When I was in Baku last month the capital of Azerbaijan was preparing for Novruz Bayrami. I had never heard of this holidays before. First my attention was attracted by decorations made of wheat sprouts.
They are called semeni and an essential part of the celebration. During this time semeni are sold everywhere and must be placed on every table. They symbolize new life, spring, re-birth of life.
Novruz Bayramı is a traditional Iranian holiday, which celebrates the New Year, and the coming of Spring. Some people say that the history of Novruz goes back as far as 5,000 years, when ancient Sumerians, Babylonians and Akkadians celebrated it. Originally being a Zoroastrian festival, and the holiest of them all, Novruz is believed to have been invented by Zoroaster himself, although there is no clear date of origin.
Novruz is celebrated and observed by Iranian peoples and the related cultural continent and has spread in many other parts of the world, including parts of Central Asia, Caucasus, South Asia, Northwestern China, the Crimea and some groups in the Balkans. Celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox (March 20-21), Novruz represents nature, renewal and fertility. Other countries in Central Asia such as Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, also celebrate this holiday.
During the Soviet period it was given unofficial status and even prohibited. Currently in Azerbaijan, Novruz is as an official public holiday. I was in Baku several days before the main celebration and could witness the preparations.
The preparations were full speed all over Baku. Walking around the old town of Baku I came across the celebration ceremony rehearsaltaking place around the famous Maiden’s tower. The tower was under renovation and all covered in white tehcnical fabric.
Novruz is associated with spring, start of agricultural activities, renewal of nature and warm days. Virtually, celebrations began four weeks before the actual day of festivity.
Usually preparation for Novruz begins a month prior to the festival. Each of forthcoming 4 weeks is devoted to one of the four elements and called accordingly in Azerbaijan. Each Tuesday people celebrate the day of one of the four elements – water, fire, earth and wind.
People do house cleaning, plant trees, make new dresses, paint eggs, make national pastries such as shakarbura, pakhlava and a great variety of “national cuisine”.Wheat is fried with kishmish (raisins) and nuts (govurga). As a tribute to fire-worshiping every Tuesday during four weeks before the holiday kids jump over small bonfires and candles are lit.
The area around the Maiden’s tower was filled with people, all dressed in traditional clothes. It was interesting to get an idea of how strongly old traditions live in Azerbaijan.
The holiday goes on for several days and ends with festive public dancing and other entertainment of folk bands, contests of national sports. I was lucky to witness the rehearsla of the public dancing peformed by school kids and students.
Interesting that the tradition kept for centruries. Even the Turkic and Mongol invaders did not attempt to abolish Nowruz in favor of any other celebration. Thus, Nowruz remained as the main celebration in the Persian lands by both the officials and the people.
The UN’s General Assembly in 2010 recognized the International Day of Nowruz, describing it a spring festival of Persian origin which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years.
One of the main symbols of the holiday is fire. In many countries bonfires are part of the celebration and young men are jumping over the fire. Unfortunately i did not stay in Baku till the days of actual celebration and did not try jumping over fires. But i wss luckuy enough to eat traditional sweets and delicious Azeri pilav.