Happy Navruz—: A festival of colours and foods

Eurasia News

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Happy Navruz—: A festival of colours and foods


By Agha Iqrar Haroon

Navruz celebrations have started all over the Central Asia and cities are decorated that they are giving a feel of a bride entering into new phase of her life. Traditionally, people celebrated Navruz from March 19 to March 21 but celebrations continue for 13 days in different parts of Central Asia.

Navruz is also called as Noruz, Nowruz, Nowrooz, and Nawruz)—meaning by “New Day” because it marks the first day of Persian “New Year”. On this day, Persian kings would have worn a crown with images of the annual solar cycle on their heads, participated in the divine mass in the Temple of Fire, and distributed generous gifts to citizens.

Now Navruz is celebrated each year on March 21 in Central Asia, when the sun enters the sign of Aries on the astrological calendar. In the northern hemisphere, this date frequently coincides with the spring equinox, the day on which the number of daylight hours equals the number of nighttime hours.

As Turks and other nomadic peoples moved into Central Asia and areas around Persia, they adopted the celebration of Navruz. Just as the Saxon holiday of Ostara was embraced by Christianity and become Easter in the West, Navruz traditions, which had grown strong roots in the life of Eurasian people have survived strongly.

The Central Asian republics have recognized Navruz as an official holiday. Its celebration is marked by concerts in parks and squares, trade fairs and national horseracing competitions.

Celebrations of spring are a natural outgrowth of the Earth’s rhythms. In most of the Silk Road countries, Navruz announces the joyful awakening of nature after winter and the beginning of the agricultural cycle of cultivating, planting, and harvesting.

Navruz traditions are similar throughout the region, and have varied little over the centuries and it is celebrated during daytime hours within the family circle. March 21 is the main celebration, but for the next 13 days it is common practice to visit friends and relatives, buy and plant seedlings of fruit trees and have cheerful gatherings in the fresh spring air. Traditionally, it is also a time to “clean up” one’s life.

People tidy up their homes, wash rugs and draperies, decorate with flowers, and buy new clothes that they will use for visiting. On the day of Navruz, all housekeeping – including the preparation of the meal, careful cleaning of the home and the arrangement of blossoming branches from apricot, peach, almond or pomegranate trees – must be completed before the rising of the morning star. Children enjoy the holiday because they often get presents of money, as well as blessings, from their elders.

The activities of the first 13 days of the New Year are considered harbingers of the year to come. For this reason, it is traditional to end quarrels, forgive debts and overlook enmity and insults. It is a time for reconciliation, when forgiveness and cheerfulness are the dominant sentiments.

Uzbekistan has its own Navruz traditions. From ancient times, the holiday was celebrated in agricultural oases with festivals, bazaars, horseracing, and dog and cock fights. Today, Uzbeks still serve a traditional meal of “sumalyak”, which tastes like molasses-flavored cream of wheat and is made from flour and sprouted wheat grains. Sumalyak is cooked slowly on a wood fire, sometimes with the addition of spices. Sprouted grain is a symbol of life, heat, abundance and health.

On March 21, Kazakh and Kyrgyz households fumigate their homes with smoke from the burning of archa twigs (a coniferous tree of Central Asian that grows mainly in mountainous areas). This smoke is said to make malicious spirits flee. The main holiday dishes for Turkic Central Asians are pilaf (plov), shurpa, boiled mutton and kok-samsa pies filled with spring greens and the young sprouts of steppe grasses. According to tradition, people try to make the celebratory table (Dastarkhan) as rich as possible with various dishes and sweets. Everyone at the table should be full and happy to ensure that the coming year will be safe and the crop will be plentiful. The holiday is accompanied by the competitions of national singers and storytellers, competitions of horsemen and fights between strong men.

Uzbekistan is the country where people love gathering for different events and festivals. The favourite, and most traditional feast in the country is Nowruz. Celebrated on 21 March, it is the holiday of New Year and the spring equinox.

In some regions during Nowruz there is the Chaharshamba Suri tradition – a torchlight procession. It symbolizes the burning of everything negative: diseases, misfortunes, sorrows.  In Samarkand Chaharshamba Suri is typical for weddings today.

In Uzbekistan these rules also vary from one city to another. Navruz is name of eating food and exhibiting colourful cloths in Samarkand. Traditionally youth in mahallah (neighbourhood), participate in preparing traditional dishes for this event, especially –Sumalak.

Sumalak is a dish that requires a lot of skill and preliminary preparations. Germinating wheat needs not only experience but also lots of patience!  Every morning before it reaches 2.5 centimetres, the wheat needs to be washed and spread out on a flat, raised surface and covered with gauze. This work is usually done by women and accompanied with prayers.

After the wheat is germinated, it must be ground and washed; after the third washing the wheat is ready for cooking in a huge pot, like those use for wedding cooking in India and Pakistan.

At the bottom of the pot, the cook allocates 20 clean stones and walnuts to avoid clumps.

Later the stones will be removed, though only after the dish is ready. Before that it boils for at least 12 hours and attracts all the neighbors for making wishes.  Sumalak is usually cooked at night and it makes the holiday even more charming and mysterious. Everyone enjoys folk songs and rousing dances while the sumulak is cooking.

After the Sumalak is ready it needs to “sleep”, covered, and hidden from everybody’s eyes for at least two hours. Then, around 9 o’clock in the morning, it “wakes up” and, accompanied  with songs, visits neighbours, relatives, and friends together with lavz halvoi (halva) and other treats. It is interesting to note that in some regions it can be also accompanied with decorated eggs like the Christian Easter tradition.

Halisa is another ‘must do’ for Nowruz. Halisa is similar to Haeem of Indo-Pak but little harder than Haleem. It is cooked with 1:3 proportions (ratio) e.g 10 kilograms of wheat to 30 kilograms of meat completely separated from the bones. Like sumalak, Halisa is cooked in a huge pot for 12 hours, which makes its taste very special.

The Nowruz table is very rich and not limited to sumalak and halisa, although these are substantial and seem enough to feed several mahallas in the city. Families also cook samsa, barak beirok (a kind of fried ravioli), pirojki filled with potatoes and the most important bichak – savoury pastries filled with green vegetables. It is very symbolic: in spring nature wakes, trees start blooming and fresh greens seduce us with their wonderful aroma at Siyob Bozori, Samarkand’s fruit and vegetable market.

Since Samarkand is known for food eating therefore Navruz table needs more to be filled— Yes. Tugrama palov  with raisins, chickpeas, excellent meat, and quail eggs is part of Navruz table.

Samarkandi cannot eat so much meet and plov unless they are sure that they will be served with desserts after heavy meals.

Shordonak (salted apricot stones), Parvarda (traditional type of candy), lavz halvoi, halvoi ruhonim, raisins, dried apricots and of course green tea.

Let us enjoy Navruz instead of reading this article.