Doctor of Philology, professor, corresponding member of ANAS
Among all the remarkable days and holidays on the world calendar, there is only one day that can be regarded as everyone’s without except ion. It is a common holiday free of politics and at the same time, the most political of holidays for all people and of all time.
Even if some peoples on earth celebrate this holiday as a popular festivity and traditional ceremony and if some peoples do not know about this festival as a holiday, in fact, Novruz is everyone’s and the day when all earthlings across the planet will celebrate it as a holiday is not far off. The designation of 21 March as International Novruz Day by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 23 February 2010 can, in fact, be regarded as a prelude to the near future when Novruz will be celebrated as a holiday that unites the world. Novruz means a new day. The first day of the New Year. Man can manage calendars, but Time, which does not obey anyone, is always beyond our control and the astronomic New Year, its first day, definitely comes on 20-21-22 March based on a “decision” from Heaven regardless of the calendar each nation uses. Novruz is the least politicized holiday because it has not been created by human will. It is a holiday of nature and a holiday of the happy moment of the circulation of the Sun, Earth and Universe. But Novruz is also the most political holiday because Novruz combines all the greatest ideals humanity has been struggling for since its emergence. Novruz is a holiday of equality, solidarity, understanding, friendship, tolerance, appreciation, peace and welfare. Novruz is dear to a dozen of nations that include more than 300 million people who celebrated it, but the most favorite feature of this holiday is that no people can say that Novruz belongs only to them. While talking about Novruz, everyone can say that “this is our holiday”. This proves the main philosophy of Novruz, its mission of unity and its ability to become a bridge between nations and cultures and create dialogue. When the genius 13th century thinker Movlana Jalaladdin Rumi said “Hamdeli az hamzabani behtar ast” – “It is better to have the same soul than the same language”, of course, he was right, and Novruz has precisely this quality at its core, brings people closer together from a spiritual point of view and invites everyone to harmony with purity and balance in nature. The ruler and poet, the founder of the Azerbaijani Safavid state, Shah Ismayil Khatai, clearly states this philosophy at the very beginning of the famous poem “Dahnameh”:
Winter left, spring came again,
Flowers grew, tulip-gardens came,
All birds started to chirp,
The fire of love is burning in this soul again
The assessment that Khatai gave to spring and the beauty of this subtle observation in the description of spring is that our Shah and poet did not consider Novruz to be only the triumph of the blossoming of flowers and awakening of nature but regarded it, first of all, as the revival of love and fervor as a fire inside people. What makes Novruz universal is the feeling of love and philanthropy that never fades in its essence. If we set aside the small details, the fundamental difference in the celebration of Novruz by this or that nation is who has been celebrating this dear day since more ancient times. The most ancient graphic proof of Novruz festivities is in Azerbaijan, and this proof is thousands of years old. The material evidence is in the ancient settlement of Gobustan, which is 60 km away from the Azerbaijani capital Baku. The rock paintings in that rare place are 10,000-20,000 years old. The fact that this exceptional historical place, this unprecedented open-air museum, was finally officially included on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List will provide not only benefits, but also help inform the entire world about the ancient roots of Azerbaijani Novruz. One of the surviving traditions of Novruz is that hearths are lit on the holiday and people go round the hearth and dance Yalli. Pictures of the Yalli dance still remain on the rocks of
Gobustan. There are various kinds of music instruments in the world, and their history is different. But there is no doubt that percussion instruments are the most ancient ones.
Drums are beaten on the day when Novruz comes.The verses of Our Mother Book, the ancient ballad of the Azerbaijani people, Dede Gorgud, say that “drums were
beaten loudly on the festive days”. In Gobustan, there is the world’s most ancient music instrument, the oldest drum called Gavaldash, and like 10,000-20,000 years ago,
it is still being used. It can still be played and calls people to the Novruz holiday. Which other nations, who regard Novruz as their national holiday, have such graphic material evidence about the holding of this holiday? None! Even now Azerbaijanis living in villages around Gobustan on the Caspian coast come to those rocks with carved pictures, as dictated by their memory, and hold ceremonies, while a groom and bride, whose wedding coincides with this time, arrived at the holy site to the accompaniment of a music band and express their belief that this will be the foundation of their future happiness. Novruz is celebrated every March from the moment the
night and day become level. However, according to tradition, people begin to celebrate this holiday in the last month of winter and the festivities last several days after the arrival of Novruz and the beginning of a new solar year.
Since it is the brightest exponent of the thirst for freedom in the national spirit, it is no accident that during the years when Azerbaijan was forced to live inside the closed Soviet regime, the celebration of Novruz was banned by the state. However, this cowardly policy failed to expel Novruz from people’s hearts. Although Soviet decades managed to remove this holiday from the streets and squares and take it off the air, they failed to invade homes - every family definitely celebrated Novruz with love. The main reason why Novruz is so loved in Azerbaijan and in every nation that celebrates it is its democratic nature. This holiday is not only a holiday of balance in nature, but also of equality and similarity between people. To be more precise, Novruz is the transfer of harmony and symmetry in nature and of the model offered by nature into people’s hearts, feelings, thoughts and behavior. This holiday brings people from all walks of life closer together, makes them friendlier and increases mutual respect in society. During the holiday, the whole country seems to turn into a carnival square and all people into voluntary participants in the carnival.
One of our canonized sides of Novruz is jumping over a bonfire. As was the case thousands of years ago, this tradition of getting rid of negative energy is continuing. I would like to stress this truth, which is known to everyone. The fact that Azerbaijan has historically been a land of oil, gas and mud volcanoes and the presence ofnatural sources of fire in Absheron and many other parts of the country have always attracted fire worshipers to Azerbaijan from a vast area from the Middle East to India, and they have regarded these places as holy and have tried to visit them. It is no accident that the founder of fire worshiping was Azerbaijani Zardusht who left such a perfect formula as “Think nicely, speak nicely, do nicely!” for humanity. Today torches are lit during the Novruz holiday on the beautiful Maiden’s Tower located right in the middle of the capital Baku. In fact, this monument is a witness to the fact that Novruz was celebrated in Azerbaijan a few years ago. Even thousands of years ago, fire rose from the top of the 28-metre high Maiden’s Tower on Novruz. This height is required for gas to burn and turn into a blue flame. Natural gas coming to the Maiden’s Tower was lit by ancient Azerbaijanis during the holiday, and the blue flame rising from this peak brought our ancestors together around the Main Novruz Hearth. The centuriesold history of Novruz celebrations in Azerbaijan has left its mark on our poetic heritage of the past millennium. From classics to contemporary poets, numerous poems have been dedicated to Novruz, and Novruz songs, which are samples of verbal folklore or have been created by professional composers, have become a talking point among the people. The genius 12th century humanist, Azerbaijani thinker and poet, Nizami Ganjavi, indicates in the series of masnavis, which our literary tradition has named “Khamsa”, that the Novruz holiday was celebrated in 350 BC, i.e. 24 centuries ago. Just like many centuries ago, the Azerbaijani people celebrate the last four Tuesdays of the year as “end of year Tuesdays”. There are special poems, songs, games and beliefs among the people about each of those days, which are called the land, water, fire and wind Tuesdays and indicate four elements that form the basis of being. Ahead of every spring, special sweets that belong only to Azerbaijani cuisine and Novruz are cooked. Shakarbura, shorgogal, bishi, fasali, Guba, Ganja and Baku baklava, kulcha, samani halvah and other purely Novruz sweets are made en masse precisely on Novruz. A samani is definitely grown at home as the mainsymbol of Novruz. One of our older cultural-spiritual values, which we lost after the arrival of Islam in Azerbaijan, is the prayers we recited in our native Turkic language in the past. One of the merits of Novruz is that it preserved at least one of them over the centuries and millennia – the prayer we recite for the samani we grow at every home ahead of Novruz: “Samani, save me, I will grow you every year” It sounds like you conclude an agreement with a handful of grains that you will protect and help each other survive. According to a tradition left over from the past, a Novruz tray is sent to those who cultivate land in the
field on Novruz. Those who want to build a house think it expedient to lay the foundation of the house on Novruz, because people believe that good will always come to such a house. One of the golden rules of Novruz engraved in the minds of the Azerbaijani people is that people should not curse someone, tell lies, use swear words, gossip and speak badly of someone, and in general, should avoid bad deeds. Doing all this at the time of Novruz is regarded as a heavy sin.
Calculations carried out by the Azerbaijani lawenforcement forces show that on Novruz, crime is always almost nonexistent or at a very low level throughout the country. The reason is the moral lessons that are taught by Novruz and come from ancient times. Untidiness and slovenliness during Novruz are considered to be heavy sins. For this reason, people tidy up their houses and put on new clothes during Novruz. It is an unwritten law that people who have fallen out and bear a grudge against each other make it up on their initiative without mediators. On Novruz, it is a sin not to forgive someone who admits their guilt. On Novruz, it is a tradition to plant a tree and a sin to cut it down. According to our people’s beliefs, it is a good sign to plant a mulberry, fig and chestnut tree on Novruz. Continuing this tradition, parks, gardens and forests are
laid out across the country during Novruz. It is known that Azerbaijanis call the second day of Novruz “a day of forefathers” when whole families visit the graves of their loved ones and relatives. In this regard, there is a tradition in Azerbaijan which indicates that we have celebrated Novruz as a holiday since ancient times. During Novruz, our compatriots visit the grave of Zardusht in the city of Urmiya in Southern Azerbaijan as a Novruz custom.
Based on the custom left over from the time of Zardusht, who had turned fire worshiping into a faith, every family lights one candle per person on the last Tuesday and on Novruz Day and usually keeps it burning. An old and always young Azerbaijani Novruz song describes flowers and sings: If old spring does not come, The rose does not grow, If the rose does not grow, The yellow nightingale does not sing In ancient times, Novruz was called the Turan holiday in Azerbaijan and was celebrated for seven days. Under the influence of this custom, weddings in Azerbaijan lasted seven days and seven nights in the past and there was a tradition to serve seven types of holiday meals on the table, and this tradition is still alive. One of the experiences, which Novruz has kept in Azerbaijan for years and whose beauty never fades, is the cult of flowers. On Novruz, they pick primroses, Adonises and violets, make a garland from field flowers, put flowers on hair and pick mints. But on Novruz, you cannot bring
narcissi home. Every flower has its own meaning and feature in the eyes of the people, and their selection is probably related to Novruz thinking. The narcissus is a sign of selfadmiration. The moral and spiritual framework of Novruz says that you should not be arrogant and should love people, feel affection for everyone and consider yourself to be one of many.According to popular beliefs, everyone should celebrate Novruz within his possibilities at home and with his family. Azerbaijani customs such as making a bonfire and jumping over it on the last Tuesday before Novruz, lighting torches and placing candles on the table are still alive since the time of ancient fire worshiping founded by Azerbaijani Zardusht. On the last Tuesday and on Novruz, every family lights one candle per person and usually keeps it burning. One of the Novruz beliefs that have survived centuries is the burning of rue as people believe that it can protect them from the evil eye and negative energy. People give its smoke to their children, homes and property, cattle and domestic animals. When jumping over bonfires and lighting torches, people recite special Novruz prayers and wish troubles, problems and failures to burn in this bonfire, to remain in the past and not to move into the New Year. One of the popular customs when Novruz – new day, news year – comes is to go out or make a wish opening the window, and it is still followed by everyone. One of the signs of the link between Novruz and farming and cattle-breeding is that during the holiday, a red ribbon is tied on the horns of buffalo, milking cows and sheep set aside for weddings. On Novruz, they do not hit horses, dogs and even snakes. During Novruz, like in ancient times and on medieval miniatures, music ceremonies are held across Azerbaijan, ashugs and singers play and sing, Novruz games are held, tightrope dancers show their skills, wrestlers compete and outdoor performances are held.
One of the most common outdoor games during Novruz, staged all over Azerbaijan every spring, is the comic performance “Koskosa”. On the last Tuesday, children knock on their neighbors’ doors, leave their hats and small sacks at the door and hide. The owner of the house puts Novruz sweets in the hat and returns it to the children. It has its own philosophy. People do not do this because they are hard up. On Novruz, everyone’s table is full anyway. The aim is to sincerely share wealth, joy and gifts.
Meals should definitely be cooked in every house on Novruz. The meals can be different, but one meal that should definitely be cooked is the Novruz pilaf. Dyeing and breaking eggs on Novruz days is a custom that both children and adults follow with great pleasure. Novruz makes the difference not only between various social strata of society, but even between generations transparent. Thanks to Novruz games, adults also become sincere like children. One of the customs that have stood the test of time
is related to horses. During Novruz, all domestic animals are taken special care of and are given better food than on ordinary days, but horses are normally adorned on
Novruz. In rural areas, horse competitions and chovgan games are held. During Novruz, people do not lend money because they are afraid that in this way, wealth will leave their house. But giving a “Novruz gift” during the spring holiday is also a custom. Novruz sweets, Novruz food, samani and candles are placed on a tray and sent to neighbors and friends as a “Novruz tray”. A tray that is sent as a gift should not be returned empty, because according to popular beliefs, in that case wealth will go away from the house. For this reason, a household that received a Novruz tray places other Novruz gifts on that tray according to its wealth and taste and sends it back. They tried to send Novruz gifts mostly to non-Azerbaijanis so that they can also experience the sweetness and joy of this holiday. Azerbaijan is a multinational and multifaith country. According to a well-established tradition, along with Azerbaijanis, other peoples living in the country also look forward to this holiday and celebrate it as their own
national holiday. Displaying kindness and helping the poor are regarded as especially good deeds. The mood experienced throughout Azerbaijan on Novruz days shows that our table, wealth and joy are common and belong to everyone. Displaying kindness and helping the needy are regarded as especially good deeds on Novruz. This tradition has always lived in Azerbaijan, but in Novruz celebrations of recent years, a number of mass qualities have also been acquired. Over the past 20 years, Azerbaijan has faced aggression by neighboring Armenia and has seen 20 per cent of its territory occupied. As a result of this occupation, about one million people have become refugees anddisplaced persons and lost their homes, comfort, property and what they earned in years. For this reason, on Novruz days, both the state and ordinary people are doing their best to help refugees and displaced persons, and charity events are held across the country to help these people, who are suffering from material and moral problems, to fully experience the joy of Novruz. In the early days of March 2010, an old-age villager living in a region bordering on Armenia said in an
interview with Azerbaijani television that we used to make a big bonfire on Novruz and children jumped over those bonfires. But now we cannot make bonfires because enemy snipers open fire as soon as they see the bonfire. Our biggest wish is for the peaceful nature of Novruz to help resolve this problem and for hearths on the border not to come under fire. The number of weddings increases during Novruz. Those who want their children to marry try to hold their weddings during Novruz because according to popular beliefs, families created during Novruz are regarded as happy. There are many men named Novruz and many women named Bahar (Spring) in Azerbaijan. These names are normally given to children born during Novruz. During Novruz, the country’s biggest samani is grown on the Maiden’s Tower in Baku, and Bahar khanim, achosen beauty queen, lights the biggest candle – torch on top of the tower in connection with the arrival of Novruz. Novruz is an official holiday of the country and is celebrated by the state and people at the highest level, and those days are a public holiday on the calendar. The head of state usually congratulates the nation on Novruz, participates in mass festivities together with citizens of the country and takes measures to improve the lives of citizens. The national media, radio and television publish articles about Novruz for several days and broadcast concerts, entertainment programs and performances. Over the past 20 years, an extensive series of books and films dedicated to Novruz has been created in Azerbaijan. Novruz poems, songs, customs and beliefs, various ceremonies and games, which survived years as samples of oral folklore, have been written down, published and distributed in the form of audio and video tapes and CDs. I once suggested setting up separate Novruz exhibitions in museums in member countries at one of UNESCO meetings on Novruz, and this proposal was accepted and recommended for implementation in countries where Novruz is celebrated. There is one such exhibition – the Novruz room – dedicated to Novruz, which is open all year, at Baku’s National Literature Museum, and it has always been of interest to visitors. Novruz has always been a holiday of the awakeningof land and nature, spiritual purity and equality. But at the very start and to date, it has been primarily a holiday of the Sun and fire and hearth that represent the Sun on earth. In Azerbaijan, there is a Novruz tradition that has survived centuries. At night, young people make a bonfire in the mountains, hills and heights and remain awake until the morning. This tradition is called “meeting the Sun”. As the Sun rises at dawn, they all sing the ancient song “Godu khan”. As was the case thousands and hundreds of years ago, Novruz is coming to Azerbaijan again. As was the case thousands and hundreds of years ago, Azerbaijani people make bonfires in the mountains, welcome the Sun with the onset of the morning as if they saw it for the first time and welcome the Sun, Spring and New Day! And it will always be the same! Novruz, which does not interfere in any policy, but is the greatest and the most correct policy itself, will always invite people to maintain harmony, balance and order in the world and gear up for this high mood!