Nowruz has long been celebrated in Iran and most countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Indian subcontinent, and the Balkans. Nowruz has been around for about a thousand years since the arrival of Iranians in India and is still celebrated in many parts of India. In a way, the ritual of Nowruz is tied to the different religions of this country.
Here is Honaronline’s exclusive interview with Abhay Kumar Singh, India's cultural advisor.
Nowruz has a history of about a thousand years in India at the same time as the arrival of Iranians in India, and still celebrated in many parts of India like Iranians. In a way, Nowruz is tied to different religions of this country. How many cultural events with the meaning of Nowruz are held in India?
Iranians and Indians have been close ever since the days of the Vedas and the Avesta. There has been a shared heritage between us. Nowruz is a cultural festivity along with religious reverence. It observes an auspicious beginning of new life and looks forward to better times—a new year. The ideas of Nature's grace, rejuvenation, fertility, purity, resolution for a better life ahead, auspicious beginning, equally match and relate in the spirit on both sides, India and Iran. Truly, the ideas that reinforce confidence and optimism appeal to all humanity.
In Indian history, it is recorded that Persian Nowruz, was celebrated in the royal court of Mughal Emperor Akbar, more than 400 years ago. Nowruz, [named as Navroze =New year] observed by the Parsi community in India [who largely reside in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Delhi], has a close parallel celebration in the Hindu Chaitra Navratri festival, held almost same time (usually in March), when the Hindu Vikrami new year commences. Some of the rituals resemble too.
As a variant, the solar new year commences in Vaishakha (April) with festivals: Assam with Xaat/Rongali Bihu, in Punjab with Baisakhi, and in Kerala with Vishu. Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Pana Sankranti in Odisha, and Poila Boishakh in Bengal.
Comparable to other Iranian festivities of Shab-i-Yalda, Sadeh, Chaharshambe Suri, India holds the festivities of Lohri, Makar-samkranti, Onam, Holi.
Considering the cultural relations between Iran and India in recent years, including cultural weeks, is it possible to expand cultural and artistic potentials, especially in the field of Nowruz between the two countries?
Cultural streams are alive and active, living culture is not a museum display item. Festivities are at best, participatory, not just demonstrative. Culture has always progressed by sharing. It expands cultural and artistic potentials and leads to a better understanding of the spirit that lies behind the celebration. The cultural celebration has to be inclusive, not exclusive.
Nowruz offers an opportunity to bring people together. Participation in the festivity may serve well. Tourism may get a boost if the Nowruz celebration and cultural events are tied together, so that people may want to visit then and join there.
I see that the Indian hospitality and tourism entrepreneurs have gained international tourists in the background of festivities of Holi, Navratri/Garba, Pooja, or Diwali. It was offered to get a glimpse of the culture and also an opportunity to participate in the festivity, to those who are otherwise foreign to it.
India has invested a lot in Iran in the economic and trade fields, does it have any plans to invest in the cultural and artistic fields too?
On the level of the governments, we have the memoranda of understanding or cultural agreements. ICCR with ICRO, with ICHHTO (now MCHTH), regarding cooperation in various aspects related to culture and arts. These MoU's are active and we have acted upon them, too. There have been some Iranian artists who visited India through ICCR and participated in international music events in India in 2018 and 2019. Painting Exhibition was also held. Also, many good results have been achieved in academic collaborations. There exist good potential and prospects under the above understandings; it is only to wait for world health situations to improve and activities to resume normally.
In my opinion, no less important is an “investment in people”, which is meant, providing information and motivation to the artists on both sides to engage deeply and variously. Our role is to combine interests and bring them together. In the age of faster and wider communication, artistic talents are swift enough to join and achieve.
I may cite some examples here. Iranian child artiste, Tara Gahrehmani, received the Global Child Prodigy Award 2020 from India, and her musical rendition on santoor, and she received much appreciation, all over India. Last year, an Iranian digital artist, Zara Tarkhan, was awarded the first prize in the Global Art competition organized by ICCR. On the other hand, Indian filmmakers received awards for participating in Iranian film festivals. All these cultural stars have been achievers and are now inspirers to others. So, simultaneously, an artistic and cultural interaction is going on through people-to-people interaction. This is what we must further and strengthen, and we try to contribute our best to it.
How many Nowruz have you been to Iran and are there any commonalities in holding ceremonies in Iran and India?
I have been in this beautiful land for more than 2 years now, and I could witness the Nowruz in 2019. Last year, the situation did not allow any celebration, but I look forward it shall be good for the 2021 event. Already, our Centre is supporting many Nowruz cultural events organized by UNESCO Iran Chapter; Dramatic Arts Center of Iran, Tehran; etc.
My eye has been on the commonalities in the celebrations, and there are strikingly many facets that appeal to us; there are just a few superficial local alterations. The Parsee Nowruz table in India also has some essential items. Parsi Navroze Table especially has a Ses. On the Ses, they put a garland and also put coconut with a Tilak in red kumkum. Otherwise, the only addition is rose water in the Gulabdas or holder of rose water inside the Ses. Besides, it is a mirror to see the smiling face so that the year goes happily. Dry sweets /white batasa [puffed sugar] is put in functions for everyone to eat. In family functions, it is seviya [sweet noodles/reshe] with nuts on top. So, it is lovely to find the variety and variations, but the same spirit and festivity.
By Dorsa Bakhshandegi