Jamshedi Navruz: A Detailed Explanation of the Calendars

Jamshedi Navruz, March 21st and thereabouts:

Zarathushtis have been celebrating Navruz, which falls around March 21st since time immemorial, since our Peshdad King Jamshed celebrated it first and which is known as Jamshedi Navruz! Jamshed Padshah celebrated this day as the New (nav) Day (ruz) because it is the Spring Equinox when the time of the day and night are equal in length and after the long winter months, warmth returns and the planting of seeds (life) begin.

Article by Pervin J. Mistry | via email

The concept of Spring or Renewal of Life (in March) is universally celebrated by other religions too. It is the universal celebration of new life returning to earth after winter is over! The Christians celebrate it with Easter (eggs symbolize new life); the Hindus celebrate it with Holi (sprinkling colors to signify the rebirth of vegetation). The Shi’i Muslims in Iran and throughout the world have retained the old Zarathushti custom of celebrating Navruz in March around the 21st.

Jamshed Padshah (Avestan “Yima”) is mentioned in the Zamyad Yasht (Karda VII. 31 to 38); Vendidad (Fragard II); and he is also mentioned in the Gathas (Ahunavad Gatha, Y. 32.8)! So, irrefutably, no Parsi-Irani Zarathushti can deny the existence of Jamshed Padshah as a “mythological figure”, or, the New Year he started which is identified as “Jamshedi Navruz”! The Pak Avesta was written in absolute pre-history; written history began only recently compared to the several millennia of history of the ancient civilizations unrecorded by historians in writing! It is held that Iamshed Padshah must have lived about 10000 to 9000 B. C. Dasturji Hormazdyar Dastur Kayoji Mirza has written in Outlines of Parsi History (OPH), Bombay 1987, “It appears that ancient literature, astronomy, and modern science have combined in an effort to ascertain, with reasonable certainty, the place and age in which king Jamshid must have lived. The ancient accounts of ‘evil winter, flood, deluge’ refer to what is known as glaciation or ice age in geology. Long ago (in 1903) B. G. Tilak based his arguments on Avesta, Vedic and astronomical evidences and arrived at the conclusion that the ancient homeland of the Aryan people was situated near the North Pole or somewhere in the Arctic Circle, which homeland was destroyed by glaciation (Tilak, pp. 453-458).”

Navruz does not happen precisely at the same time and on March 21st because every year the Earth orbits around the Sun not in a precise round circle but in an oval egg-shape orbit. Consequently some minor variations in the astronomical calculations are normal and accepted as far as the precise astronomical moment of the Spring Equinox is concerned. This may explain why the English Gregorian calendar and the calculation of 365 days + the quarter day are also not accurate. The word "Fasli" comes from "fasal" or seasons. Avestan words “yairya” mean season and “sared” mean a year. At the time of the Spring Equinox, approximately March 21st, it is the correct time to celebrate the seasonal Jamshedi Navruz (New Day) although we do not follow the Fasli Calendar. The Parsis follow two New Years – both declared as holidays in India, one which is Jamshedi Navruz around March 21st and the other falls sometime in August, also called Parsi New Year or Navruz. The last day of the Parsi New Year is called “Pateti” meaning prayers are offered to repent, i.e. “pashemani karvi” for the mistakes committed during the past year and to resolve not to repeat the same mistakes and also to rededicate oneself in the service of Ahura Mazda.

In ancient Iran, and till the end of the Sassanian Empire, two systems of time-reckoning were simultaneously used: the Oshmurtik Sal wherein the fixed year of 365 days (12 months of 30 days each, plus the addition of extra 5 Gatha days) was used; and the Vihezakik Sal wherein the year had the fixed days as the Oshmurtik Sal but with an extra intercalation of a month every 120 years. This extra month was called the “kabizeh”. The Christians have different calendars; the Orthodox Greeks as well as some other Christian sects follow and celebrate their New Year differently, on January 6th! The Budhists also have two calendars. Due to not maintaining the “kabizeh” periodically every 120 years, we have a difference between the two religious calendars of the Kadmis and the Shahenshahis. However, we are not unique in following different calendars!

It is accepted by many scholars including Muslim Iranian scholars that Persepolis was especially built by Darius the Great as a Zarathushti Religious Center for religious events, the Spring Equinox being one such major celebration. The portals were built in such a way that on the precise moment of the Spring Equinox, always around March 21st, the first rays of the rising Sun hit the entrance to the main Hallway and spread light on the throne of the King. This precise moment celebrated the astronomical event when the Sun passed through all the 12 signs of the zodiac and returned once more to the first sign of the Aries in the zodiac, in March.

In Iran each New Year beginning in March was given a specific animal and color as the mascot for the year. This practice is forgotten among the Parsis of India.

Addendum: An Explanation about the calendars:

The following is explained by late Dasturji Hormazdyar Dastur Kayoji Mirza in Outlines of Parsi History (OPH), Bombay 1987, pages 436 to 448 with regard to the 3 Zarathushti calendars, Kadmi, Shahenshahi and Fasli:

Generally the ancient festivals were the seasonal festivals, based on seasonal changes and harvesting time. In ancient Iran, a year was divided into two parts: “ten months of winter, two months of summer” – indicating the climatic conditions prevailing in the northernmost countries of the North Pole (the Arctic was known as the original homeland of the Aryans as also supported by B.G. Tilak.) In later times, a year was divided into “seven months of summer, five of winter” – indicating the climatic conditions prevailing in some of the countries of Central Asia, most probably the countries of the Avesta people who migrated south from the north Polar regions, as noted above, after the last glaciation or ice age took place sometime during Jamshed Padshah’s reign.

The two following religious systems of time-reckoning were in simultaneous use in the Sassanian times among the Zarathushtis: (1) Sal Oshmurtik or the year of 365 days – 12 months of 30 days each with extra five days after the end of the 12 months. (2) Sal Vihezakik, a ‘shifting’ or leap year. It had 365 days (as in the Oshmurtik year) with an intercalation of a month every 120 years. In ancient Iran, this intercalation was affected under royal patronage according to the guidance and advice of the council of the learned men of the realm.

At present only the first system of time-reckoning, the Oshmurtik, is in use among the Parsi-Irani Zarathushtis in Iran as well as in India. The religious year, therefore, has 365 days – 12 months, each of 30 days, and extra five days are added after the end of the 12th month.

At present there are three sects or groups among the Parsis of India: Shahenshahi “of imperial (reckoning)”; Kadmi “of ancient (reckoning)” and Fasli “of seasonal (reckoning)”.

“The last intercalation under Iranian sovereignty was affected in 406 A. C. during the reign of Sasanian Emperor Yazdgard I (399-420). On this occasion, two months were intercalated – one that was due and the other in anticipation of troubled time in the coming century when the next intercalation was due. In 406, therefore, the five Gatha days were transferred from after the end of Shahrevar month and were placed after the end of Avan month, where they remained for six centuries thereafter. Due to political instability and disorder in Iran, and later the Arab invasion and overthrow of the Empire, the practice of intercalation fell into disuse.

“In 1006 A. C. four intercalations were due; and it appears that in that year four months were intercalated, and the Gatha days, which were after the end of the Avan month at that time, were shifted and placed after the end of the 12th month Aspandarmad. Hence the Oshmurtik year coincided with the Vihezakik year. Since then there was no difference between the two systems, or really speaking only the Oshmurtik year remained in practice.” (OPH, p. 443)

The difference of a month between the two calendars of Iran and that of India was first noticed in 1721 when Jamasp Vilayati, a priest of Iran, came to Surat. Later, the matter came to a head when Jamshid, a Zarathushti resident of Iran, came to Surat in 1736. He explained that the Zarathushtis of Iran were ahead of their co-religionists in India by a month in commencing their year and observing religious festivals and functions. They were known as Kadmi (Qadimi) ‘of the ancient (reckoning)’. The corresponding term used in Iran is bastani ‘ancient’. “The said difference of one month between the Zoroastrian calendar of India and that of Iran may be explained by the assumption that the forefathers of the Zoroastrians of India intercalated a month after the downfall of the Sasanian Empire either in Khorasan (where they lived in exile) or after their arrival in India. Evidently, this must have happened after 1006 A.C. and in India. But no record or even oral tradition has been preserved.” (OPH, p. 444.)

However, while the difference between the Shahenshahi and Kadmi calendars are based only on the intercalation of a month after the downfall of the Empire, and since the last intercalation in 1006, regarding the Fasli calendar wherein a sixth Gatha called “Awardadsalgah” is added every fourth year, several indisputable reasons are given by Dasturji Mirza why the Fasli reckoning is baseless.

Some reasons given are:

1) The Awardadsalgah jashan was performed every year on Roz Khordad, Mah Aspandarmad of the Shahenshahi calendar and was performed only in India and only by the Shahenshahi priests. It was unknown in Iran and therefore never celebrated in Iran by the Kadmi priests. It is reasonably concluded that this jashan was instituted when the last intercalation of a month was affected by the forefathers of the Parsis of India, in remembrance of the New Year day, Navruz, they abandoned while intercalating a month in India. (The last five Gatha days were shifted in 1006 from the end of Avan Mah to the end of Aspandarmad Mah and Navruz – the New Year came to be celebrated from Adar Mah and Dadar Hormazd Roz to Farvardin Mah and Dadar Hormazd Roz.)

2) Awardadsalgah was performed on Roz Khordad, Mah Aspandarmad (of the Shahenshahi calendar) and had connection with Roz Khordad, named after the Ameshahpand Khordad!

3) The khshnuman of Awardadsalgah is not found in the Siroja or in any other authentic Avesta-Pahlavi writings.

4) The Awardadsalgah Jashan took place every year and NOT every four years!

5) “Khordad” is referred to as “awardad” in Pazend and “gas” or “gah” is used for time in general.

6) In the Avesta, Pahlavi and later writings always the Five Gathas are expressly mentioned, and the names of the five Gathas are given, never six or the sixth!

7) Importantly, the mode of intercalation of one day after four years was never practiced by the Zarathushtis in Iran or in India. The Denkart expressly forbids this mode of intercalation (Denkart, edited by Madon, p.404 lines 22-23): “Day calculation should not be affected till a month becomes complete; it should not be neglected for more than five months.” Here, day-intercalation is clearly and expressly forbidden, and month-intercalation is advocated. This is also supported by Al-Biruni, the Muslim historian, in Months of the Persians, p. 54.

8) In 1963, Professor Miss Mary Boyce of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, stayed in Kerman to study the religious practices of the Zarathushtis. Writing on Jashan-i Sade, she observes: “Since the 1920’s both Tehran and Kerman have used the jalali calendar (called Fasli by the Parsis, bastani in Tehran and Kerman, and jadid in Yazd); whereas Yazd, after using this calendar for about a year, reverted in the main to the old religious calendar (called qadim in Yazd and India, and na-dorost in Tehran)! Since sade is newly established in Yazd, this festival is observed there according to the jalali calendar.” (OPH, p.448.)

The Jalali calendar was primarily instituted for revenue purposes in 1079 A.C. by Sultan Jalalu’d-din Malikshah, the King of Iran, on the advice of his grand vazier Omar Khayyam. It was tied down to the Christian Gregorian Calendar, the new year day was fixed always falling on March 21st, and the ancient Iranian name of Jamshedi Navruz was applied to it. (OPH, p. 451.)

It is very important to note that those Parsi-Irani Zarathushtis who follow the current Fasli calendar are following the Jalali calendar instituted by Jalalu’d-din Malikshah in 1079 A.C. and not any religious calendar followed by the Parsis or Irani Zarathushtis! Only the Shahenshahi and the Kadmi calendars are religiously legal which are followed since time immemorial, since the time of Jamshed Padshah! Recently, the word “change” has swept over the community but change has to be progressive and not religiously detrimental! The Jalali (Fasli) calendar is the Muslim calendar and has no religious “alat” established! Believing it to be correct seasonally, some Parsis asked Ustad Saheb Behramshah Shroff to set up a new Fasli alat but Ustad Saheb himself acknowledged that there is NO Fasli alat. The continuity which is maintained religiously with our ancestors since time immemorial is lost! Ustad Saheb himself did not follow the Fasli calendar although we all follow and celebrate the seasonal Jamshedi Naruz!

Hope this will explain the reasons behind the three calendars; mostly why the Kadmi and the Shahenshahi calendars differ! Both are valid religiously and followed since centuries. The Kadmi are the ‘old’, the ancient, genuine and true Zarathushtis of Iran! They are not a “new” sect, nor are they following a newer calendar but have always existed side by side with the Shahenshahis! The difference is only in the calculation of a month – which is the result of intercalation – but the difference in the two calendars is not religious!

Happy Navroze and may the New Year bring lots of happiness, good health and unity to all Parsi-Irani Zarathushtis!

Atha jamyat yatha afrinami!

Pervin J. Mistry

March 4, 2012, Roj Farvardin and Mah Meher, YZ 1381.