Women Roles in Norouz Celebrations
Tehran, March 24, 2005 - When spring nears, Iranians prepare themselves to welcome the joyous season and the renewal of their calendar year with Norouz festivities. Iranian women play an important role here that deserves to be noted.
In the final weeks of Esfand, the last month of the Iranian year, women roll up their sleeves to throw away the old, unwanted stuff, to organize the closets and cabinets, and to clean up the house in preparation of the New Year.
Cooking special sweets for the occasion is one of the other traditions of Norouz carried out by women, which is nearly forgotten in the hectic life of today. The sweets were meant to produce good smells to attract the soul of the dead back to their once homes in the final days of the year.
Zoroastrians believe that the soul of the dead comes back to their homes in the final days of the year before Norouz. Soul of the ones who have lived and died from the first day of existence to day returns to their homes, and it is for this reason that the Zoroastrian and more generally all Iranian women clean up their houses, cook sweets and delicious foods, and provide new clothes for the children and family members.
Growing Sabzeh (green grass) for the traditional cloth of Haft Seen is anther responsibility of women. Seeds of wheat, barley, or lentil are prepared and spread in a dish, kept wet to grow and be ready for the Haft Seen. Women's growing the seeds is a symbolic gesture in itself. In the ancient times, women were the ones who did the farming and gardening works, because men went hunting or took the herds to graze. Moreover, in the ancient mythologies, all deities of birth and growths were female. The colored eggs for Haft Seen are also the joint product of mothers and children. Spreading and decorating the traditional cloth is also done by women just some hours before the renewal of the year.
During Norouz holidays, Iranian families gather around and visit, and here again women play the main role in welcoming the guests. According to Dr. Niknam, Zoroastrian priest, Zoroastrians have defined duties for men and women. Women are called Kad Banou, or the Queen of the house, and are responsible for all house work, and since Norouz is a time of parties and gatherings, the burden on women gets heavier.
On the thirteenth day of Farvardin (the first month of the Iranian year), people go picnicking in the nature to send away the bad omen believed to be brought by number thirteen. The young, mostly girls are encouraged by their grandparents to knot grasses as a symbolic gesture of the knot between a man and a woman. Girls knot the grass wishing to find a good husband in the New Year to come.
According to Dr. Niknam, Zoroastrian priest, the tradition is not of Zoroastrians, but goes back to the Aryan people who lived in the land of Iran before them. They believed that rain is brought to earth by an angle named Teshter, a white horse who moves in the heavens, and whenever she faces the devil called Apoush and wins, the year will be full of rain and prosperous. Therefore women, as representatives of Anahita, the Goddess of water, caress and knot grass on the thirteenth day of Farvardin to show their support for the Angle of Rain.
Dr. Vakilian, scholar, sees the roots of the tradition somewhere else. He believes that since women were really restricted in the old society of Iran and could not choose their husband, it was one of their most desired wishes to marry well and certainly not before it was too late (namely 20 years old). Therefore, girls went to mausoleums, knotted grass, and spread religious cloths to pray and ask for the hand of divine forces to find good husbands.
Women cook special foods for the festivities of Sizdah Bedar. In most regions women cook Baghali Polo (rice cooked with broad beans), Ash (a thick soup), Kuku (some kind of Iranian omelet), and Kufteh (some kind of Iranian meatball).
"Norouz is senseless without women. The festivities may be held without men, but without women, never," believes Dr. Niknam.