All things counter, original, spare and strange in Khujand, Tajikistan

نوروز, Навруз, Nowruz, Navruz

This is coming a bit late, but I never blogged about the Persian New Year,  Nowruz–pronounced Navruz in Tajik. Navruz happens on March 21, on the spring equinox, but in my region some villages started having spring festivals as early as March 8. I went with my friend Merzobek to the village of Paldorak to see their festival. It mainly consisted of a wrestling competition.

The best part was when this old guy stepped into the ring and demanded to be allowed to participate. Some consternation ensued until applause erupted from one side of the field and another old man was thrust forward as his opponent. They wrapped these cloth bands around each other and tried to throw each other to the ground:

It ended in a tie. But everyone seemed to agree it was a good laugh, and they both got prizes.

By the time Navruz itself rolled around, my good friends Drew, Mark and David had arrived for a visit. We spent Navruz Eve with my host family. Naturally, we had what every Tajik feast requires: big plates of osh.

But things got more raucous than usual. We turned on the music channel on TV and everyone started dancing. At the commercial break, the family asked us if we could sing an American song. We froze. The only thing we could think of was the national anthem. So, hands over our hearts, we sang it. Then they sang the Tajik national anthem.  Good times had by all.

Then we hopped in a car and went to another house where we got to stir a giant cauldron of the traditional Navruz dish, semalak. Semalak is basically a big kettle full of wheat sprouts, which you stir and stir for hours, then let burble all night until the starches caramelize and it turns into a brown, sweetish pudding. This all night affair provides an excellent excuse for the youth of Tajikistan to party way later than their usual bedtimes. Dancing and flirting ensued such as I have never seen in this country.

Navruz, by the way, is an incredibly ancient holiday thought to have been established by Zoroaster himself, who may have lived anywhere from the 18th to the 6th century BC. In old Persian Navruz means “New Light,” though in Modern Persian, “ruz” has come to mean “day.” In Iran the pronunciation has changed from “Nav” to “Now,” though in Tajikistan they have preserved the “nav” from Ancient Persian, which is cited as evidence that Tajik is the modern dialect closest to the Ancient Persian language.

Navruz corresponds with the festival of Purim in the Jewish calendar, the celebration of the time when Esther saved the Jews from extinction. There is some speculation that this festival is influenced by the Persian Navruz, and/or that the events in the book of Esther took place around the time of the Navruz festival.

So happy Navruz everyone! Since March 21st, the days have been getting longer and the sun has been getting warmer, which is enough to make me celebrate.


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