Touraj-Daryaee

Kourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: The Persian New Year has just started and the Iranians, Persian-speaking nations and many people across the Middle East and Central Asia are celebrating the arrival of spring and Nowruz.

Nowruz is an ancient Iranian festival that marks the beginning of Vernal Equinox and the solar New Year. It’s observed by some 12 nations as well as Iranian Diaspora in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and elsewhere.

Nowruz is a time for amicable family gatherings, exchanging of gifts, tasting special sweetmeat and cuisines, paying tribute to the dead, and visiting the holy shrines and practicing specific religious rituals including the recitation of a special prayer at the moment of the transition of the year.

A prominent Iranian studies scholar tells Fars News Agency that Nowruz reminds the mankind of the importance of nature, change and renewal.

“In a time that the environment is being destroyed in the name of growth, Nowruz can serve as a reminder of the importance of the nature, change and renewal,” said Prof. Touraj Daryaee in an interview with FNA.

“It is a celebration which was begun by the Iranian-speaking people, from Western China to Iraq today, but now it has grown much more and has influenced other regions and peoples,” he noted.

Touraj Daryaee is a historian and expert on Iranian studies. He is a Howard Baskerville Professor in the history of Iran and the Persianate World at the University of California, Irvine. Prof. Daryaee, who specializes in the history of the Sassanid Empire, has obtained a Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Los Angeles. He has published several books in English and Persian about the Iranian culture and civilization, including a book entitled “Cyrus the Great An Ancient Iranian King”, which he says is about one of the most impressive characters in the ancient world.

FNA did an interview with Prof. Daryaee about Nowruz, its cultural and historical importance and its role in creating global peace and security. The following is the text of the interview.

Q: There are different accounts of how the Persian New Year festival, Nowruz, came into being and become a highly-venerated tradition in Iran’s history. The mythological account, as described by Ferdowsi in Shahnameh, indicates that Nowruz was first celebrated on the day of vernal equinox at the time of King Jamshid. However, the historical versions show that Nowruz was introduced under the Achaemenid rule (555-330 BC), and that the Persepolis complex in Shiraz was exclusively constructed for the celebration of Nowruz. Which account is more reliable and closer to the reality?

A: The history of Nowruz is difficult to ascertain. We have the mythological tradition in the Shahnameh, associated with Jamshid and that is what we can teach our children. There is the Persepolis tradition which is not altogether clear if it was indeed a ceremonial center for the celebration of the Nowruz. We should remember that the Mesopotamians had a similar tradition which could have influenced our tradition and over time we have changed the celebration. It is only in the sources such as Biruni and others who point out to the Nowruz celebration in the Sassanid times. So we have to think of a long, developing tradition of Nowruz, which is good and fine.

Q: What do you think is the significance of Nowruz as an ancient tradition that keeps it lively and vivacious after several hundred years, and brings millions of people in the Middle East and Central Asia and even parts of Europe together? Why doesn’t Nowruz become obsolete or outmoded and continues to bring joy and delight to people who enshrine it?

A: Well, Nowruz has been able to transcend religious groups and be associated with only one religion, tribe or people. As Iranian culture expanded, so did this holiday. So everyone can have their religious celebration and then come together to have a spring celebration. Who would not like such a wonderful tradition? For Iran, it is a national celebration in which it brings together all of us, with different languages and backgrounds.

Q: March 21 has been declared the International Day of Nowruz by the United Nations, and is recognized as an international holiday that is celebrated worldwide. Why is it important to celebrate Nowruz globally? How can it be used as a bridge-builder that fills the gaps between the Persian-speaking nations and those who people who consider Nowruz part of their history and culture?

A: In a time that the environment is being destroyed in the name of growth, Nowruz can serve as a reminder of the importance of the nature, change and renewal. It is a celebration which was begun by the Iranian-speaking people, from Western China to Iraq today, but now it has grown much more and has influenced other regions and peoples. In a time that the Middle East and Central Asia is in a volatile situation, Nowruz can unite us. We should remember the reason for which Daesh is destroying our region’s cultural heritage is because of their lack of a cultural heritage. As Dr. Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh stated, if they had the Shahnameh, such atrocities would not have taken place.

Q: There are several Iranian studies centers in prestigious universities across the world, as well as independent organizations that are dedicated to the promotion of studies on Persian culture. Have these organizations been able to produce a sufficient amount of literature and scholarly work on the origins of Nowruz, its historical and cultural dimensions and the rites and customs associated with it?

A: Nowruz has been seen more as a cultural celebration than a research topic, although that is a topic worthwhile. There are some studies, but nothing comprehensive. Most places are interested in modern day issues and have paid less attention to the past.

Q: The main difference between the Iranian New Year and the Christian New Year is that the former begins concurrent with the arrival of spring and northward equinox, and this makes Nowruz a special opportunity for rejoicing and celebrating. So, I think this was the smartness of the ancient Iranians who chose the most appropriate time of the year to begin their New Year. Do you agree?

A: Nowruz did not always fall on the Spring Equinox and it was revolving. But, I cannot think of any other moment for celebrating the changing of time, when flowers bloom and new life begins.

Q: During the Nowruz holiday, family members gather and pay visits to each other, especially to the elderly and the patriarchs. Aside from the fact that they share gifts and eat special cuisines and dishes during the Nowruz, it’s very significant that there’s a particular emphasis on the centrality of family gatherings in Nowruz. What’s your viewpoint regarding the role Nowruz and similar Iranian traditions play in the fortification of the basis of family?

A: I completely agree with your statement. It is not only a joyous time, but also it brings together families. In the modern time when work and economic forces pushes families apart, Nowruz certainly is the one moment that reverses such a trend.

Q: Nowruz has a strong representation in the Iranian arts, especially in poetry. Almost every major Iranian poet, from Sa’di, Hafez and Rumi to the contemporary poets have composed lyrics eulogizing spring season and the beauties of Nowruz. Why is Nowruz so inspiring and moving for the Iranian artists?

A: I believe as Nowruz is significant for us, for our ancestors it was the same. So Persian poets have also been inspired by the beginning of spring and life on the earth.

Q: How is it possible to preserve Nowruz as part of Iran’s and the Persian speaking nations’ cultural heritage? What should be done to protect it from oblivion and extinction with time?

A: If we try to celebrate Nowruz as we have done, I believe will never forget the celebration, nor our heritage. Knowing the tradition to it, i.e., Jamshid’s flight in the Shahnameh, along with the festivities, will make sure that we continue to keep our tradition alive.

This interview was originally published on Fars News Agency.

The Persian New Year has just started and the Iranians, Persian-speaking nations and many people across the Middle East and Central Asia are celebrating the arrival of spring and Nowruz.