A Story About a Celebration that Heralds Nawruz in a Remote Village in Pamirs

Concert Celebrating Nowruz

A photo taken at a UN concert celebrating Nowruz (also Novruz, Navruz, Nooroz, Nevruz, Nauryz). In 2010 the UN General Assembly proclaimed International Nowruz Day at the initiative of several countries that share this holiday — Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan. Inscribed in 2009 — and renewed in 2016 — on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a cultural tradition. Observed by over 300 million people, Nowruz is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. It promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and different communities. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

(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

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BBC Travel: Central Asia’s Pamirs Might Be the World’s Last True Adventure + Posts of Pamir Photos at Simergphotos

Happy Children Faces at the Dushnabe Ismaili Centre. Please click on image for Muslim Harji's Photo Essay.

Happy children at the Dushanbe Ismaili Centre. For a collection of remarkable photos of Tajikistan at Simergphotos, please click on links provided below.

BBC Travel has just published a gallery of photos on the Pamirs of Gorno-Badakhshan, a vast region mainly inhabited by Ismaili Muslims. To view the gallery, please click on Living on the Roof of the World.

We invite our readers to also visit our own posts containing a vast selection of outstanding photos from Tajikistan taken by Muslim Harji, A.M. Rajput and others by clicking on the following links:

Date posted: October 3, 2016.

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@Simergphotos – An Ismaili Wedding in Badakhshan Through the Lens of Muslim Harji

Muslim and Nevin Harji have just returned from a remarkable trip to Badakhshan, which is located in one of the most remote corners of the earth, in the midst of the magnificent Pamir mountains. The Harjis were fortunate to be invited to an Ismaili wedding in the small village of Namadgut (near Ishkashim). The whole village consisting of forty Ismaili families was involved in the preparation and celebration of the wedding. We continue our special series on Badakhshan with this special photo essay An Ismaili Wedding in the Pamirs Through My Lens by Muslim Harji.  

A bride-to-be is pampered with a manicure and pedicure before her wedding in a small village in the Pamirs.   Please click on image for Muslim Harji's photo essay.

A bride-to-be is pampered with a manicure and pedicure before her wedding in a small village in the Pamirs. Please click on image for Muslim Harji’s photo essay.

     

Visions of Badakhshan on Simerg

Letter from Publisher

Muslim Harji's portrait of an Ismaili girl in the Wakhan Corridor of Badakhshan. She is seen Little Suranoor having breakfast before getting ready for school in the Village of Namadgut.

Muslim Harji’s portrait of an Ismaili girl in the Wakhan Corridor of Badakhshan. Little Suranoor is seen having her breakfast before getting ready for school in the Village of Namadgut.

By Abdulmalik Merchant

When my parents visited me in Voorhees, New Jersey, during the spring of 1995, we would together walk to the main library twice a week. The short walk passed by scenic ponds and streams. There was a scary component to it though — encounters with scattered groups of unfriendly geese.

Once in the library, our focus was to read the Sunday newspapers from nearby cities that made their way into the magazine and newspaper section by Monday.

During one such visit, my dad found himself staring at the Baltimore Sun’s wonderful two page spread of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first historic visit to Tajikistan, that had taken place a few days earlier. The June 4, 1995, story gave a moving account of the visit by the paper’s correspondent Kathy Lally. It was obvious that she was well acquainted with the Ismailis, and also understood the emotions of the Ismaili people, who had greeted their Imam for the first time in centuries. To my delight, an on-line version of the report did become available, and I reproduced it on Simerg, with the Sun’s permission, some 5 years ago under the title A Western Correspondent’s Account of the Aga Khan’s Historic First Visit to His Followers in Gorno-Badakhshan.

The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to the village in the 1990s. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these girls, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to the village in the 1990s. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these girls, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Two decades are not long in the life of a community, and for each of these past twenty years, since Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit in May 1995, the Ismaili community of Gorno-Badakhshan has commemorated the historic visit with a celebration known as “Didar” (a Glimpse, of the Imam) or “Noor” (the Light, that the Imam represents). The happiness of this annual event was captured by world-renowned photographer Matthieu Paley in the picture above where Ismaili girls are proudly displaying a framed decorated photo of their beloved Imam.

Subsequently, in addition to many other Badakhshan pieces, we published Ismaili Portraits From Tajikistan, by Khorog’s most distinguished and beloved ‘foreign’ permanent resident, Dr. Ali Rajput of Birmingham, England who in his personal capacity has served the jamat in Badakhshan in numerous ways.

Another piece that we were fortunate to publish was a personal account from Gulnor Saratbekova entitled  “Shukr Mawlo, Shukr Mawlo” – When Hope is All You Have Left, describing the dangerous and nervous state of affairs during the prolonged period of civil strife and unrest in Tajikistan in the early 1990’s. Her gratitude, shukr, in this piece is of course to Mawlana Hazar Imam who through the work of his Imamat institutions averted a serious famine that the jamat and other countrymen faced during the Civil War. I would strongly recommend that readers visit the links mentioned for some historical memories.

…..AND NOW MUSLIM HARJI’S SUPERB BADAKHSHAN SERIES

Scenic Badakhshan. Please click on photo for an incredible collection of photos of Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji.

Scenic Badakhshan. Please click on photo for an incredible collection of photos of Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji.

Now, Simerg is happy to present a photographic series dedicated to Badakhshan and Central Asia by none other than Canadian photographer Muslim Harji of Montreal. While he admires and cherishes the memories of the beautiful landscapes of Badakhshan that he captured with his lens, what he has come away most from this visit is the hospitality and warmth of the Ismaili people of Badakhshan. Harji’s incredible photo essays about his journeys to Jerusalem, Dubai, Iran, Turkey, South and South East Asia, have been seen by thousands on this blog, and we are delighted to add this new one to Simerg’s superb photo collection. Please click The Ismailis of Badakhshan Through My Lens by Muslim Harji.

With Tajikistan and Badakhshan now more accessible than ever before, and with so many exciting Imamat projects underway in that part of the world, we hope that Harji’s story will inspire the professional and youth of the jamat to visit this remote and beautiful region. By the way, there is an incredible array of well-organized professional tours to the region that are led by highly experienced non-Jamati operators in North America and Europe.

“Shukr Mawlo, Shukr Mawlo” – A Story for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Salgirah by Gulnor Saratbekova

“…I was approaching the age of 12 and it was just before people became completely hopeless. I remember clearly when I saw our Mawla on TV for the very first time (it was when we had electricity for some hours). I was at my uncle’s and there were about 15 of us living at his house. I didn’t understand why suddenly all the grownups started to cry and say SHUKR MAWLO, SHUKR MAWLO….”

“Shukr Mawlo, Shukr Mawlo” – When Hope is All You Have Left, a Story for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Salgirah

Pamiri Ismaili youth. Please click for "Shukr Mawlo". Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Pamiri Ismaili youth. Please click for “Shukr Mawlo”. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.