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Pir Shalyar: Ancient Mountain Ceremony in Kurdistan

An Ancient Ceremony Still Alive In the Mountains of Kurdistan

Filled with rhythmic music, religious chants and ritualistic dances, Pir Shalyar’s wedding is one of the most intact festivals from ancient years, celebrated in the magical village of Hawraman Takht in Kurdistan province of Iran.

The ceremony is segregated into two main parts, first is the wedding celebration, held in February and the second part is called Komsai, celebrated in May each year.

It is said that Pir Shalyar celebrations go back to over 950 years. The legend is about a wise old man, called Pir Shalyar, who was very much respected and well known in the region. His fame had reached as far as Bukhara, in today’s Afghanistan, where the king was searching for a wise medicine man to cure his daughter, Shah Bahar Khatoon.

Pir Shalyar tells the legend of a love story

The princess of Bukhara was deaf mute, and her father announced who ever could cure the princess, gets permission to marry her, but the search was not successful. After learning about Pir Shalyar, the king decided to send her daughter to Howraman, accompanied by a number of his relatives including his own brother. As the canvoy got close to the destination, Shah Bahar Khatoon was able to hear the frightening roar of a demon. when they arrived the house of the Pir, the massive demon fell down the cliff and died at the Pir’s door.

By this event, Shah Bahar Khatoon suddenly started to speak and everyone saw it as the miracle of Pir Shalyar. The beautiful princess became Pir’s wife and people of Hawraman celebrated the wedding for several days.

The wedding ceremony

The wedding ceremony takes place each year in early February, starting on a Wednesday. On this day, kids receive walnuts from Pir Shalyar’s garden to distribute around town. Children go door to door, give walnut to the families and announce that the celebration is coming; people of the house give them sweets and treats instead. Also on this day, brothers visit their sisters, and nephews pay a visit to their aunts, bringing them walnuts and sweets as gift.

Dance among the legends

While people in charge of cooking are preparing the traditional soup (with the same recipe of 950 years ago), the rest of the village go on their rooftops to watch the ritualistic dance of the Dervishes to the music of Daf, a traditional frame drum of this region. This dance is very unique to this event, as the young and old dervishes bend to the rhythm, flying their long hair in the freezing air of the mid winter. This ceremony continues till evening of thursday.

Friday is the day of prayers, citing poetry and respectfully handing Pir’s book, prayer beads and his Kalash, traditional handmade shoe of the region, as sacred objects. Until late in the evening, families sit in the large house of Pir Shalyar and listen to stories and recitations. The interesting fact about this long lived ceremony is that each family is assigned a certain task as well as a designated seat in the house, and has respected it for centuries. Therefore, those who cook, play Daf or perform the dance rituals, have inherited their task from their ancestors.

Ritual dances

Three weeks after the wedding ceremony, women of each household use wheat and walnut to bake round golden breads, symbolising the sun. The bread will be taken to the tomb of Pir Shalyar, where it will be chopped and tossed with other breads, then pieces of bread and some yogurt will be distributed to the village houses.

Komsai takes place in early May, with celebration of spring, more Daf drumming and ritual dances, and finally by chipping a piece from a large stone at the graveyard where Pir Shalyar’s tomb is located. People believe that this little chip can help healing the ill, and it grows back on the main stone till next year.

What’s interesting about the ceremony of Pir Shalyar, is that two main religions of Zoroastrianism and Islam merge here. While people of Hawraman are Sunni Muslims, they still keep zoroastrian traditions alive. Pir, is the rank given to Zoroastrian priest, and shal is a long shawl wrapped three times around waist representing “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”. Kurdish men still use shal as part of their attire. Also, the sacred objects remained from Pir are treated the way sacred things are respected in Zoroastrianism, not to be shown or given to the strangers. But, the sacrifice of animals, prayer and chants and also the style of burial of Pir Shalyar suggests its Islamic roots. Overall, the ceremony of Pir Shalyar is a representation of the long history in Kurdistan, and the collaboration and fellowship of people in this celebration reinforces the unity and brotherhood between Kurdish people of the region.

Video: Pir Shalyar Ceremony

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Fereshteh Sabetian

Fereshteh Sabetian is a World Heritage Studies graduate, a solo traveler, a coffee enthusiast and a cat lover :)

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