Jamshedi Navroz will be celebrated on 21st March. The time of the Spring Equinox in India will be at 04:40:45 AM this year. Navroze is celebrated on the day of the spring equinox when the day and night are of equal length. Parsis of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad will be attending the ‘jasan’ or thanksgiving prayer at the 3 agiaris, an auspicious start to a good day.
Traditionalists generally set a table called the ‘Haft Sin’ table and light a lamp at the exact time of the vernal equinox. The table has at least 7 items beginning with the Persian letter ‘S’ and each of these have a special significance. Home grown sprouts represent the rebirth of spring; apples are for beauty, coins for wealth, garlic for health, rosewater for sweetness. A prayer book is also kept on the table, along with a pomegranate and painted eggs. A mirror and a ‘diya’ are placed to represent light and goodness. A goldfish in water is also kept on this table by some. The fish represents life. Others put on the table an orange floating in water which represents the earth floating in space. The table has fresh and dry-fruits, sweetmeats and chocolates, nuts and these are cleared, mostly between the 6th and the 13th day.
In Iran, Navroze is a national holiday and the Irani New Year. People travel back home from the cities where they work to spend time with their family. The sprouts from the Navroze table are thrown in water on the 13th day. The day the table is cleared; the entire family leaves the house and goes out together on an outdoor picnic.
The spring festival is named after King Jamshed who started celebrating it in ancient Persia, but a little known fact is that it was Cyrus the Great who shifted the day of the New Year celebration in Persia, from the day of the autumn equinox to the spring equinox. Navroze is also celebrated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan as well as parts of Northern China.
In India, it was Seth Nasarvanji Kawasji of Surat who began celebrating Jamshedi Navroze in his home in the 18th Century, after traveling to Iran on work and seeing the way Navroze was being celebrated there. By the 20th Century, Khurshed Cama made it a popular religious festival in Bombay.
Worldwide, Zoroastrians have done the community proud this year by winning various plum posts and awards. SH Kapadia is the present Chief Justice of India. Zubin Mehta received the 2,434th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 1st March, coinciding with his 50th anniversary as a conductor. Cricketer Zubin Surkari is playing for Canada this World Cup. Parsis won 3 awards this Republic Day. Photographer Homai Vyarawalla was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the country’s second highest civilian award. Dr. Keki Byramjee Grant (posthumous) was awarded the Padma Bhushan and renowned puppeteer Dadi Pudumjee was also awarded the Padma Shri. These are just a few mentioned and not by any means an exhaustive list! To sum up in Mahatma Gandhi’s famous words, “I am proud of that splendid Zoroastrian stock. In numbers they are beneath contempt but in contribution beyond compare.”
As a community Zoroastrians are greatly respected for two distinct traits: their honesty and philanthropy, which are in sync with the religion’s basic beliefs of good thoughts, good words and good deeds, exemplified by the building schools, hospitals, charitable
institutions and housing colonies throughout India. Their Forefathers landed in India in the eighth century after fleeing the Arab invasion in Persia, refusing to leave their Zoroastrian religion, which is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion; founded around 1200 B.C. Zoroastrians worship all the natural elements but the most important
Dadabhai Naoroji, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta and other Parsis were leaders in the struggle for Indian Freedom. A radical leader who spent much of her life in exile was Madame Cama who designed and unfurled the Indian flag for the first time. The historical beginnings of Parsis in professional life came through their role as interpreters and
professional middlemen between the Dutch and the Indians. They were weavers who introduced Chinese silk and brocade weaving into India. As foremen and carpenters in the construction of ships and dockyards, Parsis were pioneers. The Wadias were ship builders; some even qualified engineers although today they are known for their
contribution to commerce and industry, like the Tata and the Godrej Business Houses.
In the early 18th century, the first Parsis came to Hyderabad on the invitation of Salar Jung 1 to lay the foundation for a sound administration. The Asaf Jahi Dynasty attracted some of the best Parsi talent and may of them spent their lives in the service of the Nizams in an unbroken record for more than 100 years occupying positions of
trust and responsibility. Today there are around 1200 Parsis in Hyderabad. Hyderabad also has Parsi colonies. The majority of the Parsis are well educated with most of them opting for Defence services and business. The Parsis are well known for their Philanthropist activities and are fun-loving people with a passion for good living.
For over 200 years, Hyderabad has been home to the Parsis. In 1800, 16 men arrived here when the Hyderabad Contingency of the Hyderabad Subsidiary Forces moved to Bolarum, Secunderabad, from Jalna, Nizam’s Dominions. Shroffs or bankers to the contingency, they worked hard and honestly to reach some of the highest positions in the Asaf Jahi government. They spoke English, which helped them deal with foreigners
and the two official languages of Hyderabad, Urdu and Persian. Later, the Parsis rose to positions of eminence.
Besides being Diwans of Jamnagar, Baroda and parts of Gujarat, Parsi Courtiers and advisors served in the States of the Deccan as well as at the Nizam’s court at Hyderabad. Many plans which improved the lives of the people and the economy of the states were designed by them like the transporting of Deccan cotton to cloth mills at Mumbai. The
Peshtanshahi Sikka of Hyderabad is the only Indian coin to be named after a Parsi as an honour for the services he rendered the Nizam and Hyderabad State.
Being cohesive and close-knit, the community supports its less fortunate through its privately held trusts managed by the governing body, the Anjuman, rather than opt for minority status.
Parsis of the twin cities celebrate Navroz with great gusto. Households are decorated with flower garlands or ‘haars’ and the door step is decorated with ‘flower toran’ and ‘chowk’ which is the Parsi Rangoli. A sweet Ravo (made from sugar, milk and
suji) and vermicelli are the best breakfast for Navroz. After breakfast, the whole family bathes, wears new clothes and visits a nearby Fire Temple or Agiary. Then it is greeting time for family and friends. They wish each other “Saal Mubarak” and this is followed by a 3 course non-vegetarian lunch. There is also a sumptuous dinner at the Zoroastrian Club. Lunch and dinner would mainly comprise Parsi specialties like ‘Dhan Dal Patio’, which is yellow dal and rice eaten with a prawn and tomato gravy, ‘Sali-boti’ which is a special mutton gravy served with crunchy potato sticks and the famous ‘Patra-ni-machi’, which is pomfret fish steamed in a banana leaf with a layer of green chutney. The accompaniments would include ‘lagan-nu custard’, dry fruit custard especially made during weddings (lagan).