Celebrating Nowruz - Central Asia
ASIAN Geographic|AG 04/2020 143
Get a glimpse of ancient cities along the Great Silk Road, bask in the nomadic culture and Soviet heritage, and experience the vast mountains and steppes of Central Asia. Each of the five “stans” has much to offer, especially in times of celebration
Ian Bongso-Seldrup

{ CENTRAL ASIA }

Celebrating Nowruz

HOW THE PERSIAN NEW YEAR BECAME CENTRAL ASIA’S MOST IMPORTANT FESTIVAL

The anti-religious communist government banned it in the former Soviet republics. In Tajikistan, it was renamed “Tulip Celebration” to avoid the ire of authorities. When the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan, it was outlawed – an ancient pagan holiday centred on fire worship that was against Islam. The theocratic leaders of Iran felt the same way when they came to power in 1979.

Today, in better times, it is a four-day public holiday in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, and a day off for Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Alongside the Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, it is the biggest celebration in Central Asia. If you’re travelling to this part of the world, you’ve got every reason to come in spring: It’s time to celebrate Nowruz.

To understand Central Asia’s relationship with Nowruz (also spelled Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz or Nevruz, and otherwise referred to as the “Persian New Year”), it helps to know a little bit of the history. Indeed, there’s a whole lot of history behind this ancient festival.

Nowruz has been celebrated for thousands of years. Its beginnings are partly rooted in Zoroastrianism, the dominant religious tradition in Greater Persia, an area that was centred in present-day Iran and stretched east as far as Pakistan and western China, west to Iraq and eastern Turkey, and north to Kygyzstan and Uzbekistan. Among other concepts, Zoroastrianism emphasises ideas such as the connection of humans to Nature, and the work of good and evil in the world.

While the religion dwindled with the rise of Islam – Zoroastrianism is now only found in isolated pockets of southern Iran and India – Nowruz had been established as a popular celebration among the communities that grew from these Persian cultural areas. In Iran, the traditions have been wholly integrated with Islamic spiritual life, but in surrounding countries, Nowruz is a festival celebrated by people from diverse religious backgrounds and ethnic communities.

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