Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Haji Firooz

In Iranian culture, Haji Firooz (حاجی فیروز) is the traditional herald of the Norooz season. Wearing black make-up and a red costume, Haji Firooz sings and dances through the streets with tambourines and trumpets for a few coins, spreading good cheer and the news of the coming New Year. It is believed that originally he was accompanied by one or two other persons although that has been discontinued.  

The sound of his songs and the sight of his dance is often analogous to hearing Christmas music in a shopping mall, telling all that Norooz is in the air. Although the blackness of his skin has been the source of some racial controversy in Iranian intellectual circles, Haji's intentions and spirit have always been well received and loved by the people.  

Others believe that the appearance of Haji Firooz is related to creating a happy atmosphere in the families. The New Year’s day must begin with joy, happiness and laughter so that during the rest of the year the families will continue to be happy. If the families are not happy, the Farvahars who are guests of the families will leave the households which may result in the loss of abundance and blessings from the household. It is for this reason that during these days there are people with funny makeup and joyful songs who will bring laughter and joy to families and with their comical jests and songs bring laughter to houses, streets and market places.  

Fire holds an important role for Zoroastrians. It appears that Haji Firouz represents the red-dressed ”fire keepers” of the Zoroastrians, who on the last Tuesday of the year, were sent by the white-dressed priests (Moghs) to spread the news about the arrival of the New Day. The Fire keeper’s second duty was to call on the people to burn their old items in the Fire, and to renew their life and regaining health by obtaining the solved energy of the Fire. The dark color of the Fire keeper’s face is allegedly caused by the heat of the holy fire. Fire keepers use of rather unfamiliar expressions combined with their humorous nature, brought laughter to people's faces. 

Another theory about Haji Firooz’s origins is that he is derived from ceremonies and legends connected to the epic of prince Siavash and symbolizes the rebirth of the Sumerian god of sacrifice, Domuzi, who was killed at the end of each year and reborn at the beginning of the New Year. Haji Firooz’s blackened face symbolizes his returning from the world of the dead, his red clothing the sign of Siavash’s red blood and the coming to life of the sacrificed deity, while his joviality is the jubilation of rebirth, typical of those who bring rejuvenation and blessing along with themselves.  

Yet another theory about his origin is that he represents Pirooz Nahavandi, a Persian soldier who served under the Great Persian commander Rostam Farrokhzad. Taken captive as a slave by the Arabs, Pirooz, a Zoroastrian, gradually earned the Arabs’ trust by expressing an interest in Islam. As a result, he managed to get lose enough to Omar to assassinate him. His captivity in Saudi Arabia could have earned him the title Haji, while the lack of the letter “P” in Arabic would have changed his name to Firooz. His frequent referring to “his master” in the course of his singing hints at his captivity and slavery while his jubilant nature and almost taunting tone of his, questioning his master why he isn’t laughing, would represent the celebration of avenging the Persian defeat at the hands of the Arabs.

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