Navroze, Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz, Nevruz is celebrated across Central Asia and India. With the UN declaring it as 'The Festival of Spring', it is growing in its reach to be recognized as a start of a New Year and symbolically, a new life.
In India, it is celebrated by the Zoroastrians as the New Year on the Spring or Vernal Equinox, 21st March, each year.
This exhibition attempts to trace the festival through it's mythology, history and contemporary practice.
Firdausi, in his Shah Nameh, Book of Kings, attributes the origin of Navroze to the legendary King of Persia, Jamshed son of Tehmooraz of the Peshdadian dynasty in Iran. It is believed that Jamshed was a great king (''Illustrious protector of the flock, most glorious among men, most resembling the sun among mortals'').
The legend follows that though there were no clocks to measure time, the King sought the help of the great astronomers and mathematicians of his day who devised a calendar which was known as the “Tacquim-e-Nowrooze-e-Sheheriyari”. The King accordingly decided that Navroze or the New Year would start on the Vernal Equinox when night and day were of equal duration.
According to Mary Boyce, a renowned scholar on Zoroastrianism, young, Avestan names suggest that six festivals of the pastoral and farming year (later known collectively as 'gahambars') were annexed to make with ''No Ruz'' a chain of seven feasts in honour of the Heptad - the seven immortal archangels (Amesha Spenta).
'No Ruz' was the greatest of the seven feasts, and was seen as the last one, allotted to the celebration of the seventh creation, fire and devoted to its great guardian - 'Asa'.
In Zoroastrian cosmogony, the universe is divided into two main parts; that which is conceivable but not perceptible is Menok, spiritual or invisible, and Getik, that which is material, visible, and perceptible. Creation is the uniting of the Menok and Getik, for when spiritual forces operate on matter, the world comes into being.
Man, as 'Hamkar' or the Chief Creation is to work with wisdom to bring balance in a world of chaos.
Thus, Navroze celebrates the coming together of the seven elements or the 'Amesha Spenta' who are the guardians of creation.
The story of Zoroastrians from Persia to Akbar's court is a story of continuity and change (http://goo.gl/SLGmM7).
It is in 'Dastur Meherjirana and Shehenshah-e-Akbar' edited by Khurshedji Manocji Shastri (Nariman) , and printed by Dastur Shahpur Meherjirana in 1918 that we find references to celebration of Navroze in Mughal Emperor Akbar's reign.
'' There was one religion which was distinguished by its great and hoary antiquity, which could not but influence him greatly owing to its conformity to much of Akbar's object. That was the ancient religion of Zoroaster, which after a long spell of persecution, had been driven out of it's home in Persia to seek a shelter in a corner of Akbar's dominion..''
''There is a tradition among the parsees themselves that a High Priest of theirs had been called from Nowsaree in Gujarat to Akbar's court...Akbar may taken veneration for the Sun as an eternal symbol from the Parsees. Badaoni says that Bir Bal - the accursed tried to persuade the Emperor that since the Sun gives light to all, and ripens all grain, fruits and products of the earth and support the life of mankind, the luminary should be the object of worship....This was the cause of the worship paid to the Sun on Nauroz-i-Jellahi and of his being induced to adopt that festival for the celebration of his accession to the throne''.
'' The Fourteen Sacred Festivals of the Parsees were adopted by him. It was a Parsee custom to hold festivals on each day, the name of which coincided with that of the current month. Thus, Farwardin was the name of the first month of the Ilahi year and also of the 19th day every other month. These feast days, therefore, were 19th Farwardin; 3rd Ardibehesht; 6th Khurdad; 13th Tir; 17th Amirdad ; 4th Sharivur ; 16th Mehr ; 10th Aban ; 9th Adar ; 8th, 15th, 23rd Deh; 2nd Bahman ; 5th Aaspandarmad. ''
''When his Majesty'', says Abul Fazl, ''was informed of the feasts of the Jamsheds, and the festivals of Parsee priests, he adopted them and used them as opportunities for conferring benefits''. Of these greatest was Naoroz or New Year's Day's feast which commenced on the day the sun entered Aries and lasted till the 19th day of the month Farwardin.
Navroze across Central Asia,is still the major festival of thanksgiving and celebration of nature. In a spirit of continuity of tradition , it is the time of cleansing the material and the spiritual.
In Zoroastrian households in India, Navroze is characterized through giving significance to practices of everyday life. The women, thus, play an essential role in continuing the practices associated with Navroze. Apart from a critical role played by them in disseminating the significance of Navroze to children and family members, they initiate Toran Weaving, Chalk Making and taking around the Loban (frankincense) in the act of ritual purity.
Early in March the preparations for Navroze begin with the sprouting of Sabzeh (lentil, wheat or barley) and Khane Tekani (house cleaning). Of these traditions, the former harks back to the agrarian background of the Iranian tribes, while the latter entailing washing carpets, painting the house, cleaning the yard etc. stems from the Zoroastrians’ preoccupation with cleanliness as a measure for keeping Evil away. The ancestors are invited to descend on their previous homes to help them nourish the growth of the sabzeh, the main source of their sustenance that had been depleted during the long and cold days of winter.
These two rituals are followed by Kharid-i-Nowruz, or shopping for Nowruz. For Kharid-i-Nowruz, a family affair- everyone must be measured and outfitted with shoes, topis or headgear, and the like. Certain other items such as sweets, confectionaries, candles, fruits and nuts used later as part of the celebrations are also bought at this time. Additionally, women of the house also prepare sweet breads and sew special clothes for the little ones in the family. Finally, a trip must be made to the bank in order to acquire new coins and crisp banknotes to give out as gifts (sagan) and for the sofreh (Nowruz display cloth.)
With the Zoroastrian community experiencing diaspora and population decline over the years, events like Navroze festivities become unique sites of community cohesion. It is Interesting to see how the celebration of Navroze foregrounds disseminating the Zoroastrian ethos and practices to the younger generation. This is done through activities or competitions that can be carried through memory and everyday life.
Navroze, necessarily entails a 'Jashan' of thanksgiving in the morning - a core religious ceremony which brings all creations together with the recitation from the Yasna Text.
In honour of the feast of Navroze, special customs are marked by the number 7. Representing the 7 Amesha Spenta, the special angels of Zoroastrianism, particular food items are prepared in homes to be set on the Navroze table.
Navroze occuppies a special place in comparitive cultural studies. Currently,we find unique cultural variants in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran,Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan with unique cultural variants.
In India itself, an interesting ethnic comparison emerges between the celebration of Navroze by the Zoroastrians and the Kashmiris (out of whom the Pandits refer to the welcoming of spring as 'Navreh').
The ses (right) is a traditional silver tray, its circular form symbolizes family unity. It holds within items which signify a long and happy life. It is decorated with a flower garland or har for Navroze. Next to it is a mirror used on Navroze to gaze at oneself and make a wish for the new year. The thread and needle is symbolic of repairing relationships, stitching together hopes in the new year.
'Navroze was never an exclusive celebration for Zoroastrians. Non-Zoroastrian students would also be part of the festivities and came along to observe the decorated table. Each student would then be ushered into the room by four girls bearing a tiny container filled with vermilion to apply tili to the forehead, a rosewater sprinkler, a mirror and a basket filled with sweets, chanting “Avo ji” (please come in). This would continue throughout the course of the day.'
Khursheed Gamwala, Pakistan
These festivals are united in the spirit of welcoming the spring, celebrating nature and renewal of life.
For the Zoroastrians,the coming of the day of Navroze is the reaffirmation of the promise as a 'Hamkar' to keep the cosmic balance and ensuring the triumph of righteousness.
Director, UNESCO Parzor Project — Dr. Shernaz Cama
Researcher - ICH, Navroze — Vanshika Singh
Photo Credits — Dudhyant and Hemant Mehta, Ashdeen Lilaowala & Maryam Papi