The Nawruz holiday to celebrate the New Year and the spring has been observed by peoples of the Orient for more than 2000 years. According to some reports, the Nawruz holiday was already known during the rule of Achamanide (558-330 BC). Celebrating Nawruz gradually became a tradition in Central Asia and in some Near Eastern countries. This day celebrating the occasion of the spring equinox marks the basic values of Oriental peoples such as humaneness, goodness and compassion. On this day, even war negotiations were interrupted and private feuds were ended. Kings decorated deserving persons and pardoned prisoners. Science denotes Nawruz as the link between the universe and the laws of nature, as the connection between the solar system and the ecliptic (signs of the zodiac) and as the equinoctial point (spring equinox) with nature’s revival.
On 30.09.2009, the Nawruz holiday was included in UNESCO’s Intangible Culture Heritage list. At the 64th General Meeting of the United Nations on 19 Februar 2010, a resolution was passed declaring 21 March as International Nawruz Day. In the resolution it was emphasised that celebrating requires communication. In this way, Nawruz is not just celebrated as the festival of a nation or a culture, but also as an important component of the cultural heritage of the entire human race.
Nawruz in Uzbekistan: Uzbek people prepare for the Nawruz holiday, one of the highlights of the year, in a special way. The houses and apartments are cleaned and any superfluous content is disposed of. The “Hashar” (voluntary neighborly help) cleans and embellishes public parks in the neighborhood. New trees are planted, old ones cut. Farmers tend their fields. Families remember their ancestors and visit their relatives. On the two days of Nawruz, representatives of the authorities remember the social organisations which look after children’s homes, war and work veterans and old people living on their own, and distribute presents. Folk festivals are organized, sporting events with riding and rowing competitions (Ulak), and in Uzbekistan the national sport of wrestling, and well-known singers perform spring songs.
On the first day of the Nawruz holiday, children gather in front of the houses in rural areas and sing folk songs dedicated to Nawruz, and for this the children get small presents or food from house-owners. They give part of these presents to needy persons and widows. This tradition is practised still today in the villages of Samarkand and Dschissach.
Since 2007, the Nawruz holiday has also been celebrated in an official way in Uzbekistan. The solemn main ceremony is held in the capital of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Tashkent. Not only local, but also foreign dignitaries such as the ambassadors working in Uzbekistan, representatives of influential international organisations and the finance and business world take part in the festive ceremony which is held in the National Park named after Alischer Nawaiy. From 2017, the Nawruz holiday will not only be celebrated officially in Tashkent, but also as a folk festival in all provinces, towns and districts, and even in the remote rural regions and villages of our Republic.
Delicacies for the Nawruz holiday: One of the many traditions of our country which is closely connected to this folk festival is the dish called „Sumalak“ for which the mise en place takes one week and the preparation one whole pleasurable night. From morning to night, a paste of wheatgrass (the green stems of the young germinated wheat) is cooked and stirred. The women sit in a circle, sing, tell amusing stories, laugh, and one or other of them stirs the mixture. Of course, this delicious dish is eaten with a large group of people. Moreover, Sumalak is also very healthy. Already in ancient times, it was recognized – and more recent studies have confirmed this – that the wheat grass in Sumalak is an ideal fortifier for a body weakened by the winter, as it is rich in vitamins and minerals and is a proven remedy for metabolism illnesses.
Together with Sumalak, national dishes such as cooked ‘ravioli’ stuffed with vegetables and herbs, dumplings baked and filled with mint, halim (wheat paste with lamb), To’g’rama and many more items.
Concluding with a legend regarding Sumalak: In ancient times, a lonely woman with three children led a very modest life. After this helpless family had survived the cold winter with great difficulty, there was nothing left in their house but a handful of wheat grass. To prepare something to eat for her hungry children, the mother lit the wood in the oven. She poured water into the cooking pot, and then a handful of wheat. To make the meal appear more substantial, the mother added a handful of stones and then started to stir the entire mixture. Meanwhile, the children fell asleep, so the mother stirred and mixed the food the whole night.
Shortly before dawn, the exhausted mother fell asleep, too. Then thirty angels appeared, who had come to earth by the will of God. They surrounded the cooking pot and continued to stir. When the mother woke up early the next morning, she saw the thirty angels leaving the kitchen. Then she saw the fantastic meal that had been prepared. God had heard the prayers of this poor mother, and thus she could save her children from starvation. After the children had eaten the meal, they asked their mother what she had prepared for them. The mother remembered the thirty angels who had stirred the cooking pot and answered «Sumalak!», which means «thirty angels» in Persian. This is how this wonderful meal came about according to legend. And if anyone finds a stone in their dish filled with Sumalak, we say that person’s dreams will be fulfilled.
© Oybek Ostanov
DOCA TOURS – Discover Oriental Central Asia