Unconstrained by virus, Sun and Earth, continue their eternal business but it has reshaped human business even every aspect of life on earth. The cancellation of equinox rituals and celebrations around the world, it was first time Nauroz festival – an equinox ritual – was celebrated confined and quarantined due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But Nauroz festival is celebrated on 21st March in Chitral and other northern areas of Pakistan. Spring equinox (vernal equinox) poses a complex way of measuring sunrise in which from bending of light rays “causes the sun to appear above the horizon when the actual position of the sun is below the horizon”.
Amid hype and hysteria around, the spread of Coronavirus in 171 countries and territories in which more than 209,000 cases reported worldwide from Mainland China to Italy and Iran has highest cases respectively. The confirmed cases in Pakistan, on the time of writing, were 666 and highest number of cases 357 reported from Sindh.
Quite baffling was a suspected case from Chitral and the news of Ashraf Khan, a coronavirus patient in Peshawar, had fled from Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) had notified police for the desertion of the patient. He was the resident of Dalazak road area. Part of search operation, police was out there in rented-residential areas apprehending the patient into custody as a preventive measure to limit contraction of the virus to others. Whether it was the life in isolated ward so repelling or compelling a life outside at home where his family sustains on his daily wage motivated him to flee, God knows. So apt and testing story on it, ‘Ghareeb corona aur Ameer corona’, appeared was in Urdu.
Nauroz festival continued to be an important cultural event, particularly in Iran, Iraq, Central Asian republics, and Afghanistan. This was a calendar day in India. Pakistan’s Northern areas and State of Chitral, since time immemorial, celebrate this event. Was this festival evolved on the time of Persian empire’s cultural ascendancy, encounter and influence in the region including Chitral, or, the education flourished from Rumi and Saadia’s poems and stories, emphasis on unity of being, renews it is yet to explore? Notwithstanding its long historical underpinnings, it was once deconstructed and contested as profane when the first consignment of people returned back from either work abroad or study project in the country after 1980s.
The earliest ritual—visiting families and neighbors on early morning of 21st March, with good omens, after shivering dark winters and nights; of yield, happiness, relations, wealth and joyous life, and increasing warmth and evolving life in nature were protocols of the past. What I recall the beautiful childhood memories of Nauroz festival were visiting homes, socializing with friends, and attending sport events particularly polo in Khandan Lasht.
This year marks quarantined Nauroz day, through media and public messages, people were honed quite sensitive of ‘social-distancing’ as a preventive measure against contraction and spread of virus in Chitral. Socializing with friends and families— a ritual of the day; and the gesture of meetings and greetings normed anew: staying at home, practising social distancing, and limiting exposure to crowds outside. And imposition of section-144, in addition, superimposes limits.
As I get up on this morning, I had messages and social media post of friends wishing Nauroz. Quite limited, now in Ismaili community, this festival celebrated in Lotkho (Lotkuh) widely and Biyar in Upper Chitral in the areas where Ismaili community is concentrated.
Although they have their own seasonal festivities, historical documents also silent about Kalash community celebrating Nauroz festive, however, it has been a calendar day of celebration in the frontier state of Chitral. This is no less important to note that the unkempt attention to this historical event, social-distancing and limiting celebrations this year, fading its flowers. We still set eyes on light instead. As Hafiz-e-Shirazi puts:
When the spring of life sets again in the meadows
A crown of flowers you will bear, singing birds, do not grieve…
Don’t loss hope, for the awareness can’t perceive the unseen
Behind the curtain hidden scenes paly, do not grieve…
This festival is an event, a time, portends hope, optimism, renewal and faith even on the time of uncertainty and difficulty.
I remember to have light snowing on morning on Nauroz day, seldom rainfalls and sunny days often. When there is rainfall on this day, as is today, it means ‘equinox befell’. It is forecast in Chitral, that the forthcoming days till 21st April would continue to be wet. Rainfalls, however, said to be a blessing in the area otherwise wet month(s) particularly on the time of ripening yield of wheat.
Coupled with good omens, the resume of Nauroz was resuming life in agriculture, plantation, grafting, laying foundation of construction works, inaugurations, moving to a new constructed house, opening of sports, and most importantly evolving with the life in nature. With warmth, as life starts in hibernated species, vegetation; and plants turn naturally green adorned for outing and sporting. This year however it falls short of it.
This is how COVID-19 this year reshapes our rituals, protocols, and ways of life. It has confined and quarantined people on Nauroz day—an equinox rituals, limited inside homes. But we hope ‘a return to the gathering of crowds to marvel at the majesty of the timeless rhythms of nature’ for next year.