MIR-E NOWRUZI (lit. “The prince of the New Year festivities”) or Padešāh-e nowruz (lit. “The king of the New Year festivities”), the carnivalesque ritual of electing a commoner to rule for a period of one to five days over the country; it belongs to the traditional Nowruz festival (cf. Dehḵodā, “Mir-e nowruzi” s.v. Nowruzi). The custom of the “false emir” or “Nowruz ruler” leading a procession through the city has been traced back to pre-Islamic Nowruz traditions (Gaffari, 1984, p. 363). In western Iran and Kurdistan, as well as in some other regions, which at some stage have come under the influence of Persian culture, the custom survived until the 20th century (Figure 1).
Several Muslim authors mention Nowruz celebrations (see NOWRUZ ii. In the Islamic Period). In classical Arabic literature, the Coptic Feast of al-Nayruz, which commemorates its martyrs and marks the beginning of the Coptic New Year at the end of Summer, has been mistaken for Nowruz for phonetic reasons: Nowruz vs. Nayruz (for a selection of short Arabic treatises on Nayruz, see Hārun, II, pt. V, pp. 3-48; cf. NOWRUZ iii. in the Iranian Calendar). Moreover, the Egyptian Nayruz celebrations include a festival similar to the Mir-e nowruzi (Maqrizi, II, pp. 30, 289-91; cf. Qazvini, 1945; for reports about the festival by foreigners, see Lane, 1860, pp. 490-99; Klunzinger, pp. 184-185; Murray, pp. 79-81; Tritton, p. 335).
Moḥammad Qazvini (1944; 1945, p. 57) noted three occurrences of the custom in classical Persian literature: a ghazal by Hafez (ed. Ḵānlari, no. 445), an episode in the Tāriḵ-e jahāngošā by ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Jovayni (I, p. 98; tr. I, p. 124), and another in the Taḏkerat al-šoʿarāʾ by Dawlatšāh Samarqandi (pp. 213-14). There are reports about the festival from the 19th century onwards (Wilson, pp. 144, 236-36, 243-52; Massé, I, pp. 165-66; Bois, p. 477; Eĭiubi and Smirnova, pp. 212-22; Keyvān, pp. 641-47; Mostawfi, I, pp. 35-53).
The festival (Qazvini, 1944, p. 14-15; Bāyazidi, 1990, pp. 239-49; Ayyubiān) begins on the sixth day of Nowruz with the election of the mir-e nowruzi by the people. After his enthronement he organizes an army and forms a government. The Mir-e nowruzi enjoys considerable authority, including the prerogative to punish his subjects (Morgan, II, pp. 39-40), as well as offering wild promises of wealth and fortune. After his few days of reign, the Mir-e nowruzi is dethroned and has to disappear. The entire carnivalesque ritual is conducted in a spirit of gaiety and lightheartedness.
The procession of the Mir-e nowruzi is occasionally confused with the cavalcade of the Kusa, as they were both popular festivals. The clownish figure of Ḥāji Firuz, another character of the Nowruz festival, has also been associated with the Mir-e nowruzi ritual (Rāzi, pp. 240-42, 375-82). This confusion can be clarified by placing it within the context of the Nowruz celebrations, which comprise three parts: (1) the cavalcade of the Kusa on the eve of Nowruz; (2) the Ḵojasta greetings to the king (see below) on the morning of Nowruz; and (3) the short reign of the Mir-e nowruzi. The Zoroastrian background of the Mir-e nowruzi is Rapiθwin, the Spirit of noon, which retreats during the winter and returns with the coming of spring (see NOWRUZ i. in the Pre-Islamic Period; ZOROASTRIANISM i. Historical Review). Kusa and Ḵojasta are personified divinities of the vegetation: The old and ugly Kusa on an old horse or a mule with a crow on one hand represents winter (Hyde, pp. 248-51; cf. Epinette, 1993, 1995), while the young and handsome Ḵojasta on a beautiful horse with a falcon perched on one hand represents spring (cf. Inostranzev, p. 94; Thousand and One Nights, “The Story of the Magic Horse,” esp. p. 491, n. 20). These pre-Islamic motifs of the warring seasons have left their imprint on early classical Persian literature, as implicitly exemplified in the panegyric poetry of the Ghaznavid poets Farroḵi, Manučehri, and ʿOnṣori which contain several descriptions of the battle between the seasons, with both the retreating winter and the victorious spring personified.
Drawing on James George Frazer’s description of human scapegoats in rituals from Classical Antiquity (chapter 58), Kusa appears as the human scapegoat of the Iranian Spring celebrations, and the ephemeral rule of the Mir-e nowruzi would provide the power vacuum necessary for his expulsion. This interpretation is strengthened by Frazer’s observation that the spring rituals of Greece and Rome relied on characters that are not divinities, but mere incarnations of the divinities. That Kusa is a human scapegoat marks an important difference between the Iranian Nowruz and the Babylonian spring festival, to which Nowruz is often compared, since the Babylonian ritual produces divinities. But the idea of a human scapegoat strengthens the argument that the short reign of the Mir-e nowruzi stands in the ancient Near Eastern tradition of substitute king rituals (e.g., Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 14.44). The vernal equinox creates a power vacuum, into which a temporary king steps (Frazer, chapter 25), since the king, fearing that a wrong decision would bring misfortune upon the coming year, cannot exercise his royal power until the priests endowed with divination signal the “all clear” (e.g., Biruni, pp. 210-12; Demašqi, pp. 278-79, tr. pp. 404-5; Qazvini, 1848, pp. 80-81, 1868, pp. 165-66; cf. Inostranzev, p. 94; Epinette, 1993, pp 78-79). Bess Donaldson (p. 123) mentions the folk belief of not sleeping at home during the night preceding Nowruz because it was deemed as potentially perilous.
An incident during the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I shows that the substitute king ritual was still known in Safavid Iran. Eskandar Beg Monši mentions in the Tāriḵ-e ʿĀlamārā-ye ʿabbāsi (I, pp. 474-75; tr., II, pp. 648-49), that in 1002/1593-94, when the court astrologers feared for the shah’s life because of an inauspicious conjunction of Mars and Saturn, Yusofi Tarkaš-duz, already condemned to death for heresy, sat for three days on the Safavid throne before he was executed (cf. Monajjem Yazdi, p. 122). At the end of the 18th century, this event from the reign of Shah ʿAbbās had entered the lore of storytellers and preachers. The British diplomat John Malcolm (1799-1833) included in his travelogue a description of how the Dervish Seffer publicly performed the tales of Abdalla of Khorasan (Malcolm, pp. 111-24). The story cycle culminates with Abdalla accepting the “mock honor” of sitting on the throne of Shah ʿAbbās in order to protect the shah from danger. The shah is so moved by Abdalla’s humanity and wisdom that having discarded the advice of his astrologers to execute him, he instead appoints Abdalla as governor of Khorasan (Malcolm, pp. 122-24).
For a general bibliography on Nowruz, see Nāder Karimiān-Sardašti and ʿAli Reżā ʿAskari-Čāvardi, Ketābšenāsi-e Nowruz, Tehran, 2000.
Esmāʿil b.ʿAli Abu’l-Fedāʾ, Historia anteislamica, tr. and ed. by Heinrich Fleischer, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1831; Arabic text of Moḵtaṣer fi aḵbār al-bašar with Latin tr.
Mollā Maḥmud Bāyazidi, Nravy i obychai Kurdov, ed. Margarita B. Rudenko, Moscow, 1963; Kurdish text with Russian introduction.
Idem, Ādāb va rosum-e Kordān, introduced by ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Šarafkandi and tr. and ed. by ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz Moḥammadpur Dāšbandi, Tehran, 1990; enlarged Persian version of the “Textes kourdes,” published by Alexandre Jaba as part of the Recueil de notices et récits kourdes, St. Petersburg, 1860; for Mir-e nowruzi, see pp. 239-49.
Abu Rayḥān Biruni, Ketāb al-āṯār al-bāqia ʿan al-qorun al-ḵālia, tr. as The Chronology of Ancient Nations, by Edward Sachau, London, 1879.
Dawlatšāh Samarqandi, Taḏkerat al-šoʿarāʾ, ed. by E. G. Browne, London, 1901, esp. pp. 213-14.
Šams-al-Din Mohammad b. Abi Ṭāleb al-Demašqi, Cosmographie, edition of Noḵbat al-dahr fi ʿajāʾeb al-barr wa’l-baḥr, ed. August Ferdinand Mehren, St. Petersburg, 1866; tr. as Manuel de la cosmographie du moyen âge, by A. F. Mehren, Copenhagen, 1874.
ʿEzz-al-Din b. al-Aṯir, al-Kāmel fi’l-taʾriḵ, ed. C. J. Tornberg, 12 vols., Leiden, 1851-76.
Eskandar Beg Torkamān Monši, Tāriḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye ʿabbāsi, ed. Iraj Afšār, 2 vols., Tehran, 1955-56; tr. as History of Shah ʿAbbas the Great, by R. M. Savory, 3 vols., Boulder, Colo., 1979-86.
Abu’l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Moḥammad al-Farḡāni, Elementa Astronomica, ed. and tr. by Jacob Golius, Amsterdam, 1669; Arabic text of Jawāmeʿ ʿilm al-nojum wa-oṣul al-ḥarakāt al-samāwiya with Latin tr.
Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli Farroḵi Sistāni, Divān, ed. Moḥammad Dabir-Siāqi, Tehran, 1957.
Abu Saʿid ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Gardizi, Zayn al-aḵbār, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Ḥabibi, Tehran, 1968.
Ḥāfeẓ, Divān, ed. Parviz Nātel Ḵānlari, Tehran, 1980, esp. ghazal no. 445.
ʿAbd-al-Salām Hārun, ed., Nawāder al-maḵṭuṭāt, 2nd ed., 2 vols., Cairo, 1973-75, esp. II, pt. V, pp. 3-48 for a miscellany of Arabic treatises on Nayruz.
ʿAlāʾ-al-Din ʿAṭāʾ-Malek Jovayni, Tāriḵ-e jahāngošā, ed. Moḥammad Qazvini, 3 vols., Leiden, 1912-37, esp. I, p. 98.
Idem, The History of the World-Conqueror, tr. J. A. Boyle, 2 vols., Manchester, 1958, esp. I, p. 124.
Manučehri Damḡāni, Divān, ed. Moḥammad Dabir-Siāqi, Tehran, 1947.
Aḥmad b. ʿAli al-Maqrizi, Ketāb al-ḵeṭaṭ al-maqriziya al-mosammāh be’l-Mawāʿeẓ wa’l-eʿtebār be-ḏekr al-ḵeṭaṭ wa’l-āṯār yaḵtaṣṣo dhāleka be-aḵbār eqlim Meṣr wa’l-Nil wa-ḏekr al-Qāhera wa-mā yataʿallaqo be-hā wa-b’eqlimehā, 4 vols., Cairo, 1324-26/1906-8, esp. II, pp. 389-91, cf. p. 30.
ʿAbd-Allāh Mostawfi, Šarḥ-e zendagāni-e man yā Tāriḵ-e ejtemāʿi va edāri-e dawra-ye qājāriya, 2nd ed., 3 vols., Tehran, 1964, esp. I, pp. 35-53.
Abu Bakr Jaʿfar Naršaḵi, Tārik-e Boḵārā, ed. Modarres Rażavi, Tehran, 1973; tr. as The History of Bukhara, by R. N. Frye, Cambridge, Mass., 1954.
Abu’l-Qāsem Ḥasan b. Aḥmad ʿOnṣori, Divān, ed. Moḥammad Dabir-Siāqi, Tehran, 1963.
Pseudo-Jāḥeẓ, al-Maḥāsen wa’l-ażdād, ed. Gerlof van Vloten, Leiden, 1898.
Pseudo-Ḵayyām, Nowruz-nāma, ed. M. Minovi, Tehran, 1933.
Jalāl-al-Din Monajjem Yazdi, Tāriḵ-e ʿabbāsi yā ruz-nāma-ye Mollā Jalil, ed. Sayf-Allāh Vaḥid-niyā, Tehran, 1987, esp. p. 122.
Zakariyāʾ b. Moḥammad Qazvini, ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵluqāt, Arabic version of the first part, ed. Ferdinand Wüstenfeld as Kosmographie: I, Göttingen, 1848; German tr. as Kazwînis Kosmographie: Die Wunder der Schöpfung, by Hermann Ethé, Leipzig, 1868.
Idem, ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵluqāt, ed. Naṣr-Allāh Sabuḥi, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961; Persian version.
Abu Manṣur ʿAbd-al-Malek Ṯaʿālebi, Yatimat al-dahr fi maḥāsen ahl al-ʿaṣr, Damascus, 1886-87.
The Thousand and One Nights Commonly Called, in England, the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, tr. and annotated by Edward William Lane, new edition prepared by Edward Stanley Poole, illustrated, 3 vols., London, 1883, esp. II, chapter 17 “The Story of the Magic Horse,” p. 491, n. 20.
Aḥmad b. Abi Yaʿqub Yaʿqubi, Taʾriḵ, 2 vols., Beirut, 1960.
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Thomas Bois, Connaissance des Kurdes, Beirut, 1965, esp. p. 477.
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Idem, A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism, Oxford, 1977.
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Arthur Christensen, Les types du premier homme et du premier roi dans l’histoire légendaire des Iraniens, Stockholm, 2 vols., 1917-34.
Bess Allen Donaldson, The Wild Rue: A Study of Muhammadan Magic and Folklore in Iran, London, 1938, repr., London, 1973, esp. pp. 120-23.
Georges Dumézil, “Les fleurs Harout-Marout et les anges Haurwatat-Amĕrĕtât,” Revue des études arméniennes 6/2, 1926, pp. 43-69
Idem, Le problème des centaures: Etude de mythologie comparée indo-européenne, Paris, 1929.
Idem, Mythe et épopée: L’idéologie des trois fonctions dans les épopées des peuples indo-européens, 3 vols., Paris, 1968-73.
R. Ehrlich, “The Celebrations and Gifts of the Persian New Year (Now Ruz) according to the Arabic Sources,” in Dr. Modi Memorial Volume: Papers on Indo-Iranian and Other Subjects Written by Several Scholars in Honour of Shams-ul-Ulama Dr. Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, Bombay, 1930, pp. 95-101.
Wilhelm Eilers, “Der alte Name des persischen Neujahrsfestes,” in Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz, Geistes- und sozialwissenschaftliche Klasse 2, Wiesbaden, 1953, pp. 37-86.
Kerim R. Eĭiubi and Iraida A. Smirnova, Kurdskiĭ dialekt Mukri, Leningrad, 1968; esp. pp. 212-22.
Abu’l-Qāsem Enjavi-Širazi, Jašnhā va ādāb va rosum va moʿtaqadāt-e zemestān, 2 vols, Tehran, 1973-75.
Michèle Epinette, “Kôsaj et mîr-e nowrûzi: Note sur une fête populaire iranienne de printemps,” Al-Derāsāt al-Šarqiya/Etudes Orientales (Paris) 11-12, 1991, pp. 77-89 with 1 pl.
Idem, “Kusa va mir-e nowruzi,” (Persian tr. Šāhrām Ḡanbari), Češmandāz (Paris), no. 16, Spring 1375 Š./1996, pp. 1-12.
Maria Esperonnier, “Al-Nuwayrī: Les fêtes islamiques, persanes et juives,” Arabica 32/1, 1985, pp. 80-101.
James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion, abridged ed., London, 1922, esp. chapters 25 “Temporary Kings” and 58 “Human scapegoats in Classical Antiquity”; the full text is available via Bartleby.com or the Internet Archive at archive.org.
Farrokh Gaffari (Ḡaffāri), “Evolution of Rituals and Theatre in Iran,” Iranian Studies 17/4, 1984, pp. 361-89.
Idem, “Darāmadi be nemāyešhā-ye irāni,” Irān-nāma/Iran Nameh IX/2, 1991, pp. 177-85.
Wilhelm Geiger, “Nowruz,” Kāva 1/5-6, 1916, pp. 4-5.
Ṣādeq Hedāyat, Neyrangestān, Tehran, 1933.
Thomas Hyde, Historia religionis veterum Persarum, 1st ed., Oxford, 1700, esp. pp. 248-51.
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Jamshed Cawasji Katrak, “Ancient Iranian Festivals According to Al-Biruni,” in The Commemoration Volume of Biruni International Congress in Tehran 1973, Tehran, 1976, pp. 121-51.
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Carl Benjamin Klunzinger, “The Nerus Day,” in Upper Egypt, its People and its Products, London, 1878, pp. 184-85; German original, Bilder aus Oberägypten, der Wüste, und dem Rothem Meere, Stuttgart, 1877.
Alexandre Kohut, “Les fêtes persanes et babyloniennes mentionnées dans les Talmuds de Babylone et de Jerusalem,” Revue des Etudes Juives, 24-25, 1892, pp. 256-71.
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Edward William Lane, An Account on the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, London, 5th ed., edited and enlarged by Edward Stanley Poole, 1860, pp. 490-99, esp. p. 490 for the Coptic Nowruz.
John Malcolm, Sketches of Persia from the Journals of a Traveller in the East, Philadelphia, 1828.
Henri Massé, Croyances et coutumes persanes, suivi de contes et chansons populaires, 2 vols., Paris, 1938, esp. I, pp. 165-66.
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M. A. Murray, “Nauruz or the Coptic New Year,” Ancient Egypt, 1921, part 3, pp. 79-81.
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Originally Published: September 15, 2014
Last Updated: September 15, 2014Cite this entry:
Michèle Epinette, "MIR-E NOWRUZI," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2014, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/mir-e-nowruzi (accessed on 15 September 2014).