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.
The eve of Navroj is called Papeti and is observed by many as the day of repentance and introspection. On this day, Parsis evaluate their words and deeds over the past year and repent for their mistakes.
The dawn of the New Year is an elaborate affair, with rituals spanning ten days. Parsis observe Muktad during this time, having spent the preceding month cleaning their households and preparing for the occasion. Says Fardoon Karkaria, head priest of the Fire Temple in Bengaluru, “Muktad is a ritual that involves honouring and praying to departed souls ahead of the new year. The souls are believed to come down to earth during this period to bless us.”
The eve of Navroj is called Papeti and is observed by many as the day of repentance and introspection. On this day, Parsis evaluate their words and deeds over the past year and repent for their mistakes. This practice helps them learn from the past and start the new year with a fresh mind.
Armed with a clean conscience and the blessings of their forefathers, Parsis then gear up to spend Navroj in good spirits, spreading cheer. They decorate their front yards with rangoli (traditional Indian decorative patterns drawn with ground rice), which are often depictions of a fish, and adorn the entrance to their houses with garlands of marigold. Karkaria also explains, “There is a mass prayer in the morning, following which people exchange traditional Parsi sweets and visit their loved ones.”
As per the Denkard, Navroj is the time for people to rest and relax after working hard the entire year. The religious text urges people to share large quantities of food with one another and celebrate without disturbing or hurting animals. People of all faiths and kinds are welcome to partake in the festivities and rejoice on the occasion.
Individuality, freedom, respect for all creations, including nature, are among the values that the Parsi New Year advocates. The values are all the more relevant in times of religious extremism, global warming and constant attacks on human dignity. So, this Navroj, let’s introspect and resolve to be kinder, more respectful and more humane to each other and the world at large.