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Happy New Iranian Year

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review

Although the human world has been regularly teeming with wrongdoings and although bitter events are too many, easily observed and seem daunting, all human societies are rooted in goodness, honesty, trust, and tolerance.

History has proven that whenever evil has prevailed in a society and grown in proportion, goodness and kindness have arrived and changed everything.

The very survival of countries hinges on honesty and integrity without which there has been no way to keep countries alive and in the absence of which relations have been disrupted. The good is like original water in rivers while the evil has been like froth which quickly disappears. Careful review of history and its milestones will readily prove this fact.

Obviously, survival of humankind depends on honesty, kindness, and compassion. If seven billion human beings are currently living on the Earth despite all misbehaviors and millions of links exist among them, which enable them to take long strides toward development and prosperity, it is due to existence of minimum ethical norms among them.

Honesty, tolerance, kindness, forgiveness, and sacrifice make existence a pleasurable experience. Spring is on the way and Nature is once again filled with passionate vivacity to drive away the cold dark winter. Let’s hope that the Iranian New Year and Norouz would bring with it peace, friendship, tolerance, forgiveness and kindness as well as prosperity and progress for the Iranian nation.

Norouz is a strong testimony to Iranian rich civilization, national characteristics and history. It proves how a nation with its irreversible determination to endure, and even flourish, through periods of devastation, political chaos, hardship and oppression.

For centuries, Persians have applied the Norouz spirit to every dark challenge that has come their way. This spirit has made Norouz far more than just a New Year celebration over the course of history.

Norouz is a relic of ancient times. A memory of old tales and epics, a celebration of rebirth and rejuvenation. Spring has arrived and the previous year with all its events, good or bad, has passed. Renewed hope anticipates new achievements.

In harmony with rebirth of nature, the Persian New Year Celebration, or Norouz, always begins on the first day of spring, March 21th of each year. Norouz ceremonies are symbolic representations of two ancient concepts - the End and Rebirth.

Norouz (Nowruz) in Persian means "New day". It is the beginning of the year for the peoples of Iran (Greater Iran, including: Afghanistan, Arran (Republic of Azerbaijan) and Central Asian Republics).

It begins precisely with the beginning of spring on vernal equinox, on or about March 21. Tradition takes Norouz as far back as 15,000 years--before the last ice age.

It is not exactly known when and how the festival of Norouz emerged. Some historians believe that natural changes in weathers gave rise to the festivities. Some consider it a national festival, while others regard it as a religious ritual.

According to Zoroastrians, the month of Farvardin (the first month of the Iranian solar calendar) refers to Faravashis, or spirits, which return to the material world during the last 10 days of the year. Thus, they honor the 10-day period in order to appease the spirits of their deceased ancestors. The Iranian tradition of visiting cemeteries on the last Thursday of the year may have originated from this belief.

According to lexicographer Mirza Ali Akbar Dehkhoda, ancient Iranians celebrated a feast called Farvardegan (Farvardyan) that lasted 10 days. Farvardegan was performed at the end of the year and was apparently a mourning ceremony and not a celebration welcoming the rebirth of nature. In ancient times the feast started on the first day of Farvardin (March 21) but it is unclear how long it did last. In royal courts, the festivities continued for one month.

The festival, according to some documents, was observed until the fifth of Farvardin, and then the special celebrations followed until the end of the month. Possibly, in the first five days, the festivities were of a public and national nature, while during the rest of the month it assumed a private and royal character.

Undoubtedly, the Norouz celebrations are an ancient, national Iranian custom, but details of it prior to the Achaemenid era are unknown. There is no mention of it in Avesta ¬- the holy book of Zoroastrians.

In the ancient times, Iran was the cradle of civilizations for thousands of years and regarded as one of the most powerful countries in the world. As time passed, the Empire of Persia disintegrated gradually due to the invasions by the enemies of this land.

As a matter of fact, many glorious cultural, historical, festivals and customs have faded away and only traces of them have remained and several centuries of our homeland history is still in a “state of oblivion, darkness and ambiguity.”

Currently, after several thousands of years, Iranians and the people of nine other countries enthusiastically celebrate the Norouz festival, irrespective of their age, language, gender, race, nationality or social status as this festivity knows no boundary.

The oldest archaeological record for the Norouz celebration comes from the Achaemenid period over 2500 years ago. They created the first major empire in the region and built the Persepolis complex in southern Iran. This magnificent palace/temple complex was destroyed by Alexander the Great.

Throughout their often stormy history, Persians have endured hard times of civil wars, devastations, and political chaos. They have celebrated the height of human civilization and scientific and military achievements through the spirit of Norouz. Such a unifying spirit has often made Norouz the target of much animosity by foreign invaders and anti¬national forces throughout the history of Iran.

King Jamshid is said to be the person who introduced Norouz celebrations. Some 12 centuries later, in 487 B.C.E., Darius the Great of the Achaemenian dynasty celebrated the Norouz at his newly built Persepolis in Iran. On that day, the first rays of the rising sun fell on the observatory in the great hall of audience at 06-30 a.m., an event which repeats itself once every 1400-1 years. The Persepolis was the place the Achaemenian king received on Norouz, his peoples from all over the vast empire. The walls of the great royal palace depict the scenes of the celebrations.

We know the Iranians under the Parthian dynasty celebrated the occasion but we do not know the details. It should have, more or less, followed the Achaemenian pattern. During the Sasanian time, preparations began at least 25 days before Norouz. Twelve pillars of mud-bricks, each dedicated to one month of the year, were erected in the royal court. Various vegetable seeds--wheat, barley, lentils, beans, and others--were sown on top of the pillars. They grew into luxurious greens by the New Year Day. The great king held his public audience and the High Priest of the empire was the first to greet him. Government officials followed next. Each person offered a gift and received a present. The audience lasted for five days, each day for the people of a certain profession. Then on the sixth day, called the Greater Norouz, the king held his special audience. He received members of the Royal family and courtiers. Also a general amnesty was declared for convicts of minor crimes. The pillars were removed on the 16th day and the festival came to a close. The occasion was celebrated, on a lower level, by all peoples throughout the empire.

During the first two centuries of Islam in Persia, the festivities were not observed with much earnest due to sociopolitical transformation. Gradually, greedy Omayyad caliphs, intending to boost their income through gifts, revived the custom. Nonetheless, Iranians have always been enthusiastic about preserving this custom, especially when they were under foreign domination.

Omayyad rulers, known for their tribal fanaticism, left no stone unturned to annihilate the traditions and cultural heritage of conquered lands.

According to the historian George Zeidan, Persians would pay 5,000 to 10,000 silver coins for permission to celebrate Norouz during the reign of the Omayyads. Iranians made strenuous efforts to celebrate the occasion even though they had to pay a high price. Omayyad rulers greedy for wealth and power sought to strengthen their hegemony, apparently only resorting to Islam as a shield to protect their interests.

The festival was so glorious and sacred that even the most ruthless rulers used to grant general amnesty to captives and prisoners. The dignity of Norouz is captured as Ahura Mazda on its splendid glory says: “On the day of Farvardin, even the infernal-dwellers return to this world to visit their families.”

A major part of the New Year rituals is setting a special table with seven specific items present, Haft Sin (Haft chin, seven crops before Islam). In the ancient times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holly immortals protecting them.

Today they are changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. All the seven items start with the letter S; this was not the order in ancient times. Wheat or barley representing new growth is still present. Fish the most easily obtainable animal and water are present. Lit candles are a symbol of fire. Mirrors are used today, origin unknown. These were expensive items in ancient times and were made from polished metal. It is unlikely that all households would have one. Zoroastrians today place the lit candle in front of the mirror. Wine was always present. Today it is replaced by vinegar since alcohol is banned in Islam.

Egg a universal symbol of fertility corresponding to the mother earth is still present. Garlic is used to warn off bad omen. Samano a thick brownish paste is present today. It is a nutritious meal and could have been part of the feasts. Coins symbolizing wealth and prosperity, fruits and special meals are present as well.

Ferdowsi the great Iranian epic poet described this auspicious event in Shahnameh:

On Jamshid as the people jewels streamed,
They cried upon him that New Year beamed
On Farvardin Hormuz in this bright New Year
Bodies were freed from pain all hearts from fear
New Year new king the world thus rendered bright
He sat resplendent on the throne in light

United Nations General Assembly recognized the International Day of Norouz, a spring festival of Persian origin.

According to the preamble of the resolution on the International Day (document A/64/L.30/Rev.2), Norouz, which means new day, is celebrated on 21 March, the day of the vernal equinox, by more than 300 million people worldwide as the beginning of the new year. It has been celebrated for over 3,000 years in the Balkans, the Black Sea Basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and other regions. The Assembly called on Member States that celebrate the festival to study its history and traditions with a view to disseminating that knowledge among the international community and organizing annual commemoration events.

Welcoming the inclusion of Norouz into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 30 September 2009, the text notes the festival’s “affirmation of life in harmony with nature, the awareness of the inseparable link between constructive labour and natural cycles of renewal and the solicitous and respectful attitude towards natural sources of life”.

We at IranReview.Org would like to express our best wishes for the New Year and the advent of spring to all Iranians, subscribers, and visitors of our site and all the peace-loving people around the world.

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