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25. 11. 2017
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NAVROZE FESTIVALS

This is the most celebrated festival of the Parsis. The Parsis are one of the most interesting of Indian minority communities. They fled from Persia (Iran) some 1200 years ago to escape religious persecution and sought sanctuary in India. They settled in areas of Gujarat and in Bombay, and although they strictly followed their own Zoroastrian religion, inevitably they adopted and borrowed many of the customs prevailing in the parts of India they chose to settle in.

Every year on March 21, Navroze is celebrated. It is considered the Parsi New Year only by one sect of Parsis the Faslis but all Parsis join in the festivities and enjoy themselves and greet each other and attend the thanks-giving ceremonies at Fire Temples. March 21 is the first day of the spring and also the vernal equinox of the sun, and therefore a logical day to celebrate the beginning of yet another year. Hence the name navroze which literally means the 'New Day'. It is the time when Ashoka and Mango trees are in bloom in India and when every tree has shed its leaves in autumn, is putting on tender green shoots, to make the countryside look fresh as though bom anew.

Known in Persia as 'Aid-i-Now-Roz', the origins of this festival are not very clear but we do know that the friezes of Persepolis, the mined palace of Achaemenian kings show that the festival was celebrated as far back as the sixth century BC when Cyms and Darius ruled over the great Persian Empire. Firdausi, in his magnum opus, 'Shaha Nama' (Book of Kings) dates the festival to the time of King Jamshed, who, it said, sat on his throne surrounded by countries and celebrated his own glory as well as the rejuvenation of nature on the first day of spring. Parsis often refer to this festival as Jamshedi Navroze.

As in other festivals children celebrate this festival with much enthusiasm and exuberance. The celebration commence with cleaning the house, sweeping out cobwebs and rubbish, repainting doors and windows and polishing floors and furniture so that everything shines as new. New clothes would be ordered for the whole family; this included rich embroideried saris for the women of the household and dresses and suits for the children.

Since Parsis are non-vegetarian, order for chickens, fish and nuts, spices etc. are placed much in advance. A visit to the flower stalls is also necessary to order the garlands of roses and jasmines that decorate each door on this especial day. Come the day of Navroze and everyone wakes up early to bathe and then dress their new clothes. The house is swept and washed down with clean water and then children take over the task of decorating the steps and threshold with chalk and coloured powder. This; is very similar to 'Rangoli' but the designs are not drawn free-hand but stamped out from perforated tin moulds made in geometrical patterns or with shapes of fish, birds, peacocks, butterflies and stars. Often there are spaces in the moulds for different coloured powders so that the eye of a fish or wings of a butterfly would be speckled or picked out in any colour of our choice.

Now it is the turn to decorate gates and thresholds with garlands of rose and Jasmine. All vases, and sometimes water jugs as well, are filled with cut flowers so that the slightest breeze wafted flower scents throughout the house ushering in tin aura of true advent of Spring.

Like other festivals, food is an important component of the celebrations of this day. Parsi food is a delicious blend of West Asian and Indian cooking. 'Rava' the popular breakfast dish is cooked with Sooji, milk and sugar. This is coc'ked till the mixture is like a thick cream. It is then flavoured with rose water and sprinkled with grated nutmeg. It is poured into decorative glass dishes and covered with fried almonds and raisins. Dishes of 'rava' are covered with clean napkins and sent as gifts to other families. The other popular breakfast dish is fried Vermicelli, cooked in sugar syrup and again sprinkled with almonds and raisins.

Breakfast is followed by the whole family going to the nearest Fire Temple where a 'Jashn' or thanks-giving prayer is offered by the priests. Everyone wears their new clothes and each member offers a sandalwood stick to the sacred fire. It is customary for the Parsis to cover their head while praying ar,d when inside the temple, children wear small round caps of gold or silver brocade while men wear their black velvet caps and the women pull their saris over their heads. Prayers are invariably followed by bear hugs and greetings with the loud exclamations : "Sal Mubarak " [May the year be prosperous !].

Then the people visit their near and dear ones. Each visitor is offered something sweet and a glass of 'Faluda' a sweet milky drink cooked with a special type of vermicelli flavoured with rose essence and served chilled. Often Kulfi is mixed with it. In all Parsi homes, a silver tray, 'Thali', is kept ready with rose petals, coconuts, red powder for the tilak and some uncooked rice. The vermilion power and rice grains have come into Parsi household from the ancient Hindu tradition. Sprinkling rose water with the help of slim silver containers is also deemed as very auspicious way of welcoming the guests.

Lunch is always very rich on this occasion. Pulaos rich with saffron, fish steamed in banana leaves, or cooked in sweet and sour sauces, chicken curries with ground almonds and also plain white rice and 'moongi dal' which is considered auspicious. Food is often served to less fortunate families who cannot afford to celebrate in the same way. Children join in giving gifts of clothes and food to poor Parsi families, thus learning early the tradition of helping the poor and the needy.

It is said that in earlier years when Navroze was celebrated in Persia, the festivities used to start on New Year's Eve and continued for fourteen days. On the morning of Navroze a table was set with a white cloth ritually covering it having seven items on it, beginning with 'S'; sib (seb or apple), subzee (vegetable); seer (garlic); sambol (hyacinth), serteah (vinegar), 'samukh' and 'sumnool' (two herbs used for flavouring, normally available in Iran). On the table was also placed a live fish swimming in a bowl of clear water, a mirror and a candle for each member of the household. As the sun changed position and entered the vernal equinox, a volley was fired from the palace to announce the beginning of the New Year. The entire household, including the servants, now gathered around the table to wish each happy and prosperous New Year. The candles were then used to be lighted, taking great care that they were not blown off by the wind draught.

Growing of wheat in small earthenware bowls of various shapes is one of the old celebrated rituals. The wheat seeds were first dampened until the clay had absorbed moisture and then they used to be kept in the sun. From time to time, the seeds were dampened down till on New Year's Eve the young wheat was about seven inches above the rim of the bowl. The green stalks were carefully clipped to make them all of the same height and placed around the house on the tables, window-sills and shelves. One bowl, the symbol of the new life and growth, was provided for each member of the family. On the thirteenth day after Navroze, which was always a holiday, people used to stream out of their homes carrying their little bowls of wheat shoots. They found a stream or river outside the town and tossed their bowls of living green into water a symbolic gesture of reverence for water and greenery in a land where both were scarce. Since India is much greener, these particular ceremonies are no longer celebrated this way. But they have been described as they reveal the psyche of a race loving nature and greenery.

What is a peculiar characteristic of the Parsis is their accepting no distinction on the gender grounds. Free mixing of men and women in their community is the manifestation of social equality. The Parsis are an industrious and noble community. Their number is not great, but their contribution to the growth and development of India is enormous. It is chiefly this community that helped India industrialize itself to match with advancing world. They are friendly with all, and have always been true to their great Guru Zaruthushtra. Traditionalist to the core they keep the flame of truth still alive which was lit ages ago in Iran by their celebrated guru, Zaruthushtra.

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