Novruz which marks the beginning of the new season in the Iranian calendar is part of Kashmir’s culture. Syed Iliyas Ali Rizvi details the importance of the day which plays a vital role in bringing people together

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People celebrating Nouroze in Kashmir

The Vernal Equinox, on the 21st of March, makes its beginning with the arrival of what we call ‘Bahaar’ or ‘The Spring’. On this day, the sun crosses directly over the Equator (March 20th or 21st), when day and night are approximately equal in length. This is also called the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, while it marks the onset of the Autumn Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. The day heralds the season of growth, renewal and regeneration. Celebrated first in Persia some 4000 to 5000 years back, the day came to be known as Nourooz – meaning The New Day when it originated among the people of the world’s oldest religion – Zoroastrianism. Its significance was more to them as they believed in the ‘Philosophy of Change’. To them, in order to grow, progress and evolve, everything in the universe is under the process of change.

For them, every human being must have the ‘unity of change – social, cultural and spiritual change’, a constant way of intellectual and metaphysical evolution of human beings.

With the rebirth of nature, indeed across the world from Afghanistan through Central Asia and Europe, Mid-East and into the Indian sub-continent, Nourooz is celebrated with rich cultural traditions. With distinct variations across different countries, Nourooz is a time to come together and enjoy the changes that come with the change in nature.

Traditions of Nourooz

Celebrated almost in all Central Asian countries, Nourooz starts with what is called ‘Spring Cleaning’. There are very different versions of Nourooz traditions in different parts of the world which are more localized than global. In Persia or present Iran, the traditional herald of Nourooz is called Haji Firouz which symbolises the rebirth of the New Iranian Year. One of the symbolic rituals of Nourooz is ‘Chaharshanbeh Souri’ – literally meaning – the eve of red Wednesday. The Zoroastrians of ancient Persia 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. The contemporary Haft Siin spread includes seven of the following items (in addition to the Holy Book): Sabzeh, Samanoo, Senjed, Siir, Siibh, Serkeh and Sonbol. As the fish is one of the core representations of Nourooz, the traditional meal of Nourooz in Iran is called Sabzi Pulao Mahi – Fish Biryani.  In Iran, Nourooz lasts for twelve days and the thirteenth day represents the time of chaos to avoid the bad luck associated with the day families move outdoors, have picnics in what tradition is known as Sizdah Bedar.

Nourooz in Kashmir

Historically, with the coming of great spiritual personalities like Shah-i-Hamedan (RA), Bul Bul Shah (RA), Mir Shamsuddin Iraqi (RA) and a few other hundreds, the Kashmir came to be known as the Persia of the East – which had very close links with Central Asia and the Mid East through the traditional Silk Route. As Kashmir came under the influence of the cultural, economic and industrial growth of Central Asia, people embarrassed many customs and culturally new traditions which are now deeply rooted in our generations and one among them is the tradition of Nourooz.

Nourooz is also celebrated in Kargil and the inner areas of the Ladakh Region. The most profound celebrations are seen in the Baltistan region of the other side of Kashmir.

Like other places, preparations in Kashmir start almost a month before which involves the annual Nourooz cleaning. This is also extended to every person’s attire, and it is customary to buy at least one set of new clothes. The Nourooz celebrations start with the  Tahweel – when all the family members come together on what is called Sufrey-e-Tahweel – meaning the Blessed Spread and recite the Holy Quran and other supplications and pray for the whole humanity and ask for forgiveness and blessings from the Almighty Allah.

In Srinagar, one of the oldest and most famous Sufrey-e-Shah is at the place of the famous Hakim Habibullah of the Old City. On the day, families dress in new clothes and start paying visits to their relatives and friends which is called Salaam. The children get Eide from the elders.

Nourooz-card-and-fruit-bowlsIn Kargil, the day starts with the Majlis-e-Dua where special Supplications are recited and family members sip a spoonful of what is known as Taweez-e-Nourooz or Zafaran which is distributed among all as it is believed to protect them from evils throughout the year. The people gather for congregational prayers and supplications and then have common traditional foods together. The children are mostly given preferences on these occasions to make them aware of their identity. The celebrations last for a few days.  Men usually pay visits to elders while the women and the young girls stay indoors and together recite the Qasidey of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and His household. There is a special celebration exclusively for and by children on the Nourooz night named Grun and in the evenings they sing and eat food in groups indoors as the temperatures don’t allow them to move in the open.

Unlike Kargil, Ladakh and Baltistan, in Kashmir, women prepare special Nourooz Wanvoun, which begins a few weeks before Nourooz, and sing together in most neighbourhoods at the evenings. In Srinagar, the tradition is now limited to a few neighbourhoods of the old city where we can still get a glimpse of Nourooz Wanvoun and only a few from old Wanvoun e Huur’e are preserved.

Norooz Dishes

The traditional Nourooz dish in Kashmir is the local Nadur (lotus stem) and the fish called Nada’er te Gadh.  The fish are deep-fried and cooked with Nadur in very hot spices which are traditionally put in earthen pots and served in the same. Another famous dish is the dried turnip with chicken which we call Googji Aar te Kukoor, which is prepared by having deeply fried chicken with dried and fried turnips.

The traditional use of earthen pots for the dishes is used to keep the food fresh for almost a few weeks. Another related dishes are Palak te Kufte. The new cuisine has influenced the traditional ones like the Gadh Kebaab and Ko’kar Kebab. There are special sweets and cakes that are prepared for the guests. Other items, including are the traditional Roudth, the Soatt, the Noon Chai, and Kahwa’e.

In Kargil, women prepare a traditional Nourooz Prapoo. It is prepared by boiling the Giri of Apricot and then mixing the powdered form of the Giri with flour and spices. It is then again mixed with Soattu to give the shape of small round balls and served to all who pay a visit as Nourooz guests. Another special dish on this occasion is Khantey Sugoo a mixture of bitter Giri and is an ingredient of Prapoo. There is an exclusive Nourooz sweet known as Sabkhour prepared from barley. An old tradition is the Loskour which means special celebrations on every 12th Nourooz in anyone’s life.

For the farmers, the plantation of new saplings and new trees start with Nourooz, which also coincides with World Forestry Day. The famous Badam Phoulai and the tulips bring the blossoms to the whole of Kashmir in general and the Badam Vaer in particular. Nourooz is followed by about a month-long shower which is known as Baraan-e-Naysaan – known also as “the Pearl Shower”, which is said to have therapeutic and medicinal value. UNO has included Nourooz in the list of international heritage festivals and is now being celebrated under UNESCO’s International Day.

Religious Significance

Owing to the dramatic changes that occur with the physical environment, in almost all religions and cultures the event of Nourooz brings oneness to all. From Passover to Holi, many events of great religious significance have coincided with the day of Nourooz – God’s first covenant with mankind, the grounding of Noah’s Ark on Mt. Arafat, destruction of idols in the Holy Ka’abah, Hazrat Ali’s (AS) Day of Succession, and the Appearance of the Qa’im.

As the world is going through very hard times in the history of mankind, the occasions like Nourooz play a vital role in bringing people together and bridging the gap that has engulfed the world on the basis of colour, race, religion, economic status. Nourooz represents a major heritage of the cultures and is one of the cornerstones of the history of the world and brings with it a new life or what we call Nouv Zouv.

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

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