The Persian sphere of influence as seen in the Chinese New Year and Japanese New Year celebrations

White house haft seen.jpg

Nowruz, the Persian-Iranian New Year | Fire, the symbol of Nowruz (an ancient custom in common between Japan & Persia)

Although many Chinese New Year customs, such as the giving of money packets to children came to Japan during the Nara period in time of the Tang dynasty empire’s influence, there is evidence that the New Year practices of Nowruz were already being celebrated in Japan many centuries earlier, during the Kofun Period and possibly Yayoi Period (perhaps even during the late Jomon period), with the influx of nomadic tribes from the continent, some by way of Korea. The festival of Nowruz has been celebrated by many groups of people in the Middle East, Central and South Asia, but particularly by Persians and various other Iranian peoples. It is called Naw-wradz or Nuway-kāl by the Pashtuns, Navroz by Zoroastrians of the subcontinent, Nevruz in Turkic, Uyghurs who live in Northwestern China call it “Noruz”, and it is called Sultan Nevruz in Albanian. In Kurdish communities located in parts of western Iran, the holiday is referred to as Newroz, which is a variety of the Persian word Nowruz. The variety Nawroz is also an Eastern Persian word and is also used in the Persian speaking regions of Central Asia. In the Pamir-Afghanistani Wakhan corridor, it is called Shohguni and in Japan, it is called Shogatsu. See how Nowruz is similarly celebrated by different cultures from Iran to Turkey to China in Navruz – A Celebration of Life

Nowruz,  the “New Day” celebration is recorded from the Achaemenian period around 500 BCE. The name Nowruz first appears in Pahlavi texts from the Sasanian period, as nōg rōz. It is a celebration of spring equinox, when the sun begins to regain strength and there is a renewal of growth in nature.  Zoroastrians believed in the existence of a cognitive spirit, mainyu in all things, tangible or intangible. …

Which day it started and the number of days it was celebrated was closely related to the calendar of the period. Persians adopted a 365-day calendar similar to the Egyptian one, after Cambyses’ conquest of Egypt in 525 BCE. After the Xerxes (486-465) calendar reform, the Persians continued using their devotional religious calendar of 360-day to correctly observe the feasts of obligation, particularly the six feasts assigned to the six creations that were represented by the six Amesha Spenta (Holy Immortals). The six with the feast dedicated to Ahura Mazda formed a heptad representing the first seven creations, sky, water, earth, first plant, first animal, first human and fire/sun together. The Holy Immortals protected six of the creations and Ahura Mazda was the protector of fire/sun. The symbols of the seven creations and their protectors still can be seen in the Haft Sin spread.

The sixth feast, celebrating humankind was a very important one. It included the major feast, Hamaspatmaedaya, which in turn was linked to the Fravashis Night, preceding Nowruz. This was a celebration where the souls of the dead ancestors were celebrated and remembered. The tradition of visiting the graves of the dead relatives before Nowruz amongst many modern Iranians is a continuation of the ancient remembrance. It was believed that the dead spirits will come back to visit their old homes and relatives. For this night fires were lit to indicate to the dead that people were ready to receive them. Gradually this became a very elaborate 10-day festival before Nowruz, known as Suri Festival, complete with bon fires, prayers, feasts, music … (Source: Nowruz and Chaharshanbeh Suri, Massoume Price)

Nowruz was a tradition that had widespread reach and adoption, and it survived (whilst lesser traditions were discarded by other nations) “precisely because Nowruz was associated from the outset with cultural memories of the splendor and divinely bestowed power of the royal courts of pre-Islamic Persia that it was attractive to rulers, from the Abbasid caliphs to the Pahlavis. Along with its many ceremonies, and most notably that of gift exchange, it provided the rulers with an alternative source of affirming and enhancing their power and prestige” Nowruz, Iranica Online.

In most of the Silk Road countries, Navruz announces the joyful awakening of nature after winter and the beginning of the agricultural cycle of cultivating, planting, and harvesting.

Navruz traditions are similar throughout the region, and have varied little over the centuries, except to embrace Islam. Unlike the western New Year traditions, Navruz is celebrated during daytime hours within the family circle. March 21 is the main celebration, but for the next 13 days it is common practice to visit friends and relatives, buy and plant seedlings of fruit trees and have cheerful gatherings in the fresh spring air. Traditionally, it is also a time to “clean up” one’s life.

People tidy up their homes, wash rugs and draperies, decorate with flowers, and buy new clothes that they will use for visiting. On the day of Navruz, all housekeeping – including the preparation of the meal, careful cleaning of the home and the arrangement of blossoming branches from apricot, peach, almond or pomegranate trees – must be completed before the rising of the morning star. Children enjoy the holiday because they often get presents of money, as well as blessings, from their elders. (Source: Navruz)

Nowruz – Pomp and Splendor at court

From Yāqut reports (Boldān, Cairo, VI, p. 258; cf. Moqaddasi, p. 431) we learn that during the rule of the Buyids(r. 949-83) Nowruz was customarily welcomed “in a majestic hall, wherein servants had placed gold and silver plates and vases full of fruit and colorful flowers. He sat on a costly seat (masnad), and the court astronomer came forward, kissed the ground, and congratulated him on the arrival of the New Year. Then the king summoned the musicians and singers and invited his boon companions. They entered and filed in to their assigned places, and all enjoyed a great festive occasion. Beyhaqi describes the lavish celebration of Nowruz at the Ghaznavid (see GHAZNAVIDS) court (Beyhaqi, ed. Fayyāż, pp. 9, 12, 704, 751, 815), and some of the most beautiful descriptive opening passages of Persian courtly panegyrics … are in praise of Nowruz.Their simple yet melodious rhythms suggest that they may have been accompanied by music. The melodies known as the “Nowruzi” airs, apparently inherited from the Sasanian period, included the Great Nowruz (Nowruz-e bozorg), Nowruz-e Kay Qobād, the Lesser Nowruz (nowruz-e ḵordak or ḵārā), the Edessan Nowruz (Nowruz-e rahāwi, comprising the Arabian and Persian melodies), and Nowruz-e Ṣabā (Source: Nowruz, Iranica Online)

Ancient Persia: Influences on Ancient Chinese and Japanese Calendars (via Dr Kaveh Farrokh) By BEHROOZ o PIROOZ bashid and Dr. Masato Tojo The traditional Chinese calendar is called Kyūreki旧暦 (old calendar) and/or Noureki農暦 (agricultural calendar). Its first day of a year was Winter Solstice in 1700 B. C. It was greatly improved in the time of the Tang dynasty under the influence of Persia and India. The new calendar is called Tai-en-reki大衍暦. This is the basic form of Kyūreki. Here are its characteristic points: (a) Official first day of a year is Risshun立春 (315 Zodiacal degree). The reason why this day became the first day of a year is for the convenience of agriculture. This is the reason why it is called Noureki (Agricultural calendar). (b) Astronomical first day of a year is Spring Equinox (0 Zodiacal degree). (c) The center day of a month in Kyūreki (Tai-en-reki) approximately corresponds to the first day of Persian month (Table 1). Note that Spring Equinox (b) and center day of the first month in Kyureki (c) are developed under the influence of Persian and Indian astronomy and astrology. (d) Spring Equinox (Shunbun) is the day when people venerate their ancestors. This tradition is said to be Iranian origin (Farvardin). Table 1 Kyūreki (Tai-en-reki)

24 Solar Terms Nijūyon-sekki二十四節気

Season 季節

Month 月

Beginning day 節(せつ)

Center day of Month 中(ちゅう)

Spring 春


Risshun立春 Zodiacal degree: 315 Gregorian day: Feb 4th

Usui雨水 330 Feb 19th


Keichitsu啓蟄 345 Mar 6th

Shunbun春分 0 Spring Equinox Mar 21th


Seimei清明 15 Apr 5th

Koku-u穀雨 30 Apr 20th

Summer 夏


Rikka立夏 45 May 6th

Shōman小満 60 May 21th


Bōshu芒種 75 Jun 6th

Geshi夏至 90 Summer Solstice Jun 21th


Shōsho小暑 105 Jul 7th

Taisho大暑 120 Jul 23th

Autumn 秋


Risshū立秋 135 Aug 7th

Shosho処暑 150 Aug 23th


Hakuro白露 165 Sep 8th

Shūbun秋分 180 Sep 23th


Kanro寒露 195 Oct 8th

Sōkō霜降 210 Oct 23th

Winter 冬


Rittō立冬 225 Nov 7th

Shōsetsu小雪 240 Nov 22th


Daisetsu大雪 255 Dec 7th

Tōji冬至 270 Winter Solstice Dec 22th


Shōkan小寒 285 Jan 5th

Daikan大寒 300 Jan 20th

The time of the Tang唐(とう) dynasty (618-907) was a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Not only Confucianism儒教(じゅきょう) and Taoism道教(どうきょう), but also Buddhism仏教(ぶっきょう),Manichaeism明教(めいきょう), Zoroastrianism祆教(けんきょう), Nestrians景教(けいきょう) became officially recognized religions, and allowed to do every kind of religious activities freely. The fact that two of the five Tang’s official religions are Persian indicates how great the influence and the presence of Persia were. Actually there were many Persian high rank officials in Tang dynastyAn-roku-zan* was such a general who is well known in Chinese history (See Tang_Dynasty) An-roku-zan安禄山 (705-757): He was a general of Tang dynasty. He is a Sogdian born in Samarkand. Roku-zan禄山 (“lu-shan” in Chinese pronunciation) is transcription of his Persian original name “Roshn (light)

2. Japanese Calendar

Tang’s calendar was imported to Japan and adopted in 737 and used until 1872. When the Meiji Restoration 明治維新(めいじいしん)started, the new government adopted Gregorian calendar in 1872December 15th. It was forbidden to use old Chinese calendar by the law. New Year’s Day (Nou-roz) was changed to 1st day of January according to the Gregorian calendar.

It is also forbidden to celebrate New Year’s Day according to the old calendar by the law. They set its start year on 660 B. C. which is the beginning day of Emperor Jimmu神武天皇’s reign (He is the legendary first emperor of Japan. He is Japanese Jamshid). This calendar system is called Kōki皇紀. Gregorian 2010 is Kōki 2670. The first day of a financial year became April 1st in 1877 by adopting English financial year. Ideally it should be Spring Equinox, for the convenience of Gregorian calendar it became April 1st. Spring Equinox (Shunbun), which is the day when people venerate their ancestors and pray for the harvest in the Shintō shrines, became the day of veneration of Emperor’s ansectors and pray for the harvest in 1878.

2. Japanese Calendar

Tang’s calendar was imported to Japan and adopted in 737 and used until 1872. When the Meiji Restoration 明治維新(めいじいしん)started, the new government adopted Gregorian calendar in 1872 December 15th. It was forbidden to use old Chinese calendar by the law. New Year’s Day (Nou-roz) was changed to 1st day of January according to the Gregorian calendar. It is also forbidden to celebrate New Year’s Day according to the old calendar by the law. They set its start year on 660 B. C. which is the beginning day of Emperor Jimmu神武天皇’s reign (He is the legendary first emperor of Japan. He is Japanese Jamshid). This calendar system is called Kōki皇紀. Gregorian 2010 is Kōki 2670. The first day of a financial year became April 1st in 1877 by adopting English financial year. Ideally it should be Spring Equinox, for the convenience of Gregorian calendar it became April 1st. Spring Equinox (Shunbun), which is the day when people venerate their ancestors and pray for the harvest in the Shintō shrines, became the day of veneration of Emperor’s ansectors and pray for the harvest in 1878. After the World War II, the Gregorian calendar became the sole official calendar in Japan. The Kōki calendar was forbidden to use in public by the law. If one print to sell Kōki calendar, he will be punished by the law. The financial year and the other traditions remain untouched except one thing. It is Shunki-Kōreisai春季皇霊祭. Before the World War II, Spring Equinox Day is an official national holiday and called Shunki-Kōreisai. But after the World War II, it was forced to change its name to Shunbun-no-hi春分の日 by GHQ, and became a day to spend visiting family graves and holding family reunions. Still Spring Equinox Day and April 1st are important days for official and financial activities in modern Japan.   Note Among Japanese Shinto-occult groups and right-wing activists and ideologues, the Kōki calendar is still used today. …..

The long reach of the Persian Empire

At the time when Zen Buddhism were transmitted along the trans-Asian trade route known as the Silk Road, various religions such as Mithraism, the cult of Mitra and Anahita, Zoroastrianism (Mazda worship), the Greek polytheism, the cult of local heroes (Siyavush in Khorezm and Sogd), early Mahāyāna Buddhism, Hinduism and the Nestorian Christianity flourished along this route.. The major transmitters of Buddhism to China were the Iranian peoples of Parthia, Bactria, and Transoxiana, whose convenient position between east and west enabled them to serve as middlemen along the Silk Road. The latter group in particular, known as the Sogdians, established communities along the trade routes from Iran and India all the way into China. Actually many important features of Mahāyāna Buddhism display Iranian influences, such as the soteriological (salvation) function of Maitreya 弥勒 (the one who helps people toward salvation) and the Buddha-nature 仏性 (Manichaean particle of Light). Central deities also had Iranian origins (Table 1. 2). Mihr (Mithra), Anahita, Bhaga, Farrox, Mah, Haoma, Ohrmizd (Ahura Mazda), Yima and Zardusht (Zoroaster) were the gods in its pantheon. Mihr and Anahita worship were prominent. Ohrmizd was not the supreme god. Ohrmizd worship was a mere branch of it. (Aoki. History of Zoroastrianism, p194-204; Kyō. History of Zoroastrian Arts in China). Mithra was incorporated as the sole successor of Gautama the World Teacher. Alexander the Great (356–323 BC) brought Greek culture to Central Asia. This gave certain influence upon early Buddhism.

Buddhists developed Gandhāra style art, which was a merger of Greek, Syrian, Persian, and Indian arts. This development began during the Parthian Period (50 BC – AD 75). Gandhāra style flourished and achieved its peak during the Kushan period (60 BC-375 AD). It might have affected the rise of Maitreya cult too. Maitreya cult developed during the period from 2nd BC to 2nd AD under the reign of Bactria (265-125 BC) and Kushan (60 BC-375 AD). Sutras called “Maitreya trilogy” 弥勒三部経 (Jp: Miroku-sanbukyō) were also formed during this period. The state religion of Bactria was Mithraism. Kushan adopted this policy.


There is a legend of Mithra’s magi in the area (Afghanistan, Pakistan, north-west India) where Mahāyāna Buddhism was formed. It is a legend about the Maga-Brahmanas, atarvan Maga, Bhojaka or Sakaldwipiya Brahmins. They identify themselves as having Iranian roots, and assert that they inherit their by-name maga from a group of priests (cf. maga) who established themselves in India as the Maga-Dias or Maga-Brahmanas. Their major centers are in Rajasthan in Western India and near Gaya in Bihar. According to Bhavishya Purana and other texts, they were invited to settle in Punjab to conduct the worship of Lord Sun (Mitra or Surya in Sanskrit). Bhavishya Purana explicitly associates them to the rituals of the Zurvanism. (The members of the community still worship in Sun temples in India. They are also hereditary priests in several Jain temples in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Bhojakas are mentioned in the copperplates of the Kadamba dynasty (4-6th cent) as managers of Jain institutions.)

Who were the Maga-Brahmins – were they Persians, Iranians or Indo-Greek-Iranian-Sakas?

Miro, Miroku and Maitreya was according to tradition the son of Brahmayus and Brahmavati and the patron of workers in precious metals (see Maitreya – Mythology), and according to some accounts, a real historical person and the incarnation of the Future Buddha. The debate is hashed out in Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin’s “Acta Iranica“.

“The phonetic form of Skt. Maga suggests the word may have been borrowed from Iranian  quite early, from the Late Persian to the Early Middle Persian … we would have to go back to the time of Darius and Xerxes . On the other had, the introduction of an image of a sun god as ascribed by Samba would point to Greek rather than Persian influence . Thus the historical kernel of the Samba legend should more likely be dated to the syncretism of Greek, Iranian, Indian traditions under Alexander the Great and his early successors…”

Images of Lord Sun Mihir in India are shown wearing a central Asian dress, complete with boots. The term “Mihir” in India is regarded to represent the Maga influence. Here is the summary of Bhavishya Purana 133:

Krishna’s son Samba was afflicted with leprosy, which was cured after he worshiped Surya, Hinduism’s god of the Sun. In response, he built a temple to Surya on the banks of the Chandrabhaga river, but no competent Brahmin could be found to take up the role of priest in the temple.

So Samba sought help of Gauramukha, the adviser of the yadu chief, Ugrasena.

Gauramukha responded with a suggestion that Samba go to Shakdvipa (see note on Mahabharata 6:11, below[a]) and invite their priests to worship Surya. Further, asked Samba, “tell me, oh Brahmin, what are the antecedents of these worshipers of the Sun?” To which Gauramukha replied… “The first of the Brahmins amidst the Shakhas was called ‘Sujihva.’ […] He had a daughter of the name Nikshubha, who so enamored Surya that she was impregnated by him. Thus she gave birth to Jarashabda who was the founding father of all the Maga-Acharya. They are distinguished by the sacred girdle called the Avyanga that they wear around their waist.” And so Samba called on Krishna to send him Garuda, on whose back he then flew to Shakadwipa. He collected the Maga-Acharya, brought themback to India and installed them as priests of his Surya temple.

Of the pious representatives of 18 families Samba invited to resettle in the city of Sambapura, eight were Mandagas, and their descendants became Shudras. The other 10 were Maga Brahmins…

Zen is traditionally credited to be established at the Šhaolin temple 少林寺 in China by a Persian wandering monk Bodhidharma. He came to China to teach a “special teaching not-written in the scriptures”. The reason was that the teaching is so subtle that it is impossible to transmit it by the words. Zen Buddhism arrived in Japan as early as the 7th century, but did not develop significantly there until the 12th century. Zen has since been an important force in Japan. It has had considerable influence on Japanese culture, “reaching far beyond the temple and entering into cultural and social areas of all kinds, including gardening, ink painting, calligraphy, the tea ceremony, and even military strategies.” Zen priests played an important role in the political unrest of 16th century Japan, both serving as diplomats and administrators and preserving Japanese cultural life. There are about 9.6 million Zen Buddhists in Japan today. The Founder of Zen Buddhism is Bodhidharma 達磨 (470-543). He is the twenty-eighth patriarch after Gautama Buddha in the Indian lineage, and the first Chinese patriarch (i. e. the founder) of Zen 禅 Buddhism. There are two legends about his biography. One says he is a Persian, the other says Indian. Most Japanese scholars and Buddhist monks think he is a Persian. Bodhidharma is said to be a blue-eyed Persian 碧眼胡僧 (Hekigan-kosō) in Zen tradition. “Blue-eyed Persian” means Hellenized Persian, and/or a Persian who has much knowledge about western culture. Mithra’s magi are such Persians. For a well-known treatment of the theory of a secret Persian-originated Mithraic cult in East Asia, including Japan, see “Mithra in Japan, China and Korea” by Tojo, Masato, via In search of the Roman Mithra in Miroku and Maitreya. According to “Acta Iranica:

It is not the first phase of influence of Iranian Sun-worship in India (connected with the immigration of the Maga) but a distinct second phase which can be ascribed to the period of the invasion of the Sakas and Kushanas (beginning in the middle of the 2nd cent. B.C.). This second phase is characterized by the borrowing of the Middle Iranian Mihr (Mihire) ‘Sn’ into Sanskrit where it appears as Mihira is ‘SUn’. [Note here that it is the invasion of the Sakas (and Kushanas) that is attributed the greatest influence for the proliferation of sun worship. There are a multititude of solar shrines and festivals, ritual items in Japan (sakaki and sake) as well as the many common names and toponyms in Japan have the stem “saka” in it, suggesting a relic Saka cultural landscape in Japan.  That Japanese address each other as “san” is thus highly suggestive of the idea that they are all “children of the Sun” which is corroborated by what the indigenous Ainu called the later arrivals.].

As already perceived by Weber (1857, p. 104, Skt. Mihira is likely to originate in the Bactrian form of the name of the Iranian Helios. voz. Miiro (also written Miuro, Mioro, Miro etc.), which appears for the first time on the coin emissions of the Kushana rulerKaniska (1st half of 2nd cent.)

At least some indirect information as to the chronology of the borrowing of Bactria – Miiro (etc.) by the Indians can be found in a few Iranian names containing the element Mihira (Mira) and attested in early Indian inscriptions, such as the Kharosthi Inscription from Takht-i Bahi (Miraboyana) or a Kharosthi inscription from Baluchistan (Sahi Yolamira) or a couple of Brahmi Inscriptions from Mathura (Vakamihira etc.) etc). It is not unlikely that at the same time Mihira began to be used as a common noun meaning ‘Sun’ in Sanskrit. In In any case the name of the Hephthalite ruler Mihirakula (1st half 6th cent.) was understood by its bearer (and also by his contemporaries) as meaning ‘originating in the family of the Sun’. [Kalhana, Rajatarangini 1, 288 f. calls Mihirukula a son of vasukula and a grandson of Hiranyakula.] may be deduced from the inscription Mihiradata (=Mihiradatta) ‘given by the Sun’ found on one coin attributed by Gobl to Mihirakula and from the unusual spelling of the King’s name, using a Sun symbol combined with Skt. kula ‘family’ , on other coins. There also exist coins on which Mihirakula’s portrait is accompanied by a very little picture of the Sun God, and others on which we find the inscription Jayatu Tarani ‘the Sun (Tarani) shall be victorious’. From all this it becomes evident that Mihirakula’s name points to his having been a Sun worshipper. However, under Mihirakula’s reign, Sivaism was superimposed upo Sun worship…

As to the chronology it is remarkable that Mihira does not occur in the old and very popular list of 108 names of the Sun in the Mahabharata. it is found only in a later addition to that list known as Yudhisthira’s praise of the Sun, which is transmitted nly in a part of the northern and missing completely in the southern tradition of the Mahabharata. In this addition, Mihira apears in close vicinity to Mitra, which suggests the occurrences of Mihira in the indigenous dictionaries of synonyms, the restive articles of which  are of a similar type. The earliest among these dictionaries which seems to have drawn from lost works of Sanskrit literature is the famous Amarakosa by Amarasimha (before 6th ent.) who in a list of thirty- seven names of the Sun, mentions both Mihira and Mitra. At that time the etymological relationship between the loan-word Mihira and the inherited Mitra had undoubtedly long been forgotten, … As a matter of fact, the indigenous scholars connected Mihira etymologically with Skt., megha ‘cloud’ in which meaning it is used by the Jaina monk Somasdesvasuri . Mihira is explicitly derived from the same root as megha, namely form the root mih ‘to sprinkle let water upon’, by the grammarian Ujjvaladatta. (middle 13th cent.)

The famous Paris scholar Neriosangh is the only author of that period who had knowledege of the true provenance of the name or word. It was used by him as the Sanskrit equivalent of MP. Mihr which in the Pahlavi version of the Avesta renders the name of the Yazata Av. Miora (or Miura [recalling the toponym Miura Peninsula in Japan. Miro was the earliest form of Maitreya to arrive, followed closely by Miiroku and the later Maitreya, the earliest and most popular forms of Buddha to be worshipped in Japan. Miro is still a boy’s name for Maitreya in Japan whereas Miroku is closer to the Koreanic form Mireuk].

In John Mock’s Persian studies on “Shrine Traditions of Wakhan Afghanistan“, he describes and allows us to see the relic forms of the Persian Calendar and New Year observances in practice (the Wakhan corridor is where Persia had to pass before moving East to East Asia). He also suggests that the solar customs appear contemporaneous with the Saka arrivals as evidenced by rock carvings in the Scythic style of the 7th c. BC Saka as well as the East Iranic languages they left behind:

An annual observance takes place at the time of the Persian New Year (observed 16-18 March in Wakhan). The community marks the first day of the month of Aries (Hamal) as a day of celebration of Hazrat Pir Nosir Khusraw (i.e. Naser Khosrow). In Wakhan, the exact day, called shohgun [cognate with the Japanese shogatsu?], is determined through observation of the sun in relation to a fixed point on the mountains above the village, as seen from a fixed point within the village. According to the Yimit mukhi, “When the sun comes between those two rock peaks on the mountain, on that day we start the new year. That is our shohgun.” This observational system of calculating the agricultural calendar is used in other Wakhi villages in Tajikistan and Pakistan (Iloliev 2008a, 92)
When the hamal-bin sees the sun touch the point on the mountain, he goes and informs each household to prepare themselves and put on clean clothes. Community members wash, put on clean clothes, cook special food, and one or two hours before dawn, assemble at the shrine of Naser Khosrow for the ritual of Shohguni Nasiri Khusraw.

Source: “Shrine Traditions of Wakhan Afghanistan”, Journal of Persianate Studies 4 (2011) 117-145 by John Mock