“Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God Sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which they Trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth;- (Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise.” (Al-Quran, 2:164)
If we leave aside various calendars that exist in this world for a moment and proceed with time and laws of nature, 21st March marks the New Year when sun leaves the two goldfishes of Pisces, the twelfth sign of zodiac and enters into the first zodiac sign, Aries.
Navroz (Nau-roze) comes from a Persian word meaning ‘New Day’. This festival dates back to 3000 years when King Jamshed of Iran called Astrologers and calculated the numbers of day for each celestial station and corresponding movement of sun. After this exploration, he declared 21st March as occasion of Navroz. Every religion or community celebrates beginning of spring season,in their own unique ways. But what I find special in Navroz is its symbolic meaning accompanying the historical & cultural importance. Navroz, apart from being the national occasion in Iran, is also celebrated in religions like Zoroastrianism & Islam. Iran and the countries of post-soviet union have declared this day as a national holiday.
In Iran, Navroz celebrations start from midnight. Close to 12 AM, people burn the woods and bury its ashes in the earth to symbolize their promise to live a virtuous life. They bid farewell to the evil and make a firm resolution to overcome their moral lacking from then on. During the day, people clean their houses, take bath and wear new clothes and perfumes, which symbolize their preparation for the first day of their new lives. In Iran, Dinner table in each house is decorated with seven things symbolizing different facets of spring and New Year. In the Persian, this table is called ‘Haft-e-Seen’, meaning ‘Seven S’ as names of all things start with letter ‘seen’ in Persian, equivalent of which is S in english. When relatives and friends visit each other houses carrying gifts, they make sure that they see and enjoy the beauty of Haft-e-Seen in every house. The things (mentioned in their English names) may include wheat (symbolizing rebirth), a sweet pudding made from wheat germ (affluence), the dried fruit of the jujube tree (love), garlic (medicine), apples (beauty & health), berries(the the sunrise’s color), vinegar (age & patience), the hyacinth flower (the coming of spring), coins (prosperity & wealth). The beauty of these symbols is that they are open to interpretation in various cultures, else with a definite meaning the symbol would cease to exist.
Other items on the table may include lit candles, painted eggs, perhaps for each member of the family, a bowl with two goldfishes for luck, rose water for its magical cleansing powers, a holy book (e.g. the Qur’an, Bible, Torah or the Avesta) or a poetry book. Each object defining its own meaning & a different facet of Navroz. The spirit of Navroz (if the festival is taken in broader sense) in itself is so diversified that even though it is celebrated in different religions like Islam, Bahai, Zoroastrians, the essence remains same. Spring and spiritual renewal is also celebrated in Christianity (in the form of easter) and Hinduism (as Holi) but both can be treated as similar because of their historical accounts. One still can learn from each festival.
In Islam, Navroz took its place when Hazrat Salman Farsi entered into the circle Islam, Hazrat Muhammad being a keen observer of the diversity, gave this occasion the same respect in his life. Our Prophet also prayed for Muslims on this special day. The ritual gained more importance when the son of Hazrat Ali, Hazrat Hussain got married with Shehar Bano, the daughter of Iranian King. Later, we get historical accounts in Tabari that the festival was also celebrated in Abbasids, Fatimids and Ottoman Turks. (See Article of Mumtaz Tajuddin in Encyclopedia of Ismailism)
Moreover, the significance of Navroz can be observed from the saying of Imam Jafar As-Sadik, “It was on Navroz that Adam was created, that God made a covenant with the souls, that Abraham destroyed the pagan idols, that the Prophet of Islam received first revelation, that the Prophet took Ali on his shoulders to smash 360 idols in Mecca, and most important of all, that he declared Ali as his legitimate successor.” If we ponder upon this, we can surely see a new beginning shaping up.
The sun rises with all its glory in the zodiac sign of Aries and as soon as its light illuminates the earth, as soon as new crop of wheat harvests, as soon as spring announces his arrival with blooming flowers and the sweet scent that fills the air, as soon as an egg gives birth to a new life in the form a chick, as soon as God bestows his guidance to the world, the new day starts. It starts with the message of new life, a new beginning to be exact. It starts with your promise for a better living, a life with a purpose and a path leading to social harmony.
The lessons are uncountable, the lesson of submission to the will of God, the lesson of sweetness like sugar, the lesson of tolerance and humility like vinegar, the lesson of social harmony and care like a barley of wheat, the lesson of serving humanity, the lesson of thankfulness and seeing the positive side and the lesson of a respecting and taking diversity and pluralism as a strength. Though Navroz arrives at 21st March but every person gives birth to his/her own Navroz. The day when he realizes the truth, promises to follow the path of virtue and starts to implement it, a new circle starts. A new life like that chick starts and as there is no start and end to the shape of egg which protects, there is no start or end of Self-improvement, Self-renewal and Spirituality.
Previously published at Chowk.