By Ali Asghar Pahlavan

Noruz celebration symbolizes splendid civilization of a great nation

News ID: 2835995 -
The people of Iran are currently busy preparing themselves to celebrate their most glorious national festival of Noruz as new Iranian solar calamander year 1390 approaches. Since early Persian history, this magnificent occasion marking the first day of spring which mostly falls on March 21, and lasting almost two weeks, has been widely celebrated throughout Iran.

Noruz, rich cultural heritage

Noruz or “new day” celebrations are deeply rooted in the ancient Iranian civilization, which is as old as the history of Persia. Today, after the lapse thousands of years, people from all walks of life, rich and poor, young and old, celebrate it as the greatest national holiday. The occasion symbolizes an everlasting tradition of a great nation.

In the course of history, foreign powers have invaded our homeland, ruled for short or long periods of time and even tried to impose their culture, which was assimilated into the powerful Iranian-Islamic civilization. As soon as they were defeated, however, their short-lived effects faded leaving only disconnected fragments.

Noruz, a symbol of cultural resistance withstanding the socio-political effects of foreign dominance, has always carried an everlasting message of peace and prosperity for Iranians, enabling them to preserve their original identity in the face of foreign onslaughts.

The Noruz festival held out against many disastrous events and incursions and the people of Iran demonstrated their firm belief and determination to keep alive their traditions and always expelled invaders sooner or later. The invaders were eventually expelled from Iran making them realize that it is the Iranians who will lead a free and independent life in their motherland and safeguard their sacred and ancient national culture.

The festival marking the first day of spring is the most popular celebration in our social history, literature, politics, poetry and the life of the people. It is also widely commemorated in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan Republic and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Man stands on the threshold of the second decade of 21st century, yet he has not been able to untangle himself from the web of a historical deadline. In coming years, new global cultural movements will emerge. Sooner or later, arms race will be replaced by these movements.

In this culture-oriented age, only those nations enriched with well-established civilization, cultural heritage and ancient values will survive.

We should also remember that Iran is not restricted by its borders. Its spirit is bestowed with spiritual, cultural and national values inherited from centuries of hard work. The most outstanding feature of these values is found in Iran’s national history, literature, Ferdowsi’s masterpiece poetical composition, the Shahnameh, the poems of Hafez and Sadi, the couplets of Nezami, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, classical Iranian music, the intricate design of the azure tiles in historical monuments and Noruz.

Photo: Women from Semnan Province prepare a “Haft Seen” tray on March 12, 2011 at Tehran’s Khanat Caravanserai, where is currently playing host to the festival of Noruz rituals by Iranian nomads. (Mehr/Ra’uf Mohseni)

It is not exactly known when and how the festival of Noruz 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 Noruz 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.”

Even until the 19th and 20th centuries, no one knew the spoken languages of ancient Persia as some parts was revealed by foreign Iranologists and linguists who shed light on these uncertainties, but it is not enough and more studies are required.

There is not sufficient information in the history about the great Persian personalities and renowned figures and their traditions and customs. Every now and then and specially when some celebrations took place, the name of them like Noruz and Mehregan festivals in Persian literature have been mentioned. But reliable sources do not confirm them to the extent that even the written documents are not reliable in this particular condition.

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

Noruz in Persian literature

At its core, the Noruz festival celebrates the rebirth of nature. This reawakening symbolizes the triumph of good over the evil forces of darkness, which are represented by winter. Even in both classical and modern Persian literature this transformation to great extent associated with the same connotations.

Noruz is the point when the oppressive presence of the cold winter finally begins to recede with the commencement of the lively and hopeful spring.

This symbolic and romantic change has extensively been expressed in invaluable works of both contemporary and classical Persian poets and writers, which in recent decades have been widely translated into other languages as well.

Persian poems have also been composed which were later performed as songs by great singers from the legendary singer Barbad from the reign of Sassanid King Khosrow Parviz to prominent contemporary classical singers.

Some verses of these poems have even been turned into proverbs by the common people that are used widely in daily conversation.

Noruz 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. It is a story that stretches far back in time, yet even as you read this, that story is still being written.

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

It is not known exactly when and how the festival of Noruz emerged in ancient Persia, and historians express different views concerning its historical background, although it seems that Iranians have always celebrated Noruz.

The Murawij-uz-Zahab says that during the reign of Jamshid, a legendary king of Persia, a typhoon lasting three years struck the land. At the beginning of spring, the typhoon gradually subsided. The people celebrated a great feast called “Noruz” after the devastating typhoon subsided, and at the end of the long winter, people came out from their caves and shelters to celebrate spring.

The great Iranian epic poet Abulqasem Ferdowsi in his masterpiece the Shahnameh, as well as Abu Raihan Biruni, and celebrated Persian poet Hakim Omar Khayyam in his book Noruznameh along with many other classical scholars and Iranian poets have attributed the Noruz festival to the Iranian king Jamshid.

As Ferdowsi turned that into verse:

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.

The oldest archaeological record for the Noruz 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 Noruz. Such a unifying spirit has often made Noruz the target of much animosity by foreign invaders and anti­national forces throughout the history of Iran.

Noruz, symbol of social justice

Spring, Farvardin, and Noruz are symbolic manifestations of the efforts to reestablish social justice for Iranians, who have always been leaders in the struggle for human rights, as the great Persian civilization clearly shows.

One of the reasons Iranians enthusiastically embraced Islam was that they were seeking social justice for a long period and the great Iranian Empire could not ignore the splendid slogans such as “brotherhood and equality”, which were proclaimed by the army of Islam. Many different researchers, both Eastern and Western, as well as prominent Persian and Arab scholars, have embarked on extensive surveys of the festival and Iranians’ relentless advocacy of social justice.

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 Noruz 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 Noruz 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.”

The Almighty God in several verses in holy Quran has advised man to go to the nature and see how He makes the signs of Allah’s rebirth in the seasons and nature. “Say: travel in the earth and see how He makes the first creation, then Allah creates the latter creation; surely Allah has power over all things.” (29:20)

In the book “Asma ul-Alam” written by the celebrated Iranian Islamic thinker and philosopher, Alameh Majlesi, he has quoted Imam Sadeq (AS) in a narration as having said that Hazrat Adam (AS) was created in the first day of Farvardin and this day is an auspicious occasion to perform prayers to Almighty Allah for achieving our expectations.

Abdul Samad ibn Ali in a tradition narrates that during Noruz, a silver plate of ‘halvah’ sweets was offered to the holy Prophet Muhammad (S). The prophet asked to which tribe it belonged and what was the occasion? “This is a gift from Persia marking Noruz, the greatest Iranian festival.” The prophet replied: “Yes, Almighty Allah revived the dead and ordered the clouds to rain. Here, sprinkling of water became a custom this day.” The Prophet of Islam then ate the halvah sharing it with his companion.

During the era of caliphate of Umar ibn Khattab, Hormezgan, the governor of Khuzestan, sent gifts for Imam Ali (AS). The imam asked what the occasion was. His followers replied that it was a Noruz gift from Iranians. The Imam then said: “Make everyday Noruz!”

The choice of Imam Ali (AS) as Osman’s successor, coincided with the celebrations of Noruz. It is astounding that according to some traditions, the first Imam of Shi’as, Imam Ali (AS), was appointed fourth caliph of Muslims on the eve of new Iranian year. Even Alamah Majlesi, one of the greatest Shi’a scholar in his book “Bahar ul-Anwar has mentioned several such hadiths (traditions) supporting this claim.

Noruz and universal humanitarian values

Ancient Iranians, based on the teachings of Prophet Zoroaster, believed that happiness is one of the beautiful manifestations of divinity which is harmonious with life and held that they should drive away grief and sorrow on special occasions.

For long years, these people under the influence of the Zoroaster's teachings showed a tendency toward greenery, development, progress, and proper thought and behavior, and had a happy, calm and prosperous life.

They used to avoid lying, showing anger and hatred, envying people, and waging war. They were also bound to truthfulness, love, affection, and cooperation in order to keep the world full of energy and activity.

Our virtuous ancestors had established festivities based on their precious religious beliefs and consistent with their natural surroundings in order to gather together and enjoy themselves, pass the life more pleasantly and joyfully, and foster their solidarity.

On the eve of the new Iranian year, people across the world have a great responsibility to understand the universal message of Noruz, since this noble tradition has been passed from generation to generation, with its deep philosophical heritage heralding universal humanitarian values.

The promising message of Noruz is social interaction, solidarity, unity, social justice, joy, companionship, happiness, and peace and prosperity for humanity, which can be seen on a bas-relief located in the slope of Mount Alvand in Hamedan’s Ganjnameh resort. It reads: “… And Ahura Mazda (God) Created Joy for Man…”

Celebrated Persian poet, Hakim Omar Khayyam, said that whoever jubilates and enjoys the occasion will spend the whole year in joy.



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