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Category: History

Nowruz a holiday of the vernal equinox at Uyghurs of east Turkestan

d. D. Dorzhiyeva


Work is presented by the center of Asian and Pacific researches of RAS of Institute of ethnology and anthropology.

The research supervisor - the doctor of historical sciences, professor L.A. Chvyr

Nowruz - the most ancient pre-Islamic holiday which incorporated cultural traditions of several civilizations. In article the New Year's ceremonialism of Nowruz, in particular preparation of a ritual dish - Sumalak, the ceremony of commemoration of ancestors, cults of fire and water connected with fertility whose remnants remained at modern Uyghurs of East Turkestan is described. Importance of studying Nowruz for clarification of ancient cultural historical links between the people of the Middle East, Western, Central and Central Asia is emphasized.

D. Dorzhiyeva



The article is devoted to Navruz - the ancient pre-moslem agricultural festival, which absorbed cultural traditions of several civilizations. The article describes the New Year&s ceremonial rites of Navruz, particularly preparation of a ritual dish - su-malak, ancestor commemoration rites, cults of fire and water connected with fertility and observed by the modern Uigurs of East Turkestan. The author accentuates the importance of exploring Navruz in order to find out the ancient cultural and historical contacts among the peoples of the Middle East, Western, Middle and Central Asia.

The territory of East Turkestan long since was peculiar "ground" of cultural, religious, economic and ethnic interactions between the different people. Numerous cultural interferences radical (Indo-European and East Iranian, then early Turkic) and later, alien (Sughd and Uigur) led the population to mixture and partial synthesis of cultural traditions that was reflected in such phenomenon of spiritual culture as holidays.

A specific place among all calendar holidays of Uyghurs is held by Nowruz - the ancient, pre-Islamic drevneiransky holiday which incorporated cultural traditions of several civilizations [4, page 15].

It was celebrated in day of the vernal equinox, and it Uyghurs had the most important and joyful holiday not only, but also many other people. All people of the world celebrate new year, but depending on the local calendar at some people it coincides with the vernal equinox, at others is not present, but the beginning of New year since ancient times almost at all was connected with the beginning of agricultural works.

Nowruz symbolized arrival of spring, spring updating of the nature. The tradition of a meeting of New year in day of the vernal equinox traces the roots back to depth of history and was known to many people of antiquity including to ancient Turkic peoples. It is known that according to the Turkic calendar of a 12-year animal cycle the year began this day [5, page 136].

At Turkic-speaking Muslims of Western and Central Asia this custom appeared thanks to their ancestors, in particular oguzsky tribes which were influenced by strong Iranian influence and together with elements of the Iranian language and culture apprehended also a holiday of New year - Nowruz.

In East Turkestan (according to the Chinese traveler of the X century Jan Wangde) turfanets even before their Islamization celebrated Nowruz and sprinkled each other water that was a characteristic ritual of this holiday. People dressed up in the best new clothes, decorated headdresses paper with flowers and all had fun to the sound of music together - men, women, old men, children, youth, gathering out of the settlement, in the country, on the place (Musala) intended for similar celebrations somewhere [2, page 201]. The travelers of the 19th century who visited holidays of Uyghurs noted that such special places were usually from East side of the city. It could be the natural hillock or a slope of the mountain, but constructed an embankment in several meters height or a high wooden scaffold more often; during the festival, musicians, around - the come citizens accommodated there [8, page 110]. Similar constructions existed also at the beginning of the 20th century. For example, in

Yarkand the embankment and a scaffold from East side of the city and called "the hill of Nowruz" [3, page 42].

On such traditional places of meetings the Uyghurs organized festive games (a kozlodraniye, competitions in archery on horses and other sports and entertaining competitions) which symbolized exile of winter and a joyful meeting of spring.

Among the ceremonies executed on the holiday Nowruz, preparation of ritual food from germinated seeds of wheat - Sumalak was the central ceremony. The tradition of cultivation of wheat for preparation of a ritual dish is known in the east from antiquity. According to messages of the antique author Plutarch (42-126 centuries AD), among midiyets the cereals, especially wheat, were considered as sacred, and at approach of new year from them made sacred drink by "ohms" [6, page 314]. The ritual, intoxicating drink made from juice of plants som is mentioned in Old Indian mythology. It is difficult for this drink to find analogy. However a parallel in a drevneiransky ritual - the haoma - indicates som a high antiquity of a cult. Besides, honoring of two drevneiransky deities of the Mitre and Hauma is mentioned in Avesta (drevneindiysk. "Catfish") [1, page 119]. It demonstrates to ancient origin som, but what the plant is, still is not clear. At the same time the ritual of preparation of Sumalak for New year has some analogies to a cult of ancient drink of som-haoma. The main thing, cultivation of wheat for malt was considered and it is considered a symbol of updating, revival of the nature, fertility, and, besides, it had magic value. Confirmation of it is that Sumalak in the people was considered as the ceremonial, sacred and medical food promoting multiplication of a sort. So, G.P. Snesarev, concerning this ceremony among settled Uzbeks of Khwarezm (culturally close to Uyghurs), writes: "The main objective of a ceremony - achievement of fertility and welfare in the current year - is accurately traced in all materials. Having eaten Sumalak, you will be having many children; there will be so many children, how many grains in Sumalak; there will be in all an abundance and wealth, all participants of Sumalak will reach longevity. It is necessary to pay special attention that, as a rule, endow with the made Sumalak infertile women" [7, page 97].

At Uyghurs a number of the beliefs, the bans and recommendations which had obviously magic character was connected with Sumalak in the past. For example, if in the middle of the Sumalak poured in trays in a night the small deepening was formed, means it the prophet blessed with the staff that foretold a good harvest for the forthcoming season. Under a cauldron where Sumalak cooked, the "happy" woman in whose house there was a prosperity, the kind relations and healthy children has to kindle fire, and the most dear directed a ceremony and knowing local customs, the woman. Of the place of preparation of Sumalak kept out men, gentiles and women with "evil eye". Sometimes in some regions in a cauldron put a salt pinch from "evil eye".

In the course of preparation of Sumalak a specific place was held by the magic seven. at the same time wheat was washed out in seven waters, wheat seven days, and germinated wheat sprouted (and other grains) after a tolcheniye in a mortar in parts again washed out in seven waters, and then around a tray with grains drew seven lines and determined by their sprouts what there will be a harvest of next year. By the way, ancient Zoroastrians grew up Sumalak from seven species of cereals too.

In an hour of approach of an equinox the Uyghurs spread Sumalak on a cloth, and cut green tops, at the same time singing special ceremonial songs, in them one idea is traced: to propitiate supernatural forces of nature that in new year there was an abundance [the item of m of 2006, Akhmetov *]. In 5 days prior to Nowruz the Uyghurs in 7 cups couched 7 various cereals (wheat, peas, lentil, etc.)

The famous researcher of customs and religious representations at Uzbeks G.P. Snesarev wrote: "Perhaps, any of spring ceremonies of Central Asia has no so striking parallels in classical cults of the dying and reviving antiquity deities as everywhere the ceremony of preparation of the ritual food called Sumalak occurring here. The custom of cooking sumalya, connected with Nowruz, in different places of Central Asia varied in details, but contents it was invariable: it is purely female ceremony of magic character aiming to provide a rich harvest of the current year and personal wellbeing of participants of a ceremony" [7, page 99]. As traditional beliefs of Uzbeks and Uyghurs are close, there are bases to assume that preparation of Sumalak is a remnant of a cult of the dying and reviving deity.

The special place in the festive ceremonies made in day of the vernal equinox was occupied by a ceremony of commemoration of ancestors. On representations of Uyghurs, the main goal of Nowruz was in giving to drink, feeding and amusing the dead. The ceremony of commemoration was allocated as a special holiday - the Holiday of the dead - and was celebrated on the Thursday, next to Nowruz, or Friday.

Eggs were the main funeral food of this day. They are widely applied in a doleful cult of many people of the world as a symbol of revival of life, but especially it should be noted that eggs as attribute were high in spring ceremonialism of Sunnites where too served as a symbol of vital force and fertility: long since it was accepted to cook, paint and play Nowruz eggs.

In the morning in day of a holiday residents of villages, having put on new clothes, having taken with itself colored eggs and also flat cakes and various sweets, went to the cemetery where after the general prayer were located at family graves. First of all participants of a ceremony corrected graves, cleaned them, then the general meal began. In conclusion of a ceremony the remains of food were distributed to children, poor people or just passersby with words: "Let it will touch soul of the dead!" So, in sacrificial food live sought to connect to their deceased ancestors.

But the same time in the Uigur custom of visit of the cemetery for Nowruz first of all attracts attention the atmosphere of easy festive fun accompanying it. This day all tried to be cheerful, forgave offenders, being in a quarrel had to reconcile. The general meal at family graves was followed by playing musical instruments and performance of folk songs. The youth arranged driving on a swing. Children launched into the sky of kites, ran with baskets between graves, each of attendees had to endow them with sweets [the item of m of 2007, Zulpikarov].


In this case it is obvious that the ceremony of commemoration of ancestors merged with custom to leave families and the whole quarters on a nature bosom during the spring festivals.

The custom of a vozzhiganiye of fire was a bright and characteristic holiday of Nowruz. Fires parted on high places: on flat earth roofs of houses, and a thicket on hills and hillocks around kishlaks. The national legend connected this custom with one fact from Islamic history, as if Ali thus notified the people on the leaving on war [the item of m of 2007, Nasyrova]. Meanwhile fires were made also in the yard of each house. As fuel for them served residues of hay with which all winter fed the cattle, they were brought together and stored especially for Nowruz. When the flame of a fire decreased, all residents of the village stepped through it. Believed that thus it is possible to be cleaned from diseases and troubles. In the evening all together at the same time threw the burning rags so that sparks from them fell to the ground a rain of fire [the item of m of 2007, Zulpikarov] Besides the spectacular, colourful party of this action, it made obviously magic sense - these "fiery" ceremonies reflect first of all ancient magic ideas of beneficial power of a flame. Sparks it is similar to sunshine falling to the ground, had to awaken vivifying forces of nature.

Ancient Turkic peoples read fire as a symbol of the Sun on Earth too. The belief in beneficial power of a flame was transferred to remained

from fires ashes, it was specially collected and dumped from roofs through a ceiling opening in the house, saying at the same time wishes of abundance and happiness.

During the holiday Nowruz also the ceremonies connected with water remained at Uyghurs: for example, a leaping ceremony through a stream for "clarification from sins" of last year. In days of a holiday some girls executed a special ceremony: went to the river and there came knee-deep into flowing water and sang songs, asking the owner of waters to give them the good groom this year [the item of m of 2007, Nasyrova]. But the general custom of comic and magic douche and sprinkling of each other water with a wish of wealth and prosperity in new year remained the main thing nevertheless.

Thus, the Uigur Nowruz is especially close to celebration of New year at the Muslim people, such as Uzbeks, Tajiks, the Turkmen. Ceremonial usage of Nowruz point to ancient roots of this holiday. Historically it is connected with the most ancient archaic cults of the dead and the reviving gods, with honoring by a cult of the earth, water, fire, with the magic rituals in the basis directed to improvement of fertility. But besides studying the Uigur Nowruz helps to find out historical continuity, cultural and community and ethnocultural ties of Uyghurs of East Turkestan with other people of the Middle East, Western, Central and Central Asia.

* Field materials of the author of 2006-2007 in SUAR People's Republic of China and the Republic of Kazakhstan (Kulzha, the Tourist's-fan, Urumqi, Almaty region RK, in the text - the item of m).


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