Zoroastrians the world over celebrated the Shehenshahi New Year 1386 YZ yesterday. The occasion was marked with the usual felicitations from members of the community, but those outside it were left with big question marks hanging over their heads. Many of my friends and colleagues raised a very pertinent question: Why do Zoroastrians celebrate two Navrozes (New Years)? Well, we just need an excuse to feast is how I would have liked to respond to bury the issue in belly laughs, but I owe it to history and the once mighty Persian Empire to shed light on the circumstances that have led to this.
As many of you already know, after the Arab conquest of Iran, our Zoroastrian forefathers left everything and sought refuge in the Indian subcontinent. They lived there in harmony and grew in numbers, until they learnt that during the course of their sea journey they had lost track of time. This is where the second Zoroastrian calendar, the Shehenshahi calendar, traces its beginning.
Faredun K Dadachanji elucidates the matter in his 1995 book Speeches and Writing on Zoroastrian Religion, Culture and Civilization. A graduate of Bombay University and an ardent Zoroastrian, he writes, “About two hundred years ago, poor Iranian Zarthostis, who had been still left behind, also began to migrate to India. When our ancestors came in contact with them, they learnt that their calendar had been a month ahead of ours. So a dispute arose in our community, and one section began calling itself Kadmi (belonging to the pure and true). Great quarrels started over this petty matter, and our community was divided into two parts: Kadmi and Shehenshahi.”
In the Shehenshahi calendar, one followed by Indian Zoroastrians (Parsis), a year consists of 12 mahs (months), with each month comprising 30 days or roj. If you do the math, that leaves us with 360 days in a year, but an additional five days or Gathas were added to the twelfth month to make a 365-day year. It is the same as the authentic Kadmi calendar, only a month behind. Hence, the two new years; the Kadmis brought in the New Year in July this year and the Shehenshahis in August.
But, that’s not all. In the early 20th century, a Zoroastrian scholar and reformer from Bombay, Khurshedji Rustomji Cama, devised the Fasli Calendar, which gave Zoroastrians their third new year, celebrated on March 21. The calendar maintains alignment with the seasons so New Year’s Day coincides with the spring equinox. Similar to the two other calendars, it consists of 12 months of 30 days with the additional five days, but patterned after the Gregorian calendar, it intercalates a leap day every four years.
Today, however, our small community of Zoroastrians is united, courtesy of the great Jamshed Nusserwanji and his novel idea. “He went to Dastur Dhalla, and told him that he had prepared a new scheme: Hambandagi on Farvardegan days according to the Shehenshahi calendar,” Dadachanji writes in his book. Suffice it to say, the hatchet has been buried.
In Karachi yesterday, our Saddar Agyari (fire-temple) and the one in Pakistan Chowk saw followers of the faith — whether they were brought up in the Shehenshahi, Fasli or Kadmi tradition — participate in prayer and exchange good wishes for a prosperous year. History has taught us a valuable lesson, so no matter the roj, mah, sal, we will find a reason to celebrate together.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2016.
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