Nowruz is celebrated as a secular, cultural festival by the people of Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Kashmir, Azerbaijan, as well as the Kurdistan regions of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia, Syria and Georgia - the modern states or regions that were part of the ancient Iranian federation or Persian empire. In addition, Nowruz is celebrated by Baha'is and Ismailis - groups whose religions have Iranian roots.
Today, most of the countries or regions listed above have majority Muslim or Christian populations - religions with roots outside the region. While these populations have maintained the celebration of Nowruz as a cultural festival, one religious group native to the region - and with very old roots that precede the advent of Islam and Christianity - celebrates Nowruz for both cultural and religious reasons (comparable to the way many Christians celebrate Christmas). These are the Zoroastrians.
After the Arab invasion, while most in the region converted to Islam, a small number of determined Zoroastrians maintained their ancient faith, despite significant pressures. Only about 20,000 openly practicing Zoroastrians remain in Iran (with another 100,000 dispersed in India and elsewhere). This miniscule group of survivors, tenuously hold on to their ancestral beliefs, traditions and customs - such as the manner in which they celebrate Nowruz.
For Zoroastrians Nowruz is the most significant day in the Zoroastrian calendar. The day is rich in symbolism. As nature renews itself and overcomes the harshness of winter, so can there be renewal in different aspects of life: one's personal life, interpersonal relations, the home, and the community. Personal renewal includes spiritual renewal as well as forming or reaffirming pledges and goals for the New Year.
The symbolism of renewal extends to a future universal and enduring renovation of this world. This renovation will be accompanied by the resurrection of righteous souls - an event called Frasho-Kereti (frashigird) in Zoroastrian religious texts. The task of human beings is to continually seek improvement and excellence, until that excellence becomes enduring.
Further, as the hours of daylight grow and the hours of darkness diminish until at spring daylight begins to exceed darkness, so will the light of wisdom and righteousness increase until it prevails over the darkness of ignorance and malice. While good thoughts and good words assist in the process, good deeds assist in far greater measure. Nowruz is therefore a reminder that improvement requires action, effort and diligence. The customs of Nowruz invariably remind a Zoroastrian of her or his mission in life.
Zoroastrians also call Nowruz, Jamshed-e- Nowruz, attributing the origins of the festival to legendary Pishdadian King Jamshid of prehistoric Iran. The legend is contained in the poet Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, an Iranian epic.
Is Nowruz an Iranian or Persian New Year?
The observance of the spring equinox as the start of the New Year, Nowruz, was an ancient Iranian festival, started at a time that Persia had not yet emerged as a kingdom. The coming of spring after a cold, bleak winter had more significance in the fertile mountainous river valleys regions of present-day northern Iran and Central Asia, than it did in the warmer southern regions.
As the geography and boundaries of Iran changed, Nowruz became the start of the New Year for all nations or kingdoms that were part of the greater Iranian federation. This included the Medes and the Persians who respectively came to inhabit the Western and Southern regions of an expanded Iranian group of nations or kingdoms.
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