“We go to the Fire Temple in the morning to pray for shukarana,” explained Fareshteh Gati-Aslam, while talking to The Express Tribune. “As it’s the new year, it means new clothes [too].” When asked about the famous dances on NovRuz, as the Parsis spell it, she quipped, “They are mostly for young people.”
The Parsis refer to it as Jamshedi NovRuz, as the day also celebrates the crowning of the legendary king Shah Jamsheed and his glorious golden rule in Iran. Traditionally, NovRuz (new day) is celebrated with the setting of a NovRuz table, which is both ritualistic and customary. Haft sheen, or the seven items on the table, start with the Persian letter ‘sh’. They are sabzeh (wheat sprouts, symbolising rebirth), samanu (a wheat-germ pudding, symbolising affluence), senjed (dried fruit, symbolising love), sir (garlic, symbolising medicine), sib (apples, symbolising beauty and health), somaq (berries, symbolising sunrise) and serkeh (vinegar symbolising, age and patience). In the present day, the common items found on a Haft sheen table include sheeshah (mirror), shilooneh (jujube), shiir (milk), shirini (sweets such as white and pink fondants), sherbet (falooda) and shaanin (candles). The mirror on the table represents an old saying that, ‘In life, shine out like a mirror and be sweet smelling like a rose’. People look into the mirror and make wishes.
“NovRuz celebrations have become considerably less hectic as the Zoroastrian population in Pakistan dwindles,” said one Parsi, who did not want to be named. “Nevertheless, there is the obligatory family lunch followed by a visit to the Agiyari. The evenings are spent going to the houses of friends and relatives who still remain in Karachi and put up their traditional NovRuz tables. Meanwhile, a flurry of SMSs and emails go back and forth all day with NovRuz greetings as we wish our friends and family around the world.”
Sohrab Anklesaria, who is currently abroad at college, will not be in Karachi to celebrate with family and friends. But he remembered fondly that the day was “a celebration of the New Year and was all about spending time with family, friends and just appreciating life in general.”
Modern-day NovRuz has come a long way from the six-day feast that was customary among Persian kings. Now the special day includes dhandar, a special yellow lentil, which is cooked with rice and patia, a prawn sherbet.
Ismailis too celebrate NovRuz with prayers and new-year resolutions, starting as early as 4 am. “We go to the Jamaat Khana for namaz that ends at around 6 am,” described Ali Jiwani while talking to The Express Tribune. “Nauroz is the new year, which means new promises and new hopes. It is literally celebrating the arrival at spring because the season officially begins on March 21.”
At night, dinners called Sagridham in Gujrati, are held, followed by a dance. As Ismailis have a Gujrati background, they perform the daandia and garba - also called the Rasura. “We have our own orchestras too,” said Jiwani, adding that for them, dinner includes boiled eggs which are specially served as they denote the start of a new life.
Published n The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2011.