Happy Nowruz, Nowruz Mobarak, Nowruz Piruz
In about 30 countries nowadays, these words refer to a time of joy and celebration, and a firm belief in renewal of order and justice both in the realm of nature and nation. Nowruz refers to celebration of ancient Persian new year, and it is a reminder of our long gone past, as it should be remembered for stablishing a brilliant future.
Scientifically Nowruz is an astronomical concept. It is based on the northern equinox, and alludes to the exact time when winter is transforming into springtime. So, like other distinct episodes of Persian calendar, it is the oldest and the only new year which is determined by exact scientific calculations dawn to the seconds, and honors a celestial periodical event.
There are two special times in a year when the length of day and night are exactly the same. at one of these equinoxes, in the beginning of fall, daytime shrinks more and more into the dimness of winter. The other one, on the other hand, is the outset of winter’s chilly nights, and forerunner of springtime. This one is the calendrical foundation of Nowruz.
From China to United States, and from Russia to India there are ancient ethno-groups who insist every year on their common cultural heritage and historical shared identity by observing Nowruz, as their ancestors did for an unbelievable span of four millennia. Kurds, Arabs, Azeri, Turks and Armenians in the western half of the Persianate world, stand shoulder to shoulder with Afghans, Qazzaqs, ozbeks, Qirqiz, Oyghurs and Pakistani, in concert to hail the Nowruz, like grape berries clamped together by a common bough. Indeed, Nowruz is the oldest new year festival, which is celebrated by the oldest of nations.
But why it is so? How is that possible for a new year festival to evolve to such an excellence, and why it is still a necessity to maintain it? By what means this very ancient rites are still so amazingly alive and so popular worldwide?
History of Nowruz is a long, unique story. First precursor of spring festivals in Iranian civilization have been Akitu, which was observed in Mesopotamia in fourth millennium B.C. celebrating the springtime for 12 days. Chanting and theatrically performing the creation myth of Enuma- Elish, which is the Akkadian version of ancient Sumerian saga of Marduk, the great thunder god of law and order, who defeated the primordial chaos, or Tiamat. People of Babylon singed and acted this poetic epic for 12 days, and then left the city on the 13th, having a picnic in the fields and gardens. Obviously a forerunner of سیزده به در (out on the 13th) which is still a parts of this festival.
Although they were the Babylonians who started the oldest forms of Nowruz, but they lacked the scientific paradigm to establish it astronomically, because their calendar was lunar and there were no means to calculate the exact time of equinox.
This part of the rites evolved in eastern Iran, where the ancient Aryans learned to observe a solar year in the first half of the second millennium B.C. An example of wisdom of the Magai whose mythological offshoot was crystalized in 12 symbols of zodiac, which are rooted in mithraic cryptograms.
Mithra was the great Iranian god of love and contract. He was a powerful and mystic deity who appeared in the historical records as early as 15th century B.C for the first time. In a treaty between two Aryan states that were situated in todays’ Anatolia and Syria, Hittite and Mitanian kings asked for the testament of Mithra to reinforce their pact. Almost at the same time in eastern Iran, the Avestaic text of Mehr-Yasht was composed, which is the most conclusive, as well as the oldest, document about Mitraic beliefs.
Like Enuma-Elish, circle of Mithra narrated a creation myth too. A story of Mithra, the sun-god who was born in a cave and sacrificed the sacred cow to create the world by its blood. A mystic viewpoint in which the cow was a metaphor for human body and the material world, and sacrificing it referred to taming the body and mind with discipline and exercise. That’s why Mithra was also the great god of warriors, who seek power and excellence through conquering the self. A precursor of Sufi belief about killing the pseudo-self. In both traditions there were a presumption of human and god common essence, which makes it possible for a man to become godlike, and the path to acquire this goal was the force of love, which elevates the lover to the status of the beloved, whether a charming humankind, or an adorable god.
Mithraic myths contained complex and fantastic stories about earthly aspect of Mithra, who is Jamshid, the forefather of Aryans and the great king, who found the grail of justice in the underworld, and re-stablished the son god on his throne after a horrific winter, which is celebrated afterwards as Nowruz. So, the founder of the Nowruz is a human called Jamshid, not a god. But this unique man is also the manifestation of the Mithra (sun-love) in a bodily form. For those who know the myth of the Mithra and Jamshid, my proposition in my book ‘mythlogy of night sky’ is not so surprising, that the zodiac signs are another way of codifying the same narrative.
So, we have the western rites and the eastern myths in the second millennium B.C. which generates the chalice of Nowruz, ready to carry the wine- whose mythical inventor was Jamshid as well.
Then, in the 12th century B.C., the corpse attained a soul. Around the year 1200 B.C. Zarathustra started his revolutionary movement and formulated the world’s first philosophical paradigm. I think a Philosophical text should be defined by four features: rationality in method, accuracy of keywords, claiming a conclusive viewpoint, and maintaining a question- oriented paradigm. The oldest historical document that intermingles all of these four elements, is the verses of Zarathushtra, or Gatha. In this short sacred book he proposed a constellation of semantic bipolars for the first time. Concepts like ethically good vs. evil and ontologically material vs. spiritual, as well as god/ Satan, heaven/ hell, and rational/ irrational. Not only the first successful monotheistic religion, but also the first organized philosophical theory, whose conceptual apparatus determined the history of religion and philosophy afterwards.
In this new way of thinking, each and every person was homologous to the unique god- Ahura Mazda- because of its innate potential to maintain ethics and rationality, which were called in Avestaic texts Asha and Xratu respectively.
By this new semantic horizon all older rites and ceremonies redefined as a ethics-oriented, reason-exalting vehicle to intermingle natural orders with human morals. So the sacred fire became a symbol of righteousness and human eternal soul.
At least in the sixth century B.C, all of these western and eastern traditions were merged together, when there evolved the first unified state of Iran by Cyrus the great. Achaemenid dynasty which he created was the first political entity of its kind, and the first colossal nation which contained all different ethnic groups and divergent religions and languages, in a benevolent, rational and synergetic order.
This is a time when the concept of ‘Persian’ was elevated to an ethical and political position, shifting from an ancient ethnic cognomen towards a multi-ethnic, multi-religion label which defined the new ubermensch of a new era. From Darius the great’s Behistun inscription of 521 B.C. on, the word Persian was officially used to refer to anyone who was a representative of the new world order of the Parsi state and the culture emerging from Pax Persica, with no discrimination between Median and Elamite core and Greek and Egyptian periphery, or between Aryan Bactrian and Indian ethnic groups and Semitic Babylonian, Hebrew or Phoenician people whom all could be called Persian due to their manner and standing.
It was in this new unprecedented social context that Nowruz was evolved into a common emblem of all the people who constructed together the first worldwide state, the same people who are now living in a semi-colonized 30 new countries which are formed lately, due to political collapse of Persianate world.
Most probably it was at the same time in sixth century B.C. that Persepolis became a political center for observing Nowruz, and its complex and magnificent semantic structure fully developed. The custom of giving gifts, which is represented in Persepolis reliefs, rite of growing سبزه (wheat) to honor spring revival of plantations, and cleansing of houses and clothes most probably were widely popular by this time.
Most importantly, in this time Zoroastrians started to call the first month of the spring as Farvardin, whose first day is Nowruz. Farvardin which still entitles the first month of spring in Iranian calendar, means (the month of) Fravahr, which is another name for human sacred soul. It is meaningful and philosophically important that springtime starts with a period which is related to human essence, and not the gods or angels, whose names entitle the other 11 months of the year. Why the first month and the important time of Nowruz is called by the name of man, and not theological superhuman entities?
The reason is that in Iranian viewpoint, which was first suggested by Zarathustra, human is the axis of creation, and not the gods. So, the sacred time of transformation of winter chaos into spring order, is also an echo of evil Ahriman’s defeat by the forces of good Hormzd in end of times. An event which is basically constructed upon the acts of a purely human hero- Soshians- who would be the main character of Persian apocalyptic narratives.
So, from Achaemenid era on, the victory march of Marduk for overcoming Tiamat in Babylonian Akitu, which was a myth about gods in first of days, was rewritten in a new philosophical context. It was transferred to end of times, and the main hero became a savior human rather a warlike god. That’s why the first month of the year and the sacred ceremony of Nowruz is situated in Farvardin, the time of human ascending essence.
Throughout history, Nowruz have been an anchor of memorable events. Achaemenid, Arsacid, Sassanian, Samanid, Saljuks, Safavid, Gurkani and Ottoman kings all observed Nowruz and usually put their coronation day on this time, Shapur II (240 C.E.), Shah Esmail Sadavi (881) Agha Mohammad Khan Ghajar (1161) and Otomanian AbdolHamid I (1104) among them.
Many historical figures started their socio-political movements on this day. Cyrus the great started his charge towards Babylonia in the Nowruz of 539 B.C. Mithradat of Punt started his Anti-roman great war in Anatolia on Nowruz of 88 C.E., and Prophet Muhammad started his first religious war (Sarriye) on the Nowruz of 622. Even Roman emperors when wanted a war, moved towards Iran on this day. As did Julianus in 363 C.E, and Heraclitus in 622. Later on, Abu Moslem Khorasani started his revolution against Omavi Caliphate on this day, from which the ceremony of چهارشنبه سوری(the red Wednesday) is born. Because on this day his followers ignited fires over their roofs as a signal of starting the revolution to free their motherland. The reason of all that synchrony was the fact that all of these history builders looked upon a common temporal scaffold, and harmonized their deeds to a familiar focal point. The first of Farvardin, the holy time when human essence would change the world.
That’s why Nowruz is a time of hope. Because in each and every year people of this ancient but still lively civilization gather together to remind themselves that at the end of times good will be victorious, and man is the agent of this happy ending. We may live in the time of misery and chaos, and we may equate our contemporary history as the time of Zahhak the snake-shoulder. But we remember that before Zahhak, there was Jamshid, the founder of Nowruz, and the human form of Mithra, the god of love. That’s how we are reminded again and again, each springtime, that with love, goodness in human essence will conquer the evil of chaotic times, and that’s why we are still alive and hopeful. Because we are the nation of Nowruz…