Festivals are often attended almost exclusively by men. They are generally held at mosques or special constructed idgahs (open-air enclosures usually outside or on the outskirts of a city. Melas (festivals or fairs) feature singing, dancing, music and partying, drumming, circuses, pilgrimages, bagpiping. They often honor Sufi saints. Sometimes there are Sufis in trances, doing dances. There are many melas held throughout the year. The annual mela outside Harappa, has been described as "a motorcycle rally except with camels. It is held at the tomb of Mohammed Panah, a saint who is said to have healed beasts. .

What is now Pakistan is a huge geographical area contained the cradle of some of the most ancient and greatest civilizations the world has seen, giving it a very rich and diverse cultural heritage which manifests itself in hundreds of festivals held all over the country, every year. The festivals are held not only in the cities and towns but also in remote villages at different times of the year. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. tourism.gov.pk ]

These festivals and fairs have animal markets, horse and camel races, camel wrestling, folk dance and music shows, handicraft stalls in addition to various other activities reflecting local culture and customs. Besides the large events mentioned below there are many festivals and fairs taking place in small and remote villages featuring colorful events and activities. Many are hosted by local ethnic groups.

Festivals in Sindh

The people of Sindh are very much into celebrating fairs and festivals at shrines (urs). Annual festivals, melas and malakharas (wrestling festivals) that are popular forms of recreation. Malh is the distinctive style of Sindhi wrestling. Horses and camels compete in different styles of races and events Falconry is a popular pastime. Bullock-cart racing and cockfighting are popular in some areas. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan pakistanculture.org ]

Sindhi people are fond of listening to music and epic poems and enjoy taking part in folk dances. Muslims and Hindus often celebrate their festivals together. There are seasonal festivals, religious festivals and cultural festivals. Every new season is celebrated. The monsoon season and the coming of rain, for example, is celebrated with songs throughout Sindh. and by the people of Thar Desert in particular. At festivals, there is always a lot to eat and drink.

Different festivals are arranged by the local people to serve as marketplaces for goods and provide entertainment. Sindhi cultural festivals feature folk dances, music and cheap entertainment for local people. Sindhis celebrate Sindh Cultural Day world wide on December 6th by wearing Ajrak and Sindhi Topi. The event is especially big in Karachi., which plays host to many great festivals.

Sindh Festival has been happening in Karachi since 2001.It features villages themed around health, culture and heritage, the local fishing industry, business, sports, food and more. The KaraFilm Festival showcased the up and coming filmmakers and films by local and international talents. The festival was held annually until 2009. It usually occurred around the beginning of the year and attracted as many as 35,000 people. Karachi also host world-famous classical musicians. All Pakistan Music Conference has been held since 1959 and has events in Lahire and Karachi.

The Hamara Karachi festival showcases the culture of Sindh province. It features debate competitions, flower shows, parades and floats, fireworksm exhibitions of historical artifacts, and concerts. The festival usually occurs around the end of February to early March.There are many regional sports that are played in Sindh. Malakhiro (Malakhra) wrestling is the most famous. Other sports include Wanjh wati, Kodi Kodi, Beelarhoo, Thipai Rand, Notinn and Biloor.

Sufi Festivals in Pakistan

Sufi festivals known as “urs” are held annually, especially in Sindh. to mark the anniversaries of a saints’ deaths and their “marriage” to God. They attract thousands of pilgrims from both sexes and have accompanying meals. Pilgrims arrive in specials buses, trains and trucks. There is a singing and dancing. Food and entertainment is offered at the accompanying fairs (“mela”). The fairs are open to anyone, regardless of their beliefs, and many of those in attendance normally don't set foot in a mosque.

Description in the Insight Guide to Pakistan of a Sufi festival in the Sind: “There is constant music, singing and dancing, keeping pace with the booming of the big copper drums. One party follows another and the ritual continues from morning to the evening. The drums thunder, men and women celebrate the occasion by ritual dancing and achieve grace with quick steps, forward and backward, hands flailing above the shoulders. The singing girls of whom Qalander is patron saint gyrate furiously, tossing their heads and swinging their long hair, drenched in sweat, wanting frenzy to reach the state of “la hoot la makan”, no self space, perfection union and peace with the divine."

On Sufi festival celebrating the Sufi saint, Qalandar, Nicholas Schmidle wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “In the desert swelter of southern Pakistan, the scent of rose―water mixed with a waft of hashish smoke. Drummers pounded away as celebrants swathed in red pushed a camel bedecked with garlands, tinsel and multihued scarfs through the heaving crowd. A man skirted past, grinning and dancing, his face glistening like the golden dome of a shrine nearby. "Mast Qalandar!" he cried. "The ecstasy of Qalandar!" [Source: Nicholas Schmidle, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2008 |+|]

“The camel reached a courtyard packed with hundreds of men jumping in place with their hands in the air, chanting "Qalandar!" for the saint buried inside the shrine. The men threw rose petals at a dozen women who danced in what seemed like a mosh pit near the shrine's entrance. Enraptured, one woman placed her hands on her knees and threw her head back and forth; another bounced and jiggled as if she were astride a trotting horse. The drumming and dancing never stopped, not even for the call to prayer.

300,000 People at Qalandar Sufi Festival

“Every year, a few hundred thousand Sufis converge in Seh- wan, a town in Pakistan's southeastern Sindh province, for a three'day festival marking the death of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in 1274. Qalandar, as he is almost universally called, belonged to a cast of mystics who consolidated Islam's hold on this region; today, Pakistan's two most populous provinces, Sindh and Punjab, comprise a dense archipelago of shrines devoted to these men. Sufis travel from one shrine to another for festivals known as urs, an Arabic word for "marriage," symbolizing the union between Sufis and the divine. |+|

“In August, more than 300,000 Sufis showed up to honor Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. That evening, as the setting sun burned the color of a Creamsicle as it lit the sugar-cane fields on the horizon, I turned to the translator, hoping to lighten the mood. "It's really beautiful here," I said. He nodded, but his eyes stayed glued to the road. "Unfortunately, the fear factor spoils the whole fun of it," he said. |+|

“By then we could see buses clogging the highway, red flags flapping in the wind as the drivers raced for Qalandar's shrine. The railway ministry had announced that 13 trains would be diverted from their normal routes to transport worshipers. Some devotees even pedaled bicycles, red flags sticking up from the handlebars. We roared down the road in the company of Kalashnikov-toting police, a caravan of armed pilgrims. |+|

“The campsites began appearing about five miles from the shrine. Our car eventually mired in a human bog, so we parked and continued on foot. The alleys leading to the shrine reminded me of a carnival fun house—an overwhelming frenzy of lights, music and aromas. I walked beside a man blowing a snake charmer's flute. Stores lined the alley, with merchants squatting behind piles of pistachios, almonds and rosewater-doused candies. Fluorescent lights glowed like light sabers, directing lost souls to Allah. |+|

“Groups of up to 40 people heading for the shrine's golden dome carried long banners imprinted with Qur’anic verses. We followed one group into a tent packed with dancers and drummers next to the shrine. A tall man with curly, greasy shoulder-length hair was beating on a keg-size drum hanging from a leather strap around his neck. The intensity in his eyes, illuminated by a single bulb that dangled above our heads, reminded me of the jungle cats that stalked their nighttime prey on the nature shows I used to watch on TV. [Source: Nicholas Schmidle, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2008 |+|]

Ecstatic Dance at Sufi Festival in Pakistan

Nicholas Schmidle wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “A man in white linen lunged flamboyantly into a clearing at the center of the crowd, tied an orange sash around his waist and began to dance. Soon he was gyrating and his limbs were trembling, but with such control that at one point it seemed that he was moving only his earlobes. Clouds of hashish smoke rolled through the tent, and the drumming injected the space with a thick, engrossing energy. [Source: Nicholas Schmidle, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2008 |+|]

“I stopped taking notes, closed my eyes and began nodding my head. As the drummer built toward a feverish peak, I drifted unconsciously closer to him. Before long, I found myself standing in the middle of the circle, dancing beside the man with the exuberant earlobes. |+|

“"Mast Qalandar!" someone called out. The voice came from right behind me, but it sounded distant. Anything but the drumbeat and the effervescence surging through my body seemed remote. From the corner of my eye, I noticed photographer Aaron Huey high-stepping his way into the circle. He passed his camera to Kristin. In moments, his head was swirling as he whipped his long hair around in circles. "Mast Qalandar!" another voice screamed. |+|

“If only for a few minutes, it didn't matter whether I was a Christian, Muslim, Hindu or atheist. I had entered another realm. I couldn't deny the ecstasy of Qalandar. And in that moment, I understood why pilgrims braved great distances and the heat and the crowds just to come to the shrine. While spun into a trance, I even forgot about the danger, the phone calls, the reports of my disappearance and the police escort. |+|

“Later, one of the men who had been dancing in the circle approached me. He gave his name as Hamid and said he had traveled more than 500 miles by train from northern Punjab. He and a friend were traversing the country, hopping from one shrine to another, in search of the wildest festival. "Qalandar is the best," he said. I asked why. "He could communicate directly with Allah," Hamid said. "And he performs miracles." "Miracles?" I asked, with a wry smile, having reverted to my normal cynicism. "What kind of miracles?" He laughed. "What kind of miracles?" he said. "Take a look around!" Sweat sprayed from his mustache. "Can't you see how many people have come to be with Lal Shahbaz Qalandar?" looked over both of my shoulders at the drumming, the dhamaal and the sea of red. I stared back at Hamid and tilted my head slightly to acknowledge his point. "Mast Qalandar!" we said. |+|

Festivals in the Punjab and Lahore

The Awami Mela or People's Festival of Lahore, held annually in March, is a six-day pageant and horse and cattle show that features equestrian sports, cattle displays, and enormous crowds of people. Important events include tent pegging, polo, animal and camel dances, large marching band displays, camel acrobatics, dancing horses, blind folded bulls jumping obstacles, torch lit parades and folk dance and military band performances. .

Horse and Cattle Show is held in late October and early November every year in Lahore. On display are livestock from all over Pakistan,. There is also folk dancing, tent pegging, horse and camel dancing, tattoo show and many other colorful and interesting events.

The Festival of Lights is held the last Sunday of March. There is relatively big celebration in Lahore at the Shalimar Gardens. The gardens are filled with multicolored lights and folk music and dances are performed, including upbeat Punjabi bhangra dances. The festival has Buddhist been regarded as a Hindu event but it Pakistan it honors the Sufi saint Madho Lal Husain. .

Basant Kite-Flying Festival

Basant — "The Festival of Kites" — in February marks the advent of spring in the Punjab. At this time the skies over Punjabi cities such as Lahore, Faisalabad, and Rawalpindi teem with multicolored kites. The color yellow is has a special place in this festival. Everyone dresses in yellow and mostly yellow foods are cooked. Although it has traditionally been a secular event, Islamists have attempted to ban it by condemning it as a Hindu festival. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

With the advent of spring, the skies of Lahore are filled with all types and sizes of kites. The Lahorites participate in kite flying competitions to herald the spring. Basant is not only a kite flying event, but a cultural festival of traditional food, dresses, dances and music. Events and activities include night kite-flying amid illuminated colorful, historical monuments and balconies, kite flying competitions, performances by cultural troupes, performance by famous folk singers, dancing horses and jhumar dances, stalls with kites, bangles, flowers and handicrafts and tonga rides. You can enjoy meals on Food street at the Punjabi Food Festival.

Declan Walsh wrote in The Guardian: “It is one of Pakistan's great parties — a joyous spring festival in the southern city of Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, where party goers crowd on to rooftops under a riotous sky filled with fluttering kites. [Source: Declan Walsh, The Guardian, March 11, 2006]

Aamir Latif of the Anadolu Agency wrote: “ Basant was taken to its zenith by former President Pervez Musharraf, who made it an international event between 2004 — 2008. It promoted Lahore as the country's cultural hub and prompted citizens to rent out roofs of their homes for use in kite-flying events throughout the month. [Source: Aamir Latif, Anadolu Agency, May 2, 2019]

Kite Ban Kills Basant

In 2010,Nicolas Brulliard wrote in Washington Post: “Officials in this leafy cultural capital are struggling to contain a crescendo of terror attacks. But as spring dawns, they have at least eradicated one threat they deem perilous: kites. This is the time of year when rooftop terraces normally are filled with crowds sending thousands of vibrant kites into the sky to welcome the season. But an unpopular new ban — zealously enforced through the arrests of scores of kite enthusiasts — has all but killed the centuries-old festival, called Basant. [Source: Nicolas Brulliard, Washington Post, March 22, 2010]

“And that has made kite-flying the latest lightning rod in Pakistan's struggle to balance sometimes-eccentric customs with rising religious conservatism. Local officials, who restricted kite-flying to a maximum of two weeks a year before banning it entirely now, say it is about safety. The kites — or more precisely their razor-sharp strings — have become public hazards. In recent years, officials say, the celebration turned dangerous. Authorities said those hazards, along with occasional falls from rooftops and electrocutions from metal strings touching live electrical lines, made the case for government regulation.

“This year, only birds dot the skies above Lahore. Basant banners lining the wide boulevards point out the activities still open to residents, such as drumming. The owners of paper-and-bamboo kites risk jail sentences for simply possessing them. "I was just thinking about destroying these things," one former kite-flier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of arrest, said after nervously unearthing a dozen kites from under a pile of coats hidden in his armoire.”

“Senator Pervez Rashid, a government spokesman who describes himself as a kite-flying enthusiast, said the ban would be lifted "within just one minute" if kite-fliers could guarantee that only safe string would be used. "As a government it is our duty to protect the lives of our people," Rashid said.

Celebrations in the Northern Areas, Southeast and North-West Frontier

Spring Festivals in March in the Northern Areas often feature polo matches. Polo on the Roof of the World in July or August features polo matches between the Chitralis near 16,000-foot-high Shandur Pass

The North West Frontier Festival in April is an interesting show with concerts and performances of the famous khattak dance of the Pashtuns. Tribal people in colorful costumes participate in the celebrations. At Peshawar stadium there are Khattak famous performances, and musical concerts. During Eid, tribesmen gather around the shrine of Baba Kharwari in Ziarat Valley. Wrestling and marksmanship contests are held. A large number of people visit it regularly to offer sacrifices in memory of the saint.

Sibi Mela in mid February is meeting combined with mela that attracts thousands of Baloch tribesmen and their animals to Sibi, located 163 kilometers, a three hour drive to the south east of Quetta at the entrance to famous “Bolan Pass”. Since the 15th century, this town has been the meeting place of all the tribal chiefs of the area. The British carried on this tradition in the shape of an annual meeting of Danbar. Tribesmen from all over Balochistan, parts of Sindh and Punjab show up with their animals. Events and activities include horse and cattle markets, cultural shows, tent pegging, camel races, animal markets and exhibitions of handicrafts, tribal dresses and folk dances. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. tourism.gov.pk ]

The Folk Heritage Festival (Lok Virsa) is held annually in October in Islamabad (See Below). It is a colorful festival with cultural groups from all over Pakistan exhibiting their handicrafts, folk dances and music. Pavilions reflecting the life styles of different regions are on display besides various other interesting events.

Kalash Festivals

The Kalash (Kalasha) is a tiny group of animists living in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border in the Birir, Bumburet and Rambur valleys off of the Chitral Valley in the North-West Frontier Province. There are four major Kalash festivals: one on the spring, one in mid-July to mark the harvest, one in the autumn to celebrate the walnut and grape harvest, and a New Year festival at Christmas time. During Kalash festivals there is lots of singing and dancing and food offerings are left outside of houses for evil spirits to "suck the taste" from. Many the dances are performed exclusively by women

Chaumos is their biggest festival. The week before the festival, no one is allowed to make love. This means that everyone will be pure when the festivities begin. During Chaumos men sacrifice 30 or so goats and then sprinkle the blood on their faces. After this men and women hurl insults, and sometimes clods of earth, back and forth at each other. The cite each others inadequacies and transgressions, and the girls gloat over the frustration of the boys during their seven days of sexual purity.

Visitors are allowed to sometimes sit in on the festivities unless they have shared a jeep with a Muslim which has made them impure. If this the case a sacrificed goat and some sprinkled blood can usually remedy the situation. [Source: Debra Denker, National Geographic, October 1981]

Death is regarded a form of release and the deceased should be given a proper send off. When a Kalash dies a funerary statue is placed on his grave and in front of his house. The dead have traditionally been placed in walnut coffins that stand above the ground in special graveyards. During festivals food and offering are brought to the statues. Descendent often have conversations with the statues as if they were still alive. In recent years outsiders have desecrated the graveyards. Some tourist have even taken skulls out of the coffins and had their photographs taken with them. For their part the Muslims abhor the Kalash custom of putting carved effigies in their graveyard. Muslims believe images of people and animals are sacrilegious.

There are ritual dances performed at harvests, births and deaths. The women wear lose blouses and full skirts and headdresses with cowrie shells and coral and silver wrist bracelets.

Festival on the Roof of the World

Festival on the Roof of the World is set a beautiful landscape among some of the highest mountains of the world, with wildlife, awe-inspiring snow peaks, glittering glaciers, serene valleys of lush green foliage and fruits, rushing streams and a rich diversity of people, culture, folklore, arts and crafts. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. tourism.gov.pk ]

Master artisans from remote parts of the Northern Areas such as Gilgit, Karimabad and Skardu work and sell their crafts in beautifully designed pavilions. Folk music groups perform on small open air stages set up at the festival grounds in the different cities. Folkloric song and dance ensembles from all parts of Northern Areas — including Gilgit, Aliabad, Gulmit, Karimabad and Skardu — perform along with dance and song groups from neighboring Xinjiang Province of China and Central Asia.

Local bazaars are held including Sunday and Friday markets for the local communities where people can sell, exchange or exhibit local produce, offering endless variety of cottage crafts, knickknacks and flea-market goods Food festivals and fruit fairs are held in co-operation with hotels and communities in several places. Farmers exhibit and sell fruit.

Polo matches and indigenous sports events are the major attractions for domestic tourists and foreign visitors. They are held at Gilgit and Skardu. Camping villages and open air local restaurants are set up at scenic spots. An ethnic fashion show with regional costumes and cultural traditions of local ethnic groups is held. Community festivals at district level are sponsored by the AKCSP, AKRSP, craft development projects, literary and cultural forums, IUCN, WWF, and other NGOs.

Polo at the Peak

Passion for Polo will be the highest on the world’s highest Polo ground. Every year, Shandur (3,734 meters) invites visitors to experience a traditional polo tournament between the teams of Chitral and Gilgit from 7th to 9th July. The festival also includes folk music, folk dance, traditional sports and a camping village is be set up on the Pass. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. tourism.gov.pk ]

Polo is an equestrian sport with its origin embedded in Central Asia dating back to 6th century BC. At first it was a training game for cavalry units for the King’s guards or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen who played polo with as many as 100 players to a side, it was a miniature battle. It became a Persian national game in the 6th century AD. From Persia, the game spread to Arabia, then to Tibet, China and Japan. In China, in the year 910, death of a favourite relative in a game prompted Emperor Apao-Chi to order beheading of all players!

Polo was introduced in South Asia, by the Muslim conquerors in the 13th century. English word ‘Polo” is in fact a Balti word meaning, “ball”. In ancient times, there was no limit to the number of players and no time limit. Whichever team scored nine goals first, became the winner. Today, there are six players to each side, but this is by no means a rule in local polo games. The game lasts for one hour with a ten-minute break.

Gilgit, Chitral and Skardu have always played the game of polo closest to its original form. In the past, local Rajas, Mirs and Mehtars were the patrons of the game. At times, more than 50 percent of the annual budget of their principalities was spent on supporting the game.

Shandur Polo Festival

Shandur Polo Festival in the second week of July is held at the world's highest Polo ground. Teams from Chitral compete at 3,700-meter-high Shandur Pass. The festival includes folk music and dancing from northern Pakistan. A camping village is set up. Trout fishing can be enjoyed at nearby streams and lakes. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. tourism.gov.pk ]

Polo is an equestrian sport with a long history in Central with origins that date back to 6th century B.C.. For a long time it was a training game for cavalry units for the King's guards or other elite troops. Tribesmen played polo with as many as 100 players to a side and the sport was like a miniature battle. It became a Persian national game in the A.D. 6th century. From Persia, the game spread to Arabia, then to Tibet, China and Japan. In A.D. 910, after a favorite relative was killed in a game, Emperor Apao-Chi ordered beheading of all players!

Polo was introduced in South Asia, by the Muslim conquerors in the 13th century. The English word "polo" is a Balti word meaning, 'ball'. Nowdays the rule-based sport is played six players to a side, and a match lasts one hour with a ten minute break. but these rules do not necessarily apply to local polo games. In some games there is no limit to the number of players and no time limit. Whichever team scores nine goals first is the winner.

In Gilgit, Chitral and Skardu the game of polo is played close to its original free-for-all form. In the past, local Rajas, Mirs and Mehtars were the patrons of the game. At times, more than 50 percent of the annual budget of their principalities would be spent on supporting the game.

The first time a polo tournament took place at the Shandur Pass, was in 1936. A British Political Agent, Major Cobb, who was fond of playing polo under a full moon, had the polo ground near Shandur, named. 'Moony Polo Ground'. The main events of the festival today are the games between the polo teams of Gilgit and Chitral. The final match between the Gilgit and Chitral teams is colorful spectacle. Supporters of both sides travel long distances from the remote parts of Chitral and Gilgit, to watch the thrilling game.

Lok Virsa — Folk Festival

National Folk Festival (Lok Mela) is an annual cultural event in Pakistan held in October. Over the past two decades, this festival has taken on an international flavor as more than 20 different countries have sent their artisans and performers to participate in the festival. Nationally, festival has become a showcase for artisans and performers. The provinces of Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir erect beautifully decorated pavilions, and visitors have the unique opportunity to see an assortment of Pakistan's traditionally rich culture in the federal capital of Islamabad for an exciting ten days. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. tourism.gov.pk ]

Cuisine, music, dance, and crafts can be enjoyed in the bazaar, stalls and pavilions. An exhibition of artisans at work under the banner of the Heritage Museum forms the core of this festival. The Research and Media Centre of Lok Virsa arranges groups of dancers that perform all over the festival grounds, inviting visitors to join in, and in the evening, arranges music concerts from all parts of Pakistan. Organization of the festival is carried out by Lok Virsa's researchers, who interview all the artisans and artists.

One can find different pavilions displaying the crafts of their respective provinces. The Kashmir pavilion displays major crafts from Azad Jammu and Kashmir such as embroidered shawls, namda and gabba (floor rungs and wall hangings), wood works, basketry, metal crafts and jewelry. The Punjab Pavilion hosts traditional food items along with the singing of Punjab folk songs. There are also Punjabi style handicrafts.

At the Balochistan pavilion one can see depictions of nomadic Baloch life styles and traditional artisans displaying their skills of various Baloch crafts. Leather embroidery crafts and crafts using date leaves are of particular interest. One listen to Baloch folk songs and taste their famous dish "Sajji".

The Sindh pavilion offer depictions of the Sindh life style, village scenes with working men and women. Artisans produce different crafts and play traditional folk songs with traditional instruments. "Ajrak" a traditionally made shawl is a highlight of this pavilion.

The N.W.F.P Pavilion features Pashtun culture, customs, crafts and cuisine. Gleaming metal crafts made of brass and copper are displayed in a great variety along with stalls of traditonally made baskets. Stone carving like that traditionally done on tomb stones is also shown and applied to on planters, table tops and wall hangings. Pashtun dancers perform their famous "Khattack Dance" and cooks prepare traditional "Chappli Kebab".

Navruz, Persian New Year

Navruz is a spring festival held throughout Central Asia on March 21s around the time of the vernal (spring) equinox, which used to mark the beginning of a new year. In Pakistan and India Parsis celebrate Navruz (Naoroz) as their New Year on March 21

A Muslim adaption of a pre-Islamic vernal equinox festival, the Central Asian holiday features poem reading, singing, wrestling, tug-of-wars, dancers and horseback riders. Navruz is derived from a Persian word meaning "new." Many people dress in traditional costumes and craftsmen bring out their best work. There are many traditional foods associated with this holiday. Huge pots of sumalak (a kind of porridge), meat stew, dumpling and milk dough. People believe these dishes clean the body and make people friendlier. Navruz is a grand occasion to say good-bye to the old, usher in the new, and hope for a better year.

Navruz (also spelled Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Nauroz, Nevruz, Noruz, Nowruz, Nowrooz and Nawruz) marks the beginning of the traditional new year for Iranians, Caucasians, Central Asians and the Turkic peoples. It is celebrated in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Pakistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Russia, Xinjiang (western China) and Turkey.

The Navruz celebration lasts for around two weeks and has links with the 3000-year-old Zoroastrianism fire rites and sacrifices to the sun. According to tradition ancient Muslims of the East withheld from quarreling and sought forgiveness, honesty and general goodwill at Navruz. Some Central Asians set fir tree branches on fire and spread its smoke around their homes as they believed that it would keep away potential misfortune and catastrophes. They also wore soft colors like blue and white. Today, people wear often don new clothes and prefer bright colors such as red as well as white and blue.

During Navruz, special dishes are cooked and gifts are exchanged between friends, relatives, neighbors. Parents give gifts to their children, close friends and to each other. Rich people usually give money, clothes and food to poor people. As this day marks the vernal equinox — the day is usually symbolized by the sun. Villagers light fires and jump over them to purify the heart, mind and soul. Congregational prayers are held for future good luck, harmony and protection from famines and other disasters. [Source: kyrgyz.net.my, official Kyrgyzstan tourism website]

In Iran and the small communities of Kurdistan, Iran and Northern India, where Zoroastrism has retained a strong influence amongst the populace, traditions require that the Navruz celebratory table contain specific elements. First, there must be a mirror, which reflects the past and shows the future so that people can make reasonable plans. Next, there must be candles. The flames hark back to the sacred nature of fire in the Zoroastrian religion, and personify the light and energy of a righteous life. The table must also contain an incense-burner for aromas and a water-filled vessel in which a live fish is placed to symbolize a happy life full of activity and movement. Most tables also include coins, fruit and a copy of a sacred book, such as the Quran. Various types of food and plants must be on the table, including seven dishes that begin with the Farsi letter "S" and seven dishes that begin with the letter "sh." These include vinegar, sumac berries, garlic, sprouted wheat, apples, berries of sea-buckthorn and fresh herbs as well as wine, sugar, syrup, honey, sweets, milk and rice. [Source: orexca.com ]

History of Navruz

Throughout the world, many other cultures have long celebrated the coming of the spring equinox. In Egypt, both Muslims and Christians celebrate the coming of spring on the Monday after Coptic Easter. This holiday, called Sham el Nessim, is thought to have its roots in ancient Egypt, when it was celebrated at the spring equinox just like Navruz. Ancient Slavs, Japanese and many Native American tribes also have holidays that were tied to the spring equinox. The longevity of Navruz and other spring celebrations indicates the significance still attached to the beginning of a new agricultural year and the triumph of life and warmth over the long cold winter. [Source: orexca.com ]

According to orexca.com: Navruz has been celebrated for at least 2,500 years, and perhaps for as long as 5,000 years. Originating in Persia and long associated with the ancient Zoroastrian religion, its name means "new day" in Farsi because for ancient Persians it marked the first day of the 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.

“Today, Navruz is celebrated each year on March 21, 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. On our modern Gregorian calendar, the spring equinox varies from March 19 to March 21. Although their calendars were different, ancient peoples followed the course of the sun and moon closely, and knew that the seasons began to change on this date. For them, it was as if the powers of light had overcome the powers of darkness, allowing the earth to awaken and life to be rekindled. Many of us have similar feelings today, even though we understand the more scientific explanation: that the northern hemisphere begins to tilt toward the sun at this date, which results in longer and warmer days.

“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 farmers and townspeople, survived the coming of Islam to the area 1.400 years ago. Today, Navrus is celebrated widely and colorfully in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the western provinces of China, as well as the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq and the Tatars and Bashkirs in southern Russia. In the last ten years, 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 horse racing 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

According to orexca.com: “Navruz traditions are similar throughout the areas where it is observed and have varied little over the centuries, except to embrace Islam. Unlike the western New Year traditions, Navruz 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. [Source: orexca.com ]

“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. As with the celebration of the Chinese New Year, there are traditions associated with the first visitor to the house during Navruz. To ensure good luck for the coming year, this person should have a "happy foot"; he or she should be kind, gentle, witty, and pious and have a good reputation.”

Navruz Recognized by UNESCO

In the 2009, Navruz was included in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized March 21 as International Day of Navruz. According to UNESCO: Navruz marks the New Year and the beginning of spring across a vast geographical area covering, inter alia, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. It is celebrated on 21 March every year, a date originally determined by astronomical calculations. Novruz is associated with various local traditions, such as the evocation of Jamshid, a mythological king of Iran, and numerous tales and legends. [Source: UNESCO]

The rites that accompany the festivity vary from place to place, ranging from leaping over fires and streams in Iran to tightrope walking, leaving lit candles at house doors, traditional games such as horse racing or the traditional wrestling practised in Kyrgyzstan. Songs and dances are common to almost all the regions, as are semi-sacred family or public meals. Children are the primary beneficiaries of the festivities and take part in a number of activities, such as decorating hard-boiled eggs. Women play a key role in organizing Novruz and passing on its traditions. Novruz promotes the values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families, as well as reconciliation and neighbourliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and various communities.

According to UNESCO Navruz was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list because: 1) The element is a celebration consisting of various customs practised within the family and the entire community, including traditional games, culinary traditions, music, dance, oral expressions and crafts, and forms a fundamental part of the cultural identity of the communities concerned; 2) The inscription of the element on the Representative List would encourage inter- and intracultural dialogue and mutual respect among cultures, while strengthening the transmission of the element to future generations.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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