Nowruz: The Persian New Year

Nowruz History

THURSDAY, 17 MARCH 2011 06:12 ENCYCLOPDIA.THEFREEDICTIONARY.COM

Although it is not clear whether proto-Indo-Iranians celebrated a feast as the first day of the calendar, there are indications that both Iranians and Indians assumed the first day of autumn as the beginning of new year season. There are reasons that Iranians may have observed the beginning both autumn and spring.
Boyce and Grenet explain the traditions for seasonal festivals and comment:"It is possible that the splendor of the Babylonian festivities at this season led the Persians to develop their own spring festival into an established new year feast, with the name Navasarda 'New Year' (a name which, though first attested through Middle Persian derivatives, is attributed to the Achaemenian period). Since the communal observations of the ancient Iranians appear in general to have been a seasonal ones, it is probable, however, that they traditionally held festivals in both autumn and spring, to mark the major turning points of the natural year".

We have reasons to believe that the celebration is much older than that date and was surely celebrated by the people and royalty during the Achaemenid times (555-330 BC). It was, therefore, a highly auspicious occasion for the ancient Iranian peoples. It has been suggested that the famous Persepolis complex, or at least the palace of Apadana and the Hundred Columns Hall, were built for the specific purpose of celebrating Nowruz. Although, there may be no mention of Nowruz in recorded Achaemenid inscriptions (see picture) There is a detailed account by Xenophon of Nowruz celebration taking place in Persepolis and the continuity of this festival in the Achaemenid tradition. According to Britannica, the Jewish festival of Purim, is probably adopted from the Persian New Year.

Nowruz was the holiday of Arsacid/Parthian dynastic Empires who ruled Iran (248 BC-224 AD). There are specific references to the celebration of Nowruz during the reign of Vologases I (51-78 AD), but these include no details. Before Sassanids established their power in West Asia around 300 AD, Parthians celebrated Nowruz in Autumn and 1st of Farvardin began at the Autumn Equinox. During Parthian dynasty the Spring Festival was Mehragan, a Zoroastrian and Iranian festival celebrated in honor of Mithra.

Extensive records on the celebration of Nowruz appear following the accession of Ardashir I of Persia, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty (224-651 AD).

Under the Sassanid Emperors, Nowruz was celebrated as the most important day of the year. Most royal traditions of Nowruz such as royal audiences with the public, cash gifts, and the pardoning of prisoners, were established during the Sassanian era and persisted unchanged until modern times.

Nowruz, along with Sadeh (celebrated in mid-winter), survived in society following the introduction of Islam in 650 AD. Other celebrations such Gahanbar and Mehragan were eventually side-lined or were only followed by the Zoroastrians, who carried them. There are records of the Four Great Caliphs presiding over Nowruz celebrations, and it was adopted as the main royal holiday during the Abbasid period.

In his work titled the Nowruznama, Omar Khayyam, a well known Persian poet and Mathematician provides a vivid description of the celebration in the courts of the Kings of Persia:

“From the era of Keykhosrow till the days of Yazdegard, last of the pre-Islamic kings of Persia, the royal custom was thus: on the first day of the New Year, Now Ruz, the King's first visitor was the High Mobad of the Zoroastrians, who brought with him as gifts a golden goblet full of wine, a ring, some gold coins, a fistful of green sprigs of wheat, a sword, and a bow. In the language of Persia he would then glorify God and praise the monarch. This was the address of the High Mobad to the king : "O Majesty, on this feast of the Equinox, first day of the first month of the year, seeing that thou hast freely chosen God and the Faith of the Ancient ones; may Surush, the Angel-messenger, grant thee wisdom and insight and sagacity in thy affairs. Live long in praise, be happy and fortunate upon thy golden throne, drink immortality from the Cup of Jamshid; and keep in solemn trust the customs of our ancestors, their noble aspirations, fair gestures and the exercise of justice and righteousness. May thy soul flourish; may thy youth be as the new-grown grain; may thy horse be puissant, victorious; thy sword bright and deadly against foes; thy hawk swift against its prey; thy every act straight as the arrow's shaft. Go forth from thy rich throne, conquer new lands. Honor the craftsman and the sage in equal degree; disdain the acquisition of wealth. May thy house prosper and thy life be long!" ”

Following the demise of the Caliphate and the subsequent re-emergence of Persian dynasties such as the Samanids and Buyids, Nowruz was elevated to an even more important event. The Buyids revived the ancient traditions of Sassanian times and restored many smaller celebrations that had been eliminated by the Caliphate. Even the Turkic and Mongol invaders did not attempt to abolish Nowruz in favor of any other celebration. Thus, Nowruz remained as the main celebration in the Persian lands by both the officials and the people.

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