Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

National Park: Main venue of Navruz Holiday (Photo by Usmon Qoraboev)

Uzbekistan’s Annual Spring Festival

One of the brightest folk festivities, is the Navruz spring holiday festival. Navruz, celebrated on 21 March symbolizes the universal date of birth, for when the departure of winter and arrival of spring was interpreted as the rebirth of nature. Its origin is connected to ancient astronomical observations which are based on solar and stellar motion as well as the motion of the moon. Ideas of peace, solidarity, prosperity, and mercifulness are reflected in each festive Navruz ritual.

Traditions and rituals related to Navruz are inseparably linked to people from all levels of society. It is widely-spread in different forms and is celebrated in various parts of the world. Even within a single country, there are a variety of Navruz rituals that stretch from village to village. Traditional rituals and rites on the eve of Navruz begin with the appearance of buds of the first spring flowers. Common features of Navruz festivities in Uzbekistan are public gatherings and meetings. Groups of people, usually consisting of children and youngsters, go around to the houses of a village with bundles of snowdrops and irises or tulips while singing songs dedicated to the arrival of spring. This small procession is called gulgardoni (the carrying of flowers) or boychechak (a parade with snowdrops). Residents of these houses invite the participants into their homes, take the flowers and express their good wishes while making some gifts for the children.

A specialty for Navruz people is to collectively prepare ceremonial dishes: women prepare an exquisite dish called sumalak, from the sap of germinating seeds of wheat and flour, kuk samsa, a spring patty from green herbs baked flat cakes and other confectionery goods. Whereas the men prepare a dish called khalim, a festive ritual porridge made from flour, sprouted wheat and meat.

There is also the following rule that indicates: on the feast table, in a mandatory manner, there should be seven items or meals. The number seven plays an important role in arranging the festivities table. During ancient times, astronomers paid special attention to the different phases of the moon, particularly to the phases on every seventh day when the moon changes position. Fieldwork is conducted according to the phases of the moon.

Since ancient times, Navruz and its festive rituals and rites deeply penetrated the people’s daily lives. Traditional games and other forms of entertainment—horseraces (ot chopar), competitions (kopkara, buzkashi, and uloq), wrestling (kurash and gushtingir), and sheep and cock fights—are popular as are performances from rope walkers, acrobats, comedians, and puppeteers.

Also during Navruz, it became a tradition to conduct several rituals, for instance, the festival of the first furrow (prior to the making this ritual of the introducing the plough for the spring season, nobody had the right to start spring ploughing because it was believed that rich harvest and abundance of moisture for the fields is dependent on the fortune of the ploughman who undergoes the first furrow ritual).

It should be noted, that the New Year has traditionally been the reference point for age among people of the Eastern and Central Asia regions. Irrespective of the ‘real’ age of a baby, with the arrival of Navruz one year is added to his/her age. In some places the birthday and adulthood of boys from any village (with participation of all local community members) is celebrated collectively, officially acknowledging them as equal members of the men’s congregation of the village

On the day of Navruz, young girls gather and prepare beautiful flower garlands. They bring spring water in their pots; throw their rings, coins, etc. inside; and then, while being accompanied by folk songs, lapars and good wishers take out the items the pot which as symbols of happiness.

The main features of Navruz and of its traditional rites and rituals have long been folk songs and instrumental music. On festive occasions, not only ceremonial music but also different folk songs and melodies are performed. Music accompanied all folk shows and games. For festive days consisting of special ceremonies, ritual melodies and inviting tunes are performed on instruments called karnai, douls (drums), and nog’oras.

The advent of Navruz is accompanied by entertainment and merrymaking. In some places people arranged impromptu fairs, where sellers sell different souvenirs, delicacies, and traditional dishes. Taking advantage of the opportunity, folk singers and musicians, ropewalkers and acrobats, and magicians and gaggers display their skills in a great show for anyone given the opportunity to experience it. However, most of the attention from spectators is directed to the contests organized for national wrestling (kurash). One of the other beloved and fascinating shows exhibited during Navruz is goat-hunting (kopkara).

Considering these different features of Navruz, this festival was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. The inscription was supported by Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan Turkey, and Uzbekistan. The element represents all the domains of intangible cultural heritage according to Article 2.2 of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003): oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship.

On 18 February 2010, the United Nations General Assembly, in its 64th session, proclaimed 21 March as the International Day of Navruz. This holiday is celebrated by more than 300 million people worldwide throughout a vast geographical space, including Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans.