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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

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Contents

Nowruz (New Year)

Introduction

Nowruz - a Quick Overview

New Year's Greetings in Persian

The Seasons

The Significance and Symbolism of Nowruz

Nowruz as a Cultural Festival

Is Nowruz an Iranian or Persian New Year?

Nowruz as a Zoroastrian Festival

Alternative Spellings and Pronunciations for Nowruz


Pre-Nowruz Festivities and Observances

Spring-Cleaning or Khaneh-Tekani

All-Souls or Farvardigan Days

Growing Fresh Sprouts

The Feast of Remembrance or the Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar

Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar and the Zoroastrian Calendar

The Feast on the Last Day of the Gahambar

The Rite of Fire or Chahar-Shanbeh-Suri

Similarities with Halloween?


Nowruz Day Customs & Observances

Nowruz Customs - The Nowruz Spread or Sofreh

The Nowruz Spread or Sofreh in Zoroastrian Homes

The Nowruz Spread or Sofreh in Islamic Homes

Nowruz Day Customs and Foods

Nowruz Prayers

Socializing

The Outdoors and Sizdeh-Bedar

» Page 1: Introduction

» Page 3: Nowruz Day Customs & Observances


Spring-Cleaning or Khaneh-Tekani

khaneh tekani spring cleaning
Khaneh-Tekani, spring cleaning

In the month leading up to Nowruz, households purchase new clothes, spring-clean the home, and make preparations for the Nowruz table spread.

In the previous page we had mentioned that Nowruz is a time of renewal in different aspects of life: one's personal life, interpersonal relations, the home, and the community. Spring cleaning the home is called Khaneh (home or house) Tekani (shake-up).

During the Khaneh-Tekani, all members of the home help and cooperate in thoroughly cleaning every nook and cranny of the home. Debris from the past is removed from within the home and detritus from the outside. Carpets and curtains are washed, silverware polished, and windows cleaned.

After the cleaning, fragrant plants such as hyacinths and tube roses are brought into the house to freshen the air. Some Zoroastrians in India burn sandalwood in a fire chalice and walk the chalice throughout the house daily, filling air in the house with the scent of sandalwood. In the same manner, Zoroastrians in Iran burn and use wild rue, esfand. Some believe that the aromatic fumes help ward off evil spirits while welcoming the spirits of the departed during the Farvardigan Days.

After spring cleaning, the home is ready for a fresh start to the new year. The home is also ready to receive guests during the customary Nowruz visitations.


Growing Fresh Sprouts

newly spouted wheat
Spouted wheat

At the start of the Farvardigan days - ten days before Nowruz or New Year's Day - households start to grow sprouted grains, primarily wheat, but also barley, lentils, and other vegetable seeds.

The freshly spouted grain is one of the items placed on the Nowruz spread explained in detail on page 3.

The grains or seeds are sprouted by soaking them on plates or round earthenware vessels (how to grow sprouted grain). The various sprouts will grow to about three to four inches (seven to ten centimetres) in height by Nowruz.


All Souls or Farvardigan Days

stone carving of a faravahar or farohar at Persepolis
Farohar / Fravahar
Stone carving at Persepolis

The last ten days of the year, are called the Farvardigan days in the Zoroastrian calendar. These days are dedicated to the remembrance of the fravashis (a fravashi is the united soul and spirit of a person - later called farvard) of those who have passed on from this material existence. The Farvardigan days can be regarded as all-souls-days.

stone carving of an angel at Pasargadae
Farohar/Fravahar as a
guardian angel at Pasargadae

Parsi Zoroastrians call these days the Muktad.

The common depiction of the fravashi / farvard is the farohar (seen on the right), a winged motif used in royal Achaemenian (ancient Persian dynasty) engravings to depict the fravashi or khvarenah of the king portrayed beneath the motif.

Fravashis / Farvards have the ability to become guardian angels (see motif on the left) and in this capacity, they can lend their spiritual presence and grace to human beings.

During the Farvardigan days, prayers of remembrance are recited and the farohars are invited to join the community of souls, both living and departed, during the Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar.


The Feast of Remembrance or the Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar

Nowruz table spread in Tajikistan
Nowruz table spread in Tajikistan

There are six communal feasts called Gahanbars or Gahambars held throughout the year. Of these, the sixth Gahanbar / Gahambar held during the last five days of the year - the five days before Nowruz - has special significance. This sixth gahambar is called the Hamaspathmaidyem (or Hamaspathmaedaya / hamaspathmaidya) Gahanbar / Gahambar.

Hamas-path-maedaya translates as 'for/of all the path median/middle'. Restated, it translates as 'the middle/median-path-for/of-all'. The name could refer to the equinox - the mid path of the sun's various paths through the skies - with other elusive, perhaps metaphorical, meanings attached.

While all Gahambars are dedicated to building and celebrating community, the Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar celebrates the larger community of souls, both of the living and of the departed. All souls are welcomed to the festivities and the farohars of the departed are remembered.

For some Zoroastrians, celebrating the gahambar and Nowruz together is an act of solidarity with the bearers of the proverbial eternal flame - individuals who sacrificed their lives in order to maintain ideas and values sacred to the core of a Zoroastrian's being.

Observing the gahambar and Nowruz together results in observances of remembrance, perseverance and reminding community members to continually put into practice the underlying ethical values and guiding principles the community has held dear since time immemorial. For a Zoroastrian, the efficacy of a person's beliefs and values are demonstrated in that person's deeds. Festivals such as Nowruz and gahambars provide the framework for community building and community action. Personal action is a daily event.


Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar and the Zoroastrian Calendar

In the Zoroastrian calendar, the twelve months of thirty days each total 360 days. The remaining five days of the year (six in a leap year), called the Gatha days, are the days during which the Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar is observed.

The Gatha days correspond to March 16 to 20 in the western Gregorian calendar.

The first four days of the gahambar are devoted to remembering and praying for the souls of the departed. The souls are invited to partake in the feasts on the last day of the Gahambar.

The Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar is also part of the ten Farvardigan days - days set aside on the religious calendar for remembrance prayers. Parsi Zoroastrians call these days the Muktad.


The Feast on the Last Day of the Gahambar

Aush Reshteh
Aush Reshteh

One of the food dishes prepared for the Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar and Chahar-Shanbeh-Suri (see below) is a soup called Aush (recipe).


Ajil - dried fruits and nuts
Ajil - dried fruits and nuts

The dried fruits and nuts called Ajil or Ajil-e Moshkel-Gosha; (problem-solving nuts) are distributed at the gahambar.

Ajil is a mixture of seven dried nuts and fruits: pistachios, roasted chic peas, almonds, hazelnuts, figs, apricots, and raisins (keshmesh). Some substitutions are made according to locale, availability, taste (salty or sweet) and family preferences. Roasted squash seeds (tokhmeh kadoo), roasted melon seeds (tokhmeh hendooneh), walnuts, cashews, and dried mulberries (tut) are possible substitutes.

Originally, the eve of last day of the Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar probably coincided with what is today called Chahr-Shanbeh-Suri, or Red Wednesday - the last Wednesday of the year.


chahar shanbeh suri - leaping over the fire
Chahar Shanbeh Suri.
Leaping over the fire

The Rite of Fire or Chahar-Shanbeh-Suri

Chahar Shanbeh Suri is the last Wednesday of the year before Nowruz. Chahar Shanbeh means Wednesday and suri means red, ruddy or glowing.

On this day, the community gathers after sundown to light seven small bonfires which are kept burning through the night. After the bonfires are lit, people take turns to leap over the fires chanting "Sorkhie tu az man. Zardieh man az tu" loosely translated as "Give me your ruddy complexion. Take my sickly pallor."

For Zoroastrians, the temporal fire is a symbol of a spiritual flame - the source of the light of wisdom, vigour and goodness. The temporal fire is also the symbol of a purifying fire.


Chahar Shanbeh Suri, the seven fires and food sharing
Chahar Shanbeh Suri.
The seven fires and food sharing

Nowruz represents a future enduring renovation of the world accompanied by a resurrection of righteous souls. This future event is called Frasho-Kereti or Frashigird.

At this time all souls will pass through seven discerning fires that will allow the righteous to pass but which will consume the wicked. Once the souls of the righteous have passed through the fires, they will be reunited in a world that has achieved an enduring excellence through their prior efforts - through their good thoughts, good words, and above all, good deeds.


Ghoshog-Zani draped in white sheets
Ghoshog-Zani
Children draped in white sheets
asking for treats

While the underlying reasons for the day may be heavy, the festivities on Chahar Shanbeh Suri evening are fun-filled. Children draped in sheets play the role of the souls of the departed asking to join in the feasting by going door-to-door, asking for treats. They announce their arrival at a home by beating on pots and pans with spoons in a custom called Ghoshog-Zani (spoon-hitting). In addition to being attention-getting, the clamour is intended to chase out the old year and clear the way the coming the New Year.

Chahar Shanbeh Suri is similar to Halloween in that both are an all hallows' (righteous souls') eve.


Fire Chalice used in Zoroastrian Rites
Fire chalice

Chahar Shanbeh Suri falls within, and shares concepts with, Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar: welcoming the souls, sharing food, communal feasting and dried food (ajil see above) distribution.

Fire, representing the seven cleansing fires and the eternal flame is also the symbol of Nowruz. This writer proposes, therefore, that during the time when the Zoroastrian calendar was used in Iran, Chahar Shanbeh Suri was part of the Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar - the last five days of the year. At that time, the last five days were intercalary days and were not part of a week. In that case, rather than being the fourth (chahar in Persian) day of the week, Chahar Shanbeh Suri was the fourth day of the Gahambar - the eve of the fifth day - the time when the souls of the departed were invited to join the living in universal togetherness to celebrate the creation of life, both spiritual (mainyu) and corporeal (gaiety).

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