Parsi new year, the 3 Zoroastrian calendars and the rite of celebrating the blessed spirits and the heroic dead

Parsi new year, the 3 Zoroastrian calendars and the rite of celebrating the blessed spirits and the heroic dead

August 16 marks the beginning of the Parsi new year. Parsis are the Zoroastrians of India who follow the Yazdgirdi calendar and reckon their calendar from the coronation year of Yazdgirid III, the last noble Sassanid Emperor. 

Currently, Zoroastrians follow 3 calendars. The Old Avestan calendar that starts at the exact moment of vernal equinox (hamas.path.maiðya when the celestial paths are at midpoint and stand at an exact same distance from each other.) The ancient Avestan calendar was/is a seasonal and lunisolar calendar. 

In later Avestan texts a year consist of 12 months of 30 days plus 5 most sacred “song/gatha” days at the end of the year. Each of the 30 days of the month are dedicated to a god-power/being. 

However, solar year is not exactly 365 days but is more like 365 days and quarter of a day. Dastür Cama suggested the addition of an extra leap day every 4 years. The holy Denkard (great encyclopedia and scholarly magnum opus of Zoroastrianism) suggests the addition of a leap month every 120 years.  

As the number of Zoroastrians began to sharply dwindle and the Zoroastrians were forced to take refuge in the most inhospitable parts of their once glorious empire, they neglected the addition of a leap month every 120 years. 

Hence the calendar followed among Iranian Zoroastrians moved to July 17 and the Parsi calendar that is followed by the Zoroastrians of India moved to a month later, on August 16. This means that the last time that the ancient calendar followed by Iranian Zoroastrians was celebrated on vernal equinox was in 16th century or at the beginning of the Safavid rule. 

The Safavid were a mighty empire and restored Iranian imperial glory for the first time after islam. However, they wholeheartedly embraced Shia islam and did everything to erase any trace of the ancient religion while incorporating some of Zoroastrian jurisprudence, customs and concepts into Shia Islam. 

The Parsis of India apparently neglected the addition of a leap month a century before their co-religionist in Iran. Hence, the discrepancy between the ancients, royals and the Avestan lunisolar calendar that starts at the exact moment of the equinox (hamas.path.maiðya.) 

Apart from discrepancies between the festival days, the followers of all three Zoroastrian calendars are in agreement as regard to Zoroastrian theology and doctrines, and there are not any social or religious restrictions between them. 

However, there are a few minor differences in rituals between the ancients and follower of the yezdgirdi calendar. The followers of ancient calendar and the yezdgirdi or the royal calendar (named after the last noble Sassanid Monarch) use somewhat different opening and closing phrases for most litanies and prayers to the moon, sun, waters and fire. 

The ancients call the most sacred and powerful charms of yathá ahü and ašem vohü, yathá ahi and ašem vahi. Also, the initiation nav.jôt (new life) marriage and death rituals are performed according to slightly different customs. 

The priesthood initiation (návar) among the ancients (Iranian Zoroastrians) requires one more purification rite of nine days. The ancient and royal priests follow slightly different traditions whenever they mention the name of married women: the yezdgirdis mention the wife together with her husband whereas the ancients continue to mention her with her father.

Both Iranian Zoroastrians and Parsis (Zoroastrian of India) thoroughly clean their homes, and adorn them with flowers, burning incense, and candles to make their dwellings inviting to the blessed spirits that are said to visit the earth before the arrival of the new year. 

The followers of the ancient calendar or Iranian Zoroastrians make bonfires on rooftops to welcome the blessed spirits. There is an offering of incense, a bowl of spring water or rosewater, fresh fruits and nuts laid next to the leaping flames.

A forgotten aspect of the new year and nauvrooz ceremonies among non-Zoroastrians is the welcoming and celebration rites for the blessed spirits, the heroic dead and ten days of introspection called pætat before the new year that is of paramount importance to all Zoroastrians. 

Parsis prepare beautiful vases of flowers and continuously light candles in honor of their departed and the heroic dead for the duration of the ten most holy days of introspection and going back to the roots (pætat.) 

Parsis attend the Fire Temple after breakfast, dressed in traditional costume, and conduct a prayer called Jashan to convey gratitude, asking for more strength, prosperity and wisdom. 

As offerings, milk, water, fruits, flowers are brought to, and sandalwood is placed in the sacred fire. 

Iranian Zoroastrians have a fragrant rice pilaf with fish and sweet and sour pomegranate syrup on top as the main course, with a host of sweet deserts and wines. 

Parsis have fish with a fragrant rice pilaf (pulav) as well as Sali Boti, a Parsi dish in which red hot mutton is cooked to perfection amid sizzling hot spices crowned with beautiful golden potato shreds and served with onion rings as their main course. Moong dal or a buttery mung bean stew with lots fried garlic and other spices is served as an appetizer. For desert Parsis have a sweet milk pudding with lots of nuts. 

Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a sprinkle of rose water and handed Faluda to drink. In addition, both Iranian Zoroastrians and Parsis mark their midsummer New Year festivities by making philanthropic contributions.

Some scholars have argued that since winter solstice is called maiðyaar “midyear” in the Zoroastrian sacred lore, the ancient calendar must have been reckoned from midsummer. However, the Zoroastrian sacred lore is unambiguous that the religious year starts from the exact moment of vernal equinox (hamas.path.maiðya.) 

The term yaar “year” in maiðyaar refers to winter and to a time when years were counted by the number of winters. However, midsummer celebrations played a major role among all Indo-European traditions and among Zoroastrianism to this day. 


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