The first day of the year is a good time to take stock of how we have fared so far and decide which path to take next. While we’re still in the middle of the Gregorian calendar, thousands of Parsis across India celebrate their new year on the 17th of August. Called Navroj, which means ‘new day’, the festival marks the first day of the month of Farvardin and is celebrated with much pomp and fervour by the Parsi community.
Parsis, who are actually of the Zoroastrian faith, follow the teachings of Iranian prophet Zarathustra. They are immigrants from Persia who settled in India when Muslim invaders persecuted people of all other faiths in the Middle East. In the course of their turbulent history, the Parsi community in India is said to have been completely cut off from the Zoroastrians who stayed back in Persia. This resulted in differences between their respective calendar systems, which is why the present-day Iranian New Year is different from that of the Parsi New Year.
The Zoroastrian reckoning of years began on 16 June, 632 AD, which was the day of the coronation of Yezegerd III, the last Zoroastrian monarch of Persia. The imperial or Shahenshahi calendar system that the Parsi community followed divided the 360-day years into 12 months of 30 days each. After the 12th month, five days were observed as Gatha days and were spent praying. As this system did not account for the leap day, Shahenshahi calendar drifted from the Gregorian calendar over the years.
Around 1006 AD, the Parsis decided to follow the guidelines in Denkard, a 10th-century Zoroastrian text, and add an extra month to the calendar once every 120 years. This was an attempt to account for the leap days and catch up with Gregorian calendar. They are known to have added the embolismic month sometime between 1125 AD and 1129 AD and never again. This resulted in the Parsi New Year moving to mid-August. As this change was not implemented by the Zoroastrians in Iran, they continue to celebrate New Year on March 20, the vernal equinox–the spring day on which day and night are approximately the same length.