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Celebrations marking International Day of Nowruz (New Day) are one of the most striking and memorable events of the year in Turkmenistan. By tradition, colorful folklore and ethnographic performances, reaching us from the depths of centuries, were held in different regions of the country. They emphasized deep symbolism of this ancient holiday celebrating the awakening of nature and renewal of life.
As proof of the extreme antiquity of Nowruz, which was widely celebrated millennia ago in the present territory of Turkmenistan, prominent archaeologist Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi, who devoted a significant part of his life to the study of the history and culture of Turkmenistan, quoted ancient Greek historian Strabo, who wrote ..."In the most ancient times and to this day, the inhabitants of Mesopotamia (Syrdarya and Amudarya) gather on this day in the temple of fire. This is the most revered holiday, when merchants close their shops, artisans stop working, all have fun and treat each other to those drinks and food that were touched by the fire"... However, Sarianidi believed that the holy book "Avesta" of the Zoroastrians was even the older source that mentions the celebration of Nowruz. The scientist noted that "our explorations at Gonur showed that people worshiped fire in Turkmenistan 4000 years ago. We may recall that in addition to the special, ritually significant two-chamber stoves and altars of fire of the regular rectangular shape, there existed round altars in Gonur. Round shapes of sacred buildings and premises of early periods are usually associated with worship of the sun and its cult."
Explorations by the famous archaeologist confirm the fact that the culture of Turkmenistan has been the greatest value that forms the national self-awareness of the people throughout the centuries-old history. It is based on humanistic principles and traditions, high spiritual and moral values of the human civilization that are associated with the festival of New Day, which is a part of the world cultural heritage.
As is known, Nowruz was included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and the United Nations General Assembly declared it an International Day by adopting a special resolution in 2010.
The motto of the year traditionally defines the thematic focus of events dedicated to the celebration of Nowruz in our country. In the age of globalization and innovation, the motto of the Year "Turkmenistan - Homeland of Neutrality" prioritized the idea of the universal humanistic value of this ancient festival, relevance of traditions and spiritual heritage in the modern world.
In Ashgabat, Nowruz was celebrated on the banks of the man-made Karakum River surrounded by the beautiful "natural interior" against the backdrop of picturesque landscapes of verdant fields, blossoming trees and, of course, the colorful bouquets of "Semeni" - emerald sprouts of wheat as a symbol of this great holiday. The celebration of Nowruz emphasized the relevance of caring attitude for nature and desire for harmonious coexistence with the natural environment. It organically combines ancient labor rites and family traditions with musical heritage and modern art.
According to tradition, white yurts and exhibition pavilions were installed near the Karakum River, and playgrounds for sports and games were set up. The open-air exposition presented works of decorative, applied and visual art, items of traditional way of life of the Turkmen people, as well as modern textile products. Chess players competed nearby, while young wrestlers were matched against each other.
The art vernisage presented the works by young painters on the topic of beauty of spring, Turkmen nature, gifts of nature and people living in harmony with it. Separate pavilions of the vernisage were occupied by craftsmen who shared with visitors the secrets of manufacturing musical instruments and demonstrated the process of making Turkmen jewelry, which are graceful and, at the same time, monumental in their picturesqueness.
Craftsmen specializing in production of wooden utensils, ceramic products, leather and wool items are still in demand. Craftswomen demonstrated their skills in making national embroidery. One could see the complexity of making a good quality beautiful carpet and a good felt mat that will never wear out.
A Turkmen carpet is perhaps the most widespread and ancient "brand" of national traditions. It was literally on the eve of Nowruz that UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay sent an official letter to the leadership of Turkmenistan with the original certificate on inclusion of the Turkmen national carpet-making art in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This certificate acknowledges the historical significance and value of traditions of the Turkmen carpet making as a part of the universal cultural heritage.
Old melodies performed by Bakhshi musicians provided a beautiful background for an impromptu action near the Karakum River. Costumed ethnographic performances featured music and dances of many peoples of the world celebrating Nowruz, figuratively revealing the characteristic features of the Turkmen national culture, the depth and richness of traditions and their continuity.
The colorful artistic performances confirmed that in the modern world Nowruz remains a kind of phenomenon with deep philosophical essence. Embodying the unity of cultural heritage and centuries-old traditions, it is based on a solid foundation of eternal values, playing an important role in strengthening ties between people through mutual respect and the ideals of peace and good neighborliness.
Celebrated at a time of the special splendor of nature and shaking off the stupor of winter and awakening of the new life, the festival of spring equinox inspires people to creative work and creativity. It has a special place in the agricultural calendar, marking the beginning of field work and another agricultural year.
To this day, in different parts of the world, Nowruz is celebrated with special meals cooked mainly from plant products. The aforementioned Semeni - a dish of germinated seeds of wheat - is the most famous and most common festive meal.
When day equated with night and spring finally came into its own, a new field season would begin along with new chores and hopes for farmers. Many agricultural rituals were associated with this time, which was artistically presented by Turkmen artists. In their musical and ethnographic performances, they recreated various rites, moments of preparations for Nowruz and celebration of this festival, as well as some labor processes.
It is noteworthy that 1 604 200 trees were planted in Turkmenistan in the course of an environmental action on the eve of Nowruz. On the day of the festival, dozens of young firs adorned the banks of the man-made river. In the old days, Nowruz kick started a series of weddings. That is why newlyweds were invited to the celebration. Together with other participants they planted their first "family" trees.
Ringing voices were heard from a high swing decorated with flower garlands and surrounded by youth. "Flying" on a swing is considered by Turkmens a spiritually cleansing ritual, helping to enter the new year with renewed vigor.
If Holland is often called the country of windmills, then Turkmenistan can be called the land of winged swings during Nowruz and Kurban Bayram holidays. People believe that swinging helps to drive away sadness, failure and evil spirits. This is a very beautiful scene, when girls and boys swinging on a decorated high swings compete in reaching the maximum height to the cheers and joyful wagers of hot-tempered supporters. The most dexterous and daring contestants are awarded special prizes.
The spring rain that poured on Nowruz day, which is considered a good sign since ancient times, filled the hearts of people with joy and hope. That warmth of hearts, light of trustful smiles, sincerity of artists, musicians, singers and dancers remained in the pictures that captured these beautiful moments.
It is no coincidence that Nowruz is called a festival of returning to the roots. Time and again, following the centuries-old constancy of natural cycles, it gives us rejuvenation and lets us feel all the harmony of the world and wisdom of ancestors who learned to live in union and co-creation with nature. This is a time of universal favor, end of discord, renewal and strengthening of friendly relations, trust and mutual understanding.
International Day of Nowruz opens new ways for interaction between states in the name of stability on our planet and promotes consolidation. Remaining an unfading gem, Nowruz calls with all its lively essence for peacefulness, understanding of the common destiny of different peoples, friendship and brotherhood.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005