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Discovery Central Asia #29
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The feast Navruz by its origin is connected with Old Iranian worship to the Sun and the name of prophet Zaratushtra. Navruz, or Nouruz (Nauriz, Neuroz, etc.) also in translation from Farsi (and Tajik) means “a new day”. That day Old Persian kings put on their heads a crown with a picture of solar year’s cycle for participating in divine services at a Temple of Fire; it was accepted to give expensive presents to their flock at that day. Later on the feast wide-spread and ingrained among many nationalities of Central Asia, as Iran-speaking as Turk, felt the influence of Zoroastrian culture. Islam religion’s appearing didn’t refuse the custom to feast Navruz, organically penetrated into life of Asian farmers and town-dwellers.












Navruz, a spring feast of a New Year, is celebrated together by all nations in the Silk Road. It is feasted wide and colourful in Iran, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, western provinces of China, Kurd regions in Turkey, Tatar and Bashkir regions in the south of Russia. The traditions of feasting Navruz are approximately the same all over Central Asian region as they were kept for centuries. After proclaimed Independence of the Republics of formed USSR Navruz became the official holiday and day-off. It is considered that the deals which are done during 13 days of Navruz will be doing during the whole year. That’s why it isn’t usual to advise to anybody, but to remit debts and forget about animosity and offences these days. According to the folk legends very much depends on the first person who comes into house. The first guest of a new year must be of gentle and kind temper, witty, pious, with good name and reputation, and the most important, must have a “happy foot”, i.e. bring luck.
Essential differentiation from European New Year is the time of the feast – Navruz is celebrated at day-time and obligatory with the members of a family. The main and most important day of the feast is the 21st of March. During the following thirteen days it is accustomed to visit your friends and relatives, buy and plant fruit saplings, gather merry companies in the open spring air. The rites holding in Navruz are directed to cajole nature and spirits to gain prosperity for the following year. Every family cooks the special festive meal of cereals with sweets.
The most interesting custom, connected with the feasting Navruz, remained in not numerous communities of Zoroastrians in the territory of Kurdistan, Iran, and Northern India. A traditional ritual at Navruz is making “haft sin” (seven letters). “Haft sin” consists of seven elements with the first letters of their names are S (or Sin in Persian alphabet). They are vinegar, sumah (exotic plant), garlic, sumalak, apples, berries and fresh herbs. And seven more things named with the first letter “sh” (or Shin) in Persian: wine, sugar, syrup, honey, candies, milk, and rice.
At the festive table there must obligatory be:
- a mirror, which reflects the past and shows the future, to help people make reasonable plans;
- candles, personified the light and energy of pious life;
- incense-burner for fragrance;
- a vessel with water, were a fish is swimming, symbolized happy life, full of activities and movement.
The Kazakhs and Kyrgyzes on Navruz-bayram day fumigate their houses with incensed twigs of Asian spruce that symbolize a banishment of evil spirits
            The main treatments of the feast are pilaf, shurpa (soup of mutton and vegetables), boiled mutton, and kok-samsa (a kind of pasty stuffing with spring herbs and fresh sprouts of steppe herbs). Due to the old tradition the festive dastarkhan is tried to be laid as lavish as possible, setting with different dishes and sweets. Everyone should be full and satisfied – then the year will be successful and good for the crops. The feast is accompanied by a competition of folk singers and fair-tellers, wrestling of athletes and competitions of riders.
In Tajikistan for lavish feast for Nouruz the head of the family or his sons obligatory grill shashlik (grilled mutton) and cook sweet pilaf of rice and other cereals. These feasts mean the best wishes to have the following year as sweet and happy as the feast.
            In some mountain settlements there is a special custom. Before the beginning of the feast the neighbouring guys try to clean by stealth the cattle-shed of some rich host, who has a marriageable daughter, from muck. If they manage to do it quick and by stealth, the host treats them lavishly, if not – they had to treat the host.
            It is very important on the feast’s eve before rising morning star to finish all the house-keeping deeds: cooking, careful tidying up of the house, and decorating the rooms with blossoming twigs of apricot, peach, almond or pomegranate trees. It is also obligatory to have a blessing from the eldest, parents, teachers, and preceptors.
In Afghanistan Navruz is also called “Ruz-e Dehkan” – “The Day of Peasant” or “Ruz-e Neholiponi” – “The Day of Planting the Saplings”. Before coming to the field farmers make festive gatherings with songs, dancing, and playing the folk instruments. Horns and neck of oxen, yoked for the first ploughing of spring fields, are decorated and sometimes greased with fragrance oil.
The Bashkirs seem to accept the feasting Navruz from Iran-speaking tribes, inhabited the valley of Ural River before. At the end of March the weather in that territory isn’t very spring and the feast resembles Russian feast Shrovetide week (a week before Lent, seven weeks before Easter).Chosen by people the master of ceremony with a team of young people visit all the homesteads in the village. They glorify the hosts for their thrifty and generosity after that they get traditional treats and presents – embroidered things for presenting the participants in running competition, dancing and masters of throat singing – uzlyau.
In western provinces of China Navruz is feasted not only by Turk-speaking people, but also the Chinese. That day it is accustomed to put on funny motley clothes and go to a temple holding flowers and clay figurines of oxen. “The Major” ox of the feast is made of bamboo and wrapped into paper coloured into 5 colours: black, white, red, green, and white. These colours symbolize 5 elements of the universe – fire, water, metal, wood, and earth. Near the temple the figurines are broken and bamboo symbol is burnt.
From the ancient times in farmer oases of Uzbekistan on the day of Navruz great folk festive gatherings, festive bazaars, horse-racing, dogs and cocks fights are organized. The major custom of Navruz feasting in Uzbekistan is a New Year treat “sumalyak” – a dish of flour and sprout grains sometimes with spices boiled in the open fire. The sprout grain is a symbol of life, warm, plenty, and health.
The characterized peculiarity of every Uzbek family is hospitality and respect attitude to the old. From the ancient times the Uzbeks live in big families, consisting of some generations, that’s why, nowadays they prefer big private houses. The considerable significance in their mode of life is a tea ceremony as the major element of very important for Uzbek mentality cognition of hospitality. A guest will never be left with “dry throat”, hosts will entertain him with conversations and laid the dastarkhan with the best treats they have in their house. By the way brewing tea and pouring it out is exclusively the host’s prerogative. It is accustomed to accept the invitation to the dinner or supper and always come in time. When you are going to visit somebody it is desired to take with you souvenirs or sweets for host’s children. Usually only men greet each other by shaking hands. Women and other people stood apart are greeted by holding the right hand near the heart and accompanying this gesture with nodding your head. During the greetings you should traditionally ask about health, work conditions and domestic surrounding. In the villages women don’t usually sit at one table with men not to interfere the conversations. Entering a house you should put your shoes off. You should take the place which was pointed by the host, by the way, the nearest place to the host and the farthest from the entrance is the most respected. After the feasting the first day of Navruz field works usually begin which is also accompanies with different ceremonies. The first furrow is ploughed by the most honourable member of the village community.
Nowadays Navruz is feasted considering old traditions adding to them some new, for example in Ilyichev district of Surkhandarya region. Navruz begins the day before, on the 20th of March with choosing the hostess of the feast – Bahor-hanum (Spring). Of many pretenders not only the most beautiful girl, as it accepted in the beauty contests, but also hard-working, clever, and gay girl is chosen. At another contest Dehkan-bobo (grand-dad-Farmer) is chosen. The old man or young man can be chosen. At the third contest Momoyer (Earth) is chosen. All three characters, put on traditional motley clothes, on the 21st of March open the feast. In a decorated with flowers car Bahor-hanum, Momoyer, and Dehkan-bobo, accompanied by musicians with karnays and sunrays, drive along the streets and invite people to the main square. And when people gather Bahor-hanum congratulates everyone with Navruz. Later on, together with Momoyer and Dehkan-bobo she plants saplings.
According to the old custom every participant of the feast must fulfill three conditions. First, to plant flowers and not less then three saplings. Second, to make yourself feel joy and do good deeds. Reconcile, if you quarreled with somebody. And third, to aspire to begin a new life, honest and worthy.
Very much attention is paid to the treatment. Spring dastarkhan is lavish and vary: there are eastern sweets, nisholda, which looks like sour milk, but it has no relation to it. The smell of blossoming spring garden wanders over the sweet rime of nisholda and is melting away in the mouth. Kuk-samsa – a kind of pasty stuffing with spring herbs. When you break it, you will smell fresh spring aromas. But the most respected course is sumalyak, a dish of sprout wheat boiled in the open fire in cast-iron coppers.
Songs of love and spring, competitions of poets and askiyabozes (wisecrackers), rope-walkers and masharabozes (comedy actors) add joyful gaiety.
In many regions of Republic on the day of Navruz people appeal to literary and folk heroes. For example you can “come across” to Firdausi and Beruni, Omar Khayam and Mukimi in Shakhrisabz (Kashkadarya).
In Samarqand for feasting is usually chosen Reghistan square where big theatre performances take place. They are opened by actors made up as poets of the Middle Ages like Navoi and Djami.        
In Gazalkent (Tashkent region) thousands of people gather at the town stadium where fair-tale village-fair of yurts and light tents stretched out. Skillful culinary cooks nisholda and sumalyak. Music, songs, and dances accompany the feast.

Discovery Central Asia #23

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