(In the following story, Sarkari Dawlatamamad from Siponj, Bartang, describes the beauty of the celebration that heralds the New Year in the Pamirs. The story will be familiar to many Pamiris, even if in other villages the tradition is different, or only exists now in stories told by their parents and grandparents. The inspiration of the story was drawn from the beautiful documentary film SHOGUN, made by Pamiri filmaker Tolik Gadomamadov. The story has been adapted below from the highly acclaimed award winning book “With Our Own Hands” authored by Frederik van Oudenhoven and Jamila Haider.
BY FREDERIK VAN OUDENHOVEN AND JAMILA HAIDER
WITH SARKORI DOWLATAMAMAD
To understand how we celebrate Nawruz in the Pamirs and how important the holiday is to us, it is necessary first to tell you about time as we experience it in the Pamirs. Our time is different from time elsewhere; it differs even from valley to valley. Our experience of time is conditioned by our dependence on our lands, and our need to predict seasonal changes to coordinate our work in the fields. This is why our ancestors developed special calendars that follow the changes in the land: the passage of the sun through the villages and valleys; the behaviour of plants, animals and spirits; and the influences of these changes on the human body. The body and time are inseparable: you might say that our calendar records the procession of life rather than time, and individual days take meaning from their place in that procession. So, Nawruz, our New Year, is not simply a day of celebration, but the culmination of all the days leading up to it.
Preparations begin already on the darkest day of the year, the winter solstice, which marks the beginning of a period of intense cold in the Pamirs. This period is called chilla and lasts for forty days. When, towards the end of January, the sun shining through the skylight, or roetz, reaches the first mark on the wall, the chilla ends. This is the first sign that spring is coming and we celebrate Khir-pichor.
On the first day of Khir-pichor no guests are allowed to enter the house. Only on the second day, early in the morning, a cousin or niece can visit the house, bringing two kulcha (wedding bread), which they place next to the kitsor (traditional oven). We prepare his or her favourite food — kamoch-tarit (butter bread), khomnigul, baht (sweet festive porridge), boj (celebratory soup with meat, if we have meat) — and offer a present as well. Afterwards, more people come and bring kulcha. We call this custom salom-salom. Later in the day, the community comes together to eat lunch and the khalifa (religious leader) performs du’a (act of worship for the fulfillment of specific needs, forgiveness or protection).
The Pamiri calendar begins on the second day of Khir-pichor, which literally means ‘sun-in-man’. From now on, the sun will slowly begin to gain in strength, marked by the symbolic passage of the sun‘s rays through the human body. It starts with the sole of the foot or the toenails and gradually climbs up towards the top of the head, before moving down again. The toenails, the top of the foot, the ankles, the shin, the calves of the legs…each part of the body indicates a period of three days. After approximately three weeks, when the sun reaches the knee and the next marking on the wall, we celebrate the second sign of the arrival of Nawruz, Khir-chizon (‘sun-in-knee’).
During Khir-chizon, we put a handful of seeds into the fire of the kitsor and after the fire has finished burning, we look for any remaining seeds in the ashes. These surviving seeds tell us our fortune; they help us know which crops to sow in the New Year. Afterwards we take the ashes and seeds outside and scatter them over the snow.
“Like the majority of the inhabitants of the Western Pamirs, the Bartangi also speak dialects of the family of the Indo-European, non-written Pamir languages. Religiously, they belong to the denomination of the Nizari-Ismailis, a sub-confession of Shia Islam. Nizari-Ismailis consider Aga Khan IV as the closest male descendent alive of the prophet Muhammad and as ephiphany of the divine light. His orders are absolutely binding. The Aga Khan propagates a version of Islam open to progress and to intellectual discourse with the west. His faith is practised even in the remote Bartang valley, enriched with some locally specific practices.” — Excerpt from the website http://www.bartang-has-future.com.
On the first day of Khir-chizon, we prepare boj, and share it with our neighbours. On the second day, we prepare baht. That is why, in our village in Bartang, we also refer to this holiday as Baht ayom.
When, finally, the snow begins to melt and the sun rises over the point on the mountain which we call amalkhana, it is time to celebrate Nawruz in our calendar, the Sun has reached the Heart.
We celebrate Nawruz with great happiness and intensity; Nawruz is the end of a long and difficult winter and the beginning of a new cycle of growth. It reminds us of our great dependence on the Earth, the Sun and Water, and each celebration is an occasion to ask God and the angels to grant us good harvests and healthy, productive animals.
The women and girls will clean every corner of the house and use brooms blessed with wheat flour to chase away the bad spirits that have taken shelter in the nooks and crannies of the wood. Flour is also used to decorate the beams of the ceilings which have been blackened by smoke over time: simple hand prints, old Zoroastrian patterns whose meaning has often been forgotten, or drawings of sheep and shepherds so that the house will not be without shepherd and a flock of sheep this year. Juniper twigs adorn the pillars of the houses, they bring fertility and blessings.
The men cut the bark of willow branches and weave them into flowers which, once the cleaning is finished and they are allowed back into the house, they offer to the women, with the traditional New Year greeting. The willow is associated with the productivity while the flower is the symbol of joy, abundance and people’s harmony with nature. In every household in the village women will prepare sumanak (pudding made from germinated wheat). It is one of the most well-known new year dishes in Central Asia.
Date posted: March 21, 2017
Thank you for sharing this article on this Day of Navroz. It was interesting to note that Ismailis reside in Batang. This festival is celebrated, as you note, by more than 300 hundred million people. It is also celebrated by Muslims of all denominations as well as by people of other faiths. We celebrate it with gratitude to our Creator for His blessings of nature on mankind.