Navroz, March 21, 1960: A Historic Day in the Life of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and His Jamat

Editor’s note: Over the coming several months and beyond, Barakah will bring to its readers a special series entitled “Historic Days in the Life of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan”. The series which was first announced more than a year ago, is now being launched on the auspicious occasion of Navroz, which will be celebrated by the Ismaili Jamat (community) around the world on March 21, 2022. Barakah has identified more than 60 historic days over the course of the Imamat of  Mawlana Hazar Imam, now in its 65th year. We will share the list with our readers by April 15, and welcome your suggestions to enhance the list. Such contribution was notable in the predecessor series “I Wish I’d Been There”

Submissions for the present series should describe in no more than 1,000 (one thousand) words what makes the event a historic day. Each piece, if possible, should be submitted with a photo celebrating the historic day from either your personal collection or one that is not copyright. If contributors do not have a pertinent photo to go with their piece, we will search our vast resources and archives for a relevant image. We look forward to a great response to the series from readers and writers, as we all look ahead to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s continuing guidance, with many more historic days yet to come. Please communicate with the editor, Malik Merchant, by writing to him at mmerchant@barakah.com.

What Makes the Navroz Mulaqat of March 21, 1960 in Burma Sixty-two Years Ago a Historic Day?

Aga Khan in traditional dress during his visit to Burma when he celebrated the Persian New Year or Navroz, photo Barakah and Simerg

By MALIK MERCHANT
with ZAHIR DHARSEE

The spring or vernal equinox that falls on March 19, 20 or 21 every year in the Northern Hemisphere is celebrated as Navroz (lit. a new day) by hundreds of millions of Muslim and non-Muslim communities in the Middle East, South and Central Asia as well as among diasporic communities from those regions.

Historically, the Ismailis have celebrated Navroz on March 21. It is observed as a day of rejoicing and hope as well as a day of introspection with a view to making changes in one’s life to make the year ahead more meaningful and enriching in every aspect of life.

The celebrations in many Jamatkhanas around the world include the reading of a  special Talika (written message) received from Mawlana Hazar Imam, distribution of rozi (consisting of wheat that symbolizes abundance, growth, and prosperity), the partaking of Ab-e-Shifa (water of healing) often sent by Mawlana Hazar Imam along with the rozi, as well as the recitation of  either the historic Navroz Ginan composed by Shah Fatehali, during the reign of the 45th Imam, Mawlana Shah Khalilullah or pertinent Qasidas. Going back even further in time, Navroz was observed as a major festival in Fatimid Egypt during the reign of  Ismaili Imams in the 11-12th centuries.

What makes the Navroz mulaqat of March 21, 1960, in Burma 62 years ago, a historic day?

To put this memorable day in perspective, we take our readers back to December 13, 1964, when Mawlana Hazar Imam celebrated his 28th Salgirah (birthday) with the Jamat in Karachi. Two days later, on December 15, 1964, Mawlana Hazar Imam noted as follows during the inauguration of the First World Ismailia Socio-Economic Conference held at Karachi’s Aga Khan Gymkhana:

“My tour of Pakistan this year has been unique in many aspects…. Two unique pages have just been turned over, the heading on the first being ‘The 49th Imam’s longest tour of Pakistan’ and the heading on the second being, ‘The first birthday which the 49th Imam spends with his community’. The third page in our history book is, I believe, the title page of a new chapter and should read ‘The First World Ismailia Socio-Economic Conference’.”

As Mawlana Hazar Imam noted, the birthday he celebrated was the first birthday that he ever spent with the Jamat and a unique page in our history. The singular importance of that day is also marked by the Farman Mubarak that Mawlana Hazar Imam made on the historic day. Fifty-eight years have since passed, and the Farman continues to remain momentous for the Jamat. We hear it year after year on the actual day of  the Salgirah or days leading to December 13th.

There is a parallel that can be drawn between the1964 Salgirah and the Navroz of March 21, 1960 in Burma. Mawlana Hazar Imam was only in the third year of his Imamat, having succeeded his beloved grandfather to the throne of Imamat on July 11 1957. He reminded the Jamat that had gathered in Rangoon that this was first Navroz he was celebrating with his spiritual children. In his Farman to the Jamats, Hazar Imam said:

“On this day of Navroz, I say to each and everyone of you Eid Mubarak and I pray that in this New Year your worldly and your spiritual happiness should progress tenfold and that this should be the case every year.” Then he asked the Jamat “to try and think a little bit ahead in the future, and at each Navroz say to yourselves. ‘Have we done our work?’ If you have then I will be very happy indeed.” [1]

Mawlana Hazar Imam concluded his Navroz message by asking the Jamat to remember it years into the future. 

The Burma Navroz Farman, like the 1964 Salgirah Farman, has become a central Farman for the celebration of the Navroz each year. In addition, the uniqueness of this day is further enhanced by the portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam in a traditional Burmese dress that was signed by him on March 24, 1960 with the words “with best blessings.”

Article continues below

Aga Khan in traditional dress during his visit to Burma when he celebrated the Persian New Year or Navroz, photo Barakah and Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is seen in traditional Burmese dress during his visit to Burma in March 1960 when he celebrated Navroz with the Rangoon Jamat. Many Ismaili families from Burma have framed copies of this unique photo in their homes. It carries Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings with his signature and is dated 24th March 1960. Photo: Anwar Virani Collection, Ottawa

Finally, we should like to mention that in addition to the historic celebration of the 1960 Navroz in Burma, Mawlana Hazar Imam has celebrated Navroz on March 21 in 1985 with the Jamat Nairobi, Kenya; in 1989 with the Jamat in Karachi, Pakistan; and in 2018 with the Jamat in Houston, USA. These were indeed historical mulaqats that the Jamats in those countries will cherish for their lifetime. Mawlana Hazar Imam also took the opportunity to convey his blessings for Navroz to the Jamat he was visiting close to Navroz.

As we mark Navroz in 2022, with fewer Covid-19 restrictions, we once again look back to the blessings that Mawlana Hazar Imam conveyed to us exactly sixty-two years ago in Burma, and remain ever cognizant of his hopes and prayers that our material and spiritual progress increase ten-fold and that we are mindful of our work.

March 21, 1960 was indeed a truly historic day with enduring significance.

Welcome to the series and Navroz Mubarak to our readers around the world.

Date posted: March 20, 2022.

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Notes

[1] Ilm magazine, page 1, March 1976, published by the Ismailia Association for the UK

FEEDBACK

Barakah welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or send your comment to the editor, Malik, at mmerchant@barakah.com. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

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AUTHORS

Malik Merchant
Malik Merchant

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher and editor of Barakah (2017) as well as its two sister websites Simerg (2009) and Simergphotos (2012). An IT consultant for more than 30 years, he now engages in family related projects. His passion for literature and community publications began in his childhood years through the work of his late parents Jehangir (d. 2017) and Malek Merchant (d. 2021), who devoted their lives to the service of the Ismaili community, its institutions and the Imam-of-the-Time. In the UK, Malik edited Ilm magazine with his father. The internet encouraged him to launch his first website, Simerg, in 2009. A resident of Ontario for almost 4 decades, he recently relocated to Alberta. He has an animal loving daughter Dr. Nurin Merchant; she is a vet and practices in Ontario.

Zahir Dharsee article on Premier Bill Davis
Zahir Dharsee

Zahir Dharsee came to Toronto, Ontario, Canada from East Africa in 1974. Zahir is a retiree from the Federal Public Service. He is currently pursing a Masters of Arts degree in History, at York University in Toronto. His area of specialization is researching the British Empire and its Colonization and Immigration policies and objectives. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario. Among his pieces published in Barakah and Simerg are A Review of the Silk Roads Exhibition at the Aga Khan MuseumPremier Davis and His Highness the Aga Khan, and Nairobi’s Iconic Town Jamatkhana.

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VISIT BARAKAH’S SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 275 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Also visit Barakah’s two sister websites, Simerg and Simergphotos.

4 comments

  1. Ya Ali Madad Malik

    Navroz Mubarak. Thanks again as usual for sharing a very unique and historical article of our Beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam .

    May the New Year bring immense happiness, good health and with the grace of Mawla we are now seeing light under the tunnel. Ameen and Shukar

    Like

  2. Thank you for the great job you are doing. The Burmese Jamat was indeed lucky to have the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam on the actual day of Navroz in 1960. No words can describe the feeling of happiness that the the Jamats would have felt on such an extraordinary and historic day.

    Today, as we observe Navroz 62 years later, may our lives be filled with abundant joy, happiness and prosperity. Ameen.

    Like

  3. As usual, thank you Malik & Zahir for Sharing Great Memories of Mowla..starting with Navroz in Rangoon, Burma.

    Wishing you Much Success with your Series.
    Navroz Mubarak
    🙂🙏

    Like

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