Known for their philanthropic disposition, peaceful existence and financial well being, the Parsis observe Navroz or New Year with these very traits firmly imprinted upon the celebrations. In the city too, the 515 strong Parsi community is out in full force, dressed traditionally, as it visits the agyari or the fire temple and also the homes of friends and relatives to greet them with a ‘Navroz Mubarak’.
Elaborating upon the significance of the day, 79-year-old Threaty Jall says, "The day before Navroz is Pateti, which is the last day of the previous year and the day to close annual accounts. The word Pateti is derived from Pazend patet, meaning ‘repentance’. This is the day to dwell on the sins one may have committed the previous year and atoning for them."
The Navroz day begins with a bath and decorating the house, especially the main door with flowers and rangoli patterns. The entire family then visits the agyari. The fire temple too is decorated with diyas and flowers and visitors offer sandalwood incense and also light lamps. Shiraz Doongaji, a city businessman, feels that some of the traditions have been lost over the years. "Though the religious aspect of the day remains intact, some things have changed. I distinctly remember there used to be a band playing outside the house early in the morning to wake us up. It was a very unmelodious band making a horrendous noise and we would pay them money to go away. That does not happen anymore and I actually miss it. But otherwise the biggest ritual is of visiting the temple and also homes of relatives and friends and we all stick to it," he said.
Another practice is of giving gifts to each other on this day. Homemaker Parviz Jall says, "It is customary for us to give gifts. So we ask for the preference and usually stick to small items like curios or any other item of choice."
The community is known for its culinary skills and Navroz sees the best spread of Parsi recipes laid out. A must on every Parsi table in the morning are the ‘Sev’ a vermicelli preparation loaded with dry fruits, served along with sweet yogurt. Meals consist of traditional Parsi dishes, including pulao dal, sali boti, and patra-ni-macchhi. Shernavaz Buhariwala, ex-professor of English at Nagpur University, who is known for her culinary skills, feels that the feasts have got more elaborate over the years. "The most important dish of the day is fish as it is considered auspicious. And though the more popular dish is patra-ni-macchhi, my personal favourite is Macchhi-no-patio, which is fish simmered in curry and served with rice and dal." Lamenting the fact that good fish is not available in the city, Buhariwala adds, "for us the preferred fish is pomfret but now we have to make do with maral, rohu and other less known varieties."
Some of the best known bakeries in the country are owned by Parsis. Ask Shernavaz if that’s the reason behind so many bakery items on the table at Parsi homes on Navroz and she replies, "I would attribute it to the western culture that influences us. A cake is a must on our new year. Besides, lots of working couples find it handy to buy confectionary from commercial bakeries."
Saying that the preparations for the new year are done at least a week in advance, Buhariwala informs, "As I do all my baking at home, my fruit and nut cake is ready at least two weeks in advance as it needs time to mature and soak up in rum."
But the high point of the New Year celebrations for the Parsis are the visits to each others place. Navroz Daver, vice-president of the Nagpur Parsi Panchayat describes it as good fun. "Nowadays we have a very cosmopolitan crowd at our celebrations. And most Parsi homes have more than 100 to 150 visitors coming in. Usually we plan the visits and spread it out over the day. The mornings are generally reserved for the family and relatives and over the day we have friends, even the non-Parsi ones coming in. Many of us who have big homes and can afford large scale affair organise a sit down meal for friends. Personally I prefer individual visits to homes of our near and dear ones."