KABUL – Afghans celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on Monday but festivities were muted, taking place under Taliban rule for the first time in decades and as the administration cancelled a public holiday.
The Taliban administration said on Sunday although the holiday was officially cancelled, they would not prevent people from celebrating the popular festival privately.
Nowruz, celebrated throughout Iran and Central Asia, is usually a colourful celebration in Afghanistan when families gather to prepare festive dishes and welcome the beginning of spring. The Taliban say the festival is not in line with Islamic law.
People often picnic and play music outdoors and a banner-raising ceremony known as Jahenda Bala, takes place at two mosques in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif.
Residents from the capital and from northern Afghanistan where Nowruz is particularly popular, told Reuters this year had been much quieter than usual.
“Before, people were celebrating Nowruz with music and happiness,” said Dawlat Mohammad Joya, a resident of the northern province of Balkh. “But this year, yes, people celebrated Nowruz but not freely like before.”
Sayed Yusuf Husaini, from Sakhi Shah-e Mardan shrine, in Kabul said the Jahenda Bala ceremony had taken place early on Monday and the Taliban administration had supported extra security for the celebration.
But at Rawze-e-Sharif shrine in Mazar-i-Sharif, the ceremony did not take place, according to a leader there who did not elaborate on the reason.
A Ministry of Information spokesman did not immediately respond to request for comment on the ceremony.
The Islamist Taliban took over the country in August. The international community and many Afghans have called on the group to form a representative government and recognise the pluralism of the country, which is made up of multiple ethnic groups and cultural influences.
Latifa Sadat, a history student at Kabul University, said she was disappointed she had to study instead of being able to celebrate outside with friends in the warm Spring weather.
“We started our Nowruz by doing exams, we had no picnic,” she said.