"History did not exist, when Norooz did" (1)
Norooz (also known as Nowrouz) is the only festival that is still celebrated across the entire “Iranian World”; meaning the world that was once defined by the boundaries of the Iranian Empire and the land on which Iranian culture remains alive. The term “Iranian World” remaining from the late Iranian archaeologist Shahriar Adl (2) refers to a geographical region that covers today’s country of Iran as well as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and even parts of India and what was once known as the Ottoman Empire.
Norooz is the celebration of the vernal equinox, the moment marking the arrival of spring and the beginning of the solar year. In Farsi, the word “jashn” stems from the Avestan words yasn, meaning celebration, worship and yasna is one of the five major parts of the Avesta. Thus, the Norooz festival is a time for gratitude, and the veneration offrashkart meaning the renewal and resurrection of the Earth.
It is said that Norooz is the day when Jamshid, whose name means “sun twin”, after attaining knowledge of all the arts with the help of his divine farr (grace of God or divine aura) and his own Reason found himself unequaled by all and pondered upon the idea of flying in the sky. He ordered himself a precious throne, adorned it with the finest jewels and the divs (demons) who were subservient to him raised his throne and flew him in the sky:
Like the shinning sun in heavens
The ruling king was, sitting on that throne
Dazzled by the divine aura of his good fortune
The whole world gathered around his throne
They showered gems and jewels on Jamshid
Calling the day, the New Day, Norooz
Falling on the first day, Hormozd Day of the first month, Farvardin
The nobles and great men joyfully held a feast
Taking rest from body’s pains, heart’s revenge
Asking for wine, wine-cups and musicians to play
It is from the rulers and kings of those times
Such an auspicious day is remaining till now
(Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (Epistle of Kings)
"Jamshid borne by Divs", Ferdowsi, Shahnameh, Timurid: Shiraz, c.1435-1440
Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum
One of the most ancient Iranian myths associated with the resurrection and rebirth of nature is that of the god Rapithwin meaning midday) which has some similarities with the story of Jamshid and highlights the importance of midday as the gah (time) when the universe was created. It is at this gah on the day ofAhuramazda (also written as Hormozd, the first day of each solar month) in the month of Farvardin (first month of the solar year) that Ahriman (Sheytan, Shaitan, Devil)assailed for the first time upon the existential realm of Ahuramzda (Mazdian existence) and blended existence (duality) appeared for the first time.
“Prior to the arrival of Ahriman, it was always midday or Rapithwin. At this gah or time of day, with the assistance of the Amesha Spenta (Beneficent Immortals, archeangels) Ahuramazda created all creatures.” And it is also at this gah that the final frashkart, resurrection and rebirth will come about bringing a final end to Ahriman. “Therefore, the time of Rapithwin, is the time at which divine creation is brought to existence and also the time of the final victory of Good over Evil.” (Bundahesh, p.50)
The time of midday, is the time of warmth and Rapithwin is the god (izad) presiding over all that is warm on earth; among the seasons, summer belongs to it. With the arrival of cold weather and winter, Rapithwindescends into the underworld to keep the roots of trees and the underground waters warm. It is for this reason that there are two feasts held for Rapithwin , one at the time of its descent into the underworld which is a farewell festival celebrated at the end of the month of Mehr (21 October), and once again at the beginning of spring when it emerges from the Earth.
Of the four cardinal directions, Rapithwin governs the south and it is for this reason that ancient Iranians referred to the southern regions as “midday”, and ancient texts tell the story of Jamshid’s expansion of the Earth toward the south in the direction of the sun at the time of Rapithwin.
The Land of Midday at the center of the Ancient World
The gah of Rapithwin is one of the five daily designated times of prayer and worship in the Zoroastrian religion; the first gah is Havan gah which starts at sun rise and continues till midday; then the gah ofRepthwin starts at midday and continues until the afternoon and is followed by Uziran gah, which is from the afternoon until sunset; with the appearance of the first stars in the sky until midnight is Aiwisruthremgah and finally Ushahen gah is from midnight until the disappearance of the last morning star at sunrise.The creation of the world by the hands of Ahuramazda also occurred twice, each time in six gahs (time/ sessions) known as the gahanbars; first in the spiritual form (the origin of Plato’s theory of Ideas and forms) and then in the material form. The anniversary dates of creationswere celebrated six times a year as five day feasts (gahanbars) and are still observed by Zorosatrians today.
According to the Bundahesh, the Zoroastrian book of creation and cosmology: “Before creation, Hormozdwas not the Creator. After creation, Hormozd became God, wise, enemy of Evil, all-embracing, vivifying and life giving, caring of all. The first creation was beneficence; Hormozd foresaw that Ahriman will never stop its malevolence and that can only be stopped by Creation which can flourish only in Time...and so in order to defeat Ahriman, He inevitably created Infinite and Finite Time.,, That is why it is said that Time is more powerful than both creations (of Hormozd and Ahriman); Time is the accomplisher of all affairs, It accomplishes more than any accomplisher, wiser than the wise, so much so that judgment can be made with Time...Thus once the spiritual creation was accomplished, Hormozd created the material world in sixgahanbars: He first created the sky, and with the help of the sky, He created joy, so that during the time when Good creation of Ourmazd and the Evil creation of Ahriman, are blended, joy helps creatures to endure the difficult time. From the essence of the sky He created water, and then Earth, and fourth was vegetation and fifth was the sole-created Gav (Ox), and sixth was Keymars Gayonart (meaning the living mortal, the human prototype) in a year of three hundred and sixty-five days, twelve months, and each month being of thirty days, and one month of thirty five days, and each day was named after one of theAmesha Spenta (Beneficent Immortal) (extracted from the first and second parts of Bundahesh)
The annual feast of the creation of the sky, held from the 11-15 th of Ordibehesht (30 April-4 May) is the first gahanbar. The second gahanbar is the creation anniversary of water from the 11-15th of Tir (the first five days of July). The third gahanbar, the creation anniversary of Earth and the season of grain collection is observed from the 26-30th of Shahrivar (September 16-20). The fourth gahanbar is the creation anniversary of vegetation from the 26-30th of Mehr (October 16-20). The fifth gahanbar, the creation anniversary of four-legged utilitarian animals is from the 16-20th of Dey (January 16-20). And the lastgahanbar is the anniversary of the creation of humankind, observed on the last five days of the solar year. In the past, the anniversary of these last five days of the year, called the rite of Mir-e Noroozi, heralded the coming anniversary of the Day of Creation of the Universe. Today, the only remaining symbol of this rite and ceremony is the presence of the Haji Firouz (men with painted black faces wearing black and red suits) playing tambourine in the streets.
However, in distant times, as a symbolic gesture to portray the Pre-existential Chaos (the moment in time when Ahriman assailed the creations of Ahura Mazda), in these last five days of the year, a Fool or a Madman was chosen to replace all rulers from the King to village heads and everyone was obliged to obey their orders. Naturally, during this brief period, the entire country would fall in a state of disorder and chaos, and at the end of these five days according to the ancient rite of human sacrifice, the Mir-e Noroozi (the fool or madman seated in place of the king) would be killed and sacrificed. With the arrival of Zartosht(Zoroaster) who even opposed and fought against the Mithraic rite of cow sacrifice, this form of observing this tradition, undoubtedly fell away and now the period of darkness and chaos is represented through the black painted faces of the Haji Firouz and his red costume could be alluding to the rite of sacrifice and the falling of blood to the ground.
As a symbol of nature’s awakening from winter sleep and death, culminating in resurrection, life and renewal (frashkart), Norooz is also the festival of fravahars. According to the Avesta, “fravahar” or “fravashi” is the divine force, particle, essence and one of the five parts of the human constitution which existed prior to the appearance of creatures and guides the formation and growth of the embryo through pregnancy and keeps all body parts in place until the time of death. After death, the fravahar rushes to the otherworld. All of Ahura Mazda’s creations, whether spiritual or material and even Ahura Mazada possessfravahar. However, fravahar, in its plural form stands for Pure Spirits and the spirit of righteous dead or the deceased and in the Bundahesh, following the previous excerpt recounted earlier in this article aboutRapithwin, it is mentioned that after creating all creatures in spiritual form, Hormozd consulted booy (baoda) (3)and fravahar of people and revealed to them His Omniscience and said: Which one seems better to you? If I create you in the material form to fight with Druj (Lie, Ahriman), and you destroy Druj(Lie), then I reward you with happy ending and will create you again in the world, without suffering from old age, death and enmity; or should you be guarded against Ahriman forever? Once becoming aware of the Knowledge of All and Everything, they foresaw how fravahars of people would suffer from the malevolence of Druj, Ahriman in the World. They also foresaw the final salvation from the enmity of that Evil Devil, and final resurrection in an eternal auspicious form, thus they all decided to take physical bodies.
The Farvardin Yasht of the Avesta speaks of the Pure Spirits and in the words of Ahura Mazda “It is by rays of light and emanations of the fravahars that I hold the Sky high and the Earth can hold upon its shoulder the great vastness of the material world (Giti); it is by the rays of their light and their emanations that children stay alive in mothers’ wombs, that waters do not dry, plants grow, the sun, moon and stars continue on their paths...”.
The fravahars return to the Earth once every year before the beginning of the month of Farvardin which is the month of fravahar:” We praise the beneficent (spenta), good and powerful fravahars which at the time of Hamaspathmaidyem (the last gahanbar) fly from their resting grounds and for a period of ten consecutive nights dwell here.” Spring cleaning, wearing new clothes, laying down a Haft Sin (4) and... (in addition to being each a symbol of the various phases of nature) are also gestures welcoming thefravahars. In the past, at the beginning of the last five days of the last gahanbar, or based on other accounts, at the end of these five days, on exactly the eve of Norooz, fire lighting ceremonies were performed on top of rooftops. This act of lighting fires on the rooftops was common among Iranians for a long time after the arrival of Islam and nowadays it is performed on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year and is known as Chaharshanbeh Souri. Souri is a fragrant species of red rose, recalling the red “flowers” of the fire.
The Norooz festival continues for thirteen days. In the past, the first five days were known as the “Common” or “Small” Norooz followed by the “Special” or “Great” Norooz beginning from the sixth day of Farvardin which the birthday of Zartosht. Based on the writings of Aboureihan Biruni in Al-tafhim : “On the first five days, the Kings granted the rights of their servants and fulfilled their wishes, and upon the arrival of the Great Norooz they would free the prisoners and pardon the convicts.”
The first twelve days of this feast symbolize the twelve months of the year and the twelve thousand years of blended existence and battle with Ahriman. And the thirteenth day is a symbol of the thirteenth millennium and the beginning of salvation from the material world and return to heavenly paradise; going out to gardens, meadows, prairies and pastures on the thirteenth day can also symbolize this final passage to heavenly paradise. Besides, in Zoroastrian time- keeping the thirteenth day of each month is named after Tir (Tishtar) the goddess or guardian angel of the rain and four-legged animals which during rushes of drought and scarcity brought about on Earth by Apausha, the drought-bringing div (demon), rises with the help of Ahura Mazda, defeats Apausha and thus the life-giving rain starts pouring down on Earth. And this can be another reason to go out to Nature’s lap on the thirteenth day in order to worship and offer prayers to Tir goddess for bringing rain and greening the fields.
Hossein Mahjoubi, Battle of Tishar and Apausha
According to Houshang Javid, Norooz brings about seven alterations in life and work routine in one celestial cycle:
2) Renewal and regeneration
3) Laboring and keeping healthy
4) Maintenance of ties (family and relationships)
5) Welcoming seasons and times
6) Cooperation and collaboration
7) Celebration of Norooz and jubilation
And again according to him “Norooz is a ceremony which is in of itself made up of lesser ceremonies such as the Reign of Women (Mardgiran), the Reign of Mir-e Noroozi, Norooz Collaboration, Festival of the Dead, Day of Abstinence, Day of Lying, Norooz-e Pahlevani (athletic) races, Norooz games, Norooz dishes, Norooz bread baking, theatrical animal shows, theatrical prayer and worship, youth and children’s theatrical shows and good news/ annunciation shows” many of which one can barely find a remaining footprint.
From the alleyway of beloved blows the breeze of spring wind
You’ll kindle your heart’s light, if you ask help from this wind
Like a flower, if you have a few coins to spare, for gods’ sake, spend it on feasting
For the greed for gold led Korah to make many mistakes
I say my words implicitly, blossom like a flower into a bloom
For it doesn’t last more than five days, the order of Mir-e Noroozi
Drink wine at the ruler’s party on the day of Norooz
For a drop of your wine cup grants the world the song of Norooz
In this article, the direct quotations are from: Farnbagh Dadegi, Bundasheh, translated into Farsi by Mehrdad Bahar, Toos Publishing, 1369 (1990). To enumerate all the other resources that the author has used would be like listing all the articles she has translated for Tavoos and the additional articles and books she had to read for this purpose and also her life long research on the Zoroastrian Religion. The quotation from Houshang Javid is from his article: A glance at Norooz Rituals and Ceremonies, Art and Architecture, No.174-175.
Farsi-speaking readers, interested to know more about The Spring God, Rapithwin, can refer to the following articles:
Farzaneh Goshtasb, Time of Rapithwin, the ideal time in Zoroastrian Religion, Berasad, Zoroastrian News and Analysis Website.For a comparison between Iranian and Greek Spring Gods see Zhaleh Amozegar, The Gods who return to the Earth with the coming of the New Year, Khabargozari Miraseh Farhangi, 2008
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