Gazing At The Stars Through A Lens Of Traditions – The Parsi Calendar (3/5)

As I dove deeper in the sea of Parsi culture & traditions to learn about the feasts they serve on Navroza (Parsi New Year), I stumbled upon something far more intriguing – the Parsi calendar! While I am aware that most religions have their own calendars and based on some astronomy related to these calendars, every years festival dates are decided, I was far from being aware about the Parsi calendar or how it works!

It all began we me asking about how they celebrate new year and Shelley beginning to explain the festivities. So as I began to inquire more about the dates, all the while blissfully thinking these are some-predetermined dates decided in the ancient era and Shelley suggested we should just take a look at the Zoroastrian Calendar and baffled (just a little), I asked you have a separate calendar? Well, yes we do. It’s the Parsi calendar. I myself don’t remember all the dates so we just refer to it whenever needed. The Zoroastrian Calendar tells us the date for New year and other occasions. I interrupted in between for a classic “inquisitive me” question asking whether they actually celebrate two new years, one on 31st December and one according to the Parsi calendar. Shelley said yes, we do. I responded with the typical star struck shiny eyed look that said, so cool!

The Zoroastrian calendar is a little more complicated and of two types: Shenshai and Kadmi. Shelley follows the Shenshai calendar and that’s what I learn about. In this calendar, a day is called Roj and month is called Mah. Now understanding how a Parsi calendar works can be quite confusing and it took me a while too, but first thing is to stop referring to dates as days instead the roj have specific names. For example, the month begins with roj Hormazd. At whichever date this name falls, is the first roj of the month.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the calendar, let me get into details. The leap years have a very strong influence on it. Every four years a leap day is added to the calendar, thus moving the roj one day back. This has an equally proportional effect on the events.

A person born on say, 24th December 2016 with have roj Avan according to this calendar. Now, after four years it will shift back a day and subsequently the roj Avan and their birthday will now fall on 23rd December 2020. (Once you get a hang of it, understanding these deets is actually fun!) Needless to say once Shelley explained me this, I asked whether she celebrates two birthdays and the answer was yes. I have to admit, celebrating two birthdays sounds absolutely amazing! While, I am aware that there is another calendar my mother often refers to in our culture, I have never been told its name or had the opportunity to celebrate two birthdays so now I was straight out fascinated.

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Image (Navroza Thali) : buzzintown.com

So, after learning about the calendar we circled back to Navroze. One occurs on 21st March of every year and the date remains fixed, it is the spring equinox or the Navroza and means new day. My research showed that it is a festival celebrated by many religions, including Iranians and Persians, where they refer to it as Nowruz. In Parsi culture, the second new year falls in August and while the date often shifts the festivities remain same. Shelley’s family visits the fire temple Agiari and organise a sagan-nu-bhonu lunch followed by some family enjoyment to mark the occasion. There is chalk painting outside the house, especially shaped like fishes and everyone dresses in new clothes. 10 days before new year, special prayers are organised for the souls which have departed; It is referred as Muktal.

While our conversation moved ahead and I realised that the food remains same on these occasions as before, my face became a little droopy (somehow my face doesn’t seem to have a sense of control). Shelley seemed to notice this and shared a little tidbit to add. The Irani food spread for Navroza! While she does not follow it, Shelley says many people do. Thus, I looked it up and it is as glamorous as it sounds!

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Image (Half seen table) : coloringpages24x7.com

The Irani layout on Navroz is as lavish as it gets. A circular table is covered with sofreh, a table spread that sets in the festive spirit and is considered as the half-seen table. While, the contents on the table vary from home to home, certain 7 items are available on the table which begin with the letter ’s’ or ‘sh’ and each has its own significance. As said by Dr. Shernaz Baji Avari, “The number 7 represents the 7 creations of Dadar Ahura Mazda as also signifies the ‘Seventh Heaven’ or the state of perfect happiness or heavenly bliss in Islamic belief.” The seven significances are: ‘seeb’ i.e red apples, ‘sirka’ i.e vinegar, ‘sharab’ i.e wine, ‘shakker’ i.e sugar, ‘shamma’ i.e light, ‘sir’ i.e garlic and ‘sikkeh’ i.e coins. Each one has a well thought meaning behind it on the table.

Red apples are considered nature’s most wholesome food, while the vinegar represents patience and age. Wine is meant to show a happy and long life, just like sugar represents a sweet life ahead. To signify that your life remains lighted with happiness a diya or candle are placed on the table. Garlic is one the most interesting items on the table and while it might seem out of place, it represents good health since garlic is one of the strongest antibiotics available in nature. Coins are used to usher wealth and prosperity. However, these are not the only things you can find on the table. Often filled with above 15 things, the food includes sabzi, sev, lagan-nu-patru and much more! The drinks include a pink kulfi falooda and gulab jal to make the guests feel invited.

Refer to the Zoroastrian calendar here.

Read Part 2 here.

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