My new year is yours
I had no idea others celebrated Navroze
By Kayhan Irani
March 28, 2004
It started with an online conversation with a friend
last year, around this time.
We are both Parsis -- Zoroastrians
from the Indian subcontinent -- and
were celebrating Navroze, or New Year, on March 21, 2003. We were
talking about the proper gestures to make when receiving and giving
blessings during a Navroze ritual, and were both equally hesitant
to identify any definite gestures.
I have run into this particular
issue regularly -- I was raised in New York City around a
small moderate Zoroastrian community and never received any formal
training or intense guidance regarding ceremonial practice and
ritual. In fact, many times I am left feeling like a child, attempting
to cross the street alone for the first time, looking to those
around me to provide clues as to when I should move and what
I should do. After much speculation and laughter between the two
of us, it was concluded that neither of us were much help.
She then happened to mention the Mayor's proclamation,
made last year in New York, which formally recognized the diverse
and cultures that celebrate New Year during the vernal equinox.
I was momentarily taken aback by her revelation
-- strangely saddened that my small, somewhat obscure, yet special
be investigated and pried into by those in the public who might
take an interest. I soon got over the passing cloud of romantic
exclusivity, and entered into the warm realization that this unique
day was not exclusive at all -- but rather, totally inclusive
and supremely mixed.
Before she read me the proclamation, I was aware
that Iranians, (Zoroastrians and those of different religions),
-- but I had no idea that Afghans, Kurds (of many nationalities),
others in the Middle East as well as in Central Asia celebrated
Navroze (spelled and pronounced differently depending on culture).
That's when it hit me: every year when my family
gathers to celebrate the coming of spring and to share our love,
others are gathering for the very same reason. It is no matter
that we are all culturally diverse and even have different religions
-- it is the fact that we, all of us, as a collective are taking
same time to be united and peaceful and joyous. The importance
is not what gestures we make or how our rituals differ, but that
we all do a united SOMETHING.
Growing up I had a somewhat blended
Navroze celebration. My parents were born and raised in India but
moved to Iran after their marriage
-- returning to the country which my father's parents actually
from -- and from which my mother's ancestors came from
hundreds of years ago.
Within the Parsi community in India, there
are different categories: one includes families who have been in
India for generations, (like my mother's). Another category
is recent immigrants from Iran, such as my father's parents.
Actually it is a tradition now, for these newer Zoroastrian immigrants
from Iran, to change their last name to Irani (literally meaning
from Iran) when they come to India.
The Parsis of India developed
a unique culture of their own, and it is this culture that laid
the basis for our family's Navroze celebration; however their
time in Iran influenced our celebration as well. They adopted and
integrated some Iranian customs. For example, most Parsis include
a "Ses," which is a tray holding a container of rosewater,
a pot to hold the red paste with which one does a tili, (the red
dot adorning the forehead on an auspicious occasion) and a cone
filled with sugar lumps.
Most Iranians set a table with seven symbolic
items in their celebrations. My mother had both; so I was somewhat
different from other Parsis I knew, in that my personal celebration
spanned two different countries and cultures. Usually my family
also participated in our temple's larger celebration, which
brought the religious community together on one evening for prayer
and feasting. Up until recently it was separate from the Iranian
Zoroastrians; however we do now have joint celebrations.
So all my life I have been aware of two cultures
that recognized Navroze -- but definitely thought it was sacred
only to Zoroastrians.
I've never thought much about Navroze otherwise. Mostly I
thought about my family and the Parsi community around me,
and perhaps of my relatives in India.
Along with thoughts of family and friends, while
ringing in the New Year, one is supposed to give thanks for the
have received in the past year and to also think about those
who may not have been blessed with as much. To be honest,
when I reflected,
I had in me the abstract notion of those who have less, and
those whose lives may be harder than mine; but never could
specifics about whom I had in mind.
But the news in last year's mayoral proclamation
allowed me to identify with many more people, worldwide -- not
my family and friends -- and allowed me to tap into the
special vein that was uniting all of "us," which is the belief
in the sacredness of the day.
It was quite mind expanding for me to think about
the countless people whose thoughts and prayers were traveling
heavens along with mine on the same day. All those around
may celebrate Navroze in a similar or different manner;
sentiment behind the ritual and pomp is the same: showing
gratitude for all we have and creating blessings for
the coming year.
But last year's celebration became more poignant
than ever. With the knowledge of the proclamation being made,
educated to the fact that those other cultures and
the day with me this year may also have been fighting
for their lives,
their sovereignty, their voice. The abstract notion
of those who have less became all too clear, and it is still
The Afghans may be remembering this day perhaps
under fire or direct occupation of their towns and
villages, but were finally
able to celebrate the holiday, as of last year, since
Taliban's restrictions are no longer in place. The
Iraqi Kurds rang in
last New Year under fire, bombed by Saddam Hussein's
forces and perhaps by the USA as well; and are most
definitely bringing in
this New Year under much hardship from intolerance
I am aware that the Kurds, the Afghans, and
celebrating New Year have been oppressed for many
more years than just the past two but it was the definite
knowledge that the country
in which I live, the very country that I lift up
and give thanks to for all my opportunity and blessings,
has been the source of much grief and turmoil for
others who would like to be able to simply gather and give
My new understanding that last year's proclamation
brought, not only of the diversity in the expression
of New Year
but in the actual hopes, fears, dreams and wishes
this complicated day, led me to think along even
broader lines. Especially
since this year, on the 20th of March, one day
after the official start of Navroze, thousands
marching in New York in
peace and unity to commemorate the one year anniversary
of the war waged
against Iraq and demand peace.
I wonder where
the New Year's
thoughts are of those who have recently experienced
war and trauma. Perhaps they are thinking of
what they have
and asking for the strength to endure some
more, just a bit more. Perhaps they are asking to be
with a new
day where they may once again plan and have
hopes. Who knows?
I know that my own internal ritual has changed
forever. I can no longer celebrate Navroze
thinking only of
my immediate community
and family. No, my mind will be traveling
the globe seeking out those other little beams
of light energy
My prayers will link on to that chain of
prayers making its
way across time and space and I will be united
with many others I
never, and may never meet.
It is wonderful
to know that so many peoples that may not
are now aware that we are a WE, an US,
united in giving reverence to a higher power, united
energy of peace
together that no ritual can trump.
Irani's one-woman theater piece on detention, disappearance
and deportation, "We've
Come Undone," has been touring nationwide >>> See
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