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Nowroz in History and Calendar

By Yahya Zoka; translated by Roya Monajem (Source: Tavoos Art Magazine)

Not only celebration and joy is necessary for having a normal hopeful human life, but there is a meaning in attending the beginning of the year; its meaning for us is to know that a year of our life is over and another year is beginning; a year is gone and another year is coming. It is to remember the year passed and evaluate our good and evil deeds; to make plans for the coming year and to bring to mind good benevolent thoughts, accompanied with good benevolent feelings as well as joyfulness and hope.

Much has been said and written about the history of Norouz; with a part founded on baseless old fables and a part dealing with rites and ceremonies practiced during this feast in various periods of our history. Nevertheless, there is still no documented historical analysis on the origin and emergence of this great Aryan feast, with its scientific and astronomical roots still not thoroughly studied and clearly revealed. Except Abu Reyhan Birouni and the anonymous writer of the Epistle of Norouz (Norouz-nameh), so far almost nobody has seriously explored and reflected upon the origin and emergence of Norouz.

Fables about Norouz however, are plenty, such as Jamshid flying into the air, or listening to people pleading for justice on this day; the day when the sky begins to revolve; when religion is revived; when a throne is built light is projected upon it; when heavens and the zodiac begin to revolve; fables about Jamshid’s crystal wheel, Jamshid’s throne seen next to the sun; Jamshid sitting on a calf and so on which even if based on some truths, they have by now gone into oblivion or totally distorted, thus appearing now more as superstition and fables.

Jamshid's Court

In his book Al-Tafhim li Awa'il Sana'at al-Tanjim, Abu Rayhan Biruni (440-362 HD/ 973-1048 AD) writes on the emergence of Norouz: “What is Norouz? The first day of Aries is called thus because it is the beginning of the new year.” In addition, he writes: “Aryans believed that Norouz is the first day of Time when the heavens began to revolve.” In Norouz-nameh, written in late fifth century HD/ninth century AD, there are some precise allusions and useful significant information about the origin of Norouz too. Like ancient Aryans, the author of Norouz-nameh believes that the movement of the sun began on the first morning of the month of Farvardin from the first degree of Aries and says: When the Creator ordered permanence to end for the whole creation to enjoy solar radiation and benefits, the sun left the zero point of Aries, the heaven began to turn it, and light and darkness were separated, giving rise to day and night. This was the beginning of history of this world. Then after one thousand four hundred and sixty one years the sun reached Aries exactly on the same day and time ... When this date was discovered, in order to venerate the sun, the Iranian kings, knowing that not everyone could discern that day marked it as the day of feast and proclaimed it to the world at large to keep in mind and celebrate.

He writes in another place: When Kiumars (Gayō Marətan, Kayumart, or Keyumars, the first human the Creator made and the first king of the world) sat on the throne, he decided to give names to days and months of the year and to begin history so that people would know about it, he noticed that on that day, the sun enters the first minute of Aries, and he summoned the priests (mobada’n) and told them to begin history from this point. Thus, the priests gathered together and founded chronology and history.

Kiumars in Shahnameh

On the emergence of Norouz, it is said in the same book: However, the reason for the emergence of Norouz is that when they found out that the sun has two major cycles.; one is that it returns to the first minute of Aries after three hundred and sixty five days and a quarter of a day, while not exactly on the same day and time because the duration decreases continuously each year. When the Pishdadian King, Jamshid discovered that day, he called it Norouz and held a feast on that day. Other kings and people followed his example afterwards.’

Again in another place of the same book it is said: One thousand and four hundred years after this date (i.e. the foundation of chronology and history by Kiumars), the sun returned to the ninth Zodiac sign on the first day of Farvardin (under the reign of Hushang and Tahmures) because they still did not intercalate, therefore, the beginning of the year and Norouz was belated for nine months, and after Jamshid reigned for four hundred and twenty one years (1040 + 421), this cycle (i.e. the first cycle from the time of foundation of chronology by Kiumars and the second cycle from the beginning of Creation) was ended and the sun returned to the beginning of Aries... so he held a feast on this said day and called it Norouz and ordered people to celebrate it every Farvardin and count it as a new day as long as the great cycle lasts as Norouz is genuine.

Persian astronomer Al-Tusi

In any case, according to Biruni and the author of The Epistle of Norouz, Aryans believed that after the creation of heaven and earth and whatever they contain, everything was standing still for a few thousand years and when they began to move by the command of Ahuramazda (the Creator), the sun began its movement from the first morning of the month of Farvardin or Hormozd Day, and from the first point or minute or degree of Aries, but it could not reach the same degree in the next year, and as the result the beginning of the year was changed and delayed continuing this retrograde movement until after a long cycle it returned to exactly the same point on the same day that it had begun its movement and this took one thousand four hundred and sixty years. The first person who discovered this day (meaning the genuine Norouz) was Kiumars who called it the beginning of history. Then the second cycle and the first day of spring began on the morning of Hormozd Day, from the first degree of Aries.

The reason for the year beginning from different degrees of Zodiac signs with Norouz coinciding with various days in a retrograde way was that according to the Aryans the solar year took 365 days and 6 hours and 12 minutes, but as they did not intercalate because they still had not discovered it, the beginning of the year fell a day behind the spring equinox every four years. As the result, the time of equinox or Norouz or Hormozd Day shifted to different months and seasons, as for example during the reign of Hushang and Tahmures, that is one thousand and forty years after the foundation of chronology and history by Kiumars, the beginning of Farvardin or Norouz was in the ninth Zodiac sign which is an approximately correct calculation because considering the fact that there is a quarter of day or six hours difference between the new solar cycle and the spring equinox in each year, then in 1040 years this will be 1040 x 6 = 6240 hours. Dividing that by 30 days (the number of days in a month), we have eighty months and twenty days. Counting minutes as well, it would shift the beginning of the year to the ninth month.

Persian Illustrated Zodiac Signs

It is said: 421 years after enthronement of Jamshid, that is 1461 years after Kiumars laying down the foundation of history, the sun returned for the third time to the same point of Spring Equinox on the same day and minute that it had begun its revolution first; that is it was once again in the first minute of the morning of Hormozd day of the month of Farvardin. Thereby the third cycle began and like Kiumars, Jamshid perceived that genuine day and celebrated it.

Historical astrology

Despite the fact that believes in regard to the Creation and immobility and movement of stars, the moon, sun, earth and the sky are not but legends and fables, nevertheless they can reveal a few significant points for us as for example how astrology, astronomy, chronology and calculation of the movements of the sun and observation of stars as well as careful persevering research in these fields were prevalent among our people from ancient times and how despite not having access to sophisticated scientific tools, nevertheless they had perceived important chronological points by means of simple primitive observations to the extent that in regard to calculation of the duration of solar year and precise location and time of passage of the sun through zodiac signs (coinciding with Iranian months) is not that far from modern calculations.

The point that should be taken into consideration in regard to stories and fables about the origin of chronology and its attribution to Jamshid, the mythological king is that there were undoubtedly certain important historical events in the mind and memory of our people which faded away with the passage of time, transforming into fables. Why they originated in the first place is what should be studied and contemplated in order to draw out historical truths from them and with further reflections reach useful conclusions. Here it is necessary to remember that any fable takes shape from four bases:

The first basis is some great significant historical event which remains in the mind of people because of its importance, then gradually as time passes it transforms into a fable with many ramifications.
The second basis is those who played roles in the formation and emergence of those events.
The third basis is the place of their occurrence.
The fourth is the time of their occurrence.

The last three bases are in constant state of transformation, juxtaposition and alteration; for example they can later be attributed to other figures, or other places, or the time of their occurrences are moved backward or forward in time. However, what remains unchanged is their real core and the origin of their emergence, despite their subsequent ramifications, and if we manage to remove and expose their inner core, we would undoubtedly reach some truth.

Now, if we look at stories about Jamshid and Norouz and analyze them from this perspective, we would reach the following conclusions: there is a record of the reasons for construction of those palaces and courts in Persepolis - called Takht-e Jamshid meaning Jamshid’s throne - on the skirts of the mountain of grace in the mind of our people which points to the connection of the construction of that colossal temple or the city of rites and ceremonies with the feast of Norouz having a totally national, religious and astronomical aspect and with the assembly of native and foreign courtiers and great figures in that sacred place; and there are memories of the ceremonies held for the return of the sun to Aries, determined by the observation of the first sunray appearing in the first morning of the great summer and arrival of the new year. In this way, by establishing the connection between the construction and creation of Persepolis for the purpose of practicing certain rites and carrying out certain astronomical calculations, observations and measurements in regard the location of the sun on Norouz and Mehregan for holding the corresponding rites and celebrations, and their attribution to the word ‘throne’ and the sun shinning on it, taking it as Norouz, they all make it clear how these stories originated and where they take root of.

Persepolis, overall view

However, before anything else, we should know that Norouz is a very ancient feast and rite reaching us from our Aryan ancestors. There is no doubt that Norouz emerged before Zoroaster, and has been practiced since 1400-1300 BC or even since the beginning of the second millennium before Christ. Therefore, in contrast to what is believed Norouz is not a Zoroastrian religious feast, but goes back to the time of Poryotkeshan (pagans) and that’s why Norouz is not mentioned in Avesta. However, after the spread of Zoroastrianism in Iran and the foundation of Avestan chronology and adaptation of Achaemenid months to Avestan, the feast of Farvardegan which was the feast of the dead held at the end of the year in the last ten days of Avestan Esfandarmaz (Esfand =March) coinciding with Achaemenid Norouz (Adokenish) at the beginning of the year gradually assumed Zoroastrian traits and that’s why Norouz and some of its related religious rites are mentioned only in certain Sassanid religious books and little has been said about it in Zoroastrian religion per se.

However, the calculations of Biruni and the author of Norouz-nameh in regard to the origin of chronology under the reign of Kiumars and considering the duration of the solar year which takes 375 days and 6 hours and 12 minutes according to Iranians and considering the fact that they did not intercalate, nevertheless their measurements have turned out to be accurate. In other words, if each year the sun’s distance from the point of occurrence of Spring Equinox would be equivalent to six hours, their distance in one hundred year will be 600 hours, i.e 25 days which will be 250 days in every thousand year. So if we wish to know how long it takes for the sun to fill this 365 days difference, all we need to do is to solve the following simple equation: 1000 times 365 divided by 250 = 1460; and by calculating the sum total of time difference in minutes as well, then the beginning of the next cycle would be the year 1461 which is the year mentioned in Norouz-nameh where it says: That became the beginning of the history of this world when the sun reached the same place on the same day and minute after 1461 years. And when the Iranian kings perceived that date and time, knowing that not everyone could discern that day, in order to venerate the sun, they marked it as the day of feast and proclaimed it to the world at large to keep in mind and celebrate.

The author of Norouz-nameh calls the annual arrival of Norouz at the Spring equinox and the beginning of the common years at different times of the day, the small cycle, while calling the passage of the sun through the twelve months and its return to its exact position after 1461 years, the great cycle and he made a distinction between ordinary Norouz and the one with greater cycle, calling it the true or genuine Norouz which was considered an important sacred day. According to the content of old legends and stories about Kiumars, Jamshid and Gushtasb, they had discovered these Norouzes and it is about the sunray of such Norouz that Biruni has written: The most auspicious hours are those hours of the sun when the morning of Norouz occurs closest to the dawn with people solicit benediction at its sight.

Now is the time to know that such Norouz with the above qualities, that is a year when the sun coincided with the spring equinox on the first minute of Aries exactly at 6 o’clock in the morning of the first day of Farvardin, or its Achaemenid equivalent (Aduknish), could happen only 487 BC on the horizon of Persepolis, because according to accurate calculations of retrogrades and astronomical tabulations prepared by specialists in the field, in the year 487 BC, the new year took place on 28 March at 2:39 AM Greenwich hour, with about 3 hours and 21 minutes difference with that occurring at 6 AM at Persepolis on the first day of Achaemenid month (Aduknish) or Avestan Hormozd Day. Therefore, the Norouz of the year 487 BC was one of the genuine or true Norouzes, perceived first by Kiumars, Jamshid and Goshtasb. Darius too, on the basis of calculations carried out by Magi and other men of knowledge of his time, celebrated Norouz on this same day in Persepolis which had been under construction since thirty years before for this purpose. In this way after many centuries and years, Norouz was fixed on the same day through intercalation of 120-years - long cycles.

Fortunately, the remaining record of intercalation of 120 - year-long cycles is itself an evidence for the occurrence of the genuine Norouz in 487 BC because as there is a historical record of Sassanid leap years and their number and order, then by calculating the retrograde movement of the sun over years, we can find the beginning of this kind of intercalation which coincides with the year 487 BC.

Zoroaster’s Kaba in Naghshe-e Rostam
Recently discovered to be the most ancient chronological structure.
photo by Fabien Dany


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