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Old year becoming New Year...


By A. J. Cave


The memory of the first people who joyfully celebrated the coming of a lovely blossoming spring after months of a cold harsh winter is lost in the fog of obscurity.


Over the years, the two seasonal festivals marking the beginning of spring and the end of summer took on religious significance for the ancient Iranians.  Celebration of Nava r∂zaηh and Mithrâkana became an integral part of the lives of the ancient Mazdaeans.  In Persian mythology the introduction of the great annual festival of the New Year was attributed to the mythical King Yima and later to Prophet Zarathuštra.


Ahura Mazdâ, the Wise Lord, performed the sacrifice that produced the creation, at the time of Rapithwan, the lord of noon, the ideal time.  When the demon of winter invaded the world, Rapithwan withdrew beneath the earth to protect the roots of plants and streams from cold and reappear on earth in spring, foreshadowing the final triumph of warmth over cold, truth over lie, good over evil, order over chaos.


The festival of spring came to mark the beginning of the New Year, preceded by Frawardigân, the festival of All Souls, dedicated to the remembrance of the spirits of the dearly departed.  Houses were cleaned and food and drinks were laid out for these spirits believed to come down to earth during this time of the year to visit their homes and families.  


Year 559 BCE marked the start of the first Persian Empire created by Kuruš_e Kabir, Cyrus II, the Great, and Persian Achaemenids (Hakhâmanešiyân), stretching from India and South Russia to Egypt and Macedonia, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea - Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf - which was unprecedented in size, diversity, wealth and power.     


Diversity of the Persian Achaemenid Empire was expressed powerfully by King Darius I, the Great, immortalized in the royal inscription on the façade of his tomb in Naghsh_e Rustam, with the Old Persian (Âryâ) word "vispazana" meaning "all kinds" -- literally, "of many languages" or "of all languages."



adam Dârayavauš

I am Darius

xšâyaθiya vazraka

Great King

xšâyaθiya xšâyaθiyânâm

King of Kings

xšâyaθiya dahy"nâm vispazanânâm

King of many lands of many languages

xšâyaθiya ahyâyâ b"miyâ vazrakâyâ d"raiapiy...

King on this great earth far and wide...



Darius the Great built Persepolis (Pârsa), the magnificent ceremonial seat of the Persian Empire, where the annual spring festival of the Navasarda (New Year) is believed to have been celebrated.  The Great Kings received Persian royals, nobles, satraps, and subjects from all four corners of their vast empire who brought magnificent tributes during the spring festival and pledged their loyalty to them.


They say the image of the lion and the bull on the stairways of the Apadana in Persepolis symbolized the coming of the New Year, where lion was a symbol for the sun and strength, and the bull was a symbol for the earth and abundance.  Earth and Sun were reunited in bountiful spring after a long winter.


The Parthid (Aškâniân) Kings, ruling from 250 BCE to 224 CE could have, more or less, followed the Achaemenid royal customs and celebrations.


According to Zoroastrian Dênkard (Acts of Religion) written in Middle Persian (Pahlavi) language, the Persian kings had decreed the celebration of the New Day as the start of the New Year from the beginning of the creation, as a time for restoration and renewal.


The Sasanid (Sâsâniân) King of Kings (Šâhân Šâh), who ruled from year 224 to 651 CE, created the second magnificent Persian Empire.  They held their public audience and the High Priest of the empire was the first to greet them.  Government officials followed next.  Each visitor offered a gift and received a gift.  The royal audience lasted for five days, each day for the people of a certain profession.  Then on the sixth day, the King of Kings held their special audience.  They received members of the Royal family and courtiers.  Also a general amnesty was declared for convicts of minor crimes.  The festival was celebrated by all peoples throughout the Sasanid Empire. On the 16th day the New Year celebration ended.


In Ferdowsi's incomparable epic, Shâh Nâmah (Book of Kings) around 1000 CE, the origins of Nowruz is associated with the legendary King Jamšid (Yima) of ancient Iran, commemorating his ascent into the skies in a chariot built by the demons he had brought under his sway for the benefit of his mortal subjects.


In 1079, Hakim Omar Khayyâm presented a plan for calendar reform.  He later wrote Naur"z Nâma, a history of previous calendar reforms, to persuade the Seljuk monarchs to renew their support for science. 


Naur"z Nâma was a history of the solar calendar, vividly describing the ceremonies connected with the New Day festival celebrated in the courts of the ancient Persian kings: "From the time of Kay Khusro till the days of Yazdgerd, last of the Sasanian King of Persia, the royal custom was thus: on the first day of the New Year (Nôq Rôz), the King's first visitor was the High Priest (Mowbedân Mowbed) of the Zoroastrians, who brought with him as gifts a golden goblet full of wine, a ring, some gold coins, a fistful of green sprigs of wheat, a sword, a bow and arrow, a pen and a pen-case, a mule, a hawk, and a handsome slave."


Throughout ages, while foreign invaders came and went, Iranians held fast to the celebration of their ancient festivals.  With the re-emergence of native Iranian dynasties celebration of Nowruz became even more important - a time of renewal, hope and joy.


For thousands of years, since the time of the Persian Achaemenids, the "New Day" has ushered in the Iranian New Year when the Sun leaves the House of Pisces and enters the House of Aries, thus signifying the Vernal Equinox.


But this year the Nowruz celebrations are a little brighter.


On the heels of inclusion of Nowruz into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 30 September 2009, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly has recognized 21 March as the "International Day of Nowruz".  


A resolution "to recognize the cultural and historical significance of Nowruz and wish Iranian-Americans, the people of Iran, and all those who observe this holiday a prosperous new year and expresses appreciation for Iranian-Americans' contributions to U.S. society," introduced last year in the U.S. House of Representatives was passed on 15 March 2010.  A similar resolution was introduced into the U.S. Senate on 19 March 2010.


Some 2659 years after the ascension of Cyrus the Great, to the throne of ancient Anšan, Gregorian year 2010 and Hejri year 1389, more than 300 million people all around the world celebrate the festival of Nowruz in the footsteps of the ancient Iranians: 


From Afghanistan to Armenia,

from Azerbaijan to Kurdistan,

from Canada to Georgia,

from Esfahan to Iraq,

from Kazakhstan to Kashmir,

from Kerman to Kermanshah to Kyrgyzstan,

from Syria to Serbia,

from Tajikistan to Turkey and Turkmenistan,

from Yazd to Uzbekistan...


But what's in a name? 


Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz, Nevruz, Norouz, or Nowruz?


The transliteration of the Modern Persian (Farsi) words for the "New Year" take various spellings in different languages.  The resulting two words are written separately, hyphenated, or joined and written as one word.


So whether you are celebrating Narooz, Nauroz, Nauruz, Nauryz, Nava R∂zaηh, Navrez, Navroj, Navroz, Nav-roze, Navruz, Nawris, Nawroz, Nawruz, Naw-Rúz, Nauryz, Newroz, Nevruz, Newruz, Neyruz, Noe-Rooz, Noh Ruz, Norooz, Nooruz, Norouz, Noruz, No Ruz, Novruz, Nowroj, Nowroz, Nowrouz, Nowruz, or Навруз..., Eid_e Shoma Mobaarak (Happy New Year to you) and Sad Saal beh as in Saal-ha (Wishing you 100 years better than these years).



"O King of Kings, on this feast of the Equinox, first day of the first month of the year, seeing that you have freely chosen God and the Faith of the Ancient ones; may Surush, the Angel-messenger, grant you wisdom and insight and prudence in your affairs.


Live long in praise, be happy and fortunate upon your golden throne, drink immortality from the Cup of Jamshid; and keep in solemn trust the customs of our ancestors, their noble aspirations, fair gestures and the exercise of justice and righteousness.


May your soul flourish; may your youth be as the newly grown grain;

may your horse be swift and victorious; your sword bright and deadly against foes;

your hawk quick against its prey; your every act straight as the arrow's shaft.


Go forth from your rich throne, conquer new lands. 

Honor the craftsman and the sage in equal degree; disdain the acquisition of wealth.

May your house prosper and your life be long!"


Omar Khayyâm: Naur"z Nâmeh

Edited by M. Minovi

Tehran, 1312 (1933)



A. J. Cave is an Iranian-American writer based in California, USA.

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