By Fazal Amin Beg
Nawruz (the New Day or New Year within Iranian calendar) is celebrated not only by the modern day Iran but rather by diverse cultural communities in different parts of the world. In this connection, the Wakhi community, having their language root, base and identity within the context of Wakhan (originally as Wuk̃h ) of today’s Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and broadly belonging to an old Eastern Iranian languages family, is not behind to celebrate the beginning of the spring season (named as Shogũn Bahor or Nawruz).Though, the history of Nawruz goes back to thousands of years back, I’m not supposed to offer here any historical account but rather to present a version of Nawruz or Shogũn Bahor celebrated in the current context by the Wakhi community of Ishkoman Valley within Gilgit-Baltistan Region (northern Pakistan).
Khalifa Ghulom Sa’di son of Karam Ali has been a political leader of Ishkoman Valley for a brief period of time but he is more prominent as a socio-religious leader of his community. He has served as founding teacher of diamond Jubilee School (of the Aga Khan education Service) in his own and neighboring village Barjangal and Shonas respectively and has served voluntarily on various other positions within the social institutions such as the Shia Ismaili Council of his valley, Mukhi of his Jamatkhana and the like.
Cutting short, I was, in fact, privileged to have a long discussion with him around his detailed biography and the Wakhi rituals and festivities on March 20, 2020 in Islamabad. Here, I’m presenting on Eagles World a brief talk of him around the Spring Festivity of Shogũn Bahor and Nawruz. Click on the following link of Eagles World and watch his wonderful talk:
I believe you’d enjoy his talk on the subject in Wakhi and for those who cannot understand Wakhi can read the English translation by me (Fazal Amin Beg), which follows as under.
Nawruz/Shogũn Celebration among the Wakhi Community of Ishkoman valley in Gilgit-Baltistan
It’s Nawruz today. I’d therefor like to wish you all the best that the day may be a blessing to you all whosoever listens to me. I’m Khalifa Ghulom Sa’adi and belong to Barjangal village in Ishkoman (Northern Pakistan).I’m a Wakhi speaker. When the Wakhi Ruler (Mir) migrated from Wakhan (in the first half of 1880s), our ancestors also accompanied him. My great grandfather Nazar Shah also emigrated with them during that time. Consequently, they have reached Ishkoman Valley and settled here.
Well, I want to talk a bit about the Nawruz (new Day or Year of the Iranian Calendar). It’s being described that earlier in Wakhan, our people would celebrate the nawruz with a great splendor and make jubilance. In the current context, it’s reported that even today Nawruz is being celebrated with a high enthusiasm but here in Barjangal (Ishkoman Valley of Ghizer district in Gilgit-Baltistan Region), nawruz was not given that much importance, the people didn’t know so much that what might have been the significance of it. Instead, our people would get rejoiced of the Shogũn (the Big day) of the Tukhm Rizi (Sowing Ritual of the spring).Shogũn was being celebrated earlier than the date of Nawruz (on March 21).
The people would begin the New Year with the sowing ritual and they thought it would then in turn bring good omen for them during harvesting time. For this purpose, elders of the village would get together and have a meeting. Earlier than me, my father (Karam Ali) was the Khalifa. The people would thus come to him for the purpose of fixing the date and time (so’at didig̃hik). After my father, they would then come to me on the subject matter.
It’s to be noted that the date fixation and ritual celebration had a high significance and people would never clean up the stones of their fields/terrace until the ritual has been celebrated. People would have their resolve that if even there was ice/frozen land, they would clean and maintain their channels and fields. The preparation for Shogũn (Sacred Day) then comes up. The respective Khalifa (clergy) would fix the date (so’at) by calculating and considering the subtle points in different contexts. For instance, the seed should not be directed towards the East or West. On so and so date, the respective Star reaches to so and so place in the sky. He would thus finally fix the date and time of the ritual. He would further add: when the house is cleaned, the burn/smolder should not be taken outside the house or thrown to so and so places. It means that the seeds and the pollutants must not be taken outside at one place but rather should be placed separately in different directions. People had thus their faith on the directives of the Khalifa. The people would also confirm the time of ritual in line with seed plowing. The Khalifa would thus fix the date and time and the people would follow accordingly.
How the Shogũn was being started? Some people would go to the mountain and bring the Yarz (juniper) branches by cutting it, in addition, the small branches of Tũk (a type of tree)that had become wet and about to give the leaves were also cut and included with the small pieces of juniper and was being prepared.
Well, during the Shogũn day, the male head of the respective house, would carry a cloth or quilt and take it out of the house. Afterwards, the family members would take all cloths and other stuff out. A person would then begin cleaning the dũda (smoke/smolder) of the house. In the past, there was no modern rooms rather the traditional house. The ceilings would thus become black due to the fire smokes. This fire smoke of black colour on the ceilings was thus termed as dũda. The house cleaner would thus put on and old cloth, cover his face and head to avoid the dust and poisonous smell and begin cleaning the house. The house was thus cleaned. It’s important to note again that before cleaning the house, a qũmoch (a traditional oven bread, also called as brat in Wakhi) was being backed in the hearth (putting the fire upon the qũmochdun (traditional oven). In accordance with the directives, the oven was thus taken out (to any direction); while outside the house, water was being heated and the cleaner would then take a bath after cleaning the house.
The head of the household would then carry a piece of the juniper and tũk together and enter in the house, he would loudly say: “Shogũn bahor mũborak.” He would then sprinkle bunches of flour on to the top of each pillar of the traditional Wakhi house as well as onto the main beam and ceiling of the house. He would then allow the family members to enter in the house. Each family member would carry small pieces of both the juniper and tũk and enter inside the main house by saying loudly: “Shogũn bahor Mũborak.” The head of the family would reply: “Amen! May God bless you all with this ritual. May God bless you happiness out of this sacred day.” The family head would then sprinkle flour onto each family member (on their right shoulders). They would then draw out the qũmoch (fire bread of oven). This bread was made shind̃etk (pieces of the bread mixed with butter).The qũmoch was then eaten by all family members.
Another traditional Wakhi food called Mũl then follows Shind̃etk. Mũl is composed of flour, water and salt and later butter or oil is put into it. male or female members of the family would take an assignment of decorating the house (with the flour drawings onto the height of the walls down to the beams.in the same manner, the entire ceiling was also made whitish with the flower by saying that the house is made up like the bride.
In the evening, the family of a household would invite relatives, neighbors and friends; and they would thus lap up the traditional food. On rotation, they would go to each household in the neighborhood or within the kin as would invite each other.
During the time of taking the seeds out of home, the family members would bring an ox inside the traditional house. The oxen faces were whitened. First, a person would sprinkle water on the face of an ox then the flour.in such manner, the black face of the ox would get whitened. This provides a symbol or an illustration of joy. The oxen was then fed with dough, out of the dough, the shapes of yoke or parts of plowing tools such as that of the blade (nawek) and the machine (spunder) were made. These shapes of dough were thus fed to the oxen.in addition, the leftover food were also fed to the plowing animals so they are also pleased after eating such food and it’s anticipated the entire year passes on with jubilance.
Moving ahead, the male family members, adult or young and a senior or an old woman (among the womenfolk at home) would put on a long leather mantel (inside out) and cover also her head. She would then carry a traditional food called s̃hus̃hp (known among Hunza Wakhi as shek̃hch semn), though earlier instead of s̃hus̃p mũl was brought in use. The elderly male would thus carry the seed on his back and reach at their field in order to process the cultivation plowing ridges.
The senior or elderly woman would sit in the middle of the field along with the seeds and mũl (traditional food. The youngsters would come and yoke the oxen. A couple of plowing lines are made around the woman with the help of the oxen and the instruments tied to the oxen. Another couple of plowing lines are also made through the circle. Covering her hand with her sleeve, she would take thrice in her fist the seeds and put it into the g̃hun (lap) of the elderly man. In the same way, she would also take a handful of dhũn (baked wheat) and put it in the lap of the same elderly male who is supposed to sprinkle the grains on the ground and to initiate the plowing lines with the help of oxen and the plowing instruments.
The elderly man of the house would then sprinkle the grains on the ground. Lowing like the oxen, the youngsters would come and make fun by pushing and laying down each other on the ground and level the ridges of the plowing lines. This symbolically means to anticipate for huge produce of wheat that push each other and fall on the ground.
There was another custom as well. People would eat the traditional Wakhi dish, mũl ,though it was not possible to eat all time this dish as for the whole day people would have it. a youngster would take interest and get some grains from the seeds and some from the baked grains (dhũn) and would show his interest to drop them in the roof window/ventilator of the traditional house. During going out of the house of the person, the womenfolk would close the door. No one of them would go out and no one from outside would enter in the house. The person would then drop the seeds/grains down into the house from the roof through the ventilator/opening. The woman in the house would tie together a spoon, zẽdel (a dough scratcher) and a noghelvorch. A person will struggle to drop the grains first and another one would try to drop the butter. If the women dropped the butter first, that year the milk and butter will be found in abundance. But if the grains were dropped first, the grains/wheat will be yielded in abundance. This was the logic behind. However, the men would most of the time precede the women to drop the grains first.
I’m indebted to Khalifa Ghulom Sa’di , a religious cum Social -political leader, of Ishkoman valley for his consent to share his knowledge on the Shogũn Bahor/Nawruz. My gratitude also goes to Fazal Ali Sa’di and Mazdak Jibran Beg for their technical assistance. I confess for any kind of drawback in the English translation.