MONDAY, MARCH 26: The Persian New Year (Noruz or Norouz, spellings vary) events are coming to a close for most Middle Eastern cultures, but for Zoroastrians, they’re coming to a peak: Today is Khordad Sal, the celebrated birthday of Zoroaster and holiday better known as “Greater Noruz.” Six days after Noruz, Zoroastrians joyously mark the symbolic birthday of the founder of their faith (the actual birth date of Zoroaster is unknown). Devotees pray at fire temples; feast at ghambars; and wear new clothes. (Wikipedia has details.) Most modern Zoroastrians live in India, although smaller communities exist around the world. (Want to read about other Norouz and New Year festivities from other cultures? Here’s our helpful index of recent related stories.)
Historians agree Zarathustra was born in the first millennium BCE, and Zoroastrianism began in Iran. It’s believed that many important events in Iran’s history occurred on Khordad Sal, although since most Zoroastrians now live elsewhere, this day is now celebrated only as the prophet’s birthday. (Read more at Festivals of India.) Parsi Zoroastrians, most of whom live in India, understand this festival’s importance when reading references to Khordad Sal in their religious texts. Zoroastrians who follow the Qadimi calendar observe Khordad Sal in the summer (this year, in July).
As Zoroastrian numbers continue to dwindle, courts battle ancient rules in the 21st century. (TIME Magazine covered this topic in 2008.) Tradition forbids women who marry non-Parsi Zoroastrians from ever again entering fire temples, and as more and more followers enter interfaith marriages, leaders question the religion’s ability to continue in the world. Still, tradition is upheld, at this point: a woman in India, married to a non-Parsi, was recently denied the right to enter a fire temple—even in the event of the last rites of her aging parents. (Read more in the Times of India.) Even while the woman’s father was a trustee of the fire temple the woman had hoped to regain entry into, judges refused to grant permission, on the basis that there was no declaration that the woman had continued to follow Zoroastrian religion after her marriage.