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Norouz in Afghanistan


Tehran, 23 March 2006 (CHN) -- In Afghanistan, New Year is called Navrouz pronounced Nawrooz, which literally means new day and is one of the oldest holidays celebrated in Central Asia. In Afghanistan the New Year begins on March 21 and is celebrated with community gatherings and special meals.

The holiday begins with the raising of religious banner or janda in the courtyard of the city's magnificent blue-domed shrine. That is where, according to Afghan traditions, Imam Ali, cousin and son in law of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the first Shiite religious leader, is buried (It must be noted that Imam Ali's holly shrine is actually located in the city of Najaf in Iraq; however, the Afghans believe that it is not). For several weeks until the janda is taken down in a second ceremony on the 13th day of the New Year, the city will host tens of thousands of visitors from across Afghanistan. During this period, all of those who have a heartfelt wish and the ailed stay at the foot of the banner and crave for their wish to come true. It is said that many of the patients have recovered under this very banner. They also believe that should the banner be held smoothly the year ahead would be a prosperous one.

Their reasons for journeying north are as varied as the provinces from which the pilgrimage hails. There are giddy young men who come to dance in the streets or listen to concerts. There are devout who come to pay solemn homage to Imam Ali. And there are parents of disabled children who come to beg for a miraculous cure.

Within each group Afghans from vastly different provinces are mingling with a degree of ease that is notable in a nation still struggling to forge a national identity after years of regional conflict.

That sense of community was one of the few uplifting aspects of the Chila Khana. A large fenced-off out door nock in Mazar-e- Sharif shrine's western wall, the Chila Khana or House of Forty, is reserved for the most seriously ill and disabled of worshipers. According to tradition, those who sleep here each night until the janda is taken down will be cured of whatever ails them.

A few days into Norouz, more than 100 pilgrims were huddled there in a tableau of human misery.

Buzkashi matches are held during Norouz or Persian New Year. Horsemen race each other while fighting for a headless goat carcass. Buzkashi is said to date from the time of Genghis Khan. With their Asiatic feature, high heeled boots and quilted jackets and sashes, the professional players look as though they step out of another area, but they had also accessorize their outfits with a few touches from Afghan's more recent past including olive green Soviet tanker's helmets from 1980s and black plastic knee pads that would have fit in with the rollerblades in Rock Creek Park.

Every few minutes the scrum of horsemen whooshed by in a blur of clattering hoofs, rearing horses and cracking whips. Then the announcer would call out of the name of the player judged to have gained possession of the carcass never an obvious choice and the winner ride up to receive a fistful of cash from the sponsor of that round.

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