Nowruz: The forgotten spring festival of subcontinent – by Shaheryar Ali

Related post: Nowruz in Parachinar, Pakistan – by Riaz Toori

If one looks at the cultural history of Muslims in India, its hard to ignore the festival of Nowruz: The spring festival of Persia and central Asia which marks the start of spring of the start of Persian New Year. For more than a thousand years Nowroz was an official festival of the imperial courts in Dehli and Agra. Later it enjoyed the support of the princely states like Awadh and Hyderabad. Most Indians may remember K.Asif’s epic Moghul e Azam , which shows Jashen e Nowruz of Moghul court.

Nowruz was not just a fashion of muslim elites of India, rather it had a multi-dimensional character. After the Arab-muslim conquest of Persia, the festival of Nowruz became the symbol of a cultural resistance against Arabization and Arab imperialism. With the alliance of the sunni clerical establishment with the Caliphate in Baghdad after the initial resistance of the great Sunni Imams like Abu-Hanifa , Imam Malik and others , the Persian metaphysics and culture came under increasing attack from the state in name of Islam.

The resistance movements in the conquered and converted lands of Arab empire took shape of an “alternative” understanding of Islam, one which was radically different from vision of Abbasids and their supporters the Sunni clerics. The converted people looked towards their traditional philosophies, mythologies and cultural symbologies to understand Islam. Result was development of mysticism and different shades of Shia Islam. It must be understood that the political movement of proto- Shia was predominantly an Arab phenomenon with no theological differences with the proto-sunnis. The theological shia emerged quite later just as the their sunni counter part as the result of looking at Islam through the rich metaphysical tradition of Persians, Coptics, Nestorians, Arians and Pagans. The constant friction between the Ismaili Fatmid and Abbasid Empire played a great role. Its easily forgotten today that what is today dismissed as “heresy” was once the official Islam of half of the Moslem world and its continuous dawa in Abbasid lands made it “people’s religion” in other. Many “sanits” or Sufis could very much be Ismaili dais. Sufism shows a great resemblance to Ismaili theology esp in its understanding of concept of “beyond”. An account of this process with the resultant dissent in Islam is explained here and here.

Haft Sen

In this environment Nowruz, the ancient festival of Persia was re-invented by the Shia and Sufi theologians as a potent symbol of resistance against Arab cultural invasion as well as against the rigid and loyalist Islam. Since most of the resistance against Arab imperialism was surrounding one or another Alavite cause, Nowruz was linked with the Holy House of Muhammed, whose status was under attack by the Arab rulers, Against the de-mystifying attempts of Abbasid and their loyalist clerics against Muhammed and Alavites, the Sufis and Shia trends merged both of them with the ancient Gnostic metaphysics with which the conquered people were very familiar. Nowruz became the day when Ali was awarded the “wilayah” in time before Time began. It was the day of Muhammed’s declaration of prophet hood in the zone beyond time, it was the day universe was created, and the day when Mehdi will deliver humanity from tyranny

Through Sufi teaching and its accompanying Ismaili dawa the festival reached the Sunni lands of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakhtoonkhawa, India, Turkey, Albania and Bosnia. Kurds also adopted the day due to the esoteric mystic tradition which mostly had Ismaili relations. With formation of Pakistan and its increasing Arabaization and State sponsored Anti Shia militancy, festival of Nowruz has virtually gone into obscurity. Its not that Nowruz is not celebrated in Pakistan, it is widely celebrated but is ignored. Even Pakistan’s self pro-claimed progressives and secularists who have a mantra of tolerance and pluralism on their lips 24/7 are insensitive to an “alternative cultural expression”.

Shias make a sizeable population in Pakistan and they celebrate Nowruz as an “Eid”, special ceremonies and prayers are offered in the Imam Bargahs , sweets, fruits, perfumes, flowers usually mark the offerings of Nowruz. The Aga Khani Ismaili community also celebrates Nowruz in Pakistan. In certain Northern areas of Pakistan which have Shia and Ismaili majority Nowruz has a very potent cultural expression. All of this fails to find any representation in mainstream Pakistan, result is an average educated Urban Pakistani simply doesn’t know about Nowruz. The Pakistani intellectuals are usually busy lecturing India on tolerance and pluralism on issues like Varun Gandhi etc etc and usually don’t care about such small things. The Shia holocaust in Pakistan also goes un noticed by most of our secular-progressive-sufi- Elitist intellectuals. Thanks to them no one in Pakistan knows whats going on against Shias in Parachinar and other areas. A fellow blogger Abdul recently spoke about this criminal silence by those who have a claim to Alternative media in Pakistan. Here is the article by Abdul and other links about Anti Shia holocaust going on in Pakistan. Here , here and Here. Most of our protests on these issues are also met with the same response. Indifference

Pakistani Shias celebrated this Nowruz with an increasing awareness of Talibanization. Yet another Pakistani community celebrates Nowruz. It’s the Bahai community. Scattered through out Pakistan, the Bahai community leads life of invisibility due to “cultural holocaust and apartheid” which is order of the day in Pakistan. Bahai’s through out Pakistan celebrated Nowruz.

bahai star

The Persian speaking people of Pakistan [this is yet another information for an average educated Pakistani, that there exist people in Pakistan whose mother tongue is Persian] also celebrates Nowruz. Darri speaking [Afghani Persian] Hazaras of Baluchistan also celebrate Nowruz. [Yet another victim of state sponsored holocaust]

Yet another Pakistani community which celebrates Nowruz is the Zoroastrian community commonly known as the “Parsi community”. The community is trying to preserve the ancient pre-Islamic heritage of Iran. Geographically Nowruz is celebrated with greater enthusiasm in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawer, Northern Areas of Pakistan especially Hunza valley, Gilget and Baldistan , Multan and Kashmir. In Pakistan the customs of Nowruz are different than those of Iran.

In Pakistan Nowruz is mostly celebrated as “Alam Afrouz” or the new day. People dress up and visit each other. There are special ceremonies and “aamal” and prayers in Imam Bargahs and Jamat Khanas. Hina, bangles and eidi are also part of Nowruz celebration. In villages the practice of burning wood logs and jumping over it was an established practice on Nowruz but now has almost died. Special sweets like “laddo”, ”rus malai”, ”gulab jaman” “cream rolls” and Suhan Halva are made on this day. These sweets plus roses and perfumes replace the tradition “Haft sen” of Nowruz,Since in mystic and Shia theology Nowruz is the day to celebrate the wilayah of Ali and house of Muhammed , I have selected a “Ginan”, which are the mystic lyrics wrote of Saints of Indo-Pk , many of them were Ismaili dais [as the Ismaili history is slowly being de-mystified] in praise of the Imams who were in occultation in those days. Shamas the mysterious mystic was also an Ismaili dai who introduced Rumi to “Batin”, what lies beyond the words of Quran.

This particular Ginan is being offered by none other than Queen of mystic music Abida Parveen and it speaks about the “Raj”, the Millennium when charismatic Imams, the continuation of Koranic symbology of Noor-un-ala-noor will rule the humanity. The start of this was affirmation of Ali in realm of spirits an act which is symbolized in day of Nowruz. In modern times this Ginan is specially recited on coronation of the Aga Khan the “Hazir Imams”, the continuation of Ismaili Imamat and the most philosophical rich movement in Islam whose metaphysics contributed a lot in development of mysticism. The devotion of Abida Parveen is worth seeing, a truly spiritual experience. HE Prince Karim Aga Khan, the Hazir Imam can be seen enjoying the Ginan.

Ginan by Queen of mystic music Abida Parveen

Courtesy : Sherry’s weblog

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