The ancient Zoroastrian and Indo-European roots of Nowrouz
The celebration of Vernal Equinox and arrival of spring is the most sacred and joyous of all Zoroastrian religious holidays. It is called Hamas.paθ.maædÿa in Avesta, the sacred lore of the Zoroastrians. The Avestan term Hamas.paθ.maædÿa refers to the exact time at which “the celestial paths are at a midpoint and have the same distance/length from each other.” The Persian word Now.rouz, means literally “New Dawn/Day” and alludes to the first “fresh dawn/light” after the vernal equinox.
Interestingly, the ancient Roman calendar began also at the vernal equinox. This is evidenced by the name of the months September, October, November, December, that respectively mean the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th month which puts the beginning of calendar in spring. The celebration of vernal equinox in the old Roman calendar was attributed to Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome.
For Zoroastrians, celebration of spring equinox is a a recurrent reminder of Frašö-kereitî the “splendid, fresh new creation” of the worlds, a symbol of the coming eternal spring when Our “limited, temporal time” will evolve into the “long dominion and everlasting age of the Gods.”
When the eternal spring finally arrives, the worlds and all that is in them will be refashioned to the pristine, brilliant state in which it was envisioned by the supreme God/Titan Ahûrá Mazdá “the Wise Lord of Mind Powers and Vision.”
Ahûrá Mazdá establishes/creates the worlds by the powers of his wondrous mind, luminous vision, celestial music, and triumphant spirit. He and his Auspicious Immortals are embodied by eternal quest for excellence, betterment and superb artistry that will culminate in the frašö-kereitî, the “splendid, fresh new creation” of the worlds.
The ten days before Vernal Equinox are dedicated to ancestors and Fravašis who are Valkyrie-like pristine prototypes or ideal images of all things. It is believed that the veil between our realm and higher dimensions is especially thin during last 10 days before equinox. These last 10 holy days of the year are referred to as Rözān Fravardîgán literally “bright points or luminous cracks for Fravašis.”
Families welcome their departed and heroic dead with prayers, consecrated nuts, cakes, other food offerings and by brightness of bonfires fragrant with incense. Especially on the eve of the 5th day before equinox fires are lit on rooftops or in front of the houses after sunset. People go door to door, covered in masked costumes to ask for consecrated nuts, sweets, foods and fruits.
The existence of similar observances among Celts celebrating Halloween and other Indo-European peoples suggests that these ancient rites go back to the very dawn of the Indo-European culture.The ancient bonfire ceremonies are still celebrated in the form of chahr-shanbae suri ceremonies where bonfires are lit during the last Wednesday night before arrival of Spring. However, the modern chahr-shanbae suri lacks its original Zoroastrian solemnity.
The Nowrouz banquet/table is a symbolic offering of decorated colored eggs, germinated wheat or lentil sprouts, hyacinth flower, silver or gold coins, mirror, candles, wine, incense, bowl of milk, spring water with thymes, apples or sour oranges, fried sweet bread and garlic cloves. However, the setting of the table and lucky items differs according to the taste of individual celebrants.
The items on the New year table start with the letter S in farsi. The S is an allusion to the Avestan word Speñtámeaning “auspicious, sacred, very bright and radiant” and refers to lucky items/symbolic foods that bring good luck and represent the Blessings of the Auspicious Brilliant Immortals in our lives and homes. In Zoroastrianism Godhood is “Good, Benevolent Genius” who only brings good fortune, prosperity, growth, healing, light and much wonder and joy into mortals’ lives.
Decorated, colored eggs of the ancient Zoroastrians share the same roots with Ôstara eggs that represent fertility and regenerative powers. Ôstara eggs were later incorporated into Easter and Christianity. Also similar to many Eastern European folklore, Garlic is believed to have miraculous healing powers among Zoroastrians and is essential in warding off diabolic spirits.
Another most interesting Nowrouz food is samanü or samnoo, a sweet pudding made with germinated wheat sprouts, flour, and water. Samanoo symbolizes sweet life and rewards of patience. Samanoo is strikingly similar to an ancient Finnish Easter pudding called Mämmi. This unique Finnish sweet pudding called Memmi in Sweden, is an ancient desert that is known only in Finland, and among some Baltic people. Mämmi is made out of rye flour, water, molasses, orange zest that is left to sweeten naturally (just like samanoo) before being baked.
There are loanwords from Indo-Iranian, into the Uralic languages, and vice versa that date back to a time when Proto Indo Iranians still lived in Abashevo culture and had extensive trade with Volsovo culture of the Broze age that made many cultural and linguistic exchanges between Proto Indo-Iranians and the Uralic people possible.
The Proto Indo-Iranian and Uralic loanwords in their respective languages are primarily visible in words of agriculture, animal husbandry, spiritual life vocabulary and shamanism.
The Spring Equinox Celebrations last 13 days. On the lucky 13th day, the decorated eggs and germinated wheat or lentil sprouts are taken outdoors to fresh streams, lakes or waterfalls, and are offered to the brightest and luckiest star Tištar or Tristar. Three knots are made in germinated wheat or lentil sprouts before offering them. Then a wish is made. The three knots are symbolic of Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds, the supreme importance of keeping our disposition, energy, expression and actions, positive and luminous in the coming year ahead. Tištar or Tristar of the Zoroastrian scripture appears in Moslem Koran as ash-shira, the Mighty Sirius Star.