Nowruz, Past and Present
In a previous post, we discussed how the last Gahanbar leads to the celebration of Nowruz (click here to read about that). But in reality, we don’t know much about Nowruz in the Achaemenian and Parthian time. What we have today, and what we wrote about, is from Sassanid Dynasty mostly in the travelogues and history books of Muslim travelers. They tell us about the myths and how the people of that time celebrated it. Let us find about Nowruz, in past and present here.
Nowruz in Myth
Our mythology attributes Nowruz to the great king Jamshid. In these stories, which are plenty in number and various in plot, Jamshid fights with the Ahriman and defeats him. The realm is full of darkness and evil, nothing grows, nothing survives and Jamshid leaves this world to go to the realm of evil and fight Ahriman. He successfully defeats the evil and when he returns, sun is shining, plants have grown and the land is yet again prosperous. People celebrate and call this day, a new day or Nowruz in Farsi. There are other tales regarding Jamshid and his victories which at the end of all they call this day Nowruz and celebrate it.
With the advent of Islam in Iran and the cultural combination that resulted, prophet Solomon replaced Jamshid. In this version, Solomon loses his ring and as a result his kingdom. It take him 40 days to find the ring again and take back his power to rule. Iranian call the day that Solomon reclaim his throne as the new day or Nowruz.
Nowruz in History
As mentioned, what we know from Nowruz through history begins with Sassanid Dynasty. In this time, Nowruz was a 6-days celebration with the last day being the main celebration and called the celebration of great Nowruz. The celebration went like this. Each day, the king received a group of people where they talked about their problems and gave king some gifts. First day belonged to commoners, second day to farmers, third day to Zoroastrian priest, fourth day to royals, fifth day to king’s family and the last day to king himself.
On the last day, and right in the midnight, a handsome pious man would go to the king chambers preaching and praying for a bountiful year. Then trays of gold, seeds, and plants were brought for the king. Another important tradition happened 20 to 25 days before the Nowruz. People made 12 pillars out of bricks and plant one seed over the top, on the Nowruz, they checked the pillars to see which of the seed grow better. That seed was the main product of the year. They believed it will grow better on that year.
Although still Nowruz is filled with traditions, many of the previous ones are no longer performed. The trays of king were replaced by seven item that starts with the letter س or the sound /s/ later accompanied by three or four other items. Each of the item represent something. They are placed over the table that the whole family gather around and celebrate the changing of the year together. The items include:
- Grass and Hyacinths representing greenery and nature
- Apple representing birth and fertility
- Samanu, the sweet paste representing wheat and agriculture
- Oleaster representing love and passion
- Garlic representing health
- Sepand, the Incense that represent holiness
- Holly book representing knowledge
- Mirror for the reflection of light
- Candle representing fire and light
- Eggs representing fertility
- Gold fish representing activity
- And edibles representing blessing
On general, the traditions of this celebration includes Haft Sin, cleaning of the house, Chahar Shanbe Soori, meeting relatives and friends, giving and receiving gifts, Sizdah be Dar, and visiting the graves of deceased.