Nourooz in Persia

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By: Syed Iliyas Ali Rizvi

Jadeye-Pour-Az-MashiinahaWith the rebirth of nature, indeed across the world, Nourooz is celebrated with rich cultural traditions. With distinct variation across different countries, Nourooz is a time to come together and enjoy the changes that come with the change in the nature. Celebrated first in Persia some 4000 to 5000 years back, the day known as Nourooz originated among the people of the world’s oldest religion – Zoroastrianism.

Let me share my experience about my Nourooz out of my home. Being in Persia (now Iran), for my studies, I was not fully aware of the traditions and the culture of the civilization that has a history of its own.  Being a ‘toddler in Persian language’ it interested me to know how the people celebrate Nourooz here. Like other places, the celebrations start almost a month before. The vacations usually last for 21 days wherein all educational institutions close for Nourooz Holidays. Even the government institutions are off for a week.

Being interested in travelling and exploring the cultures and people, I started to move out and see the atmosphere in the bazaars and old cities of Tabriz, Qazvin, Isfahan and Shiraz.  As a tradition of Taru’fe Irani, people invite their guests and celebrate Nourooz with them and their families.

Fortunately being a Kashmiri, which is a privilege in Persia, I enjoyed the hustle and bustle and the richness of the old bazaars and the warmness with which bazaaris (traders) welcome customers.

Bazaars and streets are well decorated and lighted.  Everyone comes out to get things for Haft Siin. It is customary to buy at least one set of new clothes which are on the discounts. In old city and bazaars one can see the traditional herald of Nourooz called Haji Firouz, which symbolises the rebirth of the New Iranian Year and announcing the time of the New Year.

Being a Kashmiri, I got very warmth and the special art gifts as well from very old shops.

Nourooz starts with what is called Tam’eezqardhan e Khuneha. People are busy with the annual Nourooz cleaning. There are very different versions of Nourooz traditions in different parts of Persia which are more localized. I with my friends celebrated one of the symbolic rituals of Nourooz named Chaharshanbeh Souri, literally meaning: the eve of Red Wednesday. One can see people in their respective neighbourhoods singing together around a bonfire on the last Wednesday of the Year.

The last Friday of the Persian calendar is the day when all family members visit the graveyards and recite Holy Quran and offer Fatiha on the graves of their near and dear ones.

The biggest gathering is at Tehran’s Behesht-e-Zahra – one of the world’s biggest cemeteries. When I visited the cemetery there were thousands of people paying tributes to the generation, who have passed, by showering roses and lightening candles.

Few days later, it was a unique experience to witness ‘nation in virtual sleep’ at least three days near Nourooz. All roads are deserted – no traffic, no person out and virtually no life, except work in the hospitals.

Virtually, except clocks and watches, everything comes to a standstill at the time of Sa’at e Tahweel, a time when family members get together on what is called Sufreye Tahweel – meaning the ‘blessed spread’ and recite the Holy Quran and other supplications and pray for the whole humanity and ask for the forgiveness and blessings from the Almighty Allah.

The shops have display boards to inform people about the holidays so that they can stock things in advance. Only 24X7 pharmacies are open.

According to tradition, the ancient Persians celebrated the creation of life by offering symbolic objects representing truth, justice, good thoughts, good deeds, virtue, prosperity, generosity and immortality – Seven Trays – Haft Siin, which include seven items (in addition to the Holy Book): Sabzeh, Samanoo, Senjed, Siir, Siibh, Serkeh and Sonbol.

On the day, wearing new dresses people visit their relatives for Salaam. And this is the day when children get gifts in form of Edie from their elders. I too was given Eide, which otherwise is exclusively meant for kids. But being a guest, a Kashmiri guest, worked in my favour I guess.

As the Fish is one of the core representation of Nourooz, the traditional meal of Nourooz in Iran called Sabzi Pulao Mahi which traditionally in old villages is prepared in the earthen pots us called Qablam e Khaqi and served in the same. The traditional Nourooz dish includes the fish that are fried and cooked in different styles. The traditional use of earthen pots for the dishes used to keep the food for almost few weeks. There were special sweets and cakes for the guests like Gazz, Khame, Shirine, Qulche. Friends told me that the new cuisine has influenced the traditional ones. After the Nourooz Feast the families next day plan to travel, in their own cars.

People usually travel to the north Shumaal, due to its Havaye Bahaar like Kashmir. The busiest routes of Iran are the Tehran – Chaloos, Tehran – Tabriz expressways which pass through the green mountainous passes and the dense forests that add to the already attractive destination of north Iran. Another busy destination is the holy city of Mashhad – the revered shrine of Imam Al Reza (AS) where millions move for the annual pilgrimage. One does not get the place in the hotels and the restaurants. What people do is they stay in the open spaces with their personal tents and food.

As part of the annual activities, the Universities prepare the annual Nourooz holiday tour for the foreign students, which no one wants to miss – an opportunity to meet all university fellows studying in Iran. Travelling for 10 days gives one an opportunity to explore the inner regional diversity of Persia. On way we could see farmers planting new saplings with Nourooz. Ahvaz and other South cities we travelled on Nourooz welcomed us with long spells of showers. We saw the heritage sites of the cities of Shush, Shushtar e Daniyal, Choghazanbel. We visited petrochemical industry of Iran and the famous ports on the Persian Gulf where we tasted the best Persian fish and the Caviar, considered one of the most expensive foods.

In Iran, Nourooz lasts for twelve days and the thirteenth day represents the time of chaos and to avoid bad luck associated with the day families move outdoors, have picnics in what is known as Sizdah Bedar – which concludes the Nourooz Holidays. They celebrate the last day with families in open – an old tradition where people discuss about the old Persia.

At the end, I could feel, despite changing times and new cultural influences, economic and industrial growth of the modern life, Persian customs and cultural traditions are still deeply rooted among new generations, which unfortunately is not the case in Kashmir.

As I close writing my experiences, the world is going through hard times. My home, Kashmir is suffering after 2014 floods, one of the worst in its recorded history.

hafiz-e-shiraziIn Kashmir, we will miss the traditional Nourooz dishes like local Nadur and fish called Nada’er te Gadh. Floods devastated Nada’er and Gadh’e Fas’ael which left hundreds of families without livelihood and of course without homes.  This Nourooz we will miss people of art like Souleh and Gayoor; Dr Irfan and Shafat. People whom we lost while serving in hardest conditions. Waters of our Vyeth washed with it our Heritage. The occasions like Nourooz play a vital role in bringing people together and bridging the gap that has engulfed us and remember those who we lost in the past year.

Professionally a Researcher on Environmental Health and Climate Change, Author is a Traveller and an Oral Historian.

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