A close-up of what Nowruzis like for the Parsi families of the metro
owruz, one of the most ancient festivals, is celebrated across the world every year. The festival, which has its origins in the Zoroastrian tradition, is observed with reverence in 22 countries in Central Asia and South Asia. In Pakistan, it is both a religious and a cultural affair with people from various faiths coming together to mark the Persian New Year with their loved ones.
Much like the Basant festival which is celebrated to herald the arrival of spring in the Punjab, Nowruz, which literally translates to The New Day also has seasonal underpinnings. It welcomes spring, new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil.
At the heart of Nowruz festivities in Pakistan is the Parsi community in Karachi for whom the spring festival holds deepspiritual meaning. The occasion marks new beginnings, the revival of life and prosperity. It is the day of glad tidings, good health and fraternity; but also of redemption.
The Parsi community has been celebrating Nowruz for 3,000 years to celebrate the beginning of the Persian solar calendar and King Jamshed’s rule which brought with it the first golden age that lasted for 300 years. During that era, the ancient Persians flourished and their influence spread across the world. There was peace and plenty; enough food to go around for everyone.
On the occasion of Nowruz this year, the oldest Agiary, also known as Atishkadeh (fire temple) in the metropolitan – which dates back almost 175 years, lit up with decorations.
Tishna Patel, a member of Karachi’s Parsi community, told TheNews on Sunday that on the morning of Nowruz, she prayed in the ancient Agiaryand celebrated the anniversary. “Nowruz is like a New Year’s celebration,” she explained, “we celebrate it on March 21 every year as JamshedJiNowruz.”
“Nowruz celebrations are not bound by borders; neither are they exclusive to the Parsi community. People belonging to many countries, faiths and ethnicities celebrate the festival every year,” said Patel.
She also said that, in Karachi, many members of the ShiaMuslim and Aga Khani communities celebrate Nowruz alongside the Parsi community. “In Iran, Nowruz is quite an occasion,” she pointed out.
Patel said that she was welcoming visitors the traditional way on Nowruz. “I first anoint people with rosewater, then show them the mirror and offer them a date,” she said. “So they smell like a rose, shine bright like a mirror and sweetness becomes a part of their lives all year round,” explained Patel.
“We begin the celebrations by decorating a table. We place several items that symbolise growth and harvest on the table. These usually include an earthen urn with sprigs of wheat, dry fruits, seasonal fruits, grain and rice,” said Patel.
At the heart of Nowruz festivities in Pakistan is the Parsi community in Karachi for whom the spring festival holds a deepspiritual meaning. The occasion marks new beginnings, the revival of life and prosperity. It is a day of glad tidings, good health and fraternity; but also of redemption.
“We then add to this table haft-sheen, meaning seven items that begin with the Farsi alphabet ‘sheen’ such as sheerini, shama, sharbat. Parsi families often add sweetmeats, jaggery and local dishes to the table too,” explained Patel.
Tishna said that this time her Nowruz table was austere. “I did not add sweet items to the table because of two deaths in my family. My father passed away this year. An elderly relative in India also passed away recently,” she said.
“I still set up the table because that is the spirit of Nowruz,” said Patel, “even if a family is in mourning, they have to honourthis tradition,” she added. “The rule is to not ‘break’ the table and continue setting it up year after year,” said Patel. “Even if it is a humble one,” she said.
Reminiscing, Tishna said that she used to decorate the Nowruz table the same way back at her parent’s home. “I have been decorating the table ever since I got married and came here,” she added.
Patel pointed out that this year, the colour of the table was white and the chosen animal was the rabbit. “We adopt the animal from the Chinese Calendar. This is the year of the hare. That is why you can see a rabbit figurine on my table,” said Tishna.
Commenting on the fusion of cultural practices she noticed over the years, Patel said that in old times, the Nowruz table was about converging for worship but now it is about that “but also a lot more.” “What has not changed over the centuries is how it features local dishes and seasonal delicacies,” she added.
“Our families got together to say prayers on the occasion of the spring equinox, which occurred around 02:24 am on March 20th this year,” said Patel. “We prayed, lit a lamp and wished one another,” she added. “Spring equinox is the right time to reconnect with everyone and call each other and wish people health and wellness,” she said.
“A post-pandemic trend is to take photos of the Nowruz table and share them with other members of the community. It is a fun and playful way of connecting with others,” said Patel.
“Now that there are less than 800 Parsi individuals residing in Pakistan, social media has given us an incredible means to reconnect with communities around the world and share our traditions,” she said.
“Especially in the Covid-19 crisis, many found solace in setting up their tables and sharing them with their kin through a medium that was accessible to the youth,” said Tishna.
Patel said that in Iran Nowruz is celebrated for thirteen days. On the last day, after saying prayers the items on the Nowruz table are thrown in a moving water body such as a river or the sea. “This last day will be on April 2. I’m looking forward to travelling to Quetta and reuniting with my relatives for this ritual,” she said.
The writer is an award-winning multimedia journalist, photographer and PhD scholar. She tweets (@sheeema)