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Celebrating Nowruz in Turkmenistan

Spring Festival of Nowruz is highly respected and widely celebrated in Turkmenistan and Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the western provinces of China, as well as the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq and the Tatars and Bashkirs in southern Russia. The festival acquired international status in 2010.  

Navruz (also called Noruz, Nowruz, Nowrooz, and Nawruz), the spring "New Year" holiday, has been celebrated for at least 2,500 years, and perhaps for as long as 5,000 years. Originating in Persia and long associated with the ancient Zoroastrian religion, its name means "new day" in Farsi because for ancient Persians it marked the first day of the New Year. On this day, Persian kings would have worn a crown with images of the annual solar cycle on their heads, participated in the divine mass in the Temple of Fire, and distributed generous gifts to citizens.

Today, Navruz is celebrated each year on March 21, when the sun enters the sign of Aries on the astrological calendar. In the northern hemisphere, this date frequently coincides with the spring equinox, the day on which the number of daylight hours equals the number of nighttime hours. On our modern Gregorian calendar, the spring equinox varies from March 19 to March 21. Although their calendars were different, ancient peoples followed the course of the sun and moon closely, and knew that the seasons began to change on this date. For them, it was as if the powers of light had overcome the powers of darkness, allowing the earth to awaken and life to be rekindled. Many of us have similar feelings today, even though we understand the more scientific explanation: that the northern hemisphere begins to tilt toward the sun at this date, which results in longer and warmer days.

Today, by the scale of festivities organised on governement level Turkmenistan has become the center of celebrations of the International Day of Nowruz. The main festivities in honor of this holiday take place in the sub-mountain valley of Akhal, in the historic land storing the layers of ancient civilizations. 

According to the centuries-old tradition, a picturesque place in the open air, where the spring expanse best suits the spirit and scale of the long-awaited event, is chosen for the large-scale celebration. They set up a Turkmen village from the oriental tale, hospitable and welcoming, open to friends and neighbors. Yurts with well-attended courtyards, a high swing and big white yurt stand behind the symbolic gates.
The first thing the guests will see is a colorful bazaar that spread out just behind the main entrance, where street trading is in full swing. The bazaar offeres the entire range of handicrafts - colorful souvenirs, hats, skullcaps, musical instruments, household items, painted pots, carpets and jewelry, national embroidery. This action is accompanied by ancient melodies and songs performed by Bakhshi (singer-narrator), who attracts emotional listeners. At some distance, Palvans (strong men) wrestle and cheerful national games go on. In the old days, there was a special place for such games in a crowded area. Erected in the festively decorated square, the mock-ups of famous historical monuments of Turkmenistan - Kunyaurgench, Ancient Merv, Dehistan, Anau etc. – strengthened the feeling of an exciting journey into the ancient times.

Visitors could see an astronomer’s observatory with a telescope standing close to a mock-up mausoleum of the great Seljuk ruler, Sultan Sanjar. 

The main dish of Nowruz is called Semeni, dainties made from germinated wheat. Other dainties such as tamdyrlama, dograma, gutap, kebab (dishes of national cuisine) and scented pilaf are similarly popular with the guests.  

The yurts from all the provinces and the city of Ashgabat stand further inside, where people cooke meals specific to each particular region of Turkmenistan. Trestle beds covered with carpets stand near the festively decorated yurts. Ancient traditions and rituals, national games and competitions and native crafts return to life in this place. Handmade works are demonstrated, and folk plays are performed on the ground. 

Turkmen skillful riders on the beautiful Akhalteke horses are indispensable participants of all celebrations. No mass celebrations or wedding ceremonies can do without them. A wedding caravan looks even more beautiful, when the procession of brightly dressed camels with Kedbezhe (decorated palanquin), where the bride sits, is accompanied by riders on prancing horses. 

Guests can also enjoy a magical performance of dashing Turkmen horsemen who demonstrate inimitable, perfect riding skills on the magnificent horses in a special arena to the accompaniment of a rousing tune. 

All over are the yurts decorated in a traditional style, representing the member countries of the international holiday of Nowruz. Delegations of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tatarstan (Russia), Tajikistan and Turkey are also usually present here their traditions of celebrating Nowruz. 

Despite some similarities of festive ceremonies, every nation has a lot of differences in celebrating Nowruz. For example, in modern Iran the new year festivities continue for 13 days, the most important of which is the sixth day, considered to be a birthday of Zoroaster - the legendary prophet in religion of fire worshipers (Zoroastrians). In Afghanistan, Nowruz is also called the day of farmer or the day of planting. People are expected to plant trees on this day in Afghanistan. Tajikistan has a great tradition, in which children and young people go to the mountains to pick snowdrops and present them to people with songs, spreading the news about the arrival of spring. In Nowruz, Kazakhs used to wear new white robes symbolizing joy and happiness and clean the springs and organize competitions among akins. In Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tatarstan people also tended to celebrate the new year close to water, with musical performances and sports tournaments, fairs. In Turkey, sacred fire was inalienable part of Nowruz, which is now replaced with candles and fireworks. 

According to the teachings of Avesta, every spring people have to celebrate the appearance of life on earth, which originated “in six forms” – sky, water, earth, plants, animals and people. Therefore, common to all was the custom to go to the open field to celebrate Nowruz, to enjoy the appearance of nature, to feel in harmony with it. It was believed that observation of this custom would bring happiness and well-being throughout the coming year. 

Nowadays, folk groups performances, festivals, fun contests are integral part of Nowruz celebration in all countries, where this holiday is observed. Nowruz now appears to be a unique world phenomenon in all its diversity of ancient and modern traditions.