Norooz: Zoroastrians mark ‘New Day’ with symbolic table, legendary king

FRIDAY, JULY 19, and SUNDAY, AUGUST 18: The International Day of Noruz arrived in March, but for the world’s Zoroastrians, the greatest festival of renewal doesn’t come until summer—today, for those following the Qadami (ancient) calendar, and in approximately one month, on August 18, for those following the Shenshai calendar. Among the world’s oldest major religions, Zoroastrianism predates the Abrahamic religions and began with Zoroaster, a Persian prophet living in the 2nd century BCE. Today, Zoroastrians are scattered across India, Iran and numerous other countries, and New Year’s Day is met with much joy. (Learn more from the Heritage Institute.) Just as life on earth is continually renewed, so Zoroastrians believe—particularly on Norooz—that friendships, home and self must also be renewed, and this symbolism extends to the frashno-kereti, or future resurrection of righteous souls.

Note: Spellings vary greatly, with Norooz, Nawruz and Noruz being among the most popular. In Persian or Farsi, now means “new” and ruz means “day,” thus today is “new day.”

Preparations for Norooz—officially, Jamshedi Noruz—begin weeks prior, with extensive house cleaning and the sprouting of seeds for the haft-sin table. On New Year’s Day, family and friends gather around a table set with seven items whose names begin with the sound “s” or “sh,” and each of these items represent renewal, growth, or the bitterness and sweetness of life. Items customarily include green sprouts, pudding made from sprouted grain, vinegar, apples, garlic, sumac seasoning and small fruits.


Most of Iran celebrates Noruz as a secular holiday in March, but Zoroastrians trace religious roots—and a king named Jamshid, which earns their holiday the popular name, “Jamshedi Noruz.” Jamshid ushered in Iran’s first golden age, and according to legend, he invented most of the arts and sciences on which civilization today is based. He is credited with construction of the ancient city of Persepolis. (Learn more from the Smithsonian.) Legend has it that when Jamshid reached the zenith of his rule, the day came when his throne was raised into the air and he flew through the sky. This day, the first of the month of Farvardin, would become Nawroz. Today, adherents hold a jashan religious service in the days following Noruz.


Controversies continue as Zoroastrians around the globe struggle to keep their traditions alive: in Mumbai, acres surrounding the Towers of Silence are facing threats from encroaching development. The Towers of Silence serve as deep, circular wells where decomposing bodies are left to the sun and vultures—in keeping with Zoroastrian philosophy of honor for the natural elements. Once a relatively remote area, the site now is more of a protected historical park and nature preserve in the midst of urban sprawl. Not surprisingly, tensions arise around preserving this unique ecosystem and sacred site. Read more in this article from the Mumbai Mirror.

Zoroastrian structures continue to play a vital role in modern societies, as is shown by a recently announced screenwriters’ contest centered around Baku, the capital and largest city in Azerbaijan. The oldest center of the world’s oil industry, Baku is renowned for the Flame Towers skyscrapers, shaped as such to symbolize the city’s history of Zoroastrian fire worshiping. Several fire temples still exist in the bustling city.

Stepping back millennia, three ancient firepot bases were recently unearthed in a southern Iranian province, representing, experts say, architecture of the Sassanid era. The items were crafted for use at a Zoroastrian fire temple.

Zoroastrian numbers are slowly decreasing worldwide, and headlines last month covered the death of a well-known devotee: cricket reporter Dicky Rutnagur. After having learned the game in India, Rutnagur went on to report on it for decades, spending 40 years with the Daily Telegraph. Rutnager died at age 82.

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