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The Festival of "Noe-Rooz"

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A Brief history of

The New Year's Ceremonies and Traditions

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The origins of Noe-Rooz are unknown, but they go back several thousand years predating the Achaemenian Dynasty.

The ancient Iranians believed that mankind is the masterpiece of physical creation and the representative of the Creator in the entire universe. Also, that it is the manifestation of the Heavenly spirit or soul in a terrestrial body, which gives man a temporary presence on earth. The spirit or soul which is a gift from God is called "Far'vahar", who enters the body of the embryo in the womb of the mother instilling life. Therefore each living person possesses a part of the Divine Power in him/herself. While a person lives, Far'vahar protects the body and sees that the person is associated with goodness and good deeds. When a person dies, Far'vahar returns to its origin. However, it will not forget or cut its ties with its terrestial shell. Once a year Far'vahar descends upon the dwellings of descendants on 15th March and stays until 24th March, to check that their lives are happy, clean and virtuous. A month before Noe-Rooz the descendants of the deceased clean their homes thoroughly and obtain new garments and shoes, so that the Far'vahar of their departed can see that they are happy and prosperous. An important reason why the first month of the new year is called Far'vardeen is for the descent of the Far'vahars.


The other ancient symbolic representation of Noe-Rooz is based around the idea of the triumph of good over evil. According to the Shah-nama (The Book of Kings), the national Iranian epic by Ferdowsi, Noe-Rooz came into being during the reign of the mythical King Jamshid; when he defeated the evil demons (divs) seizing their treasures, becoming master of everything but the heavens and bringing prosperity to his people. To reach the heavens, Jamshid ordered a throne to be built with the jewels he had captured. He then sat on the throne and commanded the demons to lift him up into the sky. When the sun's rays hit the throne, the sky was illuminated with a multitude of colours. The people were amazed at the King's power and they showered him with even more jewels and treasures. This day of great celebration was named Noe-Rooz, and was recognised as the first day of the year.

The lion and the bull as depicted on the triangular sides of the great staircases of the Apadana

The fight between the lion and the bull as depicted on the
triangular sides of the great staircases of the Apadana, Persepolis.
The lion is a symbol for the "sun" and "strength", and the bull is a symbol for the "earth" and "affluence".
This image represents the return of the sun to the earth, at the time of Noe-Rooz.

Little is known about the Noe-Rooz ceremonies during the reign of the Achaemenian kings, as foreigners were not admitted to the celebrations before the time of Alaxander the Great. However, there is a wealth of information dating back to the Sassanid Dynasty (224-652 A.D.).

On the first day of Noe-Rooz, the Sassanid king would wear new clothes made of silk, and sit alone upon his throne in the receiving hall.
The chief magus1 would then enter the room with his novitiates2 carrying a tray bearing a gold chalice with red wine, a bejeweled ring, one gold sovereign, a bunch of myrtle, a sword, a bow and arrow, a pen and an inkwell. There would also be a white horse, attended by a groom waiting in the palace.

The army commanders and the senior members of government were then invited into the throne room to present the king with their good wishes. On behalf of all the well wishers, the magus would then recite the following soliloquy:

Median dignitaries on their way to the festival of Noe-Rooz

One of the staircases in Persepolis depecting a procession of Median dignitaries on their way to the festival of Noe-Rooz.

"... Live long with the spirit of glory. Drink from the chalice of Jamshid for wisdom. Stay green and young always as the myrtle. May you reign always straight as an arrow. May your blade stay keen against our foes. May your steed be strong and fast upon the enemy. May your treasury always be filled with gold and gems. May your pen serve the writ of justice ..."

The chief magus then handed the gifts one by one to the king while the nobles and senior knights witnessed the event.

In the days that followed the king attended to his people, pardoning prisoners, and giving presents and new clothing to the poor. During the final days of the celebrations, the governors (satraps) would present their gifts to the king, thus bringing an end to the festival of Noe-Rooz.


The feast of Noe-Rooz was also a favourite subject among the classic poets. Descriptions of the natural world during springtime were commonly used in their poetry. Although Fitzgerald may not be an accurate translator of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, he captures his spirit well:

"...Come fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring

The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:

The Bird of Time has but a little way

To fly - and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing..."


(From the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám)


In spite of a stormy history of civil wars and foreign occupations, the Iranians have managed to preserve the spirit and traditions of Noe-Rooz throughout the centuries, and continue to do so today, no matter where they reside.

1. Magus: A priest of ancient Persia

2. Novitiates: A novice within a religious group

( The Photographs on this page are by Henri Stierlin )


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