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Nowruz: A Ritual for Praising God for His Blessings

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bahram AmirAhmadian
Tehran University Professor & Eurasia Affairs Analyst

Ze kuy-e yār miāyad nasim-e bād Nowruzi.
Az in bād ar madad khāhi cherāgh-e del bar afruzi.
(Hāfiz)

From the alley of darling comes the fragment breeze of Nowruz.
From this breeze, if thou desire aid, the light of the heart, thou may set kindle.  

Nowruz (1) is an ancient ritual with a rich history expanded through a vast zone from western China to Turkey, Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan to Iraq, the zone surrounding Iran as a center of the Iranian civilization. This festival is celebrated every year in all of the counties in the district. All of the Turkmens, Uzbeks, Azeris, Turks, Afghans, Tajiks, Kurds (living in Turkey, Iraq and Syria) and Baluchs, living in these countries believe with the same enthusiasm in this festival. There is a wonderful link between the man and the nature in this ritual. The Nowruz festivals produce such a happiness in people’s souls that is unforgettable. It is a combination of a popular ritual and religious ceremony rooted in the ancient history of Iran. After Islam’s conquest and the overwhelming influence of the new religion, many ancient rituals and traditions belonging to the pre-Islamic era were abandoned, but Nowruz was among the few rituals that survived and is now celebrated by all of the people living in this land.

Nowruz festival and the different rituals belonging to the festival is a manifestation of gratitude for the gifts God has provided for the human beings. We can see a close relation between the human being and the nature in all of the rituals including Chahar Shanbeh Suri (2), setting “Haft-Sin” (3), New Year’s ceremony, visiting each other in the first days of the New Year, giving gifts to each other and Sizdah-Bedar (4) day in which everybody goes to the countryside to get the feeling of living in the heart of Nature.

The territory of Nowruz in Central Asia and Western Asia is located between latitudes of 25 – 45 north degrees. This belt is in accordance with dried and semi-dried zone of the earth and the region of water shortage. Here there are many famous and vast deserts of the world like Taklemakan (in west of China), Kizil-Kum (in Uzbekistan), Kara-Kum(in Turkmenistan), Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut (in Iran), and Badiyat-ush-Sham between Iraq and Syria.       

One of the common features of the countries in this region is the high respect for the water. Access to water is not an easy task everywhere. It is written in inscriptions belonged to “Darius the Great”, “Ahoora Mazda may take care of this land and protect it against war, drought and lie”. In Zoroastrian religion, it is a great sin to spit upon water. Islam has a great respect for water too and warns Moslems against pouring garbage in the water and spoiling it.

The other feature is that the four seasons in this part of the world are observed by the nature properly. Subsequently the beginning of the New Year is coincided with the beginning of spring. Everything is renewing and reviving in the first days of the New Year, the flowers are blossoming and the trees are beginning a new life. It seems that the nature is worshipping God in these days. Celebrating the New Year’s ceremonies in these flourishing days of the beginning of spring means that the human beings are praising God for the blessings He has favored to them.

The trees are respected as sacred in these counties. Many shrines have been built beside the trees. This attitude towards nature has provided a kind of popular protection for the living environment.

Water is a respected element. All of the poets and the artist of this land show a great respect for the water in their works. Beside water, trees, green fields, gardens and all of the plants are respected and honored elements. Shortcoming of water in this land has caused many sufferings since the old times. Water was supposed to be a sacred element in the ancient kingdoms of Iran. In Islam, founded itself in a droughty land, there are numerous recommendations about respecting water. In Central Asia, water is praised as a sacred element and the “rivers” are called “seas”. Amu Darya, Sir Darya, Sorkhan Darya… The water in the Haft-Sin table-cover in a glass vase in which a red fish is swimming is a symbol of life and solidarity and it is a kind of praising God. Jumping over streams in the last Wednesday of the year that is called Char Shanbeh Suri, a ritual that is observed in Azarbaijan and some other districts in Iran, is a sign of respect for water. The people living in this land believe that water is a symbol of “light”.

Wheat is also an important element in the Nowruz rituals. Growing wheat, cooking “Samanu” (5) by wheat’s buds, fastening green branches together in Sizdah-be-Dar are among the rituals related with farming. To grow wheat in a plate is a common tradition in all of the countries in which Nowruz is celebrated. Samanu, one of the main elements of Haft-Sin, is made of  wheat’s buds and is full of vitamins E and B. Wheat is the main material for making bread and this is why the bread is praised as a sacred item. Nobody throws a piece of bread to the ground or puts his or her foot over a piece of bread. It is bread that is given to the hungry people. There are thousands of anecdotes and stories about bread. Prophet Mohammad is quoted as saying, “Praise the bread” and, “Looking at the green color enforces the eyes’ sight.”

All of the poets living in the lands that the Nowruz ritual is observed have made many verses about it. Roudaki Samarghandi, Farrokhi Sistani, Ferdowsi Toosi, Nasser Khosrow Ghobadiani, ‘Omar Khayyam Neishaboori, Baba Taher Hamadani, Sa’di Shirazi, Moulavi Balkhi, Hafiz Shirazi, Nezami Ganjavi, Manoochehri Damhgani, Sa’eb Tabrizi and many other classic poets have made many verses in praising Nowruz and spring. The contemporary poets, including Shahryar, Parvin Etesami and Malek  ol Shoara-ye Bahar, have also described Nowruz in their verses.

Nowruz festival is a time for washing off all of the dirty things from the living environment. Everybody is cleaning and tidying up his or her home, everybody is painting the walls, cleaning the glasses of the windows and spreading the bed shits in the sunshine so that all of the remnants of the old year be cleaned. All of the people are willing to put on new clothes and discard the old ones. Now that the nature is putting on new clothes, the human beings should put on new clothes too to adapt themselves with the nature. Along with this changing and renewing in appearance, there should be a change and revival in the souls. All of the enmities between families and tribes should be solved.

Giving gifts to the children is another ritual of Nowruz. Another ritual is going out to the countryside and staying outdoors for a few hours to be closer to the nature, thirteen days after the beginning of the New Year in a day called Sizdah-be-Dar. Here is how the human beings feel the reviving of the nature and recall the resurrection day.

Here is the mystery of the survival of the ancient Nowruz.

Sokhan dar pardeh mi guyam, cho gol az ghoncheh birun āy
Ke bish az panj ruzi nist hokm-e mir-e Nowruzi (Hāfiz)

Within the screen, speech I utter, forth from thyself, like the rose-bud comes.
For, not more than a space of five days, is the order of “Mir-e Nowruzi” (6). 

Dr. Bahram AmirAhmadian can be reached at: bahram@amirahmadian.com

Notes:

1- In Persian language “now” means “new” and “ruz” means “day” and totally it means “New Year”. In Iranian calendar, New Year (solar year) begins since the 1st of Farvardin month (21st. of March).

2- “Chāhār Shanbeh” in Persian means Wednesday and” Suri” means “red”. Chāhar Shanbeh Suri is the latest Wednesday of the Iranian year. The people in the evening of that day jump over fire and they believe that their sickness and sadness and all bad behaviors will be disappeared.  

3- Haft in Persian means “7” and “Sin” means the letter “S” and “Sofreh” is a table covered with some embroidering and artistic deigns around it. They believe that seven food stuff and some other things which their names in Persian begins with the letter S including apple, garlic, sumac, grown wheat, vinegar, coins and mirror and a red fish swimming in a glass bowl should be put and decorated in “Sofreh-ye Haft Sin”.

4- Sizdah Be Dar (=13 out, number 13 in Persian calls Sizdah), in Nowruz celebration Persians believe that the thirteenth day of New Year is malevolent day and one should go out and stay in open space from morning till evening. Thus they celebrate Sizdah Be Dar out of their home in open space.  

5- Samanu is some kind of sweet paste, which consume by people frequently during Nowruz festival.  It is cooked from wet wheat.

6- Mir-e Nowruzi(in Persian it means Chief of Nowruz). In many regions of Iran there was a tradition related to Nowruz festival, called “Mir-e Nowruzi”. According to this tradition, the people randomly elected a man to be their ruler within five days of the beginning of New Year. The elected man, ruled and ordered whatever he liked.  Sometimes, depends on the societies, not well known person, even a man from low class was elected and made some unordinary orders and that was funny. Hafiz refers to this tradition says that the bad or good days in one’s life will pass soon and man should not be sad.

More By Bahram AmirAhmadian:

*Karabakh: Gordian Knot of Caucasus Region: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Karabakh-Gordian-Knot-of-Caucasus-Region.htm

*The Hectic Days of Iranian and Turkish Diplomats: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_Hectic_Days_of_Iranian_and_Turkish_Diplomats.htm

*Missile Defense Shield: Much Ado for Nothing!: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Missile_Defense_Shield_Much_Ado_for_Nothing_.htm

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