Persia/Chapter 38

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CHAPTER XVI.

OF THE FESTIVAL OF NOWROOSE, OR NEW YEAR'S DAY.

Djemshid, one of the most illustrious of the ancient monarchs of Persia, instituted a festival in celebration of the entrance Of the sun into the sign of Aries, the moment at which the solar year commences.

This festival, called Nowroose, or new day, the ancient Persians held on the first of the month of Ferverdyn, corresponding with March, with which their year began. The rejoicings on this occasion lasted six days. On the morning of the first day of the Nowroose, a youth of handsome person, representing the new year, entered the king's chamber, at the moment of the sun's appearance above the horizon. "Who art thou?" asked the king. "Whence comest thou? Whither geest thou? What is thy name?"—" I am the happy, the blessed," replied the youth: "God hath sent me hither, and I bring with me the new year."—He was followed by another youth, who presented to the monarch a silver salver, upon which were wheat, barley, sesamum, rice, (seven ears and seven grains of each) sugar, and two pieces of gold. The ministers, the officers of the empire, and even the private subjects, were admitted to the foot of the throne. When the grain presented to the sovereign was made into bread, _some of it was carried to the king, who ate a piece himself, and divided the remainder among the surrounding assemblage, saying:—" This is the first day of a new epoch; it is right to renew what time produces." With these words, he gave robes of honour to his officers.

On the first of the six days of this festival, the king was wholly engaged with the welfare of his people and the means of rendering them happy. The second he devoted to the astrologers and the learned; the third, to the priests and to his counsellors; the fourth, to the princes of the blood and the grandees; the fifth, to the children of the royal family; and the sixth, to hissubsubjects generally; receiving on that day the presents which they were accustomed to make him.

The conversion of Persia to Islamism was followed by the abolition of this festival; for the fanaticism of the first Musulmans would not have suffered a solemnity commemorative of any other religion than that of Mahomet, which was to overturn all other creeds and to reign over the whole earth. The Guebres alone continued to celebrate the Nowroose. But when Malek Shah resolved to reform the calendar, and instituted the era called after his name, the astronomers, having observed to him that he ascended the throne on the first day of the spring equinox, and that it would be but right to receive the solemnity of that day in honour of such an important event, the Seljuk monarch, delighted with a proposal so flattering to his vanity, eagerly adopted the idea. Ever since his time, that is, since the end of the fifth century of the hegira, or the eleventh of our era, the Nowroose has been celebrated with great pomp throughout all Persia.

This civil festival, the only one which the Persians have, though no longer connected as in the early ages with the religion of the country, has nevertheless retained many ceremonies similar to those of antiquity.

On the day when the festival is to begin, the astrologers, magnificently dressed, repair to the palace of the king or of the governor of the province, and station themselves on a terrace or in a belvidere, to watch the moment of the sun’s entrance into the sign of Aries. As soon as they have announced it, numerous volleys of musketry are tired; horns, kettle-drums, and trumpets, rend the air; all sorts of sports and amusements commence throughout the whole city; and high and low give themselves up to the wildest joy. During the three days that the Nowroose lasts, there is nothing but feasting, horse-racing, exercises and exhibitions of various kinds: every one appears in his best apparel, or in new clothes, pays and receives visits, and makes presents to his acquaintance, who offer him theirs in return. The day before the Nowroose, they mutually send one another eggs, painted and gilt, which sometimes cost two or three guineas. This practice of presenting eggs on new year’s day seems to derive its origin from India.

When the moment of the equinox is past, all the grandees repair to court, and present their offerings to the king: those of the princes and the governors of provinces and cities, are presented by their agents. These presents consist of jewels, rich stuffs, precious stones, perfumes, horses, and even money. Their value is proportionate to the rank and fortune of the giver: for the lowest officer is obliged to make his present, just as well as the Beylerbey. Sir Robert Porter states, and as he assures us from unquestionable authority, that the personal present made every Nowroose to the king by Hadjee Mohammed Hossein Khan, while he governed the province of Ispahan, amounted to not less than 200,000 toomauns.