Naw-ruz [pronounced NO-ROOZ] in Persian means New[-year]-day. It is the beginning of the year for the people of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Tajikistan. Other Asian republics of the
former Soviet Union are joining the group, and the latest report says that Turkey too has decided to declare Naw-Ruz a holiday. It is also celebrated as the new year by the people of the Iranian stock, particularly
the Kurds, in the neighboring countries of Georgia, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. It begins precisely with the beginning of spring on vernal equinox, on about March 21.
Tradition takes Naw-Ruz as far back as 15,000 years -- before the last ice age. King Jamshid (Yima or Yama of the Indo-Iranian lore) symbolizes the transition of the Indo-Iranians from
animal hunting to animal husbandry and a more settled life in human history. Seasons played a vital part then. Everything depended on the four seasons. After a sever winter, the beginning of spring was a great
occasion with mother nature rising up in a green robe of colorful flowers and the cattle delivering their young. It was the dawn of abundance. Jamshid is said to be the person who introduced Naw-Ruz celebrations.
In 487 B.C.E., Darius the Great of the Achamenian dynasty (700 to 330 BCE) celebrated the Naw-Ruz at his newly-built Persepolis in Iran. A recent research shows that it was a very special
occasion. On that day, the first rays of the rising sun fell on the observatory in the great hall of audience at 06-30 a.m., an event which repeats itself once every 1400-1 years. It also happened to coincide with
the Babylonian and Jewish new years. It was, therefore, a highly auspicious occasion for the ancient peoples. The Persepolis was the place, the Achamenian king received, on Naw-Ruz, his peoples from all over the
vast empire. The walls of the great royal palace depict the scenes of the celebrations.
We know the Parthians (250 BCE to 224 CE) celebrated the occasion but we do not know the details. It should have, more or less, followed the Achamenian pattern. During the Sassanian time
(224 to 652 CE), preparations began at least 25 days before Naw-Ruz. Twelve pillars of mudbricks, each dedicated to one month of the year, were erected in the royal court. Various vegetable seeds -- wheat, barley,
lentils, beans, and others -- were sown on top of the pillars. They grew into luxurious greens by the New Year Day. The great king held his public audience and the High Priest of the empire was the first to greet
him. Government officials followed next. Each person offered a gift and received a present. The audience lasted for five days, each day for the people of a certain profession. Then on the sixth day, called the
Greater Naw-Ruz, the king held his special audience. He received members of the Royal family and courtiers. Also a general amnesty was declared for convicts of minor crimes. The pillars were removed on the 16th day
and the festival came to a close. The occasion was celebrated, on a lower level, by all peoples throughout the empire.
Every house gets a thorough cleaning almost a month before. Wheat, barley, lentils, and other vegetable seeds are soaked to grow on china plates and round earthenware vessels some ten
days in advance, so that the sprouts are three to four inches in height by Naw-Ruz. Today, the ceremony has been simplified. A table is laid. It has a copy of the sacred book, a Saint's picture, a mirror, candles,
incense burner, bowl of water with live gold fish, the plates and vessels with green sprouts, flowers, fruits, coins, bread, sugar cone, various grains, fresh, colorfully painted boiled eggs like "Easter
eggs," and above all, seven articles with their names beginning in Persian with the letter S (seen) or SH(sheen). The usual things with Sare vinegar, sumac, garlic, samanu (consistency of germinating wheat),
apple, senjed (sorb), and herbs. Those with an initial letter SH include wine, sugar, syrup, honey, candy, milk, and rice-pudding. The seven articles are prominently exhibited in small bowls or plates on the table.
The table is laid with a white cloth. White represents spotless purity. Let me define the significance of the seven plates of S and seven plates of SH.
Those with S inform us:
- First Plate: I am SERKEH, the vinegar. I am sour but I am a good preservative. I add taste to the things you want to preserve and relish. I symbolize tasty preservation.
- Second Plate: I am SUMAC, exotic in my own way, I make your favorite kabobs have a tangy taste, a taste you relish. I symbolize taste.
- Third Plate: I am SIR, garlic. Some may not like my aroma and others love it. I lower blood pressure. I pacify. I symbolize peace.
- Fourth Plate: I am SAMANU, a sweetish paste, a kind of halwa, made from germinating wheat. I symbolize the sprouting spring, the time for happy growth.
- Fifth Plate: I am SIB, apple. I symbolize the fruits of our world, both literally and allegorically.
- Sixth Plate:
I am SENJED, the tasteless berry of the sorb tree. I am the fruit of a tree which provides shade in summer. I symbolize the shelter and security you need when you want a rest.
- Seventh Plate: I am SABZI, fresh green herbs. I come from green fields. I symbolize prosperity.
The seven plates with SH tell us:
- First Plate: I am SHARAB, the wine. I am the nectar. I symbolize health and happiness, of course, if taken in moderation! To your health!
- Second Plate: I am SHAKAR, sugar. I give your favorite foods their sweetness. I symbolize sweetness.
- Third Plate: I am SHIR, milk, the first food one tastes in this world. I symbolize nourishing food.
- Fourth Plate: I am SHIREH, syrup. I am the sap, the fluid essential for life, health and vigor. I symbolize vigorous health.
- Fifth Plate: I SHAHD, honey. I am the sweet produce of the cooperative bees. I symbolize the sweet result of team work.
- Sixth Plate: I am SHIRINI, candy, loved by those have a sweet tooth. I simply symbolize sweetness with no sign of bitterness
- Seventh Plate: I am SHIR-BERENJ, rice-pudding, a tasty food. I symbolize food for taste and health.
The mirror reflects our past and shows us our present so that we thoughtfully plan our future. The candles are light, warmth, and energy to lead a righteous life that would, in turn,
radiate light, give warmth, and provide energy for others. The incense burner gives the fragrance we need to meditate, pray to God, and ask for help and guidance. The gold fish symbolizes a happy life, full of
activity and movement. The plates of green sprouts represent creativity and productivity, and so do the colorfully painted eggs.
As you see, the whole table is beautifully laid. It symbolizes the Message and the Messenger, light, reflection, warmth, life, love, joy, production, prosperity, and nature. It is, in
fact, a very elaborate thanksgiving table for all the good and beautiful things bestowed by God.
Family members, all dressed in their best, sit around the table and eagerly await the announcement of the exact time of vernal equinox over radio or television. The head of the family
recites the Naw-Ruz prayers, and after the time is announced, each member kisses the other and wishes a Happy Naw-Ruz. Elders give gifts to younger members. Next the rounds of visits to neighbors, relatives, and
friends begin. Each visit is reciprocated.
Singing and dancing is, more or less for the first two weeks, a daily routine. The festivity continues for 12 days, and on the 13th morning, the mass picnic to countryside begins. It is
called SIZDEH-BE-DAR, meaning thirteen-in-the-outdoors. Cities and villages turn into ghost towns with almost all the inhabitants gone to enjoy the day in woods and mountains along stream and riversides. People
sing, dance, and make merry. Girls of marriageable age tie wild grass tops into knots and make a wish that the following Naw-Ruz may find them married and carrying their bonny babies!
Written By Omid Meshkin (1996)
Please note: The traditions of seven S's and other such observances are NOT Baha'i theology or
ritual. These traditions are, for the most part, Persian culture and are not invoked by the writings of Baha'u'llah. The Baha'is however consider Persia as the "Cradle of our Faith"
and we encourage you to learn more about the Baha'i Faith at your nearest Baha'i Center or on the internet at http://www.bahai.org