Nowruz (New Year)

Nowruz, the day of hope

Nowruz, "new day", Iranian New Year (Due to the difference in pronunciation between the various languages ​​and the various dialects -  Norouz / Nawruz / Norooz / Norouz) in the Persian tradition, culture and mentality, for four thousand years now the day of Nowruz has been the victory over winter, and over all of which winter can be the symbol: a victory that no historical circumstance has ever managed to obscure in the heart of Iranians.
Nowruz is the Persian New Year, which falls on the first day of the month of farvardin, on a date corresponding to March 21 of the Christian calendar (the date remains fixed thanks to the introduction of the leap year in the Persian solar calendar), the day considered in the West like the beginning of spring because it is marked by the ascending equinox.

The legend of Nowruz

Thanks to the study of Sanskrit and the profound knowledge of culture of Persia and India of his time, Birouni offers a great deal of information about Nowruz, especially in the books Asar Al-Bagiah and Al-Qanun al-Masoudi (here, in particular, he explains Nowruz from the point of view calendar calculation techniques).
Da Birouni we learn that in Nowruz the day is identified when the Angel of victory encouraged the human spirit to create ever new things, and that therefore the anniversary expresses a great wealth of blessings: on this night he tells Birouni quoting Sayd Ibn Fazi from mount Damavand, the very high peak that dominates Tehran, sparks are released, and there are those who swear they saw a flame rise from the pinnacle of the glacier.

According to others, also mentioned in the same books, Nowruz must be connected to King Jamshid, son of Tahmuress, who on the same day that he ascended the throne to govern almost the whole world (in an era preceding the empire of the ancient Medes) launched some religious reforms: the people, liking these reforms, transformed the anniversary of that day, which had renewed the life of the community, into a feast, the feast of NowRuz.

The recurrence was then also observed by the ancient kings, and the festivities were organized according to a special hierarchy: the first day was said to belong to the monarchs, the second to the aristocrats, the third to the officials of the king, the fourth to the servants of the court, the fifth to inhabitants of the cities and the sixth to the peasants.

At the Sassanids (III-VII century AD), however, as Birouni recalls, on the first day of NowRuz the king summoned the people, inviting them to the brotherhood; the latter dealt with the problems of the rural population; the third day belonged to the clergy and soldiers, the fourth to the royal family, the fifth to the servants of the king, who were then gratified or promoted of rank, and the sixth to the monarch himself.

Other traditions added additional elements to the deeds of Jamshid, narrating that the great king had built a chariot aboard which crossed the skies; once he traveled from Damavand to Babol, on the Caspian Sea coast, and all the people gathered to see him pass: NowRuz would also be the festive annual celebration of that passage.

And there are those who say that in his heavenly pilgrimage Jamshid sometimes went also to Azarbayjan, where he stopped, settling on a golden throne that the local population carried on his shoulders: NowRuz would be the recurrence of the day when, thanks to the presence of Jamshid, the throne shone in front of the sun.

The figure of Jamshid appears in many of the legends related to NowRuz. Birouni, citing a Zoroastrian priest, informs that the sugar cane was discovered in Iran on NowRuz's day, when Jamshid tasted a little of the sap secreted by its stem: he found it sweet, and ordered it to be processed to produce sugar. Sugar thus became a popular commodity, and from that time it was used to make sweets and offer them for the New Year.

To the concept of sweetness is also connected the popular belief that, if you wake up in the morning of NowRuz, and silently you taste a little 'honey taking it with three fingers and lit a candle, you will be preserved from disease.

Birouni also cites Ibn Abbas to introduce one of the traditions that illustrate the merging of the Iranian Zoroastrian tradition of NowRuz with Islam: one day someone offered to the Prophet Mohammad (S) a cake on a copper saucer, and the Prophet (S) churches explanations. He was told that that day was NowRuz. The Prophet (S) asked what NowRuz was. The great party of the Iranians, he was told. "I know the Prophet (S) replied that today reminds us of the moment when the Almighty resurrects Askareh." "But what is Askareh?" Asked his guests in turn.
And the Prophet (s) explained that once thousands of people had left their land for fear of death and went to the desert; but just down there God had ordered them to die, and they all died instantly. Immediately, however, the Almighty, pitying, had ordered the clouds to pour water on their bodies, so that they would come back to life, and all those people had resurrected (probably this is the custom of spraying water on New Year's Day).

After the explanation, the Prophet (s) of Islam divided that sweet among all those present (hence the habit of offering gifts for NowRuz) and said: "I would like every day to be NowRuz".

According to the sixth Imam of the Shi'iti, Jafar ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq (A), NowRuz was the day when God made a covenant with the faithful to Him, who promised to never have another God than God (ie they accepted monotheism) and to believe in his prophets, his commandments and the Imams (of Shi'ism); it was also the day when the ark of the Prophet Noah finally touched Mount Ararat after the universal flood; and also the day when the Prophet Abraham destroyed the idols of the pagans.

The Imam Jafar (A) refers to the tale of Askareh when he adds that the miracle of the resurrection of thousands of Sons of Israel under Allah's command, as revealed in the Sura "al-Baqara", verse 243, of the Holy Quran , it occurred right on NowRuz day: a pestilence had killed many in a city in Syria, because God had wanted to punish the disobedience of the population to local religious leaders; some tens of thousands of rebels had then left the city considering themselves able to successfully oppose the divine will; and in the desert God had made them die of the same plague they had thought they could escape.

Years later the Prophet Ezekiel, moved to pity at the sight of their bodies, had prayed to God to bring them back to life, and NowRuz's day had been fulfilled.

According to another legend, King Solomon, son of David, had lost his ring, and with it he had also lost the kingdom. But on NowRuz's day he found the ring, and all the birds gathered around him. Then Solomon ordered the wind to transport him to a new destination. But the hoopoe stopped him, to tell him that he had made a nest on a tree along the road and had laid an egg there: "I beg you, O king, not to stifle my nest." And the king, in order not to destroy that nest, changed the road. To thank him, the hoopoe splashed a little water with his beak and gave him a grasshopper, and perhaps it can also explain the habit of ritual spray a few drops of water and above all distribute small gifts on NowRuz's day.

Some Iranian researchers believe that on the day of "Ghadir Khom", in the tenth year from Hegira, when the Prophet (S) named his son-in-law Ali (A) his successor and presented him as such to the followers (he would in fact become the first Imam of the Shi'iti), fell on the day of NowRuz, on the twenty-ninth day of the month of Pisces of a leap year.

That the NowRuz has passed from Mazdeism to Islam as a special cultural heritage is witnessed by the traditions according to which the Zoroastrians went to pay homage to Imam Ali (A) carrying gifts full of sugar; he distributed the sugar among his companions, and accepted the vessels in payment of the taxes owed to him by the followers of Zarathustra.

In the Iranian tradition the first man, and the first mythical king of Iran, is called Kiumars, as evidenced by the poem by Ferdowsi Shahnameh ("The Book of Kings"), which indicates NowRuz as the day of the creation of Kiumars. In Islamic Persia, Kiumars was later identified with Adam (the first of the Prophets revered by Islam), and also on the basis of the claims of Imam Jafar (A), NowRuz is considered the day on which Adam was created.

With regard to the origins of NowRuz there are also theories different from those that have been presented so far (although not conflicting), elaborated by various scholars: for example, according to Danish Kristian Kristian this feast would be the legacy of the Babylonian festival of Zadmuk.

Among the most popular legends, now become part of the Persian fable, is the return of "Uncle New Year": every year, the first day of spring, Uncle New Year wears the felt hat, wraps itself in the scarf and goes down in city, leaning on the stick: he will visit every house in Persia, bringing the new year to all the people. At the city gate there is one of the most beautiful gardens in Persia, covered with flowers, especially roses, which bloom vividly on the beginning of spring.

The owner of the garden is a nice old lady. She has never seen Uncle New Year, but every year, on the first day of spring, she awaits him anxiously in the hope of meeting him: she gets up before dawn and gets ready to receive him, cleaning the house thoroughly, spreading a silk carpet on the porch floor, carefully watering the flowers especially the roses, Uncle New Year's favorite. He brings some goldfish food into the cool water of the garden tub, makes sure that the fountain in the center spreads splashes in abundance, and in front of the entrance he places a basin of water where rose petals float. Wear the best dress, finely embroidered silk, tie a gold-colored shawl around your hair, light the fire in the fireplace, set the table with the "seven sin" on the veranda, also arranging seven crystal plates filled with seven different ones kinds of sweets… just like every Persian family does, in every house in the country.

When everything is ready, the old lady sits on the carpet, anxiously awaiting Uncle New Year: she knows that everyone who meets him will be young again, just like the earth when it meets spring. Wait ... and while you wait, you slowly fall asleep.

When Uncle arrives, he sees her asleep, and has no heart to wake her: she catches the most beautiful rose and puts it between her fingers; taste half of an apple dipped in sugar; takes an ember from the fireplace and turns on the pipe. Then he goes back to the city, because he has to visit all the houses. Only later, the sun awakens the old woman.

She sees the pink and half apple left and understands that Uncle New Year has passed this year too, and that this year has not seen it. "It happened again!" He cries. "Now he will have to wait another whole year to see him and come back young!" And maybe, next spring he will succeed.

The NowRuz celebrations

Before the Sassanid era, the first and sixth days of farvardin (Hormodz and Khordad) were celebrated, but in the 3rd century AD the intermediate days began to be considered festive. The celebrations began however always about a week before the 21 March, since the creation of the universe (similar to what was narrated in the Old Testament) was thought to have occurred in six phases, or stages, with the appearance of man only on the sixth day, concurrently with the spring equinox; which gave to that day a special importance, as a manifestation of the culmination of the power and glory of God.

In defining the six phases of creation (gahanbar) each of them was also identified at a particular time of the year: in other words, the solar year was divided into six seasons, and at the end of each of them the ancient Persians celebrated a party; the largest of the festivities was obviously reserved for NowRuz, when the completion of the Creation was celebrated, and it was believed that the living souls on earth would meet with heavenly spirits and the souls of the deceased loved ones.

Among the popular events with which we prepare and welcome this, which is the most joyous festival of the year, there is the one called Haji Firouz. It is said that Haji Firouz was a man dressed in red cloth who went from street to street singing and playing the tambourine to greet the new year and inform the population of the arrival of spring; to compensate him for having brought the good news, people gave him food or some money. So, in the days before Now Ruz, today's Haji Firouz descend on the streets of the cities and villages of Iran, similar in the role to the Italian pipers who roam among passers-by during the Christmas holidays: dressed in colorful clothes and with a hat pointy faces, black coal faces, waving the daf (the rattle tambourine), sing old auspicious strophes and respond to small gifts in money wishing every good for the new year.

Equally dear to the Iranian population is the feast of the Tchahar Shanbeh Souri, which on the evening before the last Wednesday of the year recalls the ancient ceremonies of the Mazdaic fire cult: when the evening falls, bonfires and all, especially young people, are lit , stand out jumping over the flames in one leap, and singing: "Zardie man az to, Sorkhie to az man" ("My yellow to you, your red to me"), because the fire absorbs the negative elements present in the person the "yellow" speaks of disease and weakness by giving her his energy and health in exchange, the "red".

The same evening, children and teenagers go from house to house, keeping their faces and bodies hidden with sheets so as not to be recognized and knocking the bottom of metal bowls with spoons: they stop in front of each door until those who live in the house do not open , to give them sweets, nuts or other small gifts, jokingly trying to drop the sheets to find out who the "troublemakers" are.

There are those who remember, in the same hours, to observe the Falgush, that is the custom of remaining hidden while waiting for two people to talk to each other: the words pronounced by two passersby and inexpensive understandings, detached from their context, are then interpreted to draw auspices.

The Haft Sin

The attention to the symbolic force of the numbers is reflected in the rite of the Haft Sin ("haft" means "seven", "sin" is the name of the letter "s" in Farsi), the most famous of the New Year's Persian traditions, strictly respected in all Iranian homes.

In each family one chooses a table or a shelf where a tablecloth is laid out; on this are placed seven objects whose name, in Persian language, begins with the letter "s", and each of them in various ways represents the triumph of good over evil or life over death, from sabzeh ("green plants": seeds made to sprout in a dish) to apple (sib), garlic (sir), to a particular quality of dried fruit (senjed), from vinegar (serkeh) to the spice called somaq and to a mixture of wheat germs and flour (samanu), or in other cases the narcissus flower (sombol), or a coin (sekkeh).

Alongside the seven sin, Muslims place a copy of the Koran to implore God's blessing on the new year. Many also place a jug of water on the tablecloth, a sign of purity, a bread, the fundamental food of life, and even fruits, dates, pomegranates, a candle, some eggs, perhaps colored the different colors of eggs are supposed to symbolize the different human "races", all considered equal before the Creator or a mirror.

In the Iranian culture, as in many others, the number seven is considered a good omen. Allamah Majlesi, in his book Bahar-ul-Anwaar, writes: "The heavens are formed of seven layers, and so is the earth; and seven angels guard them; and if in the time when the new year replaces the old you will recite seven verses or seven Sure of the great Qur'an that begin with the letter they of the Arabic alphabet, then you will be protected from all the misfortunes of the earth or the sky for the whole year that begins ". Earlier also Ferdowsi, in the Shahnameh, had written that the heavens and the earth are "made of seven layers"; and also narrated of the "seven marvelous exploits of Rostam", the most popular among the heroes of the Persian epic tradition.

But already in the Zarathustra Invasion of the number seven, it had been spoken of as a sacred sign; and from equally ancient roots derived the belief of the Iranians of the past that the soul of every believer, or the essence of his existence, after the moment of mortality lay on the roof of the house in which he had spent his life, and he remained there for seven days and seven nights, then he went to his own grave, and he again stopped there until the fortieth night; after which, he could finally reach the celestial abode (still today the funeral rites for the dead are celebrated on the occasion of the seventh and fortieth day after the death).

In texts of distant epochs the "seven stories of hell" are often mentioned, and reference is made to a "king of the Seven Lands" (to "seven lands" or "seven regions" also mentions the introductory text of the Shahnameh).

In one of the best known mythological stories, the story of Sinbad, we speak of Kurdis, king of India, and of his "seven learned ministers", among them Sinbad was the most wise. There is also a narration concerning the Prophet Mohammad (S), quoted by Saab bin Ebadeh, who recounts: "On the day of Friday there are seven attributes, and the man was created on the day of Friday".

In the Qur'an, the number seven is quoted in at least seven Sure and verses; the Sacred Text speaks on various occasions of "seven days", "seven roads", "seven seas", "seven heavens", "seven nights", "seven male oxen" and "seven green ears of wheat".

Regarding the most eloquent of the seven sin, the sabzeh, we must remember that its preparation dates back to a very ancient tradition. Generation after generation, Persian families used to prepare twelve small pedestals of clay, representing the months, all around the backyard, sowing over each of them various types of plants, especially wheat, barley, rice, beans, broad beans. , lentils, millet, peas, sesame and corn. On the sixth day of farvardin (27 March), gathered the whole family, they celebrated the shoots, singing and playing traditional instruments. The clay columns had to remain intact until the sixteenth day of farvardin, when the family checked the growth of each plant: the seed that had produced the highest bud was chosen for the main crop of the year just begun.

Even now, with special care for the preparation of the sprouts, the ritual preserves only a symbolic character. At least ten days before NowRuz it is the landlady's responsibility to prepare a handful of seeds (the amount depends on the number of family members), make a wish and wish for good health and prosperity, and in the meantime lay the seeds themselves in a clay container full of water. When they are white, the landlady removes the seeds from the water and places them on a fabric; as soon as sprouts emerge, he transfers them onto a copper tray and covers them with a damp napkin. When the plants, now green, reach a certain height, the woman gently ties them with a red ribbon: they will be part of the table of Haft Sin until, on the thirteenth day after New Year (Sizdeh-bedar), become yellow, that is mature, will be deposited in a stream to return to blend with nature.

When the clock indicates the arrival of the new day, the first day of the new year, the family members, often in new clothes, gather at the table, near the shelf where the Haft Sin are located. All together recite at least one prayer, embrace each other, wishing each other health and well-being, and finally begin the New Year's dinner (as abundant and rich as the Western "Cenons"). The typical dish is Sabzipolo mahi, rice with vegetables and white Caspian salmon.

Then the older members distribute Eidi (small gifts) to the younger family members: in general, depending on the economic resources, (a gesture of benevolence also used in the workplace, in favor of employees or subordinates).

NowRuz's period is also characterized by the custom of exchanges of visits between relatives and friends; in these cases older people are privileged, and often the opportunity is used to reconcile, forgetting old fights.

According to one of the ancient traditions, in the past it was believed that the return of the souls of the dead occurred on the thirteenth day of farvardin, which was therefore called "the day of the dead" (just for the solemnity of this meeting still today the Iranians use the houses at the New Year with a thorough cleaning of rooms, carpets, courtyards, so made worthy to welcome the return of the missing family members). Perhaps for this reason, or perhaps for the superstitious values ​​attributed to the number thirteen, in a rather distant past on this date it was used to break some dishes, while still continue to observe the custom of the Sizdeh-bedar, that is to organize family outings in the green, to exorcise the forces of evil.

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