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Khirad On April - 4 - 2010

I. History of Nowruz

Imagine it’s the fifth century before the Common Era, on a plain bejeweled with a magnificent palace complex and flowing gardens, with the coffee brown Zagros mountains in the distance, and a sky the color of lapis lazuli. Colorful tents and scents all around, wafting in the breeze. Trumpets; drums and bustle. Nobles astride steeds with their retinues, and representatives from thirty nations line up to present the King of Kings, the Shahenshah, with gifts from their lands, be it neighboring Babylonia, or far-flung Ionia, Egypt, Libya, India and anywhere in between. In ancient times, as to the Iranian mind today, Iran truly was the center of the universe.

We are at Persepolis, the Hellenization of what the ancient Persians called Parsa. Today it is known in Persian as Takht-e Jamshid, the ‘Throne of Jamshid,’ after the mythical King of Persia in Ferdowsi’s national epic, the Shahnameh, which kept alive the earlier Yima (cf. Vedic Yama) of the Zoroastrian holy book, the Avesta (itself absorbing the earlier Indo-Iranian myth). This is how the Persian name took root over time in the root of the Iranian imagination and folklore as the past was half-forgotten and mythologized. In reality, the initial completion of Persepolis was finished under Darius the Great.

Please take a few minutes at your leisure to view part of this video, from the documentary, “Persepolis Recreated,” which also digitally recreates, as the name suggests, what Persepolis would have looked at at the time:

It is Nowruz, and the Shahenshah is hosting the greatest empire in the world at his ceremonial capital in the foundation of the first great Persian Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, in the modern province of Fars (approximately 45 miles northeast of the city Shiraz). We know that the actual administrative center of  the Achaemenids at that time was Susa (also home to the Tomb of Daniel and the setting of the Book of Esther). Persepolis was officially a summer residence, but moreover, it appears to have been built for purely propagandistic and ritual purposes, but also housed a great treasury and library.

Nowruz (transliteration varies greatly), Persian for ‘New Day,’ is New Year’s Day on the Iranian calendar, beginning on the first day of the month Farvardin. It is celebrated by peoples and nations with a heritage of Iranian ancestry or links to Persian culture: Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Kurdish regions (an Iranian people), India, even in the Muslim Balkan countries.  Over the years in recent history Nowruz has been banned by the Soviets in Azerbaijan, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and there was even a campaign by the most radical Islamists after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to erase it from the calendar.

Nowruz, since at least the time of Persepolis, has been celebrated on the vernal equinox, March 21st in the Gregorian calendar [1]. This vernal celebration, of course, is not unique. In the West we are all familiar with the successor to the pagan commemoration of Ostara; Easter. However; this not limited to Indo-European cultures, and it appears as if Nowruz is not entirely of Aryan origin at all.

The roots of Nowruz in the pre-Islamic religion of Persia, Zoroastrianism, is generally assumed and recognized by Iranians. In Zoroastrianism to this day it is observed as the highest of holidays, commemorating the creation of fire, the spirit of Highest Truth (Asha Vahishta), and is symbolic of looking towards Frashokereti, when the Savior will come back to destroy Evil and the world will be Renovated to a perfect state. (If this eschatology sounds familiar, it isn’t coincidence. But, that’s a whole other subject!)

Mary Boyce, the late authority on Zoroastrianism, said that it was likely that the Prophet Zarathushtra (known in the West as Zoroaster, c. 11th century BCE, Eastern Iran) was “re-dedicating what was probably an ancient celebration of spring .” [2] Zoroastrianism made it the highest of all seasonal festivals (Gahambars), the seventh and final of the year. R.C. Zaehner, an earlier philologist and specialist of Zoroastrianism, like Boyce, wrote,

The feast of Noruz survives as the greatest by far of all the national holidays in Iran even now because it is genuinely national, a survival from a long-forgotten pagan past, as little influenced by Zoroastrianism as it is by Islam. [3]

In 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon. He was invited by the priests on his march south to Babylon, conquered it, and proceeded to return plundered idols and relics to their home city’s sanctuaries, in addition to decreeing that Jews return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Second Temple. As such, Cyrus is the only Gentile in the Bible referred to as ‘God’s annointed’ (messiah). This is also when the first charter of human rights and religious freedom was written, in the Cyrus Cylinder. [4]

On the Babylonian New Year festival of 538,  he had his son, Cambyses II, ceremoniously installed as king of Mesopotamia. On the vernal equinox, the Babylonian king would have the idol of Marduk removed from the temple next to the great Ziggurat and paraded through the streets.  This ceremony was enacted for the first time in many years by the new prince, under the directive of Cyrus. Rule was again restored after a period of strife.

In the Babylonian belief, this annual rite would ensure that order prevailed over chaos; that the seasons for the coming year would remain in sequence, and that they would be fruitful. In similar fashion, Cambyses was installed as the son of Re in Egypt. Michael Axworthy writes,

This was an empire that always preferred to flow around and absorb powerful rivals, rather than to confront, batter into defeat, and force submission. The guiding principles of Cyrus persisted under Darius and at least some later Achaemenid rulers. [5]

As such, several authors [6] suggest that Nowruz was borrowed from the annual Semitic Babylonian politico-religious ritual symbolizing the sovereign’s victory over anarchy, of life over death. This is also found in the Avestan concept of kingship; the victory of asha (Divine Order; cognate with Sanskrit rta, precedent of dharma) over the Druj, The Lie, associated with Angra Mainyu, the Zoroastrian Devil. The famous motif of the Lion overwhelming the Bull at Persepolis captures the essence of both, sans any overt religious iconography or message.

Whatever the source, or combination of sources of Nowruz, by the time of Darius, the first stage of Persepolis was completed and host to one of the grandest celebrations of power in history. In reliefs added later by Xerxes on stairways leading to the central Apadana Palace and the Throne Hall (completed under Xerxes’ son, Artaxerxes), can be seen delegates from nearly every nation with their gifts of tribute, to be followed by wine, music and dance. Persepolis was known as the richest city under the sun, and indeed its treasury was overfull, even though it appeared to serve little other purposes than these. This ended only when it was razed and looted by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE (considered by some as revenge for the razing of the Acropolis in 480 CE under Xerxes). [7]

In the later Parthian (246 BCE – 224 CE) and Sassanid (224-651 CE) Empires, more rituals would be added, though little is known under the Parthians. In the Sassanid, twelve temporary pillars (some say seven) were erected nearly a month before Nowruz day, with different kinds of seeds placed on top of each, sprouting greens by the time of the celebration. The Sassanid Empire, the second great empire, comprised many religions, and although Nowruz was officially a celebration of a Zoroastrian state, it was secular enough to be celebrated by all – including Jews and Christians. At all times it is assumed it was celebrated by all social strata, as well (though history tends to not record the common classes).

Then, 636 CE, fifteen years after the Hijra of the Prophet Muhammad, an Arab Muslim army routed the superior Persian army at Qadisiyyah, near Kufa, Iraq. Such is the humiliation of this event that Saddam Hussein purposefully named his invasion of Iran after it. By 651, the Muslim conquest of Persia was complete. The Persians fiercely resisted culturally (not to mention a few insurgencies), and Islamization took centuries longer, until the 10th-11th centuries. It is during this time that many Zoroastrians fleeing persecution emigrated to India, where they are known to this day as Parsis (Persians).

However; unlike across today’s modern Arab world, Arabization never took. In fact, the new Caliphate was increasingly giving way to the superior bureaucracy of the Persians, as it was to the Persian arts. Iran did as it always did, it absorbed its conquerors, adapted, and in turn conquered them culturally.

Around the dawn of the 11th century the poet Ferdowsi completed a grand translation in an early form of Modern Persian (Farsi). It was a collection of surviving Middle Persian (Pahlavi) texts entitled the Shahnameh (Book of Kings). Ferdowsi is credited for preserving Persian cultural heritage and its language. Not only is knowledge of the character of Iran incomplete without knowing whom Ferdowsi is, I dare say it is impossible.

In the Shahnameh, Jamshid (pictured above) ruled for 700 years as the archetypal ruler in a mythical golden age after defeating the divs (demons). He was endowed with farr (the Zoroastrian khvarena), a Divine Glory. The investiture of farr was like a radiant sun (a nimbus), himself seated a golden throne. This idea, known to the Achaemenids, can also be seen in many solar crowns and tiaras to this day (cf. Sol Invictus). It was this coronation for which Nowruz was first celebrated, according to Ferdowsi’s national tome. In the pagan version of Jamshid (Yima), he his immortal and never dies, but disappears underground. Thus, mankind is made mortal until his return (cf. Persephone).

In the Shahnameh, many myths are shown to have survived, including interpretations of Yima, which do not adhere to what was the orthodox doctrine of what was the Zoroastrian Church, nor to surviving scripture and beliefs of remaining Zoroastrians today. In a similar fashion, forthcoming centuries of Islam would prove unable to alter what transcends formal religion altogether. Nowruz has never successfully been transformed such as Christmas was by Christians. Nowruz, above all, is Iranian. Not only that, as a celebration of joy, like Zoroastrianism, it is a much needed respite from the dour pall a strict state-imposed version of Shi’ism can bring. Outside Iran, and to all people, it is an annual reaffirmation of life, fit for all humanity to appreciate.

II. Nowruz Today

Prior to Nowruz it is custom to buy new clothes, plant green sprouts in an earthenware dish (such as wheat, barley or lentils) and clean the house (khane tekani, which symbolically, was preparing the house for ancestors, traditionally done on Chaharshanbeh Souri; more on this day below). On the streets a minstrel-like character fills the air with boisterous singing announcing that the New Year is coming, “it’s only once a year!” He wears red clothing and conical cap and blackface. [8] He roams the street, alleyways, markets and parks, sometimes with a crew. Watch a just such pair of busking performers in this video.

He is known has Haji Firouz, or Mr. Victorious (successful, et cetera). The origins of this character are obscure, and unrecorded until after the Muslim conquest. Several theories abound though. One is from the Shahnameh, which traces itself back to a Mesopotamian ceremony surrounding the god Tammuz, whom died and was reborn every year, according to Iranist Mehrdad Bahar.

Another is that he represents a Zoroastrian priest who tended the holy fire. The cap does actually suggest the dress of the priests of ancient times with their hood-like caps, adopted from Scythians (picture above). The reasoning here is that the red represents fire, and black-face, ash. However; I am not aware of any colors being worn by the priesthood other than white. This part appears to be fancy.

Among the Parsis in India, colorful new clothes, often red, including caps for boys are worn on New Year’s day there (photo), so there may still be credence and clues to be found in this Iranian custom of Haji Firouz wearing red. In Iran too, underneath chadors, a wave of vibrant (and defiant) color of sleek dresses may catch one’s eye with a slight gust, and indeed, all other lands still paint the town, so to speak (in a good way), with festive clothing. Watch videos of Norouz celebrated around the world.

The Haji Firouz origin story I find most interesting though, is of a Persian soldier named Pirouz Nahavandi, whom was captured by the armies of Caliph Umar at the battle of Qadissiyah. He was brought back to Medina as a slave, where he pretended to convert to Islam. Having gained the trust of Umar, he assassinated him in 644 during morning prayers at the Medina mosque (built upon the site of Prophet Muhammad’s house), as retribution for the Muslim conquest of Persia.

The historicity of this account varies, and as so often happens, elements of truth have surely been embellished over time. It is generally agreed that Umar was assassinated by a Persian plot, though. Such is the curious contradictions of Iran, that a Shi’a country which mourns Umar’s assassination, could also celebrate Pirouz as a national hero. A presidential decree signed by Ahmadinejad in 2007 to destroy the Firuzan tomb near Kashan, where he is popularly believed to be buried, was met with protests. There are layers of symbolism in the legend of Pirouz Nahavandi. And it can be readily seen why opponents to the Islamic Republic sometimes disparagingly refer to the victory of the Islamists as “the second Arab invasion.”

Whatever the origin of the Haji Firouz tradition, it, like Nowruz itself, is emblematic of the nature of Iran itself. The relationship of an enduring Persian nationalism and heritage, with that of the Islamic faith. This is not to suggest that Shi’ism and all other religions cannot in fact be Iranian; but that with the state in the hands of hardliner Islamists, Iran’s pre-Islamic history can present a problematic reality to the foundations of their own legitimacy.

Of the events associated with Nowruz most opposed to by the hardline Islamists is Chaharshanbeh Souri (Red Wednesday). It is begun on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year, and thus celebrated on Tuesday. It consists of trick-or-treating, banging spoons together loudly, fireworks, and bonfire jumping. Among the concerns of the regime has been its roots in “superstition.” But, moreover, is the propensity towards mischief. Since the Islamic Revolution, as one of the few events where mixing of the sexes is relaxed, it has become rowdier and rowdier. The concerns are not unfounded, and there have been numerous tragic accidents, especially since the late 1990s.

This event, generally five or six days before Norouz, occurred this year on the 16th. It is rooted in the sixth Zoroastrian festival of the year, Hamaspathmaedaya, the Feast of All Souls. According to Zoroastrian belief, on the days from this day until the New Year, guardian angels and the souls of the dead visit the earthly realm. As such, nowadays, divination is still practiced on this night (there is also a Shi’i form, known as estekhareh). Bonfires are lit, often just alone, the idea being not to not let the sun set and to be vigilant against evil. Two views of this year’s Chaharshanbeh Souri can be seen in videos here.

Jumping of seven fires while chanting to them “zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man” (my sallowness is yours, your fiery red color is mine), are attested to only after the Islamic conquest (now often just one or several). The Zoroastrian’s veneration of fire would likely have considered this act of fire-jumping blasphemous. But, in the recurrent Zoroastrian number of seven, this act (according only to my deductive power of intuition) likely preserved symbolically the journey of the year over the seven great festivals of the year (Gahambars) to the Zoroastrians.

Not counting these preceding days, the festival of Nowruz lasts thirteen days. During this time the country of Iran shuts down. Family travel home, marriages are performed, coworkers and acquaintances exchange sweetmeats, gifts are given, and hidden wine bottles appear from the back of cupboards. Amou Nowruz (Uncle Nowruz), who kicks the winter out, is a Santa Claus type figure who also gives gifts to children. The days are filled spending time with family, outings, and eating traditional meals and treats, such as Sabzi Polo Mahi (an herbed fired fish dish with pilaf), on Nowruz Day or the night before. Koukou Sabzi (herbs and baked eggs) and Reshteh Polo (rice and noodles) are other typical dishes. A sweet mixture of nuts, berries and raisins known as aajil is consumed throughout the remainder of Nowruz.

By far the most iconic aspect of Nowruz is the sofra-ye haft sin, the haft sin spread. Haft means seven [9], and sin, the Perso-Arabic letter corresponding to s. The Haft Sin is set on a table, over a dining cloth (sofra). It can be elegant and luxuriant, or fairly simple. But, more social conscious households will arrange more aesthetically pleasing ceremonial spreads, as this is the time to entertain visitors, as well as family.

The exact moment of New Year has a bit of a countdown like in the West. Before it, the family is assembled around the Haft Sin (as with the Christmas Tree) and poems or scripture are recited. The second the New Year strikes is called Saal Tahvil. Elders’ hands may be kissed out of respect, and kisses and hugs all around! This is when presents are exchanged. After this the house may be purified with the burning of esfand, sprinkling rose water, and walking around the house with a mirror and candle as a blessing. Candles are left to drip away and burn out on their own.

In addition to the essential seven items beginning with s, are several other common additions. No Haft Sin need be identical, and will differ to taste and by regional custom. In fact, there isn’t even any consistent essential seven s items. While containing elements of much older symbols, the custom of arranging them this way is only attested to as being a little over a hundred years old.

The following are among the most popular items, their Persian, its meaning, and what they represent. Every spread will contain most of these, varying by combinations thereof:

sabzeh – greens – sprouts of wheat, barley, mung beans, or lentils in an earthenware dish. This is the one essential item.

samanu – a sweet pudding made of germinated wheat – affluence and ingenuity.

senjed – dry fruit of the oleaster tree – love.

sepand – esfand – seeds of the Syrian Rue – protects from evil eye.

sir – garlic cloves – medicine, protection.

sib – apple – health, beauty.

somagh – sumac – the color of sunrise; triumph of good over evil.

serkeh – vinegar –age, patience.

sonbol – hyacinth flowers – spring.

sekkeh – coins – prosperity, wealth.

Other items commonly found, which don’t start with ‘s’ in Persian:

goldfish – life, the animal world; Pisces.

mirror – reflection.

candles – illumination.

decorated eggs – fertility.

book – wisdom.

These are but the most common. Several other items can be found, starting with ‘s’ or not. While the practice of spreading the table is relatively new, the symbols that comprise it are ancient. To go into each one could easily take a page. An apple is seen in the Persepolis reliefs. Esfand seeds are burnt like incense to ward off the evil eye. The very heptad itself, can be seen as Zoroastrian (related to the Amesha Spentas, like Archangels).

The book is often a Qur’an, but depending on one’s respective religion, it can also be a Torah, Bible, Avesta, or Kitáb-i-Aqdas (though given persecution of Bahá’í’s, this would not likely be left in view for just anyone to see). More secular families will have the Shahnameh, or the Divan-e Hafez. While Rumi is among the greatest poets revered in Iran, it is Hafez, a 14th century Sufi poet of Shiraz, whom Iranians turn to for guidance and inspiration more than any other.

Or, there may be two of each. The table is also kept stocked with fruits, such as apples, pomegranates, and quinces; and pastries and nut flavored nougats or mixes. A fruit not for eating that can be found is a bitter orange floating in a bowl of water, symbolizing the world.

Though the table spread is not itself Zoroastrian, there are several unique layouts for them, as well. (One such assertion claims that it may have started in Zoroastrianism, as seven metal trays.) In this layout they will put the candle in front of the mirror, to spread its radiance. Look in the most holy Shi’i shrines and you will see a splendid reflection of light refracted to infinity. A Shi’i philosophy, known as Eshraghi, can be traced itself to Zoroastrian thought. The thing that distinguishes the Zoroastrian spread, though, is that it is not a Haft Sin, but a Haft Shin. All items beginning with the letter sh.

Yazd, smack dab in the heart of Iran, is the largest center of Zoroastrianism surviving in Iran. It has one of the most famous Fire Temples in the world (picture above), or the most photographed, at least. It is a custom of Iranians, regardless of religion, to visit it on Nowruz. A particularly apropos time, would be on the sixth day of Nowruz, what is known as Nowruz-e Bozorg (Great Nowruz) in general, and Khordad Sal to Zoroastrians – the date Zarathushtra’s birthday is honored. Author Paul Kriwaczek, tells of a conversation he had with a Zoroastrian when visiting the Yazd area,

Before Islam, Noruz was celebrated with a haft shin not sin table. We put on seven things beginning with ‘sh.’ We put sharab (wine) for celebration, shir (milk) for nourishment, sharbat (sherbet) for enjoyment, shamshir (a aword) for security, shemshad (a box) for wealth, sham (a candle) for illumination, and shahdaneh (hemp seeds) for enlightenment. So that these things would be ours for the coming year. [10]

The Parsis of India do not celebrate the Haft Sin, though they still do Nowruz. Among Zoroastrians it is still customary to settle outstanding arguments, put on new clothes, exchange presents, and visit the Fire Temple. Going to the Fire Temple, unlike other religions, is not a central feature of the faith, and reserved by the laity for such special occasions. Another noticeable addition to a Zoroastrian spread, as on the Fire Temple walls, will be a framed portrait of Zarathushtra.

At the end of the Nowruz period, on the last day, Sizdah Bedar, ‘Getting Rid of the Thirteenth’ is observed, though ‘observe’ is not the right word! Not only does it sometimes overlap with April Fool’s Day, it is also filled with pranks and fun. It is the day for everyone to go outside, play, and picnic at the local park, or go for a hike. For school children who didn’t complete their homework packets over the break though, it is a day of torment!

In the old days, the goldfish from the Haft Sin would be released into a creek, but nowadays most keep the goldfish. The sabzeh from the haft sin table is still taken outside though, and scattered, having collected all the bad that could befall the family in the coming year. The ancient roots in Zoroastrianism to this day also signified the victory over the demon of drought for the coming year.

And with that, life in Iran once again resumes the next day, until the next Nowruz, the biggest, and notably un-Islamic, holiday of Iran.

III. Politics of Nowruz

Tomb of Hafez in Shiraz, on Nowruz Day Eve

After reading this far, you will have readily seen the political significance of green, sabz, its not only being the color of Islam, but of rebirth, growth and new hope. The Islamic government has never been able to crush this holiday’s spirit, and attempts to co-opt it are meager and farcical, at best. Each year it is customary for the Supreme Leader to name the next year. One year was the “year of Imam Ali,” and last year, it was “Saal-e Eslah-e Olgouyeh Masraf” (the year of reforming consumption patterns).

It is also a time for all figures, to give Nowruz messages. This is typically the president, but this year, the year of 1389, included messages from all the Green Movement leaders, including Zahra Rahnavard, Mir Hossein Mousavi’s wife (Iranian women keep their surnames). In a speech to the Iran Participation Front (Reformist organization), Mousavi ended with this,

In regards to the future, I feel that the movement that has begun is irreversible. We will never again return to the conditions that were a year ago. We have to value these change in ideas. I am very hopeful for the future, we must encourage hope and patience; patience meaning faith. This movement wants nothing for itself, it wants freedom and prosperity and progress and better days for all people and it will surely achieve these aims. The move after the election, and the election itself raised people’s awareness about their rights. We must invite people to fortitude and perseverance. We must name and know the coming year as the year of fortitude and perseverance. A year of perseverance for the green movement to reach its aims.

Mousavi declared the year as one of “patience and perseverance.” Supreme Leader Khamene’i, for his part, declared this the year of “redoubled diligence and redoubled work,” after congratulating the country for crushing “the foreign plot” on 22 Bahman, that conspired against the Revolution after an “unprecedented” and “outstanding” election.

As to anything Ahmadinejad had to say, this sums that up:

President Obama issued his second Nowruz address not only to the government, but more to the people of Iran, this year. An excerpt from his address,

Last June, the world watched with admiration, as Iranians sought to exercise their universal right to be heard. But tragically, the aspirations of the Iranian people were also met with a clenched fist, as people marching silently were beaten with batons; political prisoners were rounded up and abused; absurd and false accusations were leveled against the United States and the West; and people everywhere were horrified by the video of a young woman killed in the street.

The United States does not meddle in Iran’s internal affairs. Our commitment – our responsibility – is to stand up for those rights that should be universal to all human beings. That includes the right to speak freely, to assemble without fear; the right to the equal administration of justice, and to express your views without facing retribution against you or your families.

I want the Iranian people to know what my country stands for. The United States believes in the dignity of every human being, and an international order that bends the arc of history in the direction of justice – a future where Iranians can exercise their rights, to participate fully in the global economy, and enrich the world through educational and cultural exchanges beyond Iran’s borders. That is the future that we seek. That is what America is for.

As John Limbert, the former Iranian hostage now with the State Department said during his lecture I had the pleasure of attending, Obama is here offering himself up not as an enemy, but as a rival to the regime. To its people, John Limbert joked about him being a houvi, the prettier and younger wife. All in all there is no way to measure if this is the case, but taking Mousavi out of the equation, it’s hard not to be more attractive than Khamene’i!

On a positive note, in February the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize March 21st as International Day of Nowruz. In the United States House and Senate both also passed Nowruz Resolutions. In the Senate, it was unanimous and a who’s-who of co-sponsors. In the house, there were two votes against it. Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) had written an open letter to the two naysayers prior to the vote, even gifting them flowers and the book Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas (in fine Nowruz spirit). I’ll let you in on who these racist fucking bastards are: Jeff Miller, representing Joe Scarborough’s old district, and arch-Birther (who’s mother may or may not be a crocodile), Bill Posey. But, as Nowruz teaches, good overcame evil.

In this house,

May obedience overcome disobedience!

May peace overcome discord!

May generosity overcome avarice for wealth!

May reverence overcome pride!

May the true-spoken word overcome the false-spoken word distorting truth!

– Zoroastrian blessing [11]

Endnotes

1. The date has crept over the years in India according to two of the traditional Parsi calendars, with insufficient intercalation, and falls in late August!

2. Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices 34.

3. R.C. Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism 138. Zaehner was also a British intelligence officer during the Iranian coup d’état of 1953.

4. Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology 215-216.

5. Michael Axworthy, A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind 21.

6. John R. Hinnells, Persian Mythology 98-108, is inconclusive on the depth of influence, but suggests some level of syncretism was likely, at the very least.

7. The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has a Persepolis complex map and archive photographs from their groundbreaking archaeological expedition in the 1930s here. Another site, Persepolis3d.com reconstructs a virtual Persepolis in full color and detail. A brief complex overview from Iran Chamber Society, here.

8. Before the Pahlavi dynasty, folk theater also featured a jester-like character in black or white face whom defied convention. I wonder if the two could be connected.

9. For any fellow etymology enthusiasts, think of Greek hepta, Latin septem. It is from the Avestan hapta, which was closely related to Sanskrit, sapta. All Indo-European languages, of course.

10. Paul Kriwaczek, In Search of Zarathustra: The First Prophet and the Ideas that Changed the World 216.

11. From a Fezana Nowruz prayer book [PDF]. Adapted from this prayer.

Happy Nowruz!

24 Responses so far.

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  1. Khirad says:

    Fars proclaims Ahmadinejad national

  2. Khirad says:

    And, with Nowruz holiday ended,

    Iran Snap Analysis: Playtime

  3. PepeLepew says:

    Khirad, I would love for you to do a piece on those evil Persians in that really dopey, right-wing movie a couple of years ago. 😀

    • Khirad says:

      :-) Heh, I actually did write something at the time called “A Persian Aversian” -- and fortunately the site is no more. I could do a much better job now. I posted this next video once buried deep as a link in a past article (this one has subtitles).

      It became extremely popular (played at a rally I went to this summer), and is by a rapper in Iran specifically against that movie. There were numerous op-eds at the time. But it is ironic that the IRI which sought to initially erase everything taghouti or royal, would care! Nevertheless it was deeply offensive. You can hear the hurt anger:

      Yas -- Hoviat-e Man (Our Identity)


      I will speechify about this though. About Hollywood. It is seen as trash and banal, vilified as some abstract degenerate force by above-it-all intellectuals and prudes alike.

      But, it really is the reason why Americans can be loved and their government disliked (much as Iranians can hate both their own government and foreign powers alike). American films are hot on the black market in Iran. How about, we make good “propaganda,” at least (the lyrics asked why we couldn’t make something to promote peace, -- and -- it’s hard to disagree). I hope “Prince of Persia,” cheesy as it looks (and of course, ahistorical), can at least have a more positive reception.

      Seriously, how ingenious would it be to somehow sell something to the American people, most likely an artfilm gone successful, positive to Iranians (there have been a few really small ones, in addition to minor characters in Traffic). Does nobody but me see the possibly massive, and positive diplomatic ramifications in such a cultural gesture?

      Okay, speechifying over. :-)

      P.S. I heard Ahmadi couldn’t wait for the dubbed Farsi “Avatar” --

      • PepeLepew says:

        Wow! Very interesting.

        I hate to tell you this, but “300” is my brother’s favourite movie. He can’t get enough of it.

        I wouldn’t mind the movie if it were presented as PURE fantasy, nothing more. In fact, it’s a pretty darn impressive movie from purely a technical standpoint (effects, cinematography), my big problem with it is that it was presented as history, and to a lot of poorly educated, ignorant fanboys, they walked away from that movie with the idea that that’s how it really went down in 480 B.C.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          For Khirad and Pepe:

        • Khirad says:

          Indeed. That’s what this guy said:

          http://www.iranian.com/Arts/2007/March/Persians/index.html

          Other reactions were indeed nuanced. Not like the IRI’s, but that’s what it comes down to.

          Thing is, I don’t know what the original Frank Miller graphic novel looked like, perhaps that’s where the blame lies (not like it couldn’t have been altered).

          I agree, the movie was pretty cool -- but it could have so easily been less offensive. Seriously, WTF with that fully waxed and oiled Brazilian who looked like he’d spent a night raving at a fetish club?

          WTF was up with the ninjas?

          And, the dialog was hilarious. Whether or not anyone registers that Persians are modern day Iranians (I find that highly debatable), there’s little question that Spartans are proxy for the West against the evil ‘other’.

          I wouldn’t have minded it without such dialog as defeating Barbarians and defending Democracy, as well. Not to mention the irony of Leonidas lecturing Persians on slavery, when at the time the Spartan freeman was outnumbered by helots 7-1.

          Ummmmmmm. Never mind Persia. Did anyone bother to learn anything about the Spartans? Let alone what other Greeks said about them?!

          They were badass, and women held unique status (like in other warrior centered societies), but not particularly civilized. And the making fun of Athenians as being pederasts? Hullo? This SNL video got the Spartans better!

          http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/the-spartans/1167691/?__cid=thefilter

          There was a really good PBS series on the Spartans a few years back, as well.

          It’s just interesting that we treat Nazis with more respect (except in Basterds) than “evil” Easterners. No, actually, Indians and Chinese are generally okay now. Iran remains one of the last whose whole culture is in the dark and is fair game to lash.

          For as good as it could be in its innovative cinematic techniques, I’m personally more deeply disappointed and shook my head more frequently than I was pissed off. Although… I did raise my voice a few times in the theater with a whaaaaaa?!

  4. Kalima says:

    A wonderful read Khirad and quite fascinating. After watching the first video, I thought it gave new meaning to the idiom “pomp and circumstance” and the word lavish wouldn’t do it any justice.

    This picture of Zarathushtra is the one you use in your gravatar?

    Great story telling, wonderful insight and as always, a pleasure to read. Thank you.

    • Khirad says:

      Yes, Kalima, I promised someone in Vox Populi to answer the question of my avatar, so I fitted the picture in there.

      Indeed, they had a knack for psychologically humbling their subjects with architecture alone. Pomp and circumstance indeed.

  5. Chernynkaya says:

    SO interesting, Khirad-- I think this is my favorite of all your posts! I know very little about Zoroastrianism and less about Nowruz, and I ma very grateful that you taught me so much.

    Now, I have a burning question-- but please do not feel obligated to answer, because it’s kind of personal: How did you come to learn Farsi and so much about Iran? I know you’ve mentioned here that you were raised Protestant. And I thought you said you were of Indian heritage-- am I wrong? If so, please excuse me! I DO get addled from time to time!

    You write of Iran and of the culture as in insider, and that is so important. You have an obvious fascination if not outright love for your topic, and that makes it so authentic. Even if you were not born into it, it certainly seems to be your “true” home.

    • Khirad says:

      Heh, couldn’t but notice a pun there about “burning.”

      I do enjoy a little ambiguity, but more ‘over there’, among my lesser opposition. But no, I am pure WASP(M).

      There are many paths that led me to Iran, seemingly synchronistic (very “Connections” like) on the surface.

      A lot of curiosity about religion as an angry and bitter ex-Christian from 7th grade on, ostensibly to one day write a diatribe against religion and “disprove” Christianity actually gave me a respect for religions. But, it also began a fascination with Zoroastrianism -- an influential but little known and tiny religion today.

      On the other hand, I was always personally drawn to India, and read about it as well. This led me, invariably, to love Bollywood. The two interests naturally melded themselves in the Parsi community, which are basically the Jews of India (never minding that there are Jews in India, of course). “In numbers Parsis are beneath contempt, but in contribution, beyond compare,” said Mahatma Gandhi. But, I digress.

      I have taken private courses in Hindi for about 2 and a half years and could only 3-4 years ago understand at an advanced beginning level, moving on into intermediate. Even at the time of choosing to take that though, I was between taking Hindi and Farsi, but opted for Hindi. My knowledge of the Arabic alphabets is sound, from augmenting my Hindi classes with teaching myself Urdu -- the “Muslim” version of Hindi.

      There was a period in my early 20’s where I’d rent tapes and books from the library in many languages, dabbling, basically -- mostly Indian languages, but Celtic langs (I took a brief course in Irish also, later), Arabic, and Farsi as well. A few months back I got myself a recommended book on Farsi, but have really procrastinated on it (and how I’ve let my Hindi go really gnaws at me…).

      So, the Farsi I know is very rudimentary, from a Pimsleur’s introductory course and the little of my book I bought a few month’s ago that I’ve gotten through (I’ve been remiss in that), and in what I’ve picked up and online sources I know (Hindi and Urdu are full of Persian vocab, as well -- Mughals spoke it). I can read sal-e no mobarak in the Ahmadinejad joke video, but only make out words here and there from Ahmadinejad himself (and with them there’s also the IRI “Newspeak” to contend with). I do know enough to be troubled over such things as using Farsi vs. Persia/n vs. Iran and transliteration inconsistencies, though (trust me, it can bug me in others and most of all, myself).

      It all went from a casual interest -- I’d already read a book or two on Iran -- to an outright obsession after the [s]election in June. A lot of what I know now is from the books I’ve devoured since then, but I wasn’t exactly a tabula rasa, either. As such, I’m humbled by the compliment, but I only wish I had an insider’s view. I do the best I can from all sorts of research to make sense of something myself, and then share it with you guys. Honestly, writing these things is also a good learning experience for me. It is definitely a labor of love and that is why I was pretty down on myself when I was undergoing some serious morale difficulties a while back. Heh, I started this a couple days before Nowruz day, put it off, pecked away, and finished a day or two after it ended! Oh, will I get a festival related article done on time one of these days?!

      Well, I’ll leave it there, but you did ask a self-indulgent question. And yes, the passion I feel for Iran, and previously India, did feel to me like home in a weird way. I could joke in fact that I must have been Indian in a past life. And when someone once asked me years ago where I would go if I could go back in a time machine to one place in history, I answered ancient Persia (heck, I myself would have conspired against Greece! or Sparta, at least, yuck! talk about true Barbarians).

      As for Zoroastrianism, this was the closest excuse I’ve had to mention it. I’ll never write an article about it. I wouldn’t know where to start, and I’m not too good at condensing or simplifying things. That’s a talent in and of itself. As it is, I struggled to go on tangents in this, and actually reined myself in pretty well. However; if anyone has any questions, I’m the next best thing to an actual Zoroastrian or legitimate scholar on it if anyone has questions. I was quite literally obsessed with it for years and have pretty much read its full scripture and commentary. Very rarely has a subject with so much historical impact been so little known.

      A picture for any more burning questions. Fire away. 😉

      • Chernynkaya says:

        WOW--Am I ever glad I asked! Thank you for your reply!I was so off-base, huh? You are a true autodidact-- and I can relate. Seriously, if I believed completely in previous lives, I would have no doubt that you were at one time a Persian and a Hindu.

        I know this is pretty cheeky, but I feel there should be a way for you to immerse yourself into Zoroastrianism. Not just to study it, but to live as a Parsi. I bet you’d find your home. Study is wonderful, but from my own experience, it only tells us so much--nothing like living it.

  6. SueInCa says:

    BTW, I missed that Imadinnerjacket vid. Just watched it and prior to the pic action, I was saying WTF? Who is this guy? They have a clone of the Shrub in office. Who is Darth Cheney?

    • Khirad says:

      Hey Sue, yeah, to many Iranians, they describe almost exactly what I felt with Bush.

      Such is it that while joking, I can actually also answer your question. I would say Cheney is most obviously Khamene’i, but factionally, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi… never mind a coterie of other characters. Ahmadi’s “Karl Rove” is Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi. And Manouchehr Mohammadi and Saeed Jalili are both believed to be behind the Holocaust conference, and the latter is tied to the new Ch

      • SueInCa says:

        That was my thought on Cheney as well. You know the reason Chavez and Bush had the falling out? Bush had tried to move in on the oil in Bolivia, I think, and Chavez offered to help the country. After that Chavezz was persona non grata. I am almost certain it is Bolivia but it could be another nation down there.

        Sean Penn also said that when he went to Haiti, both Fidel and Chavez managed to get them medical and food supplies without all the red tape and he said they were the first to offer help.

        so Chavez was made the devil, as usual, because he screwed the Bushes. Just like everyone here that visited Paris after Iraq and the debacle with the French could not figure out why the French were hostile. It would not be because our congress and President made fools of them now could it?

  7. SueInCa says:

    Khirad
    Spectacular once again. You have a way of writing that helps the laywoman(me) to understand the Persian culture. Thanks again for another wonderful piece.

  8. KQ says:

    Phenomenal work Khirad. You have gotten me totally fascinated with Persian culture. What a proud and storied culture it is.

  9. AlphaBitch says:

    excellent article, as always Khirad! Printed and saved. Whenever there is such a deep subject as this, I always, always send out an email blast to interested people to read it.


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