On the thirteenth day of spring on or about April 2nd, the Zoroastrian new year celebrations is concluded by a mass picnic outdoors, a joyous celebration of GD’s beautiful nature, and leaving the sprouted seeds (lentils, wheat, barley or other sprouted grains) by a running stream, river, lake or a natural pool of clean, sweet water.
Contrary to the commonly held erroneous belief, 13 is NOT an ominous number in Zoroastrianism. Quiet to the contrary, 13 is a very auspicious number, associated with good luck and bright fortune. We read in the 1st Avestan hymn/Yasht, concerning the names of Ahúrá Mazdá; thrí-dasö sevishtö “13th the most auspicious/the brightest,” referring to the 13th name of GD.
Furthermore, in the Zoroastrian calendar the 13th day of each month is named after Týshter; the brightest and most victorious star in the sky. The brilliant and auspicious appearance of Týshter (believed by many to be Sirius,) in the celestial sky heralds rain, bountiful harvest, and fulfillment of good intentions. Týshter, farsi Tir is related to the Norse rune Tyr, the rune for victory.
The special custom of sprinkling (rose) water on each other as the symbol of rainfall, and the collection of and placing a bowl of rainwater with a sprig of thyme in it on the Nowruz table is an ancient Zoroastrian custom. In rural areas of Iran, to this day many people still greet Nowruz by collecting rainwater for their Nowruz sofra and by kindling bonfires on rooftops, in alleys or in courtyards.
The ancient custom of offering sabzee or the sprouted greens (lentils, barley, wheat and other sprouted grains) to the waters/streams on the 13th is an act that celebrates the power of growth and renewal. Knotting the offered sprouted greens is another ancient custom. When the knot is opened through plant growth, it is believed that luck and good fortune will open and wishes come true.
The later blasphemous belief that the sabzae is supposed to have collected all the sickness, pain and ill fate hiding on the path of the family throughout the coming year has NOTHING to do with Zoroastrianism and is opposed to the Zoroastrian deep reverence for nature, plant life and growth. Such beliefs are later additions in Islamic times to degrade Zoroastrian/ancient Aryan customs and prevent people from celebrating the beautiful ancient holidays.
Similarly jumping over fire and throwing trash/garbage into fire are NOT Zoroastrian customs, and are indeed blasphemous from a Zoroastrian point view. Reciting poems such as “may my paleness be yours” to the fire whiling jumping over it, are sacrilege in our religion. Such evil customs where introduced by Moslem invaders as a means to insult the ancient love for light, fire and illumination among ancient Iranians.
Zoroastrians did and to this day do welcome their holidays and especially the new year celebrations with lights/illumination from bonfires on rooftops, in alleys or in courtyards and by burning incense. The leaping flames symbolically energize the renewal and growth of the plant life in nature.
The use of great many lamps, candles, bonfires, lavish decoration, illumination with bright lamps (cherāghāni) and FIREWORKS had a long history in ancient Zoroastrian Iran. Also, the custom of festive bands going around singing, dancing, and playing music and receiving gifts from neighborhood families is an authentic ancient custom.
Furthermore, It is believed in the Zoroastrian religion that the spirit of the departed ones visit the earthly realm/dimension in the days before vernal equinox; and the illumination from bonfires and candles, as well as sacred verses and seeing the living happy, makes the departed souls truly happy. Thus, it is customary to light candles in their memory, recite prayers and offer dishes of sweets.
This ancient Zoroastrian belief is also reflected in the following words of the 6th shia Imam Jaʿfar-e Ṣādeq (who was himself half Zoroastrian;) “Nowruz is a most blessed day because it was on this day when God made the Sun rise, the wind blow, and the earth flourish; the occasion when He made a covenant with the pre-existing souls of mankind to worship none but Him/GD……
Yet, jumping over fire/bringing the sole of foot into contact with the fire and throwing anything but clean, fragrant fuel into the fire is strictly PROHIBITED according to the ancient Südgar commentary of Yasna 34.4.
In fact, the Christian converts used to stamp on the fire with their foot as a sign of disrespect and insult for their former Zoroastrian faith; this insult was later strongly encouraged by moslem invaders in hope that the people will no longer light bonfires or make merry next to their bonfires, hence putting an end to the ancient new year celebrations.
Yet, it is so UNFAIR and IRONIC that the very customs introduced by the moslem invaders; to extinguish the new year bonfires by jumping and stamping over them or to spoil the auspiciousness of the 13th day of spring by declaring it as ominous and cursed; are now being used by today moslem clerics and scholars as polemic against ancient Iran and Zoroastrianism.
For example the renowned shia cleric, the late Morteza Motahari said: “In the last Wednesday of the year, ….. Many families — which we must call families of idiots — many families of idiots light fires, set logs on fire, and then grownups with their big statures jump over fire. ‘Oh fire, my sickly yellow to you, your vibrant red to me.‘ How ignorant this is. Why do you do this? ‘……The Quran says, (recites line from the Quran). Even if your fathers and ancestors acted in this way, when you see that it is a foolish act and a sign of the stupidity of your forefathers, then cover it up. Why do you keep repeating this evidence of ignorance every year? This is just evidence of ignorance. You strive to keep this evidence of ignorance alive. We had such idiots for fathers and mothers.
The same cleric says in another recording; “ Our first day of the month of Farvardin (Nowruz, the First day of the Iranian calendar) is CURSED. What’s the difference between the 1st or 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 13th or 14th or 15th of Farvardin? What must we do to escape this cursed state? You go out and tie knots in stalks of grass instead of going to the mosque. [inaudible] This is a day that symbolizes our superstition and ignorance. It’s a holiday? [inaudible] These things are against Islam. ‘They’re donkeys (stupid), idiots, it is stupidity, it is ignorance, our forefathers were idiots.’
On March 8, Mehr News Agency published an article relating the fatwas or religious edicts of ‘seven grand ayatollahs’ on the new year celebrations. It should be pointed out that all of the clerics mentioned in the article are grand ayatollahs, and sources of emulation. Most notably Ali Sistani, considered by many to be the most senior Shiite cleric in the world, who is placed in fifth position:
His Excellency Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Chahar shanbeh souri/jumping over fire has no meaning based on rationality/logic.
Makarem Shirazi: Purchasing and selling fireworks are religiously proscribed
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi stressed that chahar shanbeh souri is a superstitious celebration based on the false customs of the ancients and that it has no place in Islamic culture. He reminded, ‘Traditions such as visiting relatives and friends, showing clemency, and aiding others must be encouraged but we must not surrender to the superstitious customs of the ancients. The purchase and sale and transport of fireworks, which can lead to accidents and injury, are not permissible and any profits from the aforementioned are religiously proscribed.
Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Taghi Behjat: Such actions have no legitimacy.
Ayatollah Sheikh Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani: It is wrong.
Ayatollah Seyed Ali Sistani: Actions which are detrimental to society and harm people, such as using fireworks or trading in them are not permissible.
Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani: Considering that it has dangers for life and limb and property, and harms others, and is against the laws and public order, it is not permissible.
Ayatollah Sheikh Mirza Javad Tabrizi: None of these acts have any religious basis and encouraging them is to encourage them to concentrate on worldly matters and not the ever-after. And their belief that this enjoins the people to preserve the nation and honor is a false belief. That which compels the people to find honor and preserve the nation is faith and nothing else.
It should be added that all the aforementioned grand ayatollahs approve and even encourage “chest beating, opening of the scalp with razors thus making one’s head bleed, and other forms of self beating” during the mourning rituals of the holy month of moharram.”
Excellencies; After many centuries, It is finally time for some fairness and unbiased scholarly research; what you use as polemic against the ancient seer/prophet, are the very same customs that Moslem invaders introduced to prevent the joyous celebration of new year and to insult and extinguish fires of illumination. The sun does not always hide behind dark clouds.
Your position has changed little since the time of shia scholar Abu Ḥāmed Moḥammad Ḡazāli (1058-1111) who declared that all festive acts must be abandoned and one should fast on such days and not even mention the name of Nowruz and Sada so that these “Zoroastrian observances” become “degraded and turned into perfectly ordinary days and no name or trace of them shall remain” (Ḡazāli, I, p. 522).
I like to conclude by a hadith/ tradition attributed to Prophet Mohammad who describes the Islamic Prophet accepting a bowl of sweets as the Nowruz gift and blessing the day as the occasion of renovation of life with all its associated special customs (Biruni, p. 215).
Another by the 1st shia Imam ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb who received Nowruz gifts from a Zoroastrian, Persian landlord (dehqān) and said: “May every day of ours be a Nowruz!” (Jāḥeż, pp. 237-38).
a lovely article, Newrooz is a beautiful festival that should be encouraged, in the Celtic tradition bonfires were also lit in celebrations and in the UK bonfires are lit to celebrate the fact that Guy Fawkes in the early 1600’s failed to blow up James 1st of England and the members of parliament-in Sweden bonfires are lit to celebrate the workers’ day on the first of May
Thank you for this informative article. Politics aside, I enjoyed knowing more about the roots of our traditions.