fix it by a calendar indication: Havzoru, the “Seventeenth Day”‌ among the Iranis, Khordad Sal among the Parsis.  According to the Nerangestan passage this name orginiated in translation; and there is also a passage in one of the Persian Rivayats, (Unvala, I, p. 317 II. 4-7. tr. Dhabhar, p. 302) where the Persian priests refer to the day as “day Khordad of the month Farvardin, Jashn-e Salin”‌.  This festival (according to Seerval and Patel, p. 218) “is believed to be the birthday of Zoroaster”‌ (not one of the wonders claimed for it in the old Pahlavi text on Roz Hordad) and “is kept with as much pomp and rejoicing as Pateti”‌.  But the Parsi festival lacks Havzoru’s unique emphasis on life and the living, and the lists of relatives which Parsis give their priests are handed in for the “Gaoa”‌ days, and are of the family departed, so that their souls may be prayed for.  It seems probable, in this case, that the Iranis have preserved a genuine old tradition of Nowruz, the festival celebrating the coming “New Day”‌ of eternal life, which among the Parsis has been assimilated to the dominant cult of care for souls.

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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