Bahai News - Wishing you happy Naw-Ruz
Mar. 17, 2001. 01:43 AM
Wishing you happy Naw-Ruz
For Zoroastrians and Baha'is, March 21 is New Year's day
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
Naw-Ruz is good news. It heralds fresh beginnings, a new start, the renewal
of the spirit.
For thousands of Zoroastrians and members of the Baha'i faith in and around
Toronto, Naw-Ruz is the first day of the new year, a time to reawaken the
soul from its winter blahs. The holiday for both faiths is Wednesday, right
after the first day of spring. That's no accident.
Spring, after all, is a special time for many religions, be it the Lenten
period, Passover, or the Hindu festival of Holi. The vernal equinox has long
been regarded as a powerful time for rejuvenation, both in the agricultural
and spiritual sense.
For the 4,000 or so Zoroastrians in the Greater Toronto Area, Naw-Ruz, which
means "new day" in Farsi, is the most important day of the year, says Nozer
Kotwal, a Zoroastrian priest. The festival will mark day one of the year 1370
- also the day on which the religion's founder, the prophet Zarathustra,
received his revelation.
Toronto's only free-standing Zoroastrian temple, hidden in a thicket of trees
at the corners of Bayview and Steeles Aves., will see a steady stream of
worshippers on Naw-Ruz. Before the central altar of fire, which symbolizes
God, they will recite a new year prayer known as Jashan, contained in the
Zoroaster holy book, the Avesta. That's followed by visits to friends and
loved ones, beginning with the most elderly.
In Iran, where Zoroastrianism originated between 1500 and 1000 B.C., Naw-Ruz
is celebrated for 13 days. In the West, it is March 21 only, Kotwal explains.
Other aspects of the holiday are dispensed with here, he adds, such as
jumping over a bonfire to show spiritual reinvigoration.
Following the prayer service, "we hug and kiss and exchange gifts," Kotwal
says. "Rich foods are eaten, such as steamed rice with herbs and fried fish."
In Zoroastrian homes, which undergo a thorough cleaning, a special table
is prepared. Families light a candle or oil lamp, set near a mirror and a
portrait of Zarathustra. A variety of fruits, nuts and coloured eggs are also
displayed. Among the best known customs of Naw-Ruz is the "Seven S's," seven
objects beginning with the letter "S" in Farsi - hyacinths, apples, greens,
garlic, vinegar, sumac and olives - are all decoratively arranged on a table.
Some homes may also display a goldfish in a bowl to symbolize an active life.
Zoroastrianism is a small religion, with about 140,000 members worldwide. Yet
its importance to humanity has often been described as much greater than its
The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, a Kingston-based group that
runs a much-visited Web site, describes Zoroastrian theology as having had a
vital impact on Christianity and other later religions in its teachings on God
and Satan, the soul, heaven and hell, a messiah, resurrection, and final
judgment. It is one of the oldest religions still in existence, and to some,
vies with Judaism as the first monotheistic faith.
Some scholars believe the three wise men who visited the newborn Jesus may
have been Zoroastrians.
Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek) preached monotheism in a land that followed
an aboriginal, polytheistic religion. He was attacked for his teaching, but
finally won the support of the king. Zoroastrianism became the state religion
of the vast Persian empire until 650 A.D., when Muslims invaded Persia. Most
followers fled to India, where they are concentrated today, and are usually
Adherents believe in a single, all-powerful God known as Ahura Mazda ("Wise
Lord"), heaven and hell, and a constant struggle between good and evil (with
good ultimately prevailing). All rituals and rites are performed before the
Baha'is use both the term Baha'i New Year and Naw-Ruz to designate the
celebration, explains Gerald Filson, director of external affairs for the
Baha'i Community of Canada, headquartered in Thornhill. On Tuesday evening at
sunset (the beginning of the Baha'i day), the roughly 3,000 followers of the
faith in the GTA will mark the start of the year 158, counting from the day
the religion was founded, also in Persia.
It was in 1844 that the founder of the Babi movement, a breakaway Islamic
sect, announced that the purpose of his mission was to herald the arrival of
"one greater" than himself, who would fulfill the prophetic expectations of
all the great religions. The Bab ("the Gate"), as he was known, was seen as
a threat to Islam, and executed in 1850.
His prophesied successor revealed himself after a mystical experience while in
jail, and took the title Baha'u'llah, meaning "the Glory of God." Baha'u'llah
laid the foundations of the Baha'i faith with his teaching that all the great
prophets - Noah, Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed,
the Bab - were servants of the same transcendent, unknowable, single God.
While their messages were different, they sprang from the same source.
taught that all the great prophets were servants of the same God
Baha'u'llah was an early advocate of religious unity and women's rights, and
he preached the abolition of all forms of inequality and prejudice. Scientific
inquiry is seen as essential to expand human knowledge and deepen members'
As with all Baha'i holy days, there are few fixed rules for observing the new
year. It's one of nine days on the Baha'i calendar when work should be
suspended, Filson says. It's also welcome as the close of the annual 19-day
fasting period that began March 2, when Baha'is neither eat nor drink from
dawn to dusk.
The Baha'i faith has no clergy, sacraments or rituals. There's one main house
of worship per continent; the temple nearest Toronto is in Wilmette, Ill.
But on Tuesday evening and Wednesday, the faithful will gather in homes,
schools and the Toronto Baha'i Centre at Bloor and Huron Sts. to recite
scriptures, including a new year's prayer in which worshippers submit to God's
will. Other than that, the event is largely social.
"We are encouraged to explore our own ritual," says Filson, "and that varies
according to the creativity of each community, from singing to dance to music."
With 6 million multi-ethnic followers, Baha'is have established more
communities worldwide than any other religion except Christianity. In Iran,
the 350,000-strong community is still persecuted as heretical and Baha'is
accused of being Zionists because their global headquarters are in Haifa,
Israel, Filson notes.
But there's a happy confluence: Baha'i New Year falls on the same day as the
United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Ron Csillag is a Toronto writer
who specializes in religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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