March - April 2002   
  Vol. 2 No.2   
Know Your Founders Oddities, Eccentricities, Etc. Of Enduring Interest Corporate Commentary Back to Main Page Editorial

A Festival of Hope, Life and Colour

Jamshedi Navroz (also written as Navruz) is a colourful fes-
tival celebrated with great joy and revelry by Zoroastrians. 
Navroz means “New (Year’s) Day” and Jamshed-i means 
“of Jamshed”. The Jamshed referred to here is the fourth Peshdadian king to adorn the throne of ancient Iran. 
Shahnameh, the Iranian epic, tells us that God forewarned King Jamshed in anticipation of a terrible snow-storm which was to submerge the entire world in ice and snow. King Jamshed was advised to take a pair of each species and settle on a mountain to save himself and other good creations from this great catastrophe. King Jamshed did accordingly, and established a settlement, which he called Var-e-Jam-Kard (“The Settlement of Jamshed”). 

cup of King Jamshed
King Jamshed of Peshdadian dynasty 
with the Jan-i-jamshed ("cup of King Jamshed")

In this settlement, King Jamshed was crowned on the first day, Hormazd, of the first month, Farvardin. A Jashan was celebrated to commemorate the occasion. Everywhere in the kingdom there was celebration with wine, music and singing. The present festival of Jasmshedi Navroz is celebrated to commemorate this event.

Today, in India, Jamshedi Navroz is celebrated as a seasonal and historical festival, to commemorate the coronation of King Jamshed, even though it is not their New Year’s day. The Parsis in India connected the seasonal Navroz to King Jamshed and referred to it as Jamshedi Navroz. For most Zoroastrians in India, Jamshedi Navroz is not a religious festival, as it does not synchronise with any day of the Shahenshahi Calendar. However, Zoroastrians who follow the Fasali Calendar, celebrate this day as their New Year day. 

The day of Jamshedi Navroz coincides with 21st March, the day of Vernal equinox, when the day and night are of equal duration. On this day the sun completes its sojourn across the 12 constellations, and re-enters the first house of Aries. Even, according to Albiruni, the day of Navroz coincides with the sun entering the sign of Aries, which is the beginning of spring.

Right since Sasanian times, two Navroz were celebrated by Zoroastrians. One was religious, on the first day (Hormazd) of the first month (Farvardin) of Zoroastrian calendar, which keeps on moving. The other is the fixed seasonal feast at the spring equinox. The Iranians, in olden times, referred to the spring Navroz as the ‘Greater Navroz’ and the religious Navroz as the ‘Lesser Navroz’. However, nowadays they refer to the spring festival just with the name Navroz, and the religious Navroz, having paled in significance, is remembered more at the time (Farvardegan or Panji) preceding which the souls of departed ones are to be remembered. 

As the Zoroastrian year is of 365 days, it needed to be kept in sync with the solar calendar with the addition of an intercalatory month every 120 years. However, due to the inability of intercalation in India and Iran after the downfall of the Sasanian dynasty, the Zoroastrians presently celebrate their Navroz (New Year) sometime in August. 

Ervad Dr. Ramiyar P .karanjia
Ervad Dr. Ramiyar P .karanjia, Principal, 
Athornan madressa presenting theAnnual 
Report on Madressa's Annual Day,
December 2000.
(Right) A Navroz table with 7 items
A Navroz table with 7 items
The seven items may include any of the following: shir (milk), sharab (wine), shakar (sugar), shama (candle), somagh (sumac), shikeh (coin), sib (apple), sonbol (hyacinth), sabzi (vegetables), shisheh (glass), sarkeh (vinegar), etc.

In ancient Iran the New Year day keeps on changing as it is on the basis of a 365-day calendar. However, during the time of King Jamshed, as also during the time of Firdausi Toosi, the poet who composed the epic Shahnameh, the New Year fell in spring and hence Firdausi may have concluded that the religious New Year always fell in spring. 

Most Muslims in Iran and Afghanistan celebrate this festival, as a secular springtime holiday, though it is regarded as unIslamic by some. No Islamic rulers, however strict (not even the Talibans), were able to stop this festivity.

This festival in Iran, coming as it does after a harsh winter and before the sweet and fresh spring, is much looked forward to. The Iranians have a special way of celebrating it. For them the festivity starts much before the day of Navroz and lasts for about 21 days. 

threshold decorated with chalk
Houses are cleaned and the threshold decorated with chalk

Cleaning the house and buying new clothes hold an important place as a preliminary to the celebrations. A day before the Navroz, a circular table is placed prominently in the house and on it seven items starting with the letters shin or sin of the Persian alphabet are arranged. Hence it is called the Hafta-shin table. These items, along with additional items such as a bowl of goldfish and pictures of Damavand Mountain, are kept untouched on the table for six to thirteen days. 

On the 13th day after Navroz, which is referred to as Sizdah Badar, the Haft Shin table is cleared, and everybody leaves the house and goes outdoors. 

The 16th century Seljuk King Sultan Jallaluddin Malekshah (1072-1092), on the advise of his wise Vazir Omar Khayyam, started the practice of having a Financial Year for the purposes of tax collection, starting from 21st March, as he found the shifting Muslim year unsuitable for this purpose. Thus, this day is also referred to as Navruz-e-Jalali, or Navruz-e-Sultani or Navruz-e-Saljuki.

In India, the celebration of Jamshedi Navroz was first started by Seth Nasarvanji Kavasji Kohyaji in Surat towards the end of 18th century in his private bungalow. He was an agent for a Dutch company and used to travel to Iran for work. After a few decades, the celebration of this festival was started in Bombay by Seth Merwanji Pandey at his bungalow. In the 20th century the oriental savant, Khurshedji Rustamji Cama, further popularised this festival in Mumbai and gave it religious overtones. 

Jamshedi Navroz is considered a festival of hope, life and colour. It keeps us in touch with our glorious past, with nature and, above all, with our religion, as, Frashokereti — the promise of a fresh new spiritual life in future — is an integral part of the religious convictions of a Zoroastrian. May this Jamshedi Navroz bring a happy, cheerful and bright year for all humanity. 
— Ervad Dr. Ramiyar P. Karanjia