Nowruz or Nóvrooz or more correctly Naúvrooz or Naúvröž is the holiest and brightest day of the Zoroastrian year. It simply means “new light, new brilliance,” and refers to the new dawn/beginning that comes after the vernal equinox. Vernal equinox is mentioned numerous times in Avesta. The word for vernal equinox in Avestan is “Hamas.path. maiðya.”
The Avestan term “hamas.path. maiðya” or “hamaß .path. maiðya” refers to the moment when the center/middle position (maiðya ) of the Sun is in the same/equal (hamaß) position/passage/path (Avestan Path) as the Earth’s equator. The term is specific to the moment when such a passage happens and when the celestial points/paths of intersection are at an equal/same length from each other.
Avestan “hamas / hamaß” is the same as Greek homos, Sanskrit samah, Gothic sama, Lithuanian similis meaning; “even, the same, equal.” Avestan “path” is the same as English “path” and has survived in farsi slang as paté. Avestan “maiðya” Sanskrit madhya, Proto Indo European medhyó, Old Norse miðr, Gothic midjis, Greek mesos, Latin medius, “middle, in between, center, occupying a middle position.”
Nóvrooz or naúvröj refers to the new brilliance, the new light, the new dawn or the new day that comes after the equinox or simultaneously occurs with it. For example in 2012, the moment of equinox and the time of dawn coincided in Bavaria, Southern Germany and the western parts of Austria.
The farsi word Rooz, Old Persian röj/röž comes from the Avestan “raöchá;” Sanskrit rócha, Latin, lucere, Old Church Slavic luci, Old.Irish loche, Old Germanic leukht/leucht, German licht, “light, brightness, luminosity.” Avestan naúyv; Sankrit nava, Lithuanian naujas, Old Church Slavic novu, Russian novyi, Latin novus, Greek neos, Farsi nóv/now, German neu, English new.
The celebration of “Naúvrooz or Nowrūz,” has deep doctrinal significance and was instituted by the prophet Zarathushtra himself. Since the Achaemenid era the official Iranian year has begun with the New Day when the Sun leaves the zodiac of Pisces and enters the zodiacal sign of Aries, signifying the Spring Equinox.
The oldest tradition is to greet the vernal equinox with painted eggs (the sculptures on the walls of Persepolis show people carrying decorated eggs for Naúvrooz,) with sprouting seven kinds of seeds such as wheat or lentil sprouts in dishes, with seven branches from flowering fruit trees in a vase, with seven kind fruits, dried fruits and nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachio, hazelnut, raisins,….) with a creamy sweet pudding made from wheat germ known as samanū, with a hearty bread made from seven kinds of grain, with fresh green herbs and cheese, with wine, with lit candles, incense, mirror, a bowl of fresh rain or spring water collected specially for the occasion (a sprig of thyme or ever green is always placed in the water,) rose water, silver or gold coins and with blooming hyacinth flower.
Garlic cloves are also used in Naúvrooz decorations. Garlic was so esteemed by the Ancient Iranians for its healing powers and a means of warding off the evil eye and demonic powers that the Achaemenid Persians named one of their months thāi-garchi- “Month/time of garlic.”
The origin of “haft sin” or seven items starting with the letter “s” for the Naúvrooz table must have its origins in the offerings made to the 7 auspicious (speñtá) virtues/powers of Gd. Seven symbolizing infinity, is an auspicious (speñtá) number in Zoroastrianism and denotes eternal progress and bright new horizons. The Naúvrooz items as a whole reflect the beliefs of the ancient Iranians especially with regard to the Ameshá/Amertá Speñtá” or “the auspicious indestructible powers/virtues of Ahúrá Mazdá” and symbolic offerings made to them. The 12 month of the Iranian calendar and wild rue (popular incense) are both called sepand/esfand in farsi, derived from the Avestan speñtá/auspicious.
To this day, the moment of the equinox is calculated exactly. Families wear their new clothes and gather around the Naúvrooz table. At the strike of the clock indicating arrival of spring; prayers are recited, people look into a lamp/lit candle first, then look themselves into the mirror, afterwards apply some rosewater or other flower extracts to their face and exposed body parts. The family members then hug and kiss each other as part of the New Year greetings. Afterwards, gifts are exchanged and the oldest family member takes the lead in presenting the New Year’s gifts to the younger members of the household. The delicacies, pastries and drinks prepared for the occasion are served and consumed with much joy and unshakeable faith/hope in the start of better, brighter tomorrows.
As a general custom of Naúvrooz, 10 days before the arrival of the vernal equinox, people begin with cleaning their homes. Every part of the house, furniture, carpet…. is thoroughly cleaned, dusted and washed. This is to welcome the New Year with freshness. The ancient Iranians also believed that the soul of the departed family members visit the homes of their loved ones during this sacred period. Thus, according to the ancient Zoroastrian custom, prayers are offered, candles are lit, bonfires are made, holy water and flower extracts are offered to streams and rivers; all in honor of those loved ones who are no longer with us in this dimension. Also, a sesame nut butter based cake or a flour-based halva made with clarified butter, grain flour, nuts and sugar is traditionally offered in the memory of the departed ones. The belief that the souls of the departed visit their loved ones before the New Year clearly connects Naúvrooz with the All Souls festival.
Another very important Zoroastrian custom associated with Naúvrooz is a period of “pondering, reflection and evaluation” of past year’s thoughts, words and actions toward not just our fellow men, but all GD’s good creatures including the earth, waters, minerals, plants……. This is called “Pätat/Pætat” and is accompanied with heartfelt prayers, charity and an honest re-evaluation of ourselves.
I should add that the Kashmiri Pandits/Brahmins celebrate Naúvrooz (or Navreh in Kashmiri) on a date around the vernal equinox. The date, which usually falls between mid-March and mid-April, is determined by the Hindu lunar calendar every year. The day of the vernal equinox (coinciding with the Iranian Nowrooz) is also celebrated by the Kashmiri Pandits in the same manner as the lunar Navroz and is referred to as Sonth.Thal Bharun (meaning ‘filling the platter’) is a major Kashmiri Pandit Naúvrooz z tradition. It is similar to the Iranian Haft Sin. The items placed on the tray or platter generally include wheat or rice, a sweet pudding made from milk and cereal, fruits, walnuts, rosewater, a coin, a pen, an ink-holder, a mirror (for introspection, purity of thought and honesty), and a lit diya or clay lamp (representing satyaprakasa, the Light of the Truth). Besides, new clothes are worn and presents are exchanged.
Naúvrooz, apart from the Iranian nations, is also a holy day for Sufis, Ismailis, Alawites, and Alevis. Also, names of the New Year days in other calendars derive from it, like Nayriz in Egypt or Nayruz in Andalusia.
Yet, Naúvrooz was strictly banned during the Soviet era and fundamentalist moslems strictly prohibit the celebration of ancient Iranian festivals such as Nowruz and Mehragān, with the warning that those who celebrate them will be find themselves among the impious on the day of Resurrection (Ebn Taymiya, pp. 199-200).