Parsis or Zoroastrians, as they are called, are a very small and fast dwindling community. However, in spite of their small number, the history of the community is replete with the heroics of its followers. Whether it’s freedom fighter Dadabhai Nauroji, father of industrialisation in India Jamsetji Tata, father of aviation in India JRD Tata or father of atomic energy Homi Sethna, the community can certainly be accused of producing high quality individuals if not in high quantity! It’s certainly the influence of this community on the social fabric that Navroze becomes almost a community celebration rather than a religion specific festival.
Indian Parsis go by the Shahnameh legend that attributes the foundation of Nowruz to the mythical Iranian King Jamshid, who saves mankind from a winter destined to kill every living creature. To defeat the killer winter, Jamshid constructed a throne studded with gems. He had demons raise him above the earth into the heavens; there he sat, shining like the Sun. The world’s creatures gathered and scattered jewels around him and proclaimed that this was the New Day (Now Ruz). This was the first day of Farvardin, which is the first month of the Iranian calendar. the celebration of the New Year! Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism is the first monotheistic religion that emphasizes broad concepts such as the corresponding work of good and evil in the world, and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Iran. In Zoroastrianism, according to history, it seems that Navroje with deep doctrinal significance, was founded by Zoroaster himself.
It marks a new beginning and is celebrated with much fervour. People clean and decorate their homes, dress up in traditional attires, and visit fire temples to pray for prosperity and seek forgiveness for their sins. Food forms a big part of the day, and the community comes together to celebrate over sumptuous dishes. Traditional Parsi delicacies like dhansak, meethi sev dahi, prawns, farcha, machchi no patio, berry pulao, lagan nu custard are prepared as part of the festivities. In every home, the haftseen table is decorated with seven items – since seven is considered a lucky number. Each item begins with the letter sin (s) in Persian, and each item is a symbol of spring and renewal, including:
Seeb (apple), representing beauty
Seer (garlic), representing good health
Serkeh (vinegar), representing patience
Sonbol (hyacinth), representing spring
Samanu (sweet pudding), representing fertility
Sabzeh (sprouts), representing rebirth
Sekeh (coins), representing prosperity
Mumbai has Parsi foot prints all over from the presence of Bombay House, the corporate house of Tatas, to dedicated townships/community living of Parsis ( Parsi colony, Behram Baug, Cusrow baug etc) to Parsi cuisine restaurants to Parsi educational institutions (Maneckji Cooper) to fire temples to iconic buildings, hospitals and landmarks that bedeck the city.
Navroze is not only Parsi festival, it’s essence captures the ethos of Parsi community celebrating their culture, contribution, cuisine and the very survival. Happy Navroze.