Let the once dead earth be a sign to them. We gave it life, and from it produced grain for their sustenance. We planted it with palm and the vine and watered it with gushing springs, so that men might feed on its fruit. It was not their hands that made all this. Should they not give thanks? – Qur’an 36:33-35
Navroz, or No Ruz, Nowruz, meaning ‘new day,’ is the first day of the first month (Farvardin) in the Persian calendar also marking the arrival of spring. Although the festival, which dates to the 6th century BCE, is observed by many cultures and countries along the Silk Road, some of its earliest origins lie in Zoroastrianism, founded by Zoroaster. Ancient Persian scriptures suggest that there were several feasts to celebrate the many seasons such as mid-spring, mid-summer, return of cattle from pastures, crop harvesting, among others. Boyce states that “Zoroaster, it seems, drew together this diversity of feasts to form a uniform chain of six, which he refounded to celebrate six creations, with the seventh – New Year’s Day – held to honour the creation of fire,” which brought life and energy to the rest.
In preparation for New Year’s Day in ancient Persia, seven kinds of seeds were sown beforehand, whose shoots came up green and fresh on the day of Navroz, symbolising new growth. The growing of barley was viewed as a particular blessing by the King of Persia.
Some traditions involved the placing of seven food items beginning with the letter ‘s’ of the Persian alphabet – sofra-yi haft sin (literally, “seven-‘s’ spread”), such as such as samanu (“sweet pudding”), seeb (“apple”), and so on.
Navroz has been observed by agrarian people deeply connected to the land for thousands of years including the Ismailis of the Alamut period (1090-1256) and post-Alamut times, to welcome the resurgence of life in the fields, offer gratitude for the blessings, and celebrate the spirit of hope and renewal.
Today, the Persian New Year is celebrated on March 21, which coincides with the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. Navroz was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. In 2010, UNESCO proclaimed March 21 as International Nowruz Day.
Unlike other religious festivals that remember an event or a person, Navroz focuses on nature and spirit; it is tied to the changing of the season and the renewal of the land. In the Qur’an, God has entrusted humans with two tasks: to be His servant, and to be the steward of His creation. Navroz is a time for spiritual renewal and a time to reflect on humankind’s responsibility towards God’s magnificent creation.
“…..our faith constantly reminds us to observe and be thankful for the beauty of the world and the universe around us, and our responsibility and obligation, as good stewards of God’s creation, to leave the world in a better condition than we found it.”
Mary Boyce. A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1977
Nowruz, Encyclopaedia Iranica
Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum, Masterpieces of Islamic Art, Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Compiled by Nimira Dewji