Sunday, March 19, 2006

Happy Nowruz!

It's the Iranian new year on the 21st! A festival that is celebrated by many in Iran, Central Asia and also by the Parsis in India. This festival proves how fascinating and perplexing a country Iran is - Nowruz, the most important festival in the Islamic Republic, is un-Inslamic in nature! Its origins lie in Zoroastrianism - the first montheistic religion and one that influenced greatly other religions that followed. Many mullahs have tried to tone down the fervour of the festival but in vain! Sal-e noh mubarak!

A major tradition of Norouz is the setting of the Haft Seen (هفت سین) - the seven 'S's, seven items starting with letter S or "seen" (س) in Persian alphabet), which are seven specific items on a table symbolically corresponding to the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. (The picture above is the Haft Seen table laid by Behrouz, an Iranian student, in my hostel.) Today they are changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. Every family attempts to set as beautiful a Haft Seen table as they can, as it is not only of special spiritual meaning to them, but also is noticed by visitors to their house during Norouzi visitations and is a reflection of their good taste.

The following list is an example of some common Haft Seen items, though there isn't consensus as to which seven:

sabzeh - wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish (symbolising rebirth)
samanu - a sweet pudding made from wheat germ (symbolising affluence)
senjed - the dried fruit of the jujube tree (love)
seer - garlic (medicine)
seeb - apples, (beauty and health)
somaq - sumac berries (the colour of the sunrise)
serkeh - vinegar (age and patience)
sonbol - the fragrant hyacinth flower (the coming of spring)
sekkeh - coins (prosperity and wealth)

Other items on the table may include:

lit candles (enlightenment and happiness)
a mirror
painted eggs, perhaps one for each member of the family (fertility)
a bowl with two goldfish (life, and the sign of Pisces which the sun is leaving)
a bowl of water with an orange in it (the earth floating in space)
rose water for its magical cleansing powers
the national colours, for a patriotic touch
a holy book (e.g., the Qur'an, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bible, Torah or the Avesta) or a poetry book (almost always either the Shahnama or of Hafez)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)


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