Marking the beginning of spring in modern times and a reminder of pre-Islamic traditions in the region, Nauroze is not just celebrated by ethnic Persians; despite being popularly conceived as the “Persian New Year”, Nauroze is observed most prominently in the Indian sub-continent by the Parsi religious community, the peoples of Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan, Kurds in the Middle East and many Central Asian communities. It is one of the world’s oldest ceremonies that continues to be observed by such a large populace, predating other religious occasions like the Muslim Eids and Christmas, but has lost much of its religious significance – the event is largely regarded as being secular in nature.
Nauroze, although not treated with as much gusto in Pakistan as in neighbouring Iran, is regardless one of the only times that Pakistan’s rapidly depleting Parsi community is brought into the spotlight: official recognition of the celebration comes in the shape of goodwill wishes by state officials to the community, and most Pakistani media outlets make sure that the festivities are broadcast. Karachi’s Parsis decorate their homes with religious paraphernalia, and prepare dishes unique to Irani cuisine like Sali boti, based on mutton and potatoes, and chicken farcha.
While the celebrations of the Parsi community are given the most attention to, the majority of those who partake in the Nauroze celebrations in Pakistan are not of Iranian origin or of Parsi descent; Ismailis constitute the biggest fans of the international ceremony. In fact, the state government of Gilgit-Baltistan is the only state of Pakistan to actually give state holidays for Nauroze. Cultural dances, military parades and fairs are set up in the bigger towns, and everyone dresses up just like southerners dress up for Eid. However, very few people recognize the event’s historical significance, but accept it as a far better way to celebrate new year’s than by celebrating it according to the Gregorian calendar, when temperatures are well below freezing in most parts of the state.
This is why the Ismailis are not alone in celebrating Nauroze, being joined by many of the region’s Shia communities. Since even Iran ignores the pagan origins of the occasion, clerics in Gilgit and Baltistan don’t mind the tradition either. In fact, in Gilgit-Baltistan, the event barely has any religious connotation attached to it, functioning more as a celebration of the beginning of the harvest season rather than being linked to Persia. As the weather gets better, it also marks the beginning of the tourist season, which tends to boom for regions like Hunza and Gilgit right after March.
For an exploration of how Nauroz is widely celebrated in Pakistan, try and make a trip to Gilgit in spring, when the scenery is in full bloom and the people full of celebratory fervour.