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  • 3/7/2012

NOWRUZ IN THE ISLAMIC PERIOD (part 1)

part 3

norooz-amozesh

Scholars wrote in Persian and Arabic on the history of Nowruz, its rites, auspiciousness, and the various properties of its days; others collected poetry composed in its honor or words rhyming with Nowruz. The accounts by Musa b. Isa Kasravi, Jahez“, Pseudo-Jahez, Biruni, and Pseudo-KHayyam still constitute our main source on Nowruz. Several short treatises on the characteristics of Nowruz or literary, religious, and astrological comments on it are also extant (ed. Harun V, pp. 17-48), but many others referred to in the sources (for a list see ل¹¢ayyad, pp. 81-3) have not survived. Several calendar reforms were effected in by the Abbasids and the Buyids before the Saljuq sultan Jalal-al-Dawla Malekshah (r. 465-85/1073-1092) established in 471/1079 the Julian-style solar year that fixes the beginning of the calendar year (Nowruz) at the vernal equinox (Taqizada, pp. 156-80; see CALENDARS ii. ISLAMIC PERIOD).

A widely reported hadith (Majlesi, Behar LIX, pp. 143-91; Molla Fayz apud Moein, 1947, pp. 73-84) transmitted by Moalla b. KHanis, a Persian disciple of the sixth Shiite Imam Jafar-e Sadeq (d. 765), gives Nowruz a very strong Islamic significance and recounts for each of the “thirty days of each month”‌ qualities which are directly parallel to those given in the Pahlavi treatise of Mah farvardin khoordad (Markwart, pp. 742-55) even with regard to the names of the patron deities of those days (cf. Moein, pp. 73-84; Monzavi, pp. 34-37; Shahbazi, pp. 255-56). Jafar-e Sadeq said that Nowruz was a most blessed day because it was on that day when God made the Sun rise, the wind blow, and the earth flourish; the occasion when He made a covenant with the pre-existing souls of mankind to worship none but Him, brought Noah’s ark ashore safely, and the day when He will resurrect the dead by ordering the living to pour water on them (hence the auspiciousness of sprinkling water on each other at Nowruz). It was on that day that God sent Gabriel with His message to Mohammad (PBUH), that the Prophet shattered the idols of Mecca and nominated Ali  (A.S) at the GHadir-e Khomm as his legatee (on the date see Taqizada, p. 154, n. 310), as well as the day when ت؟Ali defeated the heretics at Nahravan, and when the Mahdi, the Lord of Time, will appear. Indeed, “no Nowruz comes unless we expect salvation from grief, for this day is an attribute of ours and our Shiites.”‌ After the publication of such works, the faithful were assigned the task of greeting Nowruz with elaborate prayers which include several suras of the Qoran (Naba).

 

Later History

The festive celebration of Nowruz during the Safavid period is well attested (see bibliography). In preparation to it, commanders, ministers, favored officials, rich merchants, and guild leaders were given pieces of land in the vast park of BaGh-e Naqsh-e Jahan of Isfahan to decorate and illuminate. Each group set up tents with canopies of silk and brocade, and erected booths variously embellished; servants offered drinks and sweets to large crowds for several days. In the royal palace, a large table cloth (sofra) was spread on the floor of the Hall of Mirrors (talar-e aina), and on it were placed large bowls of water and plates of various fruits, greeneries, sweets, and colored eggs. According to Chardin (II, p. 267), in keeping with an ancient Iranian tradition, on the eve of Nowruz people send each other colored eggs as gifts. The shah gave some five hundred of them to his womenfolk. The eggs are encased in gold and decorated with four miniature paintings. The shah sat at the head of the sofra, amongst the royal women he favored most, who were all bedecked in jewelry. They engaged in pleasant conversation, and then, at the shah’s command, female dancers, musicians, and singers entered and entertained the audience. In another chamber the court astronomer was trying to determine the exact moment of “the turn of the year”‌ (tawil-e sal, that is, when the Sun entered the sign of Aries at the vernal equinox). As soon as he gave the sign that the New Year had arrived, pages sent off firecrackers into the sky, and, seeing this, the household female servants let out cries of exultation thereby announcing the good news to the king and his companion. At the same time, the news was made public by some palace guards firing off their muskets and citadel guards their cannons, whereupon an official band occupying the center of the great town square (Meydan-e naqsh-e jahan) beat on their drums and kettledrums and blew into their wind instruments (sornay). Shouts of joy filled the air; eunuchs opened special bags of wild rue (esfand) and sprinkled seeds into the fire, causing the air to be pleasantly scented. The shah, as all other Iranians, gazed at a bowl of water the moment the year “ turned,”‌ believing that “water is the symbol of prosperity”‌ (ab rowshanaت¾i-st, lit. ‘water is light’) and if one looks at it at the turn of the year he would enjoy happiness all year long. A few prayers (usually Qurت¾anic verses, extensively cited by Majlesi, II) were recited, and everyone wearing new clothes drank some water or rosewater, congratulated elders, kinsfolk and friends, and partook of sweets. Elders presented gifts to the members of household, relatives, servants, and friends, and distributed alms to the poor, dervishes, and local sayyeds (descendants of the Imams). In the palace, the shah held a great banquet with wine and music for military commanders, senior civil officials, foreign envoys and notable merchants. In other households elaborately prepared dinners were served, and in general everyone enjoyed the occasion with drinks, music, visitation, and exchanges of gifts and pleasantries. Children were particularly happy, and enjoyed the holidays running around, receiving various gifts, playing various games (specially the “egg-cracking game,”‌ similar to the children’s game of conkers played with chestnuts in the West), and watching polo, wrestling, and horse racing. The gifts exchanged depended on the status of the individuals. The shah sat in the audience hall and distributed gifts, usually gold and or silver coins placed in small colorful bags, to the courtiers, kinsfolk, household servants and foreign envoys. He received in turn precious gifts from his harem, ministers, representatives of social groups and professions, provincial governors, and envoys of neighboring countries. The usual “gifts”‌ to the shah included slave girls (especially from Armenia and Georgia, some of whom ended up as royal wives and others were given to favorite officials), money, prized horses, and beasts of burden with precious saddlery (for the gifts exchanged between the governor of Fars province and Shah ت؟Abbas I see Arberry, p. 19). The shah and rich notables also ordered the slaughter of livestock according to religious rites and distributed the meat to the needy. During the following days, people went outdoors and spent the time in the open air playing, feasting, horseracing and, when possible, hunting.

Source: iranica


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Astrology & Astronomy in Iran and Ancient Mesopotamia (part 3)  

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