It Is Through Your Light That It Has Come To Be So

In Egypt, the festival of Navroz was celebrated with great pomp. It must be known that Egypt under the Fatimid remained largely a Sunni country and Ismailism won only a limited following among the population. Cairo alone housed a large Sunni population. When Imam al-Muizz found that the general Muslims took less interest publicly in the festival, he prohibited public festivities on Navroz in 363/974. Thus, the celebration first moved to the streets of Cairo, to the Azhar, and, finally, to the palace itself. These changes show in part how a popular celebration moved progressively close to the Ismaili centre of Cairo and ultimately was assimilated into the ceremonial of the court. The general population probably did not desist from its customary practices on the festival, but the ceremony that took place at court was stripped of all popular elements.

The Ottoman Turks had adopted it for the feast which ended the fast, which was called the Feast of Sugar (sheker-bairami). It was originally held at the summer solstice, on the 21st June, but gradually, in consequence of the difficulty of correcting the calendar, it was shifted towards the spring equinox, and the reform of Jalaluddin Malik Shah fixed it on the 21st March, the date which the Nauruz-i Sultani has kept to the present.

The Navroz was also celebrated in India during the period of the Mughal empire. On the occasion of Navroz, the most picturesque ceremony in the court was the weighing of emperor Akbar against seven kinds of grain, coral and gold. Emperor Akbar and Jhangir festiviated with great pomp, but Aurengzeb had abolished it. He substituted for Navroz another imperial feast, which was to begin in the month of Ramazan and to continue upto the Eid al-Fitr. This was called as Nishat Afroz Jashan. But the later Mughal emperors revived the Navroz festival, which was celebrated for nine days. On the first day, the emperor gave away a gold chain of an elephant in alms and sit on the weighing scale. In the court, he occupied the peacock throne, and pearls and rubies were scattered among those present. Outside the court, the procession of the elephants and horses passed before the emperor. The nobles presented gifts. On one occasion, Shams ad-Dawla Khan-i Dauran Mansur Jang, offered the emperor Muhammad Shah, one lac of rupees and a garland of pearls worth of twenty-five thousand of rupees each. The emperor on his part honored them with the khilats. Next day, the emperor again took his seat on the throne and the nobles again offered presents who missed on the first day. On the third day again the emperor took his seat on the throne and witnessed dance and music party. Thus, during these nine days all sorts of recreative festivities were organized and gifts were exchanged.

Navroz is seen to be celebrated by a number of Shi’ites and the Sufis. The Bektashi Sufi order in present day in Turkey, for instance, celebrate Navroz (pronounced nevruz in Turkish) not because of the new year it is to herald, but to commemorate the birthday of Imam Ali bin Abu Talib, also in his capacity as the symbolic founder of most Sufi orders throughout Islamic history. Navroz is observed among the Turks of Anatolia at the time of the equinox, on the ninth day of March.

The eight Ismaili Imams flourished in Alamut in Iran for about 171 years. The eighteen Imams then also resided in different villages during post-Alamut period for about 582 years. Iran is the original home of Navroz celebration, and it is most probable that the Iranian Ismailis continued to celebrate Navroz with other Shi’ites. Thence, it appears that the ceremony tooks its root in Syria, Central Asia and India.

Today the essence of Navroz is captured in its nation-wide celebrations which are spread over more than two weeks of holidays when all Iranians, irrespective of their religion, ethnic origins or age participate in festivities. It commences frfom the last Wednesday of the year popularly called Chahar-shambeh suri until the thirteenth day called sizdah-bedar after the New Year. The perpetual bringers of the tidings of New Year are the clowns of the traditional folk theatre called Haji Firuz. Apparelled in red jester-like satin costumes, with faces blackened by charcoal, and playing a tambourine, several persons dressed as Haji Firuz dance through the torchlit streets during the Navroz period singing and dancing to the rhythm of the tambourine, from street to street and town to town, to the delight of all. In some province of Iran, starting a month before Navroz, special troupes of singers move from province to province singing special songs heralding the joyous coming of the New Year.

On New Year’s eve, the exact second of the change of the old to the new year, known as Mowqey-e-tahwil-e-sa’l is astrologically calculated and noted. To await this moment, all family members dressed in new clothes and finery must be together. For this occasion, the house is full of the heavy scent of the burning of aloe-wood and other fragrant incenses. Typical Iranian music emanating from the tar (a lute with long neck and six springs), santur (dulcimer played with two sticks) and ney (reed flute) entertains the guests. Sugar-plums, pistachio-nuts, almonds and takhmeh (melon seeds) are distributed to all eagerly awaiting the New Year. As the chimes of the clock broadcast over the radio or television, toll out the old year, recitation of Koranic verses and special prayers usher in the New one. At this moment, family members approach each other, embrace, kiss and congratulate one another with greetings of Eid-e-shoma Mubarak, Sa’l-e-shoma Mubarak (may your Eid and New Year be blessed), Tabrik arz Mikonam (accept my New Year wishes). Everyone resolves to bury their differences of the past 12 months and to start afresh. Gifts are exchanged and all gather round the banquet table for a feast. It is customary to lay on a table a ceremonial display called Sufreye-Nawruz, consisting of a mirror, a copy of the Koran, live goldfish in a bowl, green sprouts of wheat grain and lentils, coloured eggs, and Haft-Sin, which is a large platter filled with seven dishes (haft sin). Each dish bears in haft-sin the name, beginning with the Persian letter sin i.e., sib (apple), sir (garlic), sumak (sumac), sinjib (jujbe), samanu (a kind of sweet-dish), sirka (vinger) and sabzi (greens), which are placed on a cloth spread on the floor in front of a mirror and candles in company with dishes of certain foods.

The Navroz holidays officially last 13 days when all Iranians visit many friends as possible and exchange Eidy or festive gifts. The first day is reserved for respected elders of the family who in turn return the visit. Everywhere a festive mood prevails; tea, sweetmeats, ajil (dried fruits and nuts), conversation and music flow.

The thirteenth day of Navroz called sizdah bedar (thirteenth out of doors) is traditional spent out in the woods or parks. Every Iranian family leaves home early in the morning, and equipped with mats, picnic materials and musical instruments, search pleasant sites. Each family has brought the sprouted wheat and lentils from their Navroz Sufreh, which they will cast away for good luck. It is considered lucky to eat a special thick soup ash, made from noodles on this day. The soup and its accompanying garnish