Shias, Ismailis to celebrate Nauroz in Gilgit Baltistan

  • Followers celebrate festival on March 21 with minor changes in traditions, rituals

Like many other parts of the world, Nauroz festival, a celebration of beginning of spring, will be celebrated across Gilgit Baltistan with traditional zeal on Tuesday (today).

Nauroz, one of the biggest festivals celebrated in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and the Central Asian republics, is traditionally celebrated in the Gilgit Baltistan region every year on March 21. It is largely believed as first day of the spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar.

Though the religion has no link with the celebration of the day, mostly Shia and Ismaili communities in the region celebrate the day in various districts with minor changes of traditions and rituals. The regional government has announced local holiday on account of the festival.

In the celebration, people of all ages participate as they wait for the day whole year. The celebration usually start with dawn of the day and people in new and colourful dresses visit houses of their relatives and exchange the greetings. The hosts welcome the guests with traditional meal.

The most interesting part of the festival especially in Baltistan region is colouring boiled eggs which are distributed among children who play an egg fighting game, in which painted hard-boiled eggs would be used in a battle and the person whose egg was left intact would be the winner.

Each time, the egg is broken the winner is given an egg by the loser. While the range of festivities is diverse, the unification of families, friends and communities against a backdrop of music, food, and dance, seems to be common across the region. In Skardu, Ganche and Shigar districts, traditional polo matches are conducted.

Earlier, the people also dance with the traditional music at the ground and the colorful event continues through the day. The tournament of the polo matches continue for three days. Histrionically, the festival celebrated in Gilgit, Hunza-Nagar, Ghizar, Astore, Skardu and Ghancha, Kharmang and Shigar districts.

In special congregations, mostly held in different towns, special prayers are also offered for prosperity. In Hunza-Nagar district, Nauroz coincides with the start of the agriculture activities, as people start to plough in their fields. According a resident of Nagar Ahmed Ali, Nauroz is very important for him and his family as the event heralds arrival of spring season after a long harsh winter.

He said that the most attractive feature of Nauroz was ‘Chi Chi’, a traditional get together of women, children and elders in every village. He maintained that the families of babies bring dry fruits, homemade traditional dishes and sweets for distribution among the participants.

Interesting feature of the festival’s celebration in Hunza and Nagar districts is that competitions of swinging being held among girls. The same tradition is celebrated in Ghizer, but with some changes. In Ghizer and Hunza districts, newborn babies go for hair cutting on the day.

The UN General Assembly had proclaimed March 21 as the International Navroz Day in 2010. According to All Baltistan Cultural Forum president Zulfiqar Ali, a cultural event is also being organised in Islamabad after the national day on March 23, in which youth will be participating. “It is a time for renewal and cherishing our age-old values of love, harmony and brotherhood,” he said.

The writer is a PhD scholar at the Institute of Biochemistry and Biotechnology, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore.