Welcoming the New Year with The Bay Area’s Zoroastrian Community

The haftseen table, one of the main customs of Nowruz, includes seven items to symbolize wishes for the year to come. Niloo Farhad’s haftseen includes several extra items, like burnt cookies, candies, and a mirror for splashing rosewater when arriving hom
The haftseen table, one of the main customs of Nowruz, includes seven items to symbolize 
wishes for the year to come. Niloo Farhad’s haftseen includes several extra items, like burnt 
 cookies, candies, and a mirror for splashing rosewater when arriving home
Asal Ehsanipour

Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic faith that began in ancient Iran over 3,000 years ago. The Bay Area happens to be a hub for the Zoroastrian community, whose global population has dwindled to just over 100,000. With Nowruz (Persian New Year) celebrations winding down, KALW’s Asal Ehsanipour set out to explore her roots by learning more about modern-day Zoroastrians in the Bay Area.

It’s the first day of spring, and I’m welcomed by the smell of fresh herbs as I walk through the door of my aunt and uncle’s home. My entire family is scattered around the house, and orange tulips bloom everywhere.

We’re here to celebrate the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which translates to ”New Day.” We feast together on Persian foods, such as herbed rice and fish, as my cousin gives her niece new money, a customary gift.

The customs of Nowruz are shared by people of all faiths in Iran and its diaspora — Muslims, Jews, Christians, Baha’is. But its rituals actually come from Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic faith that began in ancient Iran over 3,000 years ago.

It was the dominant religion during three Persian empires, and remains one of the oldest religions in the world.

A close up of Nazneen’s haftseen table, which means “seven sins” or “s” in Farsi.
Credit Asal Ehsanipour

Zoroastrians by the Bay

The day after Nowruz, I find myself in Palo Alto, washing my face with rosewater as I arrive at the home of Niloo Farhad.

“I was born and raised in Iran,” says Niloo. “I am Zoroastrian by birth.”

Now, Niloo does not consider herself a very observant Zoroastrian, but she believes in the spirit of Nowruz: What you do on the new year carries you through the rest of the year.

“That’s where the Zoroastrian part at least for me comes,” she says. “You think well, you speak well, you behave well.”

Like many Iranians, Niloo follows certain traditions every year, including creating the customary altar, called a haftseen table. The word means “Seven S’s,” and each of the items on the table starts with a “ssss” sound.

“Sib, which is apple, symbolizes health,” explains Niloo.

Or serkeh … ?

“Vinegar,” she says. “It symbolizes age and maturity.”

The haftseen table reflects wishes for the year to come, with roots stemming back to the number 7 and the Zoroastrian creation story. However, the table isn’t a mandated practice; people of all religions include books of worship, such as the Torah, Bible, or Koran. Some Iranians even include Sufi poetry as a symbol of their ideology. Niloo says that inclusivity is what Nowruz, or Persian New Year, is all about.

“I think that’s why it’s survived so long,” says Niloo. “Because it is not tied to one religion.”

Persian kings such as Darius popularized the holiday, which created a tradition of celebration across modern-day Afghanistan, Turkey, and, of course, Iran.

Each year, the Persian Zoroastrian Organization hosts a Nowurz party to ring in the new year. 
Traditional Iranian dancers and musicians entertain the hundreds of Bay Area Zoroastrians 
who attended.
Credit Asal Ehsanipour

Today, Nowruz is regarded as both religious and secular. Religious in that Zoroastrians are expected to clean their houses and go to the fire temple. However, it’s secular in that even the non-observant gather with family for celebratory meals.

Every year at the beginning of spring, hundreds of local Zoroastrians gather in San Jose, where the Persian Zoroastrian Organization hosts a party in honor of the new year.

Khashayar Anoosheh, or Kashi for short, moved to the Bay Area in the early ‘80s, back when there were just a handful of Zoroastrians here. As the community’s grown, he’s tried to preserve its teachings, like thoughtfulness.

“The core thing,” says Kashi, “is education and progress, and understanding of your surroundings.”

Some call Zoroastrianism more of a philosophy than a religion. It’s reflective and there’s no official day of worship. Therein lies an obstacle to preserving the culture.

Kashi says that on the one hand, it’s good to have progressive thinkers who make independent choices.

“But from the perspective of trying to get the community mobilized to do something, no,” he says. “That one it gets tougher. Because everybody’s going to have their own ideas.”


Each year, the Persian Zoroastrian Organization hosts a Nowurz party to ring in the new year. Traditional Iranian dancers and musicians entertain the hundreds of Bay Area Zoroastrians who attended.

Traditional Variations

At the party, I watch people greet each other with a kiss on each cheek, before the kids lead a prayer to ring in the new year. Traditional Iranian music starts. And then, a little girl approaches the dance floor, absorbed in Persian dance.

The party is set to go on like this until midnight.

But while the Persian Zoroastrians were celebrating Saturday night, the Parsis were having a Nowruz party of their own.

Now, the Parsis also practice Zoroastrianism, but come from India and Pakistan, where they settled after leaving Iran sometime between the 7th and 10th centuries.

“The Iranians like to have music and dancing,” says Nazneen Splietd, who was born in Karachi, Pakistan. “And the Parsis are more interested in their food.”

Nazneen Spliedt, former president of the Zarthoshti Anjuman of Northern California, with her haftseen table at her South San Francisco home. Nazneen is Parsi, and only began making haftseen tables of her own when she met the Iranian Zoroastrians of North America.

Nazneen Spliedt, former president of the Zarthoshti Anjuman of Northern California, with her 
haftseen table at her South San Francisco home.
Credit Asal Ehsanipour

Nazneen is the former president of Zarthoshti Anjuman of Northern California, the Parsi organization here in the Bay.

“Parsi,” literally means “From Persia” in Gujarati, a language native to the Indian subcontinent. But with a recent migration to North America, Iranian Zoroastrians and Parsis have come together for the first time in over a thousand years.

“They were different and yet they were alike,” says Nazneen.

Different language, different food, different culture.

A close up of Nazneen’s haftseen table, which means “seven sins” or “s” in Farsi.
Credit Asal Ehsanipour

“Then when we go back to see a little bit of the culture, we see we always used to eat this dish, but now we can see the [original] did come from Iran,” she says.

Nazneen says the convergence of communities here in North America allows the next generation of Zoroastrians to come together. They even share a Zoroastrian temple in San Jose, one of only eight across all of North America.

So while different languages once divided them, English can bridge that divide. Since the Zoroastrian community is so small, so scattered, this reunion feels even more important.

“Now of course everyone is worried that the population is dying and dwindling,” says Nazneen. “But all these tales are maybe just overblown.”

The Zoroastrian population is shrinking, with a little over 100,000 globally, according the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.

However, the Bay Area numbers have grown — especially in job-rich Silicon Valley.

Jamshid Varza noticed this growth back in 1996, but found there wasn’t a single place his kids could learn about their Zoroastrian heritage.

He says it started one morning when he was at breakfast talking with his wife Mitra.

“The kids would go to school and see their friends go to church, go to synagogues, and ‘say what are we?’” says Mitra. “And they had no idea.”

So Jamshid and Mitra started a Zoroastrian school.

“Oh, the first class we had probably 8 or 9,” says Jamshid. “But … the second year I had 44 students.”

Turns out, students loved it. And eventually, it brought Zoroastrians of all ages together.

“Parents. Grandparents. Extended family. People coming from overseas,” says Jamshid. “Because they wanted to be together.”

The Zoroastrian classes still exist, but not under the Varzas.

Since then, Jamshid’s been producing documentaries on Zoroastrianism. He also helped start Stanford’s Zoroastrian lecture series, which became a department that lasted six years before the professor who led it transferred to Oxford.

Jamshid and Mitra say these efforts have given the next generation a feeling of belonging.

“Just a sense of ‘so this is what I believe. That’s what my ancestors believe. This is where I come from. This is what they did. This is how is all happened,’” says Mitra.

Mitra says education does more than bring Zoroastrian kids back to their roots. Traditions like Nowruz inspire regrowth. It’s the celebration of life. Of what sustains us.

“You felt it wasn’t just the nature having a rebirth,” says Mitra. “But it was everything having a rebirth. That sense of renewal was magical.”

Magical for everyone. After all, the beauty of Nowruz is that it extends to people of all faiths, whether you’re Zoroastrian or not.

   April 05, 2018      6:56AM     13 hours ago   

Navroz Prayers

Dear all,

The Jamshedi Navroze starts from 20th March 2018 at sharp
21 hours
45 minutes and 
28 seconds.

When Sun enters in Aries sign (Mesh Rashi) acc. to Sayan (western Astrology).

The Jamshedi Navroze day is celebrated by Mazdayasni Zarthosti in a very special way.  It does not  fall on any of the Zoroastrian Roj – Mah calendar which we follow for our other religious ceremonies.

The day commences with the advent of spring when Sun enters the sign Aries when it reaches the Nothern Vernal Equinox which occurs around 21st March.

On this particular day the Khurshed Yazad shines with its full glitter and glory and spreads its sunshine (roshni) on this Geti (earth) abundantly.
On this auspicious day the following prayer is recommended in praise of Khurshed Yazad and to get his bountiful blessings.

In Havan Geh :
3 times Khorshed Neyayesh,
1 Meher Neyayesh and
1 Vispa Humata

The above order makes one set of prayer.
Likewise one should pray 3 such sets in the same order.
This will end up in reciting 9 Khorshed Neyayesh, 3 Meher Neyayesh and 3 Vispa Humata prayers in Havan Geh.

In Rapithwan Geh: 3 Khorshed Neyayesh,  1 Meher Neyayesh
Two sets of prayers in Rapithwan Geh, maintaining the above order. That means in Rapithwan Geh one will recite 6 times Khorshed Neyayesh and 2 times Meher Neyayesh. It is important to note that in Rapithwan Geh the Vispa Humata prayer is NOT to be recited.

Note: However when Havan Geh is recited from Hormazd roj of mah Avan till the last Gatha (Vahishtoisht) instead of Rapithwan Geh, (Second Havan Geh) one should follow the prayer set given above for Havan Geh, but only 2 times, and NOT 3 times.

In Uzirin Geh :
3 Khorshed Neyayesh,
1 Meher Neyayesh
Only one set as prescribed above is to be recited in this Geh. Thus in Uzirin Geh one would recite 3 Khorshed Neyayesh and 1 Meher Neyayesh. No Vispa Humata prayer in Uzirin Geh.

This set of prayers in the three different Gehs is to be recited only once in a year. It is highly recommended to a true Zoroastrian to do so and get the benefit out of it.
Some forgotten prayers

In our Mazdayasni Daen there is a wealth of prayers out of which a wise person can select some.
Yazdaan Panah baad.

Ervad Yezdi M Turel
Mob: 98255-88327

Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Nowruz

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
March 22, 2017
 This week, I would like to send my best wishes to all those around the world celebrating the wonderful ancient holiday of Nowruz.  Many millions of people of Iranian, Iraqi, Turkish, South Asian, and Central Asian heritage will come together with their families during this time to commemorate the arrival of spring.
Nowruz means “new day” in Persian.  It is an occasion to celebrate new beginnings, a sentiment that is particularly meaningful for so many Iranians who have come to our country in recent decades to make a new start in a free land.
For many years, I have greatly enjoyed wonderful friendships with Iranian-Americans, one of the most successful immigrant groups in our country’s contemporary history. They come from diverse religious backgrounds—including Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian, and Baha’i—but all share an affection for their ancestral heritage.
Cyrus the Great, a leader of the ancient Persian Empire, famously said that “[f]reedom, dignity, and wealth together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die.”
 To the Iranian people and all those around the world celebrating Nowruz: On behalf of the American people, I wish you freedom, dignity, and wealth. Nowruz Pirouz (Happy Nowruz).

Navroze in Udvada, Where The Sacred Fire Never Goes Out

Can you spot Boman Irani and Ratan Tata?

All pictures by Shantanu Das

About 206km north of Mumbai on the NH8 to Agra is the sleepy town of Udvada on Gujarat’s palm-fringed southwest coast. It is to Zoroastrians what Vatican City is to Catholics. The holiest of holies. Not the town itself as much as the Iranshah Atashbehram which stands monument-like at the heart of Udvada. It is one of the oldest and most important spiritual centres for Zoroastrians in the world. They are a fire-worshipping people. And the Iranshah is a fire temple. It is where the holy fire that was consecrated in 1742 when the Zoroastrians came to India to escape religious persecution in Persia is still burning. I understand that Zoroastrians living in Yezd and Homuz in Iran make pilgrimages to Udvada to pay homage at the Iranshah even today.

I visited Udvada one Navroze out of curiosity. Navroze is the dawn of the spring equinox, when the sun crosses the celestial equator, signifying the passage of winter and onset of summer. It always falls in March. This year the festival is being celebrated today, starting at 3.58 o’clock and 40 seconds. Not just by the Zoroastrians of India, but also those of the faith in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Udvada is a four-hour drive from Mumbai, most of it on appalling, bone-jarring roads. Finding a place to stay is easier. The pilgrims can choose from a number of inexpensive dharamshalas in the coastal town. These are all located in the Udvada village that is huddled around the Iranshah.

A lack of money and soul has reduced it to a decrepit pilgrim centre Zoroastrians visit only occasionally. But yet it has a certain charm…

I stayed at a friend’s bungalow on Udvada beach. It is a dirty beach with a dark and forbidding sea on whose waves, I am told, smugglers come riding at night with liquor from the duty free union territory of Daman a few nautical miles away. Udvada, like the rest of Gujarat, is under prohibition. But the Zoroastrians there down their Parsi pegs at night with grateful thanks to the friendly neighbourhood smuggler. If Narendra Modi did not change the prohibition rule when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat for two terms, he won’t do it now as Prime Minister. Visitors who are non-Zoroastrian and who do not enjoy local patronage like I did, can stay at Percy Sidhwa’s Globe Hotel, the Mek Hotel or Ashsisvang Hotel, all of which are simple and friendly.

The weekend I was there, Navroze fell on a Sunday. I explored the entire town the Saturday before in one hour flat. Udvada is in a sorry state of neglect. A lack of money and soul has reduced it to a decrepit pilgrim centre Zoroastrians visit only occasionally. But yet it has a certain charm, with its crumbling old houses. Some have been sold, others pulled down and replaced by modern structures that look incongruous in the old township with their modern, indifferent architecture. It appears nobody wants to stay in Udvada anymore. Except the old and original residents who have nowhere else to go. They are a quaint people whose children left them to go to colleges in cities and jobs abroad. And now their grandchildren come visiting Udvada like the rest of the Zoroastrians do, on an annual pilgrimage.

Click Here for an interesting essay with some exotic pics!

Udwada’s life style on 14th December 2010. Udwda is the holy place of Parsi religion.
Boman Irani in Udvada












“The Rites of Spring”

As I try extending to you the Zoroastrian New Year  Greetings, The Earth is spinning towards the Spring Equinox, the Moment of NOWRUZ, an appropriate time to share with you,  this link to a beautiful multimedia show on YouTube, “The Rites of Spring” created by Niloufar Talebi, that,  I’m sure every Zarathushti  would enjoy.

Though she starts of in Farsi, the explanation in English follows,  60 seconds later.

Have a blessed NOW RUZ.

Rusi Sorabji