Kha-B'neessan The Assyrian New Year's Festival Based On Creation Of All Life & Its Annual Revival (Nineveh 1985, First Quarter)
By: William Daniel (Nineveh 1985, First Quarter)
Publish Date: 1/1/1985
THEATRE OF HISTORY
The Assyrian New Year's Festival
Creation of All Life & Its Annual RevivalACT I
The curtain rises in the Hall of Universe to present The Assyrian Historic Play In accordance with the title; it becomes apparent that the play is dual in significance:
(1) The unique drama of Creation of the entire Universe;
(2) the annual revival of all life, from man to a blade of grass.
The season is the beginning of Spring. But why the Spring should be selected for celebration of the New Year?
Our question will be answered as we watch and see Mother Earth traveling through a period of severities, during which she has been gripped in the claws of relentless winter frost. Merciless cold has robbed her of her inherent beauty and has buried her charming figure under many folds of an immense white blanket.
The trees have been stripped of their luxurious green garments. Their bare branches are being blown back and forth by icy winds.
Shrubs, thickets, bushes and creepers of multi-colored blossoms have nothing left to show other than stacks of dry twigs that in their time used to charm the eye of the beholder.
Dry and frozen leaves that used to paint the landscape by Emerald, Azure, Jade, Pink-Yellow and Bluish Green now lay in faded and formless heaps in the ditches made by the exposed roots of giant trees.
Migrating birds have disappeared; the local ones are in no mood to sing. In vain they poke their tiny beaks in more yielding soil in an effort to find some sustenance that would support their emaciated body. Earth in all appearance seemed to be dead.
In this cataclystic state, at the brink of unreversibility where death is the dictator, the counter-force, the spark of life, emanating from the fountain of all Goodness announced its presence through the medium of Shamash, the Sun. Tenderly did his warm fingers touch the cheeks and caress the frozen figure of his beloved, the Earth. For a while he had traveled to other regions, but now he was back to heal and claim his ailing bride. Lovingly did he pamper her as he imprinted warm kisses on her pale cheeks bringing color into them gradually.
She begins to regain consciousness. Her joy, at the sight of her beloved, reaches such a degree of emotion as to make her cry.
Cry Beloved Cry
For the Droplets that Roll
Down Your Lovely Cheeks
And Over the Mounds of Your White Bosom
Are the Most Priceless Jewels In All Universe
The snow on her lovely breast cannot withstand the warm breath of Shamash, the Sun. Its spongy body is being transmuted to multi-colored jewels with which to fashion exquisite necklaces for the rejuvenated Bride.
The liquid snow is transmuted into millions of rivulets that run down the gentle slopes to mingle with others of their kind, in order to create rushing streams. These continue gushing through ravines and chasms, sweeping over pebbles and dry and crackling vegetation, in their hurried rush to reach the Wide Valley. There they are met with others like them. They all agree to cooperate in order to create mighty rivers that flow with Triumphant Majesty.
Bushes, plants, trees, creepers, birds and animals, above all man, are revived by the fresh waters of the spring. The change, the metamorphosis is so sudden, so complete, so universal that it is almost tangible. The action of revival is happening everywhere, right there before the eyes of the beholder.
Dry, gray almost dead branches are transmuted to live green of all hues, proud of the sparkling leaves and perfume, exhaling buds they bear. Birds, plants and shrubs drinking fresh waters of spring; express their gratitude to the great supervisor of all this magnificent presentation through the costumes they wear, which are woven of yarn picked from rainbow substance. The sweet serenades ornamented with trills and staccatos from a variety of species of winged life share voluably in the magic symphony. Joy of Joys: Earth has revived in all its splendor. LO: SPRING IS HERE. THE GRANDEST FESTIVAL OF ALL TIME. THE REJUVENATION OF ALL LIFE. What better time is there than the beginning of sp ring to celebrate the New Year? When rejuvenation affects everything alive even the apparent inert matter. It is the season when Heart of Man swells with gratitude offered to the kind creator for blessing the earth with his great gift of REVIVAL OF LIFE. Man is more than justified for celebrating the event with profound thank fullness to the Mighty Engineer who has made all the arrangements so as to make the return of this Happy Time possible.
We hope that the question in Part I of this writing has been answered. Now we also understand why the Beginning of Spring commanded such a high degree of respect; why it was festivated with such a solemn devotion and given a prominent place in Assyrian national life as to translate it religiously, symbolically and realistically. By these three soulful terms we mean: Religiously - Man praises the creator for the gift of life and its annual revival; Symbolically - The solemn reverence accorded to the event makes it a national trait, which should always be maintained as long as there are breath and lips that speak the Assyrian language; Realistically - The renewal of life should be translated into renewal of energy in all undertakings : National, Social and Personal. That - IMPROVEMENT, NOT DEGENERATION SHOULD BE THE MOTTO.ACT II
The Historic Theatre now Presents Act II of the Drama
The Scene : The Royal Palace
Time: Early Dawn
Day: April the First, the First a/the Twelve Days Festival
It is early dawn. The Royal Palace is surrounded on three sides by many thousands of Ninevites, men and women of all ages. The man-headed winged bulls, of which the head is the symbol of Man's Wisdom; the body denotes strength and abundance of nourishment; the wings signify speed and alertness. The mute sentinels are guarding the Principal Gate of the Palace. Armed human sentinels are guarding on both sides the upward sloping runway that leads to the gate and continues mounting upwards, around the building, to upper floors of the Royal Residence, of which the white alabaster and the streaked marble of many hues reflect the early light of dawn. Soon the sunlight shall turn these building materials into the sparkle of many-colored gems.
Total silence rules the entire crowd in spite of its great number. This disciplinary character is an acquired habit that has become the peoples' second nature. The entire crowd is breathlessly watching the giant Palace-Gate made of iron and bronze. Here, behind this gate, in this monumental building, have resided great Monarchs and have pondered on the destiny of Assyria. Their seat is now occupied by a young) able and very promising young man.
The guards flanking the runway become rigid like the statues nearby. Through the opening gate the melodious tone of a single horn announces the commencement of the procession, which awakens in the crowd a subdued commotion impregnated with deep expectation.
First, from inside the Palace emerges a group of two lines of armed soldiers, four in each line. They march solemnly behind two formally clad strong men bearing the symbol of Tree-of-Life on their shoulders. These are followed by a number of youths carrying golden incense fumigators hanging from long silver chains. They are swinging these devices back and forth to spread the sweet smelling smoke in the crowd.
These, in turn, are followed by musicians whose orchestras consist of animal-headed harps, flutes and a type of melodious reed-tipped instrument, oat unlike our modern Zourna. They are followed by percussion instruments that are : big drums, smaller drums played by palms and fingers of both hands, a precursor of kettle-drums, an instrument held high by one hand, its flat surface of about two feet high and one and a half feet . wide is covered with metal bars of different tones. It is played by striking tiny metal hammers on the bars, producing a variety of tones of bells. This is certainly the predecessor of the xylophone. The last in the line of orchestral members are the cymballs of different sizes. The last in the line of musicians are specially-clad youths and maidens of the ages sixteen to eighteen. They are in costumes of green and white. The green color seems to be conquering the white. They are singing chants to Lord Ashur and praise to the ruler of the land, the young King-Emperor Ashur-Bani-Pal. The chants and songs are supported by the orchestra harmonically and rhythmically.
Further commotion in the crowd is heard. People shift their positions and crane their necks as the emblem of Eagle- Winged Ashur, with his bow and arrow is seen. The bowstring is drawn taut and the arrow is ready to fly. The High Priest strides solemnly behind the divine symbol. He is flanked by two incense-bearing youths swinging their fumigators.
Once more the crowd is disturbed , so totally as if invisible giant fingers were stirring the immense throng. Everybody wanted to see with his own eyes the much talked about young ruler of the land whom his enemies, in spite of his youth, had learned to respect and fear ; against whom individual nations dared to stand only when making part of coalitions of many nations. Every individual of the big crowd of the National Festival wanted to behold the fabled Ashur-Bani-Pal.
First come three youths carrying in golden trays on their outstretched arms the Royal insignia and attire . One of these has the gold-handled sword incrusted with precious stones, the magical bracelet and other insignia. The second has in his tray the magnificent, brilliant, tasseled robe that emitted a swishing sound as the Royal Personage walked. The third was carrying in his tray the gleaming crown made of beaten and filigreed gold glistening with the most sparkling gems of the time that had been worn by Tiglat-Pillesars, and Issar Haddouns.
The tension in the crowd reaches such a degree that the night of a bird overhead would have been an annoying and disturbing element. The mild tone of a horn announced the coming of the Supreme Personality of the land. All the heads in the great crowd are bent with reverence. The multitude's breath, that had been suppressed, is suddenly let out. Its sound is like stalks of a vast wheat-field that has been brushed by a gentle breeze. The conqueror of many lands walks with bare feet in his sandals and a bent head . The attitude of self-denial of this great man filled the hearts of his people with such a love and devotion as no other great achievement would have the power to inspire. King Emperor Ashur-Bani-Pal, the most erudite personage that had occupied the Assyrian throne; the collector of thousands upon thousands of literary gems of Shumer (Sumer), Accad, Babylon and Assyria, who is as gentle at heart as he is mighty on the battlefield.
Today the ruler of the land has been dethroned; his sovereignty has been annulled. Instead of his rightful pomp and glory he walks bare headed and bare footed and is hungry and thirsty like all the people of the land, for they all are fasting.
This self-abasement and self-infliction constitute prayers symbolized in action and for what purpose? Not for material gain, but for the conquest of good against evil .They commemorate a time, if we may call it so, that Tiamat, the Goddess of Evil, represented by darkness, wanted chaos, whereas Lord Ashur stood for universal orderliness. The stakes were very high; the nation, according to that, was passing thro ugh a difficult period. Hence the great sacrifice of self-humiliation.
Behind the deposed King-Emperor, dignitaries of the state walked in lines according to their rank. The majestic procession moved silently through the streets of Nineveh with all the crowd following. The only sound to be heard was that of the musicians, the singers and the muffled sound of many thousands of feet. Later, on their march through the streets of the capital, another procession bearing the statue of the principal deity and the minor spiritual entities meets them and both continue the march to the main Zigurrat where Lord Ashur's temple is located. There are no seats in the vast pavillion but an unoccupied throne. The Monarch, like everybody else, kneels on the ground, in the middle of the first row. Musicians take their places.
The High Priest stands close to the Altar from which the incense is constantly rising. On the clearance between the Altar and the first row of the audience appears a group of actors in costumes of creatures of magnificence and horror. The Epic of the War of Gods and the creation of the Universe is enacted in pantomime while the High Priest recites the Epic of Creation.
Lord Ashur is fighting the evil spirits who would rather have chaos than order in the Cosmos. The proponent of righteousness has painted his lips red ochre, to ward off the evil intentions of Tiamat and her monstrous creatures. The warrior behind Lord Ashur is carrying the storm wind enclosed in a gigantic bag of animal skin.
Tiarnat and Lord Ashur face each other while the High Priest recites challenging verses . (As they are very lengthy, we have no time to tell them here in entirety. We shall recite only three quatrains.) Lord Ashur has the great bludgeon of thunder in one hand. In the other he is holding a great bunch of fragrant herbs to drown the stench of Tiamat's breath and that of her monsters.
Tiamat strode forward and said:
So, you are the chief you boast, And all must yield to your place; Well, here come gods in a host, To challenge you face-to-face.
Lord Ashur hurled his retort to her face:
Brutal and base and black-hearted, Faithless to living and dead;
No sooner was Apsu departed, You took Kingu in his stead.
Come forth by yourself I say, Let your minions be banished from sight;
Come forth of yourself to the fray, Hand to hand let us fight.
At these words Tiamat was stung to the frenzy and without looking to left or right she lunged blindly at her taunter, jaws agape to swallow him up. But Lord Ashur was too quick. He spread his net in her path and enmeshed her . As she was struggling furiously within it, he called the storm wind and made him charge forward and rush through Tiamat's gaping jaws, so she could not close her mouth. Lord Ashur then drew his mighty bow and his arrow sank in her deep maw.
When the host of Tiamat saw their leader slain, they broke ranks and started fleeing. But the forces of Lord Ashur bore upon them and bound them on e and all and hurled them into the deep caverns of Earth.
As for Kingu, a special judgment was pronounced upon him. No more was he to be reckoned among Immortals. As other divinities recognized Lord Ashur as their chief deity, he brought new order in the Universe. He rent Tiarnat's body into two halves, hurling one half above the Earth to create all that is on High, and from the other half he created the Land and all that is upon it and the Seas with all the life in them. Of Kingu's blood he created man to serve the gods while they performed their tasks.
When the Epic had been read and enacted, Ashur-Bani-Pal was reinstated in all his Royal Splendor. All the population of Nineveh broke their fast and celebrated the greatest of all festivals, of which the dual significance embodied the creation of organized universe and annual Revival of Life.
The fore going practices may seem naive to our sophisticated minds of today , but when we stop to think that these were beliefs and rituals of cultured man of around seven thousands of years before our time, they have served to be the foundation upon which modern civilization has been erected throughout the process of passing time. We, their children, have to admit that after the passage of 140 to 150 centuries, are still lagging behind. Happy New Year. By: William Daniel