Before the clock struck 10:19 am on Tuesday, a group of women huddled around a resplendent dastarkhwan, reciting a special prayer 365 times. And when the appointed moment came, they hugged and kissed, showering one another with greetings of Saal-e-Nau Mubarak.
Originally a Zoroastrian festival, Nauroz is celebrated to mark the beginning of the New Year and vernal equinox or spring. In Karachi, today, Parsis and people with Iranian backgrounds will thus be celebrating a new beginning. Their spelling of the word differs, with several variations, including Nauroz, Nowruz, Navroz.
“It is more traditional and cultural than religious,” explained Nasreen Karamally whose ancestors belong to Iran. Mohadesa Kalantarzadeh explained that every year there is a different time.
This year is associated with the colour red, signifying wealth and prosperity. “It will bring wealth to the president,” joked one man after greeting his family.
The elders reminisced about times in Iran. “I was there a couple of years ago. Obviously there is a massive difference in the celebrations.” Kalantarzadeh remarked. “In Iran, they celebrate for 14 days, leaving their homes and go out on vacations. But here, we just celebrate for one day, and tomorrow, everyone will go back home.”
For the Zoroastrians, also known as Parsis, the revelry was popularised by King Jamshed of Persia. Navroz literally means ‘new day’. Parsi preparations for Navroz begin many days in advance. Houses are cleaned, thresholds are decorated with ‘chowk chandans’, better known as coloured powder decorations. People visit the Agiary or fire temples and pray for the wellbeing, success, health and happiness of the family.
It really is majestic and tranquil for Zoroastrians to go to one of the fire temples and hear the priests pray in a beautifully synchronised rhythm. The temples are lit up with incense sticks and ‘diwas’, a small glass bottle in which a burning candle wick flickers, lighting up all four corners of a room.
Upon request, families can ask the priests to pray the special prayers for them and ask from ‘Ahura Mazda’, our God, for a happy, healthy and bountiful year.
In homes, a table covered with a white cloth is laid. Placed on it is a copy of the ‘Gathas’, which are the special prayers, a mirror, a picture of Prophet Asho Zarathushtra, a lit lamp, a bowl of water containing fish, flowers for colour, a silver coin for wealth and sweets and rosewater in bowls for sweetness and happiness.
In addition, the table holds seven foods beginning with ‘sh’ in Persian, which are ‘sharab’ or wine, ‘shakar’ or sugar, ‘shir’ or milk, ‘shirin berenjor’ or sweet meat, ‘shirin’ or sweet, ‘shira’ or syrup and ‘shahad’ or honey. There are also seven things that start with ‘s’. ‘Sirka’ or vinegar, ‘sumac’ or samanu, ‘seb’ or apple, ‘sir’ or garlic, ‘senjed’ or sorb treeberry and ‘sabzi’ or green vegetables. Alongside this fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and pumpkin seeds are also set to symbolise creation and to welcome spring.
Parsis visit friends and relatives and wish each other by putting their right hand into their left hand, saying ‘Hamazor Hama Usho Bed’, or ‘may you be with us at the ceremony and may you be righteous`. The lady of the house then leads her guests to the table and makes them smile into the mirror, so that they may smile throughout the year. She asks them to look at the silver coin, so that they may have wealth the whole year round, then sprinkles rosewater on their hands to keep them smelling sweet and healthy. After that, she invites them to partake of the food, which is laid on another table.
The Parsis also celebrate the creation of fire and ‘Arthravahisht’ on Navroz.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2012.