Now, A Nowruz-e-Kamrang?

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In its traditions and ways of life, Kashmir is rooted more in regions to its north than in those to its south. It has been close to Central Asia due to vibrant commercial and cultural relations. With the advent of Islam that accompanied the arrival of personalities like Shah-e-Hamadan (RA), Bulbul Shah, Mir Shamsuddin Araki and hundreds of others, Kashmir came to be known as Iran-e-Sagheer, or Smaller Iran, and it had developed close links with Central Asia and the Middle East through the historic Silk Route.   

As Kashmir came under the social, cultural and economic influence of Central Asia, people embraced many customs and new traditions which took deep roots in society but are vanishing now with the so-called “modern way of living.”  Among them is the tradition of Nawroz 

Professor Gregory Gleason, Director of the Central Asia Program at the George C. Marshall European Center, wrote upon his arrival in Srinagar: “To be honest with you, when I arrived in Kashmir, I immediately recognised the kindred relationship with the Central Asian countries. There are cultural features and characteristics in Kashmir that remind me very much of countries we’ve traditionally regarded as the Central Asian countries.”

The bitter fact is that the rich Central Asian, or to be precise, Persian, influence in Kashmir is on the wane. With changing times our culture and traditions are losing their hold, and acquiring a sense of kamrangi.  Older generations are perturbed that no one among the younger crop is bothered about our changing cultural identity.

Nawroz: Cultural Heritage Losing To New Influences?

 Contrary to popular perception, Nawroz is not merely a Shia-centric tradition. In addition to its religious undertones, its significance is socio-cultural, and it is a component of Kashmir’s cultural heritage. It is a philosophy, concept, and tradition, whose significance will remain always contemporary. Even after hundreds of years, these annual celebrations will not lose their significance if preserved in the face of various influences that are fast endangering our historically important traditions.

In the coming days and weeks, Nawroz celebrations will be held in many parts of the world. In addition to Persia, major celebrations will be held in Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other nations that lie on the Silk RouteCelebrated first in Persia some 4000 to 5000 years back, the day came to be known as “Nourooz” and originated among the people of the world’s oldest religion – Zoroastrianism.

In J&K, Nawroz is celebrated in the Valley, Kargil and inner areas of the Ladakh region. The most profound celebrations are seen in the Baltistan region in the other part of Kashmir. Nawroz symbolises the birth of the New Year. It is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the world, with customs that are more local than global. The same is true about its celebration in Kashmir. 

People are keen to know about the Waqt-e-TahweelThey usually enquire from the Taqweem and theJantari which give the exact time of the Tahweel,  when all  family members come together on what is called the Sufra-e-Shah, meaning the Blessed Spread, recite the Holy Quran and other supplications, pray for all humanity, and ask for forgiveness and blessings from the Almighty. On the day, children particularly are dressed in new clothes. In the past, people would eagerly look for what we locally call theNawrozi which features in the Taqweem and the Jantari,  giving astrological analysis, in addition to the planetary positions with respect to stars, for the New Year.  

Before sunrise, on Awwal-e-Nawrozpeople visit graveyards and offer fatiha for those laid to rest in cemeteries. Later in the day, people also visit the families which have lost someone in the year gone by and pay their condolence.

In the past, people had the tradition of welcoming sounth, or spring. Almost nine days before Tahweel, people would look into a bowl of rice on waking up, and offer sadaqaat (charity or alms) on the day.  

In Kashmir, Nawroz brings to mind the famous Badam Va’er – a grove full of almond trees abloom with flowers. Celebrations would stretch for over a month, with almond blossoms and tulips – known as badam phulay and gul-e-lala respectively as the seasons main attractions. Families would picnic outdoors, with the women-folk singing folk-songs like shad-o-naurozi amid the greenery and the fresh blossoms.Families would gather in the Badam Vaer and feast on traditional delicacies. We have lost these symbols to urbanization, and have become victims of greed. After listening to elders, it seems that the whole landscape of our lives has changed. They remember how, after the Nawroz feast, families would set out for spots like the Mughal gardens, and enjoy themselves to their heart’s content with just a few rupees in their pockets.

In times gone by, families would invite sufiyana musicians for concerts in mystical music and poetry almost exclusive to the elites. The concerts would also serve as an occasion to share knowledge and wisdom.

Nawroz is followed by about a month-long season of showers known as Baraan-e-Naysaan, or the Pearl Showers, which are said to have therapeutic and medicinal value. Due to climatic changes, this weather pattern has been disrupted, impacting even its religious overtones, with the new generation no longer believing in its faith-related symbolism.

Nawroz celebrations in Kashmir would last a few weeks. Almost a week ahead of the festival, Naurozi, or gifts in cash and kind, would be sent by the family of a newly-engaged girl to the bridegroom, just as on the occasion of Eid. The gifts would include Nadir Geadh, Nabad No’ut and dry fruit. An elder member of the bride’s family would usually have the privilege of offering the gifts. The groom’s family would also return the visit and shower presents on the bride. This tradition is now confined to rural areas. In the urban landscape of Srinagar, such customs seem to have been buried under the dust of the modern way of life.

A specialty on Nawroz, a highly-spiced repast of fish and nadroo (lotus stems) would be cooked and served in earthen pots which kept the dish fresh for several weeks. Similarly, chicken or geese cooked with dried turnips used to be another popular combination. This would be accompanied by side dishes like Palak Ta Kufta, or lettuce leaves and minced meat, and preceded by snacks like roath, basrakh andsoath with nuun chai or qahwa. With changing food habits, the latter have lost their place to cakes and pastry.

Tail Piece

Now, Nawroz has become Nawroz-e-Kamrangor a lackluster festival.  On the one hand we are losing our heritage and culture, and on the other, because of the devastating 2014 floods and the events of 2016, we are a society in grief, in a state of uneasy calm. In an age of socialising almost entirely through the virtual medium, we have turned blind, deaf and dumb to the basic human need of real life social connections, and become disconnected with the real world – people, elders, family, and parents in general, and our spiritual and cultural cores in particular.

Have we turned insensitive? For three years we had no nadroo. We had to give nadir ta gadha a go-by as the floods had devastated hundreds of families and left them without livelihoods. Nawroz Wanvun is nowhere to be heard, as the killing of over 100 youth during the 2016 unrest, and the hundreds of boys blinded and injured, has affected the lives of everyone in Kashmir. 

And as the older generation is passing on, traditions too are vanishing from the scene.

Worldwide, States have a main role in preserving culture and heritage, and governments spend billions on organizing events that help revive lost traditions. But the opposite is happening in Kashmir where the government is, like always, in slumber, whether due to the excuse of conflict or due to insensitivity to a polarized polity and society. Only a few years ago, it had come up with the proposal to do away with the state holiday on the occasion of Nauroz.  On one hand they claim Kashmir to be Iran-e-Sagheer – Smaller Persiaand on the other try to bury the very essence of its existence. At a time when the UNO has included Nawroz in the list of International Heritage Festivals, and the festival is now being celebrated as the UNESCO’s International Day, the government here in Kashmir is making every effort to confine Nawroz to a community-centric ritual.

Every Nawroz, each one of should wake up with the hope of reviving our age-old traditions. We need to introspect, and ask ourselves what has happened. And what we can do.  Occasions like Nawroz are a time when we can realize that something needs to be done. And it is us as a society and as a new generation who can do it.  We should not disconnect ourselves from a past that has guided us in the journey of life, because Kashmir has been a centre of art and culture. Occasions such as these have passed on to us the power of healing. They play a vital role in bringing people together and bridging gaps that plague us in an age of extreme views on religions and identities. Let’s work together to rebuild and restore our lost Kashmiri heritage of which our elders were justifiably proud.

In the past, our elders would enjoy Nawroz Wanvun and Nadir Ta Gaad. Let’s revive our customs as we still have elders who can help us do it. One hopes that the government too thinks seriously about cultural preservation and does not get lost in the glamour of master plans and smart cities. One hopes that it adds a segment of festivities to these plans of modernity, for, Nawroz is an occasion which has the potential to revive our cultural identity. This annual celebration helps the campaigners of culture and heritage to unite irrespective of the community they belong to. It strengthens our ability and resolve to renew and practise our heritage within our new ways of life. That is the essence of Nauroz.

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